Six Royal Marine veterans from across the South West will be representing Armed Forces charity Help for Heroes in the spectacular 2023 World Pilot Gig Championships, taking place on the Isles of Scilly this weekend.

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 been supported by Help for Heroes since leaving the Corps.

Their coach, Kate Bourn, 33, from Saltash, is a full-time Sport, Activity and Fellowship Practitioner with Help for Heroes and is a three-time gold-medal winner at the event. She will be competing herself with Caradon Gig Club ladies’ A crew, based out of Saltash, as they look to try to regain the Ladies’ Open world title they 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 sea rowing 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 Help for Heroes or with other clubs, and some are new to it, but they have rowed previously.”

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 (9.8m) long with a beam of four feet 10 inches (1.47m). 

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.

Now, 130 boats will be on the start line for the first race and, instead of payment, they’re looking for glory and a gold medal.

Help for Heroes champions the Armed Forces community and helps them live well after service. The charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. 

It has already supported more than 27,000 people and won’t stop until every veteran gets the support they deserve.