THE AMAZING ST AYLES SKIFF STORY

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by Maxwell MacLeod

Building clinker ply boats. This Statement is a celebration of an extraordinary phenomenon that is currently taking place across Scotland and which is failing to get enough publicity. Simply put, a number of communities have started building rowing skiffs as community projects. This may sound a little dull until you see a race between these skiffs which are twenty two feet long and crewed by four rowers and a cox.

These races, not seen in Scotland for a generation, are a phenomenal sight with whooping crews racing through the water and families gathered on the shore yelling their teams on. Such races have been held at (or boats are now based at):  Cockenzie, Coigach, North Berwick, Ullapool, Port Seton, Anstruther, Cumbrae, Pittenweem, South Queensferry, Portsoy, Eyemouth, Portobello. Interest has been shown in Helmsdale, Lochgilphead, Lewis and Harris and at Gairloch.

If things continue to expand at their present rate this project, officially only launched in May of this year when an Association was formed, will see forty such community skiffs racing in Scotland by next summer. There have been 28 orders so far (July figure). At the moment there are eight of these community built craft in the water, in itself a pretty remarkable figure given that the design, known as the St Ayles Skiff, is only a year old.

Why has this project been so successful? Well we have to doff our bonnets to the Gal Gael charity that has been building wooden boats for the better part of ten years in Govan, but we should also acknowledge Iain Oughtred the designer and Alec Jordan the leader. Then there’s the low cost. To buy a kit for one of these boats only costs around £1,200 and to build it and put it in the water perhaps another £2,000.

Persuade five people to part own one of these lovely boats and it’s only around £600 each. Run a few community fundraising cèilidh and you are down to £300 each. It’s all do-able indeed it’s being done, and the great advantage of having a boat owned by half a dozen people is that there is a constant drive from owners and supporters to see that the boat is used and kept in good trim. Of course there will be politics and niggles but sorting out those kinds of community politics is one of the great by-products of organising this kind of stunt.

The boats are built from kits provided by an operation known as The Scottish Coastal Rowing Project (http://scottishcoastalrowing.org/) through Alec Jordan Kits Ltd (http://jordanboats.co.uk/JB/) and are designed by Iain Oughtred, a world famous self-build boat designer now living in Skye. Of course there’s another reason that these boats are becoming popular, a community spirit that is beginning to thrive again in many small rural communities.

You doubt me? Consider that figure again. Forty boats probably being built by communities across Scotland over the next few months. Surely that’s evidence enough?