Great Tyne Row – Sun 6th Sept

Thanks to Clive Drewitt for the following report from this years Great Tyne Row.  Photos from Northern Rowing and from Peter Ashe:
No, we don't know either. But they were fastest St Ayles!</div.

The sun came out for the 2015 Great Tyne Row!  This is an annual 25 km race from Newburn to Tynemouth through the heart of Newcastle.  The race starts in semi rural Newburn, passes through Newcastle city centre and through the commercial port to finish at the sea.  This year there were no shipping movements and we were able to row straight through to the finish.  40 boats took part, 25 sliding seat, 15 fixed, including 8 St Ayles skiffs.
With the wind and the tide behind us, times were quick, with the fastest boat award going to a sliding seat 4 from Devil’s Elbow RC in 1 hour 41 minutes.  The fastest fixed seat boats were “coastal fours” from Scarborough, with their first boat finishing in 2 hours 5 minutes.  These have beautifully crafted long wooden clinker hulls, one was built by Mark Edwards, who led the build of the Royal Barge Gloriana.  Rowporty rowed their hearts out and split the Scarborough fleet of four boats, scoring third fixed seat and fastest St Ayles (2 hours 10 minutes).
Newhaven followed close behind, chased by North Berwick rowing “randan” with three rowers in a Hanningfield Skiff.  St Andrews brought home the next fixed seat boat and were awarded the Harry Clasper award for sportsmanship, having completed the course without a rudder, the cox using a paddle to steer the boat.  We assume this was never used as extra propulsion!
gtr zev

An ocean rowing boat propelled by two rowers turned in a respectable 2 hours 38 minutes, and the St Ayles skiffs crewed by Blyth, Whitburn and Amble earned a special mention for finishing in a three way dead heat in 2 hours 48 minutes.  Whitburn also won the award for best dressed Skiff, while Blyth were awarded the prize for Open St. Ayles skiff (just!).
Whitburn's Fishermen
The swell rolling into the harbour entrance at Tynemouth led to consternation for some crews, (not the St. Ayles rowers!), but all made it safely ashore to land at Tynemouth Rowing Club (motto “Row the Waves”), to be greeted by a steel band, home baking, a barbecue and beer!  Special thanks are due to all the volunteers from Tynemouth RC who helped to get boats landed quickly and efficiently
gtr waves
 The event was very well run and a good time was had by all, and basking in the afternoon sun after all that exercise put the icing on the cake!
 More info, full results and a countdown to next year’s race can be found here:
and lots of photographs can be found on the GTR Facebook page:

Rowporty at Portobello Village Fair

We spent Sunday 6th Sept at the 2015 Portobello Village Show turning burgers into cash – very successfully. We won’t be giving up our day jobs but we did enjoy ourselves.

We ran the day in a very focused fashion and once we started we didn’t pause for breath until the last burger was sold.

We had Andres & Fergus on chef duty, Emily, Mhairi  and Gillian serving up the lovely burgers and Larry and MC relieving punters of their cash. Lots of folk stepped in to help including Mhairi’s kids.

A massive effort from Fergus to get burgers and his famous “onions” at the right place & time. Mhairi did a Scotmid-smallwonderful job with tasty salads. Andres connected with the wonderful ScotMid of Portobello who sponsored us by way of free burger buns – very handy and very much appreciated. In total we made £500 profit and given the demand we could have done it twice over.
The day itself couldn’t have been more perfect – the brass band, tug-of-war, cake stand and lots of happy people milling about. Our main competition on the “hot food” front was the boys brigade – but our queue was longer! A note for next year to myself – get masses of change for the float – nobody uses cash anymore.

Loch Shiel Jacobite Muster

6 of us from Rowporty went to the Jacobite Muster, Ali took the North Edinburgh skiff: Troika, whilst Max, Calum, Chris, Mhairi & Patsy went with Ice Breaker.

