SPECIAL SECTION | Portsoy and Bristol in Kilchoan

The stretch of coast north of Kilchoan is remarkable in that it has no St Ayles Skiff clubs until South Skye & Lochalsh, although there is a group here at Kilchoan keen to build a skiff…

To fill this gap we are fortunate in having the skiff group ‘All Aboard Bristol’ who have towed their skiff, Roxanne, 510 miles to join us and Portsoy Coastal Rowing Club from Banffshire with one of their skiffs, Soy Loon. Their other skiff, Soy Quine, (the pink one) was away to the Falkirk Wheel for the Scottish Boat Rally on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Simon
The Portsoy crew includes Sharon, a humanist celebrant, who is really pleased to be able to participate in Rowaround Scotland as her work mostly has her busy at weekends so she is unable to race at many regattas; Stephanie who started rowing in spring 2019, a natural, who persuaded her husband, Mark, to sign up too; Mark took up coastal rowing just in time for Skiffie Worlds at Stranraer, and is now the chair of the club; Simon is a keen sailor, who started coastal rowing when he heard about the plan to row the west coast; Jenny, a veteran of long distance rowing having rowed Castle to Crane twice and Monster the Loch (although she is highly competitive too!); Dave, the club’s thespian, an extra in many Scottish movies (will he be revisiting any of his film locations along this route?!) and finally Wendy, also treasurer of Scottish Coastal Rowing Association. Wendy’s husband Colin is the land support for the first few days, along with Monty and Sully, (aka ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’ because of the colour of their collars!)

Mark

Mark
“What I feel when I am in a skiff is ‘I need/ want to get better at this’ – not just from a competitive standpoint, but as much as anything so that I can contribute as much as any of the other rowers. I enjoy seeing the coast slip by and the different perspective from the boat. That said most of my time is spent watching stroke and anyone directly in front of me. I enjoy the rhythm of the noise made by the oar entering and leaving the water and the roll of the skiff as it rises and falls through the swell.”

Tim

“Once we’re afloat and cast off I feel a disconnection with the everyday accompanied by a sense of anticipation – what will we see? What banter will be exchanged? Then the rise of the first wave or a slap from some chop. The excitement of being on the water and the greeting you get from its welcome never diminishes.”

Topher

“What I feel when I’m in a skiff is I feel at home, secure and happy. I like watching the scenery unfold and hearing the terrible jokes of my crew mates. I like hearing the water chuckling against the plank lands and if we are going fast, the frooshing noise. In waves I can feel the boat lift and fall, and I try to make my strokes fit the not very flat sea.”

Jenny

How do you feel when you are out on the water?
“Happy, exhilarated, energised, lucky! No matter how bad a day you’ve had, you leave it all behind when you get out on the water.”

Who got you into coastal rowing?
“I happened to be in Ullapool during the Worlds and decided that rowing was something I wanted to try. I joined the club and despite a 66 mile round trip for every row, I was hooked. Five years on, my passion for the sea and for rowing led to a permanent move to Portsoy.”

What do you love about the coast and waters?
“In Portsoy, the dolphins, bird life, beautiful scenery and at this time of year, the coconut scent of flowering gorse mingling with the smell of the sea. Around Arisaig…the crystal clear blue water, pristine white sand and seeing Highland cows wandering along the beach”

Sharon

How do you feel when you are out on the water?
“I feel a great connection to my father. He died when I was 21 years old, but used to take me out on the Clyde in a dinghy when I was a child. He had been a merchant seaman during WW2, on the Atlantic Convoys and loved the sea.”

Who got you into coastal rowing?
“Susan, one of the original Portsoy Skiffettes, was working on the fish van in Portsoy. I had just badly injured my knee in a riding accident, but she got me to promise to give rowing a go – once I could walk!”

What do you love about the coast and waters?
“I love that Portsoy looks like a tiny model village when you’re out on the water. I think the wild rocky coast is just beautiful and ageless. Being able to see the wild birds, seals, dolphins and on one occasion minke whales so close by is quite magical and provides a real feeling of connection with the natural world.”

Kilchoan from the sea: photo James Fenton
Wendy

Wendy
“After a chance comment from Topher (the pilot for section 5) that the West Coast had large sections without ‘resident’ clubs and that he was struggling a little to cover the distance, I thought joining the RowAround would be a perfect opportunity to try rowing somewhere new! I have joined sections of the Great Glen row, organised by Renegade, and Portsoy has often talked about doing some longer distance expeditions, but with limited passage planning experience within the club, we hadn’t really known where to start. Then I met Topher and Tim (All Aboard Bristol) at the Serious Request Row at Woudrichem; a plan started to form and the dates were firmed up. Luckily there were others within the club who could commit to the dates. There was also an ulterior motive – being the pilot for Section 8 (Avoch to the Broch), this would give me some useful experience.

I have been rowing and coxing since March 2013 when the Portsoy Skiffettes, a group of local lasses, the close supervision of a number of male boat builders, completed the build of the Soy Quine (Quine is the Doric word for a lass or girl) and painted her a very bright pink. We are (virtually) rowing the club’s second boat, launched just six months later. Built by the men about the town, the skiff was named Soy Loon (again the Doric!) and kept to the vibrant club colour scheme, being a vivid lime green.

It has been said so many times before, but what I love about coastal rowing is the camaraderie. I have made so many new friends, not just in and around Portsoy, but along the Moray Firth and farther afield too. I love the fact that I am fitter now than I was in my 30’s, perhaps in my whole life. Occasionally, you might not feel like going out, but as soon as I am out there, I feel my mood lifting and any worries just drift away. They say that moving meditation is good for the soul, and I totally agree.”