Eala Bhan and Sine Bhan are two of about 100 identical boats which have been or are presently being built in coastal communities throughout Scotland. They are called St Ayles skiffs because the first one was made at the Scottish Fisheries Museum over in Anstruther in their workshop, which is on the site of an ancient chapel dedicated to St Ayles.
The St Ayles skiff is a copy of a Fair Isle skiff model in the museum. It has fine sweeping lines with sharp pointed ends. The bow is quite high so she can ride the waves without everyone getting wet. Traditional double-ended boats similar to these used to be found all over northern Scotland – directly descended from the boats the Vikings brought with them.
For centuries, going right back to the Viking days, these boats have been used for fishing, sometimes at great distance from the shore, and also just getting around. To make life a little easier they often had a mast and sail as well as oars. Rowing and sailing these fast, light boats in the sea and weather conditions around our shores was a highly skilled business, but one which came naturally to people who depended so much on the sea for their food and livelihood.
These days, the boats are used for recreation – cruising and exploring our coast and also for racing. Because all the St Ayles skiffs are the same, racing between clubs and between different crews is fair. Regattas are held in many places with either sprint racing between buoys over short courses, or longer distance, endurance races of several miles. It’s a lot of fun, and great exercise