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.
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.
Allow the voice of the cox or whoever is taking charge to be heard, please make sure everyone listens to the instructions and follows them.
Never try to launch or recover short handed. Seven crew is the minimum needed. Please always wear shoes you are prepared to get wet. It not fair to ask the few who have such shoes to pull a gig in on their own. To do so risks damaging their backs and straining the gig if there are not sufficient numbers to beach her carefully.
Reduce the weight when launching or recovering by removing paddles and kit.
When launching or recovering please take your time. Smooth and steady is the rule.
Ensure the trailer is correctly positioned. Bilge supports down, trailer tail struts down and locked, and wheel chocks in place.
Use the rollers or big fenders if you need to move her over ground to the trailer or over a beach.
Once the gig is on the trailer raise the bilge supports. until they are touching and supporting the gig but not rammed hard up.
Tie down straps should be tight but not ratcheted up hard which can distort the gig.
Bow (front) rope and tie down straps must always be used when a gig is to be towed.
Paddles must be secured to the thwarts (seats) on the foam cushions which should be on thwarts 4 and 6. The ends of the blades of the paddles lightly touching th coxe’s seat.
Secure all spare kit.
Bilge plug (bung) out.
If possible wash out the gig.
Covers on. Gigs need to be damp to retain their watertight integrity, they must not dry out. In very hot weather we are advised that rather than leaving the front and back of the cover folded back it is better to leave the cover on but to put a bucket of water inside the gigs when ashore, off the trailer, on a beach, slip or in storage.
Make sure that the length of the keel is supported, either by the land or on fenders or timber.
No more than 3 feet of keel should be clear of support.
Put the frenchmen (the triangular wood supports) firmly but carefully in place but make sure that they are supporting the gig at her bilge pieces. Use their lanyards (ropes) looped over a pin to stop them floating off or being dislodged.
Paddles must always be cushioned on the thwart sponges or timber when out of the gig, never on the concrete or stone of the slip or dock.
As previously mentioned the structure of a gig requires it to be supported by the sea so… on no account should anyone climb into a gig when she is ashore as to do so imposes stresses she was simply not designed to accommodate.
When In The Gig As A Crew
The timber of a gig is very resilient but in order for it to remain so it must be protected by paint or varnish and clearly anything we do which knocks off paint will allow damage and water ingress to the timber.
Please wear the correct footwear and knock or wash off grit and sand before getting into the gig, or change shoes. Stones and grit damage paint. Wellington boots with cleats are not a good idea since the cleats can hold stones.
Do not stand on the thwarts when getting in or out of a gig. Doing so puts all your weight through one foot onto a structural timber only designed for sitting on. You will also fall a long way onto an unforgiving surface should you lose your balance. If it is difficult to get into the gig from a pontoon sit down on the pontoon and place your feet on the bottom boards. If getting out hold out your hand for someone to pull you up (grasp each others wrists for extra grip and safety).
Be careful when moving paddles around in the gig. They are heavy pieces of timber and can easily bruise or knock off paint as well as crew.
Do not jam the paddle handles under the gunnels (top edge of the gig) when at rest. This damages the paddle handle which you are then going to have to grip but also knocks paint off the gunnel. Put the handle under your knee or ask a fellow rower to hold your paddle.
Never push off or fend off with your paddles. This damages varnish and scars the timber. Use the fending off poles.
Coxes must not sit on the cross piece at the stern. This was simply designed to take the end of the mizzen sail bumkin which slotted through the hole in the transom (back timber of the gig). It is there to conform to tradition, is simply not strong enough to be sat on and if sat on puts stresses far up on the gig side planking which it was not designed to cope with. If coxes are worried about forward vision when leaving or entering a dock then sit on the safety box which must always be kept behind the cox.
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.