Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Head winds

The forecast today was for SW winds force 5-6 and indeed we had most of that in the harbour. With great reluctance I decided that a day pushing to windward against strong winds was not the best thing for either boat or new crew.  We stayed in Brightlingsea and explored the surrounding countryside. 

One advantage of being stuck in port is that it gives you the opportunity to browse and spend money in the yacht chandlers. Around the Thames estuary and all along the South coast there are good chandlers pretty much everywhere, but further afield they are much more scarce. In many places on our trip we found the chandlers to be fairly rudimentary affairs, sometimes with only a few plastic-wrapped stainless shackles and bolts.  Nothing of much use for the long distance yachtsman wanting to replace worn out kit or looking for a local pilot book.   Like most specialist shops the chandlers have been undermined by internet shopping for higher value items. 

The harmless pleasure of wandering into a well stocked chandlers, looking around, and buying something that might just come in useful one day is becoming a scarce luxury.

We now feel we have very nearly exhausted the attractions of Brightlingsea (though we have not yet visited the local museum which is only open at weekends) and are looking forward to more favourable weather.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

New and younger crew!

Today was a wet and windy day in Brightlingsea but greatly improved by the arrival of enthusiastic new crew. Our twins John and Emma are both keen to help with Bonita's voyage. The picture shows them newly arrived on the waterfront in Brightlingsea.

Behind them is the anchor of some large ship, now mainly retired to decorative duties but temporarily performing a useful function in anchoring down the marquee. We have seen many old anchors whose sea going days are over used to add interest in coastal towns. Plymouth scores highly as it has one of the huge anchors of the old Ark Royal aircraft carrier: waterside pubs often display ancient specimens bought up in fishermen's nets. Even humble terraced houses often have rusty yacht sized anchors in their front gardens. The anchor is said to be a traditional emblem symbolising hope. Anchor and hope being the sailor's last resort when all else has failed.

By contrast the anchor often used as a naval insignia and on cap badges is usually a fouled anchor. Emma's jaunty cap badge shows this clearly. The cable has become wrapped around the stock making it unreliable and likely to pull out under load.  It is odd that so often we see the anchor symbol represented in this dangerous state.

The third picture shows the Christ's College boat club captain honing his skills during the long summer holiday.

Lighter winds and dryer weather are forecast for tomorrow.

In harbour

Bonita spent the day in Brightlingsea awaiting new crew, and anyway there was a strong SW wind blowing so it was not suitable for going out and crossing the estuary. A few dinghies set out for a short, wet and exciting sail in the Colne. I did odd jobs aboard including strengthening the bit of starboard rail that had been nudged by the smack in Saturdays race.

Brightlingsea has always been a sleepy little place but it seems to have adjusted reasonably well to changing times. There used to be an active smack and small boat builders on the waterfront but these have closed down and the site has been developed for flats and shops. Some of these are still empty after several years.
There is also windfarm work, as in several other small harbours we have visited. Whatever the costs and benefits of offshore windfarms, their ongoing need for maintenance has bought employment to many small ports hit by the decline of the fishing industry. There are still lots of fishing smacks at Brightlingsea as there always have been, but now they race  and might occasionally fish, rather than the other way round. 

Thames sailing barges for many years traded produce up and down this coast and into London. The barges still visit, but now their cargos consist of  fare paying passengers.

The picture shows the barge  Hydrogen picking up customers from the pontoon in Brightlingsea.
Hydrogen was built in 1906 and is clearly still in excellent condition. She was originally built to carry industrial chemicals, as were her sister ships Oxygen and Nitrogen.

When barges could no longer trade profitably under sail Hydrogen's sailing gear was removed, an engine was installed, and she carried on working as a motor barge. By the early 1960s only one barge, Cambria, was still carrying cargo under sail (although it is said that her owner/skipper Bob Roberts made more money from appearing on the BBC than by trading). Later, with the revival of interest in sailing barges, Hydrogen was, like many other motor barges, converted back to sail again.

Monday, 29 July 2013


Today saw the departure of Alice and Allan who have sadly run out of time and have to return to more important duties. They have helped us all the way from Grimsby and survived a variety of East Coast gaffers gatherings.

