It was a wild and stormy Cornish night and, although this was 1994, to anyone peering round the door of The Tinners Arms, it could have been 1694. The few locals who had ventured out were huddled around the open fire and, in the dim flickering light, could easily have been mistaken for smugglers or wreckers talking over evil deeds and secret plans; instead of which, they were gig rowers – talking over evil deeds and secret plans!
In Zennor, time stands still. From the giants in the granite quoits above to the mermaid in the cove below, there is still the possibility of magic and after four pints of H.S.D. there is even more chance of magic! So, when some wise fool said “Why don’t we start our own gig club?” …. “Why don’t we get our own boat?” ….”Why don’t we blast out a section of the cliff, construct a passable road to the cove and clear the beach of 500,000 tonnes of granite boulders?” …. and ….”Why don’t we have another pint?” – you can understand how three of these four original objectives have now been accomplished. You can probably guess which one is still some way off!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Zennor Gig Club (Penzance), based in Penzance by the Harbour slipway, is a friendly Club and always welcome new members regardless of whether they can row or not. The Club is affiliated to Penzance Sailing Club which enables us to use their facilities such as showers, toilets, club house facilities, etc. There is ample parking nearby.
The Club currently has four gigs which are as follows:- (1) Senara: built by L & M Pezzack in 1995 and named after the patron saint of Zennor church, St Senara. (2) Morvoren: built by B Pomeroy in 1999 and named after the legend of a mermaid who lured Matthew Trewhella into the sea after hearing him singing in church. (3) Melusine (mel-loo-sin) arrived in April 2006 and was built by Mr D Currah of Looe. Her name means a two tailed mermaid and this is very much in keeping with the Club’s mermaid theme which also forms the Club’s logo. (4) Mermaid joined the fleet in December 2008 and is the Club’s first fibreglass gig. This gig will enable all year round crew training to take place without the need for winter maintenance, and can be used when the traditional wood boats are stripped down and re-painted throughout the winter months.
In 2002, Morvoren was adapted so that Club members could sail her, and in 2004 she was entered into the Club’s first competitive race during the World Pilot Gig Championships on the Isles of Scilly which the Club won thereby bringing home the Pilots Widows Sailing Trophy much to the delight of the Club’s members.
The Club logo originated from the famous tale of the Zennor Mermaid which tells of how the mermaid Morvoren fell in love with Matthew Trewhella after hearing him singing in the village church, and subsequently lured him into the sea, never to be seen again The Club aims to have crews in the following classes:- Ladies A, Ladies B, Mens A, Mens B, Under 14yrs, Under 16yrs, Mixed and Veterans. Members are not obliged to row as help is always needed with social and fundraising events throughout the year as well as help with towing, maintenance of gigs and flashboat, their trailers and all associated equipment.
If you have any interesting photographs or articles that can be added to this website or if you would like a link to be made from this site to another site, please contact the Club Secretary. The Club members hope you enjoy this site. Please feel free to come along to Zennor Gig Club (Penzance) if you would like to row.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The following was compiled by Mr Keith Harris and was used in the programme for the Club’s first ever race day held on Saturday 16th August 1997. Gig racing is an echo from the days when sailing ships ruled the seas, not that gigs ceased working with the advent of steam and diesel powered ships. Indeed the last time a gig was used to land a pilot aboard a ship was as recent as 1939. Before the 2nd World War finally finished, the remnants of the schooners and ketches that eked a living out of trading around the British coasts had almost all gone.
Gigs were probably never designed or invented – they evolved over centuries of trial and error with each gig being a refinement of all the boats that had been built before and the main criteria being speed, seaworthiness, durability and cost. In the years before rail when roads monopolized the conveyance of goods, shipping of all sizes, shapes and rigs were the motive force of the Empire.
The crew of any vessel approaching the coast, before the invention of electronic navigational equipment, were forced to rely on the localized knowledge of pilots in order to bring their vessels and cargoes safely to port. Each port would have had its own pilots (or ‘hobblers’ as unlicensed pilots were called) and each crew of pilots would use a boat which would give them as great an advantage in getting a pilot aboard an incoming ship as they could manage. The first pilot aboard a ship got the job, so it was natural for races between rival crews to take place.
Around 1790, a boat builder and shipwright called William Peters set up a yard at Polvath near St Mawes and his name was to become synonymous with gigs and gig building, probably because ten gigs dating from 1812-1895 all built by either William or his son Nicholas Peters, have survived to the present day. What William Peters must have created in the early 1800’s was a gig that was so radically superior to everything else afloat that if you were a pilot with competitors close at hand, you either had a Peters built boat or you went out of business!! The Peters not only built boats for pilots as their customers included H.M. Customs, the Coastguard Service, shipping agents and chandlers. The Peters also built gigs of different shapes, lengths and volumes, ranging from the sleek pilot gigs such as ‘Treffry’ from which most of the 20th century gigs have been cloned, to the barge-like ‘Campernell’ with her 6’8″ beam.
Gigs were also used for many purposes amongst which were:- pilotage, conveyance of farm produce, salvage, conveyance of passengers, inter-island trading, fishing, lighthouse relief, carrying coffins from off islands, smuggling, delivering stores and chandlery to ships. Gigs, now as then, are built of Elm, preferably Cornish small Leaf Elm, with as few scarphs or joins in the 1/4″ planks as possible.
Gigs were all rigged with two masts and carried a lug mainsail and mizzen rig, and will sail well under the right conditions. Many of the long smuggling runs to Roscoff made by Scillonian gigs such as ‘Bonnet’ would have been made under the silence of sails. Gigs were banned by law from carrying eight oars or more because if apprehended, an eight oared boat could row to windward faster than a Revenue cutter could sail!
The seaworthiness of gigs is legendary and some modern gigs such as ‘Nornour’ and ‘William Peters’ have emulated the old time smuggling trips to France In July 1997, the ‘William Peters’ from Roseland Gig Club set a new record when, ten years after her launching, she was rowed from Newquay to Ireland in 41 hours.
Present day gig racing stems from the revival of gig racing mainly under the instigation of Richard Gillis, George Northey and Tom Pryor of the Newquay Rowing Club who, in 1953, went to the Scillies and purchased several of the remaining Scillonian gigs and renovated them. In 1956, for the Festival of Britain, several of the gigs at Newquay were raced and from this small acorn the sport of pilot gig racing in Cornwall has grown. Now almost every port and cove in Cornwall is represented by a gig and the sport has started to spread out of county and abroad. Devon now has several gigs as has Holland. Australia is reported to be interested in having some gigs down under and at least one copy of the ‘Treffry’ is known to exist in the USA.
Gig racing is a sport for all ages and many families will have representatives of all ages competing in a variety of races. If you don’t row at present but would like to, your local club would like to hear from you.