We set off in wet, windy weather from Portobello, Max & Calum towing Ice Breaker, whilst Mhairi, Chris & Patsy travelled together. We only stopped off once, to brew a cup of tea in Glencoe. The weather improved as we went. We got across the Corran Ferry in no time at all & arrived at Acharacle, the starting point of our row up Loch Shield to the Jacobite Muster at Glenfinnan. Ice Breaker & the guys already there. There was a bit of a chill wind. We set off as we were ready: North Queensferry first, then Ullapool, Rowporty, Anstruther & the other 4 skiffs a bit later.

It was about a 2 hour row to Glenalandale where we were due to wild camp for the night, luckily we had the wind behind us to help us along & the rain held off. Although we had a lot of kit, it didn’t impede us at all. We reached our camping point at dusk. Just enough time to pitch our tents & get supper on the go. Mhairi ably assisted by Chris, treated us to a wonderful meal of salmon teriyaki, managing everything on one burner, whilst I cooked the noodles (I think!). It felt as if she fed 5000 of us, although in reality it was probably 8 – 10 folk. Absolutely brilliant meal – if this is the standard to expect on wild camping trips, please can I come again!

After supper, some of us, well probably only me, sloped off to get some kip, whilst most sat round a campfire into the wee small hours [Campfire story here please]. The camping was fine, a few midges to annoy us, but nothing too drastic.  It was great to be camping with a largish group who had all rowed to get there & well away from cars & all mod cons, relying on our wits.

Wild Camping in Glenalandale

The next morning before striking camp we were treated to another feast of Vegetarian sausages, mushroom & potato scones cooked in egg – absolutely delicious once again – thanks to Mhairi & sous chef Chris. We struck camp in the sunshine & I was optimistic enough put on sunscreen without having the sense to check the sky – the next minute it was pelting down & we had a good soaking for 15-20 minutes. However, with spirits undampened, we set off rowing in company towards Glenfinnan. As this was ‘Troika’s maiden voyage we decided to salute her as we arrived at Glenfinnan, which we all enjoyed.

The only disappointing part of the trip was our arrival at Glenfinnan where we were underwhelmed by the welcome, which I would describe as ‘polite indifference’, although a few folk did welcome us, not sure if they were locals or tourists.

Soon after we arrived, Max & Mhairi took a minibus with others to go & collect their cars/trailer. I went briefly into the highland games, as did Chris & Calum, but  soon found some Boatie Blest folk at the visitor centre having tea, whilst I held my wine under the table taking an occasional slug! Later I had a row in Troika & then set off to have a cuppa in the railway carriage at the station that’s used as a cafe. Whilst there I saw the Jacobite Express which stopped briefly at Glenfinnan station before going on its way. I then walked under the railway line & along a crazy path which led me up to a vantage point where I could look down on the Glenfinnan Viaduct, with great views also down Loch Shiel.


Meanwhile Chris stayed on at the Highland Games & ran a hill race of which he writes:

After we came ashore at Glenfinnan I spent most of the afternoon at the highland games. I had noticed that a ‘hill race’ was on the list of events virtually at the end of the day. I was keen to take part in this as taking part in a highland games would be a first for me. I had no idea how long the race would be (there are some big hills around Glenfinnan!) but on enquiring I learnt that it was more of a mad dash up to the top of a nearby viewpoint just behind the visitor centre and then back into the arena.

In the meantime I had a few hours leisure to take in some of the events. These included dancing, piping, track and ‘heavy’ events, including the caber which, although open to all comers I was not tempted to take part! Also noteworthy were a number of magnificently attired Jacobite soldiers who looked as of they had stepped straight off the pages of one of the military history books in which I had sought inspiration for Porty’s own outfits for the occasion. It would be fair to say that it would take weeks of work to achieve the authenticity which these soldiers had attained, complete with broadswords, flintlock muskets and dirks. After a parade around the arena this contingent took up a defensive position around the beer tent and held this formation until the close of the games.

Of particular interest to me was to see pipers competing in the pibroch (piobairachd) competition. This is the oldest form of music written for the bagpipes and although not the easiest to appreciate, when performed in such an atmospheric setting as this with a backdrop of the loch and its surrounding hills, it was hard not to be moved by it.

Shortly before the hill race there was the tug of war. This was keenly contested but in the end the strongest team and incidentally the smartest dressed, being all clad on the local estate’s tweed were clear winners.