This afternoon there was a Parade of Sail up the river Colne to Wivenhoe. Having at present no crew of my own, Minstrel very kindly lent me some of theirs for the event; Mary for the upstream journey and Jolyon for the return. 

In theory a Parade of Sail consists of a steady stream of evenly spaced yachts progressing sedately up the river in an orderly fashion. Today it was blowing a very brisk SW wind from behind and most boats found it difficult to keep their speed down.  On the upriver journey we were sailing under just jib and mizzen, and even that was too much at times.  

Wivenhoe is a charming town with a long history of boatbuilding and maritime activity. We were made very welcome by the Wivenhoe Sailing Club. However their pontoon in the river is quite small and the visiting yachts were soon stacked up six abreast. The tide runs very strongly once it turns, and since there is little water at low tide everyone was in a hurry to leave soon after high water.

Rafted up at Wivenhoe SC
There was much activity with ropes and fenders to disentangle the boats in the strong current, with plenty of varied suggestions about how best to get the job done. Eventually everyone got away without damage and we returned to Brightlingsea for the night.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

East Coast Old Gaffers Race

57 ft Pioneer - local Smack built in 1864, relaunched 2003
The 50th ECOG Race started in very light winds although stronger breezes were forecast for later. About seventy boats left the start line near Brightlingsea, making a fine sight as they made their way down the Colne. It was a difficult race for the race organisers and the conditions required two changes of course after the initial announcement. Several boats retired due to running aground or slow progress. The rest of the fleet made sedate progress with all light weather sails on display.

About half way around there was a lot of congestion around a buoy off the old nuclear power station at Bradwell and we managed to slip ahead of several boats. This cleverness didn't pay off however as, after rounding the buoy, we lost the wind while tacking between two smacks and collided with one of them. The boats were moving quite slowly: there was no damage whatever to the old smack and only a fairly minor scrape along Bonita's starboard rail. As we had to use the engine to extricate ourselves from the situation and to avoid further damage, we retired from the race at that point and sailed back to Brightlingsea. See our track below (click for detail).

The crew were a bit unsettled by this encounter and we were disappointed not to complete the race. We talked over what went wrong. I think that once we had lost way on the boat there was nothing we could have done to avoid a collision. I felt the helmsman on the smack could have easily prevented it with a minor course change, but the view from his deck may well have been different. Smacks are big unwieldy things that are sailed very competitively and I suppose we should have kept further away from them in a congested and confused situation.

So a bit of a frustrating day for us. However later there was a prize giving ashore and hospitality in the Colne Yacht Club with music well into the night.

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Drum of Drake
Today we joined many other old boats gathering in Brightlingsea on the River Colne. We had a slow trip in light winds and hot weather. The attraction at Brightlingsea is the East Coast Old Gaffers race tomorrow. This always attracts a very large and varied assembly of interesting boats and there is hot competition for the many prizes, some of them slightly eccentric.

Among those attending is a Belgian schooner 'Drum of Drake' in chocolate and cream colours and sailed by a group of Belgian confectioners.

Clytie of 1922
The elegant Clytie has been owned by Maddie's family since she was built in 1922. The reason she looks a bit down by the stern (Clytie that is), is that its Maddie's birthday today and there is a party aboard.

Today we got the results of yesterday's lady helmsmperson's race yesterday.  Bonita came in 16th out of 22 competitors. Not bad for Alice's first race as some of the ladies are very experienced. We have hopes for improved results tomorrow!

Friday, 26 July 2013


Alice in charge
Today was racing for junior crews and lady helmspersons. We have no juniors aboard at present so we entered Alice in the ladies' category. This meant Alice was the only one allowed to steer the boat throughout the race. Of course some of the ladies have lots of experience sailing boats but Alice is definitely learning quickly. The race was to windward up the river Blackwater from Mersea to Osea island. Alice steered all the way but was assisted by generous amounts of advice from her crew.

