History of Zennor Gig Club

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!

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Zennor Gig Club (Penzance), is based in Penzance by the Harbour (Sailing Club) slipway, is a friendly Club and always welcomes 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.

Zennor Gig Club currently have 3no. wooden racing gigs, All of which have a distinctive Mermaid painted on their rudders, and 1no. fibreglass training gig.

  1. “Senara”- Fondly referred to as “The Mothership”, built by Leon and Martin Pezzack, upside down in a barn in Mousehole, in 1995, Zennor’s 1st Gig, which won her first race at Hayle, is the Father and Son gig building team’s only gig to date. Named after the patron Saint of Zennor, St.Senara. In St.Senara’s Church in Zennor, the ancient wood carving of the Legendary Mermaid of Zennor is still on show for all to see today. This gave Zennor the theme of The Mermaid for our badge and logo, which is a direct copy of the carving. She is getting on a bit now so does not race that often.
  2. “Melusine” – (pronounced MEL-LOO-SIN), built by Mr. D. Currah in Looe, in April 2006. Her name is taken from Celtic Mythology, where “Melusine” was a mermaid with two tails, (so pretty fast then!).
  3. “Pendower”- Our newest Gig, completed on 8th February 2017, was built by Peter Williams at Bodinnick Boatyard, Fowey. She was named after the Mermaid Cove in Zennor, home of the Legendary Mermaid of Zennor, using the ancient alternative spelling of the name, (often spelt “Pendour” these days, on most maps, but we’d rather have a name with P’ower in it than one that is dour!).
  4. “Mermaid” – is our fibreglass gig, mainly for training, and she was made in December 2008. Used predominately in the close season when the wooden gigs are being repaired and painted.
  5.  “Morvoren” – Was originally Zennor Gig Club’s second gig, built by Brian Pomeroy in Dartmouth in 1999. “Morvoren “is both Cornish for Mermaid (“Maid of the Sea”), and the name, according to legend, of the Mermaid of Zennor, who enticed away the squire’s son Matthew Trewhella after singing together in St Senara’s church, never to be seen again.

The Club aims to have crews in the following classes:

Ladies A, Ladies B, Mens A, Mens B, Under 14 years, Under 16 years, 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, their trailers and all associated equipment.
We hope you find this website informative and helpful. Please feel free to contact us through this website, and then come along to Zennor Gig Club (Penzance) if you would like to row.

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ZIG CLUB (Zennor International Gig Club) 

Started in 2002, with 18 club members towing a gig (“Morvoren”) over 1,000 miles to Passau in Bavaria (Germany) and rowing her 200 miles down the River Danube to Vienna in Austria.

In 2005, we went back to Bavaria after taking part in the amazing “Vogalonga” around the lagoon and canals of Venice.

Imagine rowing across the lagoon into one of Venice’s many beautiful canals, the excitement, the experience, the sights we saw, only to be confronted by a lady sitting at the first café in Venice we passed, who jumped up and shouted: “What are you lot doing here, I’m from Porthleven!”

Driving through the Alps towing a gig is amazing, (as is Milan at rush hour by the way), and we launched “Senara” this time on The Danube 180 miles upstream of where we started before and rowed back to Passau, (well…nearly, ran out of time, we owe it 50k).

In 2006, we took part in Muiden -Pampus -Muiden regatta in Amsterdam, brilliant and not so far to drive.

Also in 2006, we rowed from Sennen Cove to Hats Buoy in Scilly, taking 6 hours 19 minutes.

Not International maybe, but we have also taken part in at least 5 Great London River Races, the last being 2016, and we had planned to do it again in 2020!

Most recent was our trip to Cork, where we towed and ferried “Melusine” and rowed in “An Ras Mor” their 28k Ocean to City race, and picked up 4 trophies, inc. 1st International crew, 1st Cornish Pilot Gig and 2nd Overall out of 230 boats!

Watch this space for the next trip.

History of Gig Rowing

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 monopolised 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 localised 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 1800s 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 HM 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.

Keith Harris

Author of “AZOOK”