Spirit of Catterline and her crew from Catterline CRC take over the baton from Collieston in Aberdeen.
Although this is the first time we have rowed in Aberdeen, we are keen to leave this busy hub of commercial oil and gas supply boats which dwarf Spirit. As we head around the south breakwater and into Greyhope Bay we can see the tall and slender Girdleness Lighthouse, and the now defunct ‘Torry Coo’ foghorn. Slightly further on we reach Nigg Bay, site of the massive new harbour being constructed for cruise ships.
The majority of the route further south is unknown to us, and it is a long row. It is a straight line with an unforgiving rocky coast with few places to land. We will pass the small harbours of Cove Bay and Old Portlethen but we don’t have time to explore them today. Fortunately we have a strong tide taking us on our way. The current heads south two hours after low water and will give us a knot and a half. The crew soon find their rhythm and settle into a steady rate. The timing is good and there is a rhythmic clunk as the oak kabes release the load as the blades of the four oars simultaneously rise out of the water. The strokes are long and slow and the skiff progresses with a gurgling sound as the bow slices through the small waves. It is quiet in the boat except for the cox’s occasional encouragement. Minds are focused and hardly aware of the passing miles.
The Southern Highland Boundary Fault is the northern extremity of our regular rowing. This sharp outcrop with the rock thrust upwards at 60 degrees marks the eastern end of the fault that extends south-westwards across Scotland to Helensburgh and onto Arran. It is now a mile across Stonehaven Bay and to a changeover. Will it be a pint at the Marine Hotel or an ice cream at the harbour? The thought of either is enough to keep the tired muscles going for the last stretch.
The fresh crew are relaxing on the slipway surrounded by the small packed beach within the harbour. It is a tight fit for the skiff to come through the moored boats and paddling children. The new crew are eager to catch the last of the flood to take them south and are impatient to climb into the boat. The weary crew are slow to move, as they become increasingly aware of their aching muscles and sore blistered hands.
The new crew head out to Downie Point, where they turn 90 degrees to cross Strathlethan Bay under Stonehaven’s War Memorial. Bowdun Point, as usual, has some larger waves as the current swirls past. Now, the iconic Dunnottar Castle comes into view. The crew briefly pause to turn their heads to take in the stunning view, which few see from the sea.
The steep cliffs of Fowlsheugh lie ahead, which plunge into the sea. Hidden in these are some of Scotland’s largest sea caves. As it is late in summer, the cliffs are now quiet. The thousands of birds (guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins) that nest on the cliffs have departed. Gone are the days of marvelling at the carpets of birds that sit offshore and the noisy swirls we love in the spring and early summer, laughing at the comical puffins as they skim across the water trying to get airborne.
After an hour and half of steady rowing, Catterline Bay opens up. The wee cottages stretching around the top of the Braes come into view. We swing into the bay, easing the weight on the oars, enjoying the last few strokes in the flat water. The cox calls oars. The rowers stop and pull their oars inboard, Spirit glides past the pier towards the pebbly beach and the welcome of club members.
That is the first day completed and the crew go to Catterline’s cliff top pub, The Creel, for refreshment.