Cygnet (built Burgoyne bros. Kingston on Thames 1906)
The formal race results are not yet available but it appeared that quite a lot of boats were ahead of us. Bonita's sails are not very new and she has quite a lot of extra gear aboard for the round Britain trip so we can't expect too much. However we did finish at exactly the same time as Cygnet, also based at Faversham. We thought we were slightly ahead, and they thought they were so there wasn't much in it. As Cygnet is both longer (12.2m) and newer than Bonita we were quite pleased.

Allan and Alice on Maldon Quay
In the evening we took taxis to Maldon for supper in the Little Ship Club. Alice had not been to Maldon before and Allan last came as a small boy for a previous Old Gaffers Race, so we enjoyed looking round this ancient and historic town. 

No blog is quite complete without an educational historical fact, and we were interested to learn that Maldon was the home of the Reverend Joseph Billio. His enthusiastic preaching style in the early 1800s gave rise to the phrase 'going like Billio'.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

West Mersea

Brandaen - 1980 Smack - 65ft LOA
We left the Walton Backwaters at low water springs, about 7.30am. At such low tides there was only about a metre of water under the boat at times but that is OK so long as you know the bottom is fairly flat and the sea is calm.

The channel past the Naze is known as the Medusa channel as apparently it was first recognised when used by Nelson during his time as captain of HMS Medusa in 1801. However it is such a useful passage through the sands that it must surely have been known to local traders and fishermen long before then.

We had a light wind sail with a fair tide to West Mersea in the river Blackwater. We tied up to a buoy and as we were still a long way from the town we got the launch service ashore.  West Mersea is a major yachting centre and is deservedly known both for the vast numbers of yachts moored there and the large expanses of soft mud at low tide.

We did some shopping in the unspoilt little town and had supper in the yacht club. We also had a drink in the Victory Hotel where Mum and Dad stayed during their honeymoon in 1949. Bonita was here then too, at anchor in the river in front of the hotel. 

I was anxious that having left the dinghy on the boat and got the launch service ashore we might get stranded and could also end up spending the night in the Victory. However we got the last launch back at 10.30, full of chatty relaxed sailors.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Walton Backwaters

Charm (1922 Albert Strange yawl)
There were thunderstorms and squalls overnight but this morning we woke to a complete calm.  Today there was informal racing from Wrabness to Walton but several boats, including us, thought the wind too light to make racing worthwhile and started out under motor. The wind did however pick up as the morning went on. The pictures show some of the leading boats.


We got to Walton Backwaters by early afternoon and anchored at the top of a creek surrounded on all sides by vast amounts of soft mud. We swam and rowed around in the dinghy.  The crew swam ashore for the mud immersion treatment which is supposed to be good for the skin.

Bona (1903 Harwich Bawley) catching up Letty May
The Walton Backwaters were the setting for Arthur Ransome's book 'Secret Water' and seem to have changed little in the 70 odd years since that was written. Although the giant container cranes at the port of Felixstowe can be seen over the marshes this is still a wild, remote, and largely unspoilt area of mudflats, winding creeks and abundant birdlife.

Attentive readers of this blog may notice that the pace has perhaps changed a little recently: we no longer seem to be making frequent long journeys between distant ports. Although our circumnavigation of Britain is almost complete we are taking part in the easygoing East Coast OGA Jubilee cruise and plan then to sail on to Cowes for what promises to be a very large party on 17th and 18th August.

Monday, 22 July 2013


While the rest of the country seems to be on Heat Wave alert and suffering from Royal Baby fever,
the best place to be must be away from it all on the water.  Today we joined the East Coast gaffers jubilee cruise from Ipswich to Wrabness on the river Stour which divides Suffolk from Essex. The first picture shows the congestion of the massed gaffers in the dock at Ipswich. Bonita is in the centre of the picture and it took quite a while to extricate her. 

We then had a light weather sail down the Orwell and up the Stour to Wrabness. After these exertions a swim in the river seemed a good idea. There isn't much at Wrabness apart from a few houses, yacht moorings and a beach, but that is more than sufficient for a gaffer gathering; there are more than 30 boats here anchored in the river and the crews have come ashore for some conviviality.


