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How to revive an old sport in several uneasy lessons Community coastal rowing is enjoying a renaissance – in Cornwall and elsewhere. Seeking to start a similar revival in Scotland, Alec Jordan and the Scottish Fisheries Museum commissioned a kit-built double-ender which local groups could complete for themselves.
With photographs by Chris Perkins.
The Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther in Fife is one of my favourite spots. Opened 40 years ago, it has a collection spanning the history of sea fishing in Scotland, from a replica of a dugout canoe to modern trawlers. The greatest part of the collection features the fishing boats of the heyday of Scottish Fishing, when the herring was king and the Scottish boats swarmed over the North Sea while the women worked ashore, gutting the herring and packing the barrels for export all over the world.
Earlier this year, I was asked by Museum Trustee David Tod to a meeting to discuss building at the Museum one of my clinker plywood kits for Iain Oughtred’s 13’6” (4.1m) Tammie Norrie, so that “something would be going on” for visitors to watch from the viewing gallery which surrounds the workshop. The plan was to have apprentices from Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy, the local further education institution, to build the boat. During the meeting the question was asked “What are we going to do with the boat when it is built?” There was a slightly awkward silence. I broke it with a suggestion.
“I have had this idea for a few years of trying to restart the
Coastal Rowing we used to have along the Fife Coast.”
Smiles all around the table, and the subject changed from Iain’s sailing dinghy to what would be a suitable boat for the project. By the time the meeting was over, it was agreed that Iain Oughtred would be commissioned to design a new boat suitable for competition, which would reflect the historical background and be light and fast to row.
Coastal Rowing in Scotland has many strands. Where I live in East Fife, the coal miners built their own boats for fishing and racing and while the sailing craft are still raced, mainly the Dysart Yawls, the rowing regattas were also a major attraction in their day. The big regattas in Fife died out in the 1950s, though there were attempts to revive them through to the early 80s. From what I can gather and as evidenced by the photograph, the boat design for the rowing regattas was completely open.
On the Clyde, there was a strong tradition which has struggled through into the 21st century but now seems to be more or less defunct. Hopefully this project will breathe new life into that scene and there has certainly been some strong
www.watercraft-magazine.com interest from the Clyde.
On the North Coast of Fife at Newburgh, Salmon Coble racing has continued through to the present day, with several GRP cobles having been built specifically for the ‘World Coble Racing Championship’ which is held every summer.
Most effectively, the Shetland Isles restarted their rowing in the 1980s with a specific design which sees local matches between the villages in the islands, as well as championship regattas.
The fun of funding The Museum needed to put together a proposal for grant funding of the design of the boat and the kit design and manufacture. These things take time and much discussion but a couple of months later, we heard the news that the application had been approved. The project was on its way.
From the start of the coastal rowing idea, we agreed that the project would have a much greater chance of success if the costs could be kept right down. I did some research into the other coastal boats that are used around the British Isles and realised that all of these would put the costs of entry into the sport beyond the reach of most communities.
So, the spec was added to Iain's brief that construction should be kept as simple as possible so that the boats can be built by the groups which would be racing them. The result was that the approximate price of putting one of these boats on the water was going to work out at around £3000. This met the approval of the rest of the interested parties.
In the meantime, to garner support for the project outside the Museum, I contacted a range of our tribunes, from Local Councillors to MPs. The response was a great deal better than
I had expected, and special mention should go to Sir Menzies Campbell MP and Marilyn Livingstone MSP, who responded positively and promptly and have offered real help. Other local politicians of all hues have been very positive about the project, and are looking at ways of supporting it further.
To further advance the idea, I wrote a fairly comprehensive prospectus fotr the Project which David Tod presented to the Board of the SFM, asking them to give the Museum's endorsement to the Project, which was given with alcrity. Without their support, I feel that it is unlikely that the Project would have had the rapid uptake it has enjoyed so far.
Word of mouth In putting the proposal together, I phoned a boatbuilder in Edinburgh, telling him about the project. His immediate response was “I know someone from North Berwick who is talking about doing something similar”.
The “Someone from North Berwick” was Robbie Wightman, a champion schoolboy rower and he was on the phone to me that evening. So instead of the Fife Coastal Rowing project, it had now extended its reach across the Firth of Forth. The Kingdom of Fife lies between the Forth and the Tay, so when the Steering Group met a few days later, there was a certain amount of discussion about the name of the project, which ended with something like “Let’s just call it the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project.”
While keeping a fairly low profile until we could do a Press Launch with the prototype boat, we could not miss the opportunity to publicise it at the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy –see W78 – so leaflets were rapidly printed, and off I went to Portsoy to distribute the leaflets, talk to
Facing page header: A racing skiff built in 1931 by the famous Davidson brothers. They were so good the Earl of Wemyss who owned the mine they worked brought up an Oxbridge eight to learn from them. F/p inset: Alec with the 1:6 model of St Ayles Skiff Above: East Wemyss Miners Regatta 1951. The cox in the first picture is in the middle boat and every man here is a Davidson www.watercraft-magazine.com