18th December

Hobbling has turned to skiff racing in Dublin Bay

Darina Tully

Clinker skiff type boats were once one of the most numerous type of working boats along the east coast; however in Dublin Bay today, their numbers still fishing are down to single figures. Most of the skiffs found along the east coast today are engaged in racing. In 1874, historian E.W. Holdsworth noted that ‘The smaller boats employed for the line-fishery are of the same style as the Norway yawl, sharp at both ends.’The few remaining skiffs still fishing Bullock Harbour, Dublin Bay. Photo Darina Tully

The few remaining skiffs still fishing Bullock Harbour, Dublin Bay. Photo Darina Tully

Skiff racing has its origins in the occupation of hobbling. Hobblers were freelance pilots, and competition was strong to be first to board the approaching ships. Not only did the successful hobbler get a payment to pilot the ships into harbour, they might also be awarded the work of discharging the ship in the port.

The skiffs worked between Lambay and Wicklow head and they required considerable skill on behalf of the oarsmen. The long tradition of rowing is now carried on through the east coast rowing clubs that are based around the old Dublin pilot stations of Ringsend, East Wall, DunLaoghaire, Dalkey, Bray, Wicklow and Arklow.

Organised by the East Coast Rowing Council each year, a summer schedule of regattas are from Ringsend to Wicklow. The skiffs also take part in the ‘Celtic Challenge’, which is a bi-annual race of over 90 miles from Arklow to Aberystwyth in Wales, and other long distance races. The traditional design is retained in the racing boats. Present day racing skiffs are twenty-five foot long, clinker built, double-enders.

The east coast skiffs are part of the wider sport of coastal rowing and are affiliated to the Irish Coastal Rowing Federation. The ICRF is a very important organisation, fostering the sport of coastal rowing. More than 80 clubs are affiliated to the ICRF, mainly based in Cork, Kerry, Antrim, Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford.

Each area races its own traditional boat, and they come together annually for the Irish coastal rowing championships where they now use an agreed one- design boat. Coastal rowing helps communities to maintain links with their maritime heritage.

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