Crinan Canal - Cautionary Experience

JumbleDuck

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I went through the Crinan Canal (Clyde to Crinan) last week, as the weather really didn't support a trip round the Mull. While the staff were pleasant, it was the slowest, most inefficient, most frustrating trip through I have ever done.

Having arrived in the afternoon, I overnighted at the swimming pool pontoon (the garage is open 6am - 11pm and is very happy for boaters to use their toilet, by the way). After a morning shop in Lochgilphead I left at 12.20 and arrived at Cairnbaan bridge about quarter to one. Where I waited, and waited, and waited. Nobody around. Although there are, it seems, supposed to be people allocated to each lock, everyone for the four locks going up was helping a couple of boats come down, three locks away.

Eventually they got to me, at half past one and, very apologetically, all went off for their lunch. "Twenty minutes", they said. They were back at half past two. "No problem" they said "you'll still get through, as the locks at Crinan are staffed till 6pm today".

Hah. As I got to the top of lock 6, I could see that the gates of lock 7 were open and ready. Then they shut. I could have been there in two minutes, but no, they chose to close the gates of 7, fill it up (I could have been in there), and bring three eastbound boats down. Sure, they'd have had to wait two minutes more, but I had to wait over half an hour. The same happened again at lock 8.

Eventually, having taken two and a half hours to do six locks and the summit reach I was stranded for the night by the shower block at lock 11. Good facilities, but the worst midges I have ever encountered. Don't stop overnight there.

Sorry, a long rant, but I think there are three issues:

(1) If staff are to be allocated to locks, they should work those locks if someone need to go through them, not help out at other locks.

(2) What sort of management system arranges for all the staff for a flight of locks to disappear together for an hour's lunch break?

(3) There is a need for some serious training in maximising throughput - and, consequently - minimising water usage.

Summary: I left Lochgilphead before 12.30 and got nowhere near Crinan that day, although there was five and a half hours available to make the trip. I sincerely hope I don't have to go back through the canal at the end of the month. The increased fees this year are supposed to cover assisted passage: for my money I got hindered passage.

And ... relax.
 

NormanS

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Are the Crinan locks now operated by staff? It's a few years since I was last through, but then, and all previous trips, the locks were operated by boat's crews, but the bridges and sea-locks by staff. I always managed through in half a day.
Progress?
 

Kwik Decision

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We went north through the Crinan canal last week, and found the staff very helpful. Having paid the eye watering fee, we decided to take it slowly, and planed on spending 3 nights on the canal, and so weren't in a hurry, which I think will have helped. We may have been lucky, but, having discussed our (reasonably flexible) plans with staff beforehand each day, everything happened as we'd asked for. They were particularly good at timing our departure from Crinan to get the tide, leaving the sea lock 5 mins before our requested time. Having done the canal DIY style about 8 yrs ago, it was very relaxing to let the staff look after the locks, take lines etc. The staff had also been well briefed and were good at ensuring all boat crews were ready for locks to be filled, and did so gently.
 

Quandary

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Your experience is typical, though even slower than I would have expected.
Some info.
The staff are allocated to flights not individual locks, however the teams are usually four, one guy could work a lock but then he would have no one but yachties to chat to.
Efficiency is dependent on who is in charge, if Lee is on duty at Cairnbaan it will be fast and effective, you must have been there on his day off.
The Dunardry flight is regarded as outback, it has never been efficient or well controlled, if a yacht turns up it is their break time, they used to have an all day poker school in the bothy where you stopped overnight.
They run off excess water for up to an hour every morning after start up before they let any yachts move, water used to be run before start up.
Water usage is not an issue any more, lock 3 beside us is overflowing all night, every night, if it stops we wake up because of the eery silence, the sea lock leaks so badly it can take half an hour to fill at low tide.
An efficient transit time is four to five hours sea to sea but then you have previously complained about 'pushy' pilots, can't have it both ways?
A considerable time ago I offered the manager the opportunity of a transit so he could see it from the customers point of view, he said he would come but since has been much too busy.
No maintenance has been done to the locks for years almost all the gates are leaking badly, doubling the effort needed.
To move fast put one of your crew ashore to drain or fill locks in front of you so that progress is maintained and your boat claims priority.

