The World Pilot Gig championships took place on the Scilly Isles last month and I was there to immerse myself in the atmosphere.
The Scillies are a group of islands off the coast of Cornwall – a tiny bit of paradise with white sandy beaches, deep blue seas and a lazy, laid-back way of life that inspires artists and poets and draws visitors from all over the world.
The primary mode of transport around the islands is by boat – island hopping with the tides, giving you time to wander the coastlines and get a feel for each tiny community.
Every May, the World Pilot Gig Championships are held off the coast of St. Mary’s, the biggest of the 27 islands (not all are inhabited). The population is roughly 1700, but this more than doubles as 167 competing gig teams (and their fans) descend for the three day event.
In the 19th Century, pilot gigs were used to help incoming ships navigate the treacherous and perform daring rescues. Nowadays they are rowed for pleasure and competition and it’s a sight to behold. Sitting on a visitor boat amongst hundreds of gigs bobbing on choppy seas, muscly crews poised and ready for the starter horn, is like waiting for a Viking invasion. When the signal sounds, hundreds of men and women heave-ho their way to shore across a distance of 1 mile – it’s quite a spectacle.