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Row, row, row your boat gently down the Kyles

Row, row, row your boat gently down the Kyles
Scottish coastal rowing is a traditional sport that was once central to Scottish fishing communities. It has seen a huge revival in recent years, with coastal communities from Berwick to Annan building, rowing and racing the 22-ft four-person rowing boats known as St Ayles skiffs. Ken Coley fills us in on the Kyles Coastal Rowing Club.

Many years ago rowing boats were a regular sight in the Kyles of Bute. They were used for fishing, pleasure and even racing. Visitors would take their sweethearts out for a gentle row in the evening. And you can see why. I love rowing. It’s not only good exercise, but you can enjoy the lovely scenery, breathe the fresh sea air and there’s not a midge in sight.

A few years ago I was visiting a port in Argyll. It was 4am and there was a gaggle of excited people on shore. They were there to see off a couple of rowing boats that were heading out to race to Ireland. ‘How cool is that?’ I thought. ‘A bit mad too. Wouldn’t it be a great thing to get a couple of rowing boats in our village?’ Back home with my help of my knowledgeable friend Google, I began to research the boats and the people who raced them. I came across Scottish Coastal Rowing, which, through a project with the Fisheries Museum in Fife, had designed the St Ayles Skiff. Based on a boat from Fair Isle used for fishing and trips to nearby Shetland and Orkney, the design had been digitized for kit manufacture.

Communities all over Scotland (and as far away as Australia!) had ordered the kits, built the boats and were now racing them. They were not only relatively easy to build but low cost too.

This sounded good. So I headed down to the pub to see who fancied a community rowing boat. Turns out lots of folk did. We just had to build it. Oh, and find some money to buy the kit, somewhere to build the boat and a bunch of people handy with a chisel and saw. Well, 18 months on and out popped our first skiff – the Archie Smith. She looked extraordinary as she emerged from the boat club. Her launch day coincided with the Fife Regatta, a gathering of vintage yachts of outstanding beauty. We had invited several other skiffs to race our new boat and she won by miles. The joy! We were off.

The Kyles Coastal Rowing Club now meets every Saturday morning (9 – 11am) and Sunday afternoon (2-4pm) at the Tighnabruaich Pier for a row. It’s a fantastic feeling to row the Archie Smith. She cuts through the water with such ease. The four oars clunk against the thole pins then there’s a whoosh as the oars drive the boat forward propelling her effortlessly down the Kyles. Members also meet every Tuesday and Thursday evening to build skiff number two.

Membership is just £50 a year and everyone is welcome to join – you don’t have to live here! If you’re a regular visitor to this beautiful part of the world it’s a great way be part of the community and enjoy a new sport. If you want to give it a go before coming a member, just turn up on Saturday and Sunday, make a small donation to the club and we’ll take you out for a row.

The smell of the fresh sea air, stunning scenery and the pure pleasure of rowing - who needs a gym?

If you want to find out more, you can email me at ken@kylesrowing.org.

Visit: https://www.facebook.com/KylesCoastalRowingClub
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