RowPorty – A Celebration – Fri 10th Jan 2014

What better way to start the new year than with a celebration of all things Row Porty?

  • Ever wondered how the whole Scottish Coastal Rowing revival came about?
  • How did Row Porty get started?
  • What does a skiff build look like from start to finish?
  • How did our boats get their names?

On Friday 10th January, at Portobello Community Centre, otherwise known as The Wash House, we will be taking you on a journey from the very first days of Row Porty right up to the present time. There will be a slide show, video clips, guest appearances and stalls displaying all manner of things from medals and trophies to strange tools used in the boat build.

As if that isn’t exciting enough, there will a screening of ‘Row Porty – The Movie’. This is a video document of a year in the life of Row Porty as teams attend a variety of regattas across Scotland and beyond. The film was made by one of our junior rowers, Katya and is an amazingly professional and entertaining piece of work. It also gives an insight into what’s involved in a regatta and the different conditions we find ourselves in. So, if you plan to race in 2014, come and see what you’re letting yourself in for!

This event is a great opportunity for long time members and those newer to the club to come together, have a wee celebration and muster our rowing prowess for the year ahead.

So, please sign up and come along. This is a one-off event, probably never to be repeated. Don’t miss it :)

4 go to Shawbost – An account of our trip to Lewis

On Wed 5Dec, myself, Andres & Nik, travelled to Lewis, with Row Porty rower and native of Lewis, Murdo Mcleod. The aim of our visit was to share our experiences of setting up a community club and pass on some of our enthusiasm and support.  The following is my account of the trip and I’ve actually not even included everything that we managed to cram into just over 48 hrs. The men-folk of the group, Andres, Nik and Murdo, will have tales of their own and I hope they’ll share them too. The photos are courtesy of Murdo.


After an uneventful drive on quiet roads, Murdo, Nik and myself arrived at a familiar destination, Ullapool Harbour.  Our final adventurer, Andres, had been scheduled to join us on the Thursday, but forecasts predicting severe weather had prompted Cal Mac to play safe and cancel all ferries. Instead, Andres made a dash across the country and arrived at Ullapool before us, tyres still smoking!

We boarded the ferry in the dark, blissfully oblivious of the sea state ahead. The ferry cranked up- its engines and purred out of a calm Ullapool. Reassured by this, we ordered lavishly from the restaurant and tucked in. The first sign of what was to come was the occasional banging from the car decks. This was followed by a strong spray against the windows, which quickly graduated into full waves of water battering off the glass. Nice! It was around this stage that plates and bottles started to dance across the table and things got a bit more tricky.

My sea-legs have never been very fine-tuned and with a bellyful of steak pie, which was making it clear that it didn’t want to be there, I had an urge to get out in the fresh air. Standing up, never mind walking, was a whole new challenge. The boat must have been rising and falling quite dramatically as staying upright was pretty difficult.

Once outside, the full force and height of the waves became apparent. We made it to the top deck somehow and the spray from the waves was still crashing several meters above us, which gives you an idea of the Minch’s ferocity. Whilst my fellow sea dogs coped admirably, I opted to remain outside and lose my steak pie with dignity. What a crossing – and you lot want to do it in a rowing boat ??? Crack on!

Stornoway offered us some shelter and we slid off the ferry and headed off across the island to Shawbost. By the time we got there, it was already late, but our hosts were there to greet us. We met various members of Murdo’s family, all lovely people, who welcomed us with a whisky on arrival, following which we were despatched off to our respective hosts for the night.

I stayed with Murdo’s Auntie Annie and Ian, a Harris Tweed weaver and part time fireman, in  a toasty wee croft house. Whilst my tea-total household had a sedate cuppa, before bed, over at the neighbouring croft house, Andres and Nik were leading old Uncle Alex astray by emptying several bottles of whisky and indulging in some fine Hebridean story-telling. Murdo and Alex together made for some lively stories which I hope they’ll share with you. Alex, is pictured above, with his implement of choice to keep Andres and Nik in order!


