The Cornish Pilot Gig is a fixed seat, six-oared rowing boat. It is built of Cornish narrow leaf elm and measures 32 feet (9.8m) long with a beam of four feet ten inches (1.5m).
A gig is rowed by six rowers and helmed by a cox, it is recognised as one of the first shore-based lifeboats that went to vessels in distress, with recorded rescues going back as far as the late 17th century.
Today, pilot gigs are used primarily for sport, with around 150 clubs across the globe. With the main concentration within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The original purpose of the Cornish Pilot Gig was as a general work boat, and the craft was used for taking pilots out to incoming vessels off the Atlantic. In those days, the race would be the first gig to get their pilot on board a vessel (often those about to run aground on rocks) got the job, and hence the payment.
All modern racing gigs are based on “Treffry”, built in 1838 by William Peters of St. Mawes. The lines of the Cornish Pilot Gig evolved over time driven by the requirements of fast, seaworthy, sturdy vessels for pilotage. Modern gigs are overseen by the governing body CPGA, to make sure that the sport retains its traditions and specifications.
Helford River Gig Club was founded by a small group meeting in the Prince of Wales pub, Newtown, St. Martin, on August Bank Holiday 1993. In February 1994, a committee was formed. With a lot of community support and funding from the Foundation for Sport and The Arts, an order was placed with the well-known traditional boat builder Ralph Bird and “Helford” was launched from Gweek in August 1995.
“Helford” became a familiar sight on the river, Sunday mornings in particular, when Roger Rosier, a founder member, looked after the “all comers” outings where anyone could “come and have a go.” These sessions have evolved into the “new rowers” program under Jane Chetwynd’s care.
Competitive crews were formed and the club’s racing performance improved. From 1997 until today, Helford is consistently placed top 10 in the world. Our Mens A crew came 4th in the 2023 World Pilot Gig Championships and our Ladies A crew won the World Championships.
If you are looking for a rowing family to join and socialise or compete, look no further!
We have great facilities for our members including 2 GRP training boats named Ferryboat and August Rock. A wooden racing gig called “Helford.” A gig built for us by D. & J. Currah – named “Pedn Billy.” In 2021 a further gig was built for us by Peter Williams of Fowey and named “Mowgawr.”
Helford River Gig Club is a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) and is run by a committee of volunteers from our membership. An elected group of trustees oversee the operations of the club supported by a wide range of other key roles. The club promotes health and fitness through the sport of pilot gig rowing within our local community.