For decades, Jolie Brise has been sailed and main­tained by pupils from Dauntsey’s School. Clare Mc­comb finds out about their most re­cent pas­sage – 10,000 miles across the At­lantic and back

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Clare Mc­comb

Jolie Brise At­lantic cir­cuit. How teenagers sailed the clas­sic cut­ter 10,000 miles on an ad­ven­ture of a life­time

It’s an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one, but for some it’s trans­for­ma­tional

When Jolie Brise and the stu­dents of Dauntsey’s School in land­locked Wiltshire go transat­lantic, the plan­ning starts very early on, and for good rea­son.

The tall ship’s long-time skip­per Toby Mar­ris knows only too well how different in­di­vid­ual cross­ings can be. In 2009, dur­ing the last leg of the Tall Ships At­lantic Chal­lenge, Jolie Brise lost her top­mast in 55 knots of wind, mid-ocean.

They had bro­ken the top­mast be­fore, in the Mediter­ranean, but that was in fairly placid wa­ters; this North At­lantic storm was very different. Com­ing down a large break­ing wave touch­ing 15 knots on the surf, the helm lost con­trol, they gybed, the main­sail pre­ven­ter pulled the deck fit­ting out and the boom whipped through the back stay, pop­ping 40ft of top­mast off. No one pan­icked, in­struc­tions were given – the Dauntsey’s stu­dents got stuck in. That mess of rig­ging took nearly 14 hours to sort out, after which Jolie Brise con­tin­ued her race, with­out the top­mast.

For Toby, in 2009, the top­mast was a sit­u­a­tional prob­lem, not a dan­ger. He knows his ship. In the eight years since, tech­nol­ogy has moved on mas­sively. In 2009, he and mate Adam Sea­ger worked with the com­puter screen in lay­ers of cling film, try­ing to plot different routes with chi­na­graph over the GRIB files and weather in­for­ma­tion sent to them from Chris Tibbs, giv­ing them different

sce­nar­ios on each layer. Now Adrena, Pre­dictwind and the B&G plot­ter learn Jolie Brise’s po­lars and crunch the al­go­rithms. Choices and de­ci­sions are made with much more in­for­ma­tion. Through Irid­ium Go and Fleet broad­band, they have global in­ter­net ac­cess, al­though some of it can cost an arm and a leg.

I caught up with Toby, as he made prepa­ra­tions ahead of the Ren­dez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Re­gatta, rac­ing from Europe to Canada and back as part of Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

They had taken de­liv­ery of a new wardrobe of sails from Mark Flew – all spank­ing new, as was the stand­ing rig­ging. The life­jack­ets had been re­placed, fit­ted with PLBS, state-of-the-art B&G elec­tron­ics in­stalled, ev­ery­thing set and ready for what­ever the sea was go­ing to throw at them.

Toby said he thought Jolie Brise looked ‘as good now as the day she was launched,’ and more than ready for the re­gatta. The ship pre­vi­ously raced across the At­lantic dur­ing the 2000 Tall Ships Race, and was the over­all win­ner.


The Ren­dez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Re­gatta started in Green­wich and ended at Le Havre, with different legs be­tween Sines in Por­tu­gal, Ber­muda (where they saw the Amer­ica’s Cup teams on the wa­ter), Bos­ton, the Gulf of St Lawrence ports, Que­bec, Hal­i­fax and fi­nally, back to Le Havre. Jolie Brise car­ried different crews for each leg, with no one sail­ing the whole odyssey. The open­ing race to Sines in­volved young peo­ple from Green­wich and Teign­mouth, some of whom had min­i­mal sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Other legs car­ried adults, some of them Dauntsey’s par­ents, some longterm Jolie Brise crew, some just peo­ple who had ap­plied to give it a go. Many crew mem­bers were self-funded; oth­ers were spon­sored by different ports and or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the Jolie Brise Wether­spoon’s in Teign­mouth.

