Above all others it has been the fishermen of West Cornwall who founded the region’s great seagoing traditions. From medieval times onwards the people of St Ives, Penzance, Sennen, Falmouth, Cadgwith, and Coverack harvested the vast shoals of pilchards that thronged West Cornish waters. St Ives was awash with pilchards throughout the 19th century and millions of fish were pressed for their oil and then salted into barrels for transport to the fish-eating countries of the Mediterranean. The St Ives of today owes its compelling character to those remarkable times.
The pilchard fishing industry declined by the mid 20th century, but the skills of West Cornwall’s fishermen took them to Ireland and to the north of Scotland in pursuit of herring, encouraging them to branch out into different and often innovative types of fishing. Today, fishermen in West Cornwall are second to none in the diversity of their skills and in their determination to maintain their traditional way of life despite the harsh economic problems of the modern industry.
This great seagoing tradition is also kept alive in the watersports, festivals and pastimes of West Cornwall.
Sailing has always been a great local skill. In the 1930s, West Cornwall fishermen were in demand as crew on the huge racing yachts of wealthy businesspeople that raced at Cowes and in the Mediterranean. Today, Cornish sailing clubs produce Olympic hopefuls and champions. The lively Cornish sport of gig rowing has become a major feature in the maritime calendar. For the visitor, the romance and intrigue of maritime West Cornwall will always be a delight. It touches the seagoing spirit in all of us.