Intro to Orkney – Section 6 | Day 5

The RowAround Scotland baton was to arrive in Stromness on the overnight ferry from Scrabster, into the care of Orkney Rowing Club.

Orkney Rowing Club (ORC) was launched in July 2014, with its origins in yoal rowing. In 2011, six men from Orkney, along with crews from Shetland, took part in a charity row from Aith in Shetland to Vagur in the Faroes. The row covered 186 nautical miles and was completed in 45 hours. The team was inspired by the experience and, three years later, purchased Fridarey, a 23-foot, clinker-built Shetland Yoal. Orkney Rowing Club was established and the club’s journey from July 2014 until now has been truly amazing! One of the rowers to the Faroes was Davie, who is part of an expedition attempting to row the North West Passage in 2021.

How do you like the headgear?
ORC members take to the longship in Shetland
August 2015 saw a major milestone when ORC travelled to Shetland to compete in its first yoal regatta in Lerwick, hosted on a beautiful sunny day with six rowers and a cox in each boat. Yoal rowing is a feature of the club’s activities and ORC and Shetland clubs, take it in turn to host the annual inter-islands regatta.

However, ORC knew that there was a whole world of rowing south of the Pentland Firth and were soon to buy skiff kits and moulds. Members, led by Lennie Merriman and Davie Flett, built two beautiful skiffs; the Freya and Orkney Gold. On July 24 2016, exactly two years after the club began, ORC celebrated the launch of the two home-built skiffs along with the Rinansey, a second yoal built in the Fair Isle. Our Facebook page declared ‘…a very special day for us today!’

Kirkwall Boys Brigade helping to take Freya off the mould
Fridarey (before make-over), Spangalang, Rinansey, Freya, Orkney Gold



The plan was to access regattas in ‘the sooth’ and our first venture into skiff racing was at Castle to Crane in Sept 2017, racing having been curtailed by the weather in Portsoy the previous June. ORC was well ready to compete in skiff regattas! Logistics and costs mean that the club must choose its trips carefully and, to date, ORC has attended Portsoy, the Black Isle Regatta, Ullapool Regatta twice, Castle to Crane thrice and The Worlds in Stranraer. ORC achieved another milestone at the Ullapool Regatta 2019 entering its first ever junior crews with success. Each regatta and race holds a special place in the club’s history so far, with The Worlds a particular highlight.

ORC was looking forward to welcoming many rowing friends to its first skiff regatta in 2020, but the current situation means that we now look forward to hosting clubs on an alternative date in the future.

Overblikk Easthill



ORC is an active club that supports local charities and on 24 June 2016, after many months of planning, members completed a Row Around Orkney; a tremendous event which raised over £20,000 for charity. Crews rowed for two-hour shifts in the tidal waters around Orkney and completed the challenge in under 22 hours. The club has, to date, raised £30,000 for various charities. We are proud to display the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association blue flag in recognition of our fundraising efforts.

ORC rowers passing below Kitchener’s Memorial on the Marwick Cliffs. This row was part of the charity row around Orkney which raised over £20,000. We completed the 90-odd miles in 20 hours and 15 minutes
A cake stop

ORC attends local events such as regattas, galas, trips to our outlying islands and local beauty spots along with regular focused training and race preparation. With a work-hard, play-hard attitude, we enjoy social and competitive events on and off the water. There are too many exciting events to relay, but suffice to say, adhering to environmental advice, we have rowed with orcas, helped herd pilot whales to safety, picnicked on remote islands and starred in a BBC documentary rowing across the Pentland Firth in a willow and hide boat; fondly referred to as ‘The Coo’. What splendid fun!

ORC members paddled a willow tree and cowskin boat across the Pentland Firth for the BBC programme, Britain’s Ancient Capitals
ORC members laying a poppy over some of the German wrecks, 100 year remembrance


Ode Tae a Blister


How do you feel when you are out on the water?

* I feel at one with myself and the world when I’m on the water. Rowing allows me to ‘just be’; to breathe in the fresh air, to work in rhythm as part of the crew, to focus and to contribute. It’s invigorating and feels awesome.

