AGM 2020 – Rowing Convenor’s Report

I am going to apologies in advance as it was only when I sat down to write this that I realised how busy we had been this past year. So please bear with me as I take you through a brief summary of another successful rowing year for Royal West.

Let’s start with a statistical FACT courtesy of Joe Heffernan. Participation in rowing activities is up by 6.2% on last year and 149.5% on the year before.

The main element of rowing activity is based around competition, training & attending regattas. There weren’t as many regattas to attend as usual because all clubs within the Scottish Coastal rowing community had their sights firmly set on the upcoming St Ayles Skiff World Championships (affectionately known as SkiffieWorlds) which were held in Stranraer in July.

We kicked off the main season in March with a training day held in the clubhouse. The primary reason behind this was to prepare our team for the SkiffieWorlds. The focus was on terminology and rules of racing and the day itself was led by Adam and Ronald Graham, 2 of the clubs most experienced competitive rowers. The day was a huge success and all who attended indicated that it was of great benefit.

The Opening Cruise was our first main event back on the 6th April, where members across all the sporting disciplines headed to Kilcreggan in various craft to enjoy some refreshments before heading back to the club.

We attended Regattas in Port Seton, Inveraray, Largs and Arran. Troon which is always a firm favourite with Royal West was unfortunately cancelled twice due to weather. In Inveraray we were asked by Alastair Rodden to run the regatta to help promote the local community to build a skiff and get involved. It was heartening to see a few non-competitive members turn up and offer support.

Our own regatta was on the 1st June and saw the return of clubs from North Berwick, Anstruther, Portobello, Largs and Arran. Another fantastic regatta with all clubs expressing their appreciation of the facilities we have and the welcome they always receive.

And before we knew it, the 7th of July was upon us, and we were off to the SkiffieWorlds in Stranraer. With a record entry of 693 crews from 55 clubs worldwide, including teams from as far away as the United States, New Zealand, Canada and Tasmania, this World Championship event for the St Ayles Skiff class of Coastal Rowing Boats was one not to be missed.

On the Thursday before setting off, we had a final formal briefing to the team at which the new racing kit was issued. The kit was paid for by a very kind sponsor Orr Kerr Dyke Financial Services Ltd. (owned by one of our members, Elaine Hunter). It was presented to the team by the Vice President Heather Scott, who wished them all the best at the championships and thanked the sponsor for their generous donation.

A team of 18 competitors headed to Stranraer to Camp Royal West as it became known. We basically took over a farm site with caravans, campervans, tents and a lovely 3 bed cottage! The Club was asked by the chairman of the SCRA to entertain the Chairman & Chief Executive of RYA Scotland on the Monday following the official opening by HRH Princess Anne. One of the highlights of the week was when I and some other members had the opportunity to meet and chat with Princess Anne where I explained a little about our Club.

We raced on five of the six days of the regatta in eleven events. The racing was intense and conditions sometimes a little trying but nothing that we weren’t used to. I am pleased to say that Royal West made five finals with the best place we achieved was 4th in the world. I can report that Royal West finished 25th overall out of 55 clubs at this World Championship event. We are aiming for top 20 in three years’ time.

As you can imagine, we were all somewhat exhausted after our Skiffieworlds adventure and so most of the competitive rowers had a bit of a rest. Not too much though as we still had the Castle to Crane in September to prepare for.

Castle to Crane on 21st September 2019. This is the biggest open water rowing race to be held in Scotland. 13 miles of racing from Dumbarton Castle to the Finnieston Crane in the heart of Glasgow. The race is open to any fixed seat, coxed rowing boats of at least four oars. This was the third year that this spectacular race has been staged and the third year that the Club has entered as well as been prominent in organising the launch site & start.

Seventy-five boats gathered from as far south as Sidmouth in Cornwall and as far North as Kirkwall on Orkney. We also had a boat over from Strangford in Northern Ireland. The organisers expected a slump in participants due to the high level of commitment put into the SkiffieWorlds in July, however, even with several overseas clubs not attending, there were more boats this year.

As well as having entered four competing boats in the race again this year, the Club and its members also provided two of the safety boats. The Club’s RHIB and a RHIB Phil Jones borrowed from Briggs Marine.
Jollyboat Naiad’s progress through the fleet was quite remarkable. Having set off 37th were the 5th boat to cross the line recorded the fastest time on the day at 2hrs 13mins 19secs.
Jollyboat Sprite did not perform quite as well as last year, however still managed to be the 18th boat across the line and finished 11th overall and 3rd in category.
St. Ayles Skiff Chippy was 34th across the line, finished 54th overall but 9th in category.
St. Ayles Skiff Birdie was 74th over the line but 70th overall and 28th in category.

As well as picking up the Four Oared Other trophy again this year we have also received a lot of thanks from participants and event organisers for our support of the event.

We ended the racing year with another great turnout by the Club at the SCRA sponsored Freshwater Sprints at loch Tummel Sailing Club. Again, with the largest number of participants of any club. We retained the Picnic Class Trophy. Karyn Donnachie & Adam Graham have won this Trophy in one of our 16’s for the last three years.

In other developments we hosted a corporate day for a local firm, Insight Travel Services, with whom VP Heather & I both worked at the time. This saw us coaching in the morning and having a short regatta in the afternoon. All wrapped up with a barbecue. This brought us in a new member and encouraged one of the Glasgow staff to take up rowing in the city. The day was such a success that they plan to return.

Our wider involvement in the resurgent coastal rowing community includes Adam Graham’s return to the Committee of the SCRA in October last year. He has responsibility for the South West Region of Scotland.

We are currently involved with a charity in Dumbarton who are forming a new rowing club who have asked for our help and advice. Similarly, we are in discussions with Royal Gourock YC who are in the process of building two skiffs. They have also asked for our advice with the build and are keen to build closer relations between our two clubs. This will include coaching at their club and here, as well as support of their launch event.

We can make a tentative claim to three impressive rowing records set last year. A former club Captain and Life Member, Duncan Graham, who started rowing at Royal West about 40 years ago, was in the crew who set new world records for rowing the length of Loch Ness, set a new course record for the Great River Race on the Thames and a new world record for crossing the English Channel. Duncan is part of a crew of veteran oarsmen based on the Thames.

We also played host to an informal gathering of the major fixed seat coastal rowing associations from all parts of the UK and Republic of Ireland. Associations that represent about 20,000 participating members. This gathering was a significant moment for fixed seat rowing and Royal West were incredibly privileged to play such an important part in this event.

As you may be aware this is Visit Scotland’s Year of Coast & Waters. As part of this the Club was in discussions with Inverclyde Council to promote our activities through their various promotional events to do with this. The Club is also involved with the SCRA RowAround Scotland batten relay, which received a substantial grant by Visit Scotland. Under the current circumstances, a virtual version of this event, started yesterday (25th March) in Gretna and will circumnavigate (in a virtual sense) the coast of Scotland, finishing its trip in mid-September in Eyemouth. It passes through Inverclyde twice. Once in late April and then again in September as it is transferred from Inverclyde to Dumbarton for the start of the Castle to Crane race on 19th September.

Rowing at Royal West encourages existing members to take part, new members to join, new clubs to form and the wider community of coastal rowing clubs in Scotland and further afield to work together for the benefit of all. I hope that we can get back on the water in the not too distant future.

Trust this explains the key points of the last year.

Karen Graham
Rowing Convenor