Careful restoration sees Dunkirk yacht brought back to life

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  • Motor yacht was requisitioned by the navy 75 years ago to help with Dunkirk evacuation
  • She eventually ended up being left to rot in a French canal
  • But now the owner’s grandson has found and helped restore her
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REQUISITIONED by the Royal Navy 75 years ago, this motor yacht was one of hundreds used to help rescue more than 338,000 soldiers trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk.

And now she’s back in Portsmouth after being discovered by the grandson of the man who once owned it.

The Aquabelle was built in 1939 and requisitioned by the navy in 1940 to help with the evacuation of Dunkirk.

She made several crossings and years later was returned in less than gleaming condition to her owner, Benjamin Taylor.

He eventually sold the yacht but now decades later his grandson, Colin Dimbylow, has found it and seen it returned to Portsmouth.

Colin, 66, who used to live in Portchester, said: ‘A group of slightly mad but enthusiastic Frenchmen had found the boat, recognised she had history and was too good to be left to rot, and started to restore her.

Colin Dimbylow at Port Solent with Aquabelle,  which took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk and has been lovingly restored''Picture: Sarah Standing (150899-2517)

Colin Dimbylow at Port Solent with Aquabelle, which took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk and has been lovingly restored''Picture: Sarah Standing (150899-2517)

‘She was part of my family so I’ve been looking for her for some time.

‘Through the internet and the fact she luckily kept her name right the way through, I was able to join these French restorers and with the information I could bring we’ve now brought her back to the 1939 condition.

‘More recently I have become a part owner of the boat again and therefore the family link with this boat has been restored after 75 

On May 30, 1940, Colin’s grandfather Benjamin received a phone call from the War Office saying his boat was needed by the Royal Navy.

He was told to bring the vessel to Hampton Wick in London, where four sailors from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve took her – but not before Benjamin removed her bell as a keepsake in case she never returned.

Nine days later, the Taylors discovered Aquabelle was back from Dunkirk, having made several crossings using her two diesel engines, and had been used to tow other boats.

She was dirty, a cleat was torn out and a hatch was broken, but Aquabelle was not returned to the Taylors right away.

The vessel was requisitioned again and deployed to the Royal Navy Patrol Service in Essex.

It was not until 1946 that Benjamin was able to get his yacht back, but he sold her in 1947 after spending some time with her in the Portsmouth area.

She changed hands several times before being abandoned to rot in a French canal.

She was discovered in 2008 by a group of French enthusiasts and Colin later joined the team.

In 2013 he returned the bell, which had been passed down to him, after a gap of 73 years.

Colin added: ‘What this boat is, is a solid tangible piece of history which 
people can look at and reflect on what happened 75 years ago.’