Cornwall Life goes to the World Pilot Gig Championships 2010

PUBLISHED: 15:32 21 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:04 20 February 2013

Cornwall Life goes to the World Pilot Gig Championships 2010

Cornwall Life goes to the World Pilot Gig Championships 2010

Don't miss this year's thrilling gig-racing competition on the Isles of Scilly over the first May Bank Holiday weekend

Dont miss this years thrilling gig-racing competition on the Isles of Scilly over the first May Bank Holiday weekend


This years 21st World Gig Championships takes place from Friday 30 April until Monday 3 May on the Isles of Scilly. Gig racing originated when pilots were put aboard ships arriving in the Western Approaches to navigate them around the many rocks and hazards. Pilots were paid a substantial sum upon the safe arrival of the ship in port. The income from pilotage was the main source of providing a living on the Isles of Scilly and many ports in Cornwall. The first pilot landed aboard got the job and as all Scillonian islands had pilots, racing to be first aboard became very competitive.

Gigs were also the first lifeboats and were used for rescue and the salvage of wrecks, and some say for smuggling.

The first record of an organised gig race on Scilly was at the turn of the 20th century. It was not until the early 1960s that organised gig races on Scilly started, and an interest in gig racing developed in conjunction with Newquay Rowing Club, which continues to this day.


The site of 120 jostling gigs
in a single line at the start,
then hurtling into the race with every
sinew straining, is astonishing


In 1989 a group of islanders came up with the idea of staging the World Championships on the islands in the relatively quiet period between Easter and Whitsun. An organising committee was formed, and in 1990 the first World Pilot Gig Championships was inaugurated, with 19 gigs taking part. As this event was successful, it was decided that it would take place at the same time each year over the weekend of the early May Bank Holiday.

Since that time gig rowing, particularly in the South West of England, has become one of the fastest-growing sports, and hardly a year goes by without the inauguration of a new club and the launching of new gigs. This year it is likely that in excess of 120 gigs will take part. Each year the number of new gigs seems to increase, as do the rowers and supporters.

On Scilly they are captive participants and the resultant social interactions in the evenings (politically correct term for a good beer-up and sing-song) are hugely enjoyed by both crews and supporters.

The planning for this years championships started in November last year with assistance given by the Council of the Isles of Scilly. This was followed by monthly planning meetings of the organising committee, to discuss improvements. The now famous tunnel is erected so that Maggie Tucker and her hard-working staff can provide the sort of food and other refreshments that athletes need to maintain their strength. It is the income from these sales that provides the funds for staging the following years event. No member of the committee receives any remuneration for their work, on the contrary, it costs them both their time and in some cases their money. Any surplus funds go to the maintenance and upkeep of the Islands gigs and to the promotion of the sport of gig rowing.

Invitations to participate in this unique event are sent to gig clubs anywhere in the world. While Cornwall dominates, gig clubs from Devon, Dorset, Somerset, France, the Netherlands, the United States, the Faroe Islands, Ireland and Wales, are invited and at various times have taken part. This year, due to the numbers that have applied to take part, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company started transporting the gigs in February. The gigs are then towed from the quay and stored on a farm prior to their eventual relocation on the Strand for the event.

The Championships start on the Friday evening, when the ladies and mens veteran crews compete in a row of nearly two miles, from the island of St Agnes to St Marys Quay. The next morning, all the competing gigs fill the start line at St Agnes, first for the ladies race, then for the mens race to St Marys Quay. The site of 120 jostling gigs in a single line at the start, then hurtling into the race with every sinew straining, is astonishing. The races are followed by spectator boats full to the gunwales with supporters shouting encouragement to their respective crews.
These two races are used to divide the competitors into groups of 12 gigs. Group A is the first 12 and Group J is the latter 12. During the remainder of the heats the top gigs in each group may move up or down a group according to their success, much like a football league.
On the Sunday the finals are held and the winners of Group A are declared the World Champions and receive their trophy and medals. The second and third gigs are also rewarded and the winners of each group also receive a trophy. When the presentations conclude, competitors and supporters prepare themselves for the traditional Sunday evening barbecue held on Port Mellon Beach. On the Monday morning a gig sailing race is held for the Pilot Widows Gig Trophy.

This article was supplied by Rick Persich, Chairman of the World Pilot Gig Championships Committee

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