The adults’ hill race was preceded by the junior event run over the same course. It was easy enough to track the runners’ progress up and back down the hill before they reentered the arena to loud cheers and applause. The winner was incredibly quick and I overheard mutterings that there was no way he should have been in the junior event! When the last junior runner was back in the adults race began. The ascent of the hill was step and muddy and the descent reminded me of the cheese filling race which takes place on Gloucestershire and results in a large number of hospitalisations reach year. There were fortunately none on this occasion and we were all soon back on the arena bring greeted by the cheers of the crowd. A great feeling! One of the ‘ghillies’ ran and was awarded the prize of first finisher wearing tweeds!”

Once we all assembled again we decided to head off to Arisaig where we hoped to row the next day. Extensive tooing & froing there whilst we tried to find somewhere to wild camp in the face of full campsites & endless notices telling us we couldn’t camp or park overnight. Eventually, Chris pointed us in the direction of Rhu & Mhairi’s persistence paid off. Right at the end of the road I spied a possible spot with a lovely view over to the small isles. We parked Ice Breaker just a few yards away in a lay-by & finally pitched our tents – only to be attached by a plague of the little blighters. We retreated to a natural ‘kitchen’ nearer the sea where we had another superb meal of salmon & pasta & drank yet more wine. I went off to bed early, but the others sat up late round the camping stoves (no fires this time – as it felt like wild camping was pushing our luck here). We had a leisurely breakfast the next day before heading in to Arisaig.
As the tide was wrong for launching, Mhairi Chris & I decided to head off home. On the way back we stopped in Glencoe under the 2nd sister, they went for a swim, whilst I brewed some coffee & we had a leisurely picnic of left overs. We sat for well over an hour sharing stories of our families & just hanging out on the warm hillside. Brilliant! Our last adventure was a deviation down Glen Orchy – great to get away from the A road & into a winding back road.

Thanks to Max & Calum for towing Ice Breaker, & to all for good company & a great trip.

Eskmuthe Regatta – Sat 1st Aug

RowPorty attended the Fisherrow fun regatta organised by our wonderful nearest skiffing neighbours, Eskmuthe, on Saturday 1st August.

A hardy crew rowed down, arriving when we were still awaiting the tide to come in sufficiently to begin racing, so it was a bit of a wade ashore through a goopy seaweed layer that stayed at the water’s edge all day – and reminded RowPorty folk how incredibly lucky we are in Porty – so close and a different beach altogether.

The first race was Mixed Open, Laura, Sean, Peter and I were ably coxed by post-Ali/SCRA training cox supremo Sandra S, to a respectable third, behind Port Seton (1) and North Berwick (2).
The next race was the women’s open, Pam, Sandra S, Amanda and Rebecca racing to a second, very narrowly beaten by Port Seton.

The next race was the mens open, with Bill, Christopher, Fraser and Sean, with our second Ace cox called Sandra of the day, Sandra A. Place?

The decades race had Rebecca for 30s, ? ? and ?. Place?
The weather then turned its good mood off, and chucked down huge quantities of water, some frozen, in a short space of time, in fast moving air. So a break in Fisherrow Yacht clubhouse was just the ticket, while some of us huddled in the minute beach shelter tent, or helped Eskmuthe gather kit and stow it out of the weather. Those coxes jackets make staying out fine, it is like wearing a centrally heated tent.

The sun came out again in time for one last race, the pick and mix. Such a nice way to get to know people from other clubs, even if only momentarily.

Eskmuthe had made really lovely medals from post-build parts of Steedie Falconer. (picture), Port Seton got the majority!

While we didn’t manage any firsts rowing, RowPorty did triumph in the last competitive event of the day, the Tug of war. There were heats, which meant the RowPorty crew of 4 men and 3 women (we asked if that was to make it fair to the men? But it was teams of 7.) Anyway, our magnificent seven was ably coached by Fraser who helped us show our strength, stamina and ability to work together with tactics, and winning three times in a row, to victory. Exhausting and used a whole batch of new muscles which still ache on Monday! But fun.

Fabulous baking, rolls and coffee, and a marvelous tombola too, with superb salesmanship and general cheer from the younger Eskmuthe club members.

