Crail Crabbers Aiming for Spring Launch

The East Neuk of Fife has a string of stunning and picturesque villages along its coast. Anstruther, home to the Scottish Fisheries Museum, (the Patrons of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association who commissioned the St Ayles skiff design from Ian Oughtred)  already have two skiffs on the water.  Next season they are going to be joined by their neighbours on both sides.  Pittenweem  to the west have been steadily building away, and are now on the final stage of fit out.

The small village of Crail to the East of Anstruther will be familiar to anyone who has ever bought a calendar, a dish towel or a jigsaw.  The image of the village’s harbour with crow step gabled houses behind must be one of the most popular in the Scottish tourist industry.  However next year the view is going to be enhanced, by the addition of a gorgeous St Ayles skiff in the foreground.

 The local rowing club, known as “Crail Crabbers” are making great progress in their St Ayles skiff build, having found a new home in September. Below are pictures of the skiff builders in action.

The keel has now been laid and the Crail Crabber craftsmen are looking forward to breaking the skiff out from her moulds and turning her over for fit out.  The Crabbers intend to be on the water in the Spring and racing on the Scottish Coastal Rowing Circuit in the summer of 2012.

Keep up with the Crail Crabbers on their website:

The rest of Fife is not going to be left behind.  Skiff building projects are underway in Newburgh, North Queensferry and Aberdour.  Any other towns of villages who want to join the coastal rowing scene next year will be made most welcome.

  1. #1 by Tom Findlay on 4 December 2011 - 3:19 pm

    There is no doubt that coastal rowing after a century in the doldrums, is rapidly growing again, and there will be future space and golden opportunities for new designers to emerge and also for new enterprising boat-building businesses to offer kits and completed boats at competitive prices, which I’m sure will happen, if things continue as they are.

    I would like to take a moment here to reflect on what has already taken place over the past couple of years.
    As an experienced offshore yachtsman for many decades now, and as someone who began by rowing in 27ft clinker rowing boats at Bowling on the Forth & Clyde Canal way back in the early 1960’s I can understand the accessibility factor and success of the St Ayles.

    But there are drawbacks to this new rowing fundamentalism which are not addressed or debated in any way so far, and when I have tried to raise these issues I have been shouted down or even called a fool.

    No matter how beautiful and wonderful, the St Ayles is far too complicated for a community to build. Most if not all of those built so far have been completed by one or two talented individuals, with others in the community simply helping out at other times.
    So community involvement in the overall build is very limited.

    The boats are very heavy and quite cumbersome to handle in and out of the water, and they are cramped inside for the wide variety of users.

    But nobody wants to speak about these issues, and instead they are often ignored.

    We can design and build coastal rowing boats that are much more stable and suitable for the whole community to row and to participate in the build process, which are much cheaper and easier to construct, and much lighter and more simple to handle.

    At the moment its like that old joke ‘you can have it any colour you want as long as its black’

    I really think its time to take a wider look at these issues and give communities perhaps new designs that are easy and cheaper and quicker to build and to enjoy.

    Tom Findlay

  2. #2 by Stuart Mack on 4 December 2011 - 6:38 pm

    Hello Tom,

    I am very pleased to hear you have been keeping up with the regeneration of Scottish coastal rowing. I was wondering if you would like to come down to Port Seton for a shot of the St. Ayles Skiff.  I would also be very interested in a chat about what you think the fundementals of this simpler design would include. A good way to have a chat would be of course on the water in the current vessel. As a Trainee Navel Architect i have been looking at some options recently but cannot see anything quite right yet; Perhaps a secondary view may be in order.

    Also; Portobello are very close to you (assuming you live in Edinburgh), may be worth giving the rowing a go down there.

    Reading your article, you sound a very nautical gentleman and therefore a outside input will be greatly recieved down here at Port Seton.

    Many thanks,

    hope to have contact with you in future,

    Stuart Mack

    Also very well done to Crail in getting so far keep up the good work the end result is worth the wait!!

