A Dunkirk little ship
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Since her construction in 1939, Aquabelle has experienced a remarkable history having survived both enemy action and the ravages of time.
On May 30th 1940, Aquabelle's owner Benjamin Taylor was in his London office with his daughter, Joyce, when he received a telephone call from the War Office to say his boat was needed by the Royal Navy. He was told that British soldiers were stranded on some beaches but was not informed exactly where.
Built for Mr. Taylor only 13 months previously, Aquabelle was moored upstream at Wargrave where the family were enjoying weekend cruising, so they were ordered to bring her downstream overnight to their home at Hampton Wick, a distance of 48 miles. Joyce could see better in the dark than her father so he handed over the controls to her and she vividly remembered using moonlight to navigate, particularly how the lockkeepers would open one gate then shine a torch onto it to guide the boat into the lock. Four R.N.V.R men arrived at their home the next day and set off in Aquabelle downstream, but not before Benjamin had removed Aquabelle's bell as a keepsake in case she never returned.
Nine days later the Taylor Family learned that Aquabelle was back at Teddington from Dunkirk, along with many others. They were told that she had made several crossings using her two diesel engines and towed two other boats from Dunkirk. She was dirty, a cleat was torn out, and a hatch was broken. An army sock and tin mug were also found in her cabin. Disappointingly for the Taylors, The Royal Navy immediately re-requisitioned Aquabelle and she was deployed to the Royal Navy Patrol Service, based at Brightlingsea in Essex. In November 1941 she was transferred to the War Office.
In 1946 Benjamin Taylor bought back his yacht and enjoyed her briefly in the Portsmouth region, but he sold her in 1947 as his family was no longer at home to crew her. Aquabelle had a series of English owners, one based in Ramsgate for several years, before being taken to the Mediterranean in 1974 and used as a charter yacht. In the early 2000s her teak decks and mahogany superstructure began to deteriorate and she was eventually abandoned, rotting, on the Rhone à Sete canal near Aigues-Mortes.
Discovered in 2008 by a group of French enthusiasts belonging to "Marine et Tradition", who restore and display classic lateen-sailed Mediterranean fishing boats, Aquabelle entered a new phase in her history. Happily, both the Association's Dunkirk 1940 Plaque and the shield presented by the town of Dunkirk for the first Commemorative Crossing in 1965 had survived. By forming a volunteer group "Les Amis de L'Aquabelle" they embarked on what was to become a 5000 hour restoration at the port of Palavas les Flots near Montpellier, where she is now based. The Taylor family never forgot about Aquabelle and in 2011 Benjamin Taylor's grandson (who inherited Aquabelle's bell, plans and other memorabilia, and also colour cine film of her launch and early cruises) contacted and eventually joined the restoration team, partially regaining family ownership. To add the finishing touch to the restoration, in 2013 the bell was returned to Aquabelle after a gap of 73 years.