Haar haar haar

We had a salutary lesson from Mrs Nature last night when the fastest haar I’ve ever seen rolled in as we were setting off for an hour’s row around Craigleith.  The haar is (I think) mainly an East coast phenomenon although I’ve seen pictures of it affecting areas in the West.  It’s a very dense, cold fog caused by warm air meeting the cold North Sea and it can roll inland for several miles and ruin an otherwise beautiful day.

We were lucky last night that someone had forgotten an oar in one of the two skiffs heading out so we were delayed a little bit whilst a runner was dispatched to retrieve it.  The other skiff waited out in the West Bay for us in beautiful sunshine.  We got underway and almost immediately got a call across the VHF radio that the haar was coming in very fast and sure enough Craigleith (over a kilometer away) was already no longer visible.  The decision was made to practise some drills in the bay but within the space of about 3 minutes the fog had descended on us, visibility was reduced to 50m or so and North Berwick was totally shrouded to the extent that we could only see the harbour and the houses nearest the beach.

It was amazing and scary how quickly the fog had moved from Craigleith to our skiff and highlighted the need for all the safety measures we use.  Had we been halfway to the island it would have engulfed us and it would have been very easy to lose bearings trying to get home.  Fortunately we had a compass, VHF radio and anchor on board and luckily had not got far from home but it was still a pertinent reminder of the potential risks involved in going out to sea.

It also reminded me of the recent incident off the North East coast where two men in a small fishing boat were lost in the haar and despite a wide-ranging boat and helicopter search no trace of them was found.  Miraculously they were picked up by a passing ship 4 days later sitting 45 miles off the coast with just a small bottle of water and two biscuits to keep them going.  The skipper had no VHF, no phone and no working compass and admits that they are extremely lucky to be alive.  He’s right.

Keeping an eye on the weather forecast is always important for planning an outing but I’m going to be even more vigilant when the fog icon turns up and make sure that our safety kit is in good condition and fully charged!

We’ve got our annual North Berwick Tiger Cup tomorrow where names are drawn from a hat to make up scratch teams that take turns trying to set a blistering time around the Craig before heading to the local Indian for a well deserved feast. Can’t wait! (mainly for the food!)

Port Seton Regatta

We headed along to Port Seton today for the first regatta of the season and a little light espionage.  The races are probably the shortest in the coastal rowing calendar comprising lung-busting, head-to-head sprints between the two adjoining harbours with a couple of buoy turns thrown in for good measure (see my earlier post for a video of these races).  There’s also a longer relay event which takes the boats out onto the open sea and involves a crew change at a neighbouring harbour which is great fun.

This year Boatie Blest (Cockenzie and Port Seton Rowing Club) decided to mix things up a bit and rather than have clubs competing against each other draw names from a hat and randomly assign rowers to boats and crews.  This was really good fun and meant we got to know our fellow rowers from around the country a lot better.  The main advantage for us is that we got to try out different boats and see how their oars and oarlocks compared to the NB ones that we’re used to.  Both Frazer and I got to row in Queensferry’s “Ferry Lass” as well as our own “Skiff John B” and I got to stroke  Anstruther’s “St Ayles” on the final leg of the relay.  I would have taken some photos of the setups but it was a packed programme of events so didn’t have any time.

It’s amazing the difference the oars make in terms of weight, length and oarlock.  Ferry Lass has fairly short but extremely light oars (made of douglas fir I think) which took comparatively little effort to pull through the water. They were well suited to the thrashing, high stroke rate required in the sprints but I need to ask Frazer what he thought of them on the open water in the relay.  One aspect highlighted by Ferry lass was space between seats which is much smaller than our NB boats and causes much hitting the rower in front of you. Longer oars would be no good in this situation as the length of stroke is limited by this seat layout.  The oars each had three possible gears depending on which hole of the beautifully crafted oar plate you hooked over the gunwhale pin – simple and effective.

