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Lady Isabelle - a Dunkirk Little Ship


Of course all Dunkirk Little Ships are unique with their link being their presence and participation in Operation Dynamo when the British navy was boosted by hundreds of small ships which had been requisitioned by the Navy to evacuate the British and French forces from the Normandy beaches. The story has been told many times including most recently in the film Dunkirk.

During my 30 year career as a classic boat broker I have sold Lady Isabelle 3 times and twice to the same person. She is now based in California and wanting this special little ship to return to the UK. I await new photos of the most recent revarnish job carried out locally (i.e. in Newport Beach California). Fortunately the length of the boat means that she can be repatriated in a container directly from her present location.

Several of the Gibbs launches moored on the Thames during the years of World War II were commandeered as members of the Home Guard. Indeed in the Reading Upper Thames area many were owned and driven by women who had their own uniform. Members of the Home Guard patrolled the river 24/7 in fear of an invasion via the Thames corridor. You can still see remnants of the concrete bunkers on the riverside in several locations.

Lady Isabelle was one of the larger of the inland waterways fleet while being one of the smallest of the sea going boats but nevertheless she is a proud and bona fide member of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) . Undoubtedly she would have struggled to cross the Channel but according to 'The Little Ships of Dunkirk' by Christian Brann she arrived on La Panne beach amid heavy shelling. She could cut through calm water at 12 knots thanks to her powerful 6 cylinder Gray marine engine. Apparently her Staines based owners never forgave the boatyard which allowed their precious Gibbs to be requisitioned !

Her subsequent ownership and history seems to be relatively well documented and at one stage the boat even had a cabin. However in 1981 when she was in a very sorry state a new owner commissioned the legendary Peter Freebody to restore the boat to its original state and a reconditioned 1934 Gray was sourced and fitted while the boat was being completely refurbished. Subsequent owners in the last forty years have maintained this glorious varnished carvel constructed Gibbs launch to a very high standard. Not only has Lady Isabelle returned to Dunkirk (albeit on a trailer to be launched into the harbour) but she also paraded proudly at the Diamond Jubilee of the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 when a few drops of rain were hardly a deterrent to this brave old lady.

Interestingly during one of the phases of her long history Lady Isabelle won a prize in the sixties for adventurous cruising. What would her owners have made of her membership of the Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach? Lady Isabelle would like to return to the UK to celebrate her centenary and to participate in the next Dunkirk return. With her convenient length she would fit nicely into a container for the crossing. If the idea of repatriation appeals to you please ask us to obtain a shipping quote.

Who will commit to the next decade? Or at least to the next Dunkirk return in 2025?

For more information please ring the office on 01491 578870 and ask to speak to Gillian.


Year of build
6ft 6ins
6 cylinder Grays

Please call Gillian on 01491 578 870 for more information


Henley Sales and Charter Ltd have gained a reputation over the last 30 years for selling and chartering beautiful, classic boats. Experience of operating and selling boats on the river Thames enables us to offer expert objective advice to prospective owners on all aspects of boat ownership including purchase, surveys, repairs and moorings. We will do our best to find the ideal craft to suit your individual needs - for a day or for a lifetime.

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29 Station Road
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire


01491 578 870

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