Toby skip­pered the pas­sage back from Nova Scotia to Le Havre with a crew made up en­tirely of cur­rent Dauntsey’s stu­dents. One of the joys when work­ing with Jolie Brise is watch­ing how young peo­ple grow and de­velop over the ex­pe­ri­ence. I can vouch for this my­self, hav­ing vis­ited when they fi­nally berthed at Le Havre. If Toby spoke, ev­ery­one lis­tened in­stantly and care­fully, then car­ried out com­plex tasks with ef­fi­ciency and calm. Dur­ing down­time they were re­laxed and friendly, jok­ing with their skip­per as

much as amongst them­selves – in ef­fect, they seemed a per­fect crew. In­ter­view­ing a cou­ple of them later, I was equally im­pressed. They had bonded so well as a team that they still keep in touch, de­spite some hav­ing now left school for uni­ver­sity.

One stu­dent de­scribed the strange­ness of a mid­night till 0400 watch, so dark and so far from land. When it was rough, he felt com­pletely safe while know­ing he was tak­ing on forces far out­side his con­trol. If Toby and Adam both came on deck in their wet-weather gear at the same time, that al­ways seemed much more se­ri­ous, and they knew to fol­low in­struc­tions minutely. It is pos­si­ble to feel scared and safe at the same time.

On a rough night, with waves crash­ing over the bow or blast­ing up through the scup­pers, ice-cold wa­ter run­ning down their necks, they were still smil­ing. The only break in good hu­mour came after an un­cooked cake hit the floor – a rogue wave had hit them beam on with­out warn­ing. A girl us­ing the heads, who’d opened the port­hole, screamed the loud­est as 15 gal­lons of At­lantic wa­ter landed on her. They got used to the mast’s sud­den groans, loud enough to wake the ex­hausted, and the bunks that dripped, and wa­ter slap­ping the hull so close, with just an inch or two of wood be­tween them and the wildness out­side. Toby watched his crew as they trans­formed into ‘ex­cep­tional, con­fi­dent and fan­tas­tic sailors’; he was proud of them and they of them­selves. But this is what rac­ing for a month aboard Jolie Brise does: the point is, the boat can­not sail with­out their in­put. This buck stops with them. There is no one else. It makes an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one, but for some it’s trans­for­ma­tional.

One of the joys when work­ing with Jolie Brise is watch­ing how young peo­ple grow and de­velop over the ex­pe­ri­ence


As part of the re­gatta’s itin­er­ary, ves­sels vis­ited smaller ports as am­bas­sadors for the sail train­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and Jolie Brise docked at Gaspé, along the south­ern shore of the St Lawrence river. Three or four days in one place can be quite wear­ing for teenagers, so the lo­cal sail­ing club of­fered to let them crew on their boats, as part of their reg­u­lar Wed­nes­day rac­ing. Ev­ery­one de­cided they’d rather

en­ter Jolie Brise her­self, which raised a few eye­brows. Two of the crew told me what hap­pened next: ‘Of course at the start it was ob­vi­ous that she was the big­gest there by quite a way, and we set off with 180º wind shifts left, right and cen­tre. Not hav­ing a huge crew it made things quite dif­fi­cult, but quite fun. We man­aged sec­ond place across the start line, then jogged around the course a few times, chang­ing po­si­tions a lot while a lo­cal boat held the lead un­til the fi­nal down­wind leg. There was only 6 or 7 knots of breeze to­wards the end. The lead boat gybed astern of us and we only won by about 3ft, stand­ing out on the bowsprit to see who crossed first. It was very ex­cit­ing. They cheered us, of course, but were a bit sur­prised that a 104-yearold boat could still beat all their modern boats.’ Toby said the re­turn to La Havre was very different from the out­ward legs. ‘You’ve got the Grand Banks, Flem­ish Cap, At­lantic de­pres­sions build­ing up be­hind you and all that. Go­ing over it’s very warm; you meet the trade winds and can just zip along. Com­ing back, you hit the Labrador Cur­rent which is freez­ing cold and if you look at the “Great Cir­cle” track, it would take you into the south­ern lim­its of the ice com­ing down from the Arc­tic, ex­cept for the Sail Train­ing In­ter­na­tional way­point which stops us go­ing too far north. It can be a re­ally tough trip, but safety is planned into ev­ery de­tail. In th­ese days, when some schools won’t risk go­ing ski­ing, Dauntsey’s is able to take a group of 16 and 17 year olds rac­ing a cen­te­nar­ian east­bound across the north­ern North At­lantic. We’re proud of that.’