* Mind is clear and peaceful. Feel more energised and positive afterwards. Fresh air and the sea bring calm even when you’re working hard in choppy conditions.

* It helps me feel good about myself because I’m getting out and about and doing a form of exercise that is really good for me and works a lot of muscles but also feels enjoyable to do. I especially love early morning rows as it makes me feel like I can achieve so much in my day. Before I get there and when I first arrive I feel anxious – mainly about what people think of me – but once I am out on the boat I feel like I am in a safe space where nobody is judging me and everyone is supportive and offering tips and advice on how to improve my technique. I love the sense of being part of a team all working towards the same goal but also many different personal goals. I also love how much fun everyone has whilst out on the water which makes it so much more enjoyable.

* It’s a great feeling, even when the hail is hitting you on the face!!

* Depends on the weather; usually chilled and calm, unless is a race, still usually calm but buzzing instead.

* I certainly feel more relaxed and calmer when out on the water. I love the feeling of freedom and nothing to think about. Nice to get some head space.

* I feel at peace

* I feel at one with the natural elements, the sound of the sea, whether calm or stormy, has therapeutic qualities the like I have never experienced elsewhere.

* Free from all of life’s worries, a feeling of belonging and that I have found my happy place.

A piece made by Sheena Graham-George, rower at ORC (the number is fictitious – not meant to be Portsoy!)
Why/how did you get into coastal rowing?

* I admired those already doing it. As I was nervous, a friend took me along as she was already a member.

* My daughter had joined and I went to an open day just to see what it was like. I was hooked on my first row.

* I got into coastal rowing by being approached by a friend who was a rower. I have always been one for keeping fit. Never thought for one minute I would be capable of doing it yet alone enjoy it. But love it.

* I loved being on the water as a youngster (canoeing at school) and needed exercise. When I saw posts on Facebook about the club, I thought I would like a go. It took me a few years to build up the courage to go along. Best decision ever!

* Due to arthritis in my hip joint I was finding it harder to sail and was looking for something sea-related. Went along to the second open day at ORC (was away on holiday for the first open day or I would have been at it ) and the rest is history.

* Open day when it first started, Aug 15 I think. Mmm, fitness kick and head was a bit lost after personal breakup and I needed a sport that wasn’t on committee.

* I saw my mum’s passion for it and given I could never get her to do exercise before she started rowing, I thought I would try it. That and the fact I tried to push her in a ditch one day and she didn’t move an inch. That’s when I realised how fit she had gotten from rowing. I had to do something to be able to shove her in a ditch again so off to rowing I went and was hooked.

* I went to an open day and got totally hooked!!

* I have only been rowing for a short amount of time but I started because I have recently found that I have anxiety and I was later signed off work for another reason and needed something I could focus my energy into to help get me back into a bit of a routine and to just get out of the house. It was really difficult for me to go the first time which is why I went once and then said I would come to sessions and then didn’t. And honestly I still find it difficult to go every time because I feel anxious about how other people see me but I am a very competitive person and always have been so when I got on the Castle 2 Crane team that meant I had something to focus on. I used to swim a lot and when I started the job I’m in now I wasn’t able to train with the club and I don’t enjoy lane swimming as much because you’re by yourself so I’ve found it difficult to get back into that. So rowing has helped me find a sport I already love where I’m working as part of a team and I’m getting back to competing at something. It helped with me being able to go back to work and it is slowly helping with my anxiety. I am honestly gutted everytime that there is rowing on and I can’t go, I have a real drive for it and I would go every day if I could.

by Sheena Graham-George, artist and rower
What do you love about our local coasts and waters?

* The different perspective of the islands beauty and the variety of water conditions. Choppy waters can sometimes be as rewarding to row in as flat calm sunny evenings.

* Seeing it from different angle.

* I love the beautiful scenery (which I only see when tillering as too busy focusing when rowing). I love the colours, the skies and the fantastic sunrises and sunsets. The waters around our coasts vary in depth, movement and colours. The water dances around our coasts, sometimes gently like a waltz and at other times vigorous, strong and with force, like a tango full of passion. Reminding us how independent the sea is and commands respect. I know think I maybe mixing up rowing with Strictly but hey ho, that’s how we row!

