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
Classic 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, 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 ninety holiday voyage choices on our three pilot cutters.
Over 90 Holidays to Choose From:
Eve of St Mawes - is a 38' long on deck and based in our home port of St Mawes, Cornwall, exploring Cornwall, Devon, Isles of Scilly & Brittany. Our skippers know the coastline intimately - like a smuggler.
Pilot Cutter Agnes
Eves bigger sister, 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.
Pilot Cutters in Scotland - Lizzie May
42' Lizzie May was the second pilot cutter built by Luke Powell, with a design inspired by the historic craft of the Isles of Scilly. Lizzie May is based on the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow, but also offers seafood voyages and summer sailing in the Western Isles.
Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter - Annabel J
Annabel J is a familiar sight in the Solent. In the summer months Annabel J likes to go exploring. AJ is our largest pilot cutter and her long keel, wide wooden decks and elegant accommodation make her an excellent passage making classic boat.
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 for 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, Agnes or Annabel J) and taking part in the social 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.