An aspiring project to preserve irreplaceable historical data on the traditional Cornish sport of pilot gig rowing has been given a massive cash boost thanks to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group’s biggest ever donation.

The exciting initiative, Pulling Together the Past, which aims to safeguard the history of pilot gig rowing in a new online digital archive, has been awarded £5,000 by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group’s Community Fund.

The significant sum, which was handed over at the Men’s County Championships in Newquay on Sunday, is the biggest amount the Community Fund has ever given away.

The Cornish Pilot Gig Association (CPGA), which is leading the project, hopes it will capture the history and essence of the gigs for the first time.

 Sam Hicks, Chairman of the Steamship Company’s Community Fund, said: “I am delighted the Community Fund has been able to support this venture. Gig rowing represents so many of the good things about our communities on Scilly, in Cornwall and beyond, and the CPGA has always shown a progressive approach in developing our sport for the future.

“However, this project recognises the colourful history of the gigs, boat builders, clubs and crews that have been involved over the years. I wish all those involved the best of luck and look forward to seeing the results.

“The islands have their own very special relationship with gig rowing, and the Steamship Company is a vital part of this history, transporting the gigs and passengers that travel to the islands each year for the World Pilot Gig Rowing Championships.”

Sharon Sandercock, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Steamship Group, said: “This is another fantastic demonstration of the support the Group is giving projects which are so vital to the islands and their heritage.

“Gig rowing is synonymous with Scilly, and incredibly important to the islanders, for whom the sport is part of their daily lives. It’s tremendous to see a donation like this being made which will go so far to enabling this project to go ahead and help a record of gig rowing to be preserved for future generations.”

The Cornish Pilot Gig has played an important role in the working and social lives of communities across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for generations. The vessels were used as lifeboats, for salvage, general work, and pilotage. Cornish Pilot Gigs were also raced in local regattas, often with substantial sums of money awarded to the winners, which is not the case today.

All Cornish gigs built today follow the lines of the gig Treffry, a 32ft pilot gig built in 1838.

Over the last 30 years the sport has exploded, growing from 12 boats to 200 CPGA registered gigs, and this rapid growth shows no signs of slowing. In the UK there are now around 8,000 active rowers aged from juniors to super vets, spread across 71 clubs in 10 UK counties – making it one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. Cornish Pilot Gig racing is also active in the Netherlands, USA, Bermuda, France, UAE and Kuwait.

Karen Beswetherick, Project Manager, said: “I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company on behalf of the entire gig rowing community for awarding the CPGA funding towards this special project.

“We are appealing to the rowing community to come forward with their own collections of photographs, films and artefacts to include in the project, lots of which I know are held on the Isles of Scilly.”

Applications to the Community Fund are open to voluntary groups or charities, schools and education establishments, community clubs or societies, and individuals undertaking not-for-profit projects for the benefit of the wider community.

Projects include:

  • £2,000 towards a community observatory on St Martin’s. It is hoped the observatory will give a community hub to astronomy on Scilly, enabling more people to explore the islands’ unpolluted dark skies and enrich the tourism offer for visitors.
  • £850 to Scilly Kids Triathlon, which was used to pay for medals, t-shirts, drinks and insuring the event in June.
  • £1,250 towards the Build-a-Bike project, run by Cornwall Life Recycle, which bought new tyres, chains and gears for bikes they are rebuilding. The scheme has helped hundreds of disadvantaged people to rescue old bicycles and give them a new lease of life.
  • £2,000 towards a new roof at Constantine WI Hall, near Falmouth, which will allow the hall to be used by community groups for generations to come.

Full details, eligibility criteria and application forms are now available from the Steamship Group’s website. All projects are judged by members of an independent panel.