North Berwick: Racing With Added Wind and Sunshine

NBfidra start

There always seems to be challenging conditions at North Berwick Regatta and this year was no exception.  There was a strong wind from the South West which gave side on conditions on the way out to Cragleith Island.  This is now regarded as a classic racecourse and a test of endurance as well as nerve. Coxes face as testing a time as the rowers.  Crews race out from a line off North Berwick harbour, go close round Craigleith, which lies a bit less than a mile offshore.  The Island is steep to, so crews take a close inshore route if they are able before striding out back towards North Berwick, hitting a fierce headwind where the South Westerly screams round the South East corner of the rock.  Anyone who completes the course deserves a medal, and to many rowers delight, they were all given one at the close of racing!

Firth of Clyde Rowing Club based out of Largs were first time visitors to the North Berwick and were welcomed with smiling faces and sunshine, as well as the testing wind.  They were joined by one other club from the Clyde, Royal West of Scotland, based out of Greenock.  Two clubs had travelled from the far North.  St Ayles skiff world champion club Coigach brought their skiff down from Achiltibuie, and Bunillidh, another club racing at this regatta for the first time, made the six hour journey down from Helmsdale.  Both the northern clubs knew they face stiff opposition to their hopes of taking wins home Northwards.

Fife was well represented, with Newburgh bringing down a young squad and St Ayles club of Anstruther renewing rivalries with their near neighbours Crail and St Andrews. St Andrews were a very new club when they attended the previous year.  This year with a bit of practice behind them they were keen to build on their experience and take on the more experienced clubs where possible.   From the South Shores of the Firth Queensferry brought Ferry Maid,  Portobello had a big and diverse enough group to use both their skiffs, “Jenny Skylark” and “Icebreaker”, and Boatie Blest of Cockenzie and Port Seton took up the last of the visitors spaces.  The host club North Berwick managed to enter two skiffs in most of the categories.

nb beach

The weather was sunny as well as windy, and the town was welcoming.  The racing was hard.  “Go” sent the first race, Men’st 40+ off,  into the testing weather conditions.  Coxes who had been listening to the briefing knew to keep as far to the west of the racetrack as possible, so as not  to get swept down.  The North Berwick crew in “skiff john B” slowly edged out and advantage dragging Crail and Coigach along with them.  The fifers and the northerners battled round the rock, with the crews drawing level on the east side, just where the wind feels like someone is slamming a door in the coxwain’s face.  However the North Berwick crew drew away as they left the rock and went on to win in at time of 17.15 . Crail forgot to give up, and insisted on pushing the North Berwick crew all the way, holding off Coigach as they did so. The battle for fourth and fifth was even closer, with Anstruther pipping Bunillidh by a mere two seconds over a three and a bit kilometer course.

Crail got their reward in the very next race, Women’s 40+.  With the winding starting to get up they coped best with the conditions, and managed to beat their local rivals Anstruther into second with North Berwick crews in third and fourth, and St Andrews taking a creditable fifth.

Then it was the Mighty Coigach’s turn to roar, in the Men’s 50+.  The crew pulled out a 45 second lead over North Berwick, with St Andrews taking a well deserved bronze.  There was a home win in the ladies 50+, with Anstruther in second place and Portobello taking third.  These ladies faced some of the toughest conditions of the windy day, and Queensferry and St Andrews deserve as much mention as the others for completing the course.


Mixed open saw the biggest field of the day, with all 14 skiffs taking to the water.  Once again it was North Berwick, Coigach and Crail contesting the medals, with the crews finishing in that order.

With conditions remaining testing the course was shortened for the Novice, Junior and 60 + races.  Instead or racing round the rock, crews raced round a RIB to the west of the rock.   The Novice race saw a dead heat for the first place slot!  Line honours were shared between St Andrews and Anstruther.  Congratulations to the now former novice rowers of both those clubs.  Crail were third and Queensferry fourth.  There was a grand battle for ninth and tenth, with Jenny Skylark of Portobello holding off Firth of Clyde by just six second.  Both those crews will have known they were in a hard race.    In the 60+ North Berwick came first with Portobello second, and Queensferry taking a bronze ahead of St Andrews.  Coigach won the Junior Race ahead of Anstruther, North Berwick, Newburgh and Portobello.  The 60+ and junior races were handicapped for age and gender.

