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Patrol boats HMS Charger, Smiter, Biter and Blazer have hosted under-graduates from several UK universities as they conduct summer deployments around the highlands and islands of Scotland.
And they’ve also demonstrated their skill in navigating the narrowest of man-made waterways: the Crinan and Caledonian Canals.
The former links Loch Fyne with the Atlantic, sparing small craft a lengthy journey around the Kintyre peninsula, while the more famous Caledonian Canal links a series of lochs (including Ness) allowing boats to pass from the west coast to the Moray Firth.
Though just nine miles long, it took HMS Charger two days to complete the Crinan Canal transit, negotiating 15 locks and seven swing/retractable bridges.
Even though Charger is one of the smallest vessels in the Royal Navy’s inventory (under 21 metres long and just five metres wide), Lieutenant Andrew Bonham, the boat’s commanding officer, said the canal passage posed “a significant challenge”.
At the narrowest points, there were just 40 centimetres (a little over 1ft in old money) space sideways… and a mere 10cm (four inches) under the keel.
“This was a challenge we relished, a chance for us to test our skills managing seamanship, line handling, and ship handling, with zero room for error,” said Lt Bonham.
“I’m delighted to say that we got Charger through without any damage – either to the ship or the crew – which is a testament to the teamwork exhibited by everyone on board.”
Though still a navigating challenge, the much longer Caledonian Canal is wider and demanded crew and students on Blazer remained on their A-game for the three-day passage.
Sailing the Crinan Canal under the White Ensign is a much less frequent experience.