At An Eathar Rowing Club’s invitation, 21 members of Rowporty made the annual journey to Siabost to take part in An Eathar’s 3 day sailing and rowing event in Harris and Lewis.
Various parties travelled up to Lewis on different days and via different routes. The skiff, Jenny Skylark, travelled via Ullapool to Stornoway, but others chose to travel via Uig in Skye to Tarbert in Harris, which is a little longer but very pretty. Some intrepid canoeists returned the long way by travelling down the chain of islands to South Uist and catching the ferry to Oban.
The event was a great success at many levels. It brought a wide range of people together from seven rowing clubs. The event attracted 43 participants from around the world, including 2 from Port Seton (Martine Robertson and Bernadette Goslin), one from Ullapooll (Tom Grant), 2 from Bristol (Sarah Latham and Frances Sheridan), 2 from North Berwick (Sheena and Phil Robertson) who attended the Saturday program, 2 from Tasmania (Deb van Velsen and Martin Riddle), one from Williamstown, Melbourne (Jane Howard) and 21 from Rowporty, Portobello, Edinburgh.
On Thursday 13th of July 2017 the weather dictated that we change our plans, instead of rowing south out of Loch Seaforth, Harris, we rowed with the increasing wind north towards Seaforth Island. The five skiffs, Yackydoola, Blue Moon, Florence and Fir Chlis were launched at the slip at Maraig. The fleet included a 2 man rowing boat, a Drake called Pascual with a single rower. One person took an unintentional swim off the slip while launching the fleet on a tight slip! However, this helped test the life-jackets and our ‘man over board’ procedure (among some suppressed giggles), but we had him into dry clothes in no time.
Safety cover was kindly provided by Michael Skelly with his substantial fishing boat and his son David on a rib. In addition, we were accompanied by a traditional lug sail boat called An Sulaire and John Smith’s yacht called Sharoni, both these were crewed by additional rowers that swapped into the skiffs on the return journey. Part of the safety planning required skiffs to be paired together (within shouting distance!) in the event a VHF failed and for the fleet to remain close together, mostly! Each skiff also had a nominated skipper that was responsible for the crew and the craft and Malcolm the Unflappable did a grand job with skippering Jenny Skylark through all weathers.
The sun shone as the wind increased making it a fast row with plenty of opportunities for surfing the boats! We found a sheltered spot for our picnic lunch on the northern shore of Seaforth Island, around 5 nautical miles (NM) from Maraig. After lunch the fleet completed the circumnavigation of the island and headed back into the wind. The long fetch meant that the wind picked up a short chop that made for a stiff row. The rain then poured, reducing visibility for a short time. Fir Chlis requested a tow from Michael into the lee of the western coast of Loch Seaforth and Yackydoola also benefited from a short tow in order to keep the fleet together.
As we arrived back into the bay at Maraig, where there was considerable shelter, the rain stopped and everyone was pleased to see the slip where the 6 rowing boats were loaded onto trailers. The boats were then towed and stored overnight at the School car park in Tarbert, Harris.
Everyone was then transported to Scalpaigh Community Centre where we were to stay the night. 40 North, a fine Croft Kitchen from North Bragar (www.40northfoods.co.uk), provided a fantastic range of home made food for the hungry and bedraggled rowing mob, which catered for the various culinary requirements, including a hearty main course and a range of delicious puddings. The food was reheated in the large kitchen at the Community centre and served by the food moguls of Mhairi and Trevor, who took over and fed the masses.
We all bedded down in the warm, dry community centre hall, which as the night took hold was transformed into something resembling a farm yard with a cacophony of involuntary sounds from tired and sleeping rowers. Although there was some apprehension initially at everyone sleeping in the same hall, it certainly provided an opportunity to get to know each better!
The morning of Friday 14th July arrived briskly and after breakfast the skiffs where brought into Scalpaigh by road and launched from the slip at Scalpaigh. The crews sailing An Sulaire and Sharoni were delivered to the slip at Maraig and they made their way to Stornoway. Along the way they were treated to the sight of porpoises and a minke whale that breached some 20-30 meters from An Sulaire, much to the delight of those onboard.
In the meantime, the fleet of skiffs set forth into East Loch Tarbert and headed south of Sgeotasaigh Island to the plethora of small islands called The Gloraigs were several fish were caught. The wind increased in speed as the morning wore on, but we had plenty of shelter from the small islands and found a lovely spot for our lunch. There was a short pier at Drinisiadar where we basked in the sun
and found An Clo Mor tweed exhibition which had fascinating textile displays and toilets!
In the afternoon we had a short row along the sheltered coast to our destination at Maibhag slip. The rain returned as the boats were loaded onto trailers and drivers ferried back to Scalpaigh to collect their vehicles. We had completed 7.6NM in leisurely fashion, with much chatter and laughter coming from the various skiffs. We arrived back at Siabost for showers, food and bed. Some where camping and others had rented accommodation and others stayed at the finely appointed Bunk House at Carloway.
On the morning of Saturday 15th of July the sky was wet and it gave the impression that we were going to have a wash out. But after we launched a couple of boats onto the sweet water at Siabost Loch a Bhaile, the skies parted and the sun shone the rest of the day. The aim of the day was to provide tester sessions for anyone in the community that was interested in rowing. We had around 12 local people, including young children and young adults who had never rowed before. We also had many people try out the 2 person sculling rowboat Pascual and several takers for a go on a splendid home made canoe which Michael and Joanne Asllop had brought all the way from Edinburgh.
We then were invited to the Siabost Community Centre for the internationally renowned lunch! 72 people sat down for a choice of soups and a delicious variety of home backing, which were prepared and served by 6 ladies who took on the role of ‘dinner ladies’.
After lunch it was time to prepare for the skiff races across the Siabost Loch a Bhaile. The races required the participating rowers to collect the peats that had been scattered to the four winds by local children that morning and a bag was left on the shore so that the teams could ‘bring home the peats’ which will keep the locals warm for a night or two over the harsh winter.
The results were unequivocal, Yakidoola won the first race with an all-male crew and Jenny Skylark came second, but first in the all women category! Blue Moon came third, but first in the mixed crews and Florence came a respectable fourth. Pascual, who had led the pack to the other side of the loch with double sculls, and was already on its way back, broke an oar in the frenetic enthusiasm and lost focus retrieving the broken blade. Therefore, An Eather were able to keep that trophy for another year.
Due to public demand, a second race was held where Jenny Skylark came first, followed by Yakidoola with a mixed crew from Bristol and Australia, closely followed by Florence. The boats where then all packed away and after a quick bite to eat and shower, we all reconvened at the Siabost Community Centre for a ceilidh. The Ness Melodeon Band got everyone up dancing, while willing volunteers took a turn to entertain a packed hall. Martine from Port Seaton did a lovely poem and Brendan from the USA sang Appalachian mountain twang. Jennifer Spiers sang a well-known Gaelic song too.
On Sunday 12 willing participants attended the local Free Church of Scotland service led by Rev Calum Mcleod. Mrs. Anneta Mcleod extended a warm invitation for teas, coffees and home backing after the service, which gave us an opportunity to get to know the local parishioners better. There was no rowing on Sunday in accordance with local custom and many went for a walk instead.
On behalf of Rowporty, we would like to extend a very warm thanks to Jackie Craig and Murdo Mcleod for all their hard work and organizational magic. Also, a big thank you to all those at An Eathar who helped with the logistics and work behind the scenes to make the event a memorable one, again. We hope to be back next year.