Boatie Blest took two boats and a strong contingent of rowers to the inaugural Feis na Mara on Harris. The event was held to celebrate the official opening of the community-run Isle of Harris Marina’s facilities at Tarbert and Scalpay and featured Scottish Coastal Rowing races alongside sailing and RIB events, as well as onshore activities and entertainments.
Also in attendance were Lewis clubs An Eathar, Stornoway and Bragar. There were a men’s race and a women’s race, both around a doglegged course of approximately 1 nautical mile out from Scalpay harbour and around a turning buoy, followed by a mixed race from Scalpay to Tarbert, approximately 4 nautical miles.
Conditions were calm and windless, if rainy at times: ideal for rowing, though less so for the sailing race.
Boatie Blest managed first and second placings in the men’s and women’s races and first, second and third (thanks to the loan of a boat from Bragar) in the long race. The fact that the visitors’ crews contained many rowers on the back of hard training for the SkiffieWorlds, compared with the less race-hardened local crews was evident in the results.
Organizers hope the event will now become an annual one, and a skiff kit has apparently been purchased for a new Harris club, with the ambition that it will race next year. The new club already has its first trophy, following the award of Best Novices after a scratch crew of Harris women was assembled for the women’s race.
A reception and prizegiving at the Isle of Harris Distillery was followed by refreshments and a ceilidh at Tarbert Community Hall.
The following day the group went from the west of Tarbert out towards the island of Isay. The group explored multiple caves, beaches and cliffs spotting lots of wildlife including rare otters. Having rowed approximately 10 miles just short of Taransay (the island in which the tv show Castaway was set) the crews were ready for their well-earned dinner. On the route back we found the one and only place where there was beach rubbish, a small bay which faced straight west was covered in plastic. With every other beach spotless we thought this was a strange occurrence. We came up with a plan to do our little bit, clean up the beach a bit with each crew picking up 20 bits of plastic. That evening the group had a drive back via the Huishinish beach, which we found was so lovely that it needed to be explored. The next morning the group set off for Huishinish beach just down the road from one of the houses with the boat and picnic. With several hours of “play” available there was plenty of time for swimming, sunbathing and rowing off the beach and exploring a nearby Stack. The water and beach were crystal clear and a lovely end to a great few days.