SPECIAL SECTION – Tiree to Coll

In the real world, we were to collect the Spirit baton off the Barra ferry after its summer touring the Western Isles, and ‘do our own thing’ but in the virtual world Tiree is firmly back in Argyll! Hopefully, next summer we will be able to join Tiree up with Coll (still swithering about their own skiff build) and Mull/Iona.

Tiree has a long boat building tradition and the Maritime Trust’s St Ayles skiff, Gille Brìghde, has so far spent many more hours in the Noost under construction than out on the water. Painted to match its namesake, the oyster catcher, which is a familiar sight around the coast all summer. The name was chosen as the least controversial option, but that’s a story for another time and may yet be repeated with another skiff!

We launched at Scarinish Harbour in September 2018, so 2019 was our first full season, clocking up 73 rows with 31 rowers. During July and August we were on the sea in Gott Bay and a couple of months on either side we joined the dinghy sailors on freshwater at Loch Bhassapol. A short film was commissioned to celebrate the maritime traditions of the island, culminating in the launch of Gille Brìghde.

Our RowAround Scotland leg will take us in two legs from Scarinish Harbour to Coll. For most of us this is a brand new challenge, despite several hundred years of maritime connection between the two islands but we have yet to venture beyond Gott Bay in the skiff.

“What are these for?”: photo Niall MacDonald
Elspeth as Cox: photo Clare Jones



Basking Shark: photo Topher Dawson
Leaving from the old Scarinish Harbour using our best surf launch technique (thank you Ali Grant), our passage takes us round the headland, past the CalMac pier, into the calmer waters of Gott Bay. It was here on a balmy day in August 2019 that Gille Brìghde had its first real wildlife experience, an exciting first also for Ali, Topher and Jan Dawson.

The visit from the SCRA training team was a welcome and necessary opportunity for us to learn new skills, from basics like how to hold the oar to the aforementioned launching through surf, to the very useful skill of bringing the boat safely back into shore.

In July 2019, Gott Bay saw Gille Brìghde participate in the heady world of racing, at the Tiree Regatta where for the first time the skiff took its place amongst the paddle boards, dipping lugs and dinghies. We had four evenly matched crews in a time trial, so nobody could blame the heavy oars or the amount of glue slowing for them down!

Loch Seaforth at pier, car visible on deck underwater: photo An Iodhlann
Our VRAS route from Gott Bay will take us round Soay, Ruaig and past Milton Harbour, home of Tiree’s fishing fleet. Thereafter we are in Gunna Sound, new waters for Gille Brìghde. Our crew changeover will be at Caolas, on the beach where our club secretary, Carrie, was wed to Marc. This beach is overlooked by the Ferry House and in pre MacBrayne days this was the starting point for the ferry to Coll which has existed since 17th Century. With an inn at each end, no doubt to encourage conviviality, the ferry boat went into An Tunga, the Tombs of Coll. In the early twentieth century Calum a’ Gobhainn, a forebear of the Maritime Trust’s commodore, Sandy MacIntosh, was the ferryman. He kept a 14ft skiff at Port an t-Sruthain at Caolas and if he saw a fire on the Tombs of Coll he would make the crossing of five statute miles. With a fair tide this too will be our destination when we set off ‘for real’. As we leave Caolas we will be mindful of the fate of MacBrayne’s ferry Loch Seaforth which in March 1973 ran aground on Cleit rock in Gunna Sound. Having evacuated the vessel it was towed around to Gott Bay where it sank alongside the pier and left Tiree with even more ferry disruption than the linkspan replacement in February 2020!

As the skiffers continue to build on Tiree’s long maritime traditions and culture we have eyes on the horizon – at least as far as Coll. We hope to become active participants in SCRA events, whilst improving and encouraging local participation. To this end our ideal of a fixed jetty would enable less mobile rowers to join the ranks of those who enjoy the sport be it either for a peaceful paddle or for a strenuous workout, but always finding excellent comradeship.

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