The success of the St Ayles Skiff has surprised everyone involved with the design since the first skiff took to the water in 2009. At that time it was envisaged that the boat would be built and rowed within Scottish communities to re-establish a connection with the sea. However it has grown to be much more than this. Now, nine years later, although the majority of Skiffs are still in Scotland at more than 127, there are also Skiffs launched in England (27) and Northern Ireland (16). Skiff are also being launched further afield, 17 in the USA, 7 in the Netherlands, 10 in Australia, 3 in Canada, 1 in France and 8 in New Zealand. The first skiffs are under construction in the Republic of Ireland and South Africa, and there is strong interest from Spain, Dubai, and Brazil.
Nearly 100 more Skiffs are under construction and as our community of Skiffs and Skiffies grows so do the opportunities for worldwide connections and friendships. Recently Jordan Boats and Solent Rowing Boats have been working together to develop the buoyancy tanked mark 4 St Ayles Skiff, the prototype has now been tested and the kit will be available very soon. It is hoped that this boat will allow prospective clubs in countries where buoyancy is mandatory to be able to build. This boat might also suit schools and clubs where expedition rowing is popular.
Such has been the success of the design, and the enthusiasm of the people rowing them, that the first “SkiffieWorlds” took place in Ullapool in July 2013. There were 30 skiffs present, with rowers from the USA, Australia, the Netherlands, as well as England and Scotland. In 2016 Strangford Lough hosted a very successful “Skiffie Worlds” where, along with the more established clubs, the Northern Ireland rowers were out in force and the Canadian team rowed with us for the first time. In 2019 we shall be hosted by Stranraer where we hope to see many new teams from around the world as well as those who have worked so hard to get the sport established.
The first non UK international regatta was hosted in excellent style by the town of Franklin in Tasmania in 2015 with a combined team from Scotland, and some New Zealand skiffies to add to the Australians.
Why the Popularity?
There are a lot of different reasons why the St Ayles has become so popular in such a short time.
- Simply a beautiful boat. One of the design criteria for the boat was that it had to be good looking. The design is based on the Fair Isle Skiff, a model of which in the Scottish Fisheries Museum caught Alec Jordan’s eye on his first visit. There is a tremendous pride in the skiffs from their builders and owners – far more than the average boat will inspire.
- The cost is very attractive – most skiffs have been built for around £3000, but we recommend budgeting on £4000.You may be able to make it for less – some clubs with access to more specialised machinery and great success at scrounging have kept the costs well below £3000.
- Stable and dry.The St Ayles is a very stable boat. They have been raced in Force 6 winds, with 4 ft waves over 13ft swells, and the only water that came in was from the spray off the wave crests!
- Low weight. Most St Ayles weigh in at around 160kg. They have been built to a lighter weight. At this weight, a St Ayles can be lifted on to a trailer or trolley by a single adult crew, not requiring assistance from other people.
- A crew of five.When you have a crew of working adults, it can be difficult enough to coordinate five people for a practise session. Five is a lot easier than the seven of some other coastal boats.
There are numerous other reasons – row the boat and you will find yours.
Beam: 5ft 8in
Weight: 155kg upwards
Construction: Clinker Plywood from kit
A Short History
The story of the St Ayles started in early 2009 when the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther in Fife approached Alec Jordan of Jordan Boats to run a boatbuilding course.
During the discussions on the course, Alec suggested that the boat to be built should seek to revive the rowing regattas that took place around the East Fife coalfield until the mid-1950’s. The miners built their own craft from timber scavenged from the collieries.
This suggestion was enthusiastically taken up by the museum, but none of those present at the meeting had any inkling of the incredible take-up of the idea. The initial idea was that Jordan Boats & the Fisheries Museum would concentrate their efforts on reviving coastal rowing around Fife. Very quickly, it was found that there were other lower-key efforts going on elsewhere on the Forth, and the efforts of Jordan Boats & the Museum were combined with the salesmanship of North Berwick based sailor and former champion rower Robbie Wightman.
Iain Oughtred was commissioned to design the new boat, to be based on the Fair Isle Skiff, a generic form that is descended from the smaller Viking skiffs. Once Oughtred had produced the plans, Alec Jordan set about turning them into a kit, and when this had been done, building a prototype to make sure that the kit would go together well.
While Alec Jordan and many other interested people were building the prototype, Robbie Wightman was using his many boating contacts along the south side of the Forth to sell the idea, with the result that early in the proceedings, significant interest had been registered from several communities.
When the time came to launch the prototype on Oct 31 2009, spectators had travelled from as far afield as Ullapool and the Isles of Skye and Luing.
On the project launch day, the prototype was rowed by a very large number of people from around the Forth and further afield; very soon the orders started coming in. By May 2010, there were six skiffs ready to race at the inaugural Regatta at Anstruther, when the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association was formally constituted.
Building the St Ayles Skiff
The building rules for the St Ayles are fairly minimal. Providing it is built from the kit, there is little that the builders have to worry about in terms of adhering to measurement standards as might be experienced in building a sailing dinghy.
The Ethos of the St Ayles is that it should be built with a low cost, and that the quality of the boat comes more from the skill of the builders than from the depth of the clubs pockets. As it can be classed as a “Development Class”, the Oarlocks are restricted to using wood as the tooling for machining metal is beyond the reach of most clubs.
Also, beyond keeping to the same hull shape, innovation in fitting out the hull is positively encouraged. Every regatta sees the more “techie” rowers inspecting all the other skiffs to see what changes have been made to improve (or not) the performance.
Spoon bladed oars are not permitted as it was felt that the skills for producing these were beyond most amateurs. With a set of wooden blades costing in excess of £1200 new from established spar makers, clubs are generally making their own, and it has been found that the standard Macon type blades are less successful than the fine blades for sea rowing.
Some have been built in a few weeks by professional boatbuilders. Most have taken between 4 and 6 months. There are a few that have been built by people with absolutely no boatbuilding experience, but most builds have been led by people who have built boats in some shape or form previously.
The kit consists of the plywood parts for the frames and the planking. It also includes the moulds over which the hull is built. These can be re-used several times and separate plank and frame kits are available at a lower cost than the full kit.
In addition to the kit, you will need to find the timber for the keel, hog, stems and gunwales. This is not supplied by Jordan Boats, but other suppliers who can be approached are listed on the SCRA building page.
Larch is the recommended timber as it is both light and durable in a marine environment. However, it is not easy to obtain knot free larch, so other timbers such as Douglas Fir can also be used. Some skiffs have been built using elm, oak, and other timbers. The choice is yours.