Fair Isle Row

Bigton rows to Fair Isle
by Mike Grundon

A team of rowers from Bigton has become the first in around seventy years to row a Ness yoal from South Mainland to Fair Isle.
The charity fund-raiser was completed in under five hours in thick fog on Saturday 31st July. The aim of the trip was to raise money through sponsorship for mental health services in Shetland following the tragic death of Bigton Rowing Club member Gary Manson earlier this year. It was first suggested by the club commodore, Magnie Mouat, as a fitting tribute to Gary�s memory as well as an appropriate way to mark the arrival of the team�s new vessel which was built by Ian Best in Fair Isle several months ago. The trip was originally planned to leave the previous week but bad weather put paid to the attempt, so as the team gathered at the Toab slip on Saturday morning, everyone was keen to make it happen despite thick fog reducing visibility sometimes to less than a hundred metres.

The first difficulty of the day was encountered by the support boat Silver Otter crewed by Laurie Paton, Tammie Duncan, Frank Charleson and Ellis Paton. The fog delayed their arrival at the slip but when they were finally spotted from the shore there was a flurry of activity on land. The new Bigton yoal Fridarey was put into the water with difficulty due to the high running swell on the slip but after two shuttle trips out to the support boat the back-up crew, food and everyone�s overnight bags were aboard and the row began in earnest at 11am.

First at the oars were Magnie Mouat, David Budge, John Mouat, Philip Dinsdale, Neil Flaws and Mike Grundon. Ruth Christie held the tiller to follow the Silver Otter out into the long swell and off to Fair Isle. The land disappeared quickly as the fog closed around the two vessels, the cruiser plodding along on GPS and radar and the yoal following while trying to keep her in sight. The rowers agreed that the lack of a view was disappointing and demoralising as there was no way of gauging progress, but shortly into the trip the deep swell and lack of a horizon took its toll on rower Mike Grundon who found himself suffering from sea sickness. He managed to stay with the yoal for around two and a half hours until the team was half way to their destination, but having been ill half a dozen times he reluctantly decided to call it a day. He and cox Ruth Christie left the boat to be replaced by Helen Mouat and Diane Thomson to took over the roles of cox and rower respectively. Good progress had been made in the first half, thanks to a sympathetic tide, but for much of the second half the team was rowing against the water.

Speaking after the trip, Phil Dinsdale and John Mouat said the last four miles were the most gruelling when despite everyone�s best efforts, Fair Isle seemed to be keeping her distance. The sheltering cliffs of North Haven in Fair Isle only came into sight around five minutes before landfall but, after four hours and 55 minutes almost continuous rowing, the 27 mile journey was over with a flurry of congratulations and greetings from islanders on the beach. An average speed of about five knots had been maintained.

As the crew came ashore, slightly stiff and blistered, several Fair Isle residents said it was a delight to see the old tradition relived so many years after it was considered a regular occurrence to row from the mainland. Islander Anne Sinclair said she believed the last time the journey had been made with oars alone was in the 1930s.

The event was marked with a barbecue and music attended by most of the island�s population and the team returned the following afternoon on the Silver Otter. The Fridarey (which is the old name for Fair Isle) was left behind to return two days later on the island ferry Good Shepherd. It�s not yet known how much money has been raised by the sponsored row but if anyone wants to contribute to the fund for mental health services in Shetland, they can contact any of the Bigton rowing team members or telephone Magnie Mouat on 01950 460873.

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