The more things change, the more they stay the same…

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As the gig rowing fleet gears up for the 25th World Pilot Gig Championships on the Isles of Scilly in 2014, and the level of entries reaches nearly 150 gigs, it’s fun to see that over a hundred years ago that decisions on the best boat to use, selecting which rower is best for which seat and discussions on diet, training, coaching and technique were as hotly debated as now.

The excellent online copy of “On Rowing” is available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34950/34950-h/34950-h.htm. The sections on the types of rowers required at each seat (albeit in an “8”) are pertinent – see chapter V…phrases like the following for the middle of the boat rowers(!) … “These two are places which require weight and power. The details of elegance and polish are not here so important…”

It’s also interesting to note from http://www.thames.me.uk/s00231a.htm that

“The Oxford 1829 boat was 45′ 4″ long and 4′ 3″ wide and with oars weighed 972lb. For comparison the 1929 Oxford Boat by Sims [shown below] was 62′ 6″ long, 2′ wide and weighed with oars 350 lb.”

In 1829 the crew sat as far away as possible from their rowlock so as to give the maximum leverage (outriggers were not used until 1846) The crew were very far from being in line and the balance of the boat was hardly an issue. The seats were 7″ unmoving thwarts (slides came in in 1873). There was apparently no provision for the feet. Each oar was of a different length with a different inboard length so that the handle just reached the opposite side of the boat – and this was no notional adjustment – Bow’s oar was overall 13′ 6″ and four’s was 15′ 3.5!  A photo taken in 1929 shows the difference in a hundred years of boat building.”
So, if the 45ft long Oxford boat from 1829 was roughly scaled down to a 32ft Cornish Gig, by 972 x (32/45) this means an equivalent(ish) gig would have weighed in at 691lbs or 313kg (including oars). Surprisingly similar to today’s best boats (where 6 oars are about 30kg so a bare boat would have been about 270kg).

Before this article, we asked the CPGA for the official weight specification for a Cornish Pilot Gig but so far we have not received a reply. If you know the correct minimum weight for a CPGA gig, please leave a comment below. Some have mentioned a figure of 7cwt (350kg) but this seems a bit high, maybe the old boys back in 1829 knew a thing or two about making light clinker boats after all?

It also makes us wonder what a Cornish Pilot Gig would have evolved into if left alone to develop for 183 years, obviously still having to carry out the same performance of being ok in rough water with in-rigged rowing positions etc.

The 1980’s cold-moulded “Yole d’Aboville” (http://www.vivierboats.com/html/other_sail_and_oar.html) was an interesting development with a smooth hull and 250kg in weight.

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