Kyle to Culduie – Section 5 | Day 9

Today we welcome two additional clubs to the RowAround Scotland; the newly formed South Skye & Lochalsh Coastal Rowing Association and the longer established Loch Carron Coastal Rowing Association. We’ll introduce the local club first, and the visitors tomorrow.

The South Skye & Lochalsh Coastal Rowing Club was formed after another local initiative, Am-Bata traditional boatbuilding at Plockton High School, was asked if it would build a St Ayles Skiff and form a club. With Am-Bata being strictly only traditional builds due to funding conditions, an advertisement went out online and over 20 interested people responded over a few days. A committee was formed in September 2018 and began applying for funding and looking out for a shed to borrow. We managed to secure enough money to buy the kit and materials and placed the order with Jordan Boats in spring 2019.

One of our members put us in touch with a local marine architect who just happened to be a keen rower himself, and had not just a shed we could use, but a fullsized workshop in the shape of a boatshed, in Kyle of Lochalsh. Great, we could make a start! The skiff was turned over in time to show her off at Kyle Maritime Day in September 2019. From then on, we continued to drum up interest in the local papers and online and started cautiously signing up for regattas in 2020; none of us had rowed a stroke by then but the enthusiasm was most definitely there!

Saucy Mary with Eilean Donan Castle behind

Another of our members secured us a small cellar beneath Dornie Hall, which stands on the bank nearby to Eilean Donan Castle, nestled beneath the Five Sisters of Kintail. This is to become our clubhouse, nearby to the three lochs of Long, Duich and Alsh. Given that the skiff would mainly be plying the waters of the three lochs, and based on local viking heritage, the name Saucy Mary was chosen.

Some members of the club proudly sporting their new RowAround tee shirts!

Saucy Mary was the daughter of Viking King Haakon who gave the village of Kyleakin it’s name. Mary used Castle Moil in Kyleakin as a keep and legend has it that she stretched a chain across the kyles and demanded a toll from ships that wanted to pass. Ironically in 1995 the Skye Bridge was opened and history then repeated itself with the then highest tolls in Europe.

The colour scheme honours both the fabulous shape of Iain Oughtred’s St Ayles skiff and the imaginable attitude of a fiery Highland Viking princess. We decided on scarlet red for the hull, ivory for the sheerstrake and interior and a dark chestnut for the gunnel and thwarts.

We were able, finally, to unofficially launched Saucy Mary on 14 March after some terrible weather beforehand; a week later the country went into lockdown and like everything else, our rowing was put on ice. We had an official launch day planned for 28 March and this will now be rescheduled for a time when everyone is safe to come and enjoy themselves. But not before some more practice and some tweaking of the oars! 🙂

We would like to especially thank Iain K Macleod & Associates for helping make our build happen, and Loch Carron CRC for the mould.

Saucy Mary and the Skye Bridge
Loch Carron’s two skiffs, Maighdean Chairainn and Black Raven

As well as welcoming Skye and Loch Carron, we also say farewell to Bristol and Portsoy today. Portsoy are heading home after rowing 70 miles with us up the west coast from Ardnamurchan including Loch Morar, so thanks to them. Bristol are staying to explore Skye, Raasay and other islands as the main RowAround expedition presses on northwards.

Looking west from Kyle past the Skye Bridge towards the hills of Skye

Our destination today is the Applecross peninsula, a mountainous chunk of land which projects westwards towards Skye. To get there from Kyle the skiffs will have to cross an open inlet where two mouths of Loch Carron and Loch Kishorn meet the Inner Sound. The first potential sheltered landing is the south facing bay at Toscaig, but if we are making good progress there are other possible spots on the west coast of the peninsula.

Fortunately the forecast is showing S winds F3-4 which will be on our port quarter and will help to speed us along. We have a support boat from Lochcarron with us as the crossing will take us well away from land and there are no stops before Toscaig.

As we head out under the Skye Bridge there are rocks to starboard with seals basking. Otters also live here.

To the north west, the mountains of Applecross look distant and as we leave the shelter of the Skye shore the waves get bigger. Soon we are swooping down the fronts of the waves with the occasional bit of spray, but progress is good. The crossing to Toscaig is 7 miles if we go all the way in, but we must soon decide our destination.

As we head NW we have the Crowlin Islands to our port. There is a great sheltered anchorage in the narrow sound between them but today we decide to head for the beach at Culduie just south of Camusterrach.

The way in is rocky and at first sight there is no safe place to go but as we round the point and creep into Poll Creadha we see a very sheltered beach and gratefully land on it. We find a nook between two rocks to tie the skiffs up so we don’t have to haul them out. The support boat anchors in deeper water and the tired rowers disperse to their shore vehicles for the long haul back to Lochcarron.