The St Ayles Skiff


Thank you for coming to visit these pages.  The success of the St Ayles Skiff has surprised everyone involved with the design since the first skiff took to the water in 2009.  At the time of writing, there are 139 skiffs launched – 110 in the UK, 14 in the USA, 3 in the Netherlands, 7 in Australia, 2 in Canada, and 3 in New Zealand.  

Nearly 100 more are under construction in all of these countries, as well as Spain and France.

Such has been the success of the design, and the enthusiasm of the people rowing them, that the first “SkiffieWorlds” took  place in Ullapool in July 2013. There were 30 skiffs present, with rowers from the USA, Australia, the Netherlands, as well as England and Scotland.

Until recently, the St Ayles in the UK have all been in Scotland and Northumberland.  There are now skiffs launched in Norfolk, and Bristol; others are under construction in Devon, Worcester, Sussex, and Hampshire.  There have even been enquiries from Pilot Gig clubs in Devon!

Why the popularity?

There are a lot of different reasons why the St Ayles has become so popular in such a short time.

·                    She is a beautiful design which seems to say ‘Row Me!’

·                    The cost is very attractive – most skiffs have been built for around £3000, but we recommend budgeting on £3500.  You may be able to make it for less – some clubs with access to more specialised machinery and great success at scrounging have kept the costs well below £3000.

·                    Stable and dry.  The St Ayles is a very stable boat.  They have been raced in Force 6 winds, with 4 ft waves over 13ft swells, and the only water that came in was from the spray off the wave crests!

·                    Low weight.  Most St Ayles weigh in at around 155kg.  They have been built to a lighter weight.  At this weight, a St Ayles can be lifted on to a trailer or trolley by a single adult crew, not requiring assistance from other people.

·                    A crew of five.  When you have a crew of working adults, it can be difficult enough to coordinate five people for a practise session.  Five is a lot easier than the seven of some other coastal boats.

There are numerous other reasons – row the boat and you will find yours.


Length:                  22ft

Beam:                    5ft 8in

Weight:                 155kg upwards

Construction:          Clinker Plywood from kit

A Short History

The story of the St Ayles started in early 2009 when the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther in Fife approached Alec Jordan of Jordan Boats to run a boatbuilding course.

During the discussions on the course, Alec suggested that the boat to be built should seek to revive the rowing regattas that took place around the East Fife coalfield until the mid-1950’s.  The miners built their own craft from timber scavenged from the collieries.

This suggestion was enthusiastically taken up by the museum, but none of those present at the meeting had any inkling of the incredible take-up of the idea.  The initial idea was that Jordan Boats & the Fisheries Museum would concentrate their efforts on reviving coastal rowing around Fife.  Very quickly, it was found that there were other lower-key efforts going on elsewhere on the Forth, and the efforts of Jordan Boats & the Museum were combined with the salesmanship of North Berwick based sailor and former champion rower Robbie Wightman.

Iain Oughtred was commissioned to design the new boat, to be based on the Fair Isle Skiff, a generic form that is descended from the smaller Viking skiffs.  Once Oughtred had produced the plans, Alec Jordan set about turning them into a kit, and when this had been done, building a prototype to make sure that the kit would go together well.

While Alec Jordan and many other interested people were building the prototype, Robbie Wightman was using his many boating contacts along the south side of the Forth to sell the idea, with the result that early in the proceedings, significant interest had been registered from several communities.

When the time came to launch the prototype on Oct 31 2009, spectators had travelled from as far afield as Ullapool and the Isles of Skye and Luing.

On the project launch day, the prototype was rowed by a very large number of people from around the Forth and further afield; very soon the orders started coming in.  By May 2010, there were six skiffs ready to race at the inaugural Regatta at Anstruther, when the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association was formally constituted.

To be further continued…please come back soon.

Building the St Ayles Skiff

The building rules for the St Ayles are fairly minimal.  Providing it is built from the kit, there is little that the builders have to worry about in terms of adhering to measurement standards as might be experienced in building a sailing dinghy.

The Ethos of the St Ayles is that it should be built with a low cost, and that the quality of the boat comes more from the skill of the builders than from the depth of the clubs pockets.  As it can be classed as a “Development Class”, the Oarlocks are restricted to using wood as the tooling for machining metal is beyond the reach of most clubs.

Also, beyond keeping to the same hull shape, innovation in fitting out the hull is positively encouraged.  Every regatta sees the more “techie” rowers inspecting all the other skiffs to see what changes have been made to improve (or not) the performance.

Spoon bladed oars are not permitted as it was felt that the skills for producing these were beyond most amateurs.  With a set of wooden blades costing in excess of £1200 new from established spar makers, clubs are generally making their own, and it has been found that the standard Macon type blades are less successful than the fine blades for sea rowing.

There are now 65 (at least) St Ayles skiffs launched.  Some have been built in a few weeks by professional boatbuilders.  Most have taken between 4 and 6 months.  There are a few that have been built by people with absolutely no boatbuilding experience, but most builds have been led by people who have built boats in some shape or form previously.

The kit consists of the plywood parts for the frames and the planking.  It also includes the moulds over which the hull is built.  These can be re-used several times and separate plank and frame kits are available at a lower cost than the full kit.

In addition to the kit, you will need to find the timber for the keel, hog, stems and gunwales.  This is not supplied by Jordan Boats, but other suppliers who can be approached are listed on the SCRA building page.

Larch is the recommended timber as it is both light and durable in a marine environment.  However, it is not easy to obtain knot free larch, so other timbers such as Douglas Fir or spruce can also be used.  Some skiffs have been built using elm, oak, and other timbers.  The choice is yours.