One of the impressive features of the Round Britain trip has been the number of Dutch boats taking part and the enthusiasm of their crews. The photos show the powerful and impressive Windbreker passing the Felixstowe container terminal, and the elegent Vlieter: built of riveted steel in 1946 and carefully restored to almost original condition.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Ipswich Wet Dock

Allan & Alice embrace Rubber Flubber Football
The Ipswich Wet Dock opened for commercial shipping in 1850 and was a major development at the time.  Today it was crowded with about 65 gaffers of all types and ages together with their fond owners, families and friends. All the owners are very happy to tell the stories of their boats and draw attention to the unique points of interest. There was no serious sailing today despite it being a warm sunny day with a gentle breeze. However the Regatta program involved a strenuous day of activity in the aptly named Wet Dock. 

Chaos as the blindfolded rowers round the mark!
Highlights include the Rubber Flubber Sailing race with a variety of improvised rigs on rubber dinghies - strictly downwind.  Much skill was shown in the sculling races. Most of the competitors were able to demonstrate that sculling a dinghy efficiently with one oar is by no means a lost art.
The blindfold rowing ended in chaos and multiple entanglements as it often does. 
Football in rubber dinghies was played out more in than on the water.

Various ship's dogs fully participated in the activities and were rewarded with prizes in the Dog Show for sea dogs. Throughout the day Brian Hammett ably compered the events managing to bring some kind of sense to the disorder.

The ladies' sculling race
Bonita's new crew participated by coming last in the dinghy sailing race due to a misunderstanding about the centerboard, middle of the field in the blindfold rowing  and by getting soaked in the Flubber Football.

The activities continued late with song and pontoon parties.

What the honest citizens of Ipswich or passing yachtsmen in sensible boats thought of these antics we do not know but the day definitely showed that the Old Gaffers Association is in excellent form for its 50th anniversary.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


We woke this morning in our peaceful anchorage half way up the River Deben. We
High Barbaree
 pulled up the anchor and sailed downstream crossing the bar a little before high water. We left the river in company with High Barbaree owned by Tim and Liz Dodwell who have also nearly completed their circumnavigation. We also sailed alongside the lovely, and very fast, little My Quest. Richard Gavin sails her from the difficult waters of the Deben without an engine. 
Gaffers packed like sardines

We had a good sail to Harwich harbour and up the River  Orwell. We got to Ipswich to join the East Coast OGA Jubilee cruise. A very large number of gaffers are crammed into a corner of the marina. Bonita is wedged in a mass of assorted craft and cannot possibly leave before everyone else without causing a substantial upheaval. We could not have got her into this berth without the help of many hands hauling many ropes so I am hoping they might still be available when it is time to leave.

As expected from a well organised gathering there was refreshment and suitable musical entertainment until late into the night.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Shotley & Deben

We spent the morning at Shotley marina in Harwich harbour. This used to be the site of HMS Ganges, which trained boys for the Navy. The original HMS Ganges was an 84 gun second rate ship of the line built of teak in Bombay in 1821; she was the last of the Royal Navy's sailing ships to act as an admiral's flagship. When it had become clear to all that the day of the wooden sailing warship was past, she was moored off Shotley and used as a training ship. The training establishment came ashore in 1905 and lasted at Shotley till 1976. From what I have heard their methods were fairly robust, but no doubt effective with those cut out for a successful naval career. 

Alice with part of HMS Ganges
When the old Ganges was broken up in 1930 the captain's cabin was used to create an extension to Burgh Island hotel in Devon while other bits of her timber suffered the indignity of being used to make trinkets for souvenirs. Bonita has a teak ashtray that came from the Ganges, complete with a brass plaque confirming its pedigree. The picture to the left shows Alice in Shotley marina holding our minute remnant of the old man of war.

There has been a steady stream of gaffers heading up the River Orwell for the festivities at Ipswich this weekend, but before joining them we felt we should visit the lovely River Deben which Alice had not seen before. After the excitement of crossing the choppy waters of the bar in a brisk breeze we anchored for the night up the river surrounded by the peaceful Suffolk countryside.