Mixed 45+ saw a North Berwick double, with the Skiff John B crew leading home St Baldred, with Crail overahauling Coigach to take third.

nb race for the craig

For those able to view the races from the support boats, the Mens Open was probably the race of the day, and not just at the front of the field.  The win went to North Berwick, who had to pull with all their heart to overhaul Coigach.  The local crew had been behind the visitors round the rock, but pulled alongside by about half way in.   The race continued stroke for stroke until the line where North Berwick won by just one second, in a time of 18:40.  Boatie Blest followed those two home to take third, but the real battle was for fourth.  Bunillidh seemed to have a length on a trio of Fife boats- Crail, Anstruther and Newburgh- who were taking turns and pushing a few feet ahead.  Bunillidh however were pushed slightly to the east, and found themselves embroiled in the battle as the line approached.  However they managed to hand on to take fourth place in 20:14, just one second ahead of Crail (20:15) followed by Anstruther (20:16) and Newburgh (20:23).  Hard on the stern posts of these crews was the race for eighth, with St Andrews (20:39) holding off Queensferry (20:47).  The race left this observer breathless and full of admiration.  Goodness knows how it left those pulling on an oar feeling.

Mens Open race for 5, 6 and 7

Mens Open race for 5, 6 and 7

The women’s open was slightly more of a procession, with Anstruther (20:34) reminding us all what a good female squad they have whilst leading home North Berwick  St Baldred (21:23) and Coigach (21:46).  Congratulations to the St Baldred cox, who wisely headed well to the west given the combination of ebbing tide and strong westerly wind, and saved his crew a fair amount of rowing in the process.

nb bass rock ladies

Full results available here.  These photos are all kindly supplied by Steve Thompson.  Plenty more photos on the North Berwick Rowing Club Flickr group.

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Survey: Thanks

Dear Clubs,

Many thanks for all those of you who completed the skiff users survey.  We got responses from 45 Clubs and Organisations, which will give us a fairly representative view of the state of skiff building and rowing.  We are busy crunching numbers and admiring the effort that so many communities have put into building and using St Ayles skiffs.  We will report back on the results between now and the AGM, and also use some of the information to explain to other organisations what a great job you are all doing.  All the information provided will be used for the benefit of coastal rowing and St Ayles skiffs in particular.

In the meantime, while we are on subject of surveys, please do tell others about the rowing your club does, and encourage all your members to do likewise.  “Marine Recreation and Tourism Scotland” is undertaking a survey of recreational use of the Scottish Coastline.  This will help inform future decisions about use, development and protection of the marine environment.  It goes without saying that it is very desirable that the considerable time and distance spent by coastal rowers on and around the water is recognised in the survey.  Please therefore do you best and your bit, both as clubs and as individuals to get our sport recognised.  Click on the link:



Robbie Wightman


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Nith Nav Notice of Race

nith chippy

Quite a few clubs intending to come, including North Queensferry who were fastest St Ayles last year, as well as at least a couple of clubs from Northumberland. Hope to see you there.  More information on the 2015 Nith Navigation Notice of Race.

Bring out your boats!  We would love to see some variety in this race.  Last year the St Ayles Skiffs were joined by a coxed double scull and a second class jolly boat.  Any fixed seat coastal rowing boat capable of dealing with the conditions will be made most welcome.  Sooner we hear from you with details of your boat the better.  As per the rules of racing all boats must be covered by third party insurance.

nith marion

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75 Crews Race at FOCCR’s Largs Regatta

largs chippy

Firth of Clyde Coastal Rowing Club played the welcoming hosts as crews visited from other South West clubs and from further away.  The host club put out both their skiffs, “Thistle” and “Saltire”, and they were joined by skiffs from Troon, Royal West (Greenock), Cumbrae, Carrick and Prestwick.  East coast clubs had also made the trip through to the Clyde resort, with North Berwick and Anstruther bringing a skiff each.  Prestwick were attending their first ever regatta, and there were warm words of welcome for them from the organisers, and plenty of encouragement and enthusiasm from their neighbouring clubs.  It was also great to see Cumbrae racing their skiff, although they did so with a fairly small team.  More rowers needed on the holiday isle.   All together 75 crews from the 8 clubs were spread over the 10 categories raced.

