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Cornwall Marine Directory

Rowing Gigs and others

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Cornwall’s strong links with rowing date back as long as mankind scenic_2has been taking to the water. Rowing craft range from the “punts” that carry your picnic to the beach, to the competitive side where historic Cornish Pilot gigs beat their oars in awesome competition and Australian-style surf boats take to the waves.

One of the most inspiring stories in recent years has been the explosion in popularity of the Cornish pilot gig rowing scene. These graceful wooden boats, some of them well over a hundred years old, are regularly raced competitively around the coast of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Indeed this popularity has led to many new boats being commissioned, injecting new life into Cornwall’s traditional boatbuilding industry more about which can be found in a day out at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

Pilot gigs, which are fast, narrow boats rowed by six people with a cox, came to prominence in the 18th Century as a result of the need to get harbour pilots out to incoming ships. The pilot would help the ship to negotiate the approach to the docks. Pilot gig crews would find themselves racing each other to get to an incoming vessel first – as the first pilot there got the job.

One of the highlights of Cornwall’s rowing calendar is every May Bank Holiday when the Isles of Scilly play host to the World Pilot Gig Rowing Championships. The waters of these scenic islands in the western approaches come alive with colourful historic boats – and their colourful crews.

The islands’ population swells to capacity for the event which includes crews from around the globe including the Faraoe islands, the USA, the Netherlands and Wales. Spectators of the event find themselves enjoying the finest of what the islands have to offer – homely, traditional pubs and restaurants as well as picturesque beaches and intimate coves.

Rowers on the north coast of Cornwall have been forced to think differently about their sport. Here, at surf life-saving clubs, you are more likely to find the adrenaline charged sport of surf boat rowing. The surf boat offers the challenge of rowing through the waves combined with the thrill of surfing back with them. Originating in Australia, this sport predates the Rib and the jet-ski as the main tool of the lifeguard on wave-swept beaches. When the boat catches a wave, rowers drop their oars and move quickly astern to surf back.

This discipline is popular in Cornwall because the coast gets consistent waves. Surf boats, with their flared hull designs, are fitted with sliding seats for training which is often done in the sheltered water of the south coast. Despite this being a relatively new sport to Cornwall, rowers here are excelling. Porthtowan rowers, for example, have brought back medals from world championships in both Florida, USA, and Viareggio, Italy.


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