A rowing feat, by Rory Cowan
I spent a few days this summer rowing round Arran in the Whitehall dinghy, Moonshine, I built last year. The row was done in five separate legs and the total distance just on 100 km. During the trip I discovered a few important things to tuck away in the back of my mind when rowing reasonable distances at sea – albeit coastal. Firstly sea state and wind is quite important and if you’re rowing across the waves you really don’t need much sea or crosswind since you will roll and it may at times be quite difficult to keep the boat tracking adequately. If you’re rowing into wind you really don’t need more than about force 3 because otherwise progress will be painfully slow. So limit your trips to force three max.
The legs were clockwise from Kildonan to Machrie, Machrie to Lochranza, Lochranza to Corrie, Corrie to Lamlash, and then Lamlash back to Kildonan. The longest leg from Kildonan to Machrie had originally been intended to be to Blackwaterfoot however Blackwaterfoot had a carnival on at the time and there was no option to get a support vehicle in to collect the boat off the beach at the end of the leg hence I decided to row on to Machrie.
The weather on the first leg was changeable. Firstly there was a southerly zephyr which by the time I reached the Iron Rock Ledges buoy, had reached a decent force three from the west. This made rowing up Kilbrannan Sound across the waves quite challenging at times as the boat was rolling sufficiently to stop me rowing because I couldn’t get one or other oar out of the water! It would not normally be such a problem with a boat loaded with full crew of four, but with a single occupant the boat bobbed about like a corkl! So we plodded on and on reaching Blackwaterfoot the wind had died so the sea was flat clam with a slight swell and a gentle ebb current from the north just to prolong the trip! Ducking into the Machrie Bay to get out of the current the water was quite shallow and clear so I could see the seals moving around under me.
Arrived at the slip to be met by Neil who had helpfully agreed to support the trip, we got the boat out of the water and onto its trailer – so ended the first leg. 5 3/4 hours.
Next fine calm day we returned to Machrie Slip, put the boat in the water and whilst Neil was putting the launching trolley back on the road trailer, I set off and pulling hard away from the beach, I failed to notice the flat topped rocks lurking a few inches under the surface – so I rammed them and fetched up at a strange angle trying to float myself off again – managed that and Neil never even noticed – so thankfully no photographic record – and I got on with the trip. (No damage either on later inspection) It was flat calm all the way, glassy for most of it – so I got on with rowing pausing only for a brief comfort break ashore at Immachar, from where I was pursued by dozens of clegs – (horseflies to the visitors) for the rest of the trip. Nasty blighters.
I was using mirrors to maintain a good view of where I was going and it is interesting that as you make progress one point merges into the next and you get the illusion that you are going straight when in fact you are following the curve of the coast. So every half mile or so you need to stop[and have a proper look!
Into Lochranza at the end of the leg – as I had started early, I arrived before ferry activity had commenced after the exceptionally low tide so had to wait whilst it woke up and moved to the berth.
No chance of getting Moonshine out at the slip further into the bay as the tide was just about dead low and the end of the slip was about 4ft above the beach, so waited and got out at the ferry slipway. 3 hours 35 mins.
Next leg was from Lochranza to Corrie, flat calm to start but with a rising breeze from the east / southeast. Always worth rowing in the early morning / late evening as the diurnal variation of temperature tends to reduce the breeze a bit near the coast. Doesn’t make much difference at sea because the water does not warm up by day and cool by night quite so much.
Anyway I set off for the Cock of Arran around 0800, cleared that and went on to the measured mile somewhere near the fallen rocks. Tried hard to make 4 knots along that but just missed it by a whisker. Going past the car park just south of that it was disappointing to see the amount of rubbish and abandoned vehicles which seemed to be associated with an encampment at the Sannox car park. Carried on and soon the wind got up a little from the south and impeded progress.
Made it to the Sandstone Quay – in 2 1/2 hours – not bad! Tide was quite low and still going out at the harbour which was empty of boats. A few rocks at the entrance made for an interesting entry, but all was well and we glided in – before Neil had a chance to get there and take pictures! Dragged the boat up the slip on the electric winch which worked well.
Next leg – Corrie to Lamlash. Again I started out in a flat calm pursued by the occasional paddle boarders which were soon left behind. Wind flat calm, but swirled a bit initially from the northeast with a strange short swell but on beginning to cross Brodick Bay (now I know why it was called ‘Broad Bay’, because it goes on for ever), the wind sprang up from the west and was quite strong along the north shore with a steep short sea. Rowing was quite tricky and for some time I considered abandoning the leg and going in to shore, however it got better as I got away from the coast and by the middle of the bay, where a couple of ships were anchored, it was fine. By the time I was out of striking distance of the ferry the sea was just about flat with the wind having veered round until it was astern and pushing me on towards Hamilton Rock. Strange local winds – whilst all the time what clouds there were were making their way southwest – so at least the upper winds were constant. That’s what you get when there are hills and valleys around.
Decided I was going to make Lamlash in 2 1/2 hours as well so put the hammer down
and pulled hard, rounding Hamilton Rock with just over 20 minutes in hand and then pulled for all I was worth to make my time.
Meanwhile Neil had made it to Lamlash and thinking he could get a good picture of Moonshine passing Hamilton Rock, he dropped off the launching trolley and road trailer at the Yacht Club and set off for Clauchlands car park to walk out to the point. Meanwhile I was just passing the moorings at Lamlash and had to stop suddenly for a huge raft of Kayakers, just drifting around off the beach – so I made my time and support was nowhere to be seen! Tried ringing – but we all know what the cell signal is like in Lamlash, so entertained myself for an hour or so until Neil reappeared – slightly worried! 2 1/2 hours.
Last leg, got up early and went down to Lamlash – forecast was rather good and I was hoping for another 2 1/2 hours to Kildonan, but the wind gods had other ideas. Set off in a flat calm down the harbour and on passing the Fullarton rock buoy, the wind got up from the south and steadily increased to force 3 – 4 southerly – not exactly what was wanted for this leg. Quite apart from being a bit bumpy, progress was significantly slowed and again some consideration was given to hauling out at the southern end of Whiting Bay. Too stubborn, so I pegged on hugging the coast round Dippen Head for a little shelter and on getting round it got steadily easier until I was making good progress once more past Port Leacach and across Silver Sands where the reception party was most relieved to see me. But of course they were unaware how much the southerly had slowed me down. So it was 2 hours 44 to get back to the start at Yellowport.
Total time 17 hours 4 mins. Alright I suppose but I’ll do it quicker next year! Thank you Neil for doing the boring bit!
All photo credits Neil May.