West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

West Bay Regatta

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Recently, discovering this image we were prompted to get out the West Bay Regatta Programmes donated to us by John Hawkins. We were intrigued to find out what a Cigar and Umbrella Swimming Race involved! That then led us to doing further research about the Regatta.

West Bay Regatta 1922
West Bay Regatta 1922

The first mention we have of a West Bay Regatta is in 1844. The first programme we hold is from 1902 when the regatta included Swimming Races, Rowing Races and Aquatic Sports. In 1903 Sailing Races had joined the programme and by 1908 a Tight Rope Walking Competition across the river was added to the list of events.

West Bay Regatta Programme 1903
West Bay Regatta Programme 1903

 An exhibition and display was put on by Mr William Henry and Mr Otto Hagborg. Mr William Henry was a member of the water polo team that took part in the 1900 Paris Olympics but his greatest claim to fame is that he set up the Royal Life Saving Society. He went all around the United Kingdom and then to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Germany and the USA teaching and spreading the knowledge of swimming and life-saving skills. His appearance at this event was one of the ways to demonstrate this – Very few people in history have done more than him to advance the cause of drowning prevention.

Mr Otto Hagborg from Sweden was another member of the Royal Life Saving Society. He introduced fancy diving to England and took part in the 1906 Olympics in Athens. The West Bay Regatta programme tells us that he dived from platforms placed on the corner of New Quay (? Where now)

Some of the swimming races looked interesting!

Cock Fight on Planks – (Swedish style) competitor to push his opponent off the planks with his feet. The competitor twice pushed off to be the loser.  Prizes 1st Carvers, 2nd prize Jam dish

Plank and Shovel Race – Committee will provide plank, but competitors must provide their own shovels or single paddles. Prizes:1st Biscuit Barrel, 2nd Travelling Clock, 3rd Towels

Cigar and Umbrella Race – Competitors had to provide their own cigars and umbrellas! After the signal to start, competitors must light their cigars, open their umbrellas and swim to mark, keeping their cigars alight and their umbrellas up.  Prizes: 1st Cycle lamp, 2nd Towels, 3rd Spirit Flask.

If that wasn’t enough excitement for one day the 1st Dorset Royal Garrison Artillery Band played during the afternoon and evening. There was dancing on Pavilion Green during the day the SS Pioneer based in West Bay provided excursions in the Bay for sixpence.

Although the West Bay Regatta has passed into history and the cigar and umbrella race and tightrope walk over the river are no more. This has been replaced by West Bay Day (on the 1st Sunday in August), which celebrates the heritage and history of West Bay with a multitude of fun activities and entertainment for all the family. Fun waterborne activities are featured in the annual RNLI Charity Raft Race (last Thursday in July) which attracts thousands who watch to see local businesses’ home-made rafts race up the river and return hopefully without sinking! Let’s hope we see these two events returning in 2022 after a two year absence due to Covid.

RNLI Charity Raft Race West Bay
RNLI Charity Raft Race West Bay


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