Gig racing – get your oar in
Whacking a rival gig racer in the chops with an oar, breaking rudders off competitors' boats and smacking pins holding the oars back into the wood, were all once part of gig racing etiquette .
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Now, it’s a little more gentlemanly (and ladylike) and as part of Crew Clothing Co.’s initiative to Give It A Go, encouraging newcomers to give the sport a try across the South West, I headed down to Falmouth on a sunny Wednesday night for a 6pm row. Falmouth is home to Falmouth Gig Club, the most formidable gig team in the world. The men and ladies were both crowned this year’s World Champions, an exceptional double whammy.
I wobbled on board, taking a cushion at the back. I was in the bow, a fact that would be pointed out frequently each time I needed a little ‘help’ A traditional Cornish gig has six oars and mine felt as heavy as a tree trunk and as high as a sail mast. Sandwiching the leather handle in the pins however, means that the gig thankfully takes much of the weight.
Right hand grips forwards, the left backwards, thumb capping the end. With a little gentle encouragement, we were soon lugging ourselves through the water, wood slapping water (in my case), leather creaking in the pins and water flying onto my companion in front each time I skimmed the waves rather than submerged the oar. “Girl in the bow?” Me me. “Ah yes?” You’re trying too hard, try to get just the top part of the oar in the water not all of it.” Ah.
If a crab decided to grab a ride on the oar, we were given specific instructions as to how to chuck it back off again. Cheeky crustaceans were the least of my worries. As the sun flickered on the water however and the rhythm of creaking wood settled into a steady beat, I was momentarily lulled, role playing a gig rower racing out to guide a ship in, straining and heaving to get there first and land the money to feed my family … . “Sorry, sorry!” Polite English laughter. I’d rammed the oar in too deeply mid-daydream and come up late, hitting my companion’s oar and all three oars froze, waiting to get back into synch.
Thankfully, Crew Clothing Co. put on a very welcome après -sea drink and nibbles to recover from the humiliation (although everyone else seemed rather competent) at the end of each session and will be hosting Give It A Go in Padstow and Rock in August. Falmouth Gig Club invites novices along for a taster session every Wednesday evening from 6 – 8pm. Contact Hannah on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.