The rugged Cornish coastline presents a hazard today for many, but in the 17th Century (even before Poldark’s day!) it presented a particular hazard for any large ship looking to dock in Cornwall’s little harbours. The solution was found in a small, wooden rowing boat that could be swiftly and expertly navigated to the ship, along with the harbour pilot to safely guide the ship in.
Jobs went to the first pilot that arrived on board, so this craft needed to be lightweight, built for speed, manoeuvrability and with plenty of room for pilots or trade. Where other harbour pilots around the UK used sails, the Cornish used pure, hard-core manpower because this was proven to be the fastest way to head into prevailing winds off the South West coast.
With gig builders racing to build the best gigs, it was William Peters of St Mawes who gained a reputation for building the fastest and most seaworthy of crafts. In 1838, it was his gig, the ‘Treffry’, which became the standard specification by which all other gigs followed. In fact, the original ‘Treffry’ is still actively rowed today by the Newquay Rowing Club!
With the introduction of the motor boat, pilot gigs became disserved, but plenty of men continued to race them for fun. There are now over 100 gig and rowing clubs around the world that use Cornish Pilot Gigs, including as far afield as Australia and Canada, and many hold major events that attract hundreds and thousands of spectators. One such event is happening this Sunday in Devon. On Sunday 31st May, the Salcombe Estuary Rowing Club will be hosting the Salcombe Rowing and Gig Regatta. The club continues to use three Cornish Pilot Gigs: the ‘Bolt’, the ‘Cadmus’ and the ‘Wolf’. For details visit: http://www.salcomberowing.co.uk/
Why not pop into our Seasalt Salcombe shop while you’re in town and shop the rowing look? Oars at the ready everyone!