On Sunday, one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the River Thames will form a procession to mark the Diamond Jubilee. But for the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk, the sails have already been hoisted. A select group of pupils raised anchor on Wednesday, travelling along the coast and down the river to London Bridge, where they will moor up and wait for the Queen to pass by.
As its name suggests, the Royal Hospital School has a long history with the monarchy: it was founded by King William and Queen Mary in 1712. But while the Duke of Edinburgh has visited the school, the current Queen has not.
"We thought that because of this we would go and see her instead," said Rob Mann, a geography teacher who is organising the school's involvement in the pageant. "Pupils wanted to take part for patriotic reasons; a lot said they thought the Queen was amazing and they wanted to be at the celebrations."
Six pupils from the independent boarding school will help to sail the boat from Suffolk to London, and six more will sail the vessel back. The pupils, aged between 13 and 18, will also represent the county of Suffolk at the pageant.
The London Nautical School, a state comprehensive in the borough of Lambeth, is also participating, with pupils aboard three boats in the flotilla. Headteacher Hyder Dastagir said it was a "great honour" for the school to take part.
"We are just an ordinary state school, but because of our nautical education we are able to offer opportunities like this," he said. "Children know they are involved in something historical."
London Nautical School pupils will sail the Warspite, a historic Thames training ship, with others commanding two new gigs. "The Warspite will be leading the fleet of working boats, so we will be fairly close to the royal barges," said Jamie Bullar, head of maritime studies at the school. "We have been busy dolling the boat up and pupils have been training on the Warspite, too."
Pupils at the Royal Hospital School, which was founded to educate the children of sailors, are the only pupils in the country to wear Royal Navy uniforms for ceremonial events. Those taking part this weekend are all experienced sailors, but have had to undergo training on their vessel, the SB Victor, which is privately owned.
Alex Slatter, 14, has an aunt who works as a staff manager at Buckingham Palace. Both his parents are in the navy and are abroad serving in the Middle East. "I'm looking forward to taking part in the pageant very much; it's going to be great," he said. "Getting the sails up is going to be a challenge, but once we get going we should be fine."
Alex Alderton, 16, whose father is a lieutenant commander in the navy, said: "The Thames is going to be absolutely heaving when we try to get the boat out. I have never sailed anything quite this big."
The pupils are being sponsored to raise money for the school's new heritage centre, which contains treasures once owned by Admiral Nelson, who served on the school's committee.
FOOD FIT FOR A QUEEN
Children from four schools will help to cook for the Queen after devising winning Diamond Jubilee menus for the monarch.
They will be invited to Buckingham Palace in June to see their recipes prepared by royal chef Mark Flanagan. Dishes include Beefeater's Delight, Harry's Hungry Hunt and Luv'lee Jub'lee Bub'lee.
The children are from Cape Cornwall School near Penzance, Latimer Arts College near Kettering, St Columba's Primary School in Oban, Scotland, and Eastington Primary School in Gloucestershire.
Original headline: Sail of the century: a tale of pupils, pomp and pageantry