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World Pilot Gigging in the Isles of Scilly

Words: Simon Martin

Images: Simon Martin

In 1990 the Isles of Scilly hosted the first World Pilot Gig Championship with only 19 boats in attendance, this year almost 160 boats attended the championships attracting teams from Holland, USA and Canada the sport is growing fast. In the heyday of working pilot gigs, they were used to help larger ships navigate a safe passage, trading between those ships and rescuing people in danger at sea. These small ships have a very early tie with the Isles of Scilly, being used to transport goods and people between the Islands and the Cornish coastline along with smuggled contraband.

Now, this gigging has been resurrected for sporting purposes, bringing rowers back to the historic waters in the hope of taking home a trophy. The event grows each year as it brings people from all over the world to the small islands off the South West coast of England, flooding the streets with locals, competitors and spectators alike, for one energy-filled weekend.

The races start off with the veterans on Friday and continued solidly on to the Sunday when the heavy sea fogs set in and posed a threat to the final races taking place. A window of clear weather was seen and the boats set off for the start line, placed between the three islands. 

As the final rowers come in the bottles are opened and celebrations commence, the weekend is over and the island is left to its normal happenings.