Many of the sections in the RowAround Scotland present significant challenges to crews. The 27km section from Badentarbet in Achiltibuie to Lochinver is one such. It starts with sheltered waters familiar to the Coigach Community Rowing crews and also to anyone who has come to a Coigach Regatta.
It moves out into more exposed waters in the Minch with long stretches of coast with no manmade infrastructure and a long crossing of open sea to finish. A decent weather forecast is a must and it looks like we will have a modest head wind in the exposed sections so this should be fun.
Badentarbet Bay is our usual training location so launching Coigach Lass from here is straightforward. We set off at 8.30am to take advantage of the tidal stream flowing north in our favour. We follow the coast westwards through familiar waters below Polbain to Rubha Mhadaidh-Ruaidh (Fox Point). There are often difficult waters here at certain stages of tide with confused waves making for a difficult passing but today it is straightforward. We veer a towards the north west and aim for the gap between Isle Ristol and Eilean Mullagrach.
The cliffs on either side of us are nesting locations for shag and fulmar. Shags tend to fly away when you get close, the fulmars on the other hand are quite nosy and will come and have a close look at what’s going through their patch. We are starting to get a bit of a push from the tide through the gap and we soon come out into Altandhu bay heading north for Reiff. Spirits are high in the boat, plenty of chat and gentle ribbing.
The bay at Reiff has a nice beach and is the end of the road on the Coigach peninsula so it is our last chance to bale out or land for adjustments. We hit the bay after 1 hour 10 minutes since setting off; we have covered 10km. We have definitely done this a lot quicker in the past but the crew is aware of the challenges ahead so we have started cautiously. If we average 8km/h for the whole section that should be sustainable.
We don’t need to land but we take advantage of the shelter of the bay to fuel up on flapjacks, fruitcake and bananas, the traditional fare of all rowers. Our cox is also a rower so at this point he swaps with the stroke rower. One more big glug of water and we set off again. There is still 17km to go.
We round the reefs and tentatively make our way out into the Minch and head north. Now we get an idea of the strength of the wind and the swell that will be with us for most of the remainder of the row. The wind is manageable but it is against the tide. Most of the waves we encounter are OK, long enough for us to row over but occasionally we encounter a slightly steeper one. The bow rises up over the crest and drops down heavily into the trough. The boat stalls and effort has to be increased to get back up to pace again. This is going to be a hard 5km to round the point. The crew needs to stay focused. The cox is giving good warning of the waves that are coming. All five of us need to be a cohesive crew at this point, we will get through this if we stay concentrating on the job in hand. The chat and banter has stopped. The coastline here is rocky, there are few places where you could consider putting ashore. As we make our way up the coast the cliffs get higher. We are committed and need to face up to what’s ahead.
Finally we reach Rubha Coigach, the end of the Coigach peninsula. The cliffs reach up to 60 metres just around the corner. We hold the coast as we turn north east and the expanse of Enard Bay opens up ahead of us. The Stoer peninsula lies beyond with its Stevenson lighthouse perched at the western tip.
We still have 12km to go and most of it is across the bay. We must leave the coast and follow a north easterly course towards Lochinver. We still cannot see our destination and it is difficult to spot the entrance to Loch Inver from here. However there are islands to mark our route. We can head for the nearest, A’Chleit, which is about 5km away.
We are now heading partially across the swell so this makes the going a little easier. We are still being affected by the wind so we don’t want to stop for refreshment. We use routines we worked out in training sessions to take it in turns to eat and drink while the boat is still being propelled. Once refuelled we settle into our next stint. Morale is good in the crew. We feel we’ve overcome a significant challenge to get to this point.
Leaving the coast feels different but we feel strong and get to the small grassy island 2hrs 40min after setting out. Now we can see the gap between a larger island, Soyea, and Kirkaig point which marks the entrance to Loch Inver. The end is almost in sight.
The sea conditions have settled and we are moving along nicely. We round the rocky point of Kirkaig and the village of Lochinver comes into view at the head of the loch. A welcome sight. First the houses on the north side then the main street stretched along the shore and finally the harbour. A lot of trawlers land their catches here and a handful of smaller local boats fish for prawns and lobsters. We find our way round to the pontoons where various leisure craft are tied up and come alongside. Three and a half hours well spent I think.
Loch Inver Rowing Club started with a casual discussion back in June 2013. The first public meeting took place a couple of weeks later at the Assynt Leisure Centre. The meeting was extremely well attended and everyone was very enthusiastic to get the club going. The aim of the club was to promote and support the building and use of the skiff for leisure, recreation and health and to stimulate healthy competition and co-operation between residents of Assynt and the surrounding area and other communities and clubs by means of races, regattas and other organised events.
Local fundraising started immediately, and in September 2013 the club was awarded an anonymous donation of £3,500.
Not many members were skilled in woodwork so those who were did the majority of the hard work, led by Duncan Hutchison, who later went on to modify another St Ayles skiff to row the Atlantic singlehanded. At times it was very hard to keep momentum and enthusiasm but, after three years of building, Enard Bay was launched in 2016 in ideal weather.
Sleipnir is a skiff hull, but designed for ocean rowing. Sleipnir was washed up on Sømna near Brønnoysund in Norway in 2019, following Duncan’s rescue in the Atlantic during his solo row, raising money for WaterAid in 2018.
He has just finished rebuilding the starboard side hull – he says that the patches give her more character and has replaced about a third of planks. It is a slow project but he will get it shipshape again, also top grade antifoul just in case!