St Ayles was a very comfortable skiff to row thanks to fixed cushions on the seats! In the rough stuff it felt smooth and strong which makes sense given the number of medals they’ve accumulated over the years.  The oars had just one gear in their plates but to me felt a better length and weight to deal with choppy waters.  We didn’t have time in the relay to muck about with footrests but for just jumping in and getting going St Ayles felt great and we won which is surely an endorsement!

Of course we’re well used to our own Skiff John B and getting back in after trying other boats I was reminded how much work our bosuns have done to make her so nice to row.  The new element for this regatta was the oars.  A new set of oars had been made over the winter which are a foot shorter than our other sets with the idea that they might be a better gearing for some of the women’s crews (although they’re more than capable with the big ones!) and for sprinting.  They’re made of douglas fir and were certainly lighter though I felt, as with Ferry Lass’, that I don’t get as much power through them as our big ones, particularly at stroke position.  Having said that they felt really nice on the sharp buoy turns and we got up a good turn of pace in the Mixed Open.  Frazer’s a fan but we agreed that we’d prefer a longer oar for the long slow stretches we’ll be doing where efficiency is king.

Well that’s quite enough of that for the moment but lots to think about!

Media Interest!

Those of you who were at Port Seton Regatta on Saturday can’t have failed to notice some professional-looking media types (identifiable by leather jackets and expensive kit) asking awkward questions, making you sign your life away and filming the races.  We’re really excited that a production company are undertaking some test filming to see if we’re interesting enough to follow around Scotland (I may have to push Frazer out of the boat every so often to maintain drama levels and we might have overplayed the likelihood of octopus-attack a bit).  It’s by no means a done deal and we’ll hear in the next few weeks whether the project ticks the right boxes or not.

We’ve had a couple of days of filming with them and they are a really lovely bunch of people who have been very gentle with us.  Thanks to the Boatie Blest regatta organisers for letting us bring them along and to all the rowers who said nice things about the challenge in their interviews.  We were really chuffed with the positive feedback and are delighted that so many of our rowing friends are keen to take part at various stages of the route.  Some of them got over-excited on camera and promised to row hundreds of miles with us.  We’re going to hold them to that :-)

Hull top coat

Despite the season’s best intentions it was a pleasant Spring day yesterday so we made the most of the ambient temperature and got the first of the two top-coats onto Puffin’s hull.  There’s so much more to focus on than the change of colour (which we’re really happy with) but seeing her in her new outfit makes it feel like Puffin has undergone a bit of a rebirth.  We’re not perfectionists about the painting – she’s going to be hauled up on beaches and slipways and this invariably means scratches and scrapes – but we do want to make a good job of the finish and so there are a few runs and dribbles that will need sanded off before the final coat.  The yellow strip below the gunwhales will be white when we’re done and hopefully the combination with the deep blue hull will evoke a Saltire-ish feel.

For the purposes of practising video documention (but mainly to avoid the lion’s share of the painting) I filmed a few bits and pieces and stitched them together with some redneck music – it felt appropriate.

GoPro skiff

The weather was far too horrific for painting yesterday (the paint tin suggests temperatures of at least 15 degrees C and the horizontal sleet suggested otherwise) so we spent a bit of time on timber sourcing for the oars and I nipped down to the gym for a spell on the ergo with Dangerous Dave from NB rowing club.

We’ve got a regatta coming up at Port Seton on the 18th of April which is a short but lung-busting sprint between harbours and I remembered that there’s a great GoPro video of the Men’s Open winning their race there last year. Fortunately Dangerous Dave knew exactly where on Youtube to find it, probably because he’s stroking in this crew and is therefore the guy at the front.  It’s a fast and furious race and unlike any of the other races we have during the season.  We’re going to be using GoPro cameras on the trip so it’s good to see that they stand up well to the action of the boat.

He also found a longer video of us getting our Silver medal in the Men’s Open at the World Championships in Ullapool.  A much longer race over 2km with a 180 degree buoy turn at halfway it took around 12 minutes of hard slog to get over the line.  Unfortunately the young guns of Coigach pipped us to the post but we’ll be going to the next World’s which are tipped to be on Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland next year.