About the club
In late February 2009 a handful of enthusiasts met at The Royal Oak in the Town. An action plan was agreed and other members soon recruited to form a Steering Committee to take the Club forward with the aim of raising funds to build a gig to race under Clevedon’s colours. The project gathered a surprising pace and was “launched” to the public on the Promenade at Clevedon on July 4th 2009 with the help of the gig, Young Bristol, borrowed from Bristol Gig Club. Just parking the gig on the Promenade generated tremendous interest and enthusiasm from a wide cross section of people keen to become actively involved in rowing or making a donation.
Within 12 months there was a growing list of donations and pledges of financial and practical support, but a major Company sponsorship secured in March 2010 enabled the Club to proceed more quickly than envisaged and commission the construction of a brand new gig. A year later, our new boat 'Watch and Pray' (named for the Clevedon motto 'Vigilate et Orate') left The Underfall Yard in Bristol, in time for the club to compete at the World Pilot Gig Championships in the Isles of Scilly in May 2011.
The club has since gone from strength to strength. In 2012 we purchased a second boat, Caradon Gig Club's 'Mary Newman', which we renamed Blackbird after the song by legendary (!) North Somerset band The Wurzels. This has been supplemented by a heavy wooden training boat (Odessa) and two fibreglass boats (Churngold and Ladye Bay). We now have around 90 members of all ages, a flourishing junior section and our A crews are now regularly finishing mid-table in the major championships - a far cry from excitement at beating just one boat back in 2011! We are regularly one of the largest clubs at regattas across the South-West and like to think we've put our little town on the map down in Devon and Cornwall.
We're proud of where we've come, and would like to thank all of our many company and private sponsors and donors, listed on our 'sponsors' page, who have helped and continue to help us purchase and maintain our kit. We also owe a debt of thanks to:
- Bristol Pilot Gig Club who lent us their boat and trained our founding members in the early days;
- Clevedon Sailing Club, who were overwhelming with their encouragement and support from the start, offering to share their Sea Front HQ with us, whilst also buying shares in the new gig;
- The wider gig rowing community for their support and encouragement and especially Caradon, Falmouth and Appledore gig clubs who have all shared their vast experience of this sport with us.
We're proud of what we've achieved in a relatively short time, but we still know there's a lot to do, both in competition results and in bringing on the next generation of rowers.
CPGC Mission Statement
To establish a Social club which will raise funds to progress the building, support and continued future operation of Cornish Pilot Gig Rowing to be based in Clevedon.
The primary aims being:
- Promotion of the amateur sport of Cornish Pilot Gig Rowing in the Clevedon area to attract and involve all age groups, both male and female, but especially young people.
- To enhance and ensure the identity of Clevedon and surrounding area by its involvement in the growing sport of Cornish Pilot Gig Rowing, thereby building and developing strong sporting and social links, through contact and competition, with many existing and future planned Cornish Pilot Gig Clubs in coastal communities throughout the South West of England.
- To regularly take part and compete in the existing regattas in the South West but also to establish an annual regatta in Clevedon.
Our aim is to create a community club that will be accessible to everyone in and around Clevedon, young and old, and provide a local means of having fun, socialising and keeping fit all within the surrounds of our beautiful, naturally rugged waters.
A typical community gig club would cover all age ranges with junior teams able to practice and compete all the way through to the veterans.
We now have an active and growing youth section - our mission statement for the Youth is:
To provide a safe, non-selective and fun environment for our juniors where every child is encouraged and supported to become a life-long, versatile enthusiast of the sport grounded in values of teamwork, sportsmanship and camaraderie.
The Pilot Gigs of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are totally unique six oared open boats which, as their name implies, were designed to transport pilots to the sailing ships arriving in British waters in the South West Approaches back in the days of wooden ships and iron men. The earliest detailed record of a gig dates from about 1666 and the design evolved and was perfected in the early 19th century. Pilots would compete for business by racing to meet an incoming vessel and this resulted in the gig design proving one of the fastest, strongest and most seaworthy craft ever constructed …..very much the “Ferraris of the water” in their day. Comfort was not an issue, purely speed and seaworthiness to cope with some of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the World.
Records in the early 19th century identify William Peters of St Mawes as the man who perfected a design of gig so efficient that it still forms the criteria for the official racing specification used today. His gig “Treffry” built in 1838 is used as the template for all registered gigs built now and this boat is owned and regularly raced by Newquay Gig Club. Amazingly another Peters-built gig, “Newquay”, built in 1812 for Newquay Pilots, still exists and is also owned and raced by the same Club.
Technically the Cornish Pilot Gig is a clinker built craft crewed by six oars and a coxswain, constructed from Cornish small leaf elm, 32 feet in length (9.75m) with a 4ft 10in (1.47m) beam. Elm from Cornwall is now in short supply so alternatives are obtained from Scotland, Ireland, Holland or France. The original design also allowed for a simple sail arrangement when necessary, although the present day boatbuilders do not recommend it. Though light, the construction is extremely strong and flexible to cope with strong seas and the toughest weather conditions. Why only six oars? Legend has it that in the old days of smuggling the Customs & Revenue had similar craft but with eight oars so to ensure that they were not outpaced they enforced regulations restricting working gigs to just six. Today the specification and construction is strictly controlled and all new boats are inspected three times during their build by representatives from the Cornish Pilot Gig Association.
The last official record of a pilot being shipped by a gig was at St Agnes, Isles of Scilly in 1938. Following the Second World War the majority of gigs were abandoned and left to rot, in much the same way as the remaining sailing ships.
The Modern Day Sport
It is generally acknowledged that the survival and renaissance of the Cornish Pilot Gig is almost solely due to the dedication and enthusiasm of one man …. the late Ralph Bird, a traditional boatbuilder from St Mawes. A few enthusiasts in Cornwall (predominantly Newquay Rowing Club) and in the Scilly Isles maintained just a handful of the old gigs but by the 1960’s-70’s very few seaworthy boats remained. However in 1981 Ralph decided he must try and preserve the design. With a few other locals he borrowed some gigs from Newquay (the oldest Gig Rowing Club, set up in 1922) and organised the first Three Rivers Race in Truro. Within five years another four Pilot Gig Clubs were established in Cornwall and the Sport’s now official body, the Cornish Pilot Gig Association formed in 1988. Meantime, with the renewed interest in gigs and gig racing, a number of Cornish and Scilly Isle boatbuilders led by Ralph Bird were kept increasingly busy building new boats for other new Pilot Gig Clubs which spread across Cornwall and Devon.
Ralph Bird retired in 2007 having built 29 gigs and, fittingly, was appointed President of the Association. Sadly he died in November 2009.
From its humble beginnings, the Cornish Pilot Gig Association now has some 65 affiliated Clubs, including Clevedon (elected 2010), and currently there are over 170 gigs registered, not including the Isles of Scilly and overseas. In the United Kingdom the Sport has spread beyond Cornwall and Devon into Somerset and Dorset, with far flung outposts in Porthgain, West Wales (normally the domain of the similar Celtic Gig) as well as Essex and Ireland (Northern and Repblic). Worldwide there are also Clubs in Holland, the Faroe Islands, Australia, the USA and Canada. The official season runs between April and October with over 30 regattas taking place, including the annual World Championships held over the May Bank Holiday weekend in St Marys, Isles of Scilly, which is the Gig Rowers’ Mecca and a sight to behold.