The rac­ing el­e­ment is al­ways deadly se­ri­ous be­cause they have Jolie Brise’s rep­u­ta­tion to up­hold. She is an icon, the only win­ner of three Fast­net races since the in­au­gu­ral in 1925, pos­ses­sor of not one but two Blue Wa­ter Medals, col­lect­ing Tall Ships tro­phies reg­u­larly year by year – not just in­di­vid­ual legs. In 2000, she won the whole Tall Ships Transat­lantic Re­gatta. This year, the home­ward leg started in very light airs and Jolie Brise is magical in those con­di­tions.

She was the penul­ti­mate Le Havre pi­lot cut­ter be­fore steam-driven boats took over, with all those gen­er­a­tions of ex­pe­ri­ence cul­mi­nat­ing in a de­sign which was su­perbly suited for two things – to get to the in­com­ing ships first as they ar­rived from the west, and to weather any sea, while wait­ing for them in open wa­ters. There was no fee for the pi­lot that came sec­ond. That’s why she is fast. In Toby’s ex­pe­ri­ence, she out­per­forms boats that she re­ally shouldn’t, but he says that some­times you get a rac­ing car, like a clas­sic Fer­rari, which is per­fectly bal­anced – and Jolie Brise, with her very deep keel and her huge rig, has that de­gree of de­sign per­fec­tion. Dur­ing the race, when the wind picked up and came aft, the big square rig­gers lifted their heads and were away. Jolie Brise had pulled out over 100 miles in the light airs on some of her com­peti­tors but as they down­loaded daily po­si­tions, the crew knew they would be over­hauled even­tu­ally. Were they dispir­ited? No. Did they change any­thing? Ab­so­lutely not. ‘You never know what will hap­pen’ was the mood, and they stuck with it.

When rac­ing, ei­ther Toby or Adam are on call at all times, not to run the ship or the watches be­cause the stu­dents can do that, but to keep her trimmed per­fectly and squeeze ev­ery inch of speed out of the con­di­tions. If necessary, ev­ery­one sleeps on deck, on the wind­ward side if it’s heavy go­ing and to lee­ward in light airs. Peo­ple for­get that nine stu­dents can weigh about a ton, and mov­ing them around makes a huge dif­fer­ence.

Talk­ing to Toby, I felt the whole of sail train­ing is lucky to have him. He is chair of the Tall Ships Coun­cil, which in­cludes all the many-masted gi­ants as well as the smaller ves­sels. A lot of ad­min and ad­vo­cacy goes on be­hind the scenes. Peo­ple don’t re­alise that when reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing com­mer­cial boats are laid down in­ter­na­tion­ally, old-fash­ioned and her­itage craft can find it very hard to con­form as they don’t have the phys­i­cal flex­i­bil­ity to change. Be­hind this skip­per, with his 23 years in charge and his mate of 15 years, Adam Sea­ger, I can sense their pre­de­ces­sors: hard-core sailors like Ge­orge Martin and Bobby Som­er­set, not for­get­ting Bill Par­ish who res­cued her for Dauntsey’s School. They’re men of de­ter­mi­na­tion, vi­sion and a deep love of the sea. Jolie Brise has sailed through the decades, leav­ing her mark on his­tory. To­day she is as fine and fast as ever, and in Toby’s hands, inspiring a new gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple to step up and take the helm.

ABOVE: Ev­ery stu­dent spends a day aboard BE­LOW: The only boat to have won the Fast­net three times

ABOVE: Leav­ing Hal­i­fax, Nova Scotia, be­fore ex­pe­ri­enc­ing gales and freez­ing fog while cross­ing the At­lantic

ABOVE: Jolie Brise can be char­tered BE­LOW LEFT: Lessons in ba­sic sea­man­ship BE­LOW RIGHT: En­gine re­pairs in La Havre

BE­LOW: Over the years, Dauntsey’s stu­dents have sailed more than 200,000 miles on Jolie Brise

BE­LOW: Jolie Brise has won nu­mer­ous Tall Ship Races. She was over­alll win­ner in 2000 and 2008

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