Loch Ness; or, An antidote to the Tideway

By “Dr A”.

With the regatta season winding down, racing tends to move towards the long-distance variety. And this year, a Northern alternative to the Boston Marathon was proposed for two intrepid / foolhardy members of Chesterton Rowing Club.

Instead of a river race, this would be in the land of mythic monsters and crashing waves. Loch Ness. Fort Augustus to Dores. 22.7 miles. What was there not to like? Chasing the record set by the legendary Scot, World Champion sculler Peter Haining, but also simply as an exercise in survival and wave surfing (of which more below) and self-discovery.

So, when Jonathan suggested we do it I was quick to agree. A boat was organised (a rather fabulous coastal double in, do our eyes deceive us, Chesterton blue) and we were in. It was only as we drove down from Inverness (it takes about an hour to drive the length of the Loch!) and saw the waves that serious concerns and a creeping sense of foreboding started to fill our heads. The acclimatisation paddle on the evening before was perfectly lovely and the loch surface was barely troubled by the gentlest of breezes. Conditions couldn’t get much better than that we thought.

 It was all going so well… Our heroes: Steven Andrews and Jon a than Pilgrim.

It was all going so well… Our heroes: Steven Andrews and Jonathan Pilgrim.

The next morning, arriving at the launch site, the water was the like of which numerous locals hadn’t seem for some considerable while, a mirror-smooth surface that looked like one could see the reflection of the entire sky.  In fact the only perturbation seemed to lie on the horizon where the horizon met the loch, a result of the length of the piece of water that lay ahead and the curvature of the earth.

The start was admirably informal, with a nice assortment of river racing craft and more robust vessels.  The first half was just lovely. The first quarter being amazing. Starting off on a glassy millpond the only concern was that it was quite a long way and at least one of the crew slightly resented pulling along such an impressively heavy boat.

A strong start saw us only led by a racing quad and eight. After a quick pause to remove some layers of clothing, we rowed the rest of the way just in just our club all-in-one’s. Just warm enough for the sustained effort to keep us warm (2:20 to 2:30 split, for those who are interested).

The second half was a different matter. Slowly but surely the waves started to get bigger and it started to get harder to figure out how to hold any kind of split. 2:30 was the aim but 2:40 And 2:20 would randomly pop up. And it just got rougher as was obvious when the eight appeared again in front of us, all of its crew looking rather bedraggled. We would eventually pass them as they were sinking, having gone the wrong way around a fish farm. By this stage my glutes were on fire (training, or even some Sculling in the last year may have helped that) and the waves meant that every now and then you would be rowing uphill. The effort leading to the occasional yelp of pain. Luckily this was balanced by the whoops of enjoyment as we surfed down the other side. But what an amazing piece of water to row on, hemmed in by the steep sides of the great glen, a feature delineated by an ancient geological fault that splits Scotland in two, and the departure point slowly dipping below the horizon.

 Ah, that’s  much  better.

Ah, that’s much better.

Then there was just the finish to deal with. Trying to exit the boat in crashing waves and the potential to be smashed against some ill-placed rocks. We were very glad when Audrey, our fabulous bank party and photographer, jumped in to help. And that our legs didn't give way when we jumped out. Quite an effort to lift the boat out and on to trestles and then collapse. A well-earned beer followed and some fraternal banter with our fellow competitors.

So, we finished second overall, only beaten by a very fancy Empacher quad, the like of which one would expect to see at an Olympic regatta, which sank twice. They did it in 2:45 to our 3:12. The fastest crossing in a coastal boat, ever! (perhaps…..)

All in all, a really rather special event and there will certainly be another attempt from the Club. A rough day on the Tideway will never quite hold the same terror for these two club members.

Video (see 1:14). More (9:45; actually a bit earlier you get to see the quad trying to land, which is fun).