By Joost Engelen, The Netherlands. Designer note by Michael Storer

Sail Caledonia is a coast to coast raid across Scotland that begins on the salt water in the West of Scotland on Loch Lynn. It navigates the Great Glen (which translates as “Great Valley”), a sixty-six mile waterway, which consists of three lochs (“lakes”) and some canal stretches between the lochs. The raid ends on the salt water in the East of Scotland on the Beauly Firth.

Maiden voyage 5 April 09, 6 weeks before departure to Scotland.

Set in the Highlands of Scotland amidst the spectacular scenery of the Great Glen, Sail Caledonia is open to anyone with a competitive spirit of adventure and a desire to have a good time in small boats powered by sail and oars. Sail Caledonia is essentially a series of races with at least one race per day during each leg.

Caledonian Canal with the Big Ben (highest mountain in Scotland in the background).

Sail Caledonia is a well organised event with a full safety team (three fast and capable motorboats), a start boat and a converted barge providing an excellent base during the event. There are nutritious breakfasts and packed lunches, a nice selection of local brews (Heather Ale!) and very decent meal to replenish one’s energy levels at the end of a day’s sailing and/or rowing. Bearing in mind that the Scottish weather (a lot of rain, an air temperature of usually 10°C/50°F and unpredictable strong winds - combined with a maximum water temperature of 10°C/50°F) make sailing on vast and deep stretches of water challenging. You are glad of the support provided both on and off the water!

Having sailed our Goat Island Skiff (GIS), GISwerk (which translates to “guesswork” in English) only five times prior to our departure from the Netherlands for Scotland, the Scottish lochs and canals have truly shown us what a capable boat the GIS is. On Loch Ness we were confronted with fairly strong winds (above 20 knots and a short steep 4' swelll) which GISwerk handled beautifully and without much ado under full sail downwind. Probably not a very sensible thing to do, but it definitely made for a most exciting fast surf and gained us a first place in that particular leg!

In the lead on Loch Ness.
Loch Ness

Out of ten competitors, we ended a constant third in each of the rowing legs. In the sailing legs we got in first to fifth. The winds are very unpredictable on the Scottish lochs. A force two can easily become a force six, but that might be over a few minutes time and dwindle to force naught. One day in particular we had difficulties forecasting the winds, resulting in tying in an unnecessary reef which in turn caused a big delay in finishing. Of course, it would have helped if we would have been able to sail the boat a bit more before entering an event such as Raid Caledonia, as we would have had better understanding of what the GIS can exactly handle.

One of the 29 locks one has to negotiate!

What matters most is that we had a blast, got to know the boat fairly well sailing and rowing the boat in a lot of different conditions, met some lovely people and enjoyed the fine music, food and drinks the organisation had arranged.

Now, let us have a short look at what makes the GIS such a good raid craft and what we like about it in particular:

The rowing…

The GIS is not the fastest rowboat around since it can only handle one pair of oars and its hull shape is preliminary designed for sailing. It does not loose that much ground in comparison to, for example, an Oughtred Ness Yawl, especially when you consider the that a Ness Yawl is rowed by two people in tandem formation using four oars.

In the GIS, with the anchor gear on the port side of the boat, the helm can sit on the cockpit floor on the starboard side just in front of the aft deck and next to the tiller to keep the boat balanced. To help the boat track (no skeg fitted under the flat bottom), it helps to put the daggerboard and the rudder down a couple of inches.

Although not the fastest craft under oars in short rowing races, the light low drag hull does allow you to keep rowing at a decent pace for hours without using too much energy when there isn’t any wind.

The sailing…

Two wind directions predominate in the Great Glen. The wind is either south-westerly or north-easterly. This raid we luckily had the wind behind us coming from the south-west for the whole duration of the event, which helped during the rowing and made for some very fast and exhilarating sailing. Sail Caledonia is usually a longer downwind sailing voyage with some shorter parts going to windward.

I am convinced that the fastest course for the GIS is on a reach, but she will plane alright downwind if the wind is strong enough. She remains very stable when surfing down waves (half raised dagger board) and there is sufficient volume up front to keep the nose from diving with the crew sitting on the thwart and the helmsman steering the boat from the aft deck.

To windward she sails confidently without much slamming or water coming over the sides. I have been told that if a boat doesn’t take on much water upwind on Loch Ness in a force five, it is not very likely she will do elsewhere!

This boat gives its crew a lot of confidence. Even when truly over canvassed on Loch Ness, which is a very big stretch of water in force five, she is a very predictable and stable boat. This is for sure when you consider that the GIS is "just" a big dinghy. The GIS is a simple, stiff, strong and light boat that handles most conditions with ease. The balanced lug rig seems to perfectly match the boat fully incorporating the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid, with its stiff mast; light, bendy boom and yard; and, sufficient sail area.

Another participant of the raid trying out GISwerk.

Although perhaps not the conventional choice for a raid boat, she has exceeded our expectations! It is a very exciting boat to race and she is very capable and seaworthy. I cannot wait until the next Sail Caledonia planned for 2011!

There are two more Goats on the way in the Netherlands. The crew of one is interested in RAIDing as well.

Perhaps someone in the States would be happy to lend us a GIS to participate in the Texas 200?

Joost & Viola
the Netherlands

P.S Results of 2009 and a link to a lot of photos taken of the event:


Designer's Note – Joost and Viola are very experienced boat sailors. I would not be generally recommending the Goat be used for a strenuous RAID event like Sail Caledonia after five sessions of sailing as the conditions are quite tough and the water is quite cold.

However, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that they had done so well in the event – not to mention making the trip from Holland!

It goes to show what excellent sailors with the right gear and thinking can produce out of the Goat Island Skiff.

Joost and Viola have also provided quite a lot of feedback about making some small improvements to the boat for RAIDing and other racing events, the main one is a smaller first reef in the sail just to take the edge off the power without too big a step.

There is more discussion of their experience on my forum here.

I look forward to the development of a low key “Works Team” for the GIS in the Netherlands!

Michael Storer


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