Away all Boats! Early 20th century Regatta Day

Maritime Originals. Watercolour on paper signed Norman Wilkinson lower left.

Away all Boats!  Early 20th century Regatta Day

12.8 x 19.7 ins (32.5 x 50 cms) approx

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No races were more keenly contested than those in which a man o' war's boats took part at pulling and sailing regattas held at home and abroad and few had so large and critical an audience.  Each ship's company looked to its own boats to keep their reputation up; crowds on the fo'c'sles of the ships at anchor encouraged their shipmates as they passed. Sometimes a seaside resort was chosen for these events and often they were held in some barren inlet of the Scottish, Irish or Spanish coasts, the tideless waters of the Greek Archipelago or the Aegean.  Further afield the Navy had long ago earmarked all the sheltered anchorages most suitable for boat pulling and sailing in West Indian and South African waters, the Indian Ocean and the China Seas.

The boats carried for various purposes by warships included many very different types and so allowed for great variety in the size, nature and training of racing boats' crews. Besides the seamen, stokers and marines who formed the largest portion of a ship's company in those days, the complement included a variety of other ratings, all of whom, as well as the officers, would put up trained crews to compete in each event.  After the more formal races were over the regattas would terminate with an "all comers" race in which all boats of whatever size or length and with any number of motley assorted crews pulling on any number of oars would compete together.  They were days of great fun for all and ensured that everyone had an afternoon off, a "make and mend".........

Norman Wilkinson had strong connections to the Royal Navy and it seems likely that he was a guest onboard one of HM Ships during one such regatta.  Crews are not in tropical uniforms though quarterdeck awnings are spread indicating some warmth: perhaps we are in UK home waters in summer or the Mediterranean in the autumn, winter or spring?  Early 20th century is the probable time of the event: certainly pre 1914.