Pilot gig rowing has a wonderfully rich history. The original pilot gigs date back as far as the 17th century, when they were rowed in the Isles of Scilly and along the coast of Cornwall. As the waters in these areas were often treacherous to navigate, visiting ships would employ local pilots to navigate them safely into port. Pilot gig crews raced to the arriving boats in a bid to get there first and gain the commission for their pilot. Commissions meant money, and gig racers were not just racing for fun: their livelihood’s depended on it. There are also records of the gigs being used as lifeboats, salvage vessels and, in some cases, for smuggling!
Gig racing as we know it began in the early 20th Century. During the industrial revolution the need for working pilot gigs had fallen, and the boats which were once so vital to a community became redundant. One story even tells of a gig being cut in half and used as a chicken shed. However, all was not lost. In areas like Newquay and the Isles of Scilly, gig racing became a sport. In 1921, just after the end of the 1st World War, Newquay set up the first Pilot gig racing club. Since then, the sport has grown exponentially, with over 100 gig clubs now in existence, and clubs founded throughout Devon and Cornwall, and internationally in France, Holland and the US. Over 140 boats now compete in heats at the World Pilot Gig Championships.