Traditional boat-building and coastal rowing in St Ayles Skiffs
In 2014, a project aiming to revive traditional boat-building and coastal rowing in St Ayles Skiffs was brought to the Strangford and Lecale AONB by the Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership working with the PSNI.
This project was supported by the Down Rural Area Partnership, as part of a wider effort to regenerate communities through their maritime heritage.
Coastal rowing in this area has been a phenomenal success with 9 clubs established; many of whom have gone on to build more boats as their membership and active participation has grown with some clubs having built a second boat, and both junior and senior members rowing. Although each club is independent and all active in their own ways, they come together through a Rowing Association. The Down Coastal Rowing Association (DCRA) was founded in 2015, as the representative body of the affiliated coastal rowing clubs within County Down and is, itself, affiliated to the Irish Coastal Rowing Federation. The DCRA promotes the building and use of coastal rowing boats and stimulates healthy competition between communities and clubs by means of races, regattas and other organised events.
The Down Coastal Rowing Project was funded by the Down Rural Area Partnership (DRAP) as part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas and supported by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Newry , Mourne and Down District Council and Ards and North Down Borough Council.
There are local clubs in Killyleagh, Donaghadee, Portavogie, Portaferry, Kircubbin, Sketrick, Strangford, Ardglass, and Dundrum. All of the clubs are membership based and actively seek and welcome new recruits. Members are mostly active as participating rowers, some are involved as race organisers and support, fundraisers, safety and welfare officers et al. They would love to hear from potential new members!.
SLLP secured and organised the 2016 Skiffie Worlds championships, for Strangford Lough, working closely with the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association. The event was backed by Newry , Mourne and Down District Council who hope to establish an annual event at Delamont Country Park. Amazingly Dundrum were the overall championships beating well established teams from all over the world including Scotland, Tasmania , the Netherlands and Canada.
SLLP also organised the first regatta on Strangford Lough in 2013 won by Killyleagh CRC. This became established as the “Narrows Challenges” and now runs as an annual event .
In summer 2019 local clubs from Dundrum, Sketrick, Strangford, Portaferry and Killyleagh travelled to Stranraer, Scotland with their skiffs for the three yearly world championships, with great success! At the end of the week three of these clubs finished in the top five, with Dundrum came home overall winners and World Champions for a second time winning the points competition and beating fellow Down club Sketrick into second place and Strangford (who had amassed the second highest overall points tally) into fifth. Dundrum won a fantastic 6 gold medals in various race categories, Strangford won 2 and Sketrick won 3. And these are just the gold medal winners, there were many silver and bronze medals won by local clubs too!
All of the clubs offer access to rowing which is organised throughout the year, mostly at weekends although with the longer daylight periods boats can be seen training in the evenings also. Facilities supporting the boats does vary with some clubs associated with sailing clubs [Strangford, Kircubbin and Ardglass ] while others operating very independently. All the boats are trailered and kept on land when not in use.
Each club has its own “home port” and community from which they operate but all would attract a membership and support from beyond their base. To date the boats extend from Belfast Louigh, Outer Ards Coast, Strangford Lough and Lecale. Regattas and racing takes all of the boats beyond home shores.