Aquabelle in England 2015
Week one: 11th to the 17th May
Awaiting Aquabelle's arrival by road from France on May 11th, Alain, Sue and I, were enjoying a cup of coffee in the sunshine at a harbour side café in Ramsgate when Aquabelle arrived right in front of us on the back of an enormous lorry with six-wheeled trailer. Simon, the driver and owner of Boat Shift spotted his customers, stopped and said hello. After parking close to the boat lift he joined us for a while. He said he had a problem-free journey of less than two days. Brian and Margaret joined us a little later to watch her being unloaded.
After unstrapping and locating protective canvas sheets, Aquabelle was lowered in the water, held for a short while to check for major leaks (none!) and then Alain started the engines - which burst into life straight away. Alain took the wheel and we made the short run to our designated berth. This involved a 180 degree turn to starboard immediately followed by two 90 degree turns to port - a tricky manoeuvre made more difficult in a strong cross wind. Alain admitted that the ensuing perfect turns were as much luck as skill.
The afternoon was spent moving items stowed inboard for the road journey to their storage places so as to be able to walk around and start the major process of tidying Aquabelle for her visitors expected in the days ahead.
The next day was also very pleasant and we continued to tidy and complete small items of woodwork. Sue continued fitting curtains and Alain started to fit out the Skipper's Fo'csle as his "nest" for the next months. Sue and I took Alain for his first fish and chip supper.
On the 13th Derek, our Skipper, arrived with his wife Julie, bringing two life-rafts of sufficient capacity for the 10 men expected to take part in the Commemorative Crossing. Derek and Alain immediately started to plan the stowage of important and incidental items in the stern cockpit lockers so that key items were immediately available. Alain drew a stowage plan and was rewarded with a bacon sandwich for lunch!
Shopping for food and small items of hardware, occupied Thursday morning. In the afternoon we continued to detail small woodwork fitting such as hinges, hooks, curtain tracks and shelving. The day was cold and mostly wet.
On Friday Alain and I cut a hatch cover into the wheelhouse floor linoleum and re-laid the brass surround. Michael Childs, who blogged about Aquabelle on Thanet On Line visited Aquabelle and reminisced about sailing on her in the early 1970s, and how he maintained her engines and electrical systems, on departing he remarked that Aquabelle was in a better state now than when he last saw her.
The next day Aquabelle was visited by two of Benjamin Taylor's Great Grandchildren, Paul and Anna, together with their partners and four children.
On Sunday 17th there were more visitors. Firstly, Angela, an English "Friend of Aquabelle" living in France, and briefly in England to witness the Commemorative Crossing, came for a short time with her daughter, son-in-law and Granddaughter. Later, Great Grandson Ian and Great Great Grandson Tom spent most of the day on board. Alain had cleared the forward cabin and replaced the carpet, the last major part of Aquabelle to be brought up to a presentational state. In the later afternoon, during the arrival of a fleet of Little Ships travelling from London that day, Alain and I replaced Aquabelle's registration numbers with chrome plated name letters either side of her bow.
Week two - 18th to the 25th May
Alain designed and made a set of anchor supports to immobilise anchors in case of heavy seas, and I bought wood beading for sliding door windows which seem to have no visible means of support. These were cut to length and stained. Derek, my Austin Healey Club friend arrived 14.30 to act as skipper for the voyages. He polished the brass Dunkirk 1940 plaque. Between us we modify the wiper arm as it is too long. Sue made the wheelhouse foam seat cover back in the flat. Chicken casserole was for dinner made by Sue.
We spent the morning working on the engines and sat nav and were visit by our Kennet and Avon Canal friends Tony and Deb. Michel, Christian and Jean Claude arrive by car from Palavas, and we were also visited by Christian and Marianne Ivora (part of the crossing crew). Sue and I fitted blind and curtains for Alain. Mimi and Christian arrive by plane/taxi in a downpour and we all went to the ADLS Buffet at Temple Yacht Club with Angela.
Heavy showers today. We continued to prepare Aquabelle for crossing by stowing anything loose, which meant that the rear cockpit was full of luggage and so we needed to have the rear canopy on all the time. We went to the Commemorative Crossing briefing at 18.00 in the Temple Yacht Club. Commodore Ian said that weather will be fine with light(ish) winds and so we will go as planned tomorrow!
Bright and very clear this morning, and reasonably warm at the quayside. We followed the plan to slip mooring and assemble (mingle!) outside harbour entrance. We slip around 8.15 and attempt to manoeuvre though a crowded marina, all good but at a snails pace. We recieved a message to form up with the flotilla at 08.45 so off we go as Group G along with Tom Tit, Brown Owl and Gentle Ladye. A Spitfire and Hurricane come over low several times. Station keeping requires concentration, particularly when rounding buoys (we just miss one owing to a tidal flow of 2 Kts +!)
The wind was getting up so we hoist sails, but soon drop foresail owing to problem of reduced visibility in the tight formation. Aquabelle was very stable and reassuring. The engines sound like a car ferry!
We closed up formation as we crossed the shipping lanes and had to make a couple of course changes to avoid large ships. About three quarters of the way across the waves were coming on our starboard beam causing some rolling but not as much as some of the smaller boats, where it must have been quite uncomfortable. Closer to France we were overtaken by the Dover-Dunkirk ferry which had Sue and Julie aboard. We turned to cross her wash to reduce the motion.
After a long wait to enter and leave Dunkirk lock we enjoyed a fabulous welcome in Dunkirk with thousands lining the quayside, including Sue, Julie and Christian. Our French flag attracted special attention and much cheering. We moored on a pontoon and finally switched off our engines after running 10 hours (including warming up)
A quayside fair was just above us, with many sightseers. We were invited to a lunchtime reception held by CARIC on the Duchesse Elizabeth, a 1901 three masted ship moored opposite us. We were receiving visitors all day and there was an evening reception in Town Hall with Prince Michel of Kent and the Mayor at Hotel de Ville. Although only skippers were invited, we walked in with all the crew - no problems! We received a Dunkirk 2015 plaque.
More visitors today. We were interviewed by TFN (like the French version of BBC1 News) in the wheelhouse. In the evening we enjoyed a commemorative supper in a restaurant (with a table for 10 for Aquabelle)
The TFN News clip was broadcast at lunchtime, with an interview of Alain (with Sue in background) and me ringing Aquabelle's bell!
