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Six Royal Marine veterans from across the South-West will be representing Help for Heroes in the spectacular 2023 World Pilot Gig Championships, taking place on the Isles of Scilly this week (28-30 April).

The crew – Rob ‘Joe’ Jordan, 59, and Nigel Lithgow, 49, from Plymouth; James Nightingale, from Ivybridge; Simon Delaney, 50, from Yelverton; and Tom Marshall, 51, and 44-year-old Paul Read, both from St Austell – have each received help from the Charity since leaving the Corps.

Their coach, Kate Bourn, 33, from Saltash, is one of our Sport, Activity and Fellowship Practitioners and is a three-time gold-medal winner at the event. Indeed, she will be competing herself with Caradon Gig Club Ladies A crew, based out of Saltash, as it looks to try and regain the world title it last won in 2018.


She explained: “It’s a prestigious event. We field a team to represent the Charity in the championships. Although it offers a way in for grass-roots crews, it’s not a novice event per se. You can’t just put a team of guys in a boat with no experience and let them loose on the water. You need people who can row and have some experience.

“Some of this crew rowed in the initial boat, back in 2017, when we launched it. Others have rowed in the championships previously, either with us or with other clubs, and some are new to it, but they have rowed previously.”

Help for Heroes' gig crosses the finish line
Valiant crosses the finishing line in a previous World Championships - (File pic)

Jordan has been to the Championships with us previously, but, as a volunteer, driving a safety boat. Now, with the Charity welcoming in all former UK service personnel, he is able to participate as a beneficiary.

“That’s awesome,” enthused Bourn. “For him to go out there as a volunteer, giving us so much assistance, to then participating as a competitor, is brilliant.”


The World Championships were first held in 1990, with a few crews from Cornwall, but in the intervening years interest has mounted with crews from across the UK and even other countries entering.

A pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat, built of Cornish narrow leaf elm, 32 feet (9.8 m) long with a beam of 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 m). It is recognised as one of the first shore-based lifeboats that went to vessels in distress, with recorded rescues going back as far as the late 17th century.

Its original purpose was as a general work boat, and the craft was used for taking pilots out to incoming vessels in the Atlantic. Gigs would race to get their pilot on board a vessel first to get the job and the payment.

"My expectation for the team is they go out there, compete, complete it, and take something away from the whole experience."

Coach Kate Bourn

Now, 150 boats will be on the start line for the first race and, instead of payment, they’re looking for glory and a gold medal. That might be in Bourn’s sights, but for the crew of H4H Valiant– created by Help for Heroes veterans in 2016 as part of the Great Big Cornish Gig Project, in Falmouth – she has realistic ambitions.

She smiled: “My expectation for the team is they go out there, compete, complete it, and take something away from the whole experience. Having enjoyed it. All with a smile on their face.”

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