Furthest East and Harwich harbour

We left Wells around midday on Wednesday. The harbourmaster's launch led a small flock of yachts out to sea at high tide but even so two of the boats grounded temporarily in the buoyed channel. Once offshore we found light head winds and mostly motored down the North Norfolk coast.

We were planning to go to  Lowestoft, the most Easterly point of Britain, but as we were approaching in the dark, the land and all lights disappeared from view and we were suddenly surrounded by thick fog; we could only see a few meters. We fleetingly thought of entering this busy commercial harbour guided only by the chart plotter with no visual cues whatsoever but this didn't seem a good idea. The main danger in fog comes from other ships and it's best to head for shallow water where the big ships can't go. So we carried on closely following the coast encouraged by a forecast that we would get a fair NE breeze, force 4-5. 

And as dawn broke so it turned out. We had a fine sail rolling along with Alice steering much of the time. The wind cleared the fog away and we had a sunny day. It seemed a shame to stop when we were going so well and we got to Harwich in a few hours.

Entering home waters made us feel wistful that Bonita's circumnavigation of Britain is nearly complete, although we still intend to go to the Old Gaffers' rally in Cowes. So there are still some miles to go but not many new ports or new coastlines to puzzle over. Every trip on Bonita is an adventure, but the circumnavigation has been an adventure of a different sort.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

While the rest of us slept ... (now in HD)

It was busy in the North Sea last night...
   ...and Bonita and crew went all the way round East Anglia
Click the triangle to view this speeded up video.
Click the square at the bottom right to enlarge it.
See the meaning of the vessel symbols to the right.
Posted by Trevor

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

What a surprise – a sea journey of buildings - by Ant Bennett

Having spent a second week enjoying the hospitality of Bonita and her faithful and devoted skipper (who must be the only person able to control her eccentric ways, especially when under power in tight dock areas), I come back not thinking so much of the wonderful sea passages but more the amazing buildings we passed by.  What a surprise for one who knows this coast so little - and what beauty.

Newcastle - with its most northerly English cathedral, a place of worship for over 900 years, cruising down the Tyne with all its bridges, its docks and places like Gateshead, Jarrow, and North & South Shields.

Whitby – at the entrance to the River Eske with its huge Abbey perched up on the headland, founded in 657AD by the Saxon King of Northumbria who appointed Lady Hilda as Abbess. One of the few places in the UK where you can watch the sun rise and set over the sea in summer.

Bridlington – with its Priory Church founded in 1113AD by Walter de Gant. Built on the site of a Saxon church, the monastery was one of the earliest and largest Augustan houses in the country.

Scarborough – (by train) with its massive Grand Hotel completed in 1867 - one of the biggest hotels in the world at the time, designed around the theme of time with its 4 towers representing the seasons, the 12 floors the months, the 52 chimneys the weeks and the 365 bedrooms the days – just fantastic.

And finally Grimsby - with its amazing infrastructure of docks and its entrance dominated by the Dock Tower built in 1852 of red bricks based on the Torre del Mangia in Siena; 300 feet high holding 30,000 gallons of water used to drive the hydraulics of the lock gates and cranes – what beautiful engineering.

Let's trust that Prince Charles' visit to the area next week will open other people's eyes to the beauty that is there.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Wells-next-the-sea update

Alice and Allan
Bonita's crew has now been strengthened by the arrival of Allan and Alice who arrived late on Sunday night. We left the Royal Dock where we had been so well cared for by the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Yacht Club on Monday morning.  Today we are in the sunshine in Wells, a pleasant seaside town on the North Norfolk coast. A nautical claim to fame is that Nelson was born in a village nearby, and several shops are named after him or stock Nelson memorabilia.

Without wishing to be disparaging to either, the differences between the towns of Wells and Grimsby could hardly be greater.

After locking out of Grimsby yesterday morning we had a slow journey here with sun but little wind. Things became more exciting later. We were approaching the entrance channel in company with fellow gaffer Minstrel just as it was getting dark. The entrance to Wells is difficult due to constantly shifting sandbanks, can only be done at around high tide and may be impossible with any onshore wind. The harbourmaster kindly offers a service escorting yachts into the harbour so we called him up and waited for his launch to arrive.

