Tips from Ullapool


Ewan had a great visit to the far North to look at the Ullapool skiffs and reports as follows.

If we have weather like now the Skiffie Worlds will be fantastic. Ullapool was sparkling in the winter sun and a trial row in the school boat was arranged specially for me. Her official name is Cul Mor but her builders have named her “Pull” to go with her sister Ulla.



At first Topher had some problems raising a crew, as the other boats were going out later, but Jan hijacked a couple of mountaineers who were heading for Stack Polly and so Dougie and Struan got an introduction too. This seems to be one of the best things about the skiffs – they are so easy to set up and row that everyone can take part, although I admit the two pressganged climbers were pretty fit.


Ullapool rows with shortish oars, 11 feet 2 inches I think. It seems proven that oars between say 12 and 15 feet are liable to cause bumping. With short oars you sit slightly off-centre on same side as your oar; above that length you sit opposite the oar port, so 16 feet is fine if you can actually lift an oar that weight. For smaller and unfit older people like me the shorter ones are fine. If the rowing experience isn’t comfortable and unthreatening only alpha-people will take part, so don’t let’s put anyone off.


On Sunday morning I rowed two miles with light 11ft 2in oars and wasn’t out of breath. We had a great excursion down past where the Worlds will take place to an abandoned croft, where we climbed a hill and breathed in the view.

I noticed that Topher was feathering his oars, which is unusual as it isn’t easy with the kabes and pins that most skiffs have. He told me that people who have rowed before usually want to feather. New recruits don’t.

Feathering heavy oars is hard on the wrists and probably doesn’t increase speed. The intention is to reduce windage on the return. Narrow blades don’t catch as much wind as modern racing blades, so it may not make much difference.

There may be an attempt to ban feathering, but right now you can feather if you can work out a way of doing it..

This ties in with oar and oarlock design. Rectangular oars are strong, easy and cheap to make. Feathering oars need round(ish) sections where it matters.

It is extremely difficult but possible to make oarlocks in wood that allow easy feathering. It can be done with two pins if you like the noise of the constant clunking. The Cornish gigs tried feathering but I’ve heard they may have banned it.

It’s good to “gear” oars to vary length for conditions, basically ending up with more inboard in rough conditions or a small rower, extending out in calm water. You do this by adding little buttons that catch on the pins, or a pad underneath with holes to go over the pins. This is difficult with feathering oars and it ends up being down to the skill of the rower.

I would like to make a set of lightweight rectangular non-feathering oars 11ft 2ins. I can work up a good design for these.

Our most likely frequent competitors will be Kilmelford and some will row on both boats. Hence I’d like to persuade them to do the same as we do.

I got some information about rudders too.

There’s a discussion going on and clubs have been asked to send in a photograph of their existing rudders, just to find out what teams are doing. I’d like to keep the Seil rudder right in terms of the concept – looking traditional and “right” even if not state of the art – with the stock following the line of the aft stem, the leading edge of the blade as vertical as possible without an outrigger, the blade itself a nice hydrofoil shape. Also controlled by an oak tiller to the side with fore and aft extension, as central rudders are very uncomfortable for the cox and a yoke with strings can be tricky.

I found a great idea for low cost rudder gear – glue in end pieces from old stainless steel rigging screws, connect with stainless rod. Strong, looks good and works.


Rubbing strips along keel can be made from heavy polypropylene cut into strips. Tough and slippery with an element of “give” looks fine and works. You get a sheet and rip it up, can be profiled with a hand plane.

Launching trolleys at Ullapool are made from cheap timber, supporting the skiff at frame 6. We need two wheels and some stainless tube for axles.



The painting begins

The skiff was turned on Sunday after the final sanding session.

A wee bit more work is needed to fillet in under the thwarts and the  breasthooks on the inside, but it was too cold for the epoxy during  the week.

… the average age of volunteers was reduced by decades in one fell  swoop! The first coat of thinned down primer went on very quickly  with the willing hands of the 1st Kilbrandon Guides.

First coat of primer going onThe painting team


Jobs list for 17th February

The final parts of the gunwales are on and will be unclamped. The cox’s seat (improved version, not the fairies’) is in as well. Structurally the hull is complete, just over five months since we started laminating parts, and that includes a long break at Christmas and New Year when it was cold and the fairies were drunk and lazy.

Tomorrow it’s more scraping and sanding, sanding, sanding.