I awoke with a start at 6.30am to a right old commotion and gasps of ‘Oh no, it’s on fire, look at the flames!!!!’. When I opened my eyes, I realised that my room had a flickering orange glow and I leapt up. In-house fireman, Ian, had already sprung into action. It transpired that the overnight gales had brought the power cables down and we were treated to a Christmas light display courtesy of the cables arcing and producing big white flashes as far as the eye could see. The orange glow was from the flames licking up the telegraph poles.  Just to complete our Christmas experience, the snow had arrived. Better still, one of the cables had come down and settled itself right across the driveway of the house Andres and Nik were staying in, trapping Andres’s car. Wow! Anyway, we could deal with that later, there was exploring to be done.


Wearing every available and borrowed piece of clothing, in my case a Coastguard’s jacket(!), we headed in the direction of Rubha na Beirghe, a site of ancient fortification. From here, we had a magnificent view of the cliffs below and the sheer power of the sea crashing up and over them. The gales that followed us up here were strong enough to knock me off my feet on more than one occasion.

Murdo thought it would make a good photo if we gathered on the edge of the cliff, with the raging sea behind us – strange sense of humour that guy! I could barely stand and was pretty confident that if I flapped my arms, I’d have been soaring with the seagulls in no time. Just to add to the growing list of dramas, on the way down, Andres’s knee decided to part company with its socket and we literally had a man down! After a bit of writhing and manipulating, the knee cap and socket were reunited and we continued on our journey. To avoid further drama, we opted for a short drive to the next location.


We arrived intact at the proposed skiff location and what a spot it is. On one side, is the Atlantic Ocean and the beautiful beach of Traigh Shiaboist, and on the other is a loch, Loch a Bhaille. Standing looking over at both of them, you can see for miles, across a landscape, speckled only with crofts.

The two areas are separated by a wide path, with a steep, rocky shore ensuring that the 2 waters never meet. With a stiff wind, there was some movement on the loch, but nothing that would bother a skiff and the snow made for a very picturesque moment.


Back at base camp, we were met by Ian, a Harris Tweed weaver, who weaves from a shed next to the croft. He has been weaving since he was a lad and clearly loves it.  He explained that there are 550 base colours, from which every shade thereafter is composed, by mixing combinations of colours. The resulting thread is surprisingly fine. To get the cloth started, the individual threads have to be tied onto the loom hooks – all 1500 of them. That is a lot of knots. The digital era has bypassed the looms and they are a mechanical wonder to behold, with a fascinating array of cogs, chains and weights. Ian’s machine is considered advanced because you operate it by cycling it – so we did! There is no room for ’10 hard ones’ as the loom relies on an even, steady pace…and certainly no reversing, as I found out.


With only camping stoves for company, we headed off in search of ingredients for a hearty meal. We were saved from the prospect of pasta by ’40 North’, a proper, gourmet take-away, seemingly dropped down from the sky, Dr Who style, in the middle of nowhere. It turns out that this ‘nowhere’ was a place called Bragar. Here, we had the unbelievable choice of lamb tagine, beef goulash, hot smoked salmon and apricot chicken. Andres even found Chilean wine in stock. With feeding time over, we turned our attention to the public meeting that evening.


Would anyone dare brave the driving snow to come to a school hall, plunged into darkness, to hear a few mainlanders talk about a plywood boat? Well, by the Power of Murdo, they certainly would and not alone either. The first brought a generator, the second a standard lamp from their livingroom, complete with flowery shade, then boxes of candles and more lights. In a matter of minutes we had illuminations to rival Blackpool.

