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History of Pilot Gig Rowing

Pilot Gigs are governed by the Cornish Pilot Gig Association (CPGA) the association's Standards Officer is responsible for measuring every Gig at least three times during construction, who ensure all Gigs are made to be almost identical. The finer details may vary to the standard set by the association.

They have to be a eight seats (Thwarts) in total. Six seats for the rowers, one for the Cox and one other for the Pilot, traditionally built of Cornish Narrow Leaf Elm and 32 feet (9.8 m) long with a beam of four feet ten inches (1.47 m).

They are 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 a general work boat and the craft was used for taking pilots out to incoming vessels off the Atlantic.

The Scilly's Pilots were excellently placed to be the first to aboard these vessels. They 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 (often those about to run aground on rocks), and therefore getting their Pilots the job of guiding the ship to it's destination and hence the payment.

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 World War One, decided to race the Gigs that remained. Later when World War Two began in 1939, gig rowing became of little importance, except for training cadets. After World War Two in 1947 Newquay started racing its 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 laid down.

All modern racing gigs are based on drawings created by Ralph Bird taken from measurements of the Gig Treffry. She was built in 1838 by William Peters of St. Mawes she is still owned and raced by 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.

A few of these very old Gigs still endure, mostly in their original homes on the Isles of Scilly.
Today, Pilot Gigs are used primarily for sport and in recent times has seen a huge resurgence with around 100 clubs across the globe. The main concentration is within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, however the sport has spread eastwards across the United Kingdom with clubs existing in Devon, Dorset, Sussex, Somerset, Wales and London. Internationally, there are Pilot Gig clubs in France, Netherlands, Ireland, Middle East, Faroe Islands, Australia, Bermuda, and United States of America.
The Gig season gets into full swing with the World Championships held over the May Bank-holiday weekend on the Isles of Scilly. 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 the advantage in the heats that take place later in the weekend. The season sees individual clubs holding their own regattas throughout the warmer months, culminating in the Men's and Ladies County or National Championships held at Newquay in September.
Currently there are over 200 gigs on the CPGA's register of gigs. This does not include the Isles of Scilly. 

River Gannel c 1927 Courtesy Ralph Bird.
World Pilot Gig Championships
Newquay Gigs
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