Broughty Ferry to Arbroath – Section 9 | Day 12

STOP PRESS: They are letting us out the river at last!

Broughty Ferry Boating was founded in 2014 as the rowing section of the Royal Tay Yacht Club (RTYC). The resources we are afforded by being part of a larger club cannot be under-appreciated; we have fantastic facilities to both store and maintain both of our skiffs. We can also tap into the wealth of knowledge that the sailors of the RTYC are always happy to impart.

We launched our first boat, Brochty, in August 2014 and our second boat, Arthur Nicoll, commonly known as Arfur, in April 2015 – a mere eight months later. The boats were funded through private donations and a grant from the Arthur Nicoll Trust and consequently are owned by the training section of the club (Taysail). As such there are a number of rules in place to ensure they remain a community resource:

  1. There must always be one boat at Broughty Ferry, so we usually can’t take both boats away for a weekend.
  2. We are not allowed to row out of the River Tay past the Bar. Rowing up the river is allowed and we participate in the Perth to Wormit row each year.

Therefore, it was clear that when RowAround Scotland 2020 was announced we would need to discuss with RTYC how we would arrange to take both boats away from the club and also out past the Bar at the mouth of the River. The RTYC was very keen that we participated fully in the RowAround and offered three days’ worth of safety boat cover, gratis!!! and a slew of keel boats who wanted to accompany us on the row. This would enable us to maximise the number of members who would like to take part by allowing us to swap crews from sail boats and the safety boat into the rowing boats and the whole club could be offered a chance to row part of the RowAround. Given that we have 70 active members, this removed the need for a ballot for crew selection. Our only stipulation was that they were fit enough to row non-stop for five nautical miles.

The next consideration was the logistics of this row which are reasonably complicated due to the tides and access points on the route. We need a three-day weather window with the wind and tides to our advantage as we will be rowing north, then south then east. The tides are a crucial element; a big spring tide will run at > 5 knots; you don’t want to be trying to row against that for any length of time. In addition, access to both Arbroath Harbour and St Andrews East Sands is really only possible at high tide; we want to leave Broughty Ferry on an ebbing tide so it carries us out to the mouth of the river. To be honest, the tides for the week we have been given to complete our row are not ideal but we can work with them if we don’t mind early rises. The river is at its most beautiful early in the morning so that is the silver lining!

Our legs will be:

  • Day 1, Broughty Ferry to Arbroath in section 9
  • Day 2, Arbroath to St Andrews in section 10
  • Day 3, home again St Andrews to Broughty Ferry in section 10

This course means that we don’t need to tow the boats at all, in keeping with the green ethos of the RowAround. Each leg is about equal length of approximately 14-15 nm and should take a decent set of rowers with good conditions only four or five hours to complete. This may be an issue because if we leave Broughty Ferry on high tide we get to Arbroath at low tide and can’t get in the inner harbour until the next high tide. We may have to do a lot of hanging about – not ideal. Let’s hope the weather is sunny!

Wow! We have an almost perfect three day weather window with a light westerly moving to southerly of 5 knots gusting 15 knots. Then the wind swings round to a northerly also at 6 knots and then amazingly, on the third day, the wind moves to a light easterly. This is perfect for us to go. Only small blot on the horizon is that the first afternoon may have some light rain – well we won’t melt!

In order to get the best of the tide and be out past the river mouth before the tide changes we need to be away from Broughty Ferry by 7am at the latest. The morning dawns in bright east coast sunshine with very little wind coming from the west northwest. A perfect day to row to Arbroath. Crews for both boats are to be at the shed at 06:30 for briefing and off before 7am. We have 7 nm to row with tide to get the boats out of the river. We will aim to be out past the bar by 9am, well before the tide changes. Our first crew change will occur once we are out of the river, and safe. The safety boat, Jean Nicoll, is ready to accompany us and the two skiffs launch simultaneously from the east and west slips. Turned under oar, and we are off, rowing in company. The keel boats are expected catch us up as we pass their moorings and their exit from Tayport Harbour. The Tay is truly stunning this morning and lives up to the title of the Beautiful Silvery Tay, coined by the worst poet in history and local legend William Topaz McGonnigall – Click here to read it

Beautiful silvery Tay,
With your landscapes, so lovely and gay,
Along each side of your waters, to Perth all the way;
No other river in the world has got scenery more fine,
Only I am told the beautiful Rhine,
Near to Wormit Bay, it seems very fine,
Where the Railway Bridge is towering above its waters sublime,
And the beautiful ship Mars,
With her Juvenile Tars,
Both lively and gay,
Does carelessly lie
By night and by day,
In the beautiful Bay
Of the silvery Tay.
Beautiful, beautiful! silvery Tay,

Thy scenery is enchanting on a fine summer day,
Near by Balmerino it is beautiful to behold,
When the trees are in full bloom and the cornfields seems like gold –
And nature’s face seems gay,
And the lambkins they do play,
And the humming bee is on the wing,
It is enough to make one sing,
While they carelessly do stray,
Along the beautiful banks of the silvery Tay,
Beautiful silvery Tay, rolling smoothly on your way,
Near by Newport, as clear as the day,
Thy scenery around is charming I’ll be bound…
And would make the heart of any one feel light and gay on a fine summer day,
To view the beautiful scenery along the banks of the silvery Tay.

Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Station, looking back to Dundee, RNLI photo
Our first big landmark is the lifeboat station at Fisher Street; we all know this well as it is on our standard rowing route and is also at the eastern end of our regatta course. The station at Broughty Ferry was established in 1830 and is one of the busiest stations in the UK.

Unfortunately, not all ‘shouts’ have a successful outcome, as was the case on the 8 December 1959. Mona, a Watson Class boat built in 1935, was launched in severe weather conditions in response to the distress of the North Carr Lightship. The Lightship, a ship without engines, couldn’t manoeuvre or move without tugs. It was situated at the turning point for ships entering both the Tay and Forth Estuaries and was reported to be dragging its anchors in a severe south easterly gale. Mona’s last radio message was sent at 04.48 and sometime after that, the boat capsized and was lost. A shore and helicopter search was organised and that morning the lifeboat was found on the east shore of Buddon Ness. All eight crew were lost, the bodies of seven being recovered; the Lightship crew survived. This tragedy has never been forgotten and is commemorated every December in Broughty Ferry by the current lifeboat crews.

Next up is Broughty Ferry Castle, with a varied and chequered history. In 1454, the 4th Earl of Angus was granted permission by King James II to build a castle here. In 1490 the second Lord Gray was given permission to rebuild the castle. It looks out to the mouth of the Tay estuary with its back to the small harbour. Over the years it has been a roll-on, roll-off train ferry terminal, twice due to collapsing bridges and a strategic site for defence against the English, French, Russians and Germans – depending who we were at war with at the time! In 1969 Broughty Castle opened as a museum operated by Dundee Council. The museum continues to be run by Leisure & Culture Dundee, while the structure of the castle itself is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.
We turn the Castle and head out to the Horseshoe buoy, past the sandy expanse of Broughty Ferry beach, and head out of the river towards Barry Buddon firing range and Buddon Ness. We are making excellent time with wind and tide carrying us along towards the Abertay buoy. We pass between the Lady buoys and head into uncharted territory. We need to get past the Gaa sands that extend from Buddon Ness on the north shore of the estuary.

There is an extremely dangerous stretch of water at the mouth of the Tay called the ‘Bar’ which is an area of sediment deposited by the river at its mouth that leads to shallow water and large waves. Wind against tide to be avoided at all costs. You know care is required when there is a NOTE on the chart about the Tay ‘Bar.’ However, we are in excellent hands as we have now been joined by four keel boats, Skedaddle with John Lorimer at the helm, Fizz with Dave Williams, Just in Time with John Knowles and Fiddlers 3 with Dave McReady. There is a good few hundred years of knowledge about the Tay within these boats and they will keep us right as we pass out of the Tay and into the North Sea proper. We can hear and see the Bar as we come between the Abertay buoys marking the outer limit of the river and turn north to head to Arbroath; 7 nm done, with hard rowing but no drama.

It is a glorious day and there are good spirits in the boat as we consider our first crew change. We have arranged to meet the next crews on Carnoustie beach. They will take the boat on to Arbroath. The swap over is straightforward, watched by dogwalkers and golfers, and we are off again by 10:45. Another 6nm to go and we are within easy sight of Arbroath we can see the Signal Tower for the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

Arbroath Harbour master, Roddy Matthews, has kindly arranged overnight berthing for the two skiffs within the inner harbour. However, our arrival is at 12 noon, just after low tide, and we cannot enter the inner harbour until high tide at 1830. We temporarily leave the skiffs in the outer harbour awaiting the tide.

As you can see from the aerial picture, we enter the outer harbour through the gap between the large breakwater and the wall of the outer basin; the signal tower is directly in front of us. Then we turn through 90o and can enter the outer harbour proper. We have hailed Roddy, and he has given us permission to tie up at the east wall of the outer harbour. Fenders at the ready we arrive in fine fettle, ready for a bit of lunch. We head to the Harbour Café for a well earned drink. The lure of Fish and Chips from Pepo’s will fuel us for the last small row into the inner harbour.

Montrose Coastal Rowing’s Goose appears from the north; a cheer goes up from all the Broughty rowers as our long day is almost done. Nearly 12 hours after we left the club we can enter the inner harbour and we row together with Goose; the baton is handed over. Our skiffs are safely berthed on a pontoon and we go home in anticipation of the long row to deliver the baton to St Andrews.