New life for old training skiff

Pictured: Derek Stewart and Mick Curry.

Pictured: Derek Stewart and Mick Curry.

If you pass down Pigeon House Road and cast your eyes out to the enigmatic Poolbeg Marina, across the water from large cruise ships and ferries, you may notice a couple of men working in the foreground on a labour of love to bring a skiff back to life.

In a humble container hut with the least amount of space to conduct their refurbishment, Derek Stewart and Mick Curry of Stella Maris Rowing club are making fine progress on a skiff that is thought to be over 65 years old.

It will be a very useful training boat for newcomers to acquire rowing skills before trying a full size skiff. Particularly, it will help younger members of the club to be able to handle these type of boats, as the larger ones take some getting used to due to the size of boat and oars.

Stewart explains that, “the larger boats would be too big to handle for younger members so this helps them to learn the skill before going on to the larger boats.” The larger skiffs are over 25 feet long with at least 14-foot oars. However, this training skiff is 15 feet in length. “The first few days are crucial,” he informs NewsFour, as bad habits can be embedded if not corrected early. “If you ever get in a boat with no one leading, you’d pick up all the wrong things,” he adds.

Stewart describes how skills like feathering, where the oars are twisted when out of the water to avoid wind resistance, are crucial to good rowing. He explains how when looking at good rowing skills on a skiff, “if you look, you’d think there’d be only two oars but there is four.”

When outlining the refurbishment of this smaller skiff, it is evident that Mick and Derek have to change all the ribs of the boat and change some of the longer timbers running lengthways down the boat. The ribs are made specially from white oak, as it does not retain water as much as other timber. Even the nails are made specifically from copper, and have a particular shape. They have to be ordered from a specialist supplier, and are very expensive.

It is hoped the skiff will be ready for next season when the club get back on the water in March for the rowing season.

Stella Maris Rowing Club has a great tradition, as it was established in 1936 by a group of local people. Bill Healy of Stella Maris explains that “the old clubhouse was based at the current Cambridge football club headquarters and with the arrival of the toll bridge Dublin City Council provided the current clubhouse based at Pigeon House Road.”

Stella Maris is one of many clubs in the rowing community along the East Coast. The club holds an annual regatta each year and competes in the All Ireland competition at clubs all around Ireland.

As Derek patiently works away on the intricacies of this meticulous work, there is lament in his voice as I ask him about passing down the skills of boat building. “The young fellas wouldn’t be interested,” he says adamantly. “We were of a generation where there was not much to do so we hung out down here looking at how these boats were built. You wouldn’t get that nowadays.”

If any young person wants to prove him wrong, take a walk down to Pigeon House Road to see how boats are built. You’ll get a welcome there you might not expect, and perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two! The club is always open to new rowers of all ages and experience.

By Ferg Hayden