Between us, we gave the audience of 10, an overview of how the whole idea of the SCRA came about, how Row Porty got started, what a boat build looked like from start to finish, some of the places we had been and lastly each of our impressions of the benefits rowing had brought to our community. It was really helpful that we’d witnessed the sea conditions earlier in the day because it meant we could take that on board. People spoke of being brought up with a ‘fear of the sea’ and it wasn’t difficult to understand why that might have been. The highlight of the presentation, however, has got to be when Andres stunned the room into silence by delivering a speech in his finest Gaelic !!! Top marks to him. A Scottish person would never have got away with that ;-p   No one is really sure what he said, but whatever it was, the group voted unanimously to take the idea of a skiff build forward and also to have us back in May.

That Friday feeling...
That Friday feeling…


Friday morning started as it begn, with no power and that potentially live cable to deal with. Whilst Fireman Ian set about making calls from early morning, reminding Scottish Hydro we were ferry bound in a matter of hours, Nik and Andres had other ideas. With a brick dropped on top of the end of the cable, Andres simply drove over it, beating Scottish Hydro, who arrived a few hours later.


A few hours goes a surprisingly long way in Lewis. So, before we headed for the lunchtime ferry, there was time for Ian to take us on a personal tour of the Harris Tweed Mill, where he excelled himself, not only in turning up unannounced , but interrupting an entire workforce and their tea break, just for our benefit. This stretched to him rummaging through the off cuts to present us with bundles of cloth and despite the protestations of the shipping organiser, Wendy, he also gave us a wee handful of coveted labels to sew on. We saw the looms on a larger scale, but the one being operated in the picture below operated on alternating foot plates rather than a cycling motion. It also looked like it had been in service a very long time. Again, the mechanics of it were fascinating.


We said our goodbyes and then it was off to see the Callanish Stones which date back to 3000BC and loosely form a Celtic cross formation. We had the site to ourselves and overlooking the site, we gazed out onto stunning views of sea lochs and inlets which would be perfect skiffing territory.


We managed a quick stroll around Stornoway, before watching it disappear into the distance as we crossed a far friendlier Minch than we’d been on before, complete with dolphins.

One of the impacts skiffing has made on my life is that it has taken me to some beautiful parts of my own country, given me the most wonderful opportunities and experiences and put me in touch with some amazing people. Thanks to Murdo, his family and the people of Shawbost for once again, demonstrating what this coastal rowing thing can bring to us all.

Ali Grant


loch lomond still as...Last Sunday, I was lucky enough to go skiffing at Loch Lomond as a guest of Cockenzie and Port Seton’s finest, the ‘Boatie Blest’crew. Initially, we numbered 7, so the plan was to take a rescue boat and use it as an overflow vessel, swapping the crew around. As it transpired, the 8am departure proved too much for some and we left as a 5 – just enough for a crew.
We launched at the beach in the picture above, which is at Balmaha. There’s a newish Visitor Centre here, with excellent toilet and shower facilities, as well as lots of leaflets and a very helpful Ranger. There’s a sizeable car park and it’s a short wheel down to the water’s edge. It’s an easy launch and a spot very popular with kayakers.

Once afloat, we rowed straight across to Luss, a distance of around 5 km. We moored ‘Boatie’ on a fallen tree on the beach and headed off to explore on foot. Luss is a bustling village in the summer, but was quite deserted at this time of year. However, that means that you can marvel in bewilderment at the garden ornaments in the quaint, estate workers cottages. Think … gnomes, meerkats, lions, bird feeders, more meerkats, wind chimes, more lions, more gnomes, more meerkats … Hundreds of the things!

The smart skiffers amongst us had packed a lunch box and flask. I’d strongly recommend doing this because nowhere on Luss is particularly cheap and if you row- up an appetite, you’ll be skint in no time.
Fed and watered, we headed back, this time taking in the islands and landing on those we could. We went wallaby hunting at Inchconnachan, but if they were there, they weren’t letting on.

We continued on our journey, arriving back with plenty of light. The car park barriers get locked at 4pm, which was a shame on such a stunning day, with easily 3 hrs more light to be had. There was so much more to explore and this is a weekend trip waiting to happen.  On our return, we spoke again to the Ranger and asked about the possibility of the Loch for a freshwater regatta. The Ranger indicated that they would be delighted to encourage our environmentally vessels onto the water and gave us some helpful information about taking the idea forward.

