Gig Racing :: What do you think ?

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Pilot Gigs have been raced for employment, fun and prize money since the 17th century. Early records show gigs racing a straight line course over a timed and measured mile and today pilot gigs race over a range of different courses.  This post is a list of some of the current race courses and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each as well as looking at other options used in other disciplines of rowing.


This post is all about provoking a positive and forward looking discussion about the sport, where do you think it should go from here ? do you have any thoughts on course options ?

Let us know what you think by adding a comment, get involved and help influence change for the better.

:: The Kite Course ::

This is an example of Falmouth’s course at Gyllyngvase.


Description: This is a standard kite course with three turns. Start line, then anticlockwise around the marks back to the start/finish line.
Examples: Tribute Events, Standard format for most clubs.
Advantages:Traditional, Good for spectators at mark roundings & popular with rowers.
Disadvantages: Controversy on the turns as umpires have to make decisions. Three umpire boats required for each mark, plus a start/finish boat. Extra strain on strokeside as they have three turns to pull around.

:: The Sprint Course ::

This is an example of the Nut Rock races on the Isles of Scilly.


Description:A sprint from a start line to a finish line with no turns.
Examples:Nut Rock at Scillies, Under 14’s @ Hayle Pool.
Advantages: No turns to umpire, spectators can often follow races alongside either by boat or by land.
Disadvantages: Weaving by crews can sometimes go undetected, rowers often have to row the length of the course to get to the startline.

:: Triangular Course ::

This is an example of the Newquay course.


Description: Start then do two turns anticlockwise and finish on the start/finish line.
Examples:Newquay, Mount’s Bay, Roseland.
Advantages: Only two umpire boats required, less turns for coxswains as opposed to kites, good for spectators as tight turns are often thrilling.
Disadvantages: Controversy is often the case on the turns as clashes happen, takes up a large space of water, very tight turns for strokeside.

:: Time Trial Course ::

This is an example of the Truro River Race course.


Description: Start at a point, set off to a finish point racing against the clock and not other crews.
Examples:Truro River Race, Across The Bay race.
Advantages:Crews can not clash as they are set off in intervals or with a large startline, no turns to umpire, usually a number of spectator points as this is more suited a river.
Disadvantages: Tidal conditions change through the day, some crews may gain an advantage going at a different time to another, no close racing for spectators to watch, timing many crews can become difficult when set off at multiple times.

:: Relay Course ::

This is an example of the St. Ives Relay course.

Description: Start at one point, race to another, change crew, race back to point one and so on..
Examples: St Ives Fun racing.
Advantages: Integrates ladies and men’s racing together, prompts a bit of fun as change overs happen.
Disadvantages: Can be dangerous as crews try to get a quick change over on the beach (swell etc.) Crews may meet each other going in opposite directions, both aiming for the inside line and potentially clashing. Crews have to start at different places and finish at a different place from where they started.

:: Course Choice ::

Clubs will often pick a race course that is most suited to their venue, for example Charlestown have the first mark by the harbour wall so spectators can see the action, this means that rowers have to row out the start line as opposed to just launching from the beach. However this does allow rowers to warm up as they row out. Some venues have beaches, some have pontoons, thus effecting the choice of what type of course to have.

Suggestions in the past have been:

180Course Z shaped course M shaped course

One turn course – This could be rowed either way making either Bowside or Strokeside pull round.

The Z shaped course – Again this could be done either way with one turn each for Stroke and Bow. However the start and finish line are very far apart and could have a knock on affect on how long the rowing takes.

The M shaped course – The course can either offer Bowside two turns and Strokeside one, or vice-versa. Again the start and finish lines are spread out.

:: And another couple of ideas, fig-8 tongue-in-cheek admittedly ::

Fig8 course

STS courses

Do you have an idea for a course layout? or what is your favorite course ?

Please tell us your thoughts by posting a comment here.

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  1. Roger

    Great post and good to see all that apres race pub chat put into writing.

    Straight line racing means a big row out to the start and many clubs don’t have the space for this but it is by far the fairest form of racing, people also talk about tradition but the first gig racing was run this way, over a measured mile.

    I think we all love racing round the buoys as much as we hate it, as much as it makes great pictures and and exciting roundings it, by its nature, makes for tough umpire calls.

    As crews train harder and put more and more in it becomes increasingly important to offer fair racing.

    Look forward to seeing other thoughts.


  2. Derek

    Got to agree with Roger on this one, straight line racing does take a while, but per say at Scillies the Nut Rocks, one round of them in men’s takes about 1.5 hours? And over 110 crews manage to race in even heats in this time period, including rowing out. This is still more efficient than running heats around a course with turns? There is no way you could get 110+ gigs around a course with turns in 1.5 hours!

    What do you think?

    • Dan


      Although I agree that straight line racing is the fairest option, the proposal you outline here would mean some clubs having 2/3 boats at every event (Ladies/Mens A, Ladies/Mens B and Ladies/Mens C) as all female crews would have to row out to the start together and all mens for their races.
      This would pose more than one problem.

      1) Finding 3 towwers in one club would be tricky, especially as, like our club, only 3/4 do it anyway. One or two may be away/not selected/hacked off with towing every week.

      2) Also, some events don’t have much room on the beach/pontoons for boats and so, at somewhere like Cadgwith/Helford only 4 or 5 clubs would be able to attend (bringin 3 boats each = 12-15 boats).

      3) Towing costs for clubs would also sky-rocket, considering the rise in cost of fuel recently.

      There may be more issues and I may have miss-understood your thoughts but my personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that I thoroughly enjoy ‘turning courses’ (bow side you see) and the excitement it brings and am happy that it out-weighs the occassional disappointment of being DQ’d.

