Community volunteers aiming for the high seas

Monday, January 21, 2013
10:58 AM

It is a seafaring adventure which has brought together communities from around the world and allows amateurs to learn traditional boat building skills and enjoy coastal rowing.

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And a group from Blakeney Sailing Club is getting involved with a hope of expanding the idea across other towns and villages in Norfolk.

At least 20 people have been involved in the Coastal Rowing Association of Blakeney project to build a 22-foot-long St Ayles skiff rowing boat from scratch.

It is hoped the vessel, which is not yet built, will be complete by the end of May to take part in the four-day St Ayles World Championships off Ullapool, Scotland, in July,

Chief boat builder Ian Duffill, 67, from Thurning, said: “I’m absolutely amazed how enthusiastic people have been. It is great fun. We are trying to take it seriously and we have got enough knowledge to get it right.”

The group of volunteers first started building the boat in November and is believed to be the first in the county to take up such a challenge.

All the parts, including the mould, are made in a Scottish factory by computer laser technology and sent out as a kit with instructions.

When complete, the Blakeney group’s boat will be called Hoi Larntan – named after an old Norfolk expression used by sailors who thought someone was acting superior to them.

“We are trying to get other volunteers to get involved in building their own St Ayles skiff,” Mr Duffill added.

During the world championships, four people will row the boat and a cox will sit at the back.

Races will cover a straight 2,000 metre course and about 50 groups will battle it out on the sea. All the boats need to be the same size.

Community groups involved will include amateur and experienced boatbuilders from Berwick-Upon-Tweed, in Northumberland, Tasmania, Canada, Holland and the United States of America.

Mr Duffill, who used to race sailing dinghies, said: “It is quite a nifty boat.”

Speaking about coastal rowing he added: “There are waves and it is bumpy. It is a bit different from the rowing in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race because you don’t have a sliding seat, you have a fixed seat. It is more sociable and you have more waves, tide and wind.”

Mr Duffill, who is retired, said building a skiff required the principles of traditional boatbuilding but was simpler.

It is hoped that if more Norfolk groups build their own vessels, a St Ayles skiff regatta can be held in the county.

“It is a bit of fun and gets people together,” he added.

Retired GP Adrian Hodge, 64, from Worthing, near Dereham, is one of the volunteers involved in the Hoi Larntan project.

He said: “We are looking forward to getting the boat launched and seeing it on the water.”

It will be painted by the volunteers and will feature the blue and yellow colours of Blakeney Sailing Club.

Other people involved in the project include GP Dr Victoria Holliday from Cley; retired GPs Andy Marczewski, 59, from Yaxham, and Dr Alan Collett from Litcham; retired fine artist Adrian Taunton, 74, from Kelling; lawyer Barbara Ward-Jones, from Blakeney; and retired headteacher Tom Green, 68, from Blakeney.

The craze of building this kind of boat building started in 2009, following a demonstration project for the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Fife. Nearly 100 kits have been sold since then and they have been built in community areas including church aisles from private money. Between 40 and 50 are currently in use around the world.

If you would like to get involved in the project, or row in the world championships, ring Mr Duffill on 01263 862496 or visit http://crablakeney.wordpress.com

For information about the world championships, visit www.scottishcoastalrowing.org or for information about Blakeney Sailing Club, visit www.blakeneysailing.co.uk

sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

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