Coigach passed over the baton to Ullapool at Lochinver. Ullapool’s last crew is about to set off on the longest row we will have done, and one which will certainly provide much variety and adventure. Three of the crew rowed the Minch last year, and are being joined by two more very experienced and competent rowers. 37 miles is a long way and we are treating this as an expedition and therefore planning accordingly.
We are just over a week away from the longest day, and with a good forecast, should hopefully be able to keep rowing well into late evening, though port, starboard and aft navigation lights are all packed. In Shetland the term ‘Simmer Dim’ (longest day of the year) refers to the twilight around midnight when the sun barely sets. Though we aren’t as far north, this time of year is amazing in the NW Highlands so we all jumped at the chance to take the baton for this last stretch.
With understanding employers and holiday requests approved, we leave Ullapool at noon and aim to be in Lochinver ready to start rowing about 3pm. For the last few days, Coigach Rowing Club have done their bit, so Topher has kindly offered to tow Cùl Mòr for us, and then bring her back after meeting our rowing friends from the north who will take over. High water is about one o’clock, so we have to be pretty quick launching from the slipway before it gets too low.
The crew planned to swap positions every 45 minutes, this is fairest in that we all get to cox and row in every seat and use different muscles. More importantly, we get chance to take in refreshments, and also take a break of a more personal nature. Equipped with bucket and dryrobe (which doubles up as a curtain) this private but necessary function can hopefully be performed without much publicity.
As we say goodbye and row out of the harbour, the mesmerising sight of Caistal Liath, Suilven’s westernmost summit, dominates the landscape.
It doesn’t feel like we have been rowing long before we can see Achmelvich Bay, then Bay of Stoer and the spectacular Clachtoll Beach ahead. This area is absolutely stunning with white sandy beaches you’d expect to see in the Greek Islands. Tempting as it is to stop off for a paddle, we carry on because we know we will be in for a hard slog past Stoer Lighthouse then round the Point of Stoer. We have already swapped positions twice, and are due for another change, but it makes sense not to move around until we are in calmer waters. We continue in a north-westerly direction passing the Old Man of Stoer, a spectacular sea-stack, before heading round the Point into the shelter of Enard Bay.
We do our changeover and rest for a few minutes just off Culkein before heading north east, across Eddrachilles Bay, keeping Oldany Island on starboard towards Badcall. This is a fairly tough stretch and needs concentration to avoid the small islands and rocks in the bay. One of the crew knows this area well and we decide to come ashore in Badcall Bay, moor up and try to get some sleep. We are boosted by the sight of a couple of tents that have been put up for us by friends who have been driving the route with us.
We don’t really sleep, but at least are rested and eager to get on our way. Stopping for a quick breakfast in Scourie, we head off towards Handa Island with much excitement and anticipation. We have all been here on foot, but it is a first to see it from the sea. Magnificent Torridonian sandstone cliffs rise over 400ft from the Atlantic on the north west coast of the island where Puffins can been seen and nearly 100,000 seabirds breed every summer. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is run as a nature reserve by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Up until the mid 19th century, Handa supported a relatively large population for its size – in the census of 1841, 63 people lived there. Traditionally, the oldest widow was given the title “Queen of Handa”.
We have been so lucky with the weather, and already today has been a photographers dream. Keen to make KLB in decent time, we leave Handa Island behind and hug the coast northwards for another long haul to Ardmore Point and Loch Dughaill where we can again take some shelter and have a bit of a rest. Though the coastline is less dramatic, it still takes careful and navigating through the small islands. Ahead is Rubha na Leacaig at the headland of Loch Inchard which is our pointer to take a starboard course almost due east for the short distance into Kinlochbervie harbour.
The last 36 hours certainly didn’t disappoint, and whilst we are all tired and weather beaten, it has definitely been the most memorable experience, and we hope the next club to take the baton has as much fun.
Cape Wrath Boat Club/Kinlochbervie High School’s skiff is named Arkle, after both the hill which overlooks Kinlochbervie and the famous racehorse of the same name. All of the funding for the build was provided by the Anne, Duchess of Westminster charity.
Before the build could start, the school boatshed had to be cleared of boats and equipment and a short temporary extension was built to accommodate the skiff.
The build was completed jointly between members of the boat club and school pupils who contributed by preparing the planks, making oars, turning the thole pins and lots of sanding.
Since Arkle‘s launch in the summer of 2016, rowing has mostly been with pupils on Loch Innes, which is next to the school; it is also available for use by the wider community outwith school. This year we were hoping to increase the use by the community by taking it around the different villages – Scourie, Durness and Kylesku. It was hoped that RowAround Scotland would help to generate more interest locally. Next year!