Scotland’s Big Rowing Race: Castle to Crane 2017

approaching the finish, photo Sarah Mills

Something very special happened on the Clyde on 23 September 2017.  More than 400 rowers in 75 boats took part in the inaugural Castle to Crane Race,  rowing up the river from Dumbarton Castle to the Finnieston Crane near Glasgow City Centre. The event was organised by social enterprise Gal Gael as part of their “Clydebuilt Festival”, with significant input from the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association and its member Clubs, particularly Royal West of Scotland ABC and Glasgow Coastal Rowing Club.

Boats had travelled a long way by land including from the far North of Scotland, East Anglia, Wales,  South and South West of England to be part of the fleet.  Significantly though many had crossed the sea to attend, with American skiffies flying in to join Isle of Seil’s “Selkie” and ferry crossings for clubs from Netherlands, Ireland, Islay, Mull, Lewis, Orkney and Shetland just to get to the startline.  The efforts in organising the race were matched by the efforts of those taking part in travel as well as training, and of course racing for two or more hours in a fixed seat rowing boat.  Boats launched at Sandpoint Marina, and had their start time taken as they crossed the line.  They then made their way down the River Leven and into the River Clyde.

waiting to launch at Dumbarton Photo Daren Borzynski

Having passed Dumbarton Castle crews moved on up to pass the entrance to the Forth and Clyde Canal at Bowling and then under the high level Erskine Bridge before the Titan Crane came into view. Crews might have been fooled into thinking this was the finish, but they were only half way.  Country side gave way to commerce and industry, with active shipbuilding going on at the BAE systems yards.   The crews then raced up to pass the Tall Ship and the Clydebuilt festival at Riverside Museum before the final mile under the footbridges (complete with Pipe Band!), past the media offices of BBC and STV and finshing at Finnieston just before the Clyde Arc.

Everyone who started the course completed it, and they all deserve a medal. Which is good because they all got one. There were winners in a variety of categories but everyone should be proud of their achievement, wherever they finished in their category.  In recognition of the fact that this is a community sport, and that everyone deserves credit, Castle to Crane’s  premier prize is the “Median Trophy”.  This trophy is in the gift of the organisers and is given to a crew who represent the whole fleet.   Fittingly, given the amount of effort Royal West had put in to making Castle to Crane Race a success for visiting crews, the winners of the Median Trophy in 2017 were the Royal West Crew racing in their St Ayles skiff “Chippy McNish”.

With Glasgow in the background. Credit Allan Robertson

Little and Large:  Teifi Skiff “Speedwell” with the Birlinn “Orcuan” . Photo Daren Borzynski

There was significant variety in the fleet.  The biggest vessel was Gal Gael’s flagship, the birlinn “Orcuan”.  She is a heavy ship, and was magnificently rowed by her crew of twelve.  We had the largest ever fleet of St Ayles skiffs in a dazzling variety of colours.  There was a significant entry from Wales, with six Celtic Longboats taking part.  Once times were adjusted for age and gender Porthmadog’s 50+ mixed crew were awarded the prize for a four oared boats.   Other boats in this class included North Berwicks crew in a Hanningfield Skiff, “Zev” raced “randan”, and a crew from Royal West, all members of the Graham family, racing the historic Jollyboat “Sprite”.

Another Welsh boat, “Flying Fish” from Aberdyfi, took part in the coxed Double sculls class.  This is a class that we hope to expand in the future.  Once the times had been adjusted for age and gender this class was won by “Speedwell” rowed by an all female crew from North Berwick.

The race also incorporated the Scottish Open Women’s Pilot Gig Championships.  The 2017 Champions were named as Penryn, racing in their beautiful varnished gig Morlader”.

There were five Currachs from the South of Ireland taking part.   These are skin on frame boats, so relatively light, and have skinny oars. (Check out the oars in the photo above by Allan Robertson). By Monday the Currachs were away on a wee adventure, rowing round the Isle of Cumbrae.  In the race however, and after times were adjusted for age and gender, the Currach prize went to the Men’s open crew “An Feuch Un”.  We may need to adjust handicaps in the future to take account of the type of Currach, the technical details of which are slightly beyond us!  The fastest mixed open Currach was Domhan Ealla in 2 hours 41 minutes 27 seconds.


Shetland Yoal by Daren Borzynski

Shetland Yoals from Orkney, Lerwick and Nesting took part.  Lerwick’s mixed crew in Siri were winners of the category, once it had been adjusted for age and gender.  Their time over the course was 2:12:32.  The Shetland Yoals were a significant inspiration to the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project when it started up, and  the Association was delighted to once again see these boats racing alongside St Ayles skiffs.

There were 55 St Ayles skiffs racing, the largest fleet of these boats ever assembled.  They were split into six categories, and the prizes were awarded in each of the categories as follows:

Mixed 50+  :  North Berwick, “Skiff John B”

Men 50 +  :  Ullapool, “Ulla”

Women 50 +  :  Anstruther, “Chris o’Kanaird”

Mixed Open :  Anstruther, “St Ayles”

Men’s Open :  St Andrews, “Blue Bay”

Women’s Open:  Avoch, “Zulu”

We have seen thousands of Photographs on Castle to Crane’s Facebook page.  You will almost certainly find one of your favourite crew on the albums by official photographers  Allan Robertson and Daren Borzynski.  Please credit the photographer when sharing any photos.

Click Here for Full Results of Castle to Crane

Do bear in mind when interpreting the results that (contrary to the usual rule of twelths) tidal conditions became less favourable as the day went on. Therefore those with lower start numbers were lucky enough to row slightly less distance through the water (as opposed to SOG) than those with higher start numbers.  The Anstruther ladies 50+ crew are erroneously shown as racing mixed open, so apologies to all concerned by that mix up.

For those interested in the adjustment of times for age and gender, they can view the adjusted times on the C2C Adjustment Spreadsheet.   The adjustments apply within classes, not between classes.  A strong ethos of SCRA is fairness of opportunity between the genders.  We adjust the times for gender and age when there are insufficient boats in a class to justify separate trophies for men/ women/ mixed.

We hope that everyone enjoyed Castle to Crane 2017.  Feedback forms will be sent out, and we will use that feedback to help us to decide whether to try to make this an annual event, and if so to start negotiations with our key partners with a view to bringing you Castle to Crane 2018.

Joppa from Findhorn, declared the bonniest boat. photo Allan Robertson

Assistant Cox, Isle of Seil. credit: Allan Robertson

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