Disaster! Alain checked the engine before starting and discovered we had very little fuel. After searching for a leak we found that a small feed pipe was broken. The bilge pump had distributed its contents into the dock - that explains the smell!
Alain mended the pipe - Christian had stood on it when he was cleaning the water tank. We alerted the Commodore that we would be peeling off after the sea lock to refuel. This meant we would be delayed for about an hour, so we would be crossing on our own!
We left to meet heavy seas on beam with much rolling, around 30 degrees, with all loose stuff falling onto the deck. We heard that the smaller part of the fleet had decided to turn back; we saw them bumping around. We decide to carry on and cross the Channel on our own. The car ferry passed us with Sue and Julie on board just as the Ramsgate Lifeboat stops to check that we were OK. The sea calms down as we turn north to cross the shipping lanes.
We catch up the slowest of the flotilla and enter Ramsgate around 17.30, just behind main fleet. I had steered most of the way - my first unassisted crossing of the Channel - while Derek navigated.
Week three - 26th May to the 2nd June
Today was spent tidying and cleaning. The ropes proved inadequate (they were too short) so we buy some more. We were visited by other interested boaters and Ian Gilbert, who is the Commodore of ADLS. I decide to sleep on board (for the first time) so that we can get an early start tomorrow, and we plot course to Eastbourne, Portsmouth and Poole on the sat nav.
We set off around 7.00 to pick up fuel and then left the harbour around 7.30. A glitch in understanding the sat nav set us on the wrong route but we soon realised and regained the correct track. Weather was good past Dover, and we dodged incoming and outgoing ferries. We turned past Dungeness (nuclear power station visible for a couple of hours before) and the wind began to rise to about force 5 with waves increasing as well. It was on the bow so it was reasonably comfortable but there was much spray and green sea over the bow on at least two occasions.
About 3 hours from Eastbourne the port engine began making a loud squeaking noise, which Alain couldn't immediately track down but he thought might come from the water pump. We shut it down as a precaution, and so our speed dropped from around 7.5 to 4.5 Knots. We entered Eastbourne lock around 18.00 and moored on a pontoon. We all had a well earned pizza tonight at an Italian restaurant in the port.
Again we set off West with a forecast of slight seas. The weather was clear and sunny with a stiff wind from the west. As the morning progressed the waves got progressively higher until Aquabelle was regularly burying her bow and it was difficult to hang on when a cross-wave hit her. This was very tiring so around lunchtime we decided to put into Shoreham for a break and some lunch, as well as to check on the state of Aquabelle.
It was also necessary to waste some time as we could not enter Littlehampton Harbour until after around 17.00.We tied up alongside a decaying pier, with little to grab except some rusting ladders. After an hour we set off again but the weather was getting worse and we needed to head south of our intended route to maintain the waves on the bow.
A worrying sloshing noise told us that the bilges were filling with water so we stared the 240v generator to pump them out. This eventually failed as a result of water getting into a fuse box. Around 17.00, when we were level with Littlehampton we turned north to start the difficult entry into the Harbour. Luckily a fishing boat was just ahead of us so we followed her in, our shallow water alarm beeping constantly. Once inside we were radioed to follow the local passenger ferry and were guided into our berth, a pontoon at William Osborne's Boatyard amongst decaying piling.
Opening the door to the engine room gave a depressing sight. The floorboards were floating, with about a foot of water in the bilges, and the great engine flywheels had distributed oily water all over the engines, electrics and decking. We realised we had much work to do to get her seaworthy for the next leg of the voyage.
William Osborne's Great Nephew greeted us but soon left citing the need to pick up children, but several of his workers came and we obtained a water vacuum to drain the bilges. We stopped work at midnight with most of the water gone.
No sign of the Great Nephew but we had excellent support from workers at Osborne's. We borrowed a wet and dry vacuum plus a small bilge pump and eventually drained the bilges and stared the long programme to clean the engine room and floorboards forward... During the cleaning Alain discovered a broken oil pipe on the port engine - a showstopper if not fixed!
I was sent to the yard to seek help and eventually found Bert - an 85 year-old still working on boats. His store provided exactly what we wanted for no charge, although he left with a bottle of wine. Eventually we achieved a seaworthy boat but with some systems, mainly the 240V diesel alternator, not functioning. The water ingress was small but higher than before.
I helmed Aquabelle as we slipped our mooring around 7.30 and headed out over the shallow bar. We had no problems as we picked up our waypoint and headed west around Selsey Bill. We navigated through a narrow channel with some disturbed water and white horses, but otherwise the weather was very pleasant and the sea was fairly calm. The waves diminished further as we entered the Solent and we had a fine view of Portsmouth Harbour entrance and the Spinnaker Tower. We followed the narrow marked channel to Port Solent, avoiding sailing yachts coming the other way. En route we hoisted our signal flags so we were dressed overall. The lock was open so we entered directly, and then proceeded to moor in the far corner where the Lively Lady, Sir Alec Rose's Yacht, normally lives. The shops and cafes were busy and we attracted considerable interest. Sue drove from home to meet us and we were grateful for a comfortable bed in Derek and Julie's house.
Derek and Julie kindly invited us for lunch at their main home in Liphook. So we spent a pleasant time away from Aquabelle and met again their son and Daughter-in-Law. Sue, Alain and I returned to Port Solent in the evening to relax for once!
Again there was bad weather with gales in the Channel so we were glad to be in port. We had a number of tasks to do in order to get us shipshape again, particularly fixing the 240V generator, the 12v pump and a number of catches, locks and woodwork mods in order to stop problems when the boat is pitching or rolling in heavy seas. Derek took Alain to the suppliers for bilge pumps and piping plus screws and other fittings. They also found some second-hand cleats to place amidships to ease boat handling, especially in locks. Several visitors arrived including Julie's mum and their Son: also Hugh and Marian, - Hugh had volunteered to crew for us when returning East along the Channel.
Again the weather was very cold and windy with occasional showers so we saw few shoppers visiting Port Solent. Today Alain started to clean the bilges from bow to stern and so we bought a wet and dry vacuum to make things easier. An amazing quantity of debris emerged, including pieces of wood, zip ties, cloth and hairs as well as large amounts of wood shavings - all mixed in an oily soup. I continued to do the woodwork and also dismantled the 240v relay that had burned out when it got wet. I puzzled about its function but I decided to seek professional help before tampering with it and starting the generator for testing. Our old friends from Portchester visited before lunch.
