The Cornish pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat, built of Cornish narrow leaf elm, 32 feet 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, used to take pilots out to incoming vessels off the Atlantic. They would guide the boats safely into port. In those days the race would be to get a pilot on board a vessel first – those that reached the ship first got the job, and hence the payment.
When a new gig was built it was tested against opposition boats to find out how fast it was. It was only a matter of time before these impromptu races were replaced with official fixtures, and so pilot gig racing was born.
There are now over fifty clubs throughout the West Country and the extent of the sport doesn't stop there. Pilot gig clubs have also been established in Holland, France, Faroe Islands and America.