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Club development

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Gig Rowing


Active Thames is an initiative led by Port of London Authority which aims to make watersports more inclusive, diverse and accessible, while promoting the mental and physical health benefits of using the river recreationally.

The following organisations are working together to better serve the watersports community: Active Kent & Medway, Active Essex, London Sport, British Canoeing, British Rowing, RYA, Canal & River Trust, Thames Path National Trail.

Project Overview

people standing by gig rowing boatsFormed in 2019, Thames Barbarians Pilot Gig Club is based in Gravesend. Thanks to a grant they received in 2021 from Active Thames,  they now offer an alternative, accessible and beginner-friendly form of rowing, using Cornish pilot gigs.

“Gigs offer a stable platform, and participants can go from zero to hero quite quickly. Cornish pilot gigs are also designed for rowing at sea, so can withstand the elements well. A gig can cope with waves and choppy water better than smaller rowing boats, so we can safely row in all sorts of conditions throughout the year.”

Rachel Hedley, co-founder, Thames Barbarians Pilot Gig Club


The funding supported club development with:

  • Cox training
  • Coaching masterclasses
  • Taster day sessions open to all

The club now has around 30 members but is keen to grow.

“The training has helped us improve our technique as Cornish Pilot Gig rowers and the quality of coaching has been lifted. Everyone is welcome to come and have a go. We’re open to all ages, from 18-88 and all levels of experience”

Jon Averns, club co-founder.

Next Steps

As the only club on the Thames to launch just before the first Covid-19 lockdown, restrictions delayed delivery of training sessions and becoming affiliated to the Cornish Gig Pilot Association. Now the club is able to offer regular sessions at weekends and weekday evenings for its members. Taster sessions for newcomers gives them a chance to try out the sport and the club has also developed a Learn to Row four-part course which covers safety, boat-knowledge, techniques and theory.

Safety is paramount to Thames Barbarians but the advantage of having a stable boat means even people who have never been on the water before find it easy to get started. Rachel stated, “We always consider the safety elements and will adapt our practices to suit individual needs and disabilities as necessary.”

Anyone wishing to try gig rowing can find further information and make contact with the club at www.thamesbarbarians.com