The Swale Race and a visit from Toby
There was a good SW wind for this year's Swale Race and Bonita did well, helped by having D and John as crew as well as a new mainsail. We are in the large gaffers class and were first over the start line - which has never happened before- and finished the course in good time. The trouble is, with good conditions everyone else had a quick race too, and we ended up in 4th position in our class, which is fairly typical. Never mind- we had a good sail which was only slightly marred by a rather too close encounter with a sailing barge on the finish line. The cause of this was poor judgement and over-enthusiasm on my part together with lack of space as we tacked towards the finish line. Luckily there was only some minor superficial damage which was soon put right. We were not the only ones: we saw two steel sailing barges collide near the finish too, fortunately without serious damage.
Geoff Jones in Calismarde came second in the classic Bermudan class. Calismarde's intractable and rather worrying leaks that developed during last years Baltic cruise seem to have been cured during a winter ashore in the yard, so time and money well spent.
The next day we were privileged to have a visit from Allan, Alice and Toby. This is Toby's first visit to Bonita, and it makes him the fifth generation of the Beckett family to have sat in Bonita's cockpit. He seemed to quite enjoy the experience, or perhaps he was just relieved to get out of the dinghy. Its possible he might turn out to be an old boat enthusiast, but as hes only 5 months old its probably a bit early to say.
We had intended to spend a few days sailing in the estuary in the company of Pretty Penny, crewed by Allan and John. Due to many other pressures Bonita is having a quieter year this year with no major cruises. In the event on most days either the weather, or the forecast, or both were so dire that we thought it best to stay nearer to home as we had limited time. We motored through the Swale to the Medway.
The picture shows the site of the old shipbreaking yard at Queenborough on the Swale. There doesn't seem to be much activity there now although there were a few old ships there that looked as though they ought to be broken up. This was once the site of Cox and Danks Shipbreakers who were famous as the yard that salvaged the German battleships that were scuttled in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys at the end of the first World War. This was a huge undertaking- some of the ships had turned over and were lying on the bottom upside down. The Admiralty thought the ships could not be salvaged at an economic cost so they sold them where they lay to Ernest Cox who spent a lot of money raising them and developed a number of new techniques in the process.
On Wednesday we locked in to the marina at Chatham, the site of the old naval dockyard. It was the sort of day when people in the streets have difficulty in holding onto their umbrellas so we were pleased to be in shelter. Of particular interest this year is the exhibition in the maritime museum to mark the anniversary of the Dutch raid on the Medway in 1667. The museum has developed quite a lot since we were last here about 5 years ago, with some excellent and knowledgeable guides and plenty of evidence of scholarly work on the background to some of the exhibits.
There are lots of old bits of boats but the only intact boat older than Bonita in the museum seems to be HMS Gannet, a gunboat of 1878. She's of particular interest as she is a very rare composite built ship (wood planking on iron frames - like the Cutty Sark). Composite construction gives a strong and fast ship but often of limited life due to rusting of the frames. The Gannet's six inch thick teak planking, which was readily available then would be almost impossible to find in any quantity today.
Far from being an intact ship, but under the floor of one of the museum buildings they have found some huge baulks of wood that apparently were salvaged and reused when HMS Namur was broken up. Built in 1756, so older than the Victory, the Namur took part in many battles including the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. In many ways a more remarkable piece of seamanship than Trafalgar, this was fought on a rocky lee shore in an onshore gale in fading light on a November evening. The battle resulted in a British victory that removed the threat of a French invasion.
Chatham marina where she is usually berthed