The best and most enduring sporting events are about more than a simple test of strength, skill and endurance. They tell a story, inspire those who participate and those who spectate and can bring people together in common cause like almost no other occasion.
This weekend’s World Pilot Gig Championships on the Isles of Scilly tick all those boxes with the added bonus of acting as a wonderful marketing boost for the Westcountry and the Scillies in particular. The fact that this year, the event’s silver jubilee, has seen a record entry and been blessed by pretty-well perfect gig racing weather only adds to the list of positives.
The comments from Andrew May, chairman of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, the main sponsor of the event, highlights just how far the championships have come since the inaugural event a quarter of a century ago. Then, only 12 visiting gigs took part, compared to more than 150 gigs shipped to the islands this year. Initially those competing were almost all from Cornwall. Now they flock to Scilly from all over the Westcountry, other parts of England, Ireland, America, the Faroes, France and the Netherlands.
Indeed the sport of gig racing itself has grown enormously from those early days, with almost every port and resort on the South West Peninsula now boasting a club. The success – and the publicity – surrounding the World Pilot Gig Championships and its fabulous Isles of Scilly backdrop have played a big part in that.
The fact that gig racing has a big place in the maritime background of the Westcountry is important. Originally the pilots raced out to meet larger vessels heading into port in the hope of getting their business and guiding them in. That history adds to the whole romance surrounding the sport and puts everyone, from boat-builders through rowers to spectators, in touch with an important aspect of the past that is unique to coastal communities.
It is a great tribute to the Steamship Company and the people of the Scillies that they have been able to hold onto the pilot gig championships as the event has grown over the years. The islands are not the easiest places to get to and there are plenty of resorts that would love to host such a popular and well-supported event. Thankfully, however, the future of the event on Scilly seems secure. Nowhere else could put on such a show. It is a credit to our region.