Row the Minch expedition 12/8/19

5 members of Ullapool CRC planned and executed a row in the skiff Cul Mor from Stornoway to Ullapool, 50 miles, on Monday 12th August, in aid of the MS Society.

MS is more common in the west coast and the Highlands than elsewhere. Most people here are related to or know at least one sufferer.

The row was in the planning for more than a year, both to get the maximum publicity and to build up fitness. The crew did long rows in the rowing machine and built up to 20 miles in rowing trips. They had an average age of 57 so were not in the first flush of youth. There were two women and three men, and they rotated places every 45 to 60 minutes.

To get the best weather window they chose a 9 day period during which they were all available. Although Saturday 10th August was their ideal day for publicity it had poor weather, but Monday 12th had a favourable forecast of gentle westerly winds and good sunshine.

On Sunday 11th they crossed on the ferry, the skiff having previously been sent over.It was a lumpy crossing in the ferry with many passengers being sick, and the support boat Lady Nicola also had a very rolly crossing in the northerly swell left over from several days of northerly winds. The Lady Nicola was crewed by its owner Andy Holbrow and me, with its regular crew Mike joining by ferry on Sunday night. He reported that many ferry passengers had been sick.

The trip can be thought of as three parts. The first 5 miles are sheltered by Stornoway harbour and then by the Eye peninsula. Then you are into the open Minch for about 30 miles, followed by 15 miles of increasingly sheltered water among the Summer Isles and into Loch Broom.

At 0400 on Monday it was dark but streaks of light were just apparent in the sky, and in a glassy calm the skiff left Stornoway in the company of two other skiffs, Madadh Ruadh and the West Side skiff, plus two locally owned yachts. The Lady Nicola led the way through the harbour buoyage. Cul Mor had port, starboard and aft navigation lights, which were LED powered with dry batteries. They were on a short mast behind and above the cox, so as not to dazzle him or her. The batteries lasted the whole trip of 14.5 hours.

Outside the harbour the escort said goodbye and the skiff led, navigating by a small plotter bolted to the gunwale. As they left Lewis behind there were no waves or wind but a 1.5m swell from the north. The crew tell me that three of them began to feel seasick at this point.

They made good progress at about 4.2 knots. A small wind from the south sprang up and slowly built, but the waves were at first small and did not hamper the skiff. This wind was forecast but the forecast was then for it to go to the SW and W which would have been a tail wind. Instead it built up to 15-25mph from the S, which directly opposed the northerly swell, and from halfway over the open Minch to the first shelter the going became increasingly difficult. The waves built to about a metre which piled against the swell to make confused and irregular crests, some of them breaking. They were on the beam which is the hardest to row in. Some slapped the skiff and sent spray into the boat, so the crew had to bail for a few minutes at every changeover.

It was during this 15 mile stretch that the support boat crew and some of the skiff crew wondered if the skiff could make it unaided, and the support boat closed up to about 100m aft of the skiff. We were aware the skiff crew were seasick and although I was available as a spare rower it would have been a good feat of seamanship by Andy to transfer crew without damage to the skiff or crew. We did have a diver lift at the aft end of the Lady Nicola which could be lowered and raised from sea level to deck level. If we had needed to assist but did not want to transfer crew, we would have thrown them a rope and towed them to shelter. It would not have been fun but
it would have been straightforward to do. In the event no people or gear passed between the skiff and the support boat, so the skiff did it entirely unaided.

Amazingly the skiff crew plugged on and at the 35 mile mark passed into the shelter of the outer Summer Isles. We were all relieved. Coigach Lass came out of Eilean Dubh to join us, and an Ullapool motor boat and a Coigach yacht. As the flotilla progressed into more and more shelter more boats joined, and the Calmac ferry gave us a hoot. We had 3 skiffs, two other rowing boats and 6 motor boats by the time the skiff landed on the beach with about 100 people clapping. It was a great welcome.

– Having several days to choose from is a way to get the best weather
– However forecasts are not always right even if settled for days.
– Seasickness can affect skiff rowers even if experienced.
– In the open sea it is possible to become disoriented, whether using a
compass or a plotter, and point the boat in the wrong direction. Distant
landmarks are useful.
– Crew transfers between boats in wavy conditions are hazardous. In previous trials we used an inflatable yacht tender as a stepping stone between skiff and support boat. The skiff was tied bow and stern alongside the support boat, squashing the dinghy which acted as a big fender and as a safe place to catch crew. We should have taken a dinghy this time, in retrospect.
– Due to seasickness one of the skiff crew only had 6 sips of water and no food
for the whole trip. She was fine as soon as she stepped ashore.
– The skiff carried two VHF radios which worked well but not all of the crew had practiced radio procedure. This did not matter much as they soon
learned and there was no other traffic on the chosen channel.
– Support boats need to go very slowly to stay with a skiff and at these low
speeds they tend to roll badly, plus they have exhaust fumes. Thus the
support crew also need to be resistant to seasickness.
– When the skiff was not being rowed she lay beam-on to the seas and drifted slowly downwind. The turbulence left upwind of her kept waves from breaking, a skiff safety feature I have often noted. While being rowed she did not drift so much and so waves did break against her windward side.

