World Pilot Gig Championships: What Are They And Why Are Our Armed Forces Involved?

A team of veterans and serving personnel from forces charity Help for Heroes teamed up to take on the World Pilot Gig Championships 

A team of veterans and serving personnel from forces charity Help for Heroes teamed up to take on the World Pilot Gig Championships as as part of a project to harness the sport's physical and mental benefits.

The championships pit crews of six rowers and a coxswain against each other to race pilot gigs - traditional wooden sea-faring rowing boats.

Help for Heroes, which supports British service personnel and military veterans with injuries and illnesses, including those facing mental health issues, put forward a team to join the 160 gigs at this year's event at St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly.

This year's championships, from May 4 to May 6, attracted crews from far and wide for the event which is now in its 29th year.

The contest creates an annual spectacle on the waters of the archipelago, off the coast of Cornwall, and draws thousands of tourists each year to watch the gigs power through the waves.

World Pilot Gig Championships 2018

Simon Grayson, one of the veterans in the Help for Heroes team, has been involved in the contest for four years.

Speaking to Forces Media Academy's Poppy Pawsey, he said: 

"There's a really good team spirit and camaraderie.

"It's quite an exhilarating feeling, especially if you're racing against crews and actually being competitive against them [because] a lot of these crews have been established through generations.

"For four years down the line, we're doing exceptionally well.

"I come off the water and it re-energises me. I quite often take that back into... home life... It starts me up nicely for the day."

Other military crews competing this year included an all-female team of air force personnel competing in the RAF's 100th year. The Royal Air Force ladies’ gig team, comprising mainly of RAF Mawgan personnel joined by rowers from other units, won their group, finishing 97 overall - up from 142 last year.

RAF Squadron Leader Louise Colebourn said:

"We've improved massively this year and we're hoping that every year from now on, we'll be able to get a girls' crew out and we can just get better and better."

More: How An Invictus Athlete's Heart-Warming WW2 Grandparents Helped Shape The RAF​​​​​​