County Down has become an important centre for coastal rowing with clubs dotted around Strangford Lough and the Ards Peninsula. This is very much a community-based activity with skiffs active at Strangford, Portaferry, Portavogie, Donaghadee, Dundrum, Killyleagh, Sketrick, Strangford, and Kircubbin. There is also rowing at Ardglass and Ballywalter.
Down Coastal Rowing Association was set up in 2014 by the Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership (SLLP) working with the PSNI to revive traditional boatbuilding and coastal rowing as part of a wider effort to regenerate communities through their maritime heritage. It was approved by the Down Rural Area Partnership (DRAP) as part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas, supported by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and Down District and Ards Borough Councils.
This revival of an old sport has been a phenomenal success with community boats built, virtually all St Ayles skiffs, and clubs established. The St Ayles class has spread very quickly with numbers growing all the time. A key player in the construction of the boats is Jeremy Duffin of Strangford.
Strangers become friends and teamworking has forged relationships across and between communities. There is also healthy competition and each community holds training and competitive activities all year round.
"Teamwork has forged relationships across and between communities"
The rowing has also brought people into contact with the area's landscape and wildlife and they, in turn, have helped to look after it, taking care not to disturb seals and birds and taking part in shore clean-ups. This is important because Strangford Lough is an Area of Special Scientific Importance.
The World Championships, (Skiffie Worlds) were held in Strangford Lough in 2016, hosted by Strangford Lough & Lecale Partnership (SLLP) working closely with the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association (SCRA), and with the support of local councils and communities along the County Down Coast. Last year Stranraer hosted the World Championships in which the Dundrum team were the overall winners.