Rest day – Updates from Port Appin and Glencoe – Section 4 | Day 8

Castle Stalker, with Port Appin to the left and the island of Lismore beyond.
Both the Port Appin and Glencoe skiffs were almost ready to launch, when the lockdown happened. They were both concerned about having wet paint for RowAround and not much rowing practice under their belts. Perhaps, next year, when we reprise this section of the real world RowAround, Port Appin will row northwards along Loch Linnhe to meet the Glencoe club at Ballachulish who would have rowed down Loch Leven and also meet the new Lochaber skiff, rowing south down Loch Linnhe from Fort William.

The plan, this year, was to have had a try-a-row session with both newly completed new skiffs and crews, joined by Selkie from the Isle of Seil, the two Loch Awe skiffs, Mingulay and Cruachan, and the Oban skiff, St Moluag. Castle Stalker, on its island in Loch Laich, provides a stunning backdrop.

Introducing Nelly G from Port Appin

The club was formed in 2015; it then took several years to find and renovate a suitable premises in which to build the skiff. Appin Community Skiff Project operates out of The Boathouse in Port Appin with direct access to the shores of Loch Linnhe. The club was nearing completion of its first skiff when COVID-19 arrived.

We had a fantastic community response for the community competition to name and create the colour scheme for Appin’s first skiff, with over 40 entries including entries from the pupils at Strath of Appin Primary. The winning colour scheme selected by an independent judge is pale blue (a nod to the Appin Banner) with a grey strake.

Working on Nelly G
Nelly G’s hull painted
The Boathouse in Port Appin

The name Nelly G was chosen from a shortlist of six names put to a community vote. The name is in memory of the late wife of Ken Groom who has worked so very hard on building the skiff; she was known to her family as Nelly.

Launching at Appin Skiff’s boathouse, beside the old pier in Port Appin, the crews would get in their stride – a new, inexperienced crew putting a near-first toe in the world of coastal rowing. A few blunders and a few catching of crabs would not deter the Appin bunch who have been looking forward to getting out on the water with Nelly G for a very long time.

Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse: photo Peter Venters.
Enthusiasm overtakes technique as the skiff gently makes its way past Port Appin’s iconic landmark – the Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse – marking the jagged skerries close to shore.

The crew push up through the channel between the lighthouse and the old limekiln island of Eilean nan Caorach Appin (Sheep Island); someone breaks into singing a sea shanty (learned for a fundraising concert we held) and we all join in.

Flanked by our fellow skiffs, the going gets a bit tougher but the tide is with us pushing us up towards our next iconic landmark – Castle Stalker at the mouth of Loch Laich.

Castle Stalker: photo Peter Venters
With high tide nearing, we take the time to circumnavigate Castle Stalker’s island looking up at the well-restored castle, seeing it from every angle. Time for a shared picnic lunch on a west facing beach looking over towards Kingairloch and the Ardgour hills. After plenty of chat, posing for photos and sharing of cake, we retrace our steps to Port Appin – an enjoyable, sociable day that has given Appin Skiff’s crew an insight into what’s in store for us as part of the Argyll & the Isles coastal rowing community. Happy days await us.

Selkie landing on Eilean Munde, in Loch Leven, during a try-a-row session at Glencoe Boat Club’s RYA Push the Boat Out event: photo James Fenton
Introducing Corrag from Glencoe

Serious shed envy
The Glencoe Boat Club Skiff Project began in 2018 but before work on the boat itself could begin, a boat shed was built, to protect the craft (and its builders) from the worst of the west coast weather.

In May 2018 the kit arrived in our newly built shed, along with moulds and a frame, which were very kindly loaned to us by Morvern Sailing Club, Lochaline. Luckily, we have a master boat builder among our membership – David Southcott (and ex-Commodore of the club). He spent upwards of 350 hours in the shed over the summer and autumn of last year, lovingly constructing the skiff (with a little bit of help from other club members).

Turning ceremony
We had a ‘turning’ ceremony in August, when a group of willing hands carried the boat out of the shed, turned her over, and carefully put her back, ready for further work. We toasted the moment with a rather nice single malt (thanks, David!).

We had planned on completing the epoxy, sanding and painting stages over the winter, but sadly it was just too cold in the shed for any gluing to be done. So we sat and waited, looking forward to some warm spring days when the work could be completed and our naming and launching day could finally take place. We did manage to get into the shed in early March, and the expoying phase was completed. But after that everything ground to a halt … word on the street is that she will be painted black – David is an ex-submariner and his yacht is named Black Pig!

When the current restrictions are released, we will be beating a path to the shed to crack on with the sanding and painting. And as soon as we can we will name the day for the big launch. It will be some party!!

The skiff will be named Corrag in honour of the Ballachulish witch. Legend has it that at the time of the Glencoe massacre in 1692 she warned people that the Redcoats, who were billeted in the village at the time, had been ordered to murder their hosts. The villagers did not believe her and the next day she discovered the aftermath of the bloody massacre. She took the chief of the Macdonald clan’s sword and threw it into the loch, saying that as long as it remained there, no man from the Glen would die by the sword again. Folklore also tells that in 1916, when the loch was dredged, a sword was found and brought into the village. The locals, who knew of the tales, were horrified and hastily returned it to the loch. The following morning was the first day of the Battle of the Somme and many soldiers died, including men from the village of Glencoe, the first since the massacre in 1692.

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