Week four - 3rd to the 10th June
We needed to finish the bilge cleaning so Derek and I stripped and dismantled the double bed in the forward cabin and removed the floorboards. We discover about 40l of wine in cardboard boxes that had suffered damage from bilge water sloshing about. We extracted them and cleaned the bottles and Derek set off to buy large plastic boxes to store them more securely. This also exposed the site of the water leak, a dribble from between the planking, which Alain declared to be no issue and suggested it might heal with time.
I fitted the two cleats and continued to secure doors against heavy rolling. I puzzled over the burned-out 240v fuse box as it seemed to serve no function and Derek found an expert and persuaded him to visit, which he did after 18.00. He agreed with my diagnosis so I removed extraneous wires and suggested Alain start up the auxiliary engine to test it. It worked! We now can produce 240v again without a shore hook-up.
Alain also found out why the 12v system had stopped working - he had driven a fixing screw through a wire two days before! So we were good to go.
We had a reasonably late start, made later by a bad connection to the starboard engine starter. After picking up fuel we had an easy exit from Port Solent as the high tide allowed both lock gates to open simultaneously. The weather was idyllic with calm seas and light winds; also many vintage yachts to be seen so we hoisted sail as well. We enjoyed wonderful views of Norwegian Royal Yacht and warship off Cowes. The tide was in our favour so we elected not to visit Yarmouth for the night as planned but to press on to Poole. At Hurst Castle Aquabelle achieved 11.1Kts (GPS) with following tides. We passed along the front at Bournemouth and then turned to sea to join the channel off Shell Bay before entering the harbour past the chain ferry. We decided to book a place in the marina rather than find a swinging mooring. Perfect parking by Derek and we had a nice berth with views of Brownsea Island.
After a bit of shopping at a chandlery and hardware store Alain and I worked in the engine room. I attempted to repair the starter switch (failed) and Alain successfully created an independent electric bilge pump. Derek and later, Julie, cleaned and tidied Aquabelle to make her ready for the Mayoral visit the next day. They also dressed Aquabelle overall with her new flags.
All ready to sail to meet the Mayor and Lifeboat at the harbour entrance when the port starter motor failed. We decided to continue on one engine, which made manoeuvring in the stiff breeze tricky but Derek was equal to the task. Heading out of the harbour we were joined by the lifeboat City of Sheffield, also dressed overall and so we sailed in formation to the entrance before turning and heading up the harbour back to Poole Quay. After mooring we were quickly joined by cousin Helen and Sue. The Mayor spent a long time on board, listening to the story and signing the visitor's s book.
We were also joined by the local head of the British Legion and walked a short distance to a plaque commemorating D-Day to lay two wreaths. We were joined by Hugh and Marion (Hugh will crew on easterly leg) and a D-Day veteran. Steve (40 today), Dita and boys also joined us. As there was an uncomfortable swell we decided to move Aquabelle back to the Marina for Stephen's party. The D-Day veteran came with us and we were also joined by the nephew of a previous Aquabelle owner who showed an old photo of Aquabelle with an earlier Mayor of Poole on board 'Beating the Bounds' of Poole Harbour. With Stephen receiving a birthday cake complete with candles, all had a good time.
We decided to take the day off and show Alain some of the English countryside, so Alain, Sue, Julie, Derek and I went in Sue's car for a tour of the Isle of Purbeck. We crossed Poole Harbour entrance via the chain ferry, overlooked by 'Golden Gates', the flat where Benjamin and Gertrude Taylor spent their last years. Grateful for a fine and warm(ish) early summer's day we took to the lanes and found our way to Corfe Castle where Sue, Alain and I toured the ancient ruins. Crossing the firing ranges with a superb view of Poole Harbour, we stopped for a leisurely lunch at a pub near Lulworth. With time passing, we returned to Aquabelle via the inland route. Later, Helen and Alison (friends of Sue) visited and we had afternoon tea on deck in the sunshine. Helen had dressed for the occasion in a 1940's style dress complete with pink sun hat, much appreciated by Alain who christened her 'Lady Helen'
We spent most of the day doing essential repairs. I removed the faulty starter motor for Alain to attempt to mend. Searching Poole for a pipe to mend an oil leak he asked directions from a man who turned out to be the ex-Commodore of the RMYC. He suggested an electrical engineer who could help with the starter. Derek tried to locate an intermittent VHF radio fault and Alain, having failed to mend the starter, worked in the engine room to try to secure a reliable bilge pump power supply. The engineer suggested a local repair man for the starter motor, also independently suggested by Hugh. He volunteered to deliver the motor to him, assisted by Alain. I modified minor bits of woodwork such as fiddles (the strip of wood on the edge of surfaces to stop objects falling off when pitching and rolling), and catches to stop doors opening unexpectedly.
Derek spent a lot of time trying to understand the VHF radio fault until Alain remembered that it was connected to a battery that was not being charged by the main electrical generators. Reconnecting to a fully charged battery cured the fault! I replaced a fractured oil pipe and a leaky fuel pipe behind the engine. Sue continued to clean in preparation for the coming events and we welcomed aboard a tearful lady whose uncle was rescued by the 'Little Ships' at Dunkirk. Mid-afternoon we sailed the short distance to the RMYC and were given the visitor's berth alongside the outer breakwater with superb views of Poole Harbour. We were soon visited by the Commodore, Vice Commodore and Rear Commodore of the RMYC, as well as Roy and Barbara Lemon (club members who we met on a car ferry from Cherbourg in 2013). Later we dressed up to attend a reception at the RMYC, attended by the Mayors of Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch. These dignitaries or their deputies visited Aquabelle after the reception.
Late in the morning Hugh returned with the repaired starter motor, which I quickly fitted just in time to join the crew and Austin-Healey club members, 30 in total, for a lunch in the RMYC function room. We had a fabulous view of the harbour and enjoyed good food and drink. Immediately after, Alain and I left to start Aquabelle's engines (back to two working with the repaired starter motor) to prepare for taking club members for a short trip around the harbour.