Some RowPorty folk rowed the boat home, others drove back to collect rowers, or get to dry clothes. The upside of staying on, a bit salty, sandy and seaweedy about the feet, was great craic in the bar with Port Seton, and then an amazing evening of performances by Eskmuthe. Amazing talent, I cannot imagine singing and playing the guitar after organising a regatta and dealing with hurricane-feel squalls. Eskmuthe said they’d let us know if they were having another social evening – can’t recommend it highly enough. Brilliant end to a great fun day.

Rowporty’s adventures in the Outer Hebrides

Twenty members of Rowporty and their families made the annual pilgrimage to Lewis to attend the launch of An Eather’s new skiff, Yackydoola, on Wednesday 15th July 2015 with our good friends at Siabost, a coastal community on the west coast.

This year’s programme extended over 4 days, which included the launch of Yackydoola, 2 ceilidhs, a Hangi, and over 30 miles of coastal rowing.

See the report on BBC Alba of the launch of Yackydoola:

There is a video of the launch posted on An Eather’s facebook page, which can be viewed on YouTube.

After the launch, which took place in the fresh water Loch a’ Bhaile, in Siabost, we were all treated to a lovely lunch at the old school, soup, sandwiches and cakes made by the generous Siabost ladies.

After the launch of Yackydoola, three skiffs (Jenny Skylark from Portobello, Yackydoola and the Stornoway skiff Madadh Ruadh) were launched in Stornoway harbour to take part in the Stornoway parade of oar and sail as part of the Hebfest. We had 3 crews row JS around the harbour and out to the Rubha Airinis light house in glorious sunshine and a light breeze.   The fish were not to be found.

After a day of rowing we refuelled with a fish supper in Stornoway before heading to the ceilidh at the Sea Angling Club in Stornoway, which saw some energetic dancing by those attending and some local tuneless singing about rambling and gambling, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, probably for the wrong reasons.

On Thursday 16th July, the 3 skiffs were launched at Crossbost on the East coast of Lewis, south of Stornoway, with the aim of rowing to Keose, around 5 miles. We had wall to wall sunshine and rowed in company, with a fishing boat for safety cover, plus 2 yachts and the dipping lug. The row involved navigating past salmon farms in calm sheltered waters. We spotted sea eagles in flight and made it to our picnic lunch on a beach with piles of discarded scallop shells.

Rowporty ‘borrowed’ the Stornoway skiff for the day, which enabled virtually everyone to get a long row. Others had the opportunity to crew the dipping lug back to Stornoway, where they were fortunate enough to see an Orca!

The plans for Friday 17th July changed due to the increasing wind speed and direction, so Murdo and his team at An Eather arranged for us to launch Yackydoola and JS in Uig, at a little place called Uigean, near Miavaig to row out to Loch Roag.

Seatrek were kind enough to offer one of their large ribs to accompany us and offer safety cover. The row involved rowing past several islands (Flodiah, Gousam, Fuaigh Beag) and returned via Grasabhaig. The wind had picked up but thankfully the return journey involved being pushed along by the wind while we fished. Only 2 small fish found on that day.

Rowporty had 2 crews for this long row, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Those on land had the privilege of an Ian Mackay special tour around the Tweed Mill, which involves taking over the place for an hour! The tour was cut short as Ian was called away on an emergency, he is the local fireman as well as a master weaver, crofter and the nicest man you are likely to meet anywhere. In the afternoon, some of those still on land, where able to enjoy a tour of the local Norse Mill and Black House with Angus Macleod, who has been so good to us over the past years.

In the evening we all met at the Old School in Siabost for a traditional Ceilidh. The Ness Melodian Band 7 accordions, which had everyone up dancing, a mixture of Rowporty and Siabost locals, a fine blend. There were a number of people taking turns for a song including Martine from Port Seaton, Ruby & Phoebe from Rowporty, Beth, Jennifer Spiers and several local Gaelic singers, including Ian Macaulay, Annie Maclennan, Wasp and Calum Angus Macdonald.

