What is Cornish Pilot Gig Rowing?

Interest in Pilot Gigs in the UK has shown a huge resurgence in recent times. Predominantly in Cornwall, but spreading quickly eastward into Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and even Wales.

The Gigs themselves are governed by the CPGA, who ensure all Gigs are made to be almost identical, the finer details may vary, but all must be made of Elm, be 32 feet in length, and just under 5 feet wide. They must have 6 seats(Thwarts) for rowers, 1 for the cox, and 1 other for the Pilot. All modern Gigs are based on drawings by Ralph Bird taken from the measurements of ‘Treffry’ a Gig built in 1838 by William Peters of St. Mawes, which is currently owned by Newquay Rowing Club. A few of these very old Gigs still endure, mostly in their original homes on the Isles of Scilly. These Gigs were originally used as early lifeboats, and to ferry Pilots out to merchant vessels as they approached Europe. The Scilly Pilots were excellently placed to be first aboard these vessels, and earned themselves the reputation for being the best Pilots to take ships into almost any port in Northern Europe. The super-fast shape of the Pilot Gig evolved so that crews from the different islands could get to the visiting vessels first, and therefore get their Pilots the job of guiding the ship to it’s destination.

With the invention of modern shipping, the Pilot Gigs fell out of favour, and all but disappeared, until in 1921 when a group of Newquay rowers, recently returned from WW1, decided to race the Gigs that remained. Later when War returned, Gig rowing became of little importance, except for training cadets. In 1947 Newquay started racing it’s Gigs again, and by 1986 Gig racing was popular enough to require a governing body, and this is when the CPGA was formed and the blueprints for all modern Gigs where set down.

Now, there are approximately 50 clubs, racing over 130 Gigs all around the coast of SW England. With other clubs as far afield as the Netherlands, Ireland, and the USA. The Gig season gets into full swing with the World Championships held over the May Bank-holiday on the Isles of Scilly, and culminates in the County or National Championships held at Newquay in September. The World Championships sees almost all of the Gigs racing in a single race, the lagoon between St Agnes and St Mary’s practically boils as Gigs battle for position to gain advantage in the heats that take place later in the day, and the next.