It was the custom for the Mediterranean Fleet to hold a Fleet Regatta in early September each year. This year’s Regatta was to be held in Nauplia Bay, Greece. Word went round the ship that the Captain expected every department had to produce a team of oarsmen to man the ship’s boats.
It was a matter of prestige among the skippers of the Fleet’s ships to win the most cups in the Regatta. So teams were put together. We carried two types of rowing boats aboard Ocean – Whalers which had four oarsmen and a coxswain and cutters which has eight oarsmen and a coxswain. These boats were carried primarily in case of the ship sinking and were quite heavy boats. A Whaler was 27 feet long, 6 feet wide and if necessary could carry 27 passengers. The Cutter was 32 feet long 8 feet wide and could carry 59 passengers thus it was quite a physical effort for the oarsmen to keep either boat moving.
The ship carried about 8 cutters and as there might be as many as 12 teams entered in the regatta and a lot of rowing practice to be put in you had to book a time when your team could row. Some teams like say a group of eight officers or eight engineers would have no experience of rowing as opposed to say two or three groups of seamen whose training had included oarsmanship
Fortunately (or not as the case might be) our particular mess in 805 Squadron had a number of seamen including Sam and me who had been taught to row so we entered a team. For the next few weeks whenever an opportunity arose for the skipper to stop the ship for 2 or 3 hours the boats would be out and crews were rowing like mad earning aching muscles everywhere and blisters on both hands.
All the crews competed with each other ready for the time when they were competing in the Regatta itself. We arrived in Nauplia Bay where a good part of the Fleet was assembling. The other carrier HMS Triumph was there complete with a Flag Officer (Air) Denis Boyd.
Eight cruisers headed by HMS Liverpool which carried the flag of the Fleet Admiral Sir Algernon Willis. A flotilla of twelve destroyers then assorted smaller ships. Also present two submarines and a fleer oiler and the supply ship Fort Colville. As these ships arrived they anchored in two long lines so that the regatta events would take place between them.
Everything seemed to be in a holiday mood. Shore leave was available but what was there to see? Nauplia then was a fishing village unlike now. The only attraction was a grim looking prison on the hill above the village. During the following two days the regatta took place – temperature in the 90s.
Cutters being raced along the one mile course, motor boats toing an froing, crews of ships on both sides of the course cheering and booing as the case might be and at some stage in the day our turn came and it was into the boat, pull like mad, the coxswain urging us on until thankful to reach the flag at the other end and collapse in the bottom of the boat.
We didn’t win with our crew but we had made the effort for the pride of the ship.
It was all quite a spectacle seeing all these ships gathered here and competing together in a friendly rivalry. Ocean came away with some cups so the Captain was happy and on the third day we sailed away and flying routine resumed immediately.