Can’t help falling in love with you sung by Ruby & Phoebe

Riptide sung by Ruby & Phoebe

On Saturday 18th July, another early start! This time we launched the 2 skiffs on the local fresh water loch at Siabost for tester sessions for local families. The weather was a bit dreich in the morning, but this did not put off the locals as there was a steady stream of people wanting to have a shot at one of the rowing boats. At one point we had 9 adults and children in JS!

At 1pm we were back at the Old School in Siabost for another lunch of soup, sandwiches, tea & coffee and a selection of home backing. Further tester sessions took place in the afternoon, until around 4pm, where the Yackydoola and JS eyed each other at the start line of a 1.5klm race around 3 buoys.

The race started well with Yackydoola getting a few yards ahead before JS overtook her on the way to the first buoy. The race was on as Yackydoola’s cox tried to overtake JS on the way to the second buoy by heading directly to buoy 3. It was a tight race around buoy 2 and 3. In the final straight, in sight of victory and in front of a large crowd (4 people, 6 sheep, 2 highland cows, 3 ducks and one goose) the boats where gliding along side by side, so close in fact that one of Jackydoola’s fine new oars with oak inserts, knocked Cathy clean off her seat, causing some hilarity and excitement, the boats crossed the imaginary waterly line to the sound of Ian Mackay’s pick up truck’s horn and cheers from the gathered crowds!

Then there was enough time to load the boats onto their respective trailers and head for the feast that was the Hangi. Murdo and his family have been holding a Maori Hangi in Siabost for the past 15 years and we were lucky enough to be invited this year. As you would imagine, it was a feast which we devoured with gusto. Then came puddings, every kind of crumble and cake you can imagine, to die for.

The prize giving took place after the Hangi:

Finally, a big thank you to Murdo and his family for their warm hospitality and for all those in Siabost, who have been so generous with us again this year. We look forward to returning the kind hospitality when you come to see us in Portobello in the not too distant future.

From Rowporty’s view point, it was great seeing the birth of another skiffing club with all the vibrancy, enthusiasm and friendship that comes from building a beautiful skiff and getting it on the water. A great addition to the Siabost community and we hope it helps to strengthen community bonds and enables new links to be forged with other coastal communities.

Many thanks


  1. Latest video from Murdo

Rowporty at Portsoy 2014

22 adults, 13 kids, 2 dogs and several tents arrived at the beachside campsite on Friday night viewing the wind and waves with trepidation. The following morning a downpour ensued and the waves rose higher. The races were cancelled and rowers looked crestfallen. The Portsoy team staged an improvised ‘dressage’ event in the New Harbour with impressive imagination. One boat at a time the teams rowed forward 9 boat-lengths, did a 360° turn, rowed backwards, then performed a 180° turn before racing to the finish line. The command of the cox (and crews’ ability to follow orders) was crucial: for some it was smooth, for others like dodgems…

Rowporty did well winning the Women’s Open (in Ulla) and the Mixed Open in JS. The men’s open team also raced in Ulla but were pipped to the post by one second by Boatie Blest – not bad given that the rudder broke mid race!

By popular request (well Wendy Clements’), the whole crew – kids and all – performed the sea shanty at the ‘award ceremony’ spurring on Port Seton to sing each time they were called up as winners! A lovely touch was the presentation of a net of handpainted stones to each club who attended.

Then the sun came out and BBQ and bonfires ensued – for some lasting well into the night… notwithstanding, 7 of the Club – including Lewis – set out on Sunday morning in a downpour to run the Herring Run 10k. Happily the weather soon changed for the better and for the rest of the day.

More alternative races were concocted for day 2 of the regatta as the waves were still high. Two boats at a time raced (bounced) from the harbour entrance, around separate buoys and back. As there were 15 boats competing there were quite a few outings – the fastest time over all being the winners in the category:

Mixed open – Boatie Blest 3:59
Womens 40+ – Rowporty 4:10
Mens 40+ – Boatie Blest 3:25

Boatie Blest/Port Seton were the overall winners of the regatta with North Berwick and Rowporty sharing second place. There is a great write up on the SCRA website with links to fantastic pictures taken by the Eskmuthe crowd. You can see photos of the whole Portsoy Boat Festival experience here.

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