(MP164). Frank Watson Wood (1862-1953). Watercolour signed and dated (LR) 1936 and annotated (LL) "HMS RESOLUTION 16th July 1936 Entering Plymouth Harbour".


Limited Edition worldwide: 25 copies

Standard size: 29 x 8.5 ins (74 x 22 cms ) approx.

Price band (mounted/matted): £170-195

Purchase or enquire about this print

Frank Wood is at his best, they say, when he’s got a calm day and some beautiful scenery - and of course a big ship moving sedately across the painting! This is clearly all those things and is a magnificent watercolour.

The date with which he has chosen to annotate the scene, 16th July 1936 is, however, curious as on this day HMS RESOLUTION was not a fully manned ship, being in the last few months of a refit in Portsmouth Dockyard and still under command of Commander The Hon O W Cornwallis OBE RN. Her reduced complement was finally brought up to full strength to enable her to be recommissioned on 15 September 1936 by her new captain, Captain Sir Lionel Sturdee Bt RN. Thereafter she joined the 2nd Battle Squadron Home Fleet with ROYAL OAK as RA 2BS.

We see the great battleship in the Drake Channel, south of Mill Bay and north of Drake’s island, as she approaches the port hand buoy marking the eastern end of the Vanguard bank and around which she will turn, first to port and then tightly to starboard as she steadies on a course of north west to inch through the Narrows which lead to the Hamoaze and her berth in the Royal Dockyard. Judging by the buoy the tidal stream appears to be on the ebb: we are probably just after high water a time chosen to give the maximum amount of water commensurate with having an ebb into which to better steer the ship. Out in Plymouth Sound in the background to the right in the painting is another R Class battleship who is possibly entering harbour too: she, like RESOLUTION, will have her first eleven closed up to enable the battleship safely to negotiate this formidably tricky and lengthy entrance into Plymouth Harbour. On the focsle Special Sea Dutymen will have prepared a wire with which to button on a tug should it be needed to aid steerage, and cleared away an anchor to enable the ship to anchor at short notice should the situation demand. In the waists they will have rigged a pilot ladder to facilitate the pilot detailed by the King’s Harbour Master to embark; and in all Parts of Ship wires, ropes, springs and fenders will have been prepared for going alongside. High up on the compass platform the captain and his navigator will have been conducting the ship along a pre-arranged track since she entered Plymouth Sound, inched her way through the Smeaton Pass and made the long, gentle turn to port and into the Drake Channel.

There was not a lot of water to spare under these big ships entering Plymouth, even at high water springs: drawing some 30 feet and with four vulnerable propellers positioned some 325 feet aft of the compass platform from where the navigator was constantly checking the ship’s exact position on the safe track, due allowance had to be made during these tight turns within narrow channels to ensure that the propellers and rudder back aft were not actually displaced to one side or other from the safe channel despite the fact that 325 feet forrard the navigator’s bearings put him, on the compass platform, safely ON track. If the ship was skewed at any angle across the track this was always a hazard for big ships: strong cross winds and tidal streams were usually the cause of the groundings here that occurred from time to time! In the armoured wheelhouse below the bridge the Coxn and an experienced team of telegraphsmen would be closed up, engine rooms and boiler rooms would have their most experienced operators on the plates and throttles; and the tiller flat, directly above the rudder, would be manned by a crack team ready to switch from remote hydraulic steering from the wheelhouse, to direct mechanical control of the rudder should the remote steering system so much as falter. Up on the signal bridge the team would be ready to respond to orders from the captain to communicate by flag and lamp; and of course as the ship cleared the Narrows and approached Mount Wise, there was always the Commander-in-Chief Plymouth to watch out for. Supported by his staff he would be keeping his crusty old seadog’s eyes on RESOLUTION to see if she was as alert to his flaghoists or signal lamps as he would like!