Barnstaple Water Sports Centre

Sport England grant brings Barnstaple Water Sports Centre nearer to realisation

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club has now been promised a grant of £75,000 from Sport England towards the cost of purchasing a former warehouse on Rolle’s Quay for use as a Water Sports Centre and communal facility for the people of Barnstaple. This follows on from the earlier promise by the Fullabrook Community fund to provide £34,000 as well towards the project. Both promises are conditional on BPGC raising the balance of the £200,000 purchase price for the building, and, in the case of Sport England, for the estimated £50,000 needed to refurbish.

During the last twelve months the club has raised £26,000 through it’s ‘Off the R’owd’ appeal, with fund-raising events at least once every month. In addition the club is very grateful for the grants from NDC Councillors Community fund that allowed professional surveys of the building, so that plans can be made for the necessary remedial works. The Peregrine Mears Architectural practise has kindly prepared design drawings and technical drawings for the building to be used as a boatshed and communal facility, and Clear Asbestos Solutions Ltd, Slee Blackwell solicitors and Underwood Wright Chartered Surveyors have all provided professional services at little or no cost.

There is still a balance of £65,000 needed to achieve the purchase price, and the club is continuing with its fund-raising efforts every month. Also the outcomes of two further grant applications are awaited.

The proposed Water Sports centre has already aroused interest from North Devon Scouts, the WI, the University of the Third Age, PETROC, local Surf Life Saving clubs, Bideford Canoe Club, a Morris Dancing Group in Braunton, and West Buckland school. When complete it will have a secure boatshed and workshop on the ground floor and a substantial secure compound outside for storing trailers, boats and ancillary equipment. The first floor will be principally a large meeting area big enough to seat at least 60 people, a small kitchenette and toilets. Modifications to the building will allow disabled access.

Club chairman Kevin Ward said “We are very grateful for all the support given to this project by local business and the general public in the Barnstaple area that has allowed us to achieve so much in such a short time. We are hoping to achieve the purchase price during early 2019 so that refurbishment works may commence and the Water Sports Centre become fully operational by late summer 2019. It is the club’s aspiration that the facility will welcome other water sports users, and encourage creation and growth of other clubs, and individual users to create a vibrant water sports culture in Barnstaple. To help us turn this dream into reality we have a just giving page (, so please dig deep – every donation, large or small will help create a water sports and community facility that can benefit us all. Thank you to all who have already supported our aims. Our fund-raising team continue to organise fund-raising events and I ask for everyone to support those events in order that Barnstaple will benefit from this project.”

6656 Former Warehouse, Rolle Quay A04

6656 Former Warehouse, Rolle Quay A02

Marathon rowing at Barnstaple Marathon

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club held a sponsored Marathon row in Rock Park last Sunday to correspond with the annual Jewson Barnstaple Marathon, raising funds for the ‘Over and Above’ campaign at North Devon Hospital, as well as the Gig Club’s Watersports Centre for Barnstaple.
Ergo rowing machines were set up in the distinctive BPGC shelter erected near the Marathon start line in Rock Park.  As the countdown for the runners took place five rowers from the club were poised on the machines to start rowing the full Marathon distance, and the row began as the first runners moved off.  All rowers completed the full distance in less than three fours and twenty minutes, the fastest time by Stuart Mann was just over three hours.  Jackie Webster, Graeme Clarke, Chris Walter and Andy Kearsey all finished very soon after Stuart.
The Half-Marathon rowers then took their places, including Peter Webb who had just completed running the Jewson Barnstaple half marathon as well.  Alan Pidner and Megan Clarke also rowed alongside Peter to complete the distance, cheered on by assembled club members and passers-by in the park.
The Jewson Barnstaple Marathon organisers awarded medals to all seven rowers who took part in the afternoon’s activities; Peter Webb received two medals for both running and rowing the half-marathon distance!
1  Marathon rowers, from left to right - Chris Walter, Andy Kearsey, Jackie Stewart, Stuart Mann and Graeme Clarke
2 Half-marathon rowers, from left to right - Alan Pidner, Megan Clarke and Peter Webb