I would recommend that when you get back you write to them, then they have to file it rather than just forget, the better lock keepers won't mind, they are p11sed off too.
 
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awol

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I bit the bullet back in May and forked out ~£450 for a 16 day pass. So far I've transited 4 times with a 5th coming up in a couple of days. The 1st trip through (with mm5aho in the locks as well) was brilliant, about 4.5 hours, lots of staff and even some management with clip boards though Eddie at Lock 4 was off sick. Since then, despite Eddie being back, the trips have gone worse and worse. The lunch and other breaks just as a boat arrives, sluices either opened a crack and left like that or banged open to create turmoil, staff conversations that carry on long past the levels equalising - and the last trip took ~8 hours.

I think there are 2 kinds of user - those who want to get through quickly and are quite happy to work the locks themselves or with a pilot, and those who regard the trip as a gentle sojourn through bucolic, scenic surroundings with minimal effort. Mixing the two means frustrations for both.

Most of the staff are great, just not very well managed but that is a general theme with the canal. Small things perhaps but indicative of their attention to detail - toilets with disabled signs requiring the use of 2 hands to get in or out, a shiny new toilet/shower block with water sluicing from one shower cubicle to the next, insufficient clothes hooks and not a mirror to be found. Ah well, just another 12 trips to go!
 

Aja

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:( Doesn't look good for us on Friday then......:(

regards
Donald
 

JumbleDuck

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Are the Crinan locks now operated by staff? It's a few years since I was last through, but then, and all previous trips, the locks were operated by boat's crews, but the bridges and sea-locks by staff. I always managed through in half a day.
Progress?

The deal is now effectively the old "assisted passage" one, with staff operating each lock. I wasn't in a position to do it myself, so didn't ask if it's allowed, but I suspect not and that staff keep the winch handles with them.

We may have been lucky, but, having discussed our (reasonably flexible) plans with staff beforehand each day, everything happened as we'd asked for. They were particularly good at timing our departure from Crinan to get the tide, leaving the sea lock 5 mins before our requested time.

I too found the staff friendly and happy to discuss things; they just didn't do what they had said they would. The two Crinan sealock operators I dealt with were both excellent and, like you, I was able to leave - finally - exactly when I wanted.

An efficient transit time is four to five hours sea to sea but then you have previously complained about 'pushy' pilots, can't have it both ways?

I don't want it both ways. I want to get through at a reasonable speed (four to five hours would have been fine) and also without a shouty pilot up my chuff when I am at the speed limit.

I forgot to mention that, at the Ardrishaig end, the couple who arrived after me in a 44' motor sailor were unceremoniously dumped after lock 2 in favour of another 26' yacht which arrived after them, because, apparently, staff thought 1 x 44 + 2 x 26 could not be safely fitted in a lock. Perhaps it would have been easier if they had not insisted that the other 26 go starboard-to beside me (with the 44 behind him) in lock 2 rather than port-to behind me as we had been in the sealock? There was absolutely no problem with having all three boats in at once and I felt extremely bad about leaving the 44 behind. He had every right to feel very cross.

A considerable time ago I offered the manager the opportunity of a transit so he could see it from the customers point of view, he said he would come but since has been much too busy.

An excellent idea, and the reluctance to spend five hours (or possibly two days) living the customer experience speaks volumes.

I would recommend that when you get back you write to them, then they have to file it rather than just forget, the better lock keepers won't mind, they are p11sed off too.

I shall do. I think the system is more at fault than individuals, many of whom were excellent. This includes Eddie, by the way, who was extremely friendly and helpful. Some of the others could learn a lot from him.

I think there are 2 kinds of user - those who want to get through quickly and are quite happy to work the locks themselves or with a pilot, and those who regard the trip as a gentle sojourn through bucolic, scenic surroundings with minimal effort. Mixing the two means frustrations for both.

I quite agree. If someone wants to bimble, who am I to criticise? However, it was just me heading west, so no mixture involved. My crew is small and young, so can't do paddles or gates but did do all the ropes as we went downhill, which sped things up a fair bit.

Now in Arisaig, where it's blowing a hoolie. Wheeeeeee.
 

awol

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The deal is now effectively the old "assisted passage" one, with staff operating each lock. I wasn't in a position to do it myself, so didn't ask if it's allowed, but I suspect not and that staff keep the winch handles with them.

