Glasgow 2014: Flotilla sails its way into the Games

By Laura Pettigrew
BBC Commonwealth Games reporter

  • Published
boats at Greenock

Some have sailed from Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Lerwick, while others have just nipped round the coast from Largs or Inverkip.

Organisers joked that the Commonwealth Flotilla up the Clyde is the quickest and most hassle free way to get to the Games - and boat owners also benefit from having their own ready-made, cheap accommodation.

Ahead of the spectacle the small ships, clippers, cruisers, yachts and working boats taking part mustered in Greenock.

"When the boats are moored alongside each other like this the correct sailing etiquette is to climb over the front of them to get to the boat you want to be on," says Claire Caffrey from the Royal Yachting Association Scotland (RYA Scotland).

She's taking me aboard some of the yachts waiting to make the 17-nautical mile sail from James Watt Dock to Pacific Quay in Glasgow.

We're climbing ladders, limboing under "lines" (not ropes as I mistakenly called them) and trying our best to avoid falling through the open skylights on the decks.

Image caption,
Gary and Eleanor McAllister have sailed their boat from Largs

"Come aboard," says Gary McAllister.

He and his wife Eleanor live in Aberdeen but their boat Ashera is normally moored at Largs. As soon as they heard about the flotilla they were keen to get involved.

"We actually pre-registered," says Gary. "We have taken part in other events like this and really enjoyed them."

And for Eleanor, who grew up "within shouting distance of the Clyde", the flotilla is a chance to celebrate the river's heritage.

"We are coming up through Greenock, Port Glasgow, right into the heart of where the Clyde activity was historically.

Image caption,
Bunting is raised on the Clan yacht ahead of the flotilla

"This will bring the river to life for a lot of people, who will witness it from the banks."

On the Clan yacht just down the pontoon the crew are putting the finishing touches to their boat. Gillian Bruce is efficiently directing proceedings as they attempt to raise a string of bunting with Commonwealth flags up the mast.

"If it gets stuck, someone will have to climb up and pull it free," says skipper Richard Robb. (I am not volunteering).

Sailing can be hard work, I'm told, but Richard's wife Cindy has the right idea.

"It's a lot of work sailing a boat, in terms of the sails and things like that," she says.

Image caption,
The crew of the Clan were enjoying the soaring temperatures in Greenock

"But then there's all the hard work like opening all the wine bottles and sitting up on deck and that's my job."

And with Greenock basking in heatwave temperatures - sitting on deck with a drink in hand sounds ideal.

"It's just as good as the Bahamas," says Gillian, who is just back from the islands in the Atlantic Ocean, where her husband skippers professionally. "Let's hope it continues."

The man behind the Commonwealth Flotilla is also hoping the weather stays good for the sail up the Clyde.

"This is all my fault," says RYA Scotland chief executive James Stuart.

"Sailing is not a Commonwealth sport, but we are part of the big sporting family, so we wanted to play our part."

He says idea for the flotilla was inspired by several things including the Jubilee pageant on the Thames in 2012.

Image caption,
About 250 boats will take part in the flotilla
Image caption,
The boats will set off in groups of about 50
Image caption,
More boats will also join at various muster points along the route to Pacific Quay

"It became really obvious. The Clyde is part of the story of these Games and is intimate to what Glasgow is.

"It's also a really famous racing and sailing area. All of these things led us to the inevitable conclusion that we should gather people together and head for the centre of Glasgow and use the Clyde for what it is there for."

And as well as showcasing the Clyde the event aims to promote sailing as being accessible to all and to debunk the myth that the sport is elitist and only for the rich and famous.

"Boating is there for everybody," says James. "The water is there for everyone."

That's a sentiment shared by Gerry Campbell from able2sail, a charity which takes people affected by disability sailing. They have two boats taking part in the flotilla.

"Our boat has been modified so we have a hoist that goes on to the boom that can lift people with upper body or mobility problems onboard.

"We have bucket seats and a new audio compass and joysticks, so we are pretty much able to take the majority or people affected by some kind of disability.

"For some of our kids we take out it's totally experiential - they get the feeling of the wind and hear all the different sounds."

Image caption,
able2sail has two boats taking part in the flotilla

As the boats continue to sail gently into the harbour the crews are gearing up for a party atmosphere ahead of their sail.

The event is also part of Homecoming Scotland 2014 and organisers are putting on a ceilidh in the former sugar sheds on the dockside.

"We're having a tremendous time. There's lots of banter, lots of lovely people going about," says Gerry.

"People from the flats above us have been shouting down 'hello, how are you' and there's one woman who has promised she'll have a party tonight."

With that in mind, as we climb over the boat decks back to shore someone makes a good point.

"I don't fancy doing this in the dark later. Lucky there's a toilet on the boat."

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