Loch Lomond can get choppy, but nothing like the sea. The 2 biggest considerations are “can you read a map? “ because trust me, some of the islands look the same and meandering in and out of them, you can become quite disorientated. Secondly, “do you know your port from your starboard, your red from your green and your rules of the road, so to speak?”. There was a lot of motorised traffic using the Loch and it’s helpful to know where you should be with regards to the channels. For one who is clueless about these things, I was reassured by the fact that skiffs can shift pretty quick when they need to and can sit in very shallow water until most things pass. Phew!

Lastly, here’s a wee map of our journey, courtesy of Jon at Port Seton. Thanks to Andrew, Jon, Martine and Stu for a lovely trip.

Tripping to the Isle of May

This week, when some of us should have been working, Andres organized a quick trip out to the most remote of the islands on the Firth of Forth. How could we refuse! The Isle of May was calling.  For years it’s been a tiny dot on the horizon, seen from Portobello beach only on a good day.  This week we were lucky to be able to visit it.

Ian Mills from Crail had sent photos of dolphins to some of the crew – he promised faithfully that we’d see some.

We got the best of days for our trip; the weather was kind, the swell was interesting but not too fierce and a crew from Crail were also pulled away from real life to join us.

There is a lovely little harbour in Crail and the small beach is a beautiful golden colour. We launched in time to catch the last bit of assistance from the incoming tide.

We soon started spotting puffins in big numbers, along with gannets, cormorants and, by the time we got closer to the island, lots of seals. Some real whoppers, but no dolphins. Not one.

We spent a couple of hours on ‘the May’ eating too much picnic (in my case) and getting a great view of some puffins up close. They obviously know there are close circuit TV’s around and weren’t scared when Andres suggested cooking a few.  (I think the webcams are from the North Berwick Sea Bird Centre).

More folk from Crail joined us on their RIB – they brought out the Crail lunch and took some great photos of the boats, as did Ian Mills. It was great to get to know another set of rowers. It’s their local island but they seemed as pleased as we were to get away for the day.

The journey back was livened up by Andres having a quick swim – it was very quick – but he managed to swim under the boat and hop back in with some panache.

The offer of fish & chips on the harbour wall got us focused on the journey home. The outgoing tide had a real pull on it. We were surprised to see just how much the Crail guys were allowing for it – but they were right – aiming for a point far to the east of Crail got us in to the beach, just in time.  Any longer and the outgoing tide leaves their beach a fairly swampy smelly mess!

Many thanks to Andres & Ian Mills from Crail for organizing a great trip – one of my best days of the summer.

MC – My first ever blog post!

Rowporty Fun Regatta

We are inviting our nearest skiffing neighbours (Port Seton, Newhaven, South Queensferry & Mussleburgh) for some fun races on Saturday 27th July.

This is going to be a bit different from the usual regattas as we are going to mix all the rowers from all the clubs up & pick teams at random for a bit of fun & a bit of bonding with our rivals…!

This will be light hearted with no pressure, so if you’ve never tried racing before, why don’t you come along and give it a go. Or if you’ve just returned from the competitive World Champs, you could join in for a warm down.

We hope to have 4-6 boats available for use, and will run the races in heats, semi-finals and finals. The schedule will be confirmed when we know how many rowers are joining us, but we will aim to be racing from 11 am — 3 pm.

We will be putting on a legendary RowPorty Tea & cake stand (please bake us a cake!) for the rowers & spectators, and Fergus is going to be working his magic on the BBQ (weather dependent).

Portsoy Ahoy!

Roughly 30 Rowporty folk (small & large) headed up to the Portsoy traditional boat festival this weekend where we were treated to some exceptionally exciting races!

