Rules – What are they for? What is their status?

Our new very legal rudder
Our new very legal rudder

I’m sure that most of us just want to go rowing, but there are some sad people who think about dry and dusty things like the rules. Later this year when we go to the Skiffieworlds there will probably be quite a few who are not just sad but a little upset as well, because we are likely to see modifications in construction that we discussed during our own build but rejected as outwith the spirit of Scottish Coastal Rowing.

The viral growth of the fleet has taken everyone by surprise and it’s clear that the measurement rules would have been much more tightly drawn had this been anticipated. As a result SCRA has commissioned a full review of the rules with a view to bringing in amendments for discussion at a future AGM. I am a member of the group charged with considering the existing rules, gathering views and offering advice.

All of us on the group are wearing two hats, because we are also involved in our own clubs and want to win races. Now that we at Seil are on the water and gaining our own experience we should be thinking about the issues surrounding the rules, so that we can adopt a position at any future SCRA meetings where amendments are discussed. I’m posting about some of the issues, in the hope that it will stimulate thought and perhaps a bit of discussion through comments.

I suggest that it’s possible to identify a number of quite distinct reasons why we need rules for boats in a class. I can think of four, safety, strength, speed and spirit. There may be a fifth that spoils the alliteration, cost, but with the kit-built skiffs I suspect it’s less important than we think, as the big items are all fixed.

I won’t waste time describing why the first three are important. By spirit I mean the range of emotional factors that have come together in the last three years or so surrounding the St Ayles skiffs and their communities. It’s a mixture of nostalgia reflecting the history of the boat type and shape plus the unique elements that make them attractive and in time will become a tradition.

Traditions all start somewhere, usually for good reasons which get lost as time passes. All sports have them for a variety of reasons, good and bad. Good reasons tend to reinforce the sense of belonging to a community, bad ones lead to exclusivity (c.f. certain bowling and golf clubs). We’ve all come across this, probably without actually acknowledging that in a sport one can do things for no obvious practical reason.

In our rules group I have argued that we should be aware of the importance of spirit and not shy away from promoting it as a value. It’s actually the only reason why any of us would take to the water in an attractive, slightly old-fashioned looking wooden boat with oars hanging off wooden thole pins and a flag pole on the front. Otherwise we’d be scooting about on sliding seats in carbon fibre contraptions and probably wearing designer lycra.

As we all know, the concept of the St Ayles skiff was developed at the Anstruther Fisheries Museum to commemorate certain traditions and perhaps revive them. In no particular order the historical antecedents were:

Scandinavian, ultimately Viking, boat shapes.

Historical Scottish fishing practice.

Recreational and competitive rowing in our east coast towns, particularly among the miners, but also on the west coast and island communities.

Traditional styles of rowing with long oars, kabes or thole pins.

The rules as presently expressed do refer to the spirit of the St Ayles skiffs, but there is a lack of detail, also an apparent reluctance to be open about the importance of this. As a result particular provisions designed to entrench the spirit have been justified on the other grounds, safety, strength speed and cost.

In the group I have argued that we should have the courage to acknowledge that rules making a boat strong may have nothing to do with safety, rules about speed may have nothing to do with either of those and rules about spirit absolutely nothing to do with any of the others.

Some of the issues are fairly clear. For example as we learned during the build adding rocker by reducing the keel at the ends is not allowed. Others are less so. Here are some of them.


The rule requiring these to be of wood has been justified on cost grounds, but metal crutches are demonstrably cheaper and longer lasting that wooden pins or kabes. Also some clubs have made clever wooden imitations of carbon fibre racing fittings, enabling oars to be feathered.

Feathering oars.

As a consequence of clever woodwork feathering has become possible and seems to be within the current rules. We have to think about whether or not this is the style of rowing the clubs (and we personally) want to see.

Should feathering oars be banned? On balance my personal view is, yes, they should be. I would argue that the traditional system with kabes or pins is central to the experience and much easier for inexperienced rowers to master. My views might change after a lot of hard upwind work though.

Spoon blades/choppers

Spoons are disallowed, ostensibly on cost grounds. That justification doesn’t stand up, because it’s cheap and easy to laminate curved blades using the same procedure as we did with the stems. It seems truly a question of spirit.


The existing rules allow a number of specified traditional materials apart from wood – Brass, Silicon Bronze, Stainless Steel, Gunmetal” and go on to say “The only synthetic material permitted in the boat construction is the glue which should be of Marine Quality, and will usually be Epoxy resin or a Polyurethane glue”.

I think everyone has problems with the letter of this. Our polypropylene strips are illegal, but most skiffs have something similar, as bronze ones cost about £300. One recent skiff is said to have stainless steel thole pins, done with no intention to gain an advantage.

Footrests are not shown in the plans, but are necessary for rowing efficiently. A discussion is ongoing about the extent to which they may incorporate metal adjusting/strengthening strips.


Alec Jordan’s original view was that the design should be completely open, to allow ideas to develop. During our build we discussed how it would be better for the pintles to be in a vertical line to the water and how this could be done with an outrigger. We decided not to do this and to keep the leading edge following the aft stem. Given the lack of a rule banning outriggers it will be interesting to see what people turn up at Ullapool with.

Later this year clubs will be asked to comment on these issues and if they want to entrench some basic principles which would purely be intended to preserve the spirit of inclusive community participation and the obvious good things that are causing this project to grow so quickly. It will be interesting to see what each regards as important to the experience of being involved with the St Ayles skiffs. We should be thinking about our own contribution to this. I await our own discussion with interest.



