People’s boat makes it to the water at Thornham Marina

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Containing 12,000 stories held together by unrivalled craftsmanship, dedication and love, the Collective Spirit is a boat of the people.

And when it sets sail to locations across the south of England later this month, the wind will breathe new life into the objects and stories from which it is made.

Part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and funded by Arts Council England, the boat is made from hundreds of pieces of donated wood which all have personal stories behind them, some sad, some happy, some inspirational, and others which have never been told before.

Conceived by artists Lone Twin - Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters - 11 years ago, the boat’s remarkable journey so far has been fuelled by a real passion, not only by them, but by thousands of people who have either made a donation, become a volunteer or just wanted to find out more about this unique project.

Pulling together social history and community interaction, it has been hailed as a perfect example of the harmonious marriage between sport and art.

All the stories behind the donations, as diverse as a piece of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, boxes used to transport England’s gold bullion to Canada during the second world war and pieces of the original steps of Arundel Lido, have been meticulously recorded by the archive volunteers - known affectionately as the A Team - and made into a wonderful book, which also contains a map of exactly where each donation can be found.

For Gregg Whelan, the launch is a very proud moment, the culmination of a project which has really taken root in the public’s imagination.

The 30-foot yacht is a high-end vessel capable of 20 knots, and was built at Thornham Marina, Thorney Island. It has brought together many people from all walks of life, and all ages, and its name, announced at the launch ceremony on Monday, perfectly encapsulates what the project is all about. The name, suggested by British yachtsman Pete Goss, was shortlisted and selected during a public ballot.

“After two years’ focused activity in here, it’s amazing to see the boat as she is now, it’s very, very beautiful,” he said. “When we started the process we didn’t know at all how we would make this boat, that was before we found Mark Covell who built it and Simon Rogers who designed it.

“It’s really much more than a boat, the real amazing thing is that thousands of people gave away things that are really important to the history of their families and day-to-day lives. That effort, that sort of generosity is quite an act of trust I think.”

Gregg said another important aspect was spending time with people and hearing their stories.

“We learned really early on that we had to have a box of tissues at the ready,” he said.

Gregg said he was proud of how exacting the team had been during construction and said that although a high-end vessel, the project had been about real people.

“The project has turned the idea of boating as an expensive pursuit on its head, making something high-end into something that is really about people people of modest means who individually just love adventure and going out on the sea, It’s nothing to do with money. It has been really nice and been the catalyst for exploring the sea as an adventure from an egalitarian point of view.”

He said the £550,000 funding had been a real investment, giving people jobs, work experience, enabling people to be part of the community and firing people’s imagination and ambition. In short, it has changed people’s lives and will leave a real legacy.

Designer Simon Rogers said: “Every time I look at the boat it makes me smile. It just shows you what you can do. It’s got such a humour, it really is a character.”

Mark Covell said: “I really wanted to build a boat of our time and for it to be exciting.”

See www.theboatproject.com for more details and the journey it will make this summer.