The Celtic Longboat is a 4 person coxed rowing boat used for racing, training and recreation. Racing this type of boat has a long and interesting history on the West Wales coast.
Since the 1970’s local coastal villages have put up teams to compete for what has often been relatively large cash prizes in the traditional ‘pulling races’. The longboats started in 1978 when Tom Sutton, working on Ramsey Island, St Davids found the remnants of an Irish Curragh (wooden frame, tarred-skinned rowing boat) washed up. With friends Des Harries and Robin Pratt, he decided to re-skin the boat and enter it in the local Solva Traditional Boat Rowing Race, for prize money of about £200 – and came second. They thought that if they made the same shape in fibreglass it would be even faster. Des, the carpenter, carved a plug out of a solid piece of timber, to similar dimensions, and cast a mould from which they made the first Pembrokeshire Longboat. 1979 – they entered the Solva race again and won easily but were told not to come back as fibreglass boats were not wanted in that race. Soon interest in the new boat was growing – they made a couple more for locals and held races around Ramsey Island (a race considered too dangerous now!). From this developed the Pembrokeshire Longboat League.
The original mould was sold to Dai in Cardigan in the early 80’s who went on to produced over 30 Pembrokeshire Longboats using the ‘Old Mould’ and later, when the old mould ‘died’, the ‘New Mould’ which was taken off one of the best of the old mould boats. The sport continued to develop in fits and starts with the interest spreading from Pembrokeshire to Cardigan where Dai was based. The Welsh Longboat League Cymru was formed to try and standardise the boats, rules etc. and bring together the boats from both areas. At this time every boat varied in weight and finish as Dai would often sell a bare hull for the buyer to finish themselves, giving the
lighter boats an unfair advantage with many of the top boats being ‘cut’ to make them narrower and faster. These boats raced around the potentially treacherous coastline of West Wales and even race across the Irish Sea and are still some of the fastest at ‘the Great River Race’ in London.
In 1996 it was decided to approach Sportlot for a grant for a new mould so that at last all the boats could be standardised. This developed into a full blown bid for over £100,000 to finance the mould, 18 new longboats and a junior training boat. Several
companies were approached to submit proposals to design and build the new boat, the brief was simple, the boat should be faster than the best of the existing boats, and at least as sea worthy and all should be identical. After much deliberation and debate Dale Sailing from Neyland were selected as the new builder in 1999 and to date over 120 boats have been built (4 of which have gone to Dubai). The new boats have caused a resurgence of interest in racing as now everybody will be able to compete on level terms in the new one design Celtic Longboat.