By Peter Locke
IT WAS early January 2010. The snow lay thick on the ground. I and my four colleagues, Porters at the Scottish Parliament had just returned to work from Christmas Recess. Our manager came into the Bothy and announced that we had to carry a boat through the Members Garden and into the exhibition area at the MSP Block! I will leave the comments and language to the reader’s imagination. The boat arrived, towed by a gentleman I now know as Alec Jordan. The boat was of course Chris o’ Kinnaird. Without too much trouble we moved the boat into the space in the exhibition area but you will never believe this! Because it was first day back at work the Parliament had mucked up the passes for the Exhibitors so I was given the job of looking after the guys, Alec, Robbie and David Todd from the Scottish Fisheries Museum. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the skiff and as we all do with a new boat kept running my hands along the gunnels and bow. I was impressed and indeed inspired by the accounts from Robbie, Alec and David about the ‘Project’ which at that time was in its very early stages. I made up my mind that we must have a boat at Queensferry!
I did not know much about boats and set about contacting people I hoped might help in Queensferry All the time keeping in touch with Robbie and Alec. The breakthrough came in April when Robbie put me in touch with Mike McDowall, who at that time was the Commodore of Queensferry Boat Club. He had a wonderful group of friends who had not only nautical experience and knowledge but also a great deal of Community involvement. Before Mike and I met he had been shown a Scotsman article on the Project by Sheena and Ranald Mackay (also founder members of the Club) and had already decided that Queensferry needed a St Ayles Skiff! I met with Mike in the Orocco Pier on 26 April 2010. He had built a beautiful scale model of the prototype skiff and together we decided to hold a public meeting to become involved in the Project. That Inaugural Meeting was held at Queensferry Boat Club on 7 May.
After forming the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project – Queensferry, chaired by Mike and with me as Treasurer/Fundraiser, we set about our aim of building a St Ayles Skiff and forming a Coastal Rowing Club in Queensferry. We received donations from local individuals and businesses, and Queensferry Rotary Club were particularly generous. We applied for funding from the National Lottery. We could have asked for up to £10,000, but by this time we decided that £3,700 was enough to complete a skiff and buy life jackets etc. We were lucky to be awarded the grant!
Before we had started our build we had asked Alec and the Anstruther team if we could visit or if they could bring Chris 0’ Kinnaird to Queensferry as a bit of publicity and to have a go in a skiff. Alec and team arrived on the RNLI Open day that summer and the beautiful skiff generated a fair bit of interest. At that time, Mike was the Launch Authority for the lifeboat and as part of the RNLI display was kitted out in a dry suit. I coxed the skiff out and Mike was perched in the bow and at a given time he ‘fooled around’ and fell overboard. Strange sight, seeing Mike bob away and light a flare he had handy in his back pocket! Needless to say, the lifeboat sped over to Mike and he seemed none the worse for his dip.
Next thing was where to build the skiff. I think it was Barbara, wife of one of the committee members who spoke to the manager at the local Scotmid. They had vastly reduced the floor space of their store and there was a large space with a workshop that was not in use. They were of course paying considerable rates for this area not in use so they gave it to us for next to nothing! We took over the premises in early September and a couple of days later on 3 September our kit arrived from Alec. We were off!
We were lucky to have two main builders, retired Shipwrights from Rosyth, John Watson and Malcolm Meikle. Before long, the skiff was taking shape and those of us who were not so skilled did things like sanding and making coffee! With John Howell. Another of the Founder Members I opened up the premises to the public on Saturday mornings and being fairly much at the heart of the Community there was a great deal of interest in seeing the progress of the build and people made a donation and had a cuppa when they visited. We continued to raise funds having dances, music evenings and a Christmas Fair in the spacious hall next to the workshop where the boat was being built. We even hosted the first SCRA AGM!
