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Above: Down from the Isle of Skye for the launch, designer Iain Oughtred studies details of the prototype. Facing: Iain's preliminary drawings for the St Ayles Skiff show the elegant simplicity of the design from the outset.
was setting or paint drying, dealing with the other issues involved.
Plugging away on a daily basis, the boat neared completion, and with only painting for a couple of hours each day, attention could return to other matters such as planning the Press Launch and otherwise publicising the project.ReadyforlaunchWewerefinallyreadytolaunchtheboatonSaturday 24 October but with atrocious weather in the morning, we abandoned the attempt for the day and tried again on Sunday
With the delay, more people had heard and there was quite a crowd at Methil Dock to watch her gently lowered into the water. As soon as she was down I clambered aboard, and knowing that Iain's double-enders can be quite tender, I was holding on tight. I didn't need to. The St Ayles is a very stable boat and feels rock solid. Robbie Wightman scrambled aboard from the safety RIB and the two of us rowed her over to the gathered crowd at the steps for the naming. A goodly dose of Highland Park went over her bow and a wee bit down the throats of those of us who had helped in her construction who were present.
The plan for the official launch was to have the boat entirely crewed by Sea Cadets from TS Ajax at Methil where I am a civilian instructor and the selected youngsters took their places to be the first complete crew of a St Ayles. Then it was time to try her with an adult crew; twice around the dock and there were some very big smiles from all of us. I knew then that all the work that I had put into it had been worthwhile and that we have a winner.
At that point, I had worked 9 weeks with only three days off and the body and mind said “Enough”. On the Monday and Tuesday I did nothing but walk the dog, sleep and then sleep some more. By Wednesday, things needed to be done to prepare for the Official Launch. There is no need to go into the detail but I was checking the Atlantic weather chart nervously every couple of hours; the end of October is not the greatest time to be going boating on the East coast of Scotland.
Come the day, I woke in the half light of dawn to see a silken sea and an almost clear sky. With everything packed in the car and the boat already at Anstruther, I had an easy drive up the East Neuk coast. Given how much is riding on the project for Jordan Boats, I was surprised how calm I was on the way up there. No sooner had I parked the car than PO Tolley drew up with the three cadets from TS Ajax. There was barely a ripple on the harbour. Before long, the required people arrived and Chris o'Kanaird made her way down the slip, oars and cadets were embarked and we had a good practice around the inner and outer harbours.
Almost exactly on the stroke of eleven, we bent on our oars and the first St Ayles made her way into official public view. A couple of times around the harbour and into the beach and then it was time for the introduction from Dr Robert Prescott, Chairman of National Historic Ships and Honorary Vice-President of the Scottish Fisheries Museum. With thanks given to all the people who had helped with her building, the first of many had a practice row. The blue sky and the warmth out there somehow made me feel that this project has had an incredible run of good luck. The last outing was a venture outside the harbour mouth into a very lumpy confused sea. Such is the stability of this boat that bow man Richard Pierce felt safe standing up to take pictures.
At the time of writing, one week after her launch, I am still busy as more enquiries come in about the St Ayles and tonight I received payment for the sixth boat. There are seven more communities where money is being raised, grants applied for and space being found to build. There have been enquiries for 17 other builds in varied locations, not all in Scotland: there is very positive sounding interest from a Dutch rowing club, from London and from Lancashire. The level of interest in the Project has amazed me, particularly the number of people – especially Chris Perkins – who have put in a lot of hours to help complete the prototype boat and make my little pipedream a reality.
