Probably the credit, or blame, for the idea that Aquabelle's restoration could be completed in time to join other Dunkirk Little Ships commemorating Operation Dynamo in May 2015 came from a few chance words. These were spoken, perhaps partially in jest, by Benjamin Taylor's Grandson Colin during his first visit to Aquabelle in 2012. As this opportunity to take part only occurs every five years all agreed that the occasion was not to be missed and so, as restoration work advanced, planning to make "UK 2015" happen also began. With Aquabelle located on the Mediterranean, the logistics of this trip were formidable and so the debate began about how she would reach the UK and how she could return to Palavas.
Two means by which Aquabelle could reach England were contemplated: firstly, under her own power via the River Rhone and the French canal network and, secondly, transported by road to Ramsgate (or to Calais). A long sea trip via the Straits of Gibraltar and the Bay of Biscay was discounted as perhaps overambitious! The main drawback of the canal option was the need to travel north in the spring of 2015, against the strong flow of the River Rhone from melting Alpine snows, so enquiries were made about the feasibility of transport by lorry. It seemed that the most economical way to achieve this would be if Aquabelle could be picked up from the Mediterranean as a return load. Of the companies willing to quote for this, Boat Shift, based in Folkestone immediately impressed with their interest and understanding of the difficulties of transporting this "old lady", and so they were selected to plan a route.
With a firm decision taken to deliver Aquabelle to Ramsgate, Les Amis recognized that keeping her in England for only a few days represented poor value from the significant transport costs and that a special opportunity presented itself: to recreate 75 years later the one long cruise enjoyed by the Taylor Family in 1939 on Aquabelle.
On 30th July, immediately before the onset of the Second World War, the Taylors took Aquabelle down the Thames and crossed the English Channel to Calais. Following a short stay in France they then headed back to Newhaven on August 8th and cruised along the South Coast as far as Poole Harbour where they stayed for several weeks. They were on Aquabelle when war was declared and so their cruise was abandoned. Aquabelle remained in Poole over the winter of 1939/1940 before returning to their home on the Thames in the spring of 1940 skippered by a professional sailor. Much of this trip was captured on colour cine film.
So, an idea emerged to keep Aquabelle in England for about 2 months following the 2015 Dunkirk Commemorative Crossings and to replicate, as far as possible, her 1939 cruise. She would travel west to Poole via Portsmouth, and then return east along the Channel coast, turn into the Thames Estuary then head up the river through London to Teddington, Hampton Court and other locations with family historical significance. Possibly heading as far upstream as Henley, she would then return home to Palavas via Calais and the French canal system but, of course, this time heading down the River Saone and Rhone. At around 1000km, the French part of the return trip is expected to take a further 2 months.
Along the South Coast, Aquabelle will visit her birthplace at Littlehampton, hosted by Robert Boyce, the grandnephew of her designer and builder, William Osborne. She will also spend a few days in Poole harbour and by doing so, re-create some 76 years later the sombre occasion when Benjamin and family heard that war had been declared whilst holidaying on board.
On the Thames, she will visit the Thames Motor Yacht Club where Benjamin Taylor was a member and Commodore in 1942, and pass three properties owned by Benjamin at Hampton Wick, Thames Ditton and Maidenhead. We hope to join the Thames Traditional Boat Rally at Henley on Thames over the weekend of 18th and 19th July.
A day-by day diary of the cruise will appear on this website.