25th World Pilot Gig Championships Start Today With Biggest Ever Line-up
It is the biggest gig championships to date. 130 boats have been brought over to Scilly from England, Wales and the Netherlands. There’ll add to the gigs already here which will be used by islands’ crew or loaned out to visiting rowers.
There were 19 boats used in the first event in 1990 and 14 of those will take part this weekend.
7 new gigs are on the water this year and 3 clubs are attending the championships for the first time. They’re Sidmouth, Brixham and Porkellis Moor, who are effectively landlocked. They row on Stithians Lake.
Maggie Tucker was part of the original committee. Their original goal was to boost tourism during what was known as the ‘Easter-Whitsun lull.’
And the committee wanted to give islands’ rowers a chance to engage with their mainland counterparts without having to leave the islands during the busy summer season.
But Maggie says 25 years ago, when the event started, the islands weren’t ready for an influx of rowers out of season. Most of the cafes, restaurants and hotels were closed.
Maggie says the most gratifying development has been the growth of the sport since the first championships and how much the rowers still enjoy coming to Scilly to compete after all those years.
Rick Persich has been the Championships Chairman for 8 years. He says the event runs well because it is a good example of partnership working with the Council, the Steamship Company and the Police.
This year over 140 boats will line up for the St Agnes to St Mary’s races. And there are more gigs each year.
Some people, including Cornwall Pilot Gig Association Chairman Jason Nicholas, feel the event is reaching maximum capacity.
Rick says the committee won’t restrict entry numbers but his committee colleague Kevin Sherris says there are only so many places for rowers to stay and the roads are now pretty much full up with trailers.
Kevin says gig transportation is a well-oiled machine but the clubs have to do without their boats for several weeks. He says it would be better if they could get them over and back in a week.
Andrew King is the most recent chair of the St Mary’s Gig Club. He’s also rowing for the island in the Tregarthens gig tomorrow.
Before he moved here, he used to come over from the mainland to take part.
Andrew says the event is very special and it’s more like a holiday, with competitors looking forward to it all year.
Once you’re here, he says, you just relax, because there’s great camaraderie among the crew. He can’t see the popularity of the event ever tailing off.
Despite the influx of thousands of rowers and supporters, the event is traditionally good-natured.
St Mary’s Police Sgt Colin Taylor says three additional officers, including Inspector Jean Phillips, will be brought in to support himself and the stations’ two police officers in their shifts over the weekend.
St Mary’s Harbourmaster Dale Clark says this weekend is likely to be the busiest he’s seen in his four years on the islands.
There are double sailings of the Scillonian III today and Monday, with a full ship arriving tomorrow morning. And two cruise ships are scheduled to visit, with the Fram arriving today, and the Ocean Nova in tomorrow.
Dale says they still have to work around the ongoing repair work on the quay, although he stresses that this will be suspended over the weekend. And although that work isn’t going to affect the gig championships, it does mean spectators won’t be able to watch from the end of the quay this year.
Dale says his team are always worried in the run up to gig weekend, but it always seems to go without a hitch. He puts that down to good preparation and planning from everyone involved in the event.