It seems that we have struck a chord with the idea that you can have a beautiful and effective rowing boat for your community or club without having to raise a 5-figure sum. Time will tell but I earnestly hope that in a few years time when I am taking my dog for his walk of a summers’ evening, I will be seeing boats from East and West Wemyss out practicing and that the scene will be repeated in scores of places around the Scottish coastline, and far beyond as well.CONTACTSJordanBoats,OrrCottage,8SchoolWynd,East Wemyss, Kirkcaldy KY1 4RN Tel: +44 (0)1592 560162 www.jordanboats.co.ukScottishFisheriesMuseum, St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther KY10 3AB Tel: + 44 (0)1333 310628 www.scotfishmuseum.orgIainOughtred,StruanCottage, Bernisdale, Isle of Skye IV51 9NS Tel: +44 (0)1470 532732 www.scottishcoastalrowing.org
www.watercraft-magazine.com DesignerIainOughtred introduces
The StAyles Skiff T
he design is based on the Fair Isle Skiffs, like those portrayed in the Fisheries Museum. Sharing a common heritage with the Norwegian faerings, seksaerings and ottrings – four, six and eight-oared boats – they are variations on the Shetland Yoals in shape, construction and sailing rig. These are extraordinarily able boats in rough open water; seemingly the most seaworthy light open boats that can be built.
What gives these hulls their rough-water ability is the amount of boat above the water. The strong sheer, the overhanging ends, the great flare and consequent narrow waterline beam, which leads to an initial feeling of tenderness. You instinctively keep your weight amidships. If you step on the gunwale, you will not achieve your intention of lightly hopping aboard but will get wet. This characteristic, however, is what enables the boat to meet a short steep little wave, with its breaking crest coming right on the beam and intending to swamp the boat, lifting lightly to it and ready for the next one, in contrast to a broad-beam flat stable hull, which will lurch and roll uncomfortably, perhaps dangerously. But these craft can be pulled hard against wind and sea, and sailed hard before it. The broad buoyant bow always lifts over the waves, however hard she is pressed.
Hulls of this type will perhaps never conform to the RCD requirements for stability but with their astonishing rough-water capability, developed over hundreds of years, they demonstrate the futility of trying to legislate for safety. For the fishermen, it was not just their wages but their life at stake and the boatbuilders knew what they needed.
Looking closer, we see the simplicity, lightness and flexibility of the structure, also practically unchanged from hundreds of years ago. There are fewer strakes than we might expect, making them fairly wide. The rivets are quite widely spaced at 5-6” (125-150mm) and there are no steamed ribs, just a few simple pieces of sawn framing, fastened with wooden treenails.
The rowing thwarts - tafts - are closely spaced at around 3’ (0.9m) or less, to concentrate the crew weight amidships. Short quick rowing strokes are used to keep the boat moving through rough water. The oar blades are quite narrow, so that a breaking wave has not much to get hold of. This layout offers flexible crew arrangements; two or three can take the boat out for a little practice. Smaller rowers may sit two to a taft, perhaps with lighter oars.
The boats were quick and simple to build if you had grown up doing it. Tools were minimal, as were the few simple measuring sticks and patterns which were made by the boatbuilder and passed on. No plans were needed, so clever boat designers were redundant.
The St Ayles boat is a little longer than some of the boats that were raced in the 1950s but no longer than she needs to be. Thus we minimise the cost in time, materials and the building space required and the boat is not too much of a handful on land. The construction is a compromise on traditional methods and the plywood kit makes it very much easier for inexperienced builders to assemble a good-looking boat in a reasonable time, creating a craft of predictable shape which can then compete with others of the same type.
The arrangement of the framing is conventional. However each frame is made up of overlapping parts of plywood, which is very strong and uses up a minimum of material. The 3/8” (9mm) planking is light but quite strong enough for the purpose, which is not heading far out to sea in all kinds of weather and returning with half a ton of fish.
It may be that some builders will want to build the hull traditionally. This would require a boatbuilder to oversee the whole project; it would take more time, and more work to find the materials. Although many builders of the glued plywood hulls may have little or no boatbuilding experience and little or no intention of building another, some may well want to learn something of the traditional craft and the skills required to create them. Some may think that such a boat really ought to be built this way. Maybe if this is done and the traditional boat wants to race with the plywood ones, the latter could carry a little ballast to even up the weight.