Despite a pretty miserable forecast, Saturday was pretty perfect for racing – light warm winds and a flat sea (very unusual for Portsoy), and at times, even a bit of sunshine. The race was over a triangular course about 2.5 km long with 2 mass buoy turns and the finish line straight across the harbour – fantastic for spectators.

8 other clubs were racing: Ullapool, Crail, Pittemweem, Queensferry, Port Seton, Anstruther and on home turf at their first EVER regatta: the Portsoy skiffettes in their shocking pink boat, with their pink lifejackets and every thing else! (In case you didn’t know, this boat is an all women build and they’ve done a fantastic job. The only down side is that some of the local men aren’t so happy to be seen in pink…)

To kick start the racing was the men’s open race. Porty were not in a strong position on the start line (2nd from the outside) so it was going to be tough to get water at the 1st buoy…..BUT they pulled hard and did it – first around the buoy ahead of Newburgh. And they managed to keep the lead to the end, despite a few attacks from Ulla on the home straight – so a win for Rowporty, 2nd place wet to Ulla, and third to Newburgh.

The 2nd race was the women’s open. Despite a pretty good challenge from Porty, gold went to the very together Anstruther team, followed by RowPorty in Silver and Ulla in bronze.

50+ was the 3rd race of the day yet our crew was a 60+ one. They were looking very tidy rowing together. Yet some more youthful 50 year olds pipped them to the post – in a very exciting finish Anstruther came 1st by less than a meter (!!) followed by a slightly disgruntled Ullapool team who had had the lead the whole race!

The next race was the 35+ mixed, and for this, gold went to a solid looking RowPorty team followed by Crail then Ulla. Crail are a newer club, but looking good and one to watch out for…

The men’s 35+ followed this. Short of men, Porty had Roisin on stroke. It looked like a very promising race for our team as they rounded the first buoy first, keeping a good lead round the 2nd buoy… but then Ulla (who were quite a few boat lengths behind) fought back on the final leg, pushing our team to the limit, and in another exciting finish, Ulla took gold by no more than 10 inches!!!

The last race on the Saturday was the ladies 35+. This was the most exciting skiff race I think I’ve ever seen. There were 8 entrants, and at the 1st buoy (1 km from the start line) 6 of them were absolutely level pegging: Port Seton, Anstruther, Ulla, Crail, Newburgh and Porty on the outside.

Porty came out of the turn last of the bunch (6th) but the bunch more or less stayed together over the next leg. At the next turn I think the order was something like: Ulla, Antruther, Crail, Newburgh, Porty, Port Seton… then there was a fantastic sprint to the finish with 4 boats entering the harbour together side by side (thank goodness it was wide enough!). 1st place went to Ulla, very closely followed by Porty in 2nd place, and probably ½ a meter behind, 3rd place went to Antruther, a second after which Newburgh crossed the line in 4th, followed by Crail a couple of seconds later in 5th. What a race!

Luckily for the nerves, that was the end of Saturday’s racing. Post racing we did a bit of plodding and attempted some fishing outside the harbour with all the kids and just managed to get in before the heavens opened with an almighty downpour.

Luckily this didn’t last long, and after a bit of socialising with other skiffies in the tattie shed, the Porty bunch had a bonfire on the beach well into the evening.

On Sunday the wind had changed direction (NW) and the sea had picked up. The novice races went ahead which was a short sprint (400 m) from the harbour, out round a buoy, and back again – doesn’t sound like a lot, but conditions were challenging to say the least, with huge lumpy waves. Not having a full team, we teamed up with Queensferry to create a QueensPorty team. The races were in heats. Our first was against Ullapool – it was close, but QueensPorty took it and were through to the semifinals. In the semi’s QueensPorty were up against Newburgh. Newburgh won this one and went through to the finals against Pittenweem, which Newburgh won.

The rest of the races on the Sunday were cancelled due to worsening sea conditions.

