Up North with ee Wickers…
Well, the Wickers’ new build is looking beautiful and is obviously – and rightly- already a source of local pride. What a finish! Just the paint to go!
If there was ever an event that encapsulates in the most fun way just what the spirit of Scottish Coastal Rowing is about, this was the event; fellow coasties bringing their skiffs to support a new group in the North and being welcomed with boundless hospitality, meeting new folk left, right and centre and getting in a bit of rowing too..!
And here’s what the Royal National Lifeboat Institute Open Day at Wick harbour, Saturday 15th June was all about:
The Bunillidh crew in ‘Baile an Or’ and our own lovely ‘Coigach Lass’ crewed by Alan, Anne, Bernie, myself and coxed by Sue, both launched at the river mouth then came through the big swell you see above (!) round into the main harbour… What a rush! And what a fun start to the day.(Here’s an aerial shot, above, of Wick harbour… on a much calmer morning!) The two skiffs launched along from the bridge on the right side of the photo and, carefully negotiating the supermarket trolley hazard, (don’t even have a supermarket in Achiltibuie!) we were soon pulling out into a nice lumpy bit of the North sea ( see lifeboat photo above from the same day) which had us breaking sweat pulling into the swell, then skidded the skiffs sideways as we broadsided the waves to turn toward the mouth of the main harbour, then the swell shot us straight in – virtually surfing down – as we turned west into the entrance and found the pontoons in the calm of the inner harbour.
Our job was to meet the Wick Coastal Rowing lot and see their lovingly-crafted, almost-complete skiff; encourage members of the general public attending the Open Day to try an oar and row round the harbour with us; to get the general good craic with the sailing lot, the Wick RNLI and Coastguard folk, enjoy all the stalls scattered around the Harbour and take in the sight of Wick harbour full of boats dressed up for the day! Nae bother!
The local pipe Band kept warm in their own inimitable way…Finally at around 1pm, the day started to warm up as the wind dropped – and after a good feed of hot bacon and black-pud rolls, soon the two visiting skiffs and their crews were busy with ‘customers’ for a go at rowing. People loved it – often much to their surprise!
Women and girls in the main. There are three young teenage lassies out there in Cathness somewhere with loads of eye make-up, wearing tiny ballet flats and clothes from Topshop Online who now have fire in their belly for the rowing!
Then the Bunillidh and Coigach teams mixed it up a bit to give spectators a wee taste of how these skiffs can really travel…
A head-to-head bit of informal racing above – with the beautiful stonework of the Caithness-slab harbour wall in the background… The two St Ayles Skiffs getting on to the ‘starting line’ with a rather spiffy little two-man job in the foreground…… and above here we have the Wick RNLI crew in the ‘Baile an Or’ giving it big licks as they pull away from the Wick Coastguard crew who, as I was their cox, could see from the outset were just not taking it seriously enough- at least two of them rowed with their ties on, for goodness sake, and one spent most of the race on his back with his oar in his face, unable to row. Couldn’t cox for laughing! Good on them though! A load of fun. Particularly for the spectators…
And then there was a bit of history…… on the right, the ‘Bella Fortuna’ a herring-fishing Fyfie of around a hundred years old with her red/brown sails furled. A lovely old boat to be explored, stem to stern. On the left the very new, wooden ‘Silver Bear.’
Then the afternoon was wearing on and the skiff crews who were staying for the evening’s dance began to think about finding a campsite when Graham, one of the Wick RNLI lads, announces, scarily, ‘I’ll take you up til ee kirk!’. Huh? Well it turned out that Graham has bought the old disused Free Church in Pultneytown and the wee hall at the back was perfect for our scatter of sleeping bags and blow-up mattresses! Sorted. Thanks Graham!
And then it was back to the Harbourmaster’s office with a bunch of Pirates for a ‘thank-you’ dram…or three…or four. Sue’s loving the ‘Old Pulteney’And Alan, helpless at cutlass point…And in the fading light of a beautiful still evening over Wick harbour……musicians brought their instruments.. …and the dancing got going…. …and the harbour looked amazing with the boats and the lights and the huge dark blue sky… …and the Shield for the crazy races was presented to the pop up Coastal Rowing club known as ‘Bunillibuie’ (here for one weekend only!) represented by double-act Achiltibuie Alan and Helmie Andy.Of course the dancing went on apace……. and the harbour, still and beautiful, resounded with mighty choruses of …’And I would walk 500 miles!’ Then, in the early hours, everyone just conga’d off to their bunks in their yachts… or sleeping bags in an old Free Church hall…or comfy beds in their Caithness-stone built houses…
And finally the harbour was left to a few seagulls pecking around and the gentle sound of boats rocking at their moorings – and its own dreams of the days when red fishing boat sails thronged the place and the herring gutter lassies laughed and shrieked with each other as they packed fish into barrels.