The sea is glass as we row Maggie towards Bervie Bay to collect the baton from Spirit of Catterline. As we left Maggie‘s home of Gourdon earlier, seals followed us out of the harbour. I like to think they’ve missed seeing us out on the water as much as we’ve missed seeing them, curious and cheeky, as they tease us by popping up ahead, then behind, and sometimes right next to the boat, eyes bright, wondering what we’re doing in their world.
Debbie is coxing with Jean on stroke, Pete on third, Des on second and Emma in the bow. Hamish, with Sam and Isla, are tucked behind her in the bow watching for dolphins and seals and enjoying being back in Maggie after a long absence. Now aged 10 and 11, Sam and Isla were three and four when Gourdon’s crew began building her.
The shoreline is rocky here, long low flat conglomerate rock which has claimed many ships carrying a variety of different cargoes in the past. Blocks of fat, which had survived in the sea since WWII, recently washed up from a sunken vessel and fed the present day seagulls for weeks: read more here
Below us are the remains of fishing boats, steamers, trawlers and the odd rowing boat. It’s not just the rocks which have claimed boats; during WW1, a crew of Gourdon fishermen were captured by a German U-boat crew not far from here – more here.
It’s easy to forget on a day as beautiful as this the tragedy that can unfold out here. If you’d like to read more about these, and other, wrecks have a look at this link.
For today, however, we are afloat and happy, the sun shining on us as we hail Spirit of Catterline and Debbie skilfully brings us alongside.
We smile at the crew and I remember meeting them for the first time when we held our first meeting at Gourdon’s Harbour Bar, regarding the possibility of building a skiff. Thanks to Roy Maclennan’s organisation, Spirit’s builders Rob and Stephen from Catterline brought her to our meeting and we all came out to marvel at her on the harbour. Seeing her made us determined to build our own boat in 2013. It took two years and a number of dedicated builders to build her, with help from Catterline’s crew and some local fishermen. She was officially christened Maggie by local school children who had won a competition to name her and decide on her colours. A fitting nod to Gourdon’s famous lifeboat, the Maggie Law, in whose boat shed Maggie was built: read more.
On 11 July 2015 Maggie was launched in front of a crowd of Gourdoners, using the oars of the original Maggie Law lifeboat in a beautiful stroke of symmetry. I’ll never forget that first row which brought together a community and a group of new friends, who are closer than ever to this day.
Debbie reaches out and takes the baton from Spirit of Catterline and we all cheer, the children loudest of all. Emma climbs into the bow with them and Hamish takes over on her oar; Debbie and Jean switch so Debbie’s on stroke, her steady rhythm keeping everyone right. We begin the row back to Gourdon for a crew change and a pint.
There’s a slight swell now but the tide is with us as we retrace our strokes back home. As we see Gourdon’s first houses appearing in the distance, Isla and Sam yell, ‘Dolphins!’ and Jean calls ‘Oars!’ We float, gently rocking as we look again for their fins.
And then suddenly there they are, right next to us! They swim near the boat, under and around, silky swirls and flicks as they check us out and show off. We take photographs and laugh and thank them for coming to be part of our row around Scotland. With a final couple of leaps into the air… they’re gone, until next time.
There’s a slight breeze picking up now but it’s behind us and it helps push us along.
We settle back into Debbie’s easy rhythm and soon we’re approaching the harbour walls. We’ve done this hundreds of times but are still cautious as the rocks line the entrance on both sides and the cox must know exactly where we are. Jean takes us home and we row into the main harbour to cheering crowds of onlookers. We can see the next crew standing on the slip, ready to accompany us to the pub for a pint and a pie. We glide in and Des and Pete leap out to steady the boat whilst we all disembark.
It’s a short stroll to the Harbour Bar where Jonny’s waiting with food and beer.
After rehydrating we all walk back to the slip to help relaunch for the next section, to Johnshaven. This time Caitlyn, Chloe and Emma sit in the bow, with Roy on first, Alex on second and Janine in third, with June on stroke and Ben coxing. It’s been a while since Ben coxed, but he’s calm and steady and easily guides us out of the harbour to cheers and waves.
Ben negotiates the rocks with ease and soon we’re heading south past the Whitehouse and towards Johnshaven. June gets a slow and easy stroke going and Maggie’s crew take her smoothly down the coast. This part of the shoreline is unpopulated but loved by walkers for its coastal path and wildlife. The flat rocks give way to green with fields stretching up behind towards Benholm.
Around the halfway point, Chloe and Janine exchange seats which involves a bit of a scramble but is no problem for this experienced crew, who rowed up the Clyde with six on board with many crew changes to do. The scramble reminds me of the time Debbie and I pretended to be women-overboard for a training exercise in the harbour where we were ‘gracefully’ pulled aboard by new rowers learning the ropes. Although we’ve never needed to do it for real, we are always prepared for the worst and never lose our respect for these waters with their currents and the sudden changes in weather that can take place in minutes. A few years ago a couple of locals were caught in the fog, drifted out to sea and were not found for a couple of days. It’s a swift reminder that even the most experienced can get caught; they’d only gone out to check creels just off the rocks at Gourdon: read more.
We see Johnshaven in the distance, houses perched on the sea front welcoming us. Ben guides us into the harbour and we glide in, ready for a meal at The Anchor where Gary has prepared a feast and we are welcomed with open arms and the rest of today’s crew. We celebrate by rehydrating with a few pints of local beer and lemonade for our smaller crew members.
It’s been another brilliant day out in Maggie and we can’t wait for tomorrow, when we will row to Montrose and hand the baton to one of the newest skiffs in the SCRA fleet, Goose.