I have a lot of admiration for this crew. They kept rowing while seasick in very poor rowing conditions, I’m not sure if I could have done what they did. 50 miles nonstop has raised the bar a bit for skiff cruising!

Topher Dawson, 14/8/19

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Cromarty Regatta 2019

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Jolly Boats… the Scottish Tradition in Fixed Seat Racing

Jolly Boats are light weight fixed seat rowing boats, specifically intended for racing. They were popular in many parts of Scotland from the early twentieth century. They were still being raced at Portobello into the 1980s, and the last Scottish Championship for the Jolly Boat was held at Royal West of Scotland Boat Club at Greenock in 2001. The class was divided into subclasses, such as “Portobello Class”, “First Class” and “second class” depending on the details of construction. Both the Scottish Maritime Museum and the Riverside Museum Glasgow have Jolly Boats in their permanent collections.

The existing Jolly Boats that we are aware of are as follows:

ArgoBuilt 1924 by Salters for Newport Rowing Club (Firth of Tay)Owned in Wormit. Currently being refurbished to re-enter service.+
Bute SharpFirst Class Racing Jolly Boat, built around 1910 for Glasgow Printers Trade Rowing ClubExhibit at Riverside Museum, Glasgow
AlbatrossBuilt for Wormit Boating Club on the River TayPrivately owned, River Thames near Richmond. Races in the Great River Race as a “River Tay Gig”
Mary ChalmersBuilt 1953 by McAllister of Dumbarton for Ladyburn Trades Amateur Rowing Club (Greenock). Exhibit at the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine
NaiadRoyal West of Scotland ABC, Greenock. Active in Racing.
SpriteRoyal West of Scotland ABC, Greenock. Active in Racing.
Bute Sharp, First Class Jolly Boat, Riverside Museum, Glasgow.
Jolly Boat Launching at Portobello
Portobello Class Jolly Boat recovered from Broughty Ferry Boating, In use at Portobello 2012
Jolly boat “Sprite” from Royal West – Racing at the Nith Navigation Race
3d Image of Mary Chalmers at the Scottish Maritime Museum

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Shieldaig and Loch Torridon rowing regatta

Shieldaig and Loch Torridon Coastal Rowing Club hosted its 5th annual rowing regatta on Saturday 10 August.   

Despite appalling weather forecasts earlier in the week, the rain and wind mainly held off allowing teams to row the exciting “round the island” course.   13 teams formed a competitive field from all over Scotland featuring Avoch, Boatie Blest, Cromarty, Newhaven, Golspie, Locharron, Queensferry, St Andrews, Sutors Skiffies, Ullapool, Port Soy, Burghead and our home team.   The course started as usual in front of Shieldaig village, after which the crews sprinted northwards into a moderate headwind and choppy swell.  It is a feature of the course than after only 600m, the teams all converge at a single turning mark, turning left through 45 degrees to head to the north of the island.   After that the skiffs all disappear into the “dark side” around the back of the Island.   All spectators are held in suspense until the teams emerge for a sprint finish to the beach.  

The racing was tight and the usual ‘argy bargy’ at the first mark was mainly avoided with some excellent umpiring.    Golspie took line honours for the Mixed Open, Boatie won the Open Men and 230+ Men, Avoch won the Open Women and (to local supporters’ delight) the home team won the 230+ Mixed and 230+ Women races.    Golspie were worthy overall regatta champions.     All teams enjoyed the great food and atmosphere provided by Shieldaig’s fete, including the evening live music.  

Organisers would like thank all fete and regatta participants, contributors and the event sponsors for their ongoing generous support.    Some photos of the event can be viewed at  

Next year’s fete and regatta will be on 8 August 2020.

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Coxing and Sharks

SCRA is an association committed to sharing knowledge and improving standards. Every club within the association is of equal status, and we want all clubs be included in our community, even where they are slightly more remote. Another of SCRA’s successful coxing courses was held on the Hebridean Island of Tiree in August, with SCRA coaches from Portobello and Ullapool travelling to the island to meet with coxes from Lochaber and the Island. In a first for highly experienced coxes Topher Dawson, Jan Dawson and Ali Grant the skiff was followed by a basking shark. The photo below gives some idea of the scale of these beasts….. both those fins are on the same fish, one being a dorsal fin and the other the tail. A magnificent creature to share the water with.

