Simply Scilly Blog

About the Isles of Scilly … everything from events to news to pictures to how to get here and have a great holiday!

World Pilot Gig Championships – Isles of Scilly

When Ships were made of Wood and Men were made of Iron!

The First Pilot Gig Boats were built in the 18th century with the purpose of taking a pilot out to a sailing ship and putting him aboard to carefully navigate ships into safe waters. Pilotage on Scilly was for many years the main source of living with a general rule that the first man aboard got the job and of course the rewards that came with it.

All Scillonian gigs and Cornish gigs were made of Cornish Elm and are approximately 30 feet in length and 5 feet in beam. They were built for hard work; had to withstand heavy seas, yet were required to be fast and stable.

Gigs were sometimes used in conjunction with Pilot cutters. These are larger boats that would tow the Gig closer to the oncoming ship then they would transfer the crew of the gig onboard for the race to the ship.

Pilotage in Scilly was a hazardous occupation and until the arrival of a lifeboat on St. Agnes Scillonian gigs were synonymous with saving and loss of life.

Pilot gigs were also used for smuggling and salvage. Gigs often rowed to France and contraband tobacco and spirits were also exchanged for fresh vegetables and eggs. In fact gigs were banned from having eight oars as the custom and excise couldn’t catch them!

Gigs were also used in salvage. Anything that could be salvaged from the sea from cattle to grand pianos brought in wealth to the islands, and the church on St. Agnes was built in the nineteenth century using the proceeds of the sale of a wreck. The church bell was also taken from the same wreck.

World Pilot Gig Championships

The Isles are awash with gig and rowers!  Over 120 gigs will be patricipating in this weekend’s races, which are  a vital part of the Islands’ culture and tourism economy.  This year’s races boast a team from the Netherlands, several new gigs in their first Championships, and rowers ranging in age from 20 – 85.

The Isles of Scilly will also be hosting two additional ships this weekend:  the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Campbeltown (find out more at: www.royalnavy.mod.uk/operations-and-support/surface-fleet/type-22-frigates/hms-campbeltown/) and also the MV Explorer Cruise Ship.

For more on visiting the Isles of Scilly, see www.simplyscilly.co.uk

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