Prestwick at their first regatta

Prestwick at their first regatta


The regatta used the Championship slipway at Largs Marina.  The finish line was beside the pencil monument, which commemorates the Battle of Largs.  Glad to say that all skiff crews found the slipway a more welcoming landing place than the Norwegian aggressors did in 1236.

Three races were held over a 2km course in the morning.  Crews raced in waves up to a shared turning buoy 1km from the pencil, and then raced back to the start finish line.  as one wave started the return journey, the next wave were started, with final placings being determined by the stopwatch.  North Berwick headed off strongly in the first wave of the mixed open, and clearly led their wave by the turn before pulling out further on the return leg.  The time they set was too quick for the other waves, and the east coast club had their first win of the day.

It was the first wave in the Men’s open that subsequent waves could not match.  Royal West led that wave in and took gold.  In the Women’s open Anstruther maintained their strong reputation in the discipline posting the best time and taking gold.  Over the three distance races Royal West had the best average, and were awarded the distance racing trophy.

largs sprint start

After lunch break sprint were held over a drag race style course of 500 meters.  Waves were of four or five crews, so no more than two waves for any one heat.

The FOCCRs under 20 crew brought a much welcome and well deserved victory for the local club showing good form to see off their rivals in the last race of the day.   However the preceding sprints were all one by the visitors from North Berwick.  The east coasters had to fight hard for each of these victories.  The 500m course was very punishing, with crews going off hard and trying their very best to hang on or pull away. With this slightly dull dominance it is good to look at who all took the seconds and thirds, which gives a fair amount of variety.

Troon took a second in the Freshers sprint, with Royal West just behind them in third.  Royal West took second in the Men’s open sprint, with Anstruther getting the bronze.  Anstruther took silver in Mixed Open, Women’s Open, Mixed 50+ and Mixed 50- .  The hosts, Firth of Clyde, took bronze in both the mixed over 50 and the mixed open. Special mention must go to the strength in depth of Firth of Clyde, who managed to put out two crews for all the senior events:  19 crews all together when their winning Junior Crew is included.  Perhaps there is still one score to settle there.  The two Firth of Clyde crews in the mixed under 50’s came fifth equal with each other, in identical times.

Royal West, the most experienced of the Clyde Clubs (by about 145 years) picked up third place in Women’s Open, Mixed Under 50 and Freshers sprints.

Full results can be found by clicking here.  North Berwick were awarded the overall trophy for the sprints.  Photos are from the FOCCR website, which also carries a report on the day.




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Scottish Indoor Rowing Championships 20 and 21 November 2015

Entries are now open for the Scottish Indoor Rowing Championships, with a discount for early bird entries before 16 October.  Click on the link for information about the championship categories.  Open events are raced over 2000m, with the veteran age categories over 1000m, and junior, para,  sprint and team events also available. Pararowing events are offered in Legs, Trunk & Arms (LTA), Trunk & Arms (TA) and Arms & Shoulders (AS) classifications (better contact the organisers about how to be classified).   The event will take place in Glasgow, on Concept 2 Ergometers.  Not everyone’s cup of tea, but some of our coastal rowers do enjoy using these machines of torture in the gym, and in the past  coastal rowers have picked up bronze, silver and gold medals,  so it can’t be that hard. Can it?

