Midsummer Day Picnic Row

Selkie rowed to Eilean Duin, at the northwest of the entrance to Puilladobhran, for a long awaited picnic. The tide was fair, and very little wind, and although the sun could have shone for longer it was a great outing. We climbed to the top of the island to spy the fabled goats (see the discussion on Seil Chat). We saw 12 in total; two billies, two kids and the rest were yearlings/nannies.

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Thoughts on the AGM

Four of us attended the meeting in Callander, not the best thing for the legs after our energetic day on the water. Full minutes will appear in due course on the SCRA website, so this is just a brief report with comments on matters that affect us on Seil.

The main thing that struck us in the Chairman’s report was the huge expansion in skiffing with there now being 24 clubs affiliated to SCRA, nearly 60 skiffs in Scotland and another 40 or so planned or building. Of interest to us are Tobermory with one or maybe two and Oban with maybe one, (although we haven’t heard anything from them for a while). Outside the meeting we heard that Luing are building, apparently following the successful charity row round the island.

Next year there could be a mid-Argyll regatta with eight or nine local skiffs plus visitors.

The Treasurer reported that SCRA is solvent, so the subscription stays at £60 per club.

The Committee will be co-opting a couple of new members including one from Argyll – details to follow.

The main business was consideration of the measurement rules. New rules will prevent imaginative builders producing an unfair advantage, perhaps at the expense of safety. I won’t record all the detail here, but happily Selkie is well within all the new tolerances, so we don’t need to alter her in any way.

Sensible amendments include allowing polypropylene for the keel rubbing strip, which we already have, also plastic or similar strips to reduce friction between oars and pins, which we should consider adding. They also clarify that our seat positions are legal, as is our rudder, although it’s not to the shape in the plans.

It was agreed that the expansion of the class means these must be more rigorously enforced and we were reminded that spoon and asymmetric oars are not allowed.

Metal oarlocks, footrests etc remain banned, showing that Scottish skiffing is building its own ethos that some may consider mildly eccentric.

I’ll write a further post with my views about what we should be doing this winter to improve our competitiveness, mainly addressing the oars and footrests.

Most important is to recruit some younger members, as half us rowing at Loch Venachar had bus passes. Here are some further images to let people know what they’re missing.

The Crowd before the startThe Crowd  againAnster ladiesChippy McNishCox RaySelkie ladies crewSelkie ladies in action


Issues for the 2013 AGM at Callander on 26 October

SCRA are just about to announce the details of the 2013 AGM, which will take place in Callander on 26 October at 1700 just after the Loch Vennacher sprint races finish.

This should be an extremely important meeting, as decisions will be taken that will affect the style of rowing and the type of competition that coastal rowing will be able to offer in the years to come.

In the four years since coastal rowing began a lot of experience has been gained, especially at the Skiffieworlds. The SCRA decided to cash on this and set up a Rules and Measurement Committee, which took soundings from clubs, inspected and in some cases weighed boats and set out some issues for discussion. The result was a set of summaries of the different issues, with questions added for the member clubs to decide. Our club should form a collective view on these, so that we can vote on 26 October.

The full report is on the SCR website here:-


You will see that various clubs are taking part already in an online discussion via the comments. It is open to both individuals and clubs to do this. We should all read the report and think about how we should respond. What follows is not to provide an excuse not to read it, so I will just summarise the main principles.

The Rules and Measurement Committee first asked itself what rules are for. We identified a number of quite distinct reasons why we need rules for boats in a class, mainly to ensure, safety, longevity of the skiff, fairness and “spirit”.

I’ve put spirit in quotes, because it’s still forming in coastal rowing and very important if often overlooked. There is a tendency in the existing rules to ascribe matters which truly belong to spirit, for example rowing with kabes or thole pins, to other things like saving money. This is patently untrue, as simple galvanised oarlocks are cheaper in the long run than wooden pins.

By spirit I mean the range of emotional factors that surround the St Ayles skiffs and their communities. It’s a mixture of nostalgia reflecting the history of the boat type and shape plus the unique elements that make them attractive and in time will become a tradition.

Traditions all start somewhere, usually for good reasons which get lost as time passes. All sports have them, both good and bad. Good reasons tend to reinforce the sense of belonging to a community, bad ones lead to exclusivity (e.g. certain bowling and golf clubs). In a sport one often does things for no obvious practical reason – that’s not what sports are about.

These factors are also part of the reasons why people take up our type of rowing as opposed to others. Alec Jordan for example records “At Hobart someone made a comment that these boats are a wonderful change from the testosterone fuelled misogyny of the surf boats”.

This leads directly into the main questions that members will want to discuss.

The most important are the issues about metal oarlocks versus clever wooden imitations of carbon fibre racing fittings versus thole pins versus kabes. Should SCRA ban feathering?

Other matters that will be decided are:-

Minimum Weight

Adhering to the drawings

Exotic Materials – e.g. the use of of polyprop for rubbing strips, technically illegal but most of us have done it.