* I love the rough seas and dramatic views of the coastline.

* Love everything about our coast and waters. You certainly get a blast of fresh air, with lovely clear waters all around. We have the most beautiful scenery with fantastic craggy coastlines. Best place to stay.

* The views from a different angle are great!

* I have always loved walking by our beautiful coastline it is not only good for me physically but mentally being close to or on the water is a privilege. The changes of season and weather make it all the more special.

* I love that rowing has helped me to see our coasts and waters in a different way than just by land. I love being able to look back into the town and seeing all the hustle and bustle of people and cars moving about whilst we are out on the water in the peace and quiet. I love watching the oars make ripples in the water and seeing the wildlife and sunrises again from a different perspective. In Orkney there are so many different places to explore whether it be by land or boat that I feel like there is always something new to discover even in a place I’ve been to before.

* I love the changing seas and the changing light. Our coastlines are stunning and the same view is never the same. Changing conditions make each row a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of our islands

Pull Up A Bollard – A little poem of nautical terms and sayings
BACK STORIES

I carried on tillering when pregnant and did so until about eight months and then returned to rowing five months after a c-section. I honestly think the fact that I’d done rowing for several years before made my recovery from the section quick, and meant I was able to get back to it asap too. It’s a great sport for all ages and abilities that way. – Rachel

I used to take the bairns, the dog and buoyancy jackets doon to the loch and we’d row round the loch in a very peedie fibreglass dingy that one of me brothers and his pal had made in sixth year at school. Little did I think we’d end up rowing for real and racing!!

When I was 11 and my sister 9½ years old, we decided to launch our father’s dingy and row across the bay to visit our grandparents. All went well until the return journey. We left our grandparents’ house and as we rounded the pier prior to crossing the bay home, we discovered that we had managed to get caught in the tide. We had not factored in tidal conditions in our expedition. Initially I rowed as hard as I could and then my sister joined me, it felt like hours, but we gave it everything and eventually made it to the shore across the bay from our grandparents house. Unknown to us, our granny had been watching to make sure we managed and was all prepared to go to the pier to alert a fishman to our plight. We then decided to get out of the boat and pull it along the shore until we arrived back at our home. This was my first rowing experience and to be fair it certainly taught me to respect the sea and to always check tides and weather forecasts. I also believe this is what turned our mother’s hair grey!!! – Audrey

As a toddler, I was evacuated from a cruise liner which had a big explosion due to a fire in the kitchen. We were rescued and transferred to Fiji where we had to stay for several days. I was born in Australia – this was us coming back to Britain’.
Carole thankfuly hasn’t been put off water for life but remembers her mum saying: ‘It was really bad, a lot of injuries. Women and children were taken off first. She had to leave dad and the flames were huge, seemingly’. – Carole

Rowing is a much safer form of exercise than riding a bicycle. I can’t balance a bike unless going in straight line. I believe the reason for this is that as a youngster I collected pales of milk from a neighbouring farmer and hung these on handlebars. Sometimes I didn’t even get oot the farm yard wae oot cuppin ower and losing all the milk. The farm cats loved me. So, unless I have a pale on each handle, I fall over going around corners. Rowing is therefore my goto form of exercise in the great outdoors. – Mhairi (who now drives to rowing sessions).

I have very bad sense of direction and have been lost many places for long periods of time. Including Tankerness recently when it took me an hour to find my way back to the main road. – Sheena

I have traced my family tree back to Robert the Bruce. He is something like my 14x great grand uncle. – Lorna

My Great Great Grand Uncle made boots for Queen Victoria’. – Fiona (who often talks cobblers).

Ami, who as a child loved Thomas the Tank Engine, has ditched him and her new obsession is ‘Row, row, row your boat’.

Lynnie informs us that she always wanted to be a vet when she grew up; the nearest to working with animals that she can get is rowing with the Orkney Rowing Club beasts!!!