Here is a promotional picture from the Scottish Rowing Website of rugby players from the “Glasgow Warriors” pretending to use the machines and trying to look buff at the same time:



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Freshwater Lochs of Scotland Challenge


Some skiff crews recently enjoyed an expedition on Loch Shiel, enjoying the slightly different experience of having freshwater under the keel, and the different wild life and weather that comes with that. No racing took place, just an expedition with friends, with a bit of wild camping thrown in.   We were once told that there was a shortage of fresh water suitable for rowing in Scotland.  Can this be true?

Here is a list of some fresh water lochs.  To truly conquer one, you really have to have rowed its length.  So who can claim the following 30 biggest Lochs  for St Ayles?  (sorted by surface area….  as long as there is over 2 feet below us, it does not really matter how much is down there, unless you try to anchor).

Did you know that Loch Ness has more water in it than all the lakes in England and Wales combined?  And that Loch Morar is the deepest loch at over 300 meters deep in places?  And that there are over 30,000 freshwater lochs in Scotland. Anyway, here is your list:

Loch Lomond

Loch Ness

Loch Awe

Loch Shin

Loch Maree

Loch Morar

Loch Tay

Loch Ericht

Loch Shiel

Loch Quoich

Loch Rannoch

Loch Lochy

Loch Arkaig

Loch Leven (Fife/ Central)

Loch Katrine

Blackwater Resevoir

Loch Fannich

Loch Cluanie

Loch Monar

Loch of Harray

Loch Rimsdale, nan Clar and Badanloch

Fionn Loch

Loch Langavatt

Loch Laggan

Loch Ken

Loch Doon

Loch of Stenness

Loch Assynt

Loch Treig

Loch Mullerdoch

Loch Bee

Some of these you may never even have heard of, which might indicate that they will be a bit trickly / impossible to get to with a road trailer.  More information on the standing water database.  They are mostly found in the Highlands, but there are representative bits of water elsewhere, including the Hebrides, the Northern Isles and the South of Scotland.

Please make sure you make a good impression when undertaking any adventure, and that you have suitable permission to use launch facilities. You could always charm the locals into building their own St Ayles and using their stretch of water for rowing.  Try to be very understanding of fishermen who will be used to having most of these stretches of water to themselves.  Make sure you follow the outdoor access code, and remember that you may be remote from assistance, and should plan and prepare accordingly.

Appearing on this list does not indicate that the body of water is navigable….  up to you to determine that.   Leave only ripples, and not too many of them.  Post in the comments below once you have navigated one in your St Ayles. Name the date, the boat and the club for posterity.  And lets not turn this into an overly competitive activity….   it is after all meant to be the opposite of that.  Be delighted for anyone who rows one of the lochs, and claims it for St Ayles.

Those outwith Scotland do not need to miss out.  There are significant navigations in England and Northern Ireland to be explored, for instance the Rivers Tees, Thames, Tyne and Severn, the Norfolk Broads,  Ullswater, Connieston, Windermere, Lough Erne….  plenty more.  There are two major overseas tours planned at the moment, the Bay of Quinte Raid 2015  and the Kiwi Raid 2016.

…  and finally, once the boats are packed away and the fish supper has been finished, don’t forget to write up your experience for the benefit of others by entering it in the SCRA Cruising Log Competition.

The photo is Loch Shiel, taken by Max Blinkhorn.





Back to Racing Action in South West Region

South West skiffs have three opportunities to race, and passers by and rowing fans have three opportunities to watch skiffs racing, at upcoming events at Largs, Carrick and Dumfries.

Nith Qferry

The Nith Navigation Race is being held on Saturday 12 September.  This really is one where you can bring out your boats.  Although the majority of participants are in St Ayles skiffs, the event is open to any fixed seat coastal rowing boat.  Last year the fastest time was set by a Royal West Jolly Boat thought to be at least 120 years old!  The event is a six mile race with the Tide up the River Nith.  It starts at a cafe and finishes at a pub, so what is not to like?  Last years report and results can be found in an earlier post.  The Golden Conker for the SCRA conker champion will not be presented this year, but we have been promised that there will be some surprises.    Crews are welcome to stay over on the Saturday, and may wish to detour to explore Loch Ken or Loch Don on the way home on the Sunday.  Contact the Roy Kerr to register your crew for the event (and if you want to stay over to enquire about accommodation on board a tall ship).

