The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy is a real showcase event for St Ayles skiffs and Scottish Coastal Rowing. The weekend event is usually attended by around 20,000 people and the skiff racing can be one of the most exciting parts of the festival. The festival had a record turnout of skiffs this year, 17 all together. Soy Quine, built by the Portsoy Skiffettes, and Soy Loon, also built in Portsoy were joined by skiffs from Ullapool, Catterline, North Berwick, Portobello, Eskmuthe, Anstruther, Stornoway, Newburgh, Crail, South Queensferry, North Queensferry, Collieston, WSV Woudrichem (Netherlands), Firth of Clyde (Fairlie/ Largs) and Cockenzie/Port Seton (Boatie Blest).
Many skiffies without boats were also there to take notes. I am sure there were others, but those who identified themselves included Gourdon, Montrose (fingers crossed), Burghead, Bristol, Avoch, Findhorn and Women on Water of Tasmania.
As a special treat for the coastal rowers this years festival was opened by Olympian Katherine Grainger on Friday Morning. The Portsoy skiffettes were thrilled to have a row with Katherine, who has taken an interest in the Portsoy club from early on in the build of Soy Quine. More on that hopefully in a later post.
Saturday did not look promising. The campers of skiff city had been woken by rain drumming on their tents, and drifting down to the harbours and looking out to sea they were met with a Northerly (onshore) wind and a swell breaking into foam and spray on the rocks around the harbour entrances. The tops were being blown off the whitecaps, which themselves were extending 20 meters along the tops of some waves. However the rains stopped and the sun peeped out every now and again. Was it time to go rowing?
The planned long distance races in the bay to the west of the Old Harbour would be neither safe nor enjoyable with a breaking beam sea, but folk had travelled a long way and our skiffs were looking pretty as a static display, but bring far more joy underway! A plan was therefore hatched to bring the racing inside the New Harbour. This of course required skiffs to transfer across the gap between the two harbours, giving the watching crowds (and the crew members) a bit of a thrill……
Those who know Portsoy will know that the new harbour is not a big space in which to race, so skiffs were to do their bit one at a time, on a time trial basis. To make things a bit more of a challenge the race course was set as a race from the slip to the far end of the harbour, where coxwains would order their crew to undertake a 360 degree turn. Crews then had to back their skiffs up around 50 meters to a buoy, where they executed a 180 degree turn, before slapping the water 3 times with their blades and then racing the few meters back to the slip.
The results were entertaining, challenging and (I think) conducted without damage to the skiffs or the lovely boats that were moored round the walls of the harbour. The co-operation and good will of the other boat owners and the safety crews has to be acknowledged.
The time trials were extremely close, and in general the neatest crews, who were happy to listen to their coxes, got the fastest times. Crews with more than one chief in the boat were easily identified! RowPorty (Portobello) won the Women’s and Mixed competition. Boatie Blest (Cockenzie and Port Seton) won the Mens. Full results can be found by clicking on this link.
On the return to the Old Harbour, some skiffs ventured out to sea to test the conditions. They were certainly challenging, but the St Ayles design showed how well she can ride a nasty sea under oar power. Thank you again to Mr Iain Oughtred, designer of the class. An evening reception in the Tatty Shed was well attended, and not many of the coastal athletes appeared to be saving themselves for the next day with an early bed time.
Sunday was again challenging. The sea was slightly more predictable, but there were still plenty of white caps about, and the shore to the west of the harbour looked particularly unwelcoming. Again making the best of what they had, the organisers decided that long distance races were not on, and instead organised a sprint regatta in the harbour fairway for those that were happy to be out in the lively conditions. Categories races were Men 40+, Women 40+ and Mixed Open. The course was from a line between the two harbours, out to turning buoys (each crew turning their own, to starboard) and back to the line. Two crews were on the course at a time, but the prizes were decided on time, rather than by knockout. Full results can be found on the same link as before. The winners were: