Clevedon rowers recreate historical race to land a pilot on a ship

Thursday, 1 June, 2017

On Wednesday 31st May, two crews from Clevedon Pilot Gig Club raced to transfer a commercial pilot to The Matthew in the Bristol Channel. With the support of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association (CPGA), the club worked with Bristol Pilots Ltd and The Matthew to plan the event which generated much interest around the South West.
As the The Matthew sailed down the Severn on her way home from the Tall Ships Festival in Gloucester; Clevedon’s two wooden pilot gigs set off from Pill, the historical home of Bristol pilots. A furious 22-minute race ensued which saw the ‘Blackbird’ crew victorious over their counterparts in ‘Watch and Pray’. In short order, the winning crew transferred their Pilot, John Freegard to the Matthew. The crews were not only competing for pride, but the total of £3.65 which is the amount that was paid in the last recorded pilot transfer in the 1930’s.

The day took the sport right back to its Cornish roots when pilots fought to be first to make it to an incoming vessel. If successful, they and their crew would get the job, and the pay, for bringing the vessel safely into port. This fostered a culture of racing between pilot crews which lead to the modern-day sport of Cornish Pilot Gig racing.

It was also a notable event for both Bristol Pilots Ltd and The Matthew, as the month of May marked the 520th anniversary of John Cabot’s original Matthew leaving Bristol on the voyage to North America. This passage in 1497 was also one of the first records of pilotage out of Pill.

Clevedon’s Men’s Captain, Scott Ferrier said “The event was a remarkable success and the club will be actively looking to hold a similar race in the future with the goal of making it an annual event in the club calendar.

Thanks must go to all involved in the organisation of the day Rick Wakeham and the Matthew, our pilots John Freegard, Tony Anderton and Steve Osborne and to Paul Wells, skipper of the ‘Ruby D’, who provided safety boat cover for our crews. As a club we are always welcoming new members and exciting events like this demonstrate why the sport of gig rowing is one of the fastest growing in the UK.