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Pilot Cutters

pilot cutter sailing at its best, Lizzie May and Eve of St Mawes

What are Pilot Cutters ?

Historically sailing these vessels earnt their living by taking pilots out to sailing ships. The fastest would win the contract to put their pilot aboard to safely 'pilot' the vessel in or out of port. The most well known in Britain are the Bristol pilot cutters. This fleet that once numbered in the hundreds around the turn of the 19th Century. The Scillies and Falmouth fleets were also strategically placed to meet cargo ships returning to Europe. From the Western Approaches, 'inbound' could be all the way up the Bristol Channel to Bristol, Irish Sea to Liverpool or up English Channel.

Each cutter was usually built and owned by a syndicate of pilots, and the trade was lucrative but dangerous. They were never built for cargo, but designed for both speed and seaworthiness. 'Hove to' or sailing in sometimes atrocious conditions, they needed a reasonable amount of comfort below decks to accommodate the pilots. They could be at sea for several days as they waited offshore for a ship to come in. Today they make great charter boats, and their distinctive pilot licence letters on their sails make them easy to identify.


Classic Sailing - The experts on Pilot Cutters

solid planking and frames of a bristol pilot cutterClassic Sailing founders Adam and Debbie have always had a bit of a thing about pilot cutters. Adam remembers Falmouth Pilot Cutter 'Olga' in St Mawes Bay when he used to go to school by boat.

Debbie decided she wanted to own one after reading Tom Cunliffe's adventures on pilot cutter Hirta - in Norway (Topsail & Battleaxe). Over the years we have promoted sailing holidays on pilot cutters Eve, Agnes, Annabel J, Lizzie May, Ezra, Morwenna and Alpha. We have researched Falmouth and Scillies craft and learnt much from boat builders and historians. There is now a large interest in these tough but aesthetically beautiful working craft. 

Classic Sailing has earnt the right to call ourselves pilot cutter specialists: We were also the first company to comprehensively offer sailing holidays for adults on a purpose built  boat 'Eve of St Mawes. Since 1997  we have never stopped developing our holiday products and we offer over threehundred holiday voyage choices on Pilot Cutters, Small Ships and Tall Ships.

Pilot Cutter: Agnes

Agnes is run by boatbuilder and author Luke Powell. Based just over the water from us in Falmouth Agnes has a lot of short breaks, Gourmet voyages and longer trips to Pembrokeshire, Ireland, Brittany and Scillies.

More on Agnes - the vessel, voyage dates and prices

Organising Pilot Cutter Events & Races

The Isles of Scilly hold a Pilot Gig Boat World Championships every year, so Classic Sailing decided to do the same for pilot cutters. The first event was cheekily called the Pilot Cutter World Championships and was an instant success. St Mawes Bay is a perfect amphitheatre fpilot cutter gathering in Foweyor sailing events. Ideal in the early season when a dozen large pilot cutters have room to anchor under the protection of St Mawes Castle.

We organise the annual Pilot Cutter Review, and you can join in as race crew, live aboard, experience sailing a pilot cutter (either Eve or Agnes) and taking part in the social events.

Current Pilot Cutter Events

Pilot Cutters for your Organisation

If you would like to organise a corporate event, or special occasion with a pilot cutter theme, then Classic Sailing are the experts. We can put together several pilot cutters who have MCA Maritime Coastguard Agency commercial licences to take guest crew - either over night or for day sailing or alongside events.

Pilot Cutter Revival

There were four new wooden replicas launched in 2008 and three in 2009.  The only other historic working boat design that has inspired a similar revival is the ever increasing demand for wooden pilot gig rowing boats.

If the British boatbuilding industry could generate as much commercial interest in building other types of historic replicas from our maritime past, we could create a real maritime heritage.  A large fleet could truly reflect the roots of our seafaring nation and provide a cultural and educational resource afloat to match our historic buildings ashore.
Classic Boat magazine readers regularly chose pilot cutters – both originals and replicas - in their choice of favourite Classics.  So what is their appeal and why have so many new boats been built in the last 15 years? Probably because they are beautiful, sea worthy and not too big.
Working Sail the book by Luke Powell who built Eve of St Mawes and so far seven other pilot cutters.


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