Balintore (Seaboard Villages) to Cromarty – Section 7 | Day 9

The next stage of the RowAround was being left a little flexible as whether to continue with a row on the Sunday evening being led by the Sutors Club, (aptly named as you will find out shortly) or to depart the next morning to row around from Balintore. This section of the coast as yet has still to be passed by in a modern skiff. The skiff would then pass through the two Sutors of Cromarty and into the harbour of Cromarty.

Sutor is the Scots word for shoemaker, and one story tells of two giant shoemakers, the sutors, who used the two cliffs as their workbenches, and tossed their tools to and fro between one another.

The North and South Sutors for centuries have stood guard over the entrance into the Cromarty Firth. Today you can see old military defence buildings as the firth was a strategic safe haven during both the Great War and the Second World War. Nowadays oil rigs, cruise liners and pleasure craft (and an occasional skiff) pass through these two large land masses. Both the Cromarty and inner Moray Firths are home to many a dolphin and are often seen both from the shore and when out on a skiff.

Introducing the Sutors Skiffies

The Sutors Skiffies was initially formed by four friends who rowed with Avoch but lived in Cromarty. The Avochies kept asking when we were going to build our own boat. So one cold night in January 2016, over a few too many gins, we persuaded my husband, Pete, to build us a boat. And so it started. Choosing a name seemed like the hardest job, then we realised that the skiff would be gin-fuelled and so Juniper was an obvious name! She was launched in September 2016.

We are based in the village of Cromarty and can pretty much launch any time in the tide as we have two sheltered beaches we can launch from and, if one beach is too windy, the other tends to be calm. We share the beaches with Cromarty Rowing Club, our so very close neighbours. It is very unusual to have two rowing clubs so close together but we have good banter between us and members often row in each other’s boats.

Juniper in the Caledonian Canal
We are one of the smallest clubs in the SCRA rowing community with only 15 regular rowers, but that means we have flexibility not only to compete regularly as a small team in regattas but it also allows us to go on some great adventures together as a group more often without worrying about disturbing regular booked rows.
Some of our adventures have been Castle to Crane (which all club members have now rowed in different years); we have taken Juniper up in the Falkirk Wheel; we have rowed the Caledonian Canal and have also competed in the Great River Race in London. All of these being unforgettable experiences.
We, like everyone else, were so looking forward to the RowAround Scotland, in what would have been a very memorable year for the St Ayles Skiff community but will have to wait until 2021.

What Sutors Skiffies mean to me…

Corrie: My friends were building a boat. ‘I’m too old’, I said, ‘not fit; afraid of the deep sea and big waves.’ But they persisted and now that orange boat is part of my DNA. We love our Juniper and never more than out on the firth at dawn on a frosty morning, watching the pale pink and yellow light thicken between the closed fists of the North and South Sutors. Every time we row out past the red sandstone blocks of Seaton’s Mole and the WWI Admiralty Pier ( we are on an adventure and my heart sings. For the past four years we have raced around oil rigs, played with dolphins and even accompanied the massive Queen Elizabeth into the deep waters of the Cromarty Firth (and waved her off again). We have learned so much about our own waters and shore and increased in skill and confidence. Sutors Skiffies are more than a club, they are friends who, with warmth and generosity, have made me feel valued and valuable. At our 2017 wedding in our garden (in Cromarty) they decorated Juniper‘s oars with sprays of ivy and silver ribbons to make a guard of honour for my husband and myself. It really isn’t just about the rowing … is it?

Alison: It was so exciting being part of the introduction of rowing to Cromarty and a founding member of the Sutor Skiffies. I am very proud to see how much Cromarty rowing has grown from the small seed we planted.
Friendships forged and incredible adventures embarked on, every year different and rewarding but memorable times include rowing across Scotland and down the length of Loch Ness (for an Aussie a truly unforgettable experience) and our very own Flat White Challenge, rowing the Cromarty Firth with other Black Isle clubs (felt a bit like Swallows and Amazons).

Anj: I think the ethos of Scottish coastal rowing and particularly Sutor Skiffies being so inclusive has been very important to me personally. It is important for the wellbeing of everyone who is encouraged to have a go.
For me, the sport and my connection with women who row, is so strong that had that been missing in Scotland I would never have settled North. It’s given me strong friendships that I am sure will continue to grow with time.

Dave: I got involved as Anj rows but as she is in a women’s only club we’ve not been able to row much together and we were looking to do some rowing in Scotland. What I love about it is that it is great to share an activity that Anj is passionate about, I love the camaraderie aspect of it and also the regattas and the ability to view the lovely countryside from such a different perspective.

To date my favourite adventure was probably the Great River Race. Having lived in or around London for all my adult life it was fantastic to be able to row all the way through it. Also it’s great that, for such a small group of people who don’t really take competing that seriously. we’ve been able to do so well in some regattas.

Yvonne: I loved the idea of being ‘on the water’ and having just moved house, I hoped to meet a small group of people in my new community. I think my most favourite adventure was the weekend at the Castle to Crane race followed by last years mid-summer solstice row at 2am with warm muffins and gin!

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