Of course we will have personal views, but I understand that there will be one vote per club. We have no time to lose in opening a discussion.



Measurement Rules

The SCRA Measurement Rules Sub-committee recently reported and comments are being sought on the main website here http://scottishcoastalrowing.org/2013/09/04/measurement-rules-update/#comments

You’ll see that at the AGM a number of questions will be put to the membership based on the report, with new rules to be drafted later once decisions on the principles have been made.

Enjoyment of our unique form of recreation depends on carefully preserving a blend of keeping the rowing safe, healthy and comfortable on the one hand and respecting the heritage which produced the skiffs and developing the St Ayles spirit and style on the other.

We can take part individually in the online discussion on the main website, but we should also be discussing the various issues locally, so that when they go to a vote we have a view that we are all happy with.  

More about the Skiffieworlds

Further to Nick’s post earlier the few among us who have not been constantly out on the Sound practising racing starts and turns will have noticed that the heats and lanes were selected by secret ballot at Portsoy last weekend.

 Nothing focuses the mind better than to see the name of one’s club listed alongside some of the toughest crews in the game (no names).

 In accordance with our egalitarian principles all the five races which we have entered are mixed ones and those who have not yet indicated a preference for a particular category should note that the ages specified are minimums. Thus:

 Those of us with bus passes can row in any of the races for which we have entered.

 Those under 60 but over 50 can row on Wednesday at 14.00 (50+), Thursday at 11.30 (Open A) or 13.00 (Open B) or Friday at 12.30 (40+).

 Those under 50 but over 40 can row on Thursday at 11.30 (Open A) or 13.00 (Open B) or Friday at 12.30 (40+).

 Those lucky enough to be under 40 can only row on Thursday at 11.30 (Open A) or 13.00 (Open B).

 No person can row in both Open A and Open B.

 Here are the results of the draws in respect of our races:


50+ Mixed Heat 2 Wednesday 10th July 1400hrs                                                                                                                   

Lane    Club

1          WSV Woudrichem

2          Isle of Seil CR

3          Coigach Community Rowing

4          Newburgh Rowing Club

5          St Ayles (Anstruther)

6          Blakeney CRC

7          Lake Champalin

8          Ullapool CRC

9          Pittenweem RC

10       Islay

NOTE: Having won our heat we will proceed to the final on Thursday at 11.00am.


Open Mixed A Heat 1 Thursday 11th July 1130hrs                                                                                                     

Lane    Club

1          Royal West (Greenock)

2          Loch Broom SC

3          Bunillidh RC (Helmsdale)

4          North Berwick RC

5          Isle of Seil CR

6          Newhaven CRC

7          Blakeney CRC

8          Troon CRC

9          Stornoway RC

10       Portsoy Skiffettes

11       Newburgh Rowing Club (Fife)

12       Pittenweem RC

NOTE The final for this is the same day at 15.00


Open Mixed B Heat 2 Thursday 11th July 1300hrs                                         

Lane    Club

1          Wind and Oar Boat School

2          Isle of Seil

3          Carrick CRC

4          North Berwick RC

5          Bunillidh RC (Helmsdale)

6          Stornoway RC

7          Loch Broom SC

8          St Ayles (Anstruther)

9          Moravian Academy

10       Troon CRC

11       Ullapool CRC

NOTE The final for this is the same day at 15.30




40+ Mixed Heat 2 Friday 12th July 1230hrs                                                    

Lane    Club

1          (S) Queensferry RC

2          Isle of Seil CR

3          North Queensferry CRC

4          Islay

5          Stornoway RC

6          WSV Woudrichem

7          Coigach Community Rowing

8          Carrick CRC

9          North Berwick RC

10       Blakeney CRC

11       Loch Broom SC

12       Boatie Blest (PS&C)

NOTE The final for this is the same day at 14.30




60+ Mixed FINAL Saturday 13th July 1330hrs                                                 

Lane    Club

1          Isle of Seil RC

2          Coigach Coomunity Rowing

3          Ullapool CRC

4          Blakeney CRC

5          St Ayles (Anstruther)

6          Troon CRC

7          RowPorty

8          North Berwick RC


I hope that this information enables everyone to finalise their plans for Ullapool. It is absolutely essential that you let a member of the committee know your availability and preferences as soon as possible. It’s not too late to take part in training, which is bookable on this website.

Rules – What are they for? What is their status?

Our new very legal rudder
Our new very legal rudder

I’m sure that most of us just want to go rowing, but there are some sad people who think about dry and dusty things like the rules. Later this year when we go to the Skiffieworlds there will probably be quite a few who are not just sad but a little upset as well, because we are likely to see modifications in construction that we discussed during our own build but rejected as outwith the spirit of Scottish Coastal Rowing.

The viral growth of the fleet has taken everyone by surprise and it’s clear that the measurement rules would have been much more tightly drawn had this been anticipated. As a result SCRA has commissioned a full review of the rules with a view to bringing in amendments for discussion at a future AGM. I am a member of the group charged with considering the existing rules, gathering views and offering advice.