Notice of Race for the Regatta

Isle of Seil Skiff Regatta 2013

 Notice of Race


The Isle of Seil is about ten miles South of Oban and linked to the mainland by the Bridge over the Atlantic.

The Regatta will be centred on Ellenabeich (Easdale) and races on the Saturday will take place there unless this is prevented by bad weather, in which case an alternative programme will be laid on at Balvicar, where the sheltered Seil Sound offers safe conditions in most states of the weather. The two locations are about 2 miles apart by road.

The Sunday will feature the Cuan Race from Easdale to Balvicar via the Cuan Sound, again unless bad weather intervenes.

There are facilities for launching skiffs at Ellenabeich in the centre of the village down a gentle shingle slope. They can be left overnight on the grass above the bay. If the racing is moved to Balvicar directions will be given to a safe launching point from private property. What follows assumes an Ellenabeich based event.

There will be a ceilidh on the Saturday evening from 7.30pm in the Seil Hall, to which everyone is invited. Entry £5, children free.

Facilities for camping at Ellenabeich are strictly limited, but the Seil Hall committee will allow participants to sleep in the Hall and to use the facilities there. Camper vans and caravans can be parked free on the municipal car park about ½ miles from the Hall and at a cost of £10 on land belonging to Highland Arts. There are public toilets locally.

There are three restaurants locally, the Oyster Bar at Ellenabeich (01852 300121),  the Puffer Pub on Easdale (01852 300022) and the Tigh-anTruish (01852 300242). The Puffer requires a short ferry trip and the TnT is a couple of miles up the road. Places at all are strictly limited and booking is advised. The nearest stores are at Balvicar.

Risk Statement and the Rules of Racing

The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is that of her crew alone.

Skiff racing is by its nature an unpredictable sport and therefore inherently involves an element of risk. By taking part in the event, each crew agrees and acknowledges that:

(a) They are aware of the inherent element of risk involved in the sport and accept responsibility for the exposure of themselves and their boat to such inherent risk whilst taking part in the event;

(b) They are responsible for the safety of themselves, their boat and their other property whether afloat or ashore;

(c) They accept responsibility for any injury, damage or loss to the extent caused by their own actions or omissions;

(d) Their boat is in good order, equipped to take part in the event and each member of their crew is fit to participate;

(e) The provision of a race management team, any patrol boat and volunteers by the event organiser does not relieve them of their own responsibilities;

(f) Crews will ensure that any young persons taking part are accompanied by a responsible adult and acknowledge that the Isle of Seil Coastal Rowing Club and its members have no responsibility for such persons.

Lifejackets must be worn by all crew members at all times.

All racing will be held under the 2013 Edition of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association which should be viewed on the SCRA website. Club officials, Coxswains and Crews should all make themselves aware of the content of the rules of racing prior to attending.

When encountering other craft crews must abide by the International Rules for Prevention of Collision at Sea, in particular Rule 9b which states that “a vessel of less than 20m in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway”.

A passenger ferry runs across to Easdale at frequent intervals and on Sunday the Cuan Ferry is a small vessel carrying passengers only.

The perch with a green can at the South entrance to Easdale Sound is a mark of the course in all races and must be passed on the seaward (Western) side. This is vitally important as it marks dangerous rocks further inshore!

Great care must also be taken in navigating past the reef at the South west end of Easdale Island.

Measurement Rules

All Skiffs should comply with the Measurement Rules for the St Ayles skiff issued by the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association and should carry the recommended equipment. 


Entries will be accepted from clubs that are members of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association

There is no entry fee.  Entries on the day will be accepted, but crews are requested to give the Isle of Seil Coastal Rowing Club as much notice as possible.

Saturday Races

There will be three races. Two of them will be run on a straight course of about ¾ mile from a start line off Seaview in a position to be advised, being a transit from the committee boat to the shore to a finish line off the old pier at Easdale. The third race will be run round Easdale Island, with the start and finish lines off the pier.

Sunday – The Cuan Race

On 2 June the first Cuan Race will take place, starting at 11.00, from a start line off the Easdale pier to a finish line consisting of an imaginary line from the committee boat to a transit on Seil at a convenient point near Balvicar (but if conditions are ideal and there is demand, may be extended further up the Sound). The course involves a stretch of open sea rowing of about 1 ¾ miles, followed by a passage of about a mile through the Cuan Sound with the tide, which will be starting to go South, followed by a passage up the Seil Sound of about 2 ¾ miles with the tide to the finish, a total of about 5 ½ miles. The Cleit Rock perch in the Cuan Sound is a mark of the course and skiffs must pass on the Seil (North) side of it, to avoid the reef.

Race Classes

All races will be for mixed crews.


Each participating boat shall be insured with valid third-party liability insurance with a minimum cover of £2,000,000 per event or the equivalent.

The Ceilidh

The ceilidh will start at 7.30pm with live music from Neil Kennedy and others including the ladies and gentlemen of Seil Sound, who will perform at 8.00pm. As is traditional, contributions from participants are most welcome and crews are encouraged to bring any instruments and good signing voices with them. If possible give us some advance warning though! Bring your own booze.

The Regatta is a first event for the Isle of Seil Coastal Rowing Club and we welcome suggestions in advance from more experienced participants among our visitors. Contact Nick Bowles on 01852 300755 (nickb(at) or Ewan Kennedy on 01852 200261 (ewangkennedy(at)


Nearly there!

The skiff was turned again on Sunday – the rubbing strip and bungs having been added during the week by the busy fairies. Blocks for the oars were screwed on, and holes for the pins were drilled through the gunwhales. The rudder and footrests have been spirited away to warmer climes to be completed.