Padstow Gig Rowing Club was established in 1988.
The sight of Padstow Rowing Club wheeling their gigs from the Red Brick Building to the slipways has become a common sight in Padstow throughout the seasons but how many of you really
know the significance of gig rowing to Padstow?
Most people know that the Cornish Pilot Gigs were originally used to pilot the old sailing vessels to the harbour. They also know that the racing started because each yard had its own gig and that the gigs would compete against each other to secure the trade for their yard, but do they know that Padstow was at the root of gig racing or that the first ever gig was ordered for Padstow?
One of the most famous gig building families, who still build gigs today are the Peter’s family from St Mawes. According to their family tradition, their first order was for a six oared gig destined for Padstow in 1790. Although little is known abut this boat, it is believed to have been Padstow’s first lifeboat. Her second lifeboat was also a gig and was the “Mariner’s Friend” built in 1827 by Tredwen of Padstow. She cost £50 and served until 1855.
The first pilot gig on record is “Newquay” built in 1812 by Peters. Newquay was geographically better placed to have “seeking” gigs and as such are credited with starting the tradition on the North coast. Other Newquay gigs of this era were Treffry and Defiance built in 1835. Newquay had the first gig named Teazer which was built in Newquay and originally called “Zoe Treffry”. She was sold to form the roof of a chicken house in the First World War! Another Teazer is recorded as having been built at Rawle’s yard.
In it’s hey day Padstow had several boat yards. Rawle’s had the gig “Vixen”, Dennis Cove had “Constance”, Lower Yard had “Peace”, Cowl’s had “Hero” while Rawle’s “Teazer” was stored on davits outside the Custom’s House. Other Padstow gigs from this era include Arrow, Storm, Dasher, Dauntless, Gazelle, Hero, Rescue, Rival, Victor, Victoria and Warspite.
There are several reports from gig racing during this era. The Western Morning News dated 28 May 1885 reports:
“ …. the six-oared working gig race was the principal event of the day, as it was a struggle for superiority between the Padstow crew at the regatta and again a few weeks later, the crews having changed boats. The Tom Sayers, with her Port Isaac crew took the lead on rounding the first object and kept her position to the end of the race, winning the first prize of £3 by one minute. The Constance came in second, the Hero a good third and Teazer fourth.”
“Ships of North Cornwall” by John Bartlett mentions the Padstow regatta of 1886 where there were three gigs racing: Dove (Billing, Newquay), Tom Sayers (Brewer, Port Isaac) and Constance (Tom Cowl, Padstow). Although the results are not recorded it states that Constance broke an oar at the start. The same book features the race card from Newquay’s regatta on 19 th August 1887. The fourth race of the day was the six-oared gigs. It states that Dove (Cox Billing) was first followed by Treffry (Cox Prout), Newquay (Cox Carter) and Teazer (Cox Bunt). The reader needs to double take to realise that these are regattas from the 19th century not the 20th and 21st centuries as the results and names haven’t changed that much in 100 years!
At the beginning of the 20 th century, gig racing had all but died out until in 1953 there was a resurgence led by the late Roger Gillis and the Newquay rowing club. They went to the Isles of Scilly and bought the old “Slippen”, “Golden Eagle” (Bryher) and “Bonnet” (Tresco) and carried out major renovations in Padstow and Newquay. In 1954 these three together with Newquay, Dove and Treffry took part in the first six gig race at Newquay since 1857. In 1955 they returned to Scilly and bought Gipsy (St Agnes), Zelda (Tresco) and Shah (St Agnes). Gipsy was in good condition but Zelda was in need of complete restoration including the fitting of a new keel. Stephen Brabyn and Donald McBirnie, both shipwrights from Padstow are credited with performing miracles of restoration. On 26 October 1956 Zelda and Gipsy were formally handed over to the Padstow Regatta Committee by the chairwoman of the Padstow Regatta Ladies Guild (who had been formed to raise money for the gigs). Racing occurred throughout the following summer by both sexes with visiting crews from Newquay and other areas. Many Padstow people remember Gipsy as being a Padstow gig during the fifties. Her fate is uncertain but it would appear that she fell in to disrepair when the rowing ceased. It was at this time that Tom Chudleigh started building new gigs at St Mary’s using surviving moulds from Treffry of 1838. These new gigs were named Active, Good Intent and Unity which are the names of Newquay seine companies. At some stage Bonnet, Golden Eagle, Slippen and Shah were returned to the Scillies because they are still in evidence there now. Active and Good Intent are still in use in Newquay while Unity has recently been sold to Port Isaac Rowing Club.
Padstow Rowing Club was resurrected on 9 July 1987 when fundraising began to purchase a new gig. Teazer was duly ordered from Peter Foard and Tom Dudley of Mevagissey and launched on 8 October 1988. Dasher Reveley, a Padstow fisherman and boat builder built them the “Dasher” in 1989 and went on to build 2 more: “Cape Cornwall” for the club of the same name and “Corsair” for Port Isaac. These were the first gigs to be built in Padstow for approx 150 years. In 2003, with the assistance of Rick Stein, Padstow commissioned “Petroc” from D & J Currah of Looe; she was launched in April 2004. A lightweight racing boat made of Scottish elm, she is one of the fastest gigs currently being raced and has helped Padstow to several victories.