  3. #3 by Tom Findlay on 4 December 2011 - 11:34 pm

    Hello Stuart,

    I doubt few will be interested in what I have to say.
    Oughtred and Jordan by default seem presently to have a complete monopoly…

    But you can call me on 07870825820 if you wish.

  4. #4 by Babshaggis on 5 December 2011 - 11:59 am

    Hi Tom

    I would also like to invite you to row with the Anstruther club.  We have been rowing our boats for 18th months and thouroughly enjoying the experience.  Aways open to other views and ideas.

    Barbara Elliot
    Anstruther Captain

  5. #5 by Babshaggis on 5 December 2011 - 12:01 pm

    Well done Crail looking forward to rowing with you in the Spring.

  6. #6 by Topher on 5 December 2011 - 2:09 pm

    There are, as Tom points out, many possible designs of small boat. I’ve spent many years building them and not exhausted all the possible types. Having rowed and sailed traditional clinker and carvel, plywood, glass and aluminium boats of many shapes, I have to say I think Iain Oughtread has designed a really good one in the St Ayles Skiff.  She’s rewarding to row, lighter than a traditional build, very seaworthy in big waves, and after 2 years I still enjoy looking at our one. 

    I would genuinely be interested to see a sketch of what Tom considers a better design; the SCRA is not bound to the St Ayles.

    Cheers, Topher.

  7. #7 by Adam on 5 December 2011 - 10:01 pm

    Well done to Crail Crabbers. Will be good to see some competition for those sheep rustling pirates in Anstruther.

    Adam Graham
    Royal West

  8. #8 by Robbie_wigwam on 5 December 2011 - 10:15 pm

    Well done Crail, keep up the good work and we look forward to seeing you on the Forth come the spring.
    With regard to Tom’s comment, goodness, I do not recognise this “new rowing fundamentalism” of which he speaks.  However, what I can promise all those that have built a St Ayles in their community or are in the process of doing so, is that one design races for the St Ayles skiff will continue to be held in Scotland and the North of England for a very long time to come.  The St Ayles is successful because it is very good at the job for which the design was commissioned and SCRA, who are the class association for this design, will continue to promote it. 
    Successful rowing associations in South West England, Wales, Ireland and Shetland, as well as SCRA, have all based their main development on a one design class.  Communities love the fact that once they have their boat, they can test their skill, strength and pain resistance against other communities, based on their own abilities, rather than the abilities of rival designers or the depth of their pockets.
    I expect that in the future the SCRA may well adopt other classes, and indeed this was a point that I made at the recent AGM.  However it would be a backward step to do so at the expense of the astonishing progress made with the St Ayles skiff, so it is unlikely that the Association will adopt another four rower, fixed seat,  sweep oar boat. Prospective designers should therefore bear this in mind if they speak to communities and clubs about their needs for other styles of boats, and communities and clubs should continue to build St Ayles skiffs for community use.
    Robbie Wightman

  9. #9 by Adam on 5 December 2011 - 11:06 pm

    Mr. Findlay,

    I would repeat the offer you have received from St Ayles RC and C&PS RC for an outing in one of the St Ayles Skiffs in order for you to experience how we at Royal West have fitted them out internally. Each club has different ideas, and indeed different requirements. As Barbara and Stuart have both said the SCRA is always open to ideas and suggestions to help us improve.

    Would like to reply to some of the points you make, if I may, but would clarify who I am so you understand my experience. I am the Rowing Convener at Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club, we were founded in 1866 and have been rowing, sailing & kayaking off Greenock ever since. I have been racing and cruising fixed seat & sliding seat rowing boats for 30 years. I am one of only 3no UKCC Level 2 Fixed Seat Rowing coaches in Scotland (2no at Royal West & 1no at Ullapool CRC). I am on the committee of the SCRA with responsibility for coaching & development, as well as regatta scheduling.

