North Berwick to Dunbar – Section 12 | Day 1

A rocky coast open to challenging swells.

Please allow me to introduce the Clubs who, unwisely, threw their sou-westers into their skiffs for SECTION 12, North Berwick — Paxton = 42nm, and then we’ll complete the VRAS ‘circle’ by handing the baton to Annan CRC afloat at St. Mary’s Loch in the Borders:

  • Eskmuthe (Honesty, Steedie Falconer)
  • North Berwick (St Baldred, Skiff John B, Blackadder)
  • Dunbar (Black Agnes, Volunteer)
  • St. Abbs (Puffin)
  • Eyemouth (Unity, Seabreeze)
  • Craster (The Jolly Fishermen, The Craster Kipper)
  • Alnmouth (Pride of Aln, Enflaeda)
  • Amble (Coquet Spirit, Coquet Venture)
  • Whitburn (Latimer Ledja)
  • plus maybe Bamburgh & Beadnell Community (Grace Darling)

We’ll distribute briefings, tides, & photos of all stops & alternates and have coxes who are familiar with all of our sectors and maybe a safety boat if weather demands.

North Berwick to Dunbar, circling the Bass Rock

Total 12nm = 3.5hrs,
Alternates for safety: Canty Bay & Seacliff Beach. Weather benign, gentle swell.

We’ll be accompanied by birds, dolphins, history, interest, weather and poets famous (and not-so-famous) on each day, so let’s start our odyssey with the father of adventure stories:

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. — Robert Louis Stevenson

“So let’s get a bloody move on!” Kenny shouts loudly.

I see the skiffs on the dunes but where’s the crews? Straggling along the beach and quayside they stumble, feeling the effects of last night’s hangover. Whose idea was it to start our East Lothian Section on the following day after North Berwick’s Regatta?
Oh, it was the SCRA’s! ‘Cos the skiffs and crews would already be here. Good plan… Maybe.

We’re off!
Eight skiffs are ready, the weather is benign, the others can catch up as we circle the Bass Rock before setting course to Dunbar. We set off minus one or two skiffs. We’re heading for the Bass, not a race, though it’s hard to keep their competitive ‘gas on a peep’. Whitburn didn’t make it for this leg, a long way for them to come. Ailsa where are you when we so need your seafood platter? We’ll lend them a skiff for the next leg.

You cannot run away from weakness (hangover?); you must some time fight it out or perish. — Robert Louis Stevenson

Whit a monster!
Now here comes Skiff St Baldred trying to catch the pack. (St. Baldred was the first inhabitant of the Bass Rock. He came from Lindisfarne in the 8th century to convert East Lothian’s heathen inhabitants to Christianity) — was he successful? I hear your ask.

Skiff John B, gasping as they catch up
North Berwick’s Jacquie Turner, gasping as they catch up tells us how she loves rowing:
“Standing on the beach one night watching, when was I encouraged to come and try, I was in a life jacket before I could think about it… out round the harbour wall, I caught my first crab, landing in the lap of the bow rower, I could not get up for laughing… I tried again the following week, I so loved it. But don’t get me wrong I was really scared, I don’t like deep water, the waves made me squeal and when a seal popped up that made me give everyone else a fright, and omg the seaweed still gets me leaping about too… but nearly ten years later, you can’t keep me away, love coxing, rowing, maintenance, the nice chatting rows and the power of racing and kinmanship, the huge, big, skiffie family, regattas, camping out, partying in the clothes you’ve been racing in all day, new places to discover. I LOVE SKIFFS AND ALL THAT GOES WITH THEM.”

Can you spot the skiff?
The Bass, at 330ft high, is the nesting site of an enormous colony of gannets, now circling overhead. The rock is uninhabited, but historically has been settled by an early Christian hermit, and later was the site of a castle, a prison, a well, a chapel, a lighthouse and even a foghorn.

My experience of my first Bass Rock Row was exhilarating , my main memory is of a good hard row and then looking over my shoulder to see the Bass Rock looming and so close with the sheer rock face emerging from the North Sea – awesome! — Pauline, Amble

Look up and admire the enormous curtain wall
The Bass is behind us, where now? Pass under Tantallon Castle and onto Seacliff! Tantallon, a mighty stronghold, was finally abandoned after more than 300 years, when it was besieged for a third time – by Oliver Cromwell’s army; the best example of castle architecture from the 1300s, anywhere in Scotland.

Breathe in and squeeze in.
Pauline remembers her first time at Seacliff Harbour:
“We headed inshore to explore. We found it and used our oars as if punting as the tide was low and entrance narrow ; great fun! The weather was sunny and warm and I felt like an intrepid explorer! The UK’s smallest harbour, space for only two skiffs; take it in turns, crews!”.

Seacliff Harbour was constructed in 1890 by the then laird, who used a steam engine and compressed air to cut the stone. It is home to a few fishing boats and occasionally used for diving and training. The entrance measures just three metres, squeeze in.

Hidden treasure: “Seacliff doesn’t get the title of the smallest harbour in the UK for nothing, she’s a reclusive little thing , but perfectly formed and only accessible in perfect conditions. You’d think Seacliff had its own mystical cloaking device as we had a map, GPS and five pairs of eyes and we still couldn’t see the inlet until we were right on it, having missed it twice.” Wobbly-Fingers Bryan, Amble.

South Carr beacon.
Good progress to the South Carr beacon, which marks the Forth Estuary control area. If a ship moors outside then it pays no fees (that’s why they’re all sitting off Dunbar). We’re cruising down the coast, seeing Seacliff Beach and Heugh Head. Have we got time to deposit Tanya on the Poo Buoy? Yes, we’ve always got time to humiliate crew members.

Sometimes we even retrieve crew members.
Black Agnes drops Tanya on the Poo Buoy, but she is picked up by Eskmuthe’s Honesty. Many thanks Gaynor. Now you have a crew of 6 and we have only 4, however only 20 minutes to go. “Race you in, everybody?”

Passing Tyninghame Estuary, everybody’s been reminding me of Dunbar’s Viking Raid on Tyninghame. Hae a wee gander:

Cool, relaxed, but ever ready for a pillage.

Briefing video for Dunbar Harbour:

Beware a tricky harbour-entry
Dunbar Castle looms into view. In 1338 an English army led by the Earl of Salisbury beseiged the castle and tried to starve out the defenders. Lady Agnes (Black Agnes, Countess of Dunbar) had her ladies-in-waiting mockingly dust the ramparts with their kerchiefs after attacks. Five months passed and Salisbury admitted defeat, lifting the siege on 10 June but the triumph of a Scotswoman over an English army lives on in a ballad, which put these words into Salisbury’s mouth: “Cam I early, cam I late, I found Black Agnes at the gate.”

We approach Dunbar passing between Wallace’s Head (yes, named after William Wallace) and Half-Ebb Rock. Checking there are no trawlers exiting we sneek in through the dog-leg entry, across Victoria Harbour, under the bridge and onto the slipway. Phew!
Tired after 10 miles we pull the skiffs ashore and onto their trailers. The Volunteer is not just Dunbar’s second skiff it’s also our closest pub; rowers all welcome.

Wine is bottled poetry. — Robert Louis Stevenson

“Winners all are we,
and prove again
beyond a doubt,
it’s all about the crew of friends.”
— A. Turner-Cockroft

Rowers are automatically friends (except in regattas) even if they haven’t been introduced. Today was a new row for some and new friends for all.

A friend is a gift you give yourself. — Robert Louis Stevenson

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