Sue organised two groups of about 10 and we boarded the first around 14.30. Aquabelle headed off in bright sunshine for a short trip to the mouth of the harbour past Brownsea Island whilst I gave a short talk on Aquabelle's history before she returned to the RMYC pontoon. The second party followed shortly afterwards to the same plan. All were thrilled with the brief cruise although the last man to depart suffered the embarkment ladder breaking under him! Alain looked a little uncomfortable as he admitted that it was the first time he had seen Aquabelle move without him on board. More RMYC members visited later in the day (including Charles, the Commodore bearing a gift of three copies of the RMYC history) so a busy day all round. Sue later noticed that Aquabelle was mentioned in the book relating to her Dunkirk exploits.
Week five - 11th to the 22nd June with gap
After our experiences over the last two weeks we were cautious about heading along the Channel in bad weather so we paid close attention to the forecast. For today, the wave height was predicted to be1.5M with a strong breeze, but tomorrow the wave height was expected to be around 0.5M with light winds. So the decision was to have a rest day and sail to Portsmouth tomorrow. Sue decided to stay aboard with her book to read in the warm sunshine and Alain, Derek and I went for a walk through Sandbanks and along the beach towards Bournemouth. Shortly after starting we were seduced by classic car showroom and spent about half an hour inspecting the stock, which ranged from an MGB at around £ 8,000 to Lancia Aurelia at over £ 130,000. Whilst Alain looked closely at a Bentley, I coveted a Mini Cooper 1,3i in leaf green.
Tearing ourselves away from the cars, the three men proceeded to walk along the golden sands and Alain had a paddle in the sea, which he pronounced as extremely cold! We returned via a footpath along the Poole Harbour side where huge shoals of small fish could be seen as well as the occasional dying jellyfish.
The crew sat on Aquabelle's deck to watch the evening sun set, and were entertained by a series of yacht races organised by the RMYC and taking place just in front of us. Truly a grandstand view and a fitting end to the excellent hospitality shown to us by the RMYC.
Aquabelle set sail with Alain, Derek and myself on board around 9.30 and we ambled out of Poole Harbour at around 4.5 knots (650RPM) as we did not want to get to the tide race at Hurst Castle too soon. Initially there was a moderate swell to the sea but as the day wore on this diminished and as we reached the shelter of the Isle of Wight the sea was smooth and almost flat calm. We picked up the tidal stream around 1.30, which gave us around 7 knots and continued to amble down the Solent. It was calm enough for deckchairs on the aft deck and some sunbathing! After negotiating car and passenger ferries in the harbour entrance we reached Port Solent around 5.30 to be greeted by Sue and Julie.
Refuelling before we moved to our berth gave us welcome news that we had used only around 100l diesel for our trip to Poole and back, not bad for our venerable engines. I changed wiring for bilge pump to connect to 12v half of 24v Gel leisure battery, so finally we have a bilge pump running from a reliable source charged by both shore supply and engines.
This is a day of mixed emotions as Alain is leaving Aquabelle and flying back to France for the first time since early May. He will not be returning to England until the 10th of July when she is on the Thames. Aquabelle is de-stored and cleaned so she can be unoccupied for several days until the 19th.
Sue, Derek, Julie and I and also Hugh (crew for the next few days) returned to Aquabelle to prepare her for the next phase of her cruise. This was interrupted (in a good way!) by a visit to Aquabelle by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth who expressed deep interest in her history and displayed a remarkable knowledge of her story. He presented Aquabelle with a Portsmouth plaque and was given a mug in exchange. Around 18.30. Derek, Hugh and I were joined by Derek's son Sean, who wanted to sail with us to Eastbourne. The crew slipped the mooring and sailed he short distance to Gosport Marina for the night and to enable an early start for Saturday morning so as to catch the tide.
Aquabelle sailed from Gosport around 06.30 on a dull but calm day with the aim to reach Eastbourne by the end of the day. With the tide and a little wind behind, Aquabelle was making around 7 knots at less than 800RPM and so the crew settled down to a long day. All took turns at the wheel and also rested below. Visibility was not good and we kept well out to sea to shorten the route across the bays so there was not a lot to look at as we headed almost due east. Eventually we rounded Beachy Head and turned north-east to enter Eastbourne Harbour. For the first time, I helmed for the tricky locking (with seven other boats) and pontoon mooring. As Aquabelle was manoeuvring, there was a brief squeaking from the starboard water pump, which, on later examination proved to be a partially seized bush.
Fuel consumption proved remarkably low, with around 80litres used for the 61 nautical miles travelled.
With a reasonable 08.30 start we cleared Eastbourne Marina lock at low tide and again headed east in reasonably calm seas and sunshine. The worn starboard pump was producing a clacking sound that regular lubrication kept under control. As we headed towards Dungeness the waves were beginning to rise but as they were directly astern Aquabelle rode them comfortably. Peace was shattered by an ominous knocking noise from the port engine so it was immediately shut down. Grave thoughts went through our mind - was it the end of our adventure? Had the engine run its bearings? Opening the hatch and briefly running the engine again revealed the water pump hanging on its copper pipes. Both bolts had fallen out! Obviously it was jealous of the attention the starboard pump had been getting!
I donned my overalls, descended into the engine room and managed to find the bolts, nuts and washers in the bilge under the engine. After three quarters of an hour I emerged triumphant, having replaced the bolts and secured the pump and associated pipes. On the downside I was feeling a trifle seasick! The waves were growing and, rounding South Foreland were more than 2 metres high and occasionally breaking on the stern. Aquabelle rode them remarkably well, although the helmsman needed to tale care to avoid broaching sideways and suffering heavy rolling.
With the port engine good again, and the starboard engine tapping away, Aquabelle reached Ramsgate without further mishap. Again, the fuel consumption was better than expected with about 70 litres used for around 60 nautical miles. Julie decided to join us at the last minute for out trip next day to London and so, in the evening, drove from her home in Liss to Ramsgate.
Today was going to be the longest leg so far. To make the most of the tides in the Thames Estuary, we departed Ramsgate at 8.00 and headed north, rounding North Foreland in calm seas. The overnight rain was stopping and as we passed Margate the sun came out. Derek decided to save time by plotting a route through shallow waters off the north Kent coast, which became more convoluted as the seabed contours displayed by the sat nav were followed closely. At no time was there less than 2 meters under the keel but the tide was at its lowest and sandbanks were frequently visible. Possibly an unwanted additional layer of stress!
