Gigs do battle at Essex festival

[newsimage=0]With seventy-five rowers attending in 15 boats, the Brightlingsea Gig Festival, held on 13th and 14th April in Essex, was a great success. Despite dull weather, a strong flood tide and a brisk southwesterly breeze making for tricky conditions on the first day, the 3.5 mile race in the River Colne was a great spectacle. 

The start (within narrow Brightlingsea Creek) was split into two groups, with the locally-built Harkers Yard gigs looking particularly fine in their bright colours. Produced by the shipwrights and apprentices of the Pioneer Sailing Trust, there are now five of them in action and more in build. Rowhedge CRC’s brand new HY Gig Aquiline, out on her maiden voyage, narrowly beat Wivenhoe’s WivGigs team in their Audacity by a margin of 15sec. Perhaps this will be the start of a new waterborne rivalry between the two neighbouring villages…  

The fastest elapsed time of 44mins 30sec was made by Lower Thames RC’s mens’ crew in their Hanningfield Hybrid skiff Spirit of Dunkirk; this large club from Canvey Island entered five boats. The rest of the fleet included two Clayton Skiffs from Manningtree and Walton-on-the-Naze, a couple of 15’ boats from Burnham-on-Crouch and the three  HY Gigs based in Brightlingsea, but the most-travelled boat was Queenborough RC’s Scarborough gig, Sexburga, coming all the way from Kent. 

Prizes were presented to the winners just in time before it started to rain; Witchoar, based in Manningtree, picked up the Clayton Skiff Trophy with Brightlingsea CRC’s mens’ team in Velocity taking the Harkers Yard Gig prize with an elapsed time of 49mins 04sec, the second fastest time overall. 

The following day, Brightlingsea CRC hosted a ‘Come and Try’ session from the public jetty, which was well-attended despite the weather being less than tropical in the morning. Later on, the other boats were reappearing and making themselves ready for another race, this time a more informal 4.5 mile course up to Rowhedge. With a mass start in the space of the Colne, ten boats enjoyed a fair wind and sunshine and made good time to the finish at the Wivenhoe tide barrier with some closely-fought tussles along the way. Carrying on upriver, competitors were welcomed with hot soup and rolls laid on by the Rowhedge Heritage Trust, and enjoyed the hospitality of the nearby ‘Anchor’ pub. A strong headwind over the ebb made the return to Brightlingsea hard work but all the boats, being used to estuary conditions, made it safely with no problems.

Brightlingsea CRC would like to thank the many supporters who made the event possible, and are looking forward to hosting another Gig Festival next year with hopefully even more competitors.

Lucy Harris

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