TOM CUNLIFFE - A JOLLY BREEZE
Classic Boat|February 2021
Life’s a breeze on Jolie Brise, thanks to the relaxed teachings of her skipper

Some things never change. Whatever it is you’re sailing, if you’re a fly on the bulkhead of the mess room you’ll hear the hands grousing about the ship. They’ll complain about the food, the skipper, the designer, the owners and throw in a few choice words about the paymasters too, but if any outsider dares to criticise their vessel, they’re on him like a whirlwind. Not being a psychologist I can offer no reason why this should be, but yesterday I was sailing on a boat that I’ve never known anyone curse, even in her earlier incarnations. I’m talking about the Le Havre pilot cutter, turned racing yacht, turned sail-trainer, Jolie Brise.

When I found myself in charge of her 40 years ago, her galley was up forward. Cooking was on an ancient coal stove manufactured by a respectable company called Esse, whose creation had fought the good fight for too long and which now generated more noxious fumes than heat. It’s true that the crew offered some choice comments as they staggered out of the fo’c’s’le clutching their throats, but nobody ever widened the complaints to the ship as a whole. So glorious was her progress through the water that we forgave her even the poison gas.

That was back in 1980, not a lot short of six decades since she had won the first of her three Fastnet races. Now, four decades on from the moment I took her long tiller, I was back aboard, this time with a different hat on. Along with my friend Steve from Seeing Eye TV we were there to film ‘Day One’ of the sail-training programme that is the heart of her life with Dauntsey’s School. Dauntsey’s has owned and operated her since my day and before. Under their far-sighted guidance, she has become a legend in the Tall Ships world. Whatever the race, be it transatlantic or short-range, she is the boat to beat, and few are those who manage it.

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