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A Corking Good Time

The following report on the Ocean to City Race at Cork by Topher Dawson appeared in the Ullapool News on 5 June 2015.  Photographs by Jonathan Reid.

Pre-race prep.

Pre-race prep.

On Saturday 30th May, two Ullapool skiffs contested the prestigious Ocean to City Race at Cork in Ireland.  The Pink Fizzers rowing in Ulla were Lisa Urquhart, Kath Foote, Fiona Macdonald, Kathleen Mackay and Bev MacGregor.  In Cul Mor, the High School skiff, were the Corkers: Jan Dawson, Kathryn Bennett, Jonathan Reid, Tim Gauntlett and Topher Dawson.

The 28km race, from Crosshaven to Cork, attracts hundreds of entries from all over Ireland and the UK.  Kayaks, currachs, skiffs, gigs, Celtic Longboats, and even one brave person on a stand-up paddleboard, all converged on Crosshaven to compete.

Our deadly rivals, friends and neighbours, Coigach Community Rowing, had a crew of 6 taking turns to row, as did the well-respected North Berwick team, while the Fizzers had 5 rotating between cox and rowers.  The Corkers had Jan at the helm throughout, Kathryn as stroke, and the men in the other seats.

Topher and Tim caught in Jonathan's classic selfie

Topher and Tim caught in Jonathan’s classic selfie

Despite a wet and windy forecast the day started sunny and fairly calm, but the wind built and the rain came in as the day wore on.  Fortunately the wind and the tide were in our favour and we sped past Cobh, previously known as Queenstown, departure point of both the ill-fated voyages of the Titanic and the Lusitania.  Ulla may have suffered from similar luck because a wine cork serving as a bung gave up and had to be replaced by a twig from a nearby tree about two-thirds up the course.  This lead to a couple of other skiffs passing them, but such are the perils of the sea.

As the course narrowed into an exciting finish under a bridge in the middle of Cork there were several narrow squeaks with kayaks and currachs, but finally we all made it.

The Corkers came in third skiff with a creditable time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, N Berwick second, and in first place with quite a margin, Coigach.

Post-race recovery

Post-race recovery

Honourable mention must go to our support crew of Kathryn and Paul Bennett, who drove all the way towing both skiffs on one trailer, suffered double bearing failure and coped magnificently, and put up with foul driving weather.  Also our flag-maker Sheila Slaughter and her husband, James, who were there at the start and the finish to see us come in.

It was a big trip for us all, and a memorable one; well done all for such a great effort!


Time to relax

Time to relax

Congratulations to The Corkers for finishing in such good time, and to The Fizzers for staying the course in such extenuating circumstances.  Good show all round.

1,230 miles and 28 km

Easy does it.

Easy does it.

Working to a plan masterminded by Topher, Cul Mor and Ulla have been loaded in preparation for the long trip to Cork.

With the help of Ullapool Harbour Trust, the skiffs were lifted onto the trailer and secured by two heavyweight straps, all ready to be towed to Ireland by Kathryn and Paul’s campervan. Cul Mor will be transported on her trolley on the bottom, with Ulla nesting on top, cushioned by a cradle designed and made by Topher.

Cradle designed by Topher

Cradle designed by Topher.

During a trial run around Ullapool a few weeks ago, the boats were deliberately tilted at 45 degree angles to make sure all was safe. The test was successful, with no movement and the boats remaining secure.

Kathryn and Paul will begin their journey on Wednesday morning with a leisurely drive south via Glasgow, before stopping overnight at Cairnryan, near Stranraer. On Thursday morning, they will catch the first ferry to Belfast, then drive south through Ireland for an estimated six hours before arriving in Cork late afternoon.

The boats will be unloaded on Friday ready for the 28km Ocean to City Race on Saturday morning.

The rest of the crew members are flying over, so as well as transporting the boats, Kathryn and Paul will be taking all the extra kit and luggage.

After the race, Ulla and Cul Mor will be craned out of the water at the finish line in Cork, and loaded onto the trailer ready for the return trip home. Kathryn and Paul will be enjoying Sunday sightseeing in Cork before coming back via the same route on Monday. Arrival back in Ullapool is expected late Tuesday afternoon.

The distance for the round trip will be 1,230 miles which does not include the 28km the teams will be rowing in Cork.

Good luck to The Corkers and Pink Fizzers in Cork, both with the race and drinking the bar dry afterwards.

Steady now

Steady now.

Great fit

Great fit.

The Corkers and Fizzers talk Cork

Pink Fizzers training for Cork in Ulla.

Pink Fizzers training for Cork in Ulla.

The Corkers training in Cul Mor.

The Corkers training in Cul Mor.

This week, members of The Corkers and Pink Fizzers appeared on Lochbroom Radio’s Losing The Plot.  Catch up with the programme here.

Cork teams Losing The Plot

The Corkers preparing for a training session in Cul Mor.

The Corkers preparing for a training session in Cul Mor.

Last week an intrepid reporter from Lochbroom Radio ventured down to the wee pier in Ullapool just as the Cork teams were preparing for a training session.  For an enjoyable insight into the minds of long distance skiffers,  tune into Losing The Plot at 6.30pm, Thursday 21 May on Lochbroom Radio.