Somehow this didn't work out as planned, and as we thought we were following him in we went aground in the dark in the entrance channel, closely followed by Minstrel who had unwisely assumed that we knew what we were doing. Fortunately after a bit of rolling around in the swell both boats got off quite quickly without damage and we followed the harbourmaster in through the winding channel. We eventually tied up to the quay at about midnight.

One reason for this embarrassing episode I think is that we had difficulty in absorbing so much information quickly enough. The multitude of flashing buoys close together, the harbour plan -not to scale-downloaded from the internet, and the harbourmaster's instructions seemed difficult to reconcile, while the tide of unknown strength was setting us across the channel. With the benefit of hindsight we should have asked the harbourmaster to keep his launch close alongside and trusted him completely to guide us in.

Anyway everything looks better in daylight and we are hoping that leaving Wells will prove easier than arriving.

Wells next-the-sea

After a light wind trip from Grimsby we had almost too much excitement during a difficult entrance to Wells harbour in the dark. After a due process of unwinding at 1am it was too late to write a suitable blog. 

More tomorrow...

Monday, 15 July 2013

The 'Short Straw' - by Sian Bennett

When we signed up to crewing on Bonita for the Newcastle to Grimsby stretch, we thought we might have drawn the ‘short straw’ and got the slot no-one else wanted.  We were quite wrong.  The trip has been interesting, beautiful and it proved to be perhaps an under-rated area.

Sister & Skipper
We arrived in Newcastle to Mike’s smiling face and the magnificent Sage Gateshead building as a backdrop to Bonita.  Beautiful bridges spanned the Tyne on either side of her including the Winking Bridge and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.  A salmon leapt alongside us in the Tyne as we made our way out.

We sailed along by miles of stunningly beautiful, unspoilt and empty beaches as we followed the coast, and clown-like puffins, dolphins and a friendly seal accompanied us at various stages of the trip.

We found friendly people and a warm welcome wherever we stopped. Bridlington was a special stop and we were amused when we realised we had tied up Bonita in almost exactly the same spot in the harbour she had occupied when she was there in the 1920s and 30s.  (We identified her in an old photograph of the harbour we saw in the Yacht Club).  We also felt a sense of history as we had a drink in the RYYC where one of Bonita’s previous owners had been the Commodore.  We were intrigued too to discover whether her name is engraved on any of the splendid, antique Racing Trophies we saw in the Clubhouse!

It has been a privilege and a tonic to join Mike for this part of his UK tour.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Sloops and Keels

A day in Grimsby doing odd jobs and awaiting crew due this evening. We spent the day alongside Minstrel whose friendly company we have enjoyed often since we first met in Stornoway.

The picture shows a traditional Humber trading vessel, the Humber Sloop in the dock at Grimsby.
Humber Keels had square rig, and the Sloop was gaff fore-and-aft rigged but the hull is apparently the same. There were once hundreds of these vessels carrying cargoes up and down the Humber and beyond, but there are now only about ten under sail with some others surviving as houseboats. Phyllis is built of wrought iron: she dates from 1907 and has been carefully restored.

By comparison the more familiar Thames Sailing Barge seems much more streamlined, almost yacht-like. No doubt both types developed to suit the local demands of their trade. 
The design of the Thames Barge was greatly improved by fierce competition in the annual Barge Matches. These were started in 1863 by Henry Dodd who had made a fortune out of transporting London's rubbish in barges and wanted, it is said, to give something back in return. Henry Dodd was a friend of Charles Dickens and the inspiration for the character Mr Boffin, a wealthy dustman, in Our Mutual Friend. I have seen a Keel under sail and they don't perform anything like as well as a Thames barge, so maybe they missed out in their evolution for the lack of a wealthy and sentimental dustman.

Several gaffers went out through the lock on this morning's tide and there is a group of us hoping to do the same tomorrow.

