BLUE HILL — Rowing, in one form or another, has been a part of maritime life for just about as long as human beings have plied the sea.
Over centuries, fishermen and other mariners developed countless varieties of oar-driven small craft, each uniquely suited to its particular use and the sea conditions in which it would used.
In Scotland, the boat of choice was often a rugged double-ender stable enough for hauling fishing nets or pots used to trap prawns but sleek enough to promote rowing competitions between the isolated fishing and mining communities that dotted the Scottish coastline.
As fishing became mechanized in Scotland as elsewhere, the community rowing tradition more or less disappeared until, about a decade ago, the Scottish Fisheries Museum, determined to preserve traditional boatbuilding, backed development of a boat that might rekindle the community rowing tradition. The result of those efforts was the St. Ayles Skiff, a 22-foot double-ended plywood lapstrake boat for four rowers and a coxswain designed by Iain Oughtred that could be built from a kit.
The venture was enormously successful in Scotland and the United Kingdom. More than 200 of the boats have been built and hundreds of rowers compete in a series of annual regattas capped by the “Skiffie Worlds” championship in Scotland.
In the United States, as many as another 100 St. Ayles skiffs have been built, many of them from kits produced by Hewes & Co. of Blue Hill.
Several of those boats were built by Maine high schools, Mount Desert Island High School, Sumner and George Stevens Academy among them.
A couple of years ago, MDIHS and Sumner offered to lend completed and nearly-completed St. Ayles skiffs to Islesford Boatworks and the Cranberry Rowers, groups on the Cranberry Isles interested in getting a community rowing program started.
“We received a St. Ayles Skiff from MDI high school, which we used to jump-start a rowing program and, more famously, used to row the kids for school between the islands,” said Tony Archino, executive director of Islesford Boatworks.
“Now that we have built our own St Ayles, we decided to pay it forward and send the boat along to Blue Hill, which has just started their own community rowing program with the boat.”
That boat is christened “Audacious.”
Founded by some enthusiastic area rowers earlier this summer, among them Mark Baldwin and Carol Roberts, both of Surry, the hope is to develop a Blue Hill Community Rowing Program similar to those already well established in Belfast and Rockland.
Audacious is moored just off the floats of the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club (KYC) and its separate training entity, the Kollegewidgwok Sailing Education Association (KSEA), the club allowed rowers, whether KYC members or not, to use the KSEA float and to store some gear in a locker outside the KSEA building. Several KYC members have become enthusiastic participants in rows aboard Audacious.
Earlier this month, KYC voted to include the Blue Hill Community Rowing program as a part of KSEA’s community boating programs, though details this will actually work remain to be settled. Those community programs are open to all qualified participants whether or not they belong to the yacht club.
“At the meeting we heard from Mark (Baldwin) about the success of the program and where he hopes it will go,” KYC Commodore Ann Luskey said in an email. “We are working on how it will be structured going forward, hoping to extend the season into the fall and beginning in the spring.”
“It’s great to see the work accomplished, and generosity given, by MDI High School having such a wide-spreading effect,” Archino said.