Jolly boat "Sprite"

Jolly boat “Sprite”

The Excisman’s Chase on 19 September is organised by Carrick Coastal Rowing Club.  It involves racing from Maidens harbour to a beach just below Culzean Castle.  Crews can change crews at the beach if they wish, and will race back to Maidens, carrying an item of contraband, which they must hand in to finish the race.  See the report from last year for more infomation.  Contact Carrick Coastal Rowing Club to register your interest.

However your first chance to see some more racing is at Largs Marina this Saturday, 22 August.  The racing is organised by Firth of Clyde Rowing Club.  Crews are racing either 500m or 2km courses finishing at the pencil monument.  Racing starts around 11am.

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Ballantrae Smugglers Festival 2015

Now in it’s third year and with a packed week of smuggling shenanigans, coastal rowing clubs from Troon, Carrick and Girvan (skiffies complete with suitable smuggler attire), delighted the crowds with have a go sessions on Tuesday 18th of August at the Ballantrae Smugglers Festival.  Bob Dawson of Troon reports that the water was perhaps slightly choppier than ideal but all novices returned with smiley faces.
From Bob:
Evening sees the arrival of Roy Kerr’s La Mallouine appear from the horizon and anchor offshore; this sets off the smugglers two skiffs to recover contraband from the twin masted brigantine.  In a carefully scripted plan, the third skiff, being the Excise Men, set off in pursuit, to confiscate their cargo.
But being skiffers, both smugglers vessels, not liking to see another skiff coming from behind, rip up the script, and speed away making for a fun game of chaotic skiff tag.  Contraband duly confiscated, the Excise Men then head to arrest the Captain of the tall ship –  he fires his cannon , big bang and smoke, and the Excise men beat a hasty retreat to shore, only to be assailed by the local kids and a barrage of rotten apples and oranges.
Sadly, very strong winds on Wednesday destroyed Girvan’s gazebo, and the day’s events were cancelled.  The skiffies live to smuggle another day with the skiffy Excise men chased away.
It is hoped that Ballantrae are soon to embark upon a St Ayles skiff build, and Ballantrae local, Boatman John, all round hero, saved the day for the Troon smugglers, who suffered a snapped rudder eyebolt  early on – before you could say ‘Aye, aye Cap’n’, John had the damage repaired in his nearby workshop.  John also assisted remaining skiffies to recover the skiffs from the Ballantrae shore, having first refreshed crews with tea and coffee at his own house.
Thanks John, for your hospitality and boat skills, thanks Bob for a real flavour of smugglers, skiffs and tall ships in Ballantrae, and thank you Lisa Mason, for photographic assistance.

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Skiffs on Loch Shiel for Jacobite Muster

jacobite anstruther

In August 2015 eight St Ayles skiffs gathered at the South End of Loch Shiel, for a shared voyage commemorating the trip made by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was rowed up the loch to raise his standard at Glenfinnan in August 1745.  The skiffs involved were drawn from North Queensferry, Boatie Blest, Anstruther (2 skiffs), North Edinburgh, Ullapool, Row Porty and Newhaven.  The were accompanied by a Drascombe Lugger crewed by North Berwick rowers, and a RIB kindly supplied and crewed by a potential Mallaig skiff build team.  The following is a personal recollection of the voyage by Figo of the Muirhouse Youth Development Group, who built and crewed North Edinburgh Rowing Club’s skiff “Troika“.  (Troika was built by young people at Muirhouse Youth Development Group in North Edinburgh, with funding from  Creative Scotland, Awards for All and Edinburgh Airport Trust). Photos are by Jon Gerrard of Boatie Blest.