Grimsby changeover

Our hosts the Grimsby and Cleethorpes yacht club share the dock with these huge car transporters that come and go several times a day. They seem to pass very close to the yachts.  They are clearly very carefully handled, but there's the uncomfortable feeling that somewhere high up on the bridge an inadvertent twitch of a lever could reduce the entire yacht club and a fair number of visiting gaffers to matchwood; much as happened just a week ago when the bulk carrier Cyprus Cement became entangled with Levanger marina in Norway, an event which was caught on video here. Fortunately, we remind ourselves, such events are very rare!

There is some other new industry in Grimsby including work with wind farms, but looking around it is clear the town has been hit hard by the collapse of the deep sea fishing industry. There is an excellent Heritage Museum of fishing complete with an old trawler floating in a disused dock. The museum tells the story of how the old fishermen faced great hardships in the stormy northern waters around the Faroe islands and Iceland. They had to go so far, of course, as nearer waters had already been fished out, so maybe it should have been seen earlier that the industry was not sustainable.  There are signs of regeneration including some new marine works to serve the offshore wind turbines but its obvious there is still a lot to do to revive the local economy.

Mike, Ant and Sian show a leg.
Sadly Sian and Ant had to leave today to return to the pressures of normal life. They have helped to bring Bonita a long way down the East coast from Newcastle, and we were all surprised at the interest and variety to be found in sailing these waters.

The photo shows the departing crew in their much prized sponsor shirts. Observant readers of this blog will also notice this was a rare day - sufficiently warm for the whole crew to be in shorts! Even though the rest of the country has, it seems, been suffering in the heat, we have been kept cool at sea on the East coast.

Fresh crew are due tomorrow!

Saturday, 13 July 2013


A varied day. We left Bridlington and Yorkshire when the tide floated us off the mud at about 6.30am, and at first had a reasonable sail. But after a couple of hours the wind turned against us (as forecast) and we motored most of the way to the entrance to the Humber. The tide was against us a lot of the way, but in true East Coast fashion we kept within almost paddling distance of the shore to keep out of the worst of it. Entering the Humber is worrying as the tides are strong so it's important to get the timing right, and you have to be careful to avoid the shipping, although in the event we didn't see enough to worry about.
The greatest challenge of the day was entering the lock at Grimsby and only Ant's quick thinking prevented disaster when the bowsprit almost got caught in the lock gate (due to an unpredictable eddy, so not really my fault).

We spent the evening enjoying the hospitality of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Yacht Club in the corner of a commercial dock. The picture shows the gaffers at rest on the club pontoons at the end of the day.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Bridlington Library

Bonify was in Bridlington with us last night, and this morning they very sensibly took a fair wind south to Grimsby.  But we felt it would be too soon to rush Bonita away from her old haunts and we spent the day here.

The YOD - designed to make yacht racing accessible
The photo shows boats of the Yorkshire One-Design class based in Bridlington. There are several of these lovely 25ft day racers here, all beautifully maintained and actively sailed. 

The class dates from 1898, the same year as the Howth 17. It is claimed that the Howth 17 is the world's oldest one design keel boat class and as the first 17s were delivered in April while the YOD fleet was delivered in June I suppose that is true. The Yorkshire One-Design was originally gaff (gunter) rigged but regrettably the class converted to bermudian some years ago; hopefully one day they might convert back. The class has a fascinating pirate-inspired history which can be found on the RYYC website at

We spent the morning in the local history section of the town library. We were looking for evidence of Bonita's previous life before 1937 when she gained the affections of the Beckett family. There are several photos that clearly show her moored in the harbour, but we could find no definite ones of her under sail. Of course in the 1920s  there were lots of yachts around with a shape roughly similar to hers which complicates the search a bit. Her long clipper bow, now unusual, was common in yachts built before 1893.  Then the fashion changed almost overnight with the launch of the Prince of Wales' yacht 'Britannia'. The spoon bow instantly became what everyone wanted, as can be seen in the Yorkshire One-Designs.

However we have come away from our visit to Bridlington with several copies of old photos and some useful contacts in the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club so we hope to find out more eventually. We have also, simply by being in the library,  absorbed a bit of the local history - such as the slightly unexpected association of Bridlington with T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Amy Johnson, the pioneer aviator.

