Depicted on a glorious summer day, this stately 'windjammer' is shown heaving-to in the English Channel, off the south coast of England, as she prepares to take on the pilot who will guide her safely into port. In the days before the invention of radio, an incoming vessel would signal her request for a pilot by hoisting the pilot 'jack' [flag] to her fore-topmasthead whereupon every available pilot would race out to meet her, with the first man to come alongside securing the job. With their need for speed paramount, the pilot vessels sported a variety of rigs even though they were commonly referred to as 'cutters'; in this work, Dawson has included three pilot 'cutters' whereas, in fact, only two are true cutters and the third, in the left foreground, is rigged as a ketch. Incorporating these three small craft however, provides a vivid contrast with the lofty appearance of the big sailing ship and also has the effect of making the composition more interesting as well as appealing. A common enough sight across the world's oceans for over fifty years, these large iron or steel 'windjammers' had huge freight capacity and were usually employed carrying bulk cargoes such as coal, grain or wool. Although lacking the beauty of the more glamorous clipper ships, these sturdy workhorses nevertheless held their own against the competition from steamships right up until World War One when their vulnerability to enemy submarines rendered them practically extinct by the time the War ended.
Whilst this work has all the hallmarks of a Dawson classic, it also bears a striking resemblance to the work of a painter from an earlier generation, Thomas Somerscales (1842-1927), whose equally capable views of large ships contrasted against smaller craft off a coast may well have provided Dawson with his inspiration.