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Rowing heritage recalled at the 50th Newquay Weekend

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: September 28, 2013

  • The gigs drawn up on St Mary's beach. Had the Shah from St Agnes been present, their combined ages would have been 1,352 years.

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A BOND between the gig rowers of Scilly and Newquay that has endured for half a century was celebrated with a weekend of nostalgia.

More than 100 enthusiasts and four crews from Newquay descended on the islands to mark 50 years of annual visits that have matured into a special relationship known simply as Newquay Weekend.

A brief commemorative row took place at Portmellon, St Mary's in dense fog that ruled out anything more extravagant. Among the crews were two members of the dwindling band that pulled on a similar occasion half a century ago.

They were islander Garfield Ellis, who coxed the Bonnet, while in the gig Newquay was John Bawden, who as the sole survivor of that inaugural 1963 event to make the trip called himself the Lone Ranger.

Paul Crantock also represented Newquay at the first weekend but was unable to travel this time round, while David Badcock and Lew Hitchens remain the only other Scillonians to have pulled in the 1963 race.

For the record, the crew for the Newquay's commemorative row were Bob Roderick (cox), John Bawden, Graham Mountford, Chas Mills, John Bennett, David Trebilcock and Chris Moffatt, and crewing the Bonnet were Garfield Ellis (cox), Stuart Thomas, Steve Watt, Billy Pritchard, Ian Wrigley, Alfie Hicks and Mac Cattermoul.

The spin around a fog- shrouded bay marked a friendly rivalry afloat, camaraderie ashore, memorable Cornish singing, the striking of anniversary T-shirts and a street poster that spoke for the islands as a whole: "A big Scillonian welcome to all of our Newquay friends."

It was a weekend when it could be fairly said the history, occasion and nostalgia comfortably trumped the weather-hit action afloat.

"Everyone has really been looking forward to the weekend," said St Mary's acting gig chairman Andy King. "It's nice to see people joining in."

Retired policeman Mike Crocker enthused over "a wonderful reception and wonderful singing – I've never heard anything like it", while Andy Helliwell, an engineer with BT in Plymouth and a former Cattewater gig rower, said: "It's brought everybody together; because of the 50th everybody made that special effort."

Said builder Terry Teague: "You couldn't beat this for the world."

The Cornish club sent over on the RMV Scillonian three of its oldest gigs – one dating back more than 200 years old, the 1812-built Newquay, and two more that are nearing that vintage, the Dove (1820) and Treffry (1838) – the boat from which all modern gigs' measurements are taken.

Drawn up alongside Scilly's own flotilla of oldies – Bonnet (1830), Slippen (1830), Golden Eagle (1870) and Czar (1879) – they constituted a rare sight. The lone absentee that prevented a clean sweep of historic gigs on show, because she was being refitted, was the St Agnes gig Shah which at 140 years old would have brought the assembled boats' collective age to a gargantuan 1,352 years.

Newquay club chairman John Cuthill comprehensively outlined the pilot gig's history to a large crowd on the beach and Mr Bawden recalled how the Newquay-Scilly association came to be forged.

Newquay Gig Association secretary Philip Trebilcock spoke of it as a historic occasion: "This is the first time all three of our gigs have been together in Scilly. They've been individually but never all together. The trustees gave special permission."

While the weekend marked 50 years of rowing by Newquay in Scilly, he said, "It's 60 since Newquay's Richard Gillis, George Northey, Tommy Pryor and Bob Davey went to the islands in 1953 and bought the gigs Slippen, Shah, Golden Eagle and the Bonnet."

Despite fog restricting the rowing programme – the evening race had to be cancelled as a result of the murk – it didn't prevent the reappearance of two old rival crews, Newquay's Beastie Boys and Scilly's Mr Men, nor the following day's Zelda Cup race to St Agnes, which was won by Newquay's Treffry with Bonnet the runner-up.

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