24 Jul 2010

The return of Portobello's rowing regatta

Three men wearing flat caps climb into a wooden skiff and begin to row away from the shore. As each man rows, the oars rise from the water at different times, making the boat look like an insect that is scuttling over the calm water.

This weekend the community of Portobello in Edinburgh is reviving a tradition that has been dormant for more than 40 years. Rowing was once a popular past time in Portobello, with regattas held every year. The 2010 regatta is part of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project, which aims to get people interested in the area’s rowing heritage and bring back the yearly events.
The skiffs, which were built by the teams representing various coastal communities, are beautifully painted have the kind of character this just doesn’t exist in the world of modern fiberglass boats. Seeing them casts the viewer back to a time before the sound of engines and the sight of multi-story buildings, to what we think of as a simpler way of life.
The competition was energetic but always friendly. At the sound of the horn the teams had to row like mad out to a bouy about 400 metres away and back to shore, where the incoming tide made the waves crash against the beach, extending the route a little bit further with every race.

Because of the quaint character value, the group in the flat caps was my favourite, however I did love photographing the celebrating Newhaven team who, using a borrowed skiff from the Anstruther Fisheries Museum, were declared the winners of their race against North Berwick.
This kind of event is the perfect thing to visit on a weekend afternoon, and I must thank my Facebook friend Loragene for letting me know about it.

Everywhere on the beach there were dogs going absolutely mad with the excitement of seeing other dogs and smelling chips and watching Frisbees sailing through sky.

Dozens of children dug in the sand, heaving buckets of water to and from the shore while wearing the tense expressions that kids get when they and only they understand how ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE it is to fill the moat of the sand castle before the invading army of stick people has time to strike.

The gulls soared and dove, people waded in the water or dug their toes into the sand, and many more walked along Porobello’s long promenade, stopping now and again at one of the aging amusement attractions for a quick video game or to buy a fish supper.
I caught my favourite photo of the day as I was leaving. I saw these grandparents sitting on the beach with their wee grandson, grandfather and grandmother on either side and him in his own little chair with a matching umbrella just in case the rain that had been threatening all morning decided to fall.

All I could think was that I hoped somehow he would remember this day on the beach with his grandparents and would recognize how intensely wonderful a time it was. Not just another day.
Portobello is one of those places that is still connected to the city but feels like an escape from it all the same. Even when there are no events on, it has a faded charm that makes you feel relaxed. It’s like the place has stopped trying to show off and is comfortable to be known for simple pleasures. Slow walks, greasy chips in paper, tacky games, ice cream, sand and the sea.

I had never seen anything like this rowing regatta before and it was such a pleasant surprise that I dearly hope the tradition will be picked up again for good. The Scottish Coastal Rowing Project is ongoing and more information is available here.

Now you will have to excuse me. I have sand in my shoes.

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