Cornish GIG – The History
The Cornish pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat, built of Cornish narrow leaf elm, 32 feet (9.8 m) long with a beam of four feet ten inches. It is recognised as one of the first shore-based lifeboats that went to vessels in distress, with recorded rescues going back as far as the late 17th century.
The original purpose of the Cornish pilot gig was as a general work boat, and the craft is used for taking pilots out to incoming vessels off the Atlantic. At the time, the gigs would race to get their pilot on board a vessel first (often those about to run aground on rocks) in order to get the job and hence the payment.
Today, pilot gigs are used primarily for sport, with around 100 clubs across the globe. The main concentration is within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, however clubs exist in Sussex, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Wales and London. Internationally, there are pilot gig clubs in France, the Netherlands, the Faroe Islands, Australia, Bermuda, and the United States.
All modern racing gigs are based on the “Treffry”, built in 1838 by William Peters of St. Mawes, and still owned and raced by the Newquay Rowing Club. However non-racing gigs have been built which do not conform to the exact specification of the Treffry and are disallowed from racing in competitive races.
The sport is governed by the Cornish Pilot Gig Association, which monitors all racing gigs during the construction phase. The Association’s Standards Officer is responsible for measuring every gig at least three times during construction, to ensure that it conforms to the Standard set by the Association.
The 100th gig, built for the Bude Gig Club by Ralph Bird was launched during the summer of 2005.
Currently there are 128 gigs on the CPGA register of gigs, this does not include the Isles of Scilly. The most recent being ‘Tamar’ of the Tamar Tavy Club, but by the end of 2008 there will be 131 gigs with an additional three gigs that are currently under construction now – Ilfracombe, Lyme Regis and Mevagissey.
In the United States, Pilot gig racing is becoming increasingly more popular especially on the New England coastline where waling played a major part in industry. These boats, however, are less regulated than their British counterparts. While modern rowing technology is considered inappropriate, there are no strict rules as to what can and cannot be raced. Boats are classed by number of rowers and their approximate age. The rules are also different during the race; generally “fisherman’s rules” apply-meaning that there are no rules.