Maritime Heritage

The History of Pilot Gigs

Cornish gig racing has a long and colourful history dating back to the early 1800’s when there would have been around 200 gigs, sometimes under sail in use around the Cornish coastline. Gigs were used to transport the pilots out to the larger ships to help them navigate safe passage into harbour and enable them to trade. Due to the competitive nature of the work, gigs often raced each other to meet the sailing ships and win the work. The first to get to a ship would reap the various rewards – whether that be the pilotage fee or goods to trade.

Nowadays Cornish pilot gig racing has become a competitive sport, with gig clubs found in many villages and towns along the south west coast.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Image ©Malcolm Darch

Gigs are built to a specific design and follow the original specifications laid down by the Peters family in the form of the gig, Treffry originally built in 1838, which is still in use today by Newquay Rowing Club.

In 1988, the Cornish Pilot Gig Association was established with local boat builder, Ralph Bird as President. Since then the sport has grown and grown with nearly 150 gigs lining up on the start line at the World Pilot Gig Championships which take place each year on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly.

Gig rowing has clearly developed over the centuries to give new and more enjoyable incentives to get out on the water and appreciate our surroundings. But part of the appeal is their traditional build, appearance and maritime heritage.