Jon’s sister Charlotte and her daughter Molly are members of their local ‘Gigging’ club in Porthleven in Cornwall. Whilst we were in Cornwall on holiday in August she said, “Come on, have a go”. The club offers weekly ‘social days’ where anyone can just visit and have a go in the hope that they may like to become a member. I do recommend popping down to the harbour and giving it a go if you’re ever in Porthleven. We love to try new things so off we went flexing our muscles…
I had no idea what I’d let myself in for. Jon used to teach canoeing in his early working years and has a couple of canoes and a Canadian canoe, which we have paddled a few times, but I am certainly no rower and with very little upper body strength, I class myself as fairly rubbish.
As I was worrying about this, Charlotte was quick to explain that it was all leg strength which is used in ‘gigging‘ and a good rowing technique. We were given a 5 minute training talk about the correct technique and then headed straight in to help put the boats in the water. We didn’t have too long to worry about what was coming up, because we just had to get stuck in, climb aboard and at first, Jon and myself were asked to sit at the back to watch and then have a go at a later stage.
Just a little information about the gigs taken from Porthleven-online.com:
The Cornish Gig
A gig is made from Cornish Elm.
All gigs are built to the same specification and each new boat is carefully monitored during its construction by the Cornish Gig Association’s nominated inspectors.
They are 32 foot long and 4 foot 3″ across the beam.
There are 8 thwarts (seats), one for the coxswain, six for the rowers and the “seagull” seat in the bow. The rowers sit alternately along the boat, three on the stroke side and three on the bow side.
This Standard is based on the measurements of the “Treffry”, built by Peters of St. Mawes in 1838. He considered this craft to be the gig that was best suited to Cornish waters, out of all the gigs that he had built.
If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I love a bit of history, so I couldn’t resist checking out why the whole ‘Gigging’ scene started. It was the BBC website which explained it all; BBC-Cornwall
The Isles of Scilly has been hosting the World Pilot Gig Championships since 1990. The origins of the Cornish Pilot Gig stretches back hundreds of years.
Gigs were originally built at the end of the 18th Century in Cornwall, to take the pilot out to the sailing ships. They were used as many of the harbours were too small for the ships to anchor.
It was essential for the gig owner to build a boat that would be fast on the Cornish waves. Whichever gig reached the anchored ship first received the money for the job. Gigs have also been used in smuggling, and as lifeboats.
When a new gig was built it was tested against opposition boats to find out how fast it was. It was only a matter of time before these impromptu races were replaced with official fixtures, and so pilot gig racing was born.
Today the competition is fierce but always friendly. There are more than 25 clubs in Cornwall alone with around 50 gigs. During May to September competitions are held most weekends. The main highlight for gig rowers is the World Pilot Gig Championships which takes place on the Isles of Scilly usually at the end of April. The islands have been host to the major event since 1990.
What I did put to the back of my mind, though as I said, “Yeah okay I’ll give it a go” is that I’m not at all comfortable out in deep water, especially the sea. (Probably due to the early childhood years, watching Jaws!) I’m absolutely fine messing about in the fluffy white stuff, can swim pretty well and love boogie boarding and trying to Surf, but out in the real deep, Well… I’m not too good. Stepping out of my comfort zone is something I try to do though, so off I went pretending I was okay about it all.
I was so surprised when the boat was moving out of the Harbour and out to sea because I felt great, was loving it and felt totally safe. We headed straight out to sea and I didn’t have time to feel scared because myself and Jon were busy watching the technique of the ‘Gig rowers’, as we knew it would be our turn soon and sure enough it didn’t seem long before the Coxswain instructed the crew to take a break while we had a swap of rowers, giving us a chance to have a go. It was at this point where I began to realise where I was, as I suddenly felt a little vulnerable as I had to get to another seat. Trying not to look over the gig at the water I now realised how very wobbly this boat had become, out in the very deep sea, with Jaws waiting from the black underneath us… (okay I’m getting a little dramatic now!) trying to stand up and step over a couple of rowers in front and manoeuvre to my new seat in the Gig. I took hold of the Oar and watched others how to correctly hold it. Everyone was no nice, giving helpful advice and making us feel welcome.
The Coxswain started giving her orders and counting the strokes. I very quickly forgot about the deep sea beneath us (and Jaw’s) infact, I forgot where we were because I was busy, head fixed to the side watching my oar and concentrating so hard on my stroke and positionning of the oar in the water, listening to the stroke count and to helpful instruction.
It wasn’t long, probably 30 minutes or so before we found ourselves rowing back into Porthleven Harbour and finding the beach where we were met by the men’s crew who were next out on their training session.
I was really quite pleased with myself. I’d tried something new while at the same time stepping out of my comfort zone once more – big smiles all round followed by some of the best Fish & Chips I’d had in a long time.