As the World Gig Rowing Championships kick off on the Isles of Scilly, we grab an oar and celebrate this great Cornish tradition.
The late afternoon sun dances off the water. Feet splash and voices chatter excitedly as the sleek vessel launches off the slipway, six oars raised skywards, before disappearing into the sunset. This scene could be happening anywhere across Cornwall or the Isles of Scilly, in any given creek, harbour or waterway. It could have happened yesterday or 200 years ago. Throughout the spring and summer, you’re bound to witness a similar sight across the coast: men and women, young and old, nervous beginners and seasoned veterans, launching into the water aboard a Cornish pilot gig.
The tradition of pilot gig rowing is firmly embedded in Cornish culture. As Ted Gundry, President of Porthleven Gig Club, notes: “This is a sport that is uniquely Cornish.” For many, membership of the local club is not just a hobby, it’s a rite of passage. And those who have lined up on the start line will tell you that representing your village or stretch of water – and competing against arch rivals – is a badge of honour.