      The issue lies in how the umpires interpret the rules at the marks. If that is standardised we should have no room for complaint (should we?). Should a list of race rules be sent to clubs prior to the day and re-read to the coxes at the meeting so that all are clear about things such as holding up on bow-side etc?

      Just a thought.


  3. Rob H

    It is the variety of the courses and locations that make gig rowing the great sport that it is. No two courses are the same, each regatta has its own subtle challenges to master. If we standardise everything that variety will be lost.

    If it ain’t bust don’t try fixing it

  4. Chris

    I think there will always be a range of race courses on the gig racing calender and that is important, but as the sport grows it is increasingly important for the top crews to have a fairer racing structure. Maybe we should be looking at a league ? How do they manage it in the sliding seat world ?


  5. Dave Pearce

    Over the course of my rowing career the following courses have been most popular: straight races, advantages good warm up and little chance of collisions,disadvantages mainly the time element, the races take a lot longer as the row out can be time consuming, however this does suit a short course, remember in Scilly the men race on a seperate night to the women,although the Scilly races are not held in the day and only take an average of a couple of hours from start to finish.

    The Triangle course is an interesting race and gives coxwains a lot more involvement in the race as well as testing seamanship, you do have to expect collisions but these can be kept to a minimum if controlled and coxed by experienced and sensible people.

    The Kite course more of an olympic style with marks pushed our to avoid tight turns and used for the early starred events.

    All of these I feel have a place in Gig rowing and it would be a shame to do away with them to adopt one particular race style, there is a real chance of becoming a sport governed by regulations and one stop courses as in sliding seat rowing , ref Newquay and other events it may be that clubs should get together more often and sort out the umpires role a little and also ensure a good fair descision is made, there are sometimes decisions that have no real use to a position or effect any other crews or the race itself, I think common sense is what is required.

  6. Gary

    Its interesting that we have some kind of debate every year – if it isn’t the course its the advantage gained/lost by the various gigs that are drawn at Newquay, etc. etc. We all have the odd bit of bad luck and good luck and occasionally get DQ’d – sometimes we are hard done by with decisions, and they are the ones we all remember – the times that decisions are right tend to get overshadowed by the sense of outrage people feel when a decision that doesn’t go our way is not so clear cut, or is downright wrong.

    People essentially love the sport, and keep coming back for more, so I think that on the whole it works. The variety of courses and race formats is a product of the range of conditions (remember even in a straight line race your berth can be critical), coastal topography and so on – it’s a big part of what makes it so compelling and addictive to me, and I’d be off doing something else if overnight it becomes any more elitist and standardised than it is. I am not one of those people that thinks it shouldn’t change at all, but since I can’t see any truly fundemental issues with the way the sport operates I don’t see the need to do anything overly radical. The odd development will make its way into gig racing and it will develop (I can remember marks being a whole lot more dangerous and crazy not so many years ago, so we are steadily improving there for instance), but in my opinion it doesn’t need to develop too drastically. The racing structure is already fair – if it wasn’t then all sorts of crews would be winning events – the fact that the same clubs are competing to win the big events is a result of their dedication and approach, not luck or bad umpiring ruining it for the others – I accept that can/does happen occasionally but not over entire seasons.

    It isn’t perfect, but lets not get too carried away, it can be difficult to draw the line once you start bringing that old chestnut of “fairness” into it. Then it will be time for plastic gigs and identical kit for all, ballast to make the weight the same for all, and autopilots instead of coxes (can’t be letting experienced coxes take advantage of the others and all that). On the other hand, it already seems fair enough – well done Caradon mens A, you deserved it at Newquay, amazing final and a great effort by everyone who fought it out – it brilliantly capped off what has been a very interesting season. To those crews who I have to admit did seem unlucky with some of the DQ decisions (you know who you are) – I suppose all I can do is sympathise (fat lot of use that is I know), but it’s the past now and hopefully lessons can be learnt from it by everyone involved – I know you’ll all be back next year (there is always next year, until we get too old and knackered anyway). Life goes on, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger………

  7. Matt

    Time trial or pursuit racing is a good way to go, given the right location.
    Although it does take quite a bit of organising, and disciplin on the part of crews taking part.
    There’s nearly always another crew in sight to stay ahead of or try to catch, and you never realy know for sure how you’ve done untill the end, which keeps you rowing harder for longer.
    Its good to have a variety of events, they all have their own attractions.
    Try some of the races in Pembrokshire, well worth the trip.

  8. Seals

    If you’re a female veteran or a 15 year old girl, course formats seem a relatively unimportant issue compared to the challenge of often having to race against mixed or men-only teams.

  9. conor

    i think you should keep the course as they are and surely if ur on stroke side then u realise what ure in for and wouldnt do it other wise. so ye im all for the tradition and keep the kite course definatly

  10. Charlie

    Personally, I think kite courses are a waste of time, you race hard up to the first bouy, there’s a prosession around the 3 bouys, then you try again on the last leg. I’ve rowed mostly bow side this summer and it is incredibly frustrating, you can’t get into any kind of rhythm or settled rowing. The triangle courses we’ve seen this year have proved there is more of opportunity for crews to gain or lose places between the bouys, resulting more exciting racing and a more satisfying row.

    Whatever happens next season, one issue that needs to be addressed is the placing of the boat calling the marks, it very rarely is 6 lengths, more often than not it’s less resulting in confusion for the coxes and carnage on the marks. I fully appreciate how hard the umpires job is and have very respect for them, but there are measure they can take to make it easier for themselves.

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