Denmark Community Rowing Association
St Ayles Skiffs from Aguust and Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club on the Wilson Inlet. Image Dave Cliff
We recently spoke with David Cliff from the Denmark Community Rowing Association in the South of Western Australia, a coastal town with some amazing inland waterways and rivers, an ideal location for any kind of water sports, but a perfect community and location for establishing yet another Australian St Ayles Skiff family!
Inspired by the success of the St Ayles Skiffs from Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in Perth and the Augusta Yacht Club, they are currently fundraising for the purchase of two skiff kits from Robert Ayliffe in South Australia, and David tells me that their fundraising is indeed going well.
This will add another club and two more of these beautiful skiffs, to the growing ‘family’ of St Ayles enthusiasts now found right across Australia, from Tasmania to NSW and all in between, and now Western Australia with a network of events and regattas and raids. The Denmark family will be welcomed with open arms into this association!
Denmark Classic Boat Show. Image Warren Thompson
This dynamic group of wooden boat enthusiasts, headed by Dave Cliff, who describes himself as a recent retiree, had followed the successful growing development of the popular coastal rowing movement in community-built St Ayles skiffs.
It had begun on the east coast of Scotland in 2010 and had rapidly spread right around the world. David had additionally been at the launch of Perth’s Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club (RFBYC) two skiffs in 2016, and he was greatly impressed with the gregarious enthusiasm of the volunteer boatbuilders there.
Moving to Denmark on the south coast of WA in retirement, he was looking for things to keep him occupied. He had ended up volunteering to help in the restoration of a Herreshoff 28 yacht in a yard on Denmark’s industrial estate run by local boatbuilder Pete Wilson, and rapidly discovered that Pete also had a hankering for building St Ayles Skiffs, and so a fortuitist common interest lead to a common goal.
The real impetus came when the community in Augusta, a similar sized town on the south west corner of WA, raised the required funds, and successfully built and launched their two St Ayles skiffs, Colour Patch and Zoom in September 2020. Their example, and offers of support, gave the Denmark enthusiasts the courage to hold a public meeting to gauge community support for a new association to build and row St Ayles skiffs.
Happily 25 people turned up to that initial meeting on June 1, 2021 and formally voted to incorporate the ‘Denmark Community Rowing Association Inc’ (Denmark Rowers) and subsequently to vote in the proposed committee.
This was duly done and a bank account was set up so that fund raising could commence with the first fundraising event in September, which involved a sausage sizzle outside the local supermarket with two rowing boats on display, previously built by Pete and finished by Dave and others.
The smaller 8ft Eastport pram dinghy became the highly desirable first prize in the association’s raffle to raise funds, and the following week the pram dinghy was on display for the inaugural Denmark Classic Boat Show which attracted lots of visitors and raised the community’s awareness of St Ayles Skiffs.
At Denmark: front Jenny Longley, left Penny Anderson, right Catherine Meagher, last David Meagher. Image John Longley
And here at the Classic Boat Show the crews from RFBYC in Perth, and Augusta Rowers, were demonstrating their skiffs on the beautiful Denmark River. Denmark is remote (5hrs’ drive from Perth, 3.5hrs from Augusta) so it was really amazing that those crews had come for the weekend and they happily took many of Denmark’s prospective members out for a row.
They were very enthusiastic about Denmark’s waterways too, as the river has about 3km of navigable water with ample room for two boats to row past each other between the beautiful Karri tree lined river banks.
Then there is the 44sqkm Wilson Inlet with its unspoilt granite islands and views of local and distant mountains for longer rows and sails.
The Classic boat show included old wooden boats like Pete’s couta style boat, Gloria, built in Albany as a pleasure craft in 1926, and replicas like Dave’s Golant Gaffer, designed by Robert Dongray, and built in 1998 and shipped out from Cornwall in the UK.
By the beginning of November, Denmark Rowers had raised $6,500 towards their target of $30,000 for the completion of the project. The association now has 30 members, many of whom have contributed extra funds to the project. They are now seeking funding through grants and sponsorship and are planning to organise further fundraising events.
One of the key pieces of infrastructure required for the building project is always the search for a suitable shed. Through community collaboration, Harry and Kay White have very kindly agreed to lend the association their lovely old shed in the centre of town. It was once the old town’s garage on the main South Coast Highway and promises to be an ideal build venue.
Denmark Rowers has also enlisted the support of the Denmark Senior High School who run a boat building course for Year 11 students. Next year they plan to build a Dudley Dix designed Cape Cutter 19 and there will be many ways in which Denmark Rowers’ boatbuilders can collaborate and share skills and their enthusiasm with the students.
St Ayles Skiff Ripple from RFBYC on the Denmark River. image Clare MacFarlane
Denmark Rowers has a sustainable plan for rowing the boats once they are launched involving affiliation with the Denmark Riverside Club which is predominantly a lawn bowling club on the riverbank but already has the dragon boat and kayak clubs amalgamated with it. The relatively new clubhouse includes changing rooms and storage sheds as well as function rooms, kitchen and a bar.
Dave Cliff says that he has certainly found something to keep him busy in his retirement, and the benefits are proving to be worthwhile as it is creating growing community spirit by bringing together a diverse group of people, all with a common purpose, even during these early fundraising stages.
As part of their community participation, and to create further community awareness they are planning to have a float in the Denmark Christmas Pageant on Friday, December 17.
Augusta skiff Zoom taken from Dotsie. Image John Longley
David really looks forward to the boat building process itself, which is intended to start in February 2022 and run through to November. Then he’ll be able to finally get out on Denmark’s beautiful waterways for fun and exercise with old and newly made friends, all with a common interest.
And a final word from Patrick Groot, the Secretary of SASCRAA.
“It’s great to see another enthusiastic grass roots community group taking on a St Ayles Skiff build. This bodes well for Denmark, Western Australia and the St Ayles Skiff community at large. In fact, Western Australia has seen an influx of skiff builds with Nannup Men’s Shed and South of Perth Yacht Club taking on a single and double skiff builds respectively. There has been a strong community engagement process in WA when it comes to the St Ayles class and this has been driven by the skiffies at the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club and subsequently Augusta Community Rowing. With skiff numbers growing rapidly in WA and some excellent bodies of water to row, it won’t be long before some major skiff events are planned for that state.”