The sea rose considerably as we crossed the main Thames shipping lanes and became very bumpy until we closed onto the north side of the river. We had a strengthening headwind but the benefit of a following tide gave us between 7 and 8 knots. Passing through several heavy showers we headed up river, allowing larger shipping to pass us in the main channel. The river gradually narrowed and became more built up but it seemed a long way until we passed under the QE2 Bridge and, eventually the Thames Barrier. Julie helmed Aquabelle through, following a fast ferry and being closely followed in turn by a tug pulling a wide barge.
Passing Greenwich we spotted the entrance to South Dock Marina, our berth for the next week, at the last minute and turned immediately behind one fast ferry and in front of another. The manoeuvre was made more difficult by a low sun in Derek's eyes. We were warmly greeted by the harbourmaster (who crewed Gainsborough Trader to Dunkirk) and directed to a mooring at the end of a narrow row of boats, mainly Dutch barges or similar. Engines were finally switched off at 19.00h, around 11.5 running time. Again, fuel consumption was not much more than 8 litres/h. Aquabelle will stay here for a week.
Week six - 29th June to the 4th July
Sue and I drove from our home to the Thames Motor Yacht Club and, welcomed by Grant, the Hon Sec, parked our car and set off to Aquabelle via train to Waterloo then water bus to Greenland Pier. Arriving after lunch we joined Derek, Julie and Christian who were already there, and who had lowered the masts in preparation for the Thames bridges. In the afternoon I checked the engine repair and decided that it could be used for manoeuvring.
As the entrance lock had a high cill it was not possible to leave South Dock until about two hours before high tide. A height gauge at the entrance to the lock determined the exact time. Keeping a watch on the gauge, we decided to start Aquabelle's engines around 11.00 and successfully exited into the Thames at 11.30. Immediately afterwards Derek shut down the starboard engine. The day started hot and gradually became hotter.
Heading upstream past Canary Wharf, and just before Tower Bridge we stopped at a floating barge for fuel and then continued under the bridge and into the Pool of London. We passed the Tower of London and, on the other side, HMS Belfast (like Aquabelle, a National Historic Ship) followed by the wobbly bridge and St Pauls.
Avoiding waterbuses and the odd barge we continued past the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. Water traffic abated dramatically after Westminster Bridge and we continued on one engine with the tide at around 6.5 knots. Despite our lowered masts, there was only about a metre of clearance under Hammersmith Bridge as the tide was high. Eventually we spotted Chiswick Pier and I turned Aquabelle round to head into the tide before mooring. We were warmly greeted by the pier master, Ann, and had a late lunch in a very pleasant setting. Later, walking a short way away from the river and past lovely old buildings in Chiswick in the very hot sun (it subsequently turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far), we were surprised to find ourselves at the very busy Hogarth Roundabout where the A3 and A4 meet.
Taking advice from books and a river cruise skipper, we delayed our start up river until 11.40 so that we could use the rising tide to speed us on our way. Also, crucially, we needed some of the tidal flow to keep sufficient water under our keel. Many times we had less than 0.5 metre margin, much lower than we expected from the tide tables. Reaching Richmond lock we saw that the flow-through weirs were closed so we waited for the lock to open (we were jumped by a pleasure steamer when the lock eventually opened but there was enough room in the lock for both of us). Apparently, the tide was locally 20 mins. later than expected.
Not long after we reached Teddington Lock and Derek and I went to the lock keeper to buy a 1-month Thames licence. This proved to be a formality and we were soon in the lock, where the lock keeper volunteered to take a group photo of the crew when he was told that it may be Aquabelle's first transit of the lock since returning from Dunkirk 75 years ago. Immediately after the lock we stopped for lunch overlooking the weir and were joined by Sean (Derek's son) and Carole, who had disembarked from the pleasure steamer. It was Sean's 40th birthday and he joined us for a celebratory lunch. Later he retrieved his car and, on driving home, gave Christian a lift to Guildford so that he could return to France via Newhaven and so avoid strikers at Calais.
A short cruise past Bindown (Benjamin Taylor's house when he owned Aquabelle) and Ditton House (where he lived in the 1950's) then we arrived at the Thames Motor Yacht Club, close to Hampton Court Bridge. We were asked to raft up alongside a large cruiser, 'Jolly Rotter II' by Grant. The mooring gave a good view of Hampton Court Bridge and Molesey Lock, as well as the constant stream of humanity returning by ferry from the Hampton Court Flower Show, laden with various forms of foliage.
Julie and Sue went to the Flower Show whilst I made some modifications to the electrical system and checked the faulty water pump bearing. Later I painted a watercolour of Hampton Court Bridge. Derek relaxed for the first time in many weeks before returning to South Dock Marina to retrieve his car. On his return we all dined at the Mitre Hotel next to the river, the restaurant where the Taylor family often dined before and during the war.
After a restful day and a celebratory evening meal, Julie and Derek left Aquabelle to go back home. Derek is planning to return towards the end of the month to guide Aquabelle across the Channel to Calais.
Mid-morning saw the arrival of Paul, Nerrisa, Anna and Rob (Brian's son, daughter and spouses) to join Aquabelle and experience a day's cruising. Using one engine only, I carefully slipped her mooring and turned her downstream. The early part of the cruise was chaotic with boats ferrying visitors from the bus stops across the river to the Flower Show pontoon. Just down river, buoys cordoned off part of the stream for a rowing race between two large dinghies, crewed by visibly amateur rowers!
We travelled for about 45mins before spotting a good mooring where lunch was taken in the wheelhouse under strong sunshine. After, we continued further downstream to look at 'Bindown', the house where the Taylor family lived when they owned Aquabelle. Turning before Kingston Bridge we retraced our route before again mooring at the TMYC. Jason, Duty Officer for the week end, kindly let Paul and Anna into the clubhouse to see the plaque bearing the names of their Great Grandfather (B Taylor) and Great Uncle (S Owen-Smith) who were Commodore in 1942 and 1939 respectively. After a pleasant walk to Molesey Lock the four guests departed, leaving Sue and me to a quiet evening.
Week seven - 5th July to the 11th July
Moored at Hampton Court TMCC
Moored at Hampton Court TMCC. We were visited By Grant, Hon Sec of the TMYC, with his wife Linda and so were able to thank him for the hospitality given to us by him and the club.
