Words by the CPGA:
Each boat is connected by materials, builders and design to all the other Cornish Pilot Gigs; together they form a large family of heritage vessels.
The Cornish Pilot Gigs built today are built to a specification inspired by ‘Treffry’, built in 1838 by the Peters family of Polvarth, St Mawes, Cornwall. It is said that William Peters was so pleased with ‘Treffry’ that he polished her with linseed instead of painting her.
The lines of the Cornish Pilot Gig evolved over time driven by the requirements of 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.
1666 The crew of the Royall Oacke are rescued by a St. Mary’s gig after being wrecked on the Bishop.
1790 The Peters family of Polvarth, St Mawes receive an order for a boat to be used for life saving on the north coast of Cornwall. They made a six oared gig and it is thought that this gig was the first Padstow lifeboat.
1796 Ann Glanville is born in Saltash, she goes on to become a waterwoman, supporting her ill husband and family of 14 children whilst becoming self-proclaimed ‘Champion Rower of the World’ racing in four oared gigs.
1812 The Newquay is built by the Peters for export to Burma but sold instead to Messers W Broad of Falmouth (Lloyds Agents). It was later sold to Newquay. Where she is held in trust to this day.
c1820 The Dove is built; a sleek boat she is fast and a foot longer than the Newquay.
1821 The St. Mary’s gig Horse returns from putting a pilot aboard a ship only to be wrecked on route, 3 crew members drown.
1828 The Bryer gig Venus and St.Mary’s gig Jolly are confined to port by the Preventative Service for smuggling.
c1830 The Bonnet is built by the Peter’s family and under the pilotage of John Nance said to have made smuggling trips to Roscoff (250 miles round trip) 25 times.
c1838 The Treffry is built for the Treffry Company to coincide with their purchase of Newquay Harbour. She was built to be the fastest gig ever and was the longest gig the Peters family built at 32 foot.
1849 Samuel Tiddy moves to Scilly having served his apprenticeship with the Peter’s family; he goes on to build the O&M, the Sultan, the Hope (allegedly the last gig to smuggle from Brittany) and the Leo (probably the last one he built).
1849 Four gigs race at Newquay regatta, Treffry, Dove, Constance(Padstow) and Zoe coming in in that order and sharing prize money of £11.
1866 Gigs racing at Falmouth quarrel about the finishing positions and the race is rerowed. The Fury and Nelly wouldn’t race again having come first and second. The Energy and Little Sally went again and the Energy was victorious.
1875 Members of a crew returning from a cricket match from Tresco to St. Mary’s were drowned when their gig capsized.
1877 At Fowey regatta, Annie of Fowey, the Treffry and the Dove cross the line in that order winning £5, £3 and £2 respectively (the Flying Fish of Fowey dropped out).
1903 The Shah is banned from a race because she is ‘too fast’. Instead the St Agnes men try to race the Cetewayo (originally from St. Ives) but she had been left for years and had been overgrown by weeds. She leaked so badly during the race she had to be beached at St Mary’s.
1921 Newquay Rowing club is formed, bringing together the Newquay, Dove and Treffry; previously owned by separate companies.
1925 The Slippen rescues 26 people from the wreck of the Cite de Verdun and the crew receive medals.
1928 A Newquay crew record a time of 6 min 15 sec for one mile and in commemoration a model of the Dove by Francis Peters is presented to Truro Museum.
1929 On the 6th August, the Sussex is used to take a bride to church from Tresco, this gig was often used for weddings and to fetch doctors when necessary.
1938 On the 22nd December, Jack Hicks of St Agnes, is the last pilot to be put aboard a vessel from a gig when he is put aboard the Foremost.
1947 Newquay Rowing Club is reformed after the war and the only known remaining gigs on mainland Cornwall are in Newquay; the Newquay, the Dove, the Treffry.
1953 Newquay Rowing Club purchases the Golden Eagle, the Bonnet and the Slippen.
1954 George Northey, R H Gillis and Tom Pryor go to St Agnes on Scilly to buy the Shah and measure the Campernell (a large gig with a loose thwart; removed carrying coffins), the Sussex, the Zelda, the Queen, the Empress and the Emperor and the remains of the Gleaner.
1954 The Golden Eagle is used to rescue a tourist stranded on Horse Rock, Newquay and is also rowed to Padstow in very rough weather, the journey taking five and a half hours.
1954 The Newquay is repainted, taken on a 2 day journey to London on a tractor and trailer and exhibited at the first International Boat Show at Olympia.
1956 The Golden Eagle delivered a young Breton boy to his father’s boat in Newquay bay in rough seas when no other vessel could weather the trip.
1968 The Serica, Czar and Golden Eagle row from Scilly to Penzance the faster boats taking 9hrs and 47 mins.
The Sussex is rowed from Marazion to Scilly in 9hr 17mins by a crew from Truro.
1970 Seven rowing clubs compete in the first County Gig Championship at Newquay.
1980 The first Ladies County Gig Championship takes place at Newquay.
1986 The Cornish Pilot Gig Association is formed to uphold the specification of the Cornish Pilot Gig.
1987 The Sussex and Newquay race at Henley.
1988 The first Junior Cornish County Gig Championships takes place.
1990 The first ‘World Gig Championships’ are held on the Isles of Scilly. Winners- Men; Truro, Women; Newquay.
2016 The Cornish Pilot Gig Association has 69 member clubs and a register of over 190 Cornish Pilot Gigs.