Words by Jenny Watson & Photos by Harvey Smart
Recovery takes many shapes and sizes, but when it brings a community together something magic seems to happen.
Regular readers might remember a story in Issue 11 about a little boat with a big heart.
For those who missed that issue, here’s a quick recap.
In 2010 the Skylark IX, a little boat which once rescued hundreds of stranded soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk during WWII, sank in Loch Lomond.
The Dunkirk Veterans put out an appeal for help and Alternatives, a local recovery project, answered the call.
From there, an unlikely partnership formed the Skylark IX Recovery Project.
Working together they weathered many storms to lift the boat out of the Loch and give it a second chance at life.
The rescuing of the Skylark provided opportunities for those in addiction recovery to learn, train and take up apprenticeships.
It also brought boatbuilding back to Dumbarton.
Fast forward 12 years to a sunny afternoon in September and the launch of not one but two, St Ayles Skiffs.
The first 22ft skiff, aptly named ‘Happy Days’ was built by hand by members of the Skylark IX Recovery Project as part of an addiction recovery programme.
The volunteer trainees from Alternatives carried out their working in the Scottish Maritime Museum.
James, one of the boat building crew, said: “It’s been a great journey.
“I’ve relearned woodworking skills; it’s been great having a purpose again. I feel valued and respected and love being around good people.”
The crew originally learned how to build model boats over Zoom during lockdown.
“It was freeing and liberating to learn something new during a really hard time,” another crew member explained.
“I had a change of attitude and purpose. I was proud of what I achieved and named my model boats after my kids to show them that.”
The Scottish Maritime Museum’s boat building school in Irvine built the second boat.
It was named ‘New Beginnings’ by 12 year-old Erin Brown of Alexandria who won a competition for local schoolchildren.
She said: “I thought about what recovery meant to people and came up with New Beginnings. I was really happy and excited to find out I had won.”
Jade West, Community Engagement lead for the project, said: “It was a fantastic milestone for our project to reach and for our crew as individuals.
“I’m incredibly proud of everyone involved for their dedication and hard work in building these skiffs.”
The current team of boatbuilders have volunteered over 1,000 hours of their time but more than 20 people have been involved in the project over the years.
Jade added: “Each person who has lovingly handcrafted this boat has their signature pyrographed on our Happy Days boat.
“Finally getting these into the water with all our friends, family, and supporters here was really heart-warming and exciting.
“It has made our dreams of developing the Skylark IX Rowing Club possible, and we are now taking names and details from anybody in the community who is interested in getting involved.
“We are looking to start rowing together next spring.
“Over the winter months, we plan to get together and discuss all things rowing as we learn and grow the club together, keeping this project community led all the way.”
The highlight of the day was watching the faces of the boatbuilding crew light up as the skiffs launched from the Duncan Mills slipway on their maiden voyage up the Loch.
For one of the boatbuilders the launch gave her hope for her future.
She said: “This has been an amazing day. It’s emotional having everyone here celebrating our achievements with us.
I have a whole new lease on life.”
If you are interested in hearing more about the new rowing club, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com