Lake Norman & Mooresville

Community School of Davidson seniors leave a legacy of rowing

Wood arts teacher Jim Dumser shows off the Sea Spartan, a 22-foot St. Ayles Skiff, built as a legacy project by seniors in his class at the Community School of Davidson.
Wood arts teacher Jim Dumser shows off the Sea Spartan, a 22-foot St. Ayles Skiff, built as a legacy project by seniors in his class at the Community School of Davidson. MARTY PRICE

Early in the school year, four seniors in the Community School of Davidson wood arts class came to their instructor, Jim Dumser, with an idea: They wanted to do something they could leave behind for future CSD students.

Connor Collop, 17, Kevin Harris, 18, Michael Simon, 18, and Austin Talbert, 18, were students in Dumser’s class for four years, and knew they wanted to work on a legacy project, but they didn’t know exactly what.

“We had done some smaller craft, boat building in the school before, and we decided to go ahead and do a larger project that the four of them could take on early in the year,” said Dumser. “The students chose to build a St. Ayles Skiff, a rare and historic rowing vessel revived by the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association in 2009.

There are only 125 registered St. Ayles Skiffs in the world, and the school’s boat was designated US No. 14 by the association, even though it is the 13th one built in the United States. “They don’t name boats No. 13 due to maritime superstitions,” said Dumser.

The four seniors raised the $4,500 needed to buy a kit and build the boat, mostly by soliciting donations. Then they ordered the kit, which was delivered in the middle of January on a 4-by-8-foot pallet. About 20 other wood arts students pitched in from time to time, but the bulk of the work was done by the four seniors.

In four months the skiff was complete and ready to launch. On May 22, the group went to the boat ramp behind the Lake Norman YMCA in Cornelius to launch the boat on its maiden voyage.

Dumser took a small cup, filled it with water from the lake and splashed it on the bow, christening the boat as the Sea Spartan, in reference to the school’s mascot. With the help of a couple of students, Dumser and the seniors lifted the 350-pound, 22-footboat and carried it to the water’s edge.

Dumser said the group had never rowed together as a team and that it would take some time to find their rhythm as the young men boarded the boat. The skiff drifted toward the opposite shore as Dumser went over the proper way to paddle.

Within minutes, with Dumser acting as coxswain – the crew member who steers the boat with the rudder while shouting commands – the group was rowing together, almost in unison.

Returning to the boat ramp the group asked if anyone else would like to try. Freshman Christopher Dauber, who said he had rowing experience, was the first to put up his hand. Dumser left the skiff and gave Christopher his life jacket.

Austin Talbert moved into the coxswain position saying, “I want to steer,” and Christopher took his spot. As the group started to pick up speed, Christopher took over the command duties. “Stroke, stroke, stoke,” he shouted, setting up a rhythm that had the team in sync as the legacy was being effortlessly advanced to the freshman.

Dumser said the school has been invited to the National Championships on Lake Champlain in New England, but they aren’t ready for that. “Not this year because we’ve just launched the boat, and we have nobody ready to row,” he said.

He hopes to start a rowing club at the school in the fall and hopefully go to the championships next year.

“These kids are capable of amazing things, and I am awfully proud of them,” said Dumser.

Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at