    The Association is very young and is made up of a broad mix of participants. Some with boat building experience, some with rowing experience, some with sailing or kayaking experience and some with none of the above, but enthusiasm. To get the Association off the ground a single design was settled on, this has been universally adopted and the rapid development of clubs and boats proves that it is relatively easy to build. The boats performance in very rough conditions at numerous regattas over the last couple of years also illustrates its seaworthiness. I have used it as a teaching platform at Royal West to introduce a number of groups with varied abilities and have found no real drawbacks.

    As regards the St Ayles Skiff being “heavy and quite cumbersome”, they are easier to move than a Royal West Heavy Four, they turn better than a Second Class Jollyboat (which is probably what you rowed at Bowling), they are far more robust than a jollyboat, can be more easily lifted and loaded onto trailers and at approx 300-350kg are much easier to tow. We also employ another principle at Royal West as a basic test for crew & boat – If the crew cannot launch & recover the boats themselves then they should not be taking the boat out. We have never had any issues with the St Ayles Skiff in that regard.

    Having rowed round Arran, Jura & Mull in my youth I have an understanding of the requirements of rowing boats for touring. Although I may prefer our own Heavy Fours I would have no reservations about using a St. Ayles Skiff on any of the tours I did and we are planning some for next summer on the West Coast. They are robust enough for the conditions and spacious enough to carry food, tents, etc. Something of a lighter construction would concern me.

    The Constitution of the Association however does not mention St. Ayles Skiffs anywhere within it. The Association was founded to “promote and support the building and use of Coastal Rowing boats in Scotland”. At Royal West we have an existing fleet of clinker built rowing boats including 3no Second Class Jollyboats. Portobello also has one. In time, I am sure, other designs will be developed, some may be built in the community others may be built commercially.

    As I said earlier the Association is young, it is still finding its feet. The St. Ayles Skiff is a good platform for development at the moment. As I also said earlier the SCRA is always open to ideas and suggestions to help us improve. I you have an constructive suggestions then these should be directed to the SCRA committee for us to forward to the clubs or post as an article in its own right on the website. Your suggestions posted within an article about Crail Crabbers will probably not get widely noticed.


    Adam Graham
    Royal West

  10. #10 by Tomfindlay on 6 December 2011 - 12:29 pm


    I think it’s important you get out of museum mode,
    and make a proper space on yr portal for a design and construction forum.
    I’m sure it would be a fruitful exercise. 

    I doubt George Lennox Watson or Wullie Fife or David Boyd for that matter,
    would have looked back for inspiration, and copied a 100 year old museum exhibit when they were designing and drawing out hulls that captivated the world…

    There are opportunities here for young designers, and others to start thinking about future developments in coastal rowing. There are opportunities for new boatbuilding businesses to be created.

    I sail around Scotland quite frequently in my little Westerly yacht which incidentally is the same length as the St Ayles and I’ve watched at first hand how much these new rowers are enjoying themselves.

    I’m not a designer or a builder, although I have spent time thinking about ways in which a community en masse could take a kit and over a long weekend build a four person rowing boat just as beautiful as yr St Ayles.

    I hope you might consider setting up a rowing futurology forum.

    kind regards

  11. #11 by Robbie Wightman on 6 December 2011 - 2:00 pm

    LOL Tom, if it was not for the museum there would be no SCRA, there would be no revival of Coastal Rowing in Scotland (outwith Shetland which has been using its own traditionaly designed and built craft for their own competition for some time).  You need to give credit where credit is due.  Its funny that you cite classic yachts for their design brilliance and inspiration, rather than anything built since the 1960s!  And the boat you sail, a 22′ Westerly, must be a design at least 30 years old, so why have you not given a young designer the chance to put together a new sailing boat for you?

    We will however take your comments on board, and consider whether we can help to facilitate new design within our current constitution. There are of course other forums already in existance for such matters if you wish to encourage good design in the meantime.

  12. #12 by Topher on 6 December 2011 - 2:24 pm

    People have been rowing small boats for at least 2000 years, and the Fair Isle skiff is a result of that 2000 years’ R&D. The St Ayles Skiff is a modern ply/epoxy version lighter and easier to build than the Fair Isle skiff. 

