Sunday, 2 September 2018

Round and round the island (of Sheppey)

Pictures taken on the Old Gaffers rally in Cowes continue to trickle in now almost everyone has got home.

Here is a photo of Toby inspecting the compass.

I tried to explain to him how useful it is to know in which direction we would find the North Pole, even though we have no intention of ever going there. I don't think he really grasped the concept.

And here Thomas is emerging from the stern locker after inspecting the work done last winter to add some internal strengthening to the counter.

With Vic and Mark we went for a sail round through the Swale to the Medway on August bank holiday. I have often found the weather on the August holiday can be so dreadful that it would be better to have stayed at home, and this year was fairly typical. On the Sunday it was blowing a full gale from the SW and raining heavily. No other yachts seemed to be out. Under reduced rig of jib, mizzen and motor we soon got tired of trying to get to windward  and settled for a sheltered anchorage in Stangate creek. Here we sat down below around the cabin heater playing Monopoly while the weather howled outside. This was only Mark's second sail, and his first night sleeping aboard, so I was relieved when we woke to rather better weather on Monday. We had a brisk sail back round the outside of the Isle of Sheppey, at first with several reefs in, but taking them all out by the end of the day as the wind moderated.

Last Friday, by contrast, the day started sunny but with no wind at all. I was sailing with Justin (to become daughter Emma's father-in-law in February) and was a bit anxious as he is an expert Dragon crew.  Dragons are elegant and complex boats that are raced very competitively and maintained at a high standard; Bonita is rather different. We motored out to the Columbine Spit at the eastern end of the Swale, and there picked up a NE wind. The wind and tide were right to sail all the way round the Isle of Sheppey in a little more than a single tide.

Because the tide fills the Swale from both ends, it is possible to carry a fair tide almost all the way around the island. The Swale is not a true river with a freshwater source far inland- its technically a ria which is a sunken valley and it forms a tidal channel between the Medway and the Thames. Circumnavigating the island makes an interesting trip with plenty to see. We had a fine sail and I suspect the atmosphere aboard was rather more relaxed than on a racing Dragon - on Bonita you can light the stove and make tea while underway.

The picture shows Justin helming with the North Kent coast on the horizon astern. My apologies for not adjusting the mizzen sheet before taking the photo.

Here is the track of our (anticlockwise) circumnavigation of Sheppy as recorded by Justins watch (!), and his photo of Bonita lying peacefully on her mooring.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Back Home

Allan and I woke to the sound of the foghorn sounding across from the Dover harbour breakwater.  There was patchy fog which made it difficult to see across the harbour and the tops of the cliffs were completely obscured. However there was a moderate southerly wind so it was tempting to set out.  Sailing in relatively shallow water along the coastline is generally fairly safe in fog.  One of the yachts in Dover was setting out to Dunkirk, which crosses one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and is not a trip I would have chosen to do in such poor visibility.  We heard on the radio that several channel swimmers were also setting out.

When we were approaching Ramsgate the fog got much worse, with visibility of less than a quarter of a mile.  We saw a few small craft entering or leaving Ramsgate harbour, all going slowly in the poor conditions.  By the time we got to the North Foreland however the fog lifted, the sun came out and visibility improved to several miles.  We tacked into the Swale in late afternoon over calm seas with a gentle breeze under a blue sky.

Sunset and Home
We have enjoyed our short holiday to join the Old Gaffers in Cowes and it was certainly well worth the effort of going there.  It's always a bit sad packing up the boat at the end of a trip, though of course the primary purpose in sailing an old boat is to get back to where you started from without loss or damage.   We plan to get in a bit more sailing this year, but mostly as shorter trips.

Last Leg - with old school map


Allan and I woke to find that the wind had subsided in the night to a more civilised force 4 SW, so we decided to leave further exploration of the pleasures of Newhaven to another day and left the harbour early.  The harbour dredger was already out in the entrance channel dredging  - perhaps it had been working all night - but we managed to slip out past it.  We had the sort of day's sailing that everyone enjoys : sun, fair wind, all sails set, self steering gear doing all the work and the boat making steady progress in the right direction. 

