Monster the Loch report

Monster the Loch was billed as the first mass participation boat race on Loch Ness, with a marathon length of 21.5 miles. Queensferry rowed it as a game of two halves, with one crew taking on Fort Augustus to  Foyers and a second Foyers to Dores. The report is also a game of two halves, with Liz writing up the first leg and Ruari the second.

Photo by Liz Furrie

First leg

Liz writes: We rocked up on the Friday night to a muddy field just outside Fort Augustus and the sight of multiple rowing craft of every shape and size including to our delight another eight skiffs, including the unmistakable Soy Quine. Ferry Lass was left safe and sound on her trailer ready to be unloaded in the am. We made our way to Drumnadrochit for a good meal and a minor libation before an early night, dreaming of conquering the monster.

Next morning dawned grey and misty, perfect weather for monster dodging and atmospheric rowing. We arrived at said field to a hive of activity as the mist rolled across the water. We now had 13 skiffs from all over Scotland plus a number of sculls, including the GB men’s eight! It transpired that two pedaloes were also attempting the race but had started early at 07:30, poor souls.

Photo by Liz Furrie

In true skiffie style everyone lent a hand and all the beautiful skiffs were lined up on the shore of Loch Ness in short order, ready to attempt the 21.5 miles to Dores. Due to the popularity of the challenge at QRC we had two crews raring to go, which meant we could do a crew swap at Foyers allowing everyone to experience this amazing loch. We decided that Anne P and Maria would share coxwain and stroke duties, with Mel in number 3, Steph in 2 and Liz in bow.

Photo by Anne Purcell

Anne P was to take first duty as cox and under her masterful instruction we made our way to the somewhat haphazard start line. This was a truly wonderful experience with all manner of rowing craft vying for the best place. We found ourselves next to a ladies eight from Inverness Rowing Club and had a good bit of banter with them before the start was called, and we were off. We kept up with the women’s eight for the first five strokes then they took off (we found out at the end they did the 21.5 miles in 2 hours 48 minutes- phew!).

Burghead also had an all women’s crew for the first half, so they were our target for the race within a race. Maria set a fantastic stroke, long and measured with a perfect pause just before the catch. She was truly metronomic, averaging 24 strokes/minute for the first hour with distance travelled per stroke of 6 meters, covering nearly 9 km/hour, this was great rowing in very calm conditions, no wind or waves yet!

Burghead took an early lead but our relentless pace hinted them down and we passed them after 25 minutes gaining distance every stroke. The wind started to get up from the west and we started to get good surfing waves. It was also time for the swap in stroke and P came in to a very different type of rowing, with a combination of hard pulls to get us out of troughs and fast stroke to keep us on the waves. It was exhilarating and exciting, with the crew working together to perfect this fun technique. Steph was really enjoying her first long race row. Our stroke rate was moving between 28 and 40 strokes per minute to keep with the waves and we were moving at >12 km/hour on the tops of the waves.

We arrived in Foyers after 1 hour and 55 minutes ready to swap crews and have a well earned second breakfast.

Photo by Ruari Sutherland

Second leg

Ruari writes: Standing on the shore at Foyers – water lapping, mist clearing – we waited for the first crew to arrive. As the Maid emerged from the mist, we cheered her and her crew in, before executing a relatively extended crew-change – keeping Maria as cox and now with myself, Anne F, Tracey and Jennifer on the oars.

This was less a race, and more of a mass-start endurance row. We shared the water with Olympic rowers, pedaloes, and everything in between. Falling into a nice rhythm, we set to the task – pulling some stronger sets every now and then to keep our focus. As we got into our stride, we were passed by a strong Burghead crew, who had clearly had their Weetabix!

The loch was still and calm – though we managed to catch a few small waves which carried us onward toward the finish line. Passing a pedalo flying the Welsh flag we cheered on the foolhardy crew, whose legs were likely seizing up. We later learned that they were taking on the challenge in memory of 13-year-old Tom Walker, and raising money for a 3 year PhD studentship to research acute myeloid leukaemia.

Reaching the half-way point, we passed Urquhart Castle – the imposing ruin on the loch’s western shore. This gave us a bit of a boost, and we even briefly considered a detour from our 10 mile leg to get a closer look (we decided against it…). Pulling alongside a lone rower in a single scull, we exchanged pleasantries – admiring his shark-mouth paintwork and totem Nessie – before returning our attention to our own boat.

Pulling on, we chewed through the remaining kilometres in good spirits, and with good weather. As we neared the fish farm – a kilometre from the finish – we agreed that we’d empty the tanks, and arrive in style. Gritting our teeth we dug in and pulled the Maid hard to the line, to the strains of a pair of young pipers on the shores of Dores.

The event is in its infancy, and there’s no denying that a few organisational tweaks would be welcome. The atmosphere was great, though, and the opportunity to work your way up the waters of Loch Ness – with its breath-taking scenery, rich history and enticing folklore – is not to be sniffed at. Returning home that evening (with the obligatory stuffed Nessie procured for little’un), I looked at my blistered hands and smiled; I’d be very tempted to Monster the whole Loch next time!

Monster the Loch results Spoiler: the fastest time was set by the Olympians!
Photo gallery (including a cracking shot of the second crew in action)
Film focusing on the GB eight – thanks to Tracey for the link