Approaching Aquabelle you will note that her design reflects the classic 1930's style with a white hull surmounted by a mahogany wheelhouse and cabin. She has two masts, the mainmast being somewhat taller than the foremast. Both are provisioned for sails, the main sail also having a boom. Her railings are relatively modern and have a slightly different design to her original 1939 configuration; particularly by having a prominent pulpit rather than a gap at the bow, surmounted by a jackstaff.
As you board Aquabelle you will step up over her side then down into one of the two well decks which run fore and aft outside the wheelhouse. If your legs are short you may be offered a small wooden step stool which served the same function in 1939 and has been recently restored.
The well decks are convenient features which enable level access from the wheelhouse to the exterior whilst being protected by the side railings and are especially useful for the helmsman when coming alongside. At the forward end of the well decks are short ladders to the foredeck, and a similar pair of ladders gives access to the saloon roof towards the stern. In the floor are metal openings for fuel and water on the port and starboard side respectively, and modern electrical input sockets are recessed both sides into the forward wheelhouse verticals. A drawback of this elegant design is that well decks have the potential to ship water in very heavy seas, exacerbated by the single drain each side being of relatively feeble capacity.
The wheelhouse is entered through sliding doors. It is a large space with superb visibility courtesy of deep curtained windows on all four sides. The original wheel, instruments and levers for engine and gearbox are on the forward port side, and to the starboard rear side is a bench seat and locker which can be extended to form a single bunk. A level floor makes it possible to place a table and a further three chairs with the bunk seat without interfering with the helmsman. Originally, Aquabelle was designed (by her first owner Benjamin Taylor) to have a fixed, box-shaped table which gave standing headroom to the engine room below. This was removed some time in her long history. On the rear bulkhead you will see her original clock and barometer and above, the boat builder's plaque cast from aluminium. Here she also proudly displays her 'Dunkirk 1940' brass plaque.
Turning to face forward, you will see the original chromium plated binnacle on the dashboard and a pair of forward-facing windows that have an opening top half. Looking up you will spot the complex hand controls of her searchlight which is mounted on the wheelhouse roof above the helmsman, together with the compressor for her air horns. You will also notice the Ship's Bell in chrome-plated bronze with her name engraved on one side. This bell was removed by Benjamin Taylor immediately before Aquabelle was taken for Operation Dynamo and was retained by his family until 2013 before being returned to her original place.
To your right will be three steps that take you down to the forward cabins. These steps can be blanked off at floor level by a folding wooden plate and door, and so maintain a level and secure wheelhouse floor. At the right side at top of the steps is a mahogany cabinet with a modern marquetry top created by Michel, a cabinet maker and one of the French volunteers, which now houses electrical equipment. On the left used to be an open signal flag rack but this has now been converted to storage shelves and the housing for the VHF radio. Surviving from 1939, the wheelhouse roof has a large sliding hatch to facilitate hoisting her engines or other heavy machinery from the boat to the quayside, aided by ingenious sloped rails to ease closure, presumably if the helmsman was caught out by a sharp squall!
Taking the forward steps down, you will enter a spacious cabin with a double bunk to port and a single bunk to starboard, the latter extending slightly under the wheelhouse floor. This was designed for the three Taylor children Joyce, Mabel (Mabs) and Geoffrey. The original bunk wooden sides each carry a pair of drawers underneath with a plain brass handle. A washbasin and mirror sits on the wheelhouse bulkhead. The cabin is lit by five round brass portholes, again original 1939 fittings. Taking up space on the starboard side forward is a small cabin containing a modern toilet and shower. Above the rear bulkhead on a roof beam you will see Aquabelle's official number 167757 and net weight of 15.78 tons. Notably, the last number has been altered, probably increased as a result of her re-framing in the 1960's
Another door takes the visitor through to the Fo'c'sle. Fixed to the far side of the door you will find a vertical wooden ladder for access to the foredeck via a wooden hatch housing a skylight. This small cabin contains a single bunk above a large storage shelf and, on the starboard side, a WC. Further light is provided by a pair of portholes. A hatch on the forward bulkhead provides access to a chain locker.
Retracing your steps through the wheelhouse and moving further aft you will descend three steps to the galley area. As you descend you will see a large brass plaque commemorating the first Dunkirk Commemorative Crossing in 1965. You will also pass a cocktail cabinet fixed to the port side before ducking to avoid hitting your head on the door frame immediately below the wheelhouse aft windows. At the bottom of the steps to the port side is a small area containing a refrigerator and storage units, and as you turn to face starboard you will see a small galley.
The galley is equipped with a double stainless steel sink and preparation surfaces, a full sized gas stove and numerous cupboards. Daylight comes from a rectangular window matching one over the refrigerator on the port side.
Returning to the gangway and facing forwards you will find a folding shelf attached to a half-height door which leads into the engine room under the wheelhouse. Once having standing room as mentioned earlier, you now have to crawl in and down a step to sit between two large diesel engines painted white. The Ailsa Craig engines, described in another part of the website, are bolted directly to Aquabelle's frames via a substantial brass sump. The full-width engine room also contains fuel, water and waste water tanks as well as a smaller diesel electrical generator situated on the forward bulkhead.
Crawling back through the engine room door then stepping a further pace aft you will enter the saloon or owner's cabin through a modern sliding door with marquetry stars on the aft side, also Michel's work. The saloon is paneled in mahogany with white painted forward bulkheads and contains two bunks/settees, one either side, separated by a low, extending table. There are cupboards and shelves on the aft bulkhead and three original drawers under each bunk, similar to those in the fore cabin and having folding brass handles. Turning to port as you enter you will see a door which opens to a toilet and shower compartment. To starboard is a deep, three-quarter height wardrobe. Three curtained rectangular windows light the starboard side and two the port side.
In the aft bulkhead, up one step, is a door which leads via another step to the aft cockpit. With cream canvas upholstery the cockpit is designed to be a pleasant seating area away from the noise and activity of the wheelhouse. There is substantial underseat storage and the cushions are shaped to allow them to be re-positioned to form an extra bed. Protection from the elements comes from a white canvas cover held by numerous, original, turnbuckles. On the transom are a flagstaff and two original bronze cleats.
If you peer over the stern you will note two stainless steel exhausts above the water, but the transom is now mahogany-coloured rather than the original white. You may find it difficult to leave Aquabelle by the stern cockpit as her stylish sloping mahogany 'wings' get in the way, so you will retrace your steps and go ashore via the wheelhouse.