~ Posted by Samantha Weinberg, June 1st 2012
At 8am yesterday morning, the "Jolie Brise" slipped out of Ramsgate harbour, and her crew (11 of us) unfurled her brown sails, hauled them up the wooden mast and pointed her nose in the direction of the mouth of the Thames. It was our third day’s sail from the Hamble and—on the port and starboard side—historic boats were making their way to London, like us, to join 1,000 other boats for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
I am no sailor, nor great royalist, but the invitation to join the "Jolie Brise" on her voyage from Hampshire to St Katherine's Dock was irresistible. Built in 1913, she plied her trade as a pilot cutter, ferrying the skippers of larger ships to and from harbour at the time when sail power was giving way to steam. For the last 35 years she has been teaching the teenagers of Dauntsey's School (in landlocked Wiltshire) how to sail and, more importantly, how to live and work together under close and sometimes testing conditions.
We had spent the first night in the English Channel (each of us doing four-hour shifts), moored the next night at Ramsgate, and yesterday entered the Thames Estuary, riding the rising tide past power stations and cargo ports, through the tranquility of Greenwich, past the Olympic park, the gleaming offices of Canary Wharf, and reaching St Katherine's Dock, just short of Tower Bridge at 10pm. Our distinguished neighbours in the dock were "Suhaili", which in 1969 became the first boat to sail non-stop around the world, and "Gypsy Moth IV", which in 1967 achieved the fastest solo circumnavigation of the world by a small vessel.
The "Jolie Brise" is too tall to join Sunday's procession. But she will be be part of the "Avenue of Sail", a mile-long stretch of ships and boats, a spectacular reminder of Britain's maritime tradition. And I will be there too: a little bit more of a sailor, and probably a bit more of a royalist too.
Samantha Weinberg is assistant editor of Intelligent LIfe.