    Iain Oughtred was careful enough to go to a museum to find the true bloodline which was preserved as a model, and thus our modern boat has the excellent seakeeping properties essential to survive the seas around Fair Isle.  He then applied his extensive knowledge of what makes boats fast and easily driven.We await with interest your design which is “much lighter”, “much easier to build”, “just as beautiful”, “much more stable”, more capacious, cheaper, and easier to handle. I think you have set yourself an ambitious design target. 

    Cheers, Topher.

  13. #13 by Newhaven on 6 December 2011 - 4:24 pm

    Hi Mr Findlay,
    We at Newhaven Coastal Rowing Club have no professional or amateur boat builder amongst us and we build the St Ayles skiff without resorting to manuals. Our skills were elementary DIY and we though the build process was rather easy. The challenge lay in discussing amongst our community on what colours to paint her. This is far from a monopoly, it is a class (like a westerly, wayfairer or optimist) and if another class of rowing skiff comes along it will be welcomed wholeheartely.
    We have rowed the skiff in some foul weather on the Forth. InchKeith in a NE Force5 (with big waves) and rowed out of Granton on the tail end of a huricane. I have spent my professional live offshore in a variety of boats and in several oceans and am very confident in the sea worthiness of the St Ayles. If there is a better design out there, then may they come forward. The St Ayles may have evolved over 100’s of years, but this is how progress is made. We put in our own design tweaks to give us a competitive advantage (as permitted under the rules) and this is part of the evolutionary process.
    The St Ayles was easy to build, easy to handle and easy to row. (ask my 10yr old son) It is proving itself, just look around you and see how the sport is taking off. Ian, Alex, the museum, the SCRA and the scottish communities can take a lot of well deserved credit for this.
    If you have not rowed a St Ayles skiff, then please come and join us to test it for yourself. We have “newby” sessions every Sunday (yes even in this cold weather), but please book early as we have a waiting list.

  14. #14 by Tomfindlay on 7 December 2011 - 11:41 am


    It was interesting to read all of yr comments.
    I do hope you will make a cyberspace for a design/build forum.

    In retrospect, I was surprised that you never took the offsets from the museum boat yourselves, it would have been an afternoons work to measure up the profile, body plan, and half-breadths and produce a linesplan.

    And then you would have owned the copyright of the building frames or molds, and it would have been of great financial benefit to the SCR and the communities who might build them, instead each community are having to pay the designer over and over again, for each and every boat built which is quite a cost…


  15. #15 by Tomfindlay on 7 December 2011 - 12:30 pm

    Aye Robbie,

    David Boyd designed twelve metre yachts for the America’s Cup right  up to the middle of the 1960’s. Denys Rayner  was an amateur designer, who designed the Westerly 22 in the early 1960’s, where he simply copied Maurice Griffiths ‘Eventide’ single chine hull plan,  and made it round bottomed.
    GL Watsons are still going strong…



  16. #16 by Robbie Wightman on 8 December 2011 - 9:29 am

    If it was not for the museum asking Alec of Jordan Boats about boat building at the museum site, and then commissioning Iain Oughtred to prepare plans into which Jordan Boats then put a lot of work to design the kit, there would be no Scottish Coastal Rowing Project, no Scottish Coastal Rowing Association, and no revival of Scottish Coastal rowing.  All the communities who are involved are immensely grateful to Jordan Boats, Scottish Fisheries Museum (our Patrons) and Ian Oughtred.

  17. #17 by Tomfindlay on 8 December 2011 - 10:15 am

    Yeah Robbie,

    I’m immensely grateful too…

    I think it’s a brilliant project to get people out rowing, and the fun communities are having on the water is quite magical.

    I’m sorry my comments on design have caused you trouble.

    I’d like to go up and measure the St Ayles in the museum, and put the offsets into a design software program. Do you think that would be possible? I don’t know anybody at the museum, or anybody else in SCR for that matter, but I’d like to do some research and development on the original boat. Any help you can give me would be most welcome.

    You can reply to



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