Help for Heroes’ Gig Rowing Team have returned to the Isles of Scilly this weekend to compete in their third World Pilot Gig Championship. They're looking to improve on their previous performance, but for the men who make up this team, it is about so much more than that. Three of the crew are new to the team, yet to experience the feeling of accomplishment the long weekend provides. For three of the seven this will be their second Scilly visit, having competed either in 2015 or 2016. Just one has taken part in all three championships.
These men are wounded, injured and sick veteran and serving military personnel. Some have more apparent physical injuries, some have hidden wounds. They are all in the team for a common purpose; to aid their recovery to allow them, and their families, to lead active, fulfilling lives.
Since entering the gig rowing world in 2015 with the support of Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre and affiliated club Caradon, the team have been active on the race scene. They do not rival the top runners, but they do compete with gusto, and for the first time in March finished the 6.5 mile Three Rivers race with eight boats behind them as opposed to being at the very back.
The Help for Heroes crew value its place in the gig rowing community and have been overwhelmed by the support of other clubs in the last three years and by Scilly islanders. This year the Isles of Scilly Boat Hire Company are covering the costs of a support boat for the team. For those missing the camaraderie of the military lifestyle, this has given them the chance to find that in another interest.
Royal Navy veteran Dave Handley, new to the team this year, said: “To be involved in the World Pilot Gig Championships is fantastic. It’s great stimulation. It’s sport for recovery. It gives us a chance to do what we did in the forces and pull together and get some teamwork in there. We’re going to do ourselves proud this year.”
The Championships begin
Friday evening saw the first races of the weekend on St Mary’s with the men’s and women’s Veterans and Supervets events taking place.
The Help for Heroes’ team mustered up two-thirds of a crew for the veterans’ race. With the lower age limit set at 40 three of the team supported their peers from the shore while two willing volunteers from Help for Heroes’ support staff in that age class stepped up to form a six-strong crew.
To give a little background, in the past two competitions the team have finished at the back of the pack of around 40 boats in the vets race. This year, they set out confident, and had every right to be. It was a close race and while the leading third broke away quite quickly, the rest jostled to climb the ranks throughout. The team’s gig, H4H Valiant, came across the line flagged by their competition still vying for their own positions either side, in 33rd place with 10 boats behind them. A satisfying moment for the blokes and supporters alike.
Rower Andrew Holland, former Chief Petty Officer Physical Trainer in the Royal Navy, said: “It was a really good row. It took us by surprise how rough it got at times. It was a very calm row out to the start line. We turned around to come back in and the sea got quite rough. You were having to try a little harder to keep it together. We were in the mix from start to finish. We crossed the line in the thick of most of the boats. We’re flying when we’re all on song together.”
The full team will row the rest of the weekend in the Men’s races with an aim of finishing in the Top 100 (of around 150 gigs) this year.
World Pilot Gig Championships 2017 Race Schedule:
Friday 28th April -8pm – Veterans (over 40s)
Saturday 29th April-2.15pm – Men’s Round 1 (Long race and categorisation)-5.15pm – Men’s Round 2 (Two up, two down – top two boats in each category move up, bottom two move down)
Sunday 30th April-11.45am – Men’s Round 3 (Two up, two down)-3.30pm – Men’s Final (Placing)