And …

Artists of Seil – Stand by for painting duties!

Update late afternoon 17th

Sanding not quite completed today but a cheerful afternoon was had and another couple of hours will see everything ready for painting. Our lovely Seil skiff deserves the best and another session next Sunday will be enough.



Gunwales still nearly done

This is taking a bit longer than we bargained for, probably because we were rude about the fairies but maybe also because our work at these critical points is highly visible and has to be right.

We had to put the inwales in two stages as we didn’t have sufficient clamps to do the lot at one go and unthinkingly did a complete side first, but it would have been better to glue in two forward or two aft pieces together, as we could have then ensured they fitted each they perfectly. As it was although everything was fine on the dry run we had to re-trim one end of the second side when we came to glue it in, as its partner had slid forward a couple of millimetres.

Now we’re absolutely on the last lap with the external pieces almost ready for glueing. Again the shortage of clamps means one side at a time and we’ll try to get at least the first one done before Sunday, when there will again be plenty to do.

Gunwales nearly done


Today the inner parts of the gunwales were cut to length and scarfed for gluing up during the week. This just leaves the outer strips, which may well be done by some fairies before next weekend.

We’re not too sure about this, as we found that they had tried their hands at building a seat for our cox.


Vote for a name for the skiff

We’ve drawn up a shortlist of ten names  from suggestions  made by the school, by shareholders and by members of the building team. The names are going to be published in this month’s Seilachan.

( Some Gaelic translations: Sguman = skimmer        Mara  =  sea        Siaban = sea-spray, spray,  spume, spindrift )

There are two  polls, for first choice and second choice. In the event of a tie second choices will be taken into account.

The poll closes on the 28th of February.

What is your first choice for a name for the skiff?

  • Selkie (28%, 18 Votes)
  • Kelpie (26%, 17 Votes)
  • Sguman (12%, 8 Votes)
  • Soul of Seil (9%, 6 Votes)
  • Siaban (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Mara (5%, 3 Votes)
  • Cuan (3%, 2 Votes)
  • Tornal (3%, 2 Votes)
  • Seamew (3%, 2 Votes)
  • Scarba (3%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 65

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What is your second choice name for the skiff?

  • Kelpie (24%, 16 Votes)
  • Selkie (24%, 16 Votes)
  • Sguman (14%, 9 Votes)
  • Soul of Seil (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Siaban (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Tornal (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Seamew (6%, 4 Votes)
  • Scarba (5%, 3 Votes)
  • Mara (3%, 2 Votes)
  • Cuan (2%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 66

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8th Feb

Yesterday we cut the scarphs and shaped the ends of the outer inwhale pieces and test-fitted them. We also shaped the breasthooks.

Today we had intended to glue up the outer inwhale pieces both sides, using brass screws to fix the inwhale pieces to the short blocks and so leaving us plenty of clamps to clamp the pieces to the long blocks. However, the screws were not man enough to pull the rail in tight against the blocks so we ended up using all the clamps (over 30) on one side. We will do the other side tomorrow.

You can never have too many clamps
You can never have too many clamps

5th Feb – more inwhale work

Today we began to glue the small inwhale support blocks in place. The main purpose of this construction is to leave holes for water to drain out if the boat is left inverted; this is a place wooden boats that tend to get left upside down often rot. With holes all the way along the outer edge of the inwhale water will be able to drain freely.

The blocks are 3″ and they are spaced with approximately six and a half inch gaps. (The actual spacing varies slightly due to the position of frame tops and and the long oar support pieces). We ended up with 15 pieces per side; due to a shortge of clamps we decided to do one side at a time.

Short blocks glued and clamped, starboard side
Short blocks glued and clamped, starboard side

As usual there was a lot of cleaning up of squeezed-out glue afterwards, which is used to fill any gaps and  smooth wee fillets along sharp corners.

You can get an idea of what the finished gunwhales will look like from this picture of the Queensferry skiff ‘Ferry Lass’ at her launch:

'Ferry Lass' at her launch

4th Feb

Today we glued the inner halves of the long blocks in place. These long blocks are deisgned to provide structural support for the thole pins / rowlocks or whatever mechan ism we eventually use to connect the oars to the boat.

(Remember these were split to avoid causing flat spots when gluing and clamping – if you look in the photo you can see that each long block is in two halves).

Long outer inwhale blocks in placee
Long outer inwhale blocks in place