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A History of Cornish Gigs by Anne Curnow Care

Illustration for A History of Cornish Gigs by Anne Curnow Care
A talk rescheduled from last year finally reached us and it was well worth the wait. On a beautiful sunny day, Anne Curnow Care joined us in a packed Fowey Church along with local gig builders, Peter Williams and Maurice Hunkin, to give an informative and insightful walk through gig history and gig building.

Anne is the Secretary of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association (CPGA), a local lady brought up in and around St. Ives harbour who has been associated with gig rowing since the early 1990s and a member of the Association since the early 2000s. The CPGA is the Governing body for the Sport of Pilot Gig Rowing, charged with upholding the specification and heritage of the Cornish Gig.

Anne gave the most interesting and engaging talk about gigs where we learned there are clubs all around the south coast of England, predominantly based in Cornwall but reaching as far afield as Norfolk in this country and beyond. Originally, these boats were designed for pilotage and harbour work, so accordingly the craft are speedy, seaworthy vessels and all follow the lines of the gig, ‘Treffry’, built in 1838. The boats are all built to the same specification and undergo three standardisation tests throughout the build; they are only tagged when they pass all three tests. The boats are owned by the Club, not individuals, and it was stressed how important it is for members of the club to be involved in the building process from inception to naming. Anne made it clear that at the end of the day, Pilot Gig Racing is predominantly about the boat not the crew, club or community it represents.

The talk was enhanced by the lively and entertaining Q&A session with Maurice and Peter led by Anne, where we learned the difficulty gig builders face in sourcing the correct grade and shape of wood necessary to build the vessels (Elm and Oak). Originally this had been locally sourced but this was getting harder due to Dutch Elm disease and the shape and quality of the Oak stems required (no knots!). They shared that their proudest moments, once the vessel had been crafted (and after the money was in the bank!!), was the blessing and naming ceremony and the knowledge the Club was happy with the gig, stressing again the build was more worthwhile if a Club involved itself in the process. Maurice had built twelve gigs with his son Louis and he shared that this was probably a typical ‘father son relationship’, where advice given from experience gained, is stored and saved only to be used later! He is very proud of his son’s workmanship. Peter told us how important the name is to the vessel, the politics around the final choice and how crucial it is to have an experienced sign writer to ensure clarity from the shore.

A hugely informative and entertaining talk.

Suzanne Goddard, 5 March 2022


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