Scilly News
Front Page | The Islands | History | Fun & Games
From The Western Rocks To The Eastern Isles
EDITORS THOUGHT
THE GIG: A HISTORY
A gig is a six oared rowing boat originally used to carry pilots to vessels wanting to negotiate difficult waters around Cornwall, hence the name 'Pilot Gig'. The Isles of Scilly have a particularly long and distinguished history when it comes to pilot gigs, and these wonderful craft are still in use today.

Gigs are thought to have originated in Cornwall in the 18th century and the idea quickly caught on in the Isles of Scilly. Local Pilots who could claim to have encyclopaedic knowledge of the waters around the Islands would be taken out to any vessel requiring assistance of any kind and put aboard. Boats from each Island would race to the vessel, and the first one there would get the contract for the pilotage. St. Agnes was particularly successful regarding being first to put a pilot on board as it had the best access to the western approaches a notoriously difficult area to navigate. At it's height as an industry, St. Agnes had four pilots living on it. Gigs were made in different shapes in order to fit the purpose for which they would be used, for example, long gigs with fine lines were built for speed whereas a wide gig would be build for stability and for carrying cargo.

The Isles of Scilly is currently home to thirteen gigs, the number would have been more than twice that when they were used as working boats. The gigs now are used as a sports event and the weekly races are seen by many as one of the main social activities on the islands bringing the community together. Every Friday evening in the Summer, the men's gig race takes place, usually about eight or nine gigs will take part in this. Wednesday night is women's gig racing night. The popularity of gig racing in the Isles of Scilly is generally thought to be more than any other part of the world, even Newquay, as more people partake in the sport per head of population than anywhere else.

The gig has six oarsmen, (each has one oar) as well as a coxswain who sits in the stern of the boat and steers via ropes attached to the rudder. The Gigs these days race around a variety of courses, from off - islands to St. Mary's and vice versa, from nut rock to St. Mary's, including swap races, triangle races which start and finish in St. Mary's harbour. The most modern of these gigs in the Galetea of St. Martins, built in 2000 and the Tregarthens of all the islands, built in 1998. The oldest racing gig on the Islands is the Bonnet of St. Mary's, built in 1830. There are several gigs which are not raced on a Friday night for several different reasons. The Campernell of St. Agnes is not a racing gig because she is too wide, the Slippen does not race due to her age and weight, and the Islander does not race, except in the World Championships because that is what was agreed by her shareholders. Gigs built today are all of similar specifications, with a length of about 30 foot.

The World Championships are an annual event which usually take place over the first weekend of April, and crews from all over the world come to Scilly to race for the title. Crews so far have come from as far afeild as America and the Faroe Islands, although most gigs are from Cornwall. The gigs are raced in heats over two days and recently as many as 70 gigs have taken part!