Dragon return to the Taw

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club held their second Dragon Boat Racing Festival last Saturday, with four gig boats decorated as Dragon Boats and eight crews of 12 paddlers competing for the BPGC Dragon Boat Trophy (kindly donated by Kevin Ward).
The 96 competitors gathered on Castle Quay slipway from 8.00am to register and prepare the boats, and the first race started at 9.30am. The boats had splendid Dragon’s heads on the bows of the red and black  Phillipa J and Barum Bobby (both BPGC boats), the white gig Siren (on loan from Appledore gig club) and the blue boat Giggles (on loan from Torridge gig club), and all were coxed by BPGC coxswains.
The first race was between crews from Parker Hannifin and Ilfracombe Gig Club, and both had a tough time getting to the starting line (entrance to the River Yeo) against the racing incoming tide.  However, once they turned and lined-up together for the starter to set them off, they speeded towards the finish line (Queen Anne’s statue) for a convincing win by Parker Hannifin. The tide eased off for the subsequent races between a BPGC crew and Trailblazer Daredevils, St Georges Dragons and the Windsor Arms, and Exe-Calibre and Fremington Trailblazers.
Semi-final races followed for the winners of the first four races; Parker Hannifin took on Trailblazer Daredevils for a win by Parker’s, and the Windsor Arms had a good start and an early lead in their semi-final against Exe-Calibre, only to be overtaken before the finish line.
The final race was closely fought between Parker Hannifin and Exe-Calibre, for Exe-Calibre to finally take the lead and the trophy
There was still sufficient water after the final race to allow two consolation races between Ilfracombe and BPGC, and Fremington Trailblazers and St George’s Dragons.  These were won by Ilfracombe and Fremington Trailblazers respectively.
Exe-Calibre were a visiting crew from Exeter where they practise Dragon Boat racing on the river Exe and Exeter canal. They will be invited back for the next Barnstaple Dragon Boat Racing Festival next Spring.

BPGC takes to the Thames!

The Great River Race on the Thames in London took place last Saturday, attended by almost every Pilot Gig Boat club in North Devon.  The race is almost 22 miles long, from Millwall slip in the East of London to Ham House next to Richmond on Thames, and it is a handicap race for all types of traditional rowing boats.  320 boats took part this year, including 49 Cornish Pilot Gig Boats, the majority of which were from Devon and Cornwall.
Because of the handicap system the Pilot gig Boats started almost an hour after the slower rowing boats, but even so Will-to-Win from the Torridge Gig Boat Club in Appledore was rowed with skill and power through the throng of boats on the river to gain first place in the race in a time of 2 hours, 22 minutes and 32 seconds.  It was such a quick time that the gunner who was responsible for firing the finish cannon was not ready and he missed the first boat arriving!
Finishing places and times by local clubs are shown below:
Summary showing finishing positions for North Devon Pilot Gig Boats:
Position           Boat                          Club                      Time
1                  Will to Win                  Torridge                 02.21.32
28                Bedehaven                  Bude                    02.35.48
42                Torrent                        Boscastle / CH      02.40.22
74                Margaret James          Appledore             02.47.10
84                Barum Bobby              Barnstaple            02.47.51
105              Kerens                        Torridge                 02.50.42
171              Phillipa J                     Barnstaple            03.00.28
186              Lantern                       Ilfracombe             03.04.00
209              Headon Home            Clovelly                 03.09.20
226              Morvoren                    Private entry          03.10.01
There were 49 Cornish Pilot Gig Boats in this race, so more than 20% were from North Devon.
Although the competition was strong the event was enjoyed by all, particularly the experience of rowing through central London and seeing the different types of rowing boats, ranging from 2-man rowing skiffs for picnics, to 20-man dragon Boats.
1  Phillipa J heading for Tower Bridge
2  Barum Bobby waiting for the start
Photographs by David Dixon,  Vice Chairman Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club CIO

Gig Club visits Dorset

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club (BPGC) took their boat Lady Freda and 15 rowers on Saturday 25th to the Gig Boat regatta at Lyme Regis. All 12 gig clubs at the regatta enjoyed a sunny late-summer’s day with fairly calm seas and light winds, competing a kite-shaped course in full view of the crowds assembled on the famous Cobb breakwater.

There was a full programme of thirteen races for the day, but the Barum club could only compete in six of these races because of limited availability of club members on a Public Holiday weekend. Every club member there competed in at least two races, most in three races, enjoying the friendly rivalry and the sunny weather.

This regatta completed perhaps the busiest month yet for BPGC. On Sunday 6th August the club held a Duck Race and Car Boot Sale at Barnstaple and Pilton Cricket Club, raising more than £1050 towards their ‘Off the R’owd’ appeal for a Watersports Centre at Rolle Quay. This was followed by the annual Estuary Race between north coast clubs at Appledore on Wednesday 8th August, then Paignton Gig Boat regatta on Sunday 12th, competing with clubs from as far afield as Essex as well as clubs from Devon and Cornwall. The next Gig Boat regatta attended was Porthleven, on Saturday 18th, where the Barum club competed against 20 other mainly Cornish clubs, winning 14th position overall. Many club members stayed for the whole weekend to enjoy the area and the entertainment provided on Friday and Saturday evenings, and the RNLI Lifeboat festival on the Sunday.

