IT HAS already been an amazing 12 months for the Cornish Pilot Gig Association and this weekend’s 29th World Championships on the Isles of Scilly should be the cream on the top.
The country’s fastest growing sport now boasts almost 70 clubs – Portishead, Newhaven, London Cornish and Rowhedge (Essex) are among the latest ones – more than 8,000 active rowers and in excess of 200 Pilot Gig rowing boats – a fleet of traditional, wooden 32-ft long, six-oared craft, historically used for pilotage, harbour work and as lifeboats.
In recent weeks no fewer than 148 gigs, an increase of 12 on last year, have been shipped to Scilly for the weekend’s regatta which will be the first to feature live internet coverage of the racing, filmed from a drone flying above the water.
The Cornish Pilot Gig Association (CPGA), the governing body for the sport, was set up in 1986 and, since partnering with British Rowing, has struck up a sponsorship arrangement with St Austell Brewery’s Tribute brand which is not only financing the cost of the drone coverage but also promoting the sport to a wider audience.
The CPGA, who now own and run the website www.GigRower.co.uk, have asked the GigRowerteam to provide a live stream of the racing.
Toby Budd, who started GigRower eight years ago, is now volunteering on the CPGA committee as head of communications. “It’s all been a bit last-minute but we are going to do our best,” he said. “We have some great volunteers who have stepped up to help and while our equipment is a bit ‘Heath Robinson’ (the whole system works off a Trago Mills toolbox, old car battery and broomstick aerial mast) we had a good live test at Dartmouth Regatta a few weeks ago and had some great feedback from rowers.
“We are optimistic we can get some good quality coverage live on Facebook.”
The team will be working in partnership with the BBC to provide the live coverage of the event – and your Sunday Indy will again be first and best with full pictorial coverage of the big event in this week’s issue.
A three-year sponsorship deal with St Austell Brewery’s flagship ale, Tribute, will also see a new national championship regatta at Saltash in June, hosted by the local Caradon club.
The brewery’s marketing and communications director Jeremy Mitchell said: “We are delighted to be able to help in growing what has essentially become Cornwall’s national sport.
“Gig rowing is something that the whole family can take part in and enjoy; it brings communities together and it generates fantastic experiences for everyone out on the water and back on land watching.
“It’s amazing to see how widely the sport is now being picked up and we are pleased to be involved in the continuing spread of the sport throughout the South West and beyond.”
Said a championship spokesman: “Last year’s increase in registrations has enabled us to continue funding this ever-popular event but we are always on the lookout for more sponsors from the island community and overseas to help maintain future events and a high level of safety for all competitors.”
The organisers have followed the CPGA and British Rowing’s lead by adopting the ‘Rowsafe’ guidance procedure which, among other things, requires all coxswains to wear a lifejacket or a buoyancy aid.
The weekend’s racing programme remains similar to the tried and trusted schedules of the past, although the Veterans and Super-Vets races will again be split, following the resounding success of last year’s experiment.
Racing starts with the Women’s Supervets at 5pm on Friday, followed by the Women’s Vets half-an-hour later.
The Men’s Supervets is due off at 7pm with the Men’s Vets away at 7.30pm. Saturday afternoon brings the first races for the main Women’s and Men’s crews, racing from the start line off St Agnes back to St Mary’s.
With as many as 150 gigs lining up – the start-line is about a mile long – it is always some spectacle. The second and third rounds of the heats are due late Saturday with the third round on the Sunday morning. Then everything is set for the afternoon’s finals – and the prize-giving and party on Holgate’s Green.
The coxswains’ briefing and welcome meeting will be held in the Methodist Chapel at 3pm on the Friday afternoon and organisers say it is vital that it is well attended, if only to hear race officials remind rowers that a strict starting line discipline will be vigorously applied – and enforced by disqualification for any transgression.