Beachy Head
The picture shows the cliffs at Beachy Head.  The lighthouse at the base of the cliffs used to be one of the most distinctive on the coast.  The first lighthouse was on top of the cliffs, but it was so often obscured by fog that a new one was built at ground level.  A high powered rotating beam from this lighthouse could be seen traversing the white cliffs behind it and was instantly recognisable from many miles out at sea.  

Sadly this has now been replaced by a much lower powered LED light that flashes rather than rotates. It no longer lights up the cliffs and is much harder to recognise from a distance. However we shouldn't complain.  Since practically everyone today has electronic navigation systems we should be grateful that the old visual aids to navigation are maintained as a check and a back up. Long may it continue.

There was quite a bit of turbulence round the entrance to Dover harbour, as usual, but with Allan at the helm we negotiated the entrance and tied up in the Granville dock around 8pm. Once ashore we had no trouble in finding a suitable restaurant in which to reflect on the day's journey.
An Easy Day's Track

Sunday, 19 August 2018

East to Newhaven

With Allan as crew we disentangled ourselves from the other rafted up gaffers at about 8.30 this morning as we, and others, started heading back to our various homes.  We had a blustery force 5 SW wind which increased to 6 or 7 at times.  The swell started building up once we were clear of the Isle of Wight.  Bonita was running well with lots of reefs in but the decks got thoroughly cleaned by flying spray.  We thought it was better not to go through the Looe channel off Selsey Bill as this can be uncomfortable and even dangerous with a heavy swell at low tide, so we went south round the Owers light buoy.  Similarly the entrance to Brighton Marina can be difficult with onshore waves, especially in a boat without much engine power, so we carried on the few more miles to Newhaven.

The total distance of 65 - 70 miles we covered in around 9 hours of lively downwind sailing. We had a fair tide most of the way, but nevertheless this is about as fast as Bonita goes.

The waves were breaking over Newhaven breakwater as we approached and we were pleased to get in to the shelter behind it to take the sails down. Newhaven is still an active ferry port with huge ferries turning round in the port looking alarmingly close to the yachts. There is also a dredger at work - seemingly all the time day and night so there is plenty of activity, though more commercial than yachting. We could not find anywhere open to eat on a Sunday evening so Allan cooked supper onboard. 

We are hoping for more fair winds but slightly gentler tomorrow.

The Old Gaffers Race

The high point of the OGA 55th anniversary rally was the race in the Solent off Cowes on Saturday.  There was a brisk SW wind and the course started with a beat against wind and tide.  About 66 boats entered but some of the boats struggled a bit to get to windward and only about 20 finished the course.  On Bonita we had a fine crew of D and Ant, and managed to get to windward by tacking in shallow water on the Mainland side.  If our early track looks a little confusing, bear in mind that lots of other boats with plenty of momentum and large turning circles were doing much the same in the same bit of water at more or less the same time.
Pre-start manoeuvres outside Cowes, then race to the West
There were many spectacular views of old boats ploughing though the waves, but taking photos while making short tacks isn't easy. A few pictures are shown below.

Pioneer above is a large Essex smack, recently rebuilt from a wreck, and regularly takes parties of schoolchildren to give them a taste of traditional sailing.  She did well in the race and also got the prize for the crew with the youngest average age.  Various other boats in the race are shown below

My Alice

Nomad in Front
Bonita likes a reasonable breeze and we were able to finish the course and got a prize for getting home third in our class. There was a suitably festive supper and prize giving in Cowes to complete a very successful and well organised rally.
Susan J
The picture above show Susan J, owned by Dave and Julie Patuck (who have been regular crew on Bonita) crossing tacks with us.

Click the picture title or here to see a video taken by D, our on board videographer.