An all-female coastal rowing group is on the crest of a wave after receiving a good luck message from Olympic gold medallist Katherine Grainger as they prepare to launch the wooden rowing skiff they built from scratch.
The Skiffettes – a group of women from Portsoy in Aberdeenshire – created The Soy Quine in just 10 months, despite having no previous boatbuilding experience. And when they launch her from the slipway of the village’s New Harbour on March 2, 2013, it will mark the start of the next chapter in their journey to become competitive rowers.
They will have just four months to train and hone their skills before making their regatta debut at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy over the weekend of June 22 and 23, 2013.
Grainger, who finally clinched a gold medal at last summer’s Olympics after three consecutive silver medals, wrote to The Skiffettes to wish them luck. She told them, “I bet you’ll have great fun. I had a go for the first time at coastal rowing a few months ago in Cornwall for a fund-raising event and just absolutely loved it. Luckily, in all the races I was in a boat with experts so I could just lie back and enjoy the ride.”
The Skiffettes, who are aged between 25 and 65, first saw coastal rowing in action when they watched the St Ayles Skiff regatta at the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival three years ago. Skiff racing has now become an integral part of the sailing programme at the Festival, with crews from all over Scotland and the north of England travelling to take part.
Lesley McKay (42), one of the founder members of The Skiffettes, says, “A group of us ladies saw the regatta and thought that it looked incredible. We teamed up with PORT – the boatbuilding and restoration arm of the Festival – which had already bought the materials for building a St Ayles Skiff, and from then on there was no stopping us.
“None of us had ever done anything like it before – some of us had never even picked up a hammer before getting involved in this project. We were delighted to have a lot of support from Alex Slater and Pete Danks from PORT, they kept us on track and helped make the whole process of learning these new skills great fun.
“About 20 ladies have been involved over the past 10 months, and everybody has done their bit at our weekly sessions. It will be incredibly gratifying when The Soy Quine finally launches. Skiffs owned by different teams can be identified by their colour schemes, and as we are an all-female crew, we were determined The Soy Quine would be bright pink.
“We’re very grateful to have had the help of other skiff teams for allowing us to do some training with them, as for many of our crew being out on the water was a completely new experience. With the words of encouragement from Katherine Grainger ringing in our ears, we certainly intend to give it our best shot and have lots of laughs along the way.”
Coastal rowing was commonplace in Scottish communities up until the 1950s, when it almost died out because of the growing popularity of motorised boats. A decline in traditional industries which led to these communities becoming little more than dormitory commuter towns also played a part in it falling out of favour.
However, the sport is currently undergoing a great revival thanks to the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project and its efforts to help coastal communities return to their roots and re-establish their own identities. The project, which was set up four years ago, encourages groups to fund-raise to buy their own basic skiff kit, which they come together to build and then use for competition and community events.
Lorna Summers (65), the oldest of The Skiffettes, added, “If I can do it, anybody can. Several of The Skiffettes already knew each other, but we were delighted to welcome ladies who are new to Portsoy into the group. Perhaps we would never have met up and had so much fun had it not been for this super enterprise. The Coastal Rowing Project truly does connect communities and helps turn people who were no more than passing acquaintances into real friends and rowing buddies.”
The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Traditional Boat Festival is recognised as one of the leading events in the coastal rowing calendar. Crews – male, female and mixed of all ages – battle it out over a course from the 17thcentury harbour into the Moray Firth, negotiating waves, swells and unpredictable currents.