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Club History

The six-oared Cornish Pilot Gig is a rowing boat steeped in the history of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Its history can be traced back to the 1790s, when it was used to take a pilot out to the square-riggers plying their trade around the Cornish coast and along the English Channel. Competition was rife between neighbouring ports, to get their pilot on board first, as this would secure the much-needed trade for their own villagers and it is in this tradition that the sport of gig racing has its roots. Pilot Gigs had to be built to withstand terrible weather conditions; this meant they were used many times in preference to the established lifeboats. There are many reports of them also being used to bring contraband into the Southwest from Brittany. In the St Austell area four oared gigs operated from Fowey, Charlestown, and Mevagissey and, according to local sources, several such boats were operating from Charlestown for the Coastguard around the turn of the 19th century.

The resurgence of Pilot Gigs came in the 1950s, with Newquay Rowing Club and the Isles of Scilly saving original Scillonian Gigs from being broken up for firewood. Tom Chudleigh built the first Gig of the twentieth century 'Serica' in 1967, but it wasn't until 1985 that things really took off. Now there are over 120 new Gigs built in the traditional way. Most of these second generation Gigs are standardised to the dimensions of the Newquay Gig 'Treffry', built by the Peters family of St.Mawes in 1838, reportedly the best and longest Gig they ever built. She is 32 feet long, not less than 4 feet 9 inches amidships and not weighing less than 7cwt. Cornish Pilot Gig racing is now ingrained in everything that is Cornish. The whole look, feel, and construction of these beautiful boats exhibits the hundreds of years of tradition that goes before it.

Charlestown Rowing Club was formed on May 22nd 1990. A group of friends who had followed the sport of gig racing between Newquay and the Isles of Scilly for some years, and who were at that time rowing for the nearby village of Mevagissey, decided to try to form their own gig club in Charlestown. An open meeting was held at the Rashleigh Arms and from that meeting twenty men and women founded Charlestown Rowing Club. That was the easy bit! All that remained was to raise enough money to have a gig built. This was no mean feat as at that time a traditional clinker built pilot gig, plus trailer and six spruce oars cost approximately twelve thousand pounds but with grants and help from the local community it was achieved and our first gig, 'Mystery', was built in Portmellon by Peter Foard and was launched in 1991.

Photo of Charlestown Gig Rowing Club

Since those humble beginnings, Charlestown has gone from strength to strength. We regularly compete in regattas throughout Cornwall and the South West. Farther afield, the club has sent crews to London to row in the Great River Race and has enjoyed competing in the Muiden Pampas Muiden race in Holland as well as enjoying the Dutch hospitality! Our second gig, 'Tormentor', was launched in 1995 and built by John and Dave Currah of Looe, who also built our next racing boat 'Waterwitch' which was launched in 2003. Around this time we also acquired our first Glass Fibre training gig, 'Keynvor', donated by Ocean Housing and painted in their ocean blue livery, which helped take some of the training wear from the wooden racing boats. Our wooden boats are painted grey and red; this scheme was adopted from the local school's colours and club members wear them with pride. In 2007 Charlestown Rowing Club took the decision to sell the 'Tormentor' in order to help fund the construction of a new racing gig and ‘'Defender”, built by M & L Hunkin in Fowey was launched in 2009. In addition to this new wooden racing gig, a new glass fibre training gig, ‘Rashleigh’ was acquired to compliment the 'Keynvor' and again help reduce wear and tear on the wooden gigs. We were very fortunate with access to grants around this time and updated our training boats with the sale of Keynvor and the purchase of another new grp training gig which we named ‘Spirit’

2012 was a major year for the Club! With the help of British Rowing and Cornwall Council and the Charlestown community, we achieved our dream of our own Boat Shed situated close to the Rashleigh Arms. Delivering our boat shed was a huge undertaking, but the Club is proud of its history and connections with the community in the village of Charlestown and having a permanent base there helps keep the village links with traditional gig rowing and helps secure the future of the club. This was also the time that we sold Waterwitch and with the help of Sita Community Trust purchased our latest wooden gig, “Grace”, named after Charles Rashleigh's daughter. This beautiful varnished boat was built by P Williams in Fowey maintains the clubs position of keeping two first class wooden racing boats.

To come up to date, last year we updated our training boats and added another gpg training gig, “Tribute” and we now boast two wooden racing gigs, three grp training gigs, a 13 ft. training skiff and an enviable compliment of oars and rowing and safety equipment.

2015 sees the 25th Anniversary of the founding of Charlestown rowing Club! Running a Club such as ours if often challenging but always fun. Much of what has been achieved so far would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of so many Club Members, ex–Members, friends, family, local people and businesses within the area, and we look forward to their continued support and enthusiasm for rowing as we enter the next 25 years of the Club's history.

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