Local resident Gary Budd is on a mission to bring a Lewes team to the World Pilot Gig Championships next year. He founded the Lewes Pilot Gig Club just last month and he has already secured the lease on a boat for the club to train in, which will be making its way to Lewes in early October. His plan now is to build up a men’s crew and a women’s crew, who will train together over the coming months and be ready to compete in the races at the Scilly Isles in May.
Gigs are 32-foot, traditionally wooden boats, which originated in Cornwall in the 18th century. They were used to transport pilots and also goods from large sailing ships into the small harbours; the gigs would race out to meet a ship before other competitors, and gradually this racing became an official sport.
A gig crew is made up of six rowers and a cox. “It’s serious teamwork,” says Gary, who has been rowing for over ten years. “You’ve got the first stroke and second stroke at the back, who set the pace, and everyone else follows suit, watching each other’s blades so that you’re all rowing together. As the oars knock against the pins on the gunnels you hear a click all the way down the boat, so it’s clear if one person’s out of time.
“Racing the World Championships is just unreal,” he continues. “This year there were about 135 boats, from all round the UK – Cornwall, Bristol, London – and from Australia, the US, Bermuda…” The nearest club until now has been Newhaven, but Gary is determined to build up a strong rowing community here in the town: “I think it’s going to be a great thing for Lewes. We’ve got a lot of support from the Cornish Pilot Gig Association and British Rowing, and the clubs in London and Hayling Island. There’s a push to get gig rowing recognised as an Olympic sport, so they’re keen to encourage new clubs to get started.”
The Lewes club will be based at Seaford & Newhaven Sailing Club’s inland site, at Piddinghoe, where the crew will train as frequently as possible. “The more we can get everyone out on the water, the better,” says Gary. But to adapt to the shorter evenings over the winter months, he is also in the process of working out deals with a few local leisure facilities, which will allow the club to train together, whether through team swims or timed sessions on a rowing machine.
The club are welcoming new members, with any level of experience, to attend an open session and find out more about what’s involved. The date is to be confirmed and more details will be released via the Lewes Pilot Gig Club Facebook page. The club meet every Wednesday at the Dorset at 7.30pm; join Gary and the other members at the Plastic Free Seaford Beach Clean on 7th October. Meet at the Buckle at 10am.