Balvicar to Oban – Section 4 | Day 5

A late afternoon start today, as Selkie needs to shoot the ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’ around an hour and a half before High Tide. Any earlier, and there isn’t water enough in Seil Sound, any later and there would be a ferocious current against the skiff. The bridge, more properly called Clachan Bridge, connects the Isle of Seil to the mainland. Once beyond the bridge, it is just like rowing up a river, past a huge heronry, and the crew is always on the lookout for otters.

Seil Sound; the Round the Island regatta
Doing an African Queen impersonation in the Sound, oops

At the head of the Sound with the hills of Mull behind (this was a Christmas row for info)
Emerging from the Sound into the Firth of Lorn, Selkie crosses Barnacarry Bay and the mouth of Loch Feochan before heading for Kerrera Sound. The Firth of Lorn is open to the Atlantic to the WSW and if the tide is running against an onshore wind, conditions can be quite exciting.

At the south end of Kerrera is the ruin of Gylen Castle and an excellent tea room, sadly closed in the evenings. Rowing up the sound between the Isle of Kerrera and the mainland, the skiff passes Horseshoe Cove and Puffin Dive Centre and crosses the route of the lifeline CalMac ferry from Gallanach slip across to the island.

The baton is handed over to the Oban skiff, St Moluag, at the public slip at Dungallan, below Pulpit Hill on the southern shore of Oban Bay.
The Seil Boating Song

The World Premiere of the Seil Boating Song, on YouTube below, as sung by Seil Sound at a regatta ceilidh. Words by our cox, James, and tune by his great grandfather. Words below, so that you can join in the karaoke.

The Tigh an Truish (house of the trousers) is the pub next to the bridge

The Selkie Build by Ewan

Looking at the SCRA craft register I can see that the Selkie, number 44, is one of the earlier builds on the Atlantic side of the Mull of Kintyre, built just after the flurry of enthusiasm further North. Looking back, I’m glad we got on with it then, because none of the original builders is getting younger and I wouldn’t fancy starting one now.

The group of locals who gathered in a cowshed on Seil over the winter and spring of 2012/13 to build a skiff for the island never thought that we’d end up being the nucleus of the team who would be rowing her years later. In fact, as research from St Andrews University has shown, the demographic that has taken to skiffing most enthusiastically is the over 55s. It’s almost certainly true that the general health of the rowers within that age group is a lot better than it would have been otherwise. Younger people have a lot of other attractions and coastal rowing with its singular qualities of simplicity and sociability has had great appeal for many of an age at which they might have felt shy about becoming involved.

With any build, finding a place to do it is vital. We were lucky with our shed, at least until part of the roof fell in, but that’s life and it was soon fixed. The concrete floor was sloped to allow our farmer friend to hose it down, a problem overcome by building the caterpillar, a building table with a level top supported by lots of legs of different lengths.

The other requirement is of course finding a crew with sufficient skill. In the course of our build we were visited by a journalist who asked, quite innocently, if any of us had built a boat before, or knew about rowing. Among the eight or so of us standing around, Nick volunteered that he’d built a Mirror sailing dinghy, and so had Sue, when wee, with her dad. Then Ewan went with five rowing boats and a small yacht, then George mentioned he’d been a full time builder on the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s Tenacious, then Richard trumped that with eighty rowing boats, yachts, you name it, including America’s Cup contenders. For rowing skills it turned out that we’d all done quite a bit and Sue, one of the original Sweaty Bettys, had rowed in The Boat Race.

Despite all these cooks in the kitchen the skiff was duly built without a murder.

Prime time for the Guides
Silkie’s livery was chosen ostensibly by the community but in reality, autocratically, by the paint purchaser. The grey strake mirrors the slate on the Isle of Seil and the ice blue was chosen as it wasn’t (unlucky) green and quite close to light blue (see above).

Outside our cowshed the island helped us along by buying shares, Nick set up our website, Ray donated lots of rope and fenders and, after the local Guides organised a competition, the talented Neve produced our logo. More recently the circle of contributors has widened and continues to do so.

We launched a couple of weeks before our first regatta at Easdale, which we managed to pull off with only a couple of broken thole pins, due to the incredible strength of a local cattle man. I don’t think we’ve broken any more since.

At Ellenabeich
Then, of course, we had to attend the first Skiffie Worlds, a month after our launch, for which we assembled one team who were all, with one exception, over sixty. This enabled us to row in the open, the over-forties, fifties, and the sixties after we had borrowed a very fit specimen from North Berwick to replace our one fifty nine year old. We got plenty of exercise, especially on the day when we made it, just, from the heats into the final and ended up with four races. Now it’s roll on the over-seventies!

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