It’s hard work, but we are all in the same boat

Vicky Williams

The day after a race, I may just tell you that Cornish gig rowing is really hard work. At any other time, I think it’s an amazing sport and one of the best things about my time at uni.

Gig World Championships on The Isles of Scilly
Gig World Championships on The Isles of Scilly

To begin, I should probably explain what the sport actually is. Pilot gigs are traditional Cornish 6-man boats, with one oar per person and a cox to steer and shout at everyone else (usually in an encouraging way). They were originally used to take pilots out to incoming ships, and the crew that could get a pilot to the vessel the quickest would be the ones to get paid, which is how the racing began. Now clubs exist mostly in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, but also throughout the UK and even abroad. Clubs tow their boats around the country to regattas, for some pretty fierce racing and a lovely community atmosphere afterwards. Gigs are heavy (racing boats being entirely wooden) and have fixed seats; it’s a world away from the rowing you see at the Olympics. Personally, I love this – there’s a sturdiness and a real sense of history that you don’t find with other sports.

Before coming to Falmouth, I was not the sort of person who would ever be described as ‘sporty’. I rode horses and went walking but I was reluctant to do anything that really raised my heart rate. I decided to try rowing because it was a Cornish thing and because Nankersey Rowing Club were running free taster sessions. I was hooked after my first go and 9 months later found myself in a crew at the annual World Championships on the Isles of Scilly. I’m still not sure how that happened. I do know that it took a lot of training and working out how to coordinate my limbs in the right way so my oar didn’t end up getting stuck under the waves, but it was worth the early mornings and the blisters and braving the gym multiple times a week. Being out on the water, with a breeze and a boatful of the nicest people, when you’ve just beaten your best time or a rival crew, is an amazing feeling.

The thing about rowing – and indeed any team or crew sport – is that you have no choice but to put in maximum effort and keep going, even if you’d quite like to stop and eat biscuits. When you’re rowing with five other people who are also getting tired, you all just grit your teeth and battle on for each other. In this way I’ve not only become fitter than I’ve ever been, but I’ve learned to push my own physical and mental boundaries (which I discovered were further away than expected). I have developed a real sense of determination and self-belief. As someone who struggles to stay motivated, having something to commit to has helped me get active and organised. Everyone is so supportive of each other and spirits stay high even in the wind and rain. This sport has done more for me than I could have imagined, as well as just being really good fun.