Thank you to the coaches for giving freely of their time, and to all the participants who want to learn and share skills. Skiff rowing is on the up in Argyll. There was regatta at Lochaline recently, and five more Argyll skiffs will be joining the fleet soon: Port Appin is turned and painted; KIDs second skiff for Loch Awe is complete and being painted; Glencoe Sailing Club’s skiff has been turned; Achnamara is progressing; and the Lochaber skiff at Fort William is at the building frame stage, although the club currently have use of a Wemmyss skiff, which is hopefully not distracting them too much from their build.

Thanks to the Dawsons for the shark pic, and to John Ireland for the other pics.

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Nith Raid on 31 August 2019

Not to be mixed up with the Nith Naviagation Race, the Nith Raid is a 10 mile race for sailing boats, rowing boats, and sail and oar boats. 10 miles on the tidal magic carpet. Entries are NOW OPEN.

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Prepare for Lift Off

Icebreaker at Skiffieworlds Stranraer 2019: Photo Gordon Watson

Rowing Technique: 1. Find Water 2. Pull

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Fèis na Mara na Hearadh – Harris’ first St Ayles Skiff Event.

One of the key and final events of Fèis na Mara was rowing races: Shorter 1nm races took place in Scalpay North Harbour and a longer 3.6nm race from Scalpay to Tarbert. 6 skiffs took part in the new Fèis this year. 

We were pleased to welcome Boatie Blest – Cockenzie Port Seton RC to the Isle of Harris who crewed 3 skiffs ; An Eathar, Stornoway RC, Ràmhaich an Taobh Siar and Berneray joined the races. 

Port Seton swept the board in the shorter 1nm women’s and men’s open races. The endurance race between Scalpay and Tarbert saw Port Seton taking 1st,2nd and 3rd places with the Yackydoola coming in closely behind in 4th, Madadh Ruadh in 5th and Fir Chlis, 6th. After a wet day everyone enjoyed the prize giving reception at the Harris Distillery followed by food and ceilidh in the Tarbert community centre. Look out for next year’s dates which will be announced soon. 

Men’s Open 1nm Race
1st 50 – Boatie Lodge, Port Seton & Cockenzie
2nd 01 – Boatie Rows, Port Seton & Cockenzie
3rd Madadh Ruadh – Stornoway RC
Women’s Open 1nm Race
1st 01-Boatie Rows, Port Seton & Cockenzie
2nd 50- Boatie Lodge, Port Seton & Cockenzie
3rd Yackydoola – An Eathar
Open Mixed 3.6nm endurance Race
1st 50- Boatie lodge
2nd 01-Boatie Row
3rd Eala Bhan Crewed by Port Seton

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Entries Now Please for Castle to Crane 21 September 2019

Entries are hotting up for Scotland’s biggest open water Rowing Race: Castle to Crane. The race takes place on the River Clyde between Dumbarton Castle and Finnieston Crane, Glasgow, on 21 September 2019.

Glasgow Coastal Rowing Club who will be welcoming the skiffs up their slipway at the end have just entered two skiffs. Strangford have become the first Irish entry for the 2019 Race. We have interesting entries from England with Solent Galleys as well as Pilot Gigs taking part. In Scotland the largest entries so far seem to be coming from the North East, with every club on the Black Isle represted already. RowFlo make up the Western Isles contingent at the moment, but hopefully with more to come. Prominent among the small boat entries are two Teifi Skiffs both rowed as coxed double sculls.

So don’t miss out whatever you do. The race is filling up fast, and we have an upper limit which may be reached before the scheduled last date for entries. Bring along your viking boat, Birlinn, Celtic Long Boat, ICRF One Design, Shetland Yoal, Hanningfield Skiff, St Ayles Skiff, CPG, Currach…. or whatever you have so long as your row it fixed seat, it has at least four oars and cox doing the steering . But you need to get your entry in!

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Prestwick Regatta Results 2019

So the results are in from this friendly Clyde regatta. Prestwick were joined by neighbouring clubs Arran, Carrick, FOCCR, Renegade, Troon and Stranraer. Nice for Stranraer to be able to travel to their first regatta since the Worlds. Rowers from Cumbrae CRC were rowing with the Renegade squad. Arran had the longest journey and the strongest squad, registering wins in Open Men, Novice, 220+ Men and 220+ Women. FOCCR registered wins in Mixed Decades and “Random” (happy to hear what that category was about!). Results below. Great photo report on Arran CRC Facebook Page.

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