Tony and Deb, friends from the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, arrived at the TMYC around 9.30 to help us crew Aquabelle for today's move to Datchet. We slipped our mooring around 10.30 and, again only on the port engine, made the tight turn into Molesey lock. A succession of locks followed and lucky timing with an increasingly practiced crew got us through Sunbury and Shepperton Locks for less than 10 minutes each. At Shepperton Lock the keeper was at lunch so we had to operate it ourselves. Whilst trying to work out which button to press to operating the sluices, Sue spotted a familiar face in a group of walkers. It was Fran, an old friend from our University days who happened to be passing. Small World!
Chertsey lock delayed us more. A small, lock, it could take only three modestly-sized cruisers waiting ahead of us and then, to our consternation, a large pleasure boat was waved ahead of us at the next opening. We waited and then the lock keeper beckoned us into the smallest of gaps with the gates closing only inches behind us.
Lunch was taken at a mooring near Laleham after mistaking an earlier piece of clear bank as the mooring and nearly running aground.
With three more locks to go and time rapidly passing we were getting anxious that we would be late at Datchet but we quickly ascended them (Penton Hook, Bell Wier and Old Windsor) in around five minutes each.
We reached Kris Cruisers just before their closing time but were welcomed by helpful staff and, once they had decided where we should be put, manoeuvred us bow facing shoreward onto a narrow pontoon.
Opposite was the Home Park of Windsor Castle. It was an Idyllic location spoiled more than somewhat by being directly under the flight path of planes taking off from Heathrow Airport. Tony and Deb left to take the train back to their car at Hampton Court.
Sue and I took a short train ride to Windsor. There were long queues for visiting the castle so they walked around the extensive shopping centre and bought presents for their son's Mother-in Law. They looked for potential moorings on the river but saw that there were none for a boat of Aquabelle's size until further upstream.
My brother Brian and sister-in-law Margaret had asked to take a short cruise on Aquabelle and so a visit was organised whilst she was in Datchet. On a warm and sunny day we set off mid-morning and motored on one engine up-river before turning round and returning to our mooring 70 minutes later. All has lunch on board before Brian and Margaret departed for home mid-afternoon. Later, Sue and I walked a short part of the Thames Path to Albert Bridge and back.
Sue and I spent the morning awaiting Alan, who was flying from Montpellier to Gatwick in the morning, scheduled to land at 11.00. All transport was on time and Alain arrived at Datchet station around 13.15, carrying in his luggage an electric pump to act as a temporary repair for Aquabelle's starboard engine water cooling system. Almost immediately the crew set off upstream as seven locks and around 20 miles needed to be navigated before arriving at our destination, Bourne End Marina. The cruise up the river, still on one engine, went smoothly and both boat and rope-handling skills were honed through the series of five pretty and well-manicured locks and rural reaches. En route, we passed Bisham Abbey; this is where Sue and I took our boat handling course some two months before and was also the venue for a ALDS Fitting Out Supper.
Bourne End Marina was reached at 17.55 and Aquabelle obeyed instructions to moor on the fuel pontoon, which had a view of Mada, another Dunkirk Little Ship.
Our son Steve with Dita , Joseph and Edward came for their second visit with the plan to cruise on the Thames. The availability of Steve's car gave Alain the opportunity to get to a chandler in order to buy some pipe and fittings for the replacement water pump. A suitable shop was found at Wargrave, only twenty minutes by car and the required components duly purchased. In bright and pleasant weather Aquabelle was taken upstream as far as Marlow Lock with Stephen at the wheel, then turned round to return to Bourne End. The manoeuvre was challenging as the river was shallow, children were kayaking nearby and the reverse on the port engine was weak.
The weather forecast was disappointing as rain was expected and Ian and Lucy and family were booked to visit Aquabelle and go on a short cruise up the river. Sailing Aquabelle was also convenient, as we had been asked to move from the fuel pontoon to make way for a large hotel boat. This plan was soon disrupted as, when slipping our mooring in heavy rain I discovered that reverse could not be engaged on the Port engine-the only one working! Sue, Ian and Alain managed to slow Aquabelle by rope and walk her to her new mooring. All got soaked and the cruise was abandoned.
Week eight - 13th July to the 19th July
On a much better day than the previous one, Benjamin Taylor's Grandchildren Christine and David visited Aquabelle at Bourne End. It was Christine's first visit to Aquabelle but David had experienced a memorable evening with Sue and Colin and 'Les Amis' at Aquabelle's home base, Palavas Les Flots, back in 2012. Our visitors had offered to bring lunch and we sat down to a delicious quiche provided by Christine and focaccia bread made by David, accompanied by champagne! Christine also brought a cake decorated with an image of Aquabelle so they had really pushed the boat out.
Alan had adjusted out the problem with reverse so, after this delicious lunch provided by our visitors, David and I helmed Aquabelle, still on one engine, for a cruise up the river to just below Marlow Lock.
With no visitors expected, Alain spent the day fitting the electric water pump to the starboard engine, a task successfully completed by mid-afternoon. This work could not be tested though, as several connections were made using a sealant that needed to dry overnight. Of greater concern was the discovery that the starboard exhaust pipe was severely corroded. Dismantling the pipe revealed a gap of around 50 mm to be bridged. Although Alain had a piece of flexible hose on Aquabelle for such an emergency, some fittings were needed, as was exhaust sealant. A local engineer was contacted and promised to arrive 'after lunch' he did not appear and so we were left to our own devices. A suitable store was located in the nearby village of Cookham.
Alain and I took the train for the four-minute run to Cookham and located a motor factor that stocked the exhaust bandage and clips required to effect the repair. Next door we found a French-styled café. During coffee Alain discovered with pleasure that they also had an extensive wine stock and sold other French delicacies such as Fois Gras.
With the exhaust mended the time had arrived to test the engine but to our horror it would not turn over and hit compression with a worrying thud. The problem was quickly diagnosed as a hydraulic lock caused by the new pump forcing water through the exhaust manifold into the combustion chambers. Alain spent a long time turning the decompressed engine over by hand at the flywheel to gently express the water and to allow it to drain. Later, with some nervousness we decided to try again to start the engine and it fired into life, with no permanent damage having being done. The engine was briefly run to harden the exhaust sealant.
