History of Water Skiing on Loch Earn from 1955
Motorized water sports began on Loch Earn during the summer of 1955 with the discovery of an elderly Chris Craft which had been put up on blocks in 1939. It had acted as a rescue boat for John Cobb during his speed trials on Loch Ness. It was bought by Ewen Cameron and brought to Loch Earn. The first person towed behind it was Ann Cameron on the bonnet of a Morris Minor 1000 pulled by a tow rope. A member of the Cameron family came home from a summer holiday with a pair of skis and the knowledge of how to do it, so skiing was underway!!
By the spring of 1956 Ewen Cameron had formed a club with members paying a debenture of £50.00 – a lot of money then – and soon had enough members to enable them to buy two Albatrosses and go into business.
A young man Marc Cloutier, the reigning Canadian Champion, and Isla Henderson, from Dundee, came to the club from Ruislip – at this point the centre of water skiing in Britain – so the club was now well equipped to teach anyone who so wished to learn for the princely sum of 2/6p per lesson.
Back then, there were no wetsuits so woolly sweaters were often worn, and life jackets were bought from ships being broken up at Rosyth but these were rather heavy and cumbersome. In fact they were probably more dangerous that they were worth. People froze but persevered!!
The 100E's were fine work horses but with larger men like Ewen Cameron and others of that ilk, the boats were “having the guts pulled out of them”, so the club invested in another Albatross, this time with a Coventry Climax engine with twin carburettors. Tommy MacGregor from Balquhidder was the club mechanic and went down to Norfolk to visit Ray Wright Engineering and Archie Peace who designed these boats.
In August of that year a privately owned modern Chris Craft arrived and it was a privilege to be offered a tow behind this monster. Everything was fun, and the members invented and learnt all sorts including parachutes, loaned by some of the members from Leuchars, being towed behind boats, kites to which one could be attached, discs on which to rotate, boards on which one would sit and a second would stand, jumping, slalom and other tricks.
By the end of that first summer, friends from the south had discovered the club and became interested in holding competitions on Loch Earn as this was the only stretch of water without restrictions at that time. Lochearnhead also had hotels, B&B, camping and Caravanning facilities on the loch side. The Club were talked into accepting to organise the Scottish Native Championship in 1957 to be followed by the British Water Ski Championship over the next two years. By this time, Clubs had been formed throughout Scotland and these included Fife, Slamannon, Urgle Gurgle (St Fillans), Aberdeen , Lochwinnoch and Loch Lomond .
In 1963, the Northern European Championships was held at Lochearnhead under the auspices of the World Water Ski Association. Competitors from eleven countries took part in this event which was sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, Bells Whisky and many other local firms. Over 10,000 people came to spectate and every hotel, B&B, guest house from Callander to Comrie and Killin were occupied by officials and competitors. TV cameras were present and the event was recorded. All the fields at the Lochearnhead end became a tented village with sponsors and trade tents selling their wares.
Fancy Dress BBQ's – rare in those days – ceilidhs in Lochearnhead and Grand Balls in London brought in funds to strengthen the Club. Champions were made and practiced on Loch Earn and these included Davey ”Mighty Mouse” Nicol, Dougal Campbell, Duncan Croall, Johnny Victory, Jackie Fulton and the Johnston family – all three of them!!!! Bill, David and Sheila made their mark in European and world circles and still have connections with village today and even ski on the loch. Many times World Champion, Mike Hazlewood, first learnt to ski on Loch Earn as did one time ladies World Champion, Phillipa Roberts.
In 1969 Italy was unable to take on the finals of the European Championships and the Lochearnhead Water Ski Club was asked to host the event. With a top class committee and members, the event happened and was a great success. The Club even had its own world class judges, Ewen and Ann Cameron, Lewis Drysdale and Bill Broggan.
Boating on Loch Earn in those early days was controlled by a “dictatorship” headed by an efficient retired banker from St Fillans. He patrolled the loch at weekends and any boat launching for a days “jolly” was charged 10/-. If the boat launched did not get a ticket first – these were sold in the village shops – no one would permit them to land until such time they paid up!!
Water skiing was given the royal seal of approval when Prince Philip heard what was happening and arrived by helicopter to see for himself what was going on.
Sailing nearly always was restricted to the east end of Loch Earn by St Fillans due to the fact that the winds were usually westerly's and therefore windier and rougher at that end of the loch. At one stage there was a successful sailing school run by Major Campbell-Crawford. A sailing club still exists on the north shore of the loch just outside the village of St Fillans.
As time went on more and more people bought their own boats and ski club numbers diminished and eventually the Club ended. The old Club house is now the Lochearnhead Watersports Centre where tuition is still available and the facilities used by boat owners including launching and mooring.
Top competition came to an end when skiing became more money orientated and all skiers wanted to ski in waters of the same conditions as the previous skiers and this just could not be guaranteed on Loch Earn.
Skiing is still very much part of life on Loch Earn and enjoyed by hundreds every year, sadly though, no World Champions starting out on Loch Earn.
This is published with the kind permission of Angus Cameron, whose father featured so much in this article. Angus runs a SELF-CATERING* business in Lochearnhead.