Care of Gigs

Article by Stu Mountford

Some time ago I wrote some information articles on the care and use of gigs. Since that time many new members have joined the club and Committee felt it would be useful to have the articles repeated.

First though it might be helpful to have a little gig history.

Though our gigs are always referred to as Pilot Gigs delivering pilots was only one of their many roles. Ralph Bird, the Devoran gig builder who built Fear Not in 1991, always referred to them as the white vans of the coast as they were used for all the many marine jobs found in harbours, ports and at sea.

Their design slowly evolved and eventually became the gigs we know today, superb sea boats, light enough to be rowed and handled by a pick up crew from their home port and yet being able to carry goods and passengers when required. They did of course race each other to incoming vessels in the hope of winning the piloting work and they achieved some astounding passages. After landing the pilot on the ship most were able to carry some sail so that the prevailing South Westerly wind from behind helped to blow them home.

Of course if you have two similar boats at sea together there is always going to be a race and gigs soon began to compete at regattas, the gigs themselves often being sponsored by, or built by, local businesses. Boat builders incorporated their ideas as to what would make their gig faster or more sea kindly.

As the years went by, as more modern craft took over their role, gigs were beached and abandoned until soon pretty much only Newquay Rowing Club was still racing their three gigs, the oldest Newquay built in 1812, Dove 1820 and Treffry 1838.

This is a photo of the gig Newquay in 1932 with my Uncle Roper rowing stroke, 120 years after she was built.

Until the1950’s all three Newquay gigs were painted black, as I imagine were most gigs elsewhere, black being cheap and readily available unlike coloured paint. Few gigs survived in use after the Second World War but Newquay’s gigs were fortunate since they were selected to be used to train sea cadets during the war in a unit based in Newquay Harbour. This at least kept them watertight and in use.

In 1953 the Newquay, now painted red for the first time, was towed up to London for the first post war International Boat Show, being exhibited alongside that years University Boat Race boat, the oldest and newest race boats of the time. There being no specialist gig trailers in those days she went up on a flat bed truck towed by a tractor.

Also in the 1950’s far sighted business men in Newquay, Sue Mountford’s father among them, realised the historic value of gigs and began to catalogue the survivors, eventually voyaging to the Scillies where they bought the Slippen, Bonnet, Golden Eagle and Shah. These gigs were in varying states of disrepair and neglect so prices were low from £25 to £35 each. The Shah came from the family of our club’s Jenny Smith for £35 and a bottle of whisky.

Once back at Newquay the gigs were repaired one by one, raced by Newquay and some years later returned to the Scillies where they still race.

Those gigs were the beginning of the Gig movement we know today, when every pond or inlet seems to have a gig floating on it. As the Gigs and clubs multiplied wise heads realised that to keep the sport as regulated as possible a design standard had to be agreed and at a meeting at Ralph Bird’s home at Carnon Mine the Cornwall Pilot Gig Association was formed. The Association drew up measurements for various sections of the gigs and also laid down the materials, for example narrow leaf elm for the planking, that could be used. The measurements were taken from the Newquay Gig Treffry which was acknowledged to be the finest gig ever built. Treffry was built by William Peters at St.Mawes and like her fellow gigs Newquay and Dove, is still raced.

Looking After Our Gigs

As described previously the design of our gigs evolved over the years into the beautiful, fantastic sea boats we all love. What we have to remember is that their design and entire structural strength relies on them being supported by the sea they float in and that poor handling or incorrect storage ashore can cause serious damage.

That being so it follows that we need to take especial care when our gigs are being launched, recovered or ashore and some simple rules will ensure that they are treated properly. 

When In The Gig As A Crew

It should be part of the pride of being a Devoran Pilot Gig member that our gigs always look well cared for and are handled sensibly.

Stuart Mountford.
Devoran Pilot Gig Club