In keeping with the St. Ayles skiff’s propensity to spread beyond Caledonia a crew from Port Seton’s Boatie Blest recently took part in the Castle to Castle Race in north Wales. The race departs from the shore at Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey’s south east coast and takes crews through 13 miles of the Menai Straits to Caernarfon Castle on the mainland. Hosted by the Royal Welsh Yacht Cub this is, we think, an open event although all but two of the entrants were Celtic or Pembrokeshire Longboats. We also think that this is the first time a St. Ayles Skiff has visited Cymru, but perhaps you can tell us otherwise?
After spotting the post on the SCRA site Boatie Blest decided at fairly short notice that it would try to get a crew and Boatie Lodge down to Wales for the race weekend. Six members volunteered and accommodation was found at the slightly surreal Fort Belan, an American War of Independence fort near Caernarfon. The crew stayed a scone’s throw from the slipway and dock but the uncharacteristic Welsh weather prevented them from making use of these on-site facilities. Saturday morning dawned wet and windy and it seemed probable that the event would be cancelled but at the last minute race organisers confirmed that despite the marginal conditions the race would start, with a shortened race plan should conditions deteriorate further.
The start was something of a surprise, as all but 5 of the 25 or so boats were well ahead of the line as the cannon fired, clearly preferring the 2 minute penalty to being caught out behind their rivals. From the start the crew knew they were in for a tough haul, as the sw wind and tide conspired against them. With an extra passenger in the bow the nose of the skiff took several substantial dumps of water on board and all of the Longboat coxes were also baling enthusiastically. Within a couple of miles things flattened out a bit as the tidal flow subsided and by the time Boatie Lodge reached the beautiful Menai suspension bridge it was, mercifully, high tide slack water. Beyond the bridge lay the Swellies, the notorious rocky section of channel, where the tide can run at up to 10 knots. The organisers had timed the event well however and all of the boats were able to pass in reasonably clear, if windy, conditions. Boatie Lodge was by this point falling behind the leading pack of Longboats but was still well in the field, with several boats behind her.
Conditions in the straits changed significantly as the race progressed: the wind rose and tide built making the cox’s job a challenging one. The crew were certainly grateful to have club captain Stuart at the helm as the final few miles saw some nasty, short waves and more water spilling over both the bow and its passenger. Caernarfon came into sight suddenly as a sheltering headland was cleared and the crew put in a final burst to overtake one of the longboat competitors as they sped past the harbour mouth. The Royal Welsh Yacht Club cannon fired from the town walls as the skiff crossed the line, indicating that a prize had been won and the crew headed for the beach to compare their aches, pains, bruises and blisters. With the boat finally bailed out (Stuart thought that he had bailed over 50l) she was loaded back onto her trailer and the crew headed for the impressive club house, where club Commodore Brian Roberts presented the Certificate to Boatie Blest as winners of the coveted Mixed Super-Vets Skiff Class!
The arrival of a Skiff at the event drew a lot of attention and many complementary comments were passed on the fine looking boat and its very creditable performance amongst the faster fiberglass longboats. There was clear interest in the whole idea of community-building and who knows, perhaps the next Castle to Castle will see at least one local Skiff taking part?