That evening the Dunkirk Little Ship 'Tom Tit', normally based at the TMYC Hampton Court, arrived for the night and to refuel on the way to Henley. The owner, Trevor was pleased to receive videos of his boat taken from Aquabelle during the Commemorative Crossing.
Whilst Alain was completing engine repairs and painting/staining the external finish prior to the Thames Traditional Boat Rally, I removed the backing board for Aquabelle's name letters and started to fit them directly onto the hull. Mooring Aquabelle at an angle to the pontoon with her stern alongside a small cruiser, which was moored behind, facilitated both activities. Work was interrupted by a visit to a pleasant pub on the opposite side of the river for an evening meal in the setting sun. Afterwards there was sufficient light for me to complete the letter replacement task before bedtime.
With two good engines on line for the first time since London, Aquabelle was pointed towards Henley for a pleasant morning's cruise through four locks and about 11 miles. We arrived at 13.00 and moored on the bank behind Mimosa and later saw MTB102 moor behind us. My son Simon, with his family Sarah and Dylan arrived by car an hour later so we all had lunch on board. As we had decided that mending the original pump bearing was important to avoid the switching-off problem of the electric version, Sarah was persuaded to drive Alain and me to Wargrave to seek advice. We were directed to a workshop close to Henley where a helpful engineer called Ivan agreed to find ball bearings and fit them to the dismantled pump. To ensure the correct measurement on the engine eccentric, Alain was given a micrometer and taken by boat back to Aquabelle by an apprentice to check the size. Sarah and I returned by car.
After Simon and family left, we were asked to stand by in order to re-arrange the moorings as more Little Ships arrived. Eventually we were required to cruise the regatta course to make space and time for the correct mooring plan but confusion remained and we had to undertake difficult manoeuvring on our return under the guidance of the mooring officer, Dennis. Despite this the published mooring plan was not exactly achieved! This process took well over two hours so our evening meal was delayed until after 21.00.
Moored on the outside of three boats, we had a great view of the Thames towards Henley and could watch all the comings and goings. We raised our masts and hoisted our signal flags along with the other Little Ships. Ian, Lucy, Tom and Katie arrived by car with Lucy's mother, Jane. We had lunch on board and began preparations for the sail past around 13.30 in order to pass the commentary position in the correct order at 14.20.
As we were moored outside two of the boats that needed to be ahead of us we motored slowly around the course, ticking off the leaders as they passed. Not all were well organised and one boat only passed us a few minutes before we were due to be in front of the commentary box. Somehow, all made it in the correct order with even spacing.
Getting back to our mooring was less easy. Some smaller early boats needed to wait until larger boats arrived to moor inside them. Again the mooring plan was thrown out of the window and Aquabelle was told to moor alongside Riis then the mooring officer changed his mind and asked us to moor alongside Mimosa, which by then was behind us. I had to back Aquabelle downstream into the arriving flotilla and attempt to moor but was then directed to wait mid-stream until others were sorted out. Eventually we tied up on Mimosa on the outside of a four-boat raft that gave us an excellent view of the river and all the activity. The crew had dinner in the 'pop up pub', part of the rally catering. Although the fish and chips were more than acceptable, Alain was disappointed by the presentation and size of the chicken with rice!
A busy day. Around 9.00 cousin Rosemarie and her husband John arrived to visit Aquabelle for the first time. Later Jim and Jan, Dave and Lynn (Austin Healey Club members who were unable to make the small trip in Poole Harbour last month) joined us and remained on board for the second sail past. Assembling in the right order was a little better than on Saturday and all was well as we approached the commentary position. To my amazement (helming Aquabelle as usual and enjoying getting her in exactly the correct position), right in front of the commentary tent a small cruiser crossed the river under the bows of Aquabelle and only avoided being rammed by me putting her engines in full reverse to bring her to a stop. Any contact and Aquabelle's 16 tons would have ploughed right through the small boat.
The only bright side was that the commentator congratulated me for my emergency stop.
Ian, Rosemarie, John, Claire, Joanna and their spouses and children, all relatives of mine on my Father's side, also visited Aquabelle and were told of her long history. The children were particularly fascinated by the signal flags and enjoyed looking up their meanings.
The crew later went to a barbecue at the Thames Vintage Boat Club stand and were joined by Norman, skipper of Janthea, and Ian, the ADLS Commodore. I broke off early to host a longer visit by cousin Ian that lasted until late in the evening.
Week nine - 20th July to the 26th July
After a warm, sunny and very enjoyable weekend it was a wet and miserable morning as we slipped our mooring around 09.00. Since Henley was the upper limit of our exploration of the Thames, we were all aware that Aquabelle was starting her long journey back to the Mediterranean today. We planned to sail the 21 miles to Kris Craft in Datchet before they closed for the evening. The first two locks, Medmenham and Hurley were passed swiftly but coming to Temple Lock we could see a queue of boats ahead and we had to loiter mid stream waiting for the lock mooring. Eventually frantic winding by boaters at the lock told us that the hydraulic system had failed; also there was no lockkeeper to be seen. After a further wait the keeper arrived saying that the electrics could now be switched on and so, after the boats ahead were cleared we passed through a now-functioning lock.
The long queue behind us included Gay Venture and MTB102, the latter struggling to maintain a stationary position mid-stream. We were told later that the hydraulics failed again in the afternoon, causing a 3-hour delay to some of the Little Ships coming downstream. At Marlow lock we were surprised to be asked to wait despite the lock being half empty. We were told that a broken-down boat alongside a rescue boat had phoned ahead and was to be given priority. Eventually they arrived and we were permitted to enter the lock behind them with our stern perilously close to the white line marking the cill. Sue was instructed by the lock keeper not to let Aquabelle drift back so much as half an inch. Needless to say, she didn't enjoy that lock.
The remaining 5 locks provided few further surprises. We stopped for lunch above Boulter's Lock shortly before passing Eastbank, the home of the Taylors after Ditton House, and Brunel's Maidenhead railway bridge, famous as the longest unsupported brick arch in the world.
We were once again made very welcome by Kris Cruisers at Datchet and the mooring was very good value at around £8.50 per night. Aircraft constantly taking off from Heathrow remained the only drawback.