As well as attending these four competitions, normal training sessions continued on weekday evenings and weekends throughout the month, also sessions every Monday and Thursday evening at Ilfracombe. The racing boats Lady Freda and Nipper were towed to Ilfracombe harbour for sea-rowing practise and the Barum club is indebted to Ilfracombe Pilot Gig Club for the assistance and advice freely offered on those occasions.

The club is now looking forward to the County Championships at Newquay, 2nd September for the Ladies crews, and 15th September for the men.


1000 Ducks at the Cricket Club

The Cricket Ground at Lower Raleigh played host to a Duck Race and Car Boot sale on Sunday, organised by Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club as part of their fund-raising effort to establish a Watersports centre on Rolle’s Quay.  It was a gloriously sunny day and, since no cricket was being played the event took place on the outfield around the cricket pitch.  This was a particularly suitable venue since both the cricket club and the Pilot Gig Club have received considerable assistance from the Keith Noel Abrahams charitable trust in the past.

The Duck Race was along a stretch of the River Yeo that skirts the boundary of the cricket fields.  It began just after 12 noon when the barrel containing the ducks was upended into the river by two duck ‘herders’ wearing waders, who followed the flock of plastic ducks down the river to the finishing line.  They intended to free any ducks tangled in the undergrowth, but were caught by surprise when some started to drift upstream, much to the amusement of the watching crowd. The recalcitrant ducks were herded in the right direction and followed down to the finishing line some thirty minutes later.  This section had some deep pools which caught the ‘herders’ by surprise, but fortunately no one fell in.  The winning ducks were greeted by cheers and loud applause as they were swept into the net by the increasing current.

The day was an overall success for the Gig Club, raising in excess of £1100.00 towards their ‘Off the R’owd’ appeal from the sale of ducks, barbeque food and cake stall, and the Car Boot sale.

Barum gig boats at Green Man Day and Torridge Regatta on the same day

Barum gig boats at Green Man Day and Torridge Regatta on the same day

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club (BPGC) had their two racing boats (Nipper and Lady Freda) on display on Saturday –‘ Nipper’ on Pilton High Street for Green Man Day, and ‘Lady Freda’ racing at Appledore in Torridge Gig Club’s annual regatta.


The Barum club has always supported Green Man Day, and this year they had a ‘Whack-a-Mackerel’ competition that was enjoyed by many passers-by. Tickets were also sold for ducks to be entered into the Duck Race and Car Boot Sale being held at Barnstaple Cricket Club on Sunday 5th August. All proceeds will go towards the ‘Off the R’owd’ appeal, raising funds for a Watersports Centre on Rolle Quay.

Club Chairman Kevin Ward said: “We are grateful to all who showed an interest in our club and our ambitions for the future. We are a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, run entirely by unpaid volunteers, to provide opportunities for all to take part in the fast-growing sport of Cornish Pilot Gig Boat racing. We also wish to represent Barum by competing with other clubs from the South West and beyond, and to help with the regeneration of the waterfronts in Barnstaple with our proposed new Watersports Centre.”

On the same day BPGC entered seven crews into Torridge Pilot gig Club’s annual regatta at Appledore. Conditions were excellent for rowing, with light winds and calm waters over the triangular course starting near Churchfield slipway and finishing opposite the Seagate Hotel.

The first event (Ladies B race) provided an upset straightaway when the Barum boat was blown by the light winds onto the start line marker buoy seconds before the start. The buoy mooring line became entangled on the rudder, and the boat started off dragging the buoy. The boat stopped and the cox almost disappeared over the stern to free the rudder, after which the ladies bravely set off in pursuit of the rest of the pack. Although they managed to close the gap, the others had too much of a lead, and the race was won by Torridge’s Kerens, which also won the Men’s B race next.


The Veteran crews took to the start line next, the Ladies race again won by Kerens, and the Men’s race by Rogue from Ilfracombe. Mixed and Novice crews raced next, won by Whitford (Appledore) and Kerens respectively. The under 14 race went to Whitford, as did the Ladies A, Men’s A and the Decade races that followed. The Decade race required each of the six crew members to have been born in a different decade, so the youngest had to be under 20 years old and the oldest over 60 years old. This proved to be the strongest race for Barum when their crew came in second ahead of Rogue and Kerens.

Fullabrook CIC Support new Watersports Centre in Barnstaple

Fullabrook CIC announced on Wednesday that they are happy to support Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club’s application for funds towards the cost of purchasing the warehouse on Rolle Quay adjacent to the Sea Cadets compound, for use as a Watersports Centre.  Fullabrook CIC have pledged £34,000, which, when added to funds already raised, exceeds 25% of the purchase price.