Despite this all RowPorty members seemed to have had a grand old time – the organisation of the racing was faultless, everything ran smoothly to time, and there was a nice relaxed atmosphere. Many folk enjoyed a good look around the rest of the festival – the boats, the craft, the food – what more could you want?!….Then to top it all off, at the awards ceremony, after the points had been added up, RowPorty came away with the trophy prize for points – the cherry on the cake!

Thanks to everyone for coming and making the event so successful for our club.

Yo Ho Ho – On board the good ship Glenlee

Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who came to the Ullapool World’s Fundraising Ceilidh in Glasgow last Saturday, and for making it a very sociable and fun evening.

Thanks firstly to Ali for really getting behind the event, pushing us in to going and organising the splendid minibus and driver to get us there and back safely. Her fears that they would send us a clapped out jalopy were unfounded and we were able to spread ourselves out in comfort as they provided a modern 28-seater instead of the 19-seater we had booked.

glenleeSome people gathered in the Espy for a pre-departure drink and/or bite to eat and everyone arrived at the Town Hall in good time to leave around 6.15pm. The journey through was uneventful though there was the usual wet and snowfall around Harthill (is it always raining there?)! We arrived at Riverside on the Clyde and walked along the pathway to the Tall Ship, stopping briefly for a group photo (still waiting to see it Andres!). Our first glimpse of the Glenlee was through the gentle Glasgow rain and sleet: she looked a bit of a lonely spectre with her three masts reaching up and disappearing into the dreich night sky. But it was exciting to cross the gangway and arrive on board this amazing ship that has been around the globe four times in her lifetime

We were greeted by Andrew from Port Seton and made our way down to the ‘Tween’ deck where the Ceilidh was being held. There were Skiffers already making merry from Anstruther, Royal West, Port Seton, North Berwick and others including two members from Troon who have just completed their first boat. As we made our way along the deck to find ourselves a table to gather round, those of us who had already had a drink, and those of us who had not, began to wonder if more drinking and dancing on a ship was a good idea. We all felt a bit giddy and try as we might, couldn’t keep ourselves walking in a straight line! It became apparent very quickly that the flooring on the deck was completely uneven and had a lovely camber that slewed you sideways as you walked its length. Well, nothing for it but to start drinking and dancing!

The Ceilidh Band was great and everyone got into the dancing straight away. As the night went on the dancing got faster and wilder and our steps got shorter and messier! At the interval we had a raffle and there was a game to win a bottle of whisky. Cue the interval ‘disco’ which sounds brought out the inner wannabe dance-floor divas in us all and, just to give us an authentic disco-feel, Barbara kindly provided a group of us lassies with a handbag to dance around!

Glenlee_StramashThe Ceilidh Band returned for the last hour and by now we were all flying round the floor. One of the funniest dances to watch was the Flying Scotsman. I don’t know whether Jude Nixon looked more terrified or Nick Finnis more confused when they had to lead off, but it kept those of us who sat it out in stitches. The Grand Finale was the Orcadian Strip the Willow and I think everyone joined in for this. It was quite a feat to get from one end of the ship to the other, without falling over and manage to stay with your partner — though I think I started off being a laddie and ended up being a lassie!

We had to reach our Carriage before midnight so made a hasty retreat as soon as the last Willow Strippers stopped swirling. A quick count on board to make sure we hadn’t left anyone behind and we were off — well almost. Andres managed to set the alarm off from the back seat — there’s always one isn’t there? Problem sorted in a moment and we headed home. Apart from a diversion for roadworks that took us THROUGH Harthill — those who were asleep — you didn’t miss anything, we had a safe journey back to Porty. A sleepy and tired but happy crew piled out at the Town Hall around 1.30am — glad to have gone and glad to be back.

My prizes for the evening go to Nik Savage (now, even more famous) for some rather slick Michael-Jackson-type dance floor moves; Kay Fairnie for fabulous skirt; MC Somers for groovy and uninhibited dancing, Barbara Middleton for astonishing shoes; Nick Finnis for bewildered expression and Helena Rodnight for getting there :)

We didn’t get a final tally but at the interval we had raised around £500. A very good night!