Port William to Drummore – Section 1 | Day 4

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A short history of Hippo CRC

The club was founded in 2019, coinciding with the Skiffie Worlds at Stranraer. The club is based in Garlieston, on the Scottish side of the Solway Firth. Our entry into the coastal rowing arena has been unconventional, eventful and we have benefited from a healthy dose of good luck.

The St Ayles skiff had been on our radar for a few years. When we learned that the Skiffie Worlds was to be in Stranraer – just down the road – we had to be part of it.

‘We’ being my neighbour and me. We live by the sea and have a few boats between us. We have a habit of starting from B and working back to A. This was no different.

First, a boat. We bought a kit from our own resources. I have to say our motivation at this early stage was not to start a community project – we had already done a few of those – but simply to be involved in the Skiffie Worlds as ‘locals’.

We found a skilled woodworker to help us with the build who then had a heart attack. Thankfully he recovered but not in time to help with our build. So we were left with a pallet load of plywood sheets. Iain Sanderson at Stranraer was hugely helpful. We visited their boathouse and got a proper insight into what it takes to build a skiff. But were we downhearted? Yes we were.

We then got wind of a skiff for sale at Ardrishaig (Mid-Argyll). The price seemed too good to be true. It wasn’t. We bought it, and on a cool March morning I set off to collect. Beyond Helensburgh there was late snow on the hills and the sun was shining.

Beatha — #66 — looked as good as gold. I hitched her on and headed for home. Passing Loch Fyne Oyster Bar my reverie was disturbed by a great commotion from behind. From the corner of my eye I spied a trailer wheel passing the Land Rover on the nearside. Never a good sign.

I limped to a lay-by at the head of Loch Fyne and a few minutes later a car drew up and the driver jumped out and handed me my wheel. “I believe this is yours,” he said.

“It is,” I replied. “I don’t suppose you have my nuts as well?”

I called the AA. Someone would be along shortly. They weren’t. My location had been incorrectly reported. Once that mix-up was sorted out assistance was sent from Inveraray after about three hours. All the while I could see the Oyster Bar through the trees, tantalisingly close yet out of reach.

The guy from Inveraray was an old hand to whom I shall be forever grateful. He had obviously seen many of these and had the wherewithal to bring with him a replacement hub. Just as well because the errant wheel had worn away most of threads before finally parting company with the trailer.

Roadside repair complete, I set off again. My journey, which I hoped to complete in daylight, continued into the night but was completed without further misadventure. We had our boat.

Trouble was, we still had out kit. And as you know they aren’t for nothing. Iain Sanderson (I told you he was hugely helpful) introduced us to Vikki Reay-Martin who was masterminding a community build at the Isle of Whithorn just down the road. Was there any chance they could take our kit? There was and they did. Serendipity.

We had our boat. We had no oars. Well we did, two pairs of nine-foot aluminium oars. On a cool April day we went afloat. My neighbour and I joined by two other crew. At this juncture I should point out that our crew now comprised three ex-university rowers and a keen novice. We were later joined by an Aussie with surf-boat hours. And 30 or so years on, boy could we talk a good row.

The nine-foot oars and hastily attached rowlocks got us going but were never going to do. My neighbour had a pal in Edinburgh who rowed with Eastern. They got chatting. “We might have some oars you could borrow.”

“You do?” They did. And they were perfect.

photo of Hippo (white dot in the circle) below Cruggleton Castle, Wigtown Bay
Along with the oars we gained a cox. We had gained a couple more crew and shared coxing duties or rowed without. Vikki came for a couple of outings, stayed and became our mascot to boot.

Our riverine technique from years past served us well. The seats were fixed but we could handle an oar and we knew about rate. We trained. Not often enough and not far enough, but we worked hard and the boat came alive. We put a ladies crew together and a mixed crew too, with a stylish ringer from Wales – a Celtic Longboat/St Ayles crossover.

We entered as much as we could at the Stranraer Worlds and had a blast. Exhorted by our cox, we even qualified for a couple for a couple of finals. We walked the talk as well.

Our footrest progression is worth a footnote. It was like the evolution of man, a neanderthal becoming upright. We started with nothing, moved to quarter-sawn, sycamore logs and ended with a prototype worthy of production. We finished adding footstraps 10 minutes befote the 40+ final.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, our home water is Rigg Bay, scene of WWII Mulberry Harbour testing, and one of the prototypes was called a Hippo.)