Boat enthusiasts head revival of traditional skiff

Jon Gerrard, centre, and Lucy Hyde, right, with the Boaty Rows team at Port Seton. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Jon Gerrard, centre, and Lucy Hyde, right, with the Boaty Rows team at Port Seton. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Two amateur rowers from the Lothians are spearheading a contemporary revival of the traditional Scots skiff – after taking their hand-built version on an epic waterborne voyage across Europe to the world-famous Vogalonga regatta in Venice.

Boat-mad IT manager Jon Gerrard and his partner Lucy Hyde, from Cockenzie, took a skiff – known as a St Ayles skiff because it was built to a standard design – on the 1000-mile journey to Italy, where they flew the national flag alongside rowers from every corner of the globe.

The humble vessel – assembled by boating enthusiasts at Port Seton and Cockenzie’s Boatie Blest rowing club – completed about 50 kilometres of the trip on some of central Europe’s most famous lakes and waterways.

It is thought the boat – christened the Boatie Rows – was the first Scots-built vessel of its kind to venture beyond UK waters and take part in last month’s Vogalonga, which sees around 2100 international teams row through ancient Venetian canals.

Mr Gerrard, 42, said: “It was an amazing experience, being part of this huge traditional spectacle and seeing so many boats jostling together.

“Just to be rowing our boat out of the harbour in Port Seton and then rowing it down the Grand Canal in Venice was one of the most emotional moments of our lives.”

Based on a design that emerged hundreds of years ago on Fair Isle, the skiff originally provided remote communities with a means of exploring coasts and seas.

It has endured through the centuries and is today enjoying a surge in popularity as boating fans across the country build their own vessels to test on open water.

The Boatie Rows was made by hand at a cost of about £4000 and presented its makers with plenty of challenges when they built it in 2010.

“It took hundreds of hours of work, using traditional methods,” said Mr Gerrard, who has been a keen rower for the past three years.

“There are no square edges. You have to cut and shape the boat’s ribs and then the keel and the gunwales, and any other parts. It’s a gradual process. You can only put on one plank at a time.”

Members of Boatie Blest said they were “very proud” to see their boat take part in the Venetian extravaganza.

Stuart Mack, club captain, said: “The challenging thing about building it is that everything is built on a curve.

“The boat is very special to our club and many of the people in it because we built it by hand ourselves – you feel more attached to it.”