Viking boat launch has rowers flocking to beach

The successful launch of a Viking rowing boat on Whitburn beach.
The successful launch of a Viking rowing boat on Whitburn beach.
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A South Tyneside village’s community is on the crest of a wave after the successful launch of a Viking rowing boat.

More than 100 people converged on Whitburn beach, off Whitburn Bents Road, on Sunday to see the ‘Latimer Ledja’ meet the water amid rousing cheers. The event proved such a success there are now plans to make it an annual event.

The Ledja was built by boatbuilders Jeff Matthews and Ray Angus.

The Ledja was built by boatbuilders Jeff Matthews and Ray Angus.

Whitburn environmentalist Bob Latimer had commissioned Northumberland boat-builders to construct a traditional St Ayles skiff, a wooden rowing boat designed to hold six people.

But even he could not have envisaged how the project would unite boat lovers from across the region.

Beside a healthy turnout from Whitburn itself, there were skiffs from Amble and Blyth on the day, with those gathered creating a party atmosphere on the beach.

Happily, the weather stayed fine and retired Whitburn vicar Ken Smith was on hand to bless the boat, after which Bob’s wife, Hilary, officially launched the vessel by spraying it with “Viking alcohol”.

More than 100 people turned out to see the Ledja take to the water.

More than 100 people turned out to see the Ledja take to the water.

Experienced rowers and enthusiastic newcomers then lined up take to the water, while a variety of food and drinks was lined up in a hospitality tent.

The project has helped create a renewed interest in boats and rowing in the close-knit village community.

Now the immediate plan is for members of Whitburn Coastal Rowing Club and other local maritime enthusiasts to attend an upcoming regatta in Blyth, Northumberland, and participate in the Great Tyne Row, from South Shields to Newcastle.
Mr Latimer said: “It was a great day out, way beyond our expectations. With so many people wanting to row, we estimated over 100 actually turned up.

“We provided the grub – cakes and pasties teas and coffees – and it was enjoyed by all. I was even asked ‘what about revitalising the Roker Regatta?’

“People came from far and wide, all showing great interest and it was a great community turnout. I would like to thank them all.”

The Ledja – the Viking word for a fast sailing boat – has been made at Boulmer near Alnwick, Northumberland, by fisherman Jeff Matthews and volunteer Ray Angus.