When Help for Heroes’ Gig Rowing Team arrived at the 2015 World Pilot Gig Championships on the Isles of Scilly, they had only been rowing for 14 weeks, having first rowed together in the January.
The seven men; a crew of six and one reserve; had twelve legs between them and multiple physical and psychological wounds.
Against the odds, through sheer grit and determination, they completed each of the five races over the course of a weekend; their aim simply to not come last. They finished on a high; guided by affiliated gig club Caradon; with a win in one race and a group promotion that ended their Championship run twelve places ahead of the team at the bottom of the list.
Fast forward a year and some of that original team are back for more. This time 13 men make up two crews. A crew of over 40s will compete in the veterans’ race on the opening day of the championship (Friday 29th April) while the men’s open crew are lined up for four races over Saturday and Sunday. Just three of the 13 rowed last year; 10 are new to the Championships.
Ian McJury, one of this year’s first timers, commented: “I do a lot of sports, but out of all of them gig rowing is the one that makes me feel like I’m back in the service again. I have more determination and motivation in the gig. You feel like part of a team again and that’s what sport is about for me.”
New year, new boat
Every good crew needs a gig that they can form a bond with to be able to put their best oar forward. In 2015 the Help for Heroes team rowed in a borrowed Isles of Scilly gig; Nornour; when their calls were answered to allow them to compete at such short notice.
This year, thanks to the good will of another determined team, the blokes will row in a brand new gig; one they can call their own; H4H Valiant.
Since June last year The Great Big Cornish Gig Project, run by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and core funded by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant scheme, has seen wounded, injured and sick forces veterans training in boatbuilding skills and building a Cornish pilot gig.
The project is now complete and the Help for Heroes Gig Rowing Team had the pleasure of receiving H4H Valiant; named following a public competition; on the Isles of Scilly.
The gig, painted in Help for Heroes’ colours, went through sea trials with the Maritime Museum’s Epic Row crew, who rowed her around the coast of Cornwall prior to rowing her to Scilly.
The crew took up their seats on the morning of 29th April for the final time to row her from Tresco to St Mary’s where Help for Heroes’ Gig Rowing Team were awaiting her arrival.
Help for Heroes’ Marty Aldrich presented Mike Selwood, the driving force behind the Maritime Museum team alongside injured Marine turned boatbuilder Al Henderson, with an original drawing from charity founder Bryn Parry of H4H Valiant, crewed by a series of Hero Bears from different services. The artwork will now be displayed in the Museum in Falmouth as a token of an appreciation to those who have dedicated their time to the gig build project.
The Gig Rowing Team and special guest Hero Bear switched seats with the previous crew for the inaugural row under the ownership of Help for Heroes from Town Beach on St Mary’s around the harbour and back to her resting berth further down the beach.
Brian Kilgannon, the oldest member of the team at 62, said: "H4H Valiant is a dream to row. She's been very well made and the difference in the way she handles compared to some of the older boats is noticeable."
H4H Valiant will be put through her paces by the two Help for Heroes crews throughout the weekend. The team is not starting with an expectation of coming first, but they have certainly moved on from the days where all they wanted was to not come last.
Let the World Pilot Gig Championships 2016 commence.