The skiff was complete in February 2011 but being an extremely harsh winter we decided to delay the launch and chose Saturday 17 April 2011 as the big day. Weather wise it was the most beautiful spring day. We had a grand procession with the new skiff on its trailer from Scotmid down the hill the short distance to the Old Harbour where a large crowd of locals and invited guests had gathered. Speeches by Mike McDowall, Lord Hopetoun, our Patron and Queensferry resident the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, George Grubb were followed by the naming and launch of Ferry Lass by the Ferry Queen of that year, Holly Taylor. She set Ferry Lass off into the harbour with a liberal splash of Vat 69 whisky. The significance of this being that the premises at Scotmid was on the land formerly occupied by the vast Vat 69 works. The new skiff was met at the harbour mouth by an Anstruther crew in Chris o’ Kinnaird. Ferry Lass is No 16 in the fleet and just along the coast at Portobello Jenny Skylark No 15 took to the waters the same day.
Shortly before the launch of Ferry Lass, another lucky break! Members had negotiated occupancy of a derelict shed at Port Edgar and with a bit of work it was ready for launch day. At the end of a magnificent day with several people being taken out in the new skiff and Chris o’ Kinnaird we rowed Ferry Lass from the old harbour to her new home at Port Edgar. What a thrill that first longer row for us under the Road Bridge and to be met by other Club Members at the Port Edgar Slip. I should add that at some stage after the completion of the build and before the launch we had officially formed Queensferry Rowing Club so the aim of the Project was achieved!
As in all organisations we have and have had some wonderful characters. Let me speak first about the man many of you knew and loved, Andy Jarvis. Soon after the launch there was a Port Edgar Open Day and we had a space on the main road through the Marina where we displayed the boat and had bits of information and photographs. Along comes a cheery looking chap on a bike who liked to pop into the Marina. He had his own wee boat at Kinghorn and was used to rowing. He was thrilled with our boat and joined us right away. We became firm friends and went out to row as often as we could with other members. We attended many regattas together but Andy and his wife Anne also turned up at other events which our Club could not attend. He gained a reputation for rowing with any Club or boat he could and his infectious humour and enthusiasm won him friends all over the SCRA. We miss him greatly and I am much indebted to whoever organised the tribute to Andy at Portsoy shortly after his death. That photo of all participants and a single oar hoisted with the name, Andy in the sand always gets me. It is a great tribute to Andy that many Clubs now refer to their Pick n’ Mix races as ‘The Andy Race’.
Another character was Alan Meldrum, better known here as Mel. We sadly lost him in the earlier stages of the Club, but he was one of the founder members and very enthusiastic, being about one of the only early members with previous rowing experience having rowed for St Andrews. He rowed Ferry Lass at her launch. He was a VW enthusiast and had a 1970s green VW Camper and he was one of our main towers in the early days. Coincidentally, I already knew Mel when he turned up for the Inaugural Project meeting as he was a Broadcasting Manager at the Parliament so we were already friends. After his death I introduced the Alan Meldrum Community Rowing Challenge in his memory. Local groups, businesses, Police etc. are invited to form teams, come and have a few practices with us and race on the day from the Hawes Pier near the Rail Bridge. This event is of course a great recruiting tool!
We like many other Clubs went on to build our second skiff, Ferry Maid. She was launched on 23 November 2012 and although a winter’s day it was crisp and bright and she was joined at her launch by skiffs from Anstruther, Portobello, North Queensferry as well as her sister. We have attended many regattas and events through the years and formed many friendships. This September we held our first Youth Regatta and were blessed with a wonderful day. Teams were from Strangford, Killyleagh, Elie, FOCCR’s, Eastern, Deveron and of course Queensferry. All had a fantastic day and I hope that this will be another annual event for the Youth Circuit.
It has been a very fast 10 years with such a lot happening, and I am sure that we will all continue to grow and flourish and enjoy this wonderful sport. My thanks to all who have had the inspiration and put such hard work and enthusiasm into it.
Queensferry Rowing Club