On Friday 14th August, we travelled with our new skiff, Troika from Portobello to Acharacle taking in the beautiful Scottish countryside. It took about 4 hours for us to arrive to our destination . I was really excited because this was my first time rowing the boat so far and also, it was a chance to be with lots of people I hadn’t met before who had made the same boats. We had lots of problems before the trip with minibuses and things happening to people in our group. My friend was taken into hospital the day before.  I was really afraid it would be cancelled. I’d been looking forward to it for a long while.

We arrived safely to Acharacle and put our Troika into the water at Loch Shiel. I felt really tired from being on the road all day. It’s the first time I’ve travelled this far in Scotland and the windy roads had made me a bit dizzy.   Some of our main crew could not make it, so I would really like to thank Robbie from North Berwick and Martine and Louise from Boatie Blest. If they hadn’t agreed to row, we couldn’t have gone.  I liked our crew and we had a lot of fun on the loch.

We rowed about 15 kilometres from Acharacle to Glenallandale in a group with 8 more skiffs.I thought I would have been knackered, but it was really good. I was thinking in the minibus that I just needed to sleep, but when I got on the water, I felt refreshed and awake. All around us was nature and some small islands. I only saw tiny houses and you needed a boat to get there. Being from Libya, the scenery was interesting because I was seeing it for the first time.It was getting dark, so it felt a bit like we were in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ where they go sailing at night. We were a tiny boat in a big loch in the dark and in the quiet and it was like a horror film or something. The water was okay and the waves were going in the same direction as us, so when we stopped rowing, the boat still moved.

I coxed for a bit and coxing is good, but it gets boring so it’s good that we all get a rest and also row.I like that in a skiff there’s team work going on, like the oars all in time and checking the crew is okay.

After a while, we heard through our VHF radio that other skiffs had reached land and had set up 3 separate camps and we were to look out for a bonfire on the beach. I thought it would have felt more difficult to row this far.

jacobite campsite

jacobite camp2

We wild- camped on the beach and in a forest. I’d never camped in a place like this before and didn’t want to leave. I sat up at night round a bonfire, talking to the rowers from Row Porty and Newhaven. We talked about everything from people who sleepwalk to my life back home in Libya. I spoke with Chris (Row Porty) in Arabic. That was fantastic! He has the proper Arabic language, with the right accent and grammar.

On the second day, we packed up our tents, had breakfast and then got our costumes on, to be like Jacobites. I wore a hat with a big feather in it and a waistcoat with a belt. I wore my sunglasses as well, but I’m sure Jacobites never wore them. The weather on the second day was a bit funny and it changed every 5 minutes, but for the row to Glenfinnan, the sun came out. We asked the other boats to salute Troika and bring her luck and we used the VHF to practice lining up in different ways. When we were near to Glenfinnan, the other skiffs made 2 lines and held their oars straight up in a salute. We rowed through and they all cheered for Troika. I felt like all  this wasn’t just about a boat that we’d built, but something much bigger and I felt proud of everything we’d done.  I was never worried about the boat because I trusted how we’d built it.  I started thinking about building another skiff one day.



jacobite line2

After this trip, I feel that I want to do another one, maybe an even bigger one.  Everybody on the trip was good to me and always chatted and I’d like to see them again and spend time with them.

This was the best two days of my life and I think I made new friends.

Figo , North Edinburgh ( age 17)




Exceptional Response to UK Skiff Users Survey

From Ullapool to Blakeney, Wick to Troon, Strangford to the Firths of Forth and Clyde, dependable skiffies everywhere have once more put in their very best effort and responded to the UK Skiff Users Survey 2015.  The return rate is high and with over forty clubs’ responses now registered, the data gathering can be considered far reaching, comprehensive and successful.

Well done – you have made the survey a success and contributed to identifying the next steps in the development of the St Ayles class.

If your club has not responded and would still like to take part, there is still time, with the closing date now extended to 24th August 2015 in order to give everyone the chance to be involved.  Don’t worry if you have been away on holiday – just get in touch.

Revisit your club’s inbox, (remember check your spam folders).  Alternatively email me, Karen, at, for survey links or any other queries.

It will take just a little bit of your time to have your club’s experiences and feedback count for the future.

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