If you happen to be out training when the programme is broadcast, don’t fret – you will be able to listen via Mixcloud at a later date.  Watch this space for details.

Lochbroom Radio

Pink Fizzers going out for a training session in Ulla.

Pink Fizzers going out for a training session in Ulla.

Taster Session

There was plenty of tasting going on at the Rowing Club today.  Sheila’s venison sausage rolls were a big hit and there was an array of tempting cakes on offer for those with a sweeter tooth.  Some rowing happened as well.

Topher says no to cake...

Topher says no to cake…

...and yes to ice-cream.

…and yes to ice-cream.

Kaz's famous Jaffa Cake

Kaz’s famous Jaffa Cake

Taster session

New rowers having a go alongside some old hands.

True Grit

ullapool coastal rowing

The Pink Fizzers

With just three weeks to go, the Cork teams are training hard. At 28km the course presents a raft of new challenges for teams more akin to 2km races. Stamina, grit, and fierce determination will be key, but a pair of reinforced, friction-absorbing breeks is also highly recommended.

The teams represent a good selection of club members, with experienced skiffers and rowers with only a few months experience all taking part. Kaz, Bev, Kathleen, Fiona and Lisa, otherwise known as The Pink Fizzers, make up the women’s team, while The Corkers mixed team is comprised of Topher, Jonathan, Kathryn, Tim and Jan.

Taking place on 30 May 2015, the Ocean To City Race is in its 11th year, but this will be a first-time appearance for Ullapool.

Cork, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

ullapool coastal rowing

The Corkers

Calling all Littoral Raft Rowers – Thursday is almost here



We flagged up a request  from Julia Barton, artist, earlier in the year for Skiffies to take part in the Littoral Raft Project on World Environment Day – The Day is rapidly approaching, so a gentle reminder to any Ullapool Skiffies available on Thursday, a chance to make your mark by helping power the rafts over from Isle Martin behind the Skiffs.  Visit the booking Calendar and add your name if you can help – Thanks.

julia and cal working on beach

Julia and Cal working on beach


A chance to take part in World Environment Day – in Ross-Shire, Thurs 5th June

Littoral Art investigation & Event  June 2014 j-barton

Artist Julia Barton is looking for Skiffs and volunteers to row to Isle Martin on Thursday the 5th June (World Environment Day) to pick up and tow  ‘litter rafts’ back to Ardmair Slipway for collection by the Highland Council Waste Services team.  Julia anticipates making five rafts out of litter that  she will be collecting and documenting during her residency on the island which will form stage II of her Littoral Art Project – investigating and drawing awareness to the harmful effects of litter which she began last autumn with local schools & residents .

She is trying to get enough boats (hopefully 5) and teams of volunteers to form a flotilla  of skiffs and ‘litter rafts’ to be filmed to show Ross-Shire’s contribution to global activities on World Environment Day – to draw attention to the need to look after our environment.

Julia set up her project last autumn at An Talla Solais and has been working with schools and groups in Ullapool, Achiltibuie and Lochinver; a selection of the work that she carried out will be exhibited at the Ullapool Museum from the 2nd of May.

Much more information can be found on Julia’s blog

Please get in touch with Julia or perhaps there is a Skiffie who would co-ordinate the boaty side of things.  

Julia – 07977997605, email


North West Rowing Clubs Dominate North Berwick Regatta

In strong south westerly winds, North Berwick held their third annual rowing regatta last weekend, and 15 St Ayles Skiffs from all over Scotland converged on North Berwick’s West Beach to battle it out. The day opened with a sign of things to come as Coigach won the Mens Open by 17 seconds, beating the hosts into second place. The overall times were around 20 minutes for the 1.9 mile course, out around Craigleith and back against the wind, so this is close racing.

Coigach won the next two races as well, with Ullapool Coastal Rowing Club third in the Mixed Open. Then came our first triumph with our ladies team of Bev MacGregor, Fiona Macdonald, Kathleen Mackay and Kath Foote. They won the Ladies 40+  by a large margin. This race and all the others were coxed by John MacIntyre, who sneaked us past the opposition by skilfully shaving the barnacles off Craigleith.

In the Mixed Novices Lisa Urquhart led a team with Sue Agnew, Erica Holland and John Grant to the narrowest of second places. They were so close to the leading Newburgh boat that the times were identical, and only about a third of a boats length separated them in a thrilling finish.

The following race, Mens 60+, was won by Portobello (neither NW team entered). In the Mens 40+ Coigach led the field with Ulla coming a creditable 4th, setting the stage for the last race, the Ladies Open.

In rising winds the boats set off, and since the tide had turned several boats hardly had the power to weather Craigleith. As the leaders emerged from the shadow of the rock Ulla could be seen with a lead, and the UCRC spectators shouted themselves hoarse. The wind rose to 28 knots which is Force 7, and the boats were plugging into this wind plus waves. Ulla won this race to our enormous delight by 34 seconds from Anstruther, looking fresh and in time as they crossed the line. The  Coigach team had bad luck with a rudder malfunction, which was a shame as they were well in contention.

All in all the two NW clubs took 6 out of the 8 races, which bodes well for the first St Ayles Skiff World Championships at Ullapool between 8th and 13th July 2013!