The Highland and Islands Race always stated at Inverness with a gentle days cruising down the Caledonian Canal and a race across Loch Ness followed by more canal. Just as well because we were still readying the instruction manual for the GPS as we worked our way through the first locks it was that new and still only in development stages, there were no guarantees it would ever become operational.
Mike Armitage agreed to start the race and we lent him the REME Corps flag on a pole for the occasion. He also wanted some sound but no one had a hand held VHF, so I gave him a Mk4 thunderflash and a quick instruction on how to use it. At 1100 am everyone was ready to go when our Lynx helicopter roared up Loch Ness at about 25 feet over the top of the racers. I had been watching Mike strike the thunderflash as saw it go splash in the canal whilst everyone else was busy ducking as the lynx hovered overhead. Bang and we were off stealing an early lead on the rest of the fleet
. Sadly it didn’t last long as everyone realised what had happened. The finish line was also interesting, an imaginary line in the water somehwere to the sw end of Loch Ness, serious stuff this racing lark
with everyone recording their own times.
Earlier the first lock keeper had informed us we needed a licence to use the Caledonian Canal so I bought a one day ticket. He looked perplexed when we told him we were going all the way to Corpach today a trip which would normally take a week at 4 knots. There were only a couple of incidents down the canal; firstly when we shot around a tight bend at 25 knots to find an old bloke sat in a dinghy fishing. Oops, err, sorry, but it was all a bit too late
The other thing that confused us was the port and starboard navigation marks change at Loch Lochy so port becomes starboard and starboard becomes port as you now descend down the canal. That would have been okay but on exiting the lock the green can was missing leaving a red post in the middle of the lake. Right so which side do we pass then? Oh, err, too difficult, go to the post and crawl pas with the sounder on just in case we got it wrong.
The trip the next day from Corpach to Kyle of Lochalsh was pleasant and even Ardnamurchan Point the most westerly point of the British mainland was calm. It had caused real problems for the 1991 race with atrocious conditions.
Money was short in 1992 so many of the teams chose to sleep in the back of works vans, motor homes or caravans towed by support staff. The harbourmaster at Kyle allowed us to park up on the jetty next to the boats. He even arranged for a large bower delivery for the diesel ribs to refuel rather than lift out of the water. We disappeared off to find our £15 a night B&B with the lads sharing a double each – like I said we were all on a budget so just as well the lads were all good friends. However, slightly disturbing was the very fine mess over all the windows in the B&B. Were they worried we would do a dine and dash. Showered and changed we walked outside to the minibus and then found the reason for the mess. Millions of tiny Scottish midges
we were covered despite a dash to the minibus just a few feet away. We met the rest of the team in a hotel on the high street and for the first time both the Highlands and Islands racers and the other racers doing Glasgow to Edinburgh met up.
About 1130 pm I noticed the lads had suddenly disappeared, slightly worrying but as I had the minibus keys they couldn’t go far or get into too much trouble. Wrong, as I glanced out of the hotel window I saw the 3 of them carrying a hotel table complete with the breakfast china, cutlery and glasses all sat on a white starched cloth down the high street.
EEK, I made my excuses and dashed out side and walked down to the harbour. No sign of them but peering over the side of the 20 foot jetty revealed the table complete with table cloth and china now sat in Charles Dias superb 8m Delta rib. Oh feck, visions of a Court Martial flashed in front of my eyes as I pondered how I was going to get it up the side of the jetty never mind back to the hotel. I didn’t find until later but several of the races were lying awake in pleats of laughter listening to me quietly swearing and running up and down the jetty in panic mode. The table and all accoutrements were eventually returned to the hotel and I don’t think they even noticed one of their tables was missing.