Pilotage and Salvage Work
With their shallow draft gigs were ideal for slipping between rocks and going alongside shipwrecks – although it was dangerous work and many me lost their lives or damaged their boats. In 1887 the gigs Gypsy and O&M helped salvage 450 cattle from the wreck of the Castleford. A bullock panicked and fell overboard smashing the bow of O&M. The hull of the Gypsy was pierced by a horn that was quickly plugged up with a sock (the hole was still there when Padstow bought her in 1955). Cattle were often salvaged from shipwrecks, so the Islanders became quite good at it. Cattle were lashed to the gigs and swam ashore, up to six cows per gig. The skill this must have required is a testemant to the seamanship of the salvagers.
In 1776 the Isles of Scilly are described in Sir Charles Whitworth’s State of Trade as being in the middle of the world’s largest maritime route. ‘Down the channel comes gunpoweder, hardwares, woolen manufactures of all kinds, tobacco, spirits, leather goods, fish, Up it come drugs, ivory, wine, sugar, dragons blood, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, gold, diamonds, silk, tea, pepper, coral, cotton, fruits, lamb-skin, olives, anchovies, gums, aniseed, brimstone, chiphats, beads, oils, soaps, bugles, cochineal, almonds, indigo‘ (from Azook, Keith Harris 1994).
The Isles of Scilly were the first pit stop after a long Atlantic crossing for fresh supplies and repairs. A ship would pick up a pilot to guide them into safety into the shelter of St Mary’s pool or take them as far as London or Liverpool. When a ship signalled for a pilot with a flag, the gigs would race to get their first and claim the job. Several pilots could share a gig and would often row as part of the crew. Sadly there are hundreds of pilots recorded in drowning incidents during bad weather. Pilots were also often ship wrecked or drowned themselves on the very ships they were piloting.