Stranraer’s 2ndSt. Ayles Skiff Coastal Rowing Regatta was a hotly contested affair, with 13 visiting clubs from Ireland and Scotland testing the World Championship venue and volunteers for 2019. The weather had been rather changeable in the run up to the big day and Friday’s big preparation day was an absolute shocker with torrential rain hampering the build-up. But with a platoon of volunteers, the Marquee went up, the marker buoys were laid, the Boat House was tidied, and all was set for our visitor’s arrival. It was great for Stranraer to be this year hosting a 2ndregatta but this time with a completed Boathouse anda completed Skiff, our beautiful Lady Bay.

Saturday morning arrived with 15 knots from the south west and a beautiful flat calm course. The wind moved round slightly during the day, but the prevailing wind was perfect for racing with the protection afforded by Stranraer town. The majority of the boats and competitors arrived, bacon rolls and hot drinks served around 10 am followed by a coxes briefing and the first race at 11am. A couple of boats had a close shave with either their boat or crew members delayed by an accident on the A77 coming south at Ballantrae. Two Killyleagh crew members even more so… their warm up was a sprint from the bus, straight into the skiff and a dash out to the first start!

The Gazebo Parade on the beach was a fantastic site, and the picnic table benches a great addition for the visiting crews, fans and families.

Race 1, the Men’s Open, was a rehearsal for the tight competition at the top of the leader board. Dundrum, the current World Champion s were out in lane 14 with two empty lanes inside and they took the race in 12 minutes and 7 seconds with North Berwick in 2nd, just 10 seconds behind and Strangford in 3rd, 30 seconds behind the leaders.

The question the locals were asking in the run up to the racing was whether Stranraer, after only four weeks of training for competition, could get Lady Bay off the bottom rung of the ladder… the open men’s team couldn’t!... BUT, they could see the FOCCR’s in front of them and that was enough to get the rest of the Stranraer crews believing they could do it today!

Race 2 was the Women’s Open. By now the crews were getting used to the drill for safety, coxes collecting hi-vis jackets and a coloured tally band for every crew member. The man on the PA sought refuge to a small rain shower in one of the Gazebo’s on the beach as the women’s crews set off for the start. Another hotly contested race with only 8 seconds separating the first 4 crews, each just 2 seconds apart. The winners were Strangford followed by North Berwich, Sketrick and St Ayles. 

But for the locals, the dream was becoming a reality. Many on the shore with binoculars had noticed the positions at the turn and murmurings of “they aren’t last” were going up and down the beach… are we looking at the wrong boat? (no), did they miss the turn? (no). In fact, it looked like they were coming back through the fleet and finishing even stronger. The realisation that the Lady Bay’screw had done it, was dawning on Stranraer. In fact, they finished 8thout of 12, fantastic!! In the post-race interviews, the cox was heard to say that when the crew realised they weren’t last having just rounded the turning buoy, stroke had decided that that was the time to make a sprint for the finish, the cox however, calmed her crew and controlled them long enough to ensure an impressive sprint nearer the end for a truly historic result.

Race 3 Men 50+ began and the weather started brightening up a little, with the winners Sketrick beginning to show their credentials for the overall title, but North Berwick 2ndin this race had now put down a strong first set of results with 2ndin all three races. Strangford in 3rd were also showing a level of consistency which would mean the final results were going to be close having posted two 3rds and a 1stin the first 3 races.

The lunch bell rang, and the competitors generously made their donations for the free lunch that was provided in the Boat House. There was no danger we could possibly run out even with over 120 competitors and lots of supporters. The catering team had been preparing and baking for days prior to refuel the combatants ready for the afternoon of racing.

Race 4 - The Women’s 50+ race was first after lunch with North Berwick now staking a serious claim on the prize for best club posting a 1stto add to their three seconds, another strong display had Strangford in 2nd12 seconds back and St Ayles in 3rd.

Race 5 - The Mixed Open saw another battle between North Berwick and Strangford but this time a much closer fought race with North Berwick beginning to dominate but only winning by 3 seconds. By now it was clear who was the team to beat. Dundrum came 3rdonly another 3 seconds down.

Race 6- Mixed Decades. North Berwick pretty much sealed the deal of overall best club with another dominant display, followed by Sketrick, Dundrum and Strangford. A notable result a wee bit further down the fleet was a dead heat for 7thbetween Troon and Stranraer…. another “not last” result for Lady Bay.

Race 7 - Mixed 220+, the final race of the day saw all 14 lanes full and was again hotly contested. By now North Berwick would be hard pressed not to take overall victory. The race was hard fought with the eventual winners being Sketrick followed by St Ayles and then North Berwick with their worst result of the day…. a shocking 3rd!

Post-race chat and banter and then a prizegiving. Usual deal, much cheering and jeering! Stranraer proudly gave out home-made shell medals. North Berwick took possession of a driftwood whale sculpture made locally and on behalf of the visitors returned kind words to the organisers of Stranraer’s 2ndregatta. 

Final less than formal formalities saw Wendi Cuffe presented with a one-off design medal and champagne for her efforts in leading the troops with reference to Stranraer Coastal Running Club…. you needed to be there….. 

And finally, encouraging words from Robbie Wightman, SCRA Convenor, on the journey the team are making towards hosting The Skiffiworlds in 2019.

The Bar soon got going and the local brew from “Five Kingdoms” microbrewery, Scotland’s most southerly brewery in the Isle of Whithorn was being thoroughly taste tested. By now the catering team from Stranraer Rotary had a triple barbeque system well under way. The barbeque rumbled on for hours. The Irish contingent soon broke into song to compete with Parkfest next door. 

Thank you all for a great day of racing and also for ensuring the bar takings broke a £1,000. And with hangovers to match, not quite sure how anyone made it to the next day… some sloped off, some slept it off and the remainder… those made of real strong stuff… prepared for matters Duck… see Day 2 Report.