Islay’s third Festival of the Sea takes place over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd August.
The Festival is run by South Islay Development, a charity aiming to promote and facilitate community-led development in Kildalton and Oa on Islay.
The 2013 programme is to include a Coastal Rowing Regatta with community-built St Ayles skiffs from across Argyll and beyond invited to take part.
The purpose of the event as a whole – highlighted by the coastal rowing contests – is to celebrate and promote the rich seafaring heritage of Islay and showcase its seafood, its talents and its water and and-based sporting opportunities.
Scanning the festival’s facebook page here, there is a fascinating series of photographs on children’s coasteering experiences hosted on Islay. This is a sport of great interest to the adult young financial sector performers – of both genders - in the City of London.
Although many regularly do gym and running, they like to counter their desk bound working days with high octane, well organised and adventurous physical activities in their downtime – alongside serious comfort, pampering, good food and drink apres-effort. Islay can do all of this.
The Festivalis relatively knew – this is its third outing - but coastal rowing has been an important part of the event from the very beginning.
The first Festival of the Sea accompanied the Colmcille Rowing challenge between Moville in County Donegal on the north west coast of Ireland and Islay This is bi-annual and will be taking place on the same weekend this year. It is an important aim of the Festival to re-establish historical links the island had with Ireland but it is also keen to forge new connections with other communities close by.
The Islay Rowing Club originally started with two fibreglass skiffs based on a traditional design of a skiff from Moville and these are still used for many of the club’s regular races in the summer.
However, more recently Jack Glover introduced the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association’s initiative to Islay and, with their contests based on the template of the St Ayles skiff, the club now has two lovely St Ayles skiffs . These are based in Portnahaven, on the south west end of The Rhinns.
The 2012 Festival invited the renowned Irish boatbuilder, Donal MacPolan, over to Islay to build a Currach during the festival, using local hazel and some synthetic seal skin – so that has been a proud to the Islay Rowing Club’s fleet of rowing chariots.
Coastal rowing seems to be taking off on Islay as it is in so many communities across Argyll and the Isles.
In making rowing a focal point of the festival programme for 2013, participants are to be given the chance to bring their boats or borrow one. Might CalMac offer some discount to make bringing a St Ayles skiff to Islay an affordable proposition:
The Festival team have invited the Galgael Trust over to run events and they are happy to bring their St Ayles skiff over with them so there will have three to start with.
There is plenty of space to camp, shower and do laundry near the pontoons and the festival team is looking at what it can to with transport to the youth hostel.
Friday and Saturday night at the festival will see ceilidhs, a food fair, sailing, coasteering, kayaking, tug o’war, talks and exhibits, crabbing, beach golf – and who know what else. All will be confirmed soon.
And – a last note on the rowing focus – after the Currach build last year, Islay’s Coracle Society are joining the Festival team and will offer the opportunity for people to build their own coracle over the weekend. With a bit of smart scheduling by the festival organisers – which they seem willing to do – each of the teams involved in the rowing contests might choose to build one a coracle for their club – and these could be raced at the regatta as well if people were up for that.
This event really is abut celebrating the maritime heritage of the island – and what place sits more comfortably in that spotlight than the historical seat of the Lords of the Isles? Festival visitors may also take a trip to the new Finlaggan Centre and tune into this celebrated part of Islay’s seagoing heritage as well.