In reasonably good weather we sailed a pleasant 17 miles downriver to return to Hampton Court and the Thames Motor Yacht Club. Lunch was taken just below Chertsey lock at a quiet mooring during which we saw MTB 102 pass. At Hampton Court our 'usual' mooring alongside Jolly Rotter II was taken so we rafted behind, with the instructions to move to our proper mooring when free. Tom Tit's owner, Trevor and his wife very kindly invited us to their home nearby for a welcome shower (no shower or even electricity at Henley) and then all five of us went for a meal at the Mute Swan, next door to the Mitre Hotel and a short walk from the Club
Alain enjoyed a very special tour of Hampton Court Palace by Trevor whose encyclopaedic knowledge much impressed him.
I had been invited to give a presentation to Club members, based on the pre-war cine film I inherited from Benjamin Taylor and I used the day to complete presentation material. Realising that my laptop needed a wire to link to the projector I drove to Kingston upon Thames to buy it, hoping I had made the correct choice!
About 40 members enthusiastically received the presentation and were greatly amused by games and antics of the Club at play in the 1930's on the lawns by the river. They also spotted that the Annual Parade of Boats took place by Hampton Court Palace, just as today, with the salute being taken by the Commodore at that time, My Great Uncle Sidney Owen-Smith. All were very interested in the history and restoration of Aquabelle, and several chose to visit Aquabelle afterwards. Thanking me afterwards, the current TMYC Commodore, Mandy, presented me with a glass tumbler displaying the yacht club insignia.
Sue and I started to remove their belongings from Aquabelle in preparation for leaving her later in the month. With Alain, we drove home, but went via Henley to pick up the water pump, which had been modified by fitting a ball bearing in place of the damaged bronze bush. We followed a country route to show Alain some of the English countryside.
Noting that the forecast for Friday was rain all day, in the afternoon Alain I went in Colin's Frogeye Sprite to visit West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill and the stone circle at Avebury
The forecast was accurate so, whilst Sue did the laundry and cooked, Alain and I looked for suitable imperial screws and other fittings for Aquabelle in 'Grandfather's Chest' which I had inherited from Benjamin Taylor. In the afternoon we went by car to Devizes Museum to find out more about the Iron Age settlements we saw the previous day. Sue introduced Alain to the delights of a traditional English roast dinner followed by Aquabelle pudding - recipe available on request.
Sue, Alain and I returned by car to Hampton Court. Alain managed to get a good photo of Stonehenge from the car but an otherwise easy journey was marred by big queues through Hampton caused by traffic lights around road works. Unfortunately, time was at a premium as my cousin Helen was visiting in the afternoon and was expected at Hampton Court by train before 13.00. After a delay of more than 45 minutes, the jam finally cleared and Aquabelle was reached just in time to greet Helen at the station. After lunch in a café in East Molesey we enjoyed a short cruise downstream to show Helen her Grandfather's two houses on the river at Hampton Wick and Thames Ditton, as well as the island where my parents lived after they were married.
Commodore Mandy, came on board for the first time for a cup of tea and was very interested to see a photo of Benjamin Taylor carrying out an Upper Thames Patrol during WW2 in his launch 'Midway' three men in a boat complete with tin hats and rifles. The club was aware of the patrol but had never before seen a photo.
In the evening all were invited to a 'bring your own food' evening in the bar at the Thames Motor Yacht Club which was well attended. Aquabelle was honoured to be given a souvenir TMYC burgee by Mandy.
Heading for Chiswick Pier, Aquabelle slipped her mooring at Hampton Court for the last time around 09.30 and turned down-river. Again passing Benjamin Taylor's houses she reached Teddington Lock where I had to hold her in the centre of the river in heavy rain to await the lock opening. This was made more complicated by the uncertain intentions of a large passenger boat ahead. We were finally asked to enter the lock first with our companion entering behind. With the tide on our side this time we by-passed Richmond Lock as the tidal barriers were down and had an easy run to Chiswick, which we reached around lunchtime. As instructed, we rafted up alongside a Dutch Barge facing upstream. I relaxed on board whilst Alain and Sue explored the local area.
Week ten - 27th July and the 28th July
We were asked by telephone to try to get to Limehouse by 13.00 at mid-tide so that the lock did not need to be emptied completely in order to conserve water. This meant that we had to leave Chiswick by around 09.30, too early to wait for the tide to turn at the pier. Setting off against a flow of more than 2 knots was challenging, particularly under the expert scrutiny of the RNLI who were moored next to us. Aquabelle was taken more than 100 metres upstream before I could turn and then she punched the tide downstream at less than 4 knots GPS speed. This gradually increased to more than 6 knots as the tide turned at around 11.00. We were again contacted by Limehouse and asked to arrive as soon as possible, preferably before 12.30.
Sue and I explored the start of Regents Canal whilst Alain tidied up Aquabelle's exterior and repaired the damage. In the evening the crew ate well at a local Italian restaurant.
Change of plan today. We had hoped to sail to Ramsgate but a bad weather forecast forced a stay in Limehouse. As Christian and Annie were arriving by plane from Montpellier we decided to change crew here instead. Derek, my replacement, arrived driven by Julie, bearing a gift of six newish fenders that he had picked up around Port Solent on his regular walks. Julie kindly volunteered to give Sue and I a lift back to Hampton Court to recover our car before returning home.
London was spectacular, as before, and Alain took many photographs. Although there seemed less traffic, possibly as the weather was not as hot as when we came up the river, the wind and occasional fast RIB with thrill-seeking passengers stirred the water up to quite a lop.
My fears about entering Limehouse mid-tide began to be realised when the entry proved to be at an acute angle downstream, making the standard approach against the tide a challenge. I elected to go straight in downstream, which went OK until the last second when an upstream eddy pushed Aquabelle hard against the upstream wall. Alain reached the bow just in time with the large fender but the bow plate took a hit, which lifted it a little and scraped some paint off. At the same time the Marina staff opened the swing bridge and lock gates. We entered the lock in quiet water and moored to steel hawsers set vertically in the lock walls. Getting to the berth required some complex manoeuvring but Aquabelle was safely tied up before lunch.
This was my last day after some two and a half months (and Sue's four weeks) of adventure. We left with pride for the achievements of Aquabelle and her crew through high points, the visits to Dunkirk, Poole, Hampton Court and Henley, and low points, the seas off Littlehampton and the constant battle with the water pumps. All this and the original schedule planned last year was met to the day. Truly a trip of a lifetime!