The staff appear more than happy if you want to DIY. Handles are in the usual places though the staff seem happy to leave them on the pumps and have been seen throwing them across the locks.
 

MM5AHO

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I've been through only once this year (so far) and it was a bit slower than usual, but not so bad to make a big fuss about. That slowness was (as others have said) mainly due to disorganisation on the part of the staff.

I note on their website that there are user customer forum meetings held occasionally (last one last Sept), and that in the minutes of that one, Joe Murphy committed to installing mirrors in the facilities blocks. Maybe there are herd to find?
These forums exist for each canal area, and its notable that Crinan has had only 2, (compared to 9 for lowland canals).
There was a consultation on this topic of assisted passages, allowing for some feedback. I can't see that now.
On the "contact us" page of their website they have some provision in forum style for some feedback.
here.. http://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/corporate-home/about-us/contact-us (scroll down to the bottom of the page)

Its a bit disappointing that the new facilities at Crinan have so many user issues not addressed (like mirrors, hooks and other things mentioned above). It wold be a good idea if someone in their management went through the canals as a customer experiencing the issues. It often only by using the service first hand that inadequacies come to light.
 

Quandary

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At the customers meeting last year Joe Murphy claimed to be unaware of the absence of mirrors but wondered why I raised it when I do not shave, he promised to take it up with the architect at the final inspection due around that time. There is a problem though, where to put them? windows right along the wall above the basins. Even funnier feature is the steps from the car park, if you go up the wrong side of the central guardrails you meet a wall at the top. I was an architect and find these silly foul ups really embarrassing, a private client would not accept this level of incompetence.
I raised a few issues like this but was firmly put in my place so they could talk about their expedition with the model kelpies to New York.
 

matthew99

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Perhaps a local entrepreneur could set up a travelhoist shuttle from East to West Tarbert (1.3 miles)?
 

coaster63

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We went through the Crinan canal last week, and found the staff very helpful friendly and happy to discuss things & no problems with progress , but I have to agree with the comments on the new facilities at Crinan stunning in appearance but sadly lacking in practicality & user issues not being addressed already mentioned ,but also now showers out of use as are the laundry facilities ( cabling that’s installed will not cope with load when busy so trips whole facility, also drains that won't cope with all the showers at once, but they look nice!
No doubt on the opening ceremony all the cheque paying & back slapping was done but now’s the time for arse kicking. Oh & whoever agreed to change to locks on canal facilities to key pad instead of improving key returning system to save a few quid needs slapping they're **** not fit for garden shed luckily most are now jammed open or broken so its free house hopefully not to be trashed !
 

awol

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Only h'cap shower available at Crinan but its drain still can't cope. I apologise profusely for my calumny in stating 2 hands are needed for the h'cap facilities at Crinan - the 2nd handle is still there but the sneck mechanism has been removed. This weekend most of the younger staff are at T in the P!
Special WHYW rate of £14.36 /m (or £26.80 /m return) providing you do it between 31st July and 9th August and can prove a WHYW entry.
 

ctva

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Between £16-17 per metre. It is 8 miles long.

It's 9 miles long so is better value! :)

As someome who only ever uses locks 14 & 15, they are operated by some very good young new staff who are always chatty and friendly. All they lack, which will come with experience, is the ability to manage (sometimes stroppy yotties) to make the lockings efficient and reduce the wait times for coming in from the sea. As well as the younger seasonal staff at the seasick, they should also have on a grumpy older full timer to provide the balance of experience and efficiency when needed.

As to the increases in costs, the blame should be laid on those that filled in survey firms over the last few years to say that they would be happy to pay more for manned locks rather than employing a pilot and letting those of us that prefer to do it ourselves (2 up) get on with it. Unfortunately there was also the problem of the lazy / too posh to push (lock gates) lot who abused other boats pilots and assisted passage help, although the Canal could have managed the assisted passage better.

Despite the ever increasing costs (at the moment) I still think the canal is a great place to transit or keep the boat.

It is worth while speaking to Alex in the Ardrishaig office with any comments good or bad as they are listened to and acted upon where practicable. They don't bite! I have no affiliation to the canal other than a long time user.
 
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