Audacious, the St. Ayles Skiff that is, so far, the entire fleet of the recently launched Blue Hill Community Rowing program, underway in Blue Hill Harbor. Giving direction, not to say orders, is Muriel Curtis, director of the Station Maine community rowing program in Rockland, to a crew including (from left): Chris Guinness, Deborah Evans (hidden), Carol Roberts and Mark Baldwin. SEAN GUINNESS PHOTO

Community rowing program and St. Ayles Skiff launched in Blue Hill

BLUE HILL — Rowing, in one form or another, has been a part of maritime life for just about as long as human beings have plied the sea.

Over centuries, fishermen and other mariners developed countless varieties of oar-driven small craft, each uniquely suited to its particular use and the sea conditions in which it would used.

In New Bedford, Mass., James Beetle developed and perfected the oared whale boats carried on the decks of hundreds of New England whalers such as the Essex and the Charles W. Morgan, the last of the breed and still afloat and shipshape at the Mystic Seaport Museum and, possibly, the Pequod on its quest after Moby Dick.

Throughout the Caribbean, nameless boatbuilders developed the pirogue, a long and narrow canoe often fashioned out of a single log, especially suited to shallow rivers and coastal waters.

In Scotland, the boat of choice was often a rugged double-ender stable enough for hauling fishing nets or pots used to trap prawns but sleek enough to promote rowing competitions between the isolated fishing and mining communities that dotted the Scottish coastline.

As fishing became mechanized in Scotland as elsewhere, the community rowing tradition more or less disappeared until, about a decade ago, the Scottish Fisheries Museum, determined to preserve traditional boatbuilding, backed development of a boat that might rekindle the community rowing tradition. The result of those efforts was the St. Ayles Skiff, a 22-foot double-ended plywood lapstrake boat for four rowers and a coxswain designed by Iain Oughtred that could be built from a kit.

The venture was enormously successful in Scotland and the United Kingdom. More than 200 of the boats have been built and hundreds of rowers compete in a series of annual regattas capped by the “Skiffie Worlds” championship in Scotland.

In the United States, as many as another 100 St. Ayles Skiffs have been built, most of them from kits produced by Hewes & Co. of Blue Hill.

Several of those boats were built by Maine high schools, Sumner, George Stevens Academy and Mount Desert Island High School among them. Now, one of those boats, christened “Audacious,” has found its way via MDIHS and the Islesford Boatworks and Cranberry Rowers program to Blue Hill, where it is the foundational vessel of the Blue Hill Community Rowing Program.

Founded by some enthusiastic area rowers earlier this summer, among them Mark Baldwin and Carol Roberts, both of Surry, the hope is to develop an adult rowing program similar to those already well established in Belfast and Rockland.

Audacious is moored just off the floats of the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club (KYC) and its separate training entity, the Kollegewidgwok Sailing Education Association (KSEA), the club allowed rowers, whether KYC members or not, to use the KSEA float and to store some gear in a locker outside the KSEA building. Several KYC members have become enthusiastic participants in rows aboard Audacious.

Earlier this month, with support from the club’s commodore, Ann Luskey, herself a rower, and KSEA leaders Brennan Starkey and Springer Huseby, KYC voted to include the Blue Hill Community Rowing program as a part of KSEA’s community boating programs, though details of how this will actually work remain to be settled. Those community programs are open to all qualified participants whether or not they belong to the yacht club.

“At the meeting we heard from Mark (Baldwin) about the success of the program and where he hopes it will go,” Luskey said in an email last week. “We are working on how it will be structured going forward, hoping to extend the season into the fall and beginning in the spring.”

Like many blessings, the formal incorporation of the Blue Hill Community Rowing program on KYC’s premises and, in some form as a part of the KSEA program, is a mixed one. Now, rowers have to sign a two-page “waiver and release agreement” with KYC to be allowed on the club’s property and to use the floats.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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