Barnstaple Pilot Club intend to refurbish the building for use as a boathouse and equipment store on the ground floor level, and as a spacious club room on the first floor level.  The latter will be made available to any other organisation needing a meeting place in central Barnstaple as needed.

Planning permission has already been obtained for change of use, and initial drawings prepared by Peregrine Mear’s Architectural practise for refurbishing the building, including proper access for the disabled, new toilet facilities and a spectacular hall on the first floor level.

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club have a number of fund-raising events coming up in the near future which the people of Barnstaple and surrounding areas may well like to join in and support.  These include:

5th August                  Duck Race and Car Boot sale at Barnstaple Cricket Club.  The Duck Race will be on the River Yeo along the Cricket Club boundary, starting at 12.00 noon on the day, and ducks can be bought for £1 each.  First prize will be £50, 2nd prize a voucher from TK MAX for £30, and third prize is lunch for two at Green Lanes Café. The Car Boot sale will start at 9.00am for sellers (£5 per pitch) and 10.00am for buyers.  There will also be a raffle and cake stall, and there will be a bar and food at the Cricket Club house.  Contact Steve on 07599 771090 to book a pitch.

15th September           BPGC’s second Dragon Boat Racing festival – contact David Dixon (

30th September          Six club members rowing the Marathon distance on rowing machines in Rock Park while Barnstaple Marathon is underway.

22nd September            Pirate Gig Nipper is entered into Barnstaple carnival.

5th October                    Autumn Ball at the Queen Anne Café

18th October                   A Quiz night and meal at Queen Anne Café

Club chairman Kevin Ward said “We are very grateful to Fullabrook CIC for choosing to support our project, this is just the encouragement we need to go on and achieve our Club ambitions.  Our members have already worked hard to get where we are today, well supported by the residents of Barnstaple and the surrounding area.”

North Devon Hospice Float Bye

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club took their two racing gigs, Lady Freda and Nipper, to escort the flower-decked raft towed out from Instow beach at the culmination of the Float Bye ceremony on Sunday evening, in memory of loved ones and organised by North Devon Hospice.
The raft was towed by a gig boat from Torridge Pilot Gig Club, and Lady Freda and Nipper were on either side as it was slowly taken across the estuary past the moored lifeboat at Appledore. From the beach at Instow it was a spectacular sight as the raft disappeared into the amazing sunset that evening.

The ceremony on the beach.

Dragons on the River Taw

Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club held their first Dragon Boat festival on Sunday 1st July on the River Taw in Barnstaple.  Crews were invited to take part from the local community, and entries came from Pearce Construction, Fremington Trailblazers (2 crews), St George’s Dragons (NHS), the Windsor Arms and a Barbarian crew.

Two gig boats were decorated with Dragons heads, and seating arranged for 12 paddlers, a drummer and a coxswain in each boat. Race control was at the Town Station on The Strand, and racing started at about 7.45am as the incoming tide rushed in.  The start line was adjacent to the swing bridge over the Yeo, and the finish line was adjacent to Queen Anne’s statue.

The first race was between a Trailblazers crew and the Windsor Arms.  Both crews struggled to get to the start line from the slipway at Castle Quay against the incoming tide, but once there turned and raced with the tide towards the Long Bridge. The Windsor crew put on an impressive performance to cross the finishing line first.

Trailblazers versus Pearce Construction

The tidal flow slackened off for the following races, making it much easier to get to the start line for the second race.  This featured a second crew of runners from the Trailblazers, and Saint Georges Dragons from the NHS who, sadly, were left behind by the Trailblazers.  A crew of Pearce Construction men then raced against a Barbarian crew of gig club members, who were well beaten by the builders, and the fourth close-fought race was between the Windsor Arms crew and the second Trailblazer crew, just won by the Windsor Arms.

The fifth race was between the Trailblazers first crew and Saint Georges Dragons, comfortably won by the Trailblazers, putting them into the sixth race (a semi-final) against Pearce Construction.  Pearce’s convincingly won that race, meaning that they had to race again against the Windsor Arms for the final race.  Both crews were quickly up to the start line for an eager start ( to the Starters dismay), but were allowed to continue, and Pearce’s once more finished first and took the trophy for the event.

The winning crew

BPGC Chairman Kevin Ward presented the trophy to the winning crew and commented on how successful the event had been.

He said “Thanks to all of you for making this festival go so well. We intend to make this an annual event, and extend an invitation to all local groups and companies to register interest in entering crews for this competition by emailing the Club Secretary at All proceeds from this event will be divided between the Race for Life and our own ‘Off the R’owd’ appeal for a Watersports Centre at Rolle Quay.”

Next weekend the Barum club will be competing in gig boat regattas at Appledore on Saturday and Rock on Sunday.

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