Sexists-on-sea face sporting test

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The Independent Online
IT USED to be men against the sea, rugged rowing crews battling against 10ft waves in gale-force winds. This year it is men against women at the World Gig Racing Championships, starting today in the treacherous waters off the Isles of Scilly.

Sex wars became inevitable when the chairman of the championships went on the radio to say that rowing the 30ft gigs was man's stuff and the women's teams were hopeless.

``Crap,'' in fact, was a word he used when he was called. ``I've coxed women's crews before and as far as seamanship goes the women haven't got any clue. When you tell them what to do they don't even know what you're talking about.

``They'll pick up a bow rope and throw it to you. But it probably won't go more than four feet - you just end up with a knitted sweater if you're lucky."

Kevin Sherris, a plumber and former merchant seaman from St Mary's Island, rowed into deeper sexist waters when he added: ``As kids we men would be down on the beach with the boats all the time. But you don't expect girls to be doing that from a young age.

``In a boat they are undisciplined. Men know the sea. Women - you have to tell them how to do everything. I don't enjoy coxing women. They don't do what you tell them to do.

``Anyway, the women are a lot slower than the men. Their races tend to bore me.''

Gig racer Selina Thomas, who has twice rowed the 45-mile trip to the mainland, replied: ``I can't believe he said it. Even his wife is a rower. Kevin hasn't rowed properly for years. He coxes - and he hasn't exactly won any major trophies. He's just a chauvinist pig.''

Another rower, Christine Thompson-Hutchens, said: ``I've been rowing longer than he has. Thirty years, in fact. He's a typical Scillonian male chauvinist, just like lots of them here. They don't like the women getting the better of them.''

Today the championship will start Grand-National style, when 63 gigs form a line almost a mile long. The sport dates back to the days when gigs were used as pilot boats to guide clippers through the wreck-lined islands.

Some of the gigs are Victorian. The earliest taking part is the Newquay, built in 1812 and believed to be among the oldest in the world.

Gig racing is claimed to be Britain's fastest-growing sport.Clubs have spread from the Scillies to the mainland. There are now about 40, with male, female, under-16, under-14 and veteran crews.

Altogether more than a thousand rowers will sweat over the gruelling one-mile course. Ted Grundy, secretary of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association, said: ``It's a sprint. The men will aim to finish within 10 minutes. The women might take one or two minutes longer.

"This isn't the kind of sport which gets cancelled just because the weather acts up. This kind of racing goes ahead in force eight gales and sometimes 10ft waves. But calm or rough, all the rowers finish up knackered."