Spirits are high at Moonshine launch

Rowers test the vessel in choppy conditions at Lamlash Bay.

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By Colin Smeeton

A traditionally-designed boat built by Arran boat builder Rory Cowan of Kildonan was launched last weekend after almost five years of planning and construction.

The wooden boat, officially named Moonshine and launched by Cecilia Paul, chair of Arran Coastal Rowing Club, was started in June last year during lockdown, however, its genesis goes back much further.


Rory invested in a dieback larch tree from Brodick Castle about five years ago with the idea of building a boat.

Knowing that larch would be ideal for his future project and with the knowledge that larch will become scarce owing to Phytophthora ramorum or larch disease, Rory milled the wood into planks and left it to season for five years.

The project remained in the planning stage while Rory collected exotic timbers from old furniture and other sources on Arran until last year, with the onset of lockdown, he finally began the construction of the vessel.

Utilising plans based on an 1875 Whitehall design – the Boston/Hudson River’s answer to the Cornish pilot gig, though a little shorter – the beautiful craft was built in just under a year and features classic looks and innovative detailing.


David Ingham, Arran Coastal Rowing Club committee member, attended the launch.

He said: ‘Despite the drab weather the naming ceremony and launch went as planned and the sea trials exceeded all expectations; the boat was fast and handled really well even in the choppy conditions.

‘Moonshine is a beautiful craft with some very clever detailing – well worth a look if you see it on the slip in Lamlash.’

Rory downplayed the achievement of building the impressive vessel, saying that he would be crossing his fingers at the launch, but there really was never any doubt about the seaworthiness and capabilities of the boat.

Rory has helped to build two other skiffs that are regularly used by the rowing club which successfully competes in Scottish regattas under the auspices of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association.

Moonshine was joined by Iolair and Seabhag – Rory’s two other vessels he helped to constructed – at the launch on Saturday where members of the Arran Coastal Rowing Club welcomed the new vessel to their fleet and celebrated the occasion.

Photographs by David Ingham