Back in the 19th century, the sight of rowers in pilot gig boats would have been familiar to East Anglian residents as they played an important role in helping vessels in distress off the coast.

Now the pastime of pilot gig rowing is experiencing a revival off the Suffolk coast, with hopes that the 'rowing fever' will spread further up the shoreline and that 'beach companies' can be formed to race off against each other in friendly competition and revive the tradition as a sport.

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East Anglian Daily Times: The boat Kapi'olani on the beach at Pakefield in 1890The boat Kapi'olani on the beach at Pakefield in 1890 (Image: Terry Davey)A club has been formed- Felixstowe Rowing Club- which has seen a burgeoning interest in the recreational activity, attracting some rowers in their 70s and now has two gigs- St Felix and St Etheldreda- which are used three times a day on Saturdays and Sundays.

The club's president Terry Davey said he hoped to attract interest from further afield, such as Aldeburgh and Lowestoft and bring to this region a recreational activity that is popular in Cornwall.

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He said that in the 19th century there were around 90 of the gigs, measuring about 33ft in length, operating off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.

East Anglian Daily Times: The gig St Felix in actionThe gig St Felix in action (Image: Terry Davey)Yawls, a type of sailing vessel, were also commonly to be seen at the time and measured about 45ft in length.

And many of the companies that operated these boats had romantic names, such as 'Gorleston Rangers' 'Storm Company' and 'Young Flies'.

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The boats were also given names that reflected a spirit of adventure, including 'Defiance' 'Bravo' and 'I'll Try'.

East Anglian Daily Times: One of the beach companies that operated on the East Anglian coastOne of the beach companies that operated on the East Anglian coast (Image: Terry Davey)The rowers would often brave rough seas to help ships in trouble and would also race each other to the site of abandoned wrecks to be first to get the loot.

The Felixstowe boats have six oars with a coxswain and a seat for the pilot and Mr Davey was inspired to set up the club by a photo of a boat called Kapi'olani on the beach at Pakefield in 1890.

East Anglian Daily Times: A yawl in a squallA yawl in a squall (Image: Terry Davey)This gig was named after the queen of Hawaii, who was visiting Norfolk at the time. 

Mr Davey said: "My ambition is to get as many as possible of the coastal communities of Norfolk and Suffolk to learn what we are capable of and what our ancestors did and get out there on the Suffolk seas for recreation, pleasure and sport, just as we are doing at Felixstowe."

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East Anglian Daily Times: Felixstowe Rowing Club's gig St FelixFelixstowe Rowing Club's gig St Felix (Image: Terry Davey)