All of us on the group are wearing two hats, because we are also involved in our own clubs and want to win races. Now that we at Seil are on the water and gaining our own experience we should be thinking about the issues surrounding the rules, so that we can adopt a position at any future SCRA meetings where amendments are discussed. I’m posting about some of the issues, in the hope that it will stimulate thought and perhaps a bit of discussion through comments.

I suggest that it’s possible to identify a number of quite distinct reasons why we need rules for boats in a class. I can think of four, safety, strength, speed and spirit. There may be a fifth that spoils the alliteration, cost, but with the kit-built skiffs I suspect it’s less important than we think, as the big items are all fixed.

I won’t waste time describing why the first three are important. By spirit I mean the range of emotional factors that have come together in the last three years or so surrounding the St Ayles skiffs and their communities. It’s a mixture of nostalgia reflecting the history of the boat type and shape plus the unique elements that make them attractive and in time will become a tradition.

Traditions all start somewhere, usually for good reasons which get lost as time passes. All sports have them for a variety of reasons, good and bad. Good reasons tend to reinforce the sense of belonging to a community, bad ones lead to exclusivity (c.f. certain bowling and golf clubs). We’ve all come across this, probably without actually acknowledging that in a sport one can do things for no obvious practical reason.

In our rules group I have argued that we should be aware of the importance of spirit and not shy away from promoting it as a value. It’s actually the only reason why any of us would take to the water in an attractive, slightly old-fashioned looking wooden boat with oars hanging off wooden thole pins and a flag pole on the front. Otherwise we’d be scooting about on sliding seats in carbon fibre contraptions and probably wearing designer lycra.

As we all know, the concept of the St Ayles skiff was developed at the Anstruther Fisheries Museum to commemorate certain traditions and perhaps revive them. In no particular order the historical antecedents were:

Scandinavian, ultimately Viking, boat shapes.

Historical Scottish fishing practice.

Recreational and competitive rowing in our east coast towns, particularly among the miners, but also on the west coast and island communities.

Traditional styles of rowing with long oars, kabes or thole pins.

The rules as presently expressed do refer to the spirit of the St Ayles skiffs, but there is a lack of detail, also an apparent reluctance to be open about the importance of this. As a result particular provisions designed to entrench the spirit have been justified on the other grounds, safety, strength speed and cost.

In the group I have argued that we should have the courage to acknowledge that rules making a boat strong may have nothing to do with safety, rules about speed may have nothing to do with either of those and rules about spirit absolutely nothing to do with any of the others.

Some of the issues are fairly clear. For example as we learned during the build adding rocker by reducing the keel at the ends is not allowed. Others are less so. Here are some of them.


The rule requiring these to be of wood has been justified on cost grounds, but metal crutches are demonstrably cheaper and longer lasting that wooden pins or kabes. Also some clubs have made clever wooden imitations of carbon fibre racing fittings, enabling oars to be feathered.

Feathering oars.

As a consequence of clever woodwork feathering has become possible and seems to be within the current rules. We have to think about whether or not this is the style of rowing the clubs (and we personally) want to see.

Should feathering oars be banned? On balance my personal view is, yes, they should be. I would argue that the traditional system with kabes or pins is central to the experience and much easier for inexperienced rowers to master. My views might change after a lot of hard upwind work though.

Spoon blades/choppers

Spoons are disallowed, ostensibly on cost grounds. That justification doesn’t stand up, because it’s cheap and easy to laminate curved blades using the same procedure as we did with the stems. It seems truly a question of spirit.


The existing rules allow a number of specified traditional materials apart from wood – Brass, Silicon Bronze, Stainless Steel, Gunmetal” and go on to say “The only synthetic material permitted in the boat construction is the glue which should be of Marine Quality, and will usually be Epoxy resin or a Polyurethane glue”.

I think everyone has problems with the letter of this. Our polypropylene strips are illegal, but most skiffs have something similar, as bronze ones cost about £300. One recent skiff is said to have stainless steel thole pins, done with no intention to gain an advantage.

Footrests are not shown in the plans, but are necessary for rowing efficiently. A discussion is ongoing about the extent to which they may incorporate metal adjusting/strengthening strips.


Alec Jordan’s original view was that the design should be completely open, to allow ideas to develop. During our build we discussed how it would be better for the pintles to be in a vertical line to the water and how this could be done with an outrigger. We decided not to do this and to keep the leading edge following the aft stem. Given the lack of a rule banning outriggers it will be interesting to see what people turn up at Ullapool with.

Later this year clubs will be asked to comment on these issues and if they want to entrench some basic principles which would purely be intended to preserve the spirit of inclusive community participation and the obvious good things that are causing this project to grow so quickly. It will be interesting to see what each regards as important to the experience of being involved with the St Ayles skiffs. We should be thinking about our own contribution to this. I await our own discussion with interest.