Building a boat, community-style
KEUKA PARK--A boat whose style hearkens back to the time of the Vikings, more than 1,000 years ago, is finding new life on Keuka Lake. Through a community craftsmanship program offered in the spring of 2014, Keuka College students and local residents had a hand in bringing the boat to life by working together to build the vessel using design methods dating back more than a millenium.
The 22-foot-long vessel is now on display in Lightner Gallery in Lightner Library at Keuka College sporting a royal blue hull, with white and wood interiors. Built by hand over six months on the campus of Keuka College, the St. Ayles skiff is a modern re-crafting of a boat first designed by the Vikings, circa 800 A.D., then imported from Norway to the Shetland Islands during the 1800s. The Shetland Islands lie halfway between Norway and Scotland, and these skiffs originally served as fishing boats along treacherous tidal areas in the North Sea. According to folklore, three men at the oars of the skiff were sure to reach their destination no matter the weather.
Thanks to a resurgence of community rowing and crafting programs worldwide since 2009, its popularity reaches far beyond its origin, and builds for some 200 of these historic boats are in the works. Hull 93, a reference to the 93rd such build, was commissioned by the Finger Lakes Museum and Aquarium, with support from Keuka College. Grant funding provided through New York State Council on the Arts and the Yates Community Endowment Fund made it possible for three college students to join community members during the build.
Each Saturday, participants gathered in the college garage near the facilities plant to work on the watercraft, under the direction of Keuka Park resident and retired Thompson Hospital ER Physician Craig Hohm, who guided the labor of taking the skiff from wood kit to watercraft. When nearly complete, final touches were added, including a Viking-like lettering of the boat's name along the top plank of the boat, known as the sheerstrake. Named for the animal who returned to the Finger Lakes region after a 100-year absence, the "Otter" had its maiden launch on Keuka Lake in August.
For his part, Hohm is thrilled more members of the community can see and experience the results of the unique collaborative building project through the exhibit.
"It's hard to improve on a near-perfect design that's almost 1,000 years old," Hohm said.
A reception was held Tuesday, Nov. 11. which showcased a visual timeline of the build along with the historical attributes featured in the vessel. The exhibit will continue to be on display through April 10, 2015.