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Curator’s Choice: a scale replica of Slippen, a Cornish pilot gig

Replica of Cornish Pilot Gig Slippen at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth by Darren Newbery

Where we introduce you to some of the stories behind objects in the Museum…


This model is a scale replica of Slippen, a Cornish pilot gig built in 1830. Gigs were used in the Cornish harbours to row a pilot out to the incoming ships. The pilots knew the local waters and could navigate the ships by sight + provide safe-passage into port. In most harbours there was more than one gig, so it was a race to get your pilot to the ship and the stakes were high – if you lost, you didn’t get paid. Slippen raced in waters around the Isles of Scilly, where she was also used as a lifeboat. Like other gigs, she was probably also used in ‘free trade’, otherwise known as smuggling. This replica of Slippen was built by Ralph Bird, a boat builder based in Devoran. Ralph Bird was significant in the revival of gig racing, as a founder member of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association. Ralph died in 2009. Today, Ralph’s son Patrick builds boats, among them Cornish Pilot Gigs, from his workshop in London. Slippen still races out of St Mary’s on The Isles of Scilly.

Inspired and want to find out more?
Our Cornwall Galleries bring to life the stories of Cornish Maritime history and are a permanent exhibition within the Museum.

National Maritime Museum
Cornwall Trust
Discovery Quay
Falmouth
Cornwall
TR11 3QY

Tel: +44(0)1326 313388

Email: enquiries@nmmc.co.uk

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