The Cornish Pilot Gig Association today celebrates it’s thirtieth birthday after being formed in the living room of legendary gig builder Ralph Bird on December 5th 1986.
The Association was set up with one simple objective – to oversee and maintain a one class design for the Cornish Pilot Gig. Gigs had been used for racing since the early 1920’s, but by the 80s the sport was really starting to grow, and it was decided that a set of lines be taken from the ‘Treffry’, a pilot gig built in 1838 by the Peters family of St Mawes.
Today the Association has grown to support what is now one of the fastest growing sports in the South West, if not the UK. In 1986 when the Association was established there were 5 clubs. Today the CPGA represents 69 clubs, spread over 9 countries, with over 8,000 rowers who row a fleet of nearly 200 traditional Cornish pilot gigs all built to the same lines as the Treffry, a boat built over 170 years ago.
The lines of the Cornish Pilot Gig were driven by the requirements for a fast, seaworthy, sturdy vessels for pilotage but it’s story begins much earlier when ‘gig’ was the description for rowing boats built for a diversity of uses around the Cornish coast and the Isles of Scilly including lifeboats, smuggling, pilotage, carrying passenger and pilotage.
President Norma Edwards said ”We all knew that we were part of a very special sport, and felt privileged to row such beautiful wooden boats. We felt passionately about what we were doing, not just because of the boats and the history behind them, but also because of the camaraderie it engendered. I feel privileged to have been part of this unique experience.”
John Bawden, another founder member added ”Back then we were just a bunch of rowers that wanted to preserve the heritage of these beautiful boats. Never in our wildest dreams did we think the sport would grow to where it is today and it is a great feeling to see so many people now enjoying this traditional craft and the community values it embodies”
With no signs of slowing the Association is currently restructuring into a charitable organisation, this will enable them to support the sport as it swells, both in terms of rowers and geographically across both the UK and Europe,
Annamarie Phelps CBE, Chairman of British Rowing “It is great to see how Gig rowing has grown over the past 30 years. It is testament to the hard work of the CPGA and all those involved. Gig rowing is an important part of our sport; dynamic, social and inclusive. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with the CPGA over the next 30 years and beyond.”
The birthday coincides with the launch of their new website www.cpga.co.uk which has been built by one of the committee members Toby Budd and populated by other members of the CPGA.
Shane Sullivan, current Chairman concluded ”The growth of the Sport within the UK and overseas has been phenomenal, especially over the past 15 years, all driven by volunteers who are passionate about bringing such a vibrant, non elite sport to their communities as well as injecting a considerable amount into the SW and local economies. As such we now have to look at how the CPGA manages and supports the growth of the sport and aspirations of its rowers.”