However we feel that one day of this is quite enough for the present and we are keen to be making progress south.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


We left Whitby at about 7.30 this morning. The wind was a fairly gentle NE 3 - 4. I had heard that the entrance to Whitby could be dangerous in a NE wind but we were surprised how rough it was even in such moderate conditions. After clearing the rocks outside the harbour entrance we had a fine sail along the coast to Flamborough Head and around the corner to Bridlington. This is a tightly packed harbour that dries out so it is only accessible around high tide. We arrived about an hour before high water. 

Bridlington has a special significance in Bonita's history; one which we have only recently appreciated. She was based here between 1907 and 1935, being owned by a succession of local yachtsmen. In 1935 she was moved down to the Thames estuary, and today was her first return to Bridlington in 78 years.

While she was based here all her owners were members of the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club. The club members were out racing this evening but we later visited their busy clubhouse in the town and spoke to the Commodore, Steve Stanton.

Among the pictures on their walls is this general view of the harbour, obviously old but sadly undated. Bonita can be seen on a mooring: between the two boats pulled up on the beach, Bonita is the furthest of the two yachts with their sterns to the camera. As she has her dinghy astern her owner was probably aboard at the time.

The second picture shows her tied to a pontoon in almost exactly the same position today although the photo could not be taken from the same angle as the original due to a building now being in the way.

More detective work tomorrow!


We left Hartlepool at about 8am, encouraged by the prospect of a Northerly wind.  Indeed we could see from flags and smoke ashore that there was indeed a satisfactory northerly wind blowing inshore. However a mile or two off the coast we had a persistent SE wind.  In spite of this we arrived at Whitby at 5pm - about high water.  The harbour entrance is straightforward in most conditions although there is little water at low tide and you have to pass through an old (1908) swing bridge to get into the inner harbour and marina.  

The marina was quite full, partly due to an influx of gaffers heading south.  After a while jilling around we had to reverse Bonita into her berth under motor.  This sort of manoeuvre used to be impossible and if attempted was likely to end in tears, or at least a frank and bad tempered exchange of views with neighbouring yachtsmen. However recently I have started using an electric outboard clamped to the starboard rail to improve her maneuverability and, as long as there is no significant cross wind, it does seem to help.  It counteracts the effect of the propeller on the port side, and the old lady will spin round on the spot if conditions are right.

Whitby is a lovely town with many attractions. It was the childhood home of Captain Cook, and there is a famous and dramatic Abbey overlooking the town and surrounding countryside. 

We were berthed alongside High Barbaree and as so often on this trip were amazed at the space available on modern gaffers.  Although Whitby has many unexplored attractions we are hoping to be able to progress further tomorrow.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Newcastle to Hartlepool

The gaffers were very well looked after in Newcastle with Jim Bell's excellent organisation. On the last evening there was an informal party  on the pontoon which went much as would be expected given the mix of warm weather, relaxed gaffers and a generous supply of free whisky kindly provided by Old Poultney.

Today we left Newcastle with its series of dramatic bridges and motored down the Tyne. It was warm with little wind and we motored most of the way to Hartlepool. We locked into the marina,and tied up alongside Bonify. 

The most notable ship here is the Napoleonic era frigate Trincomalee of 1819.  I often used to sail past her when she was moored in Portsmouth harbour and called the Foudroyant. Since then she has been extensively restored and looks magnificent.

Today is Sian's birthday so after suitable preliminaries aboard we ventured out looking for a suitable restaurant to gather strength for tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A blessing and some new crew

The Skipper, Geoff and Guy
The picture show the crew ready for a night out with the gaffers which included the pleasure of hearing the fine traditional musicians - Rothbury Hills. We have enjoyed excellent entertainment during our stay in Newcastle. 

Some of our Dutch friends seem to have struggled at times with the finer points of Geordie but could be reassured that this is a well recognised condition.

Rev Timothy Duff & High Sheriff
On the Sunday morning we had a service of blessing for the fleet by the Rev Timothy Duff assisted by George Scott who is the High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear. Some of the gaffers may have been a little casually dressed for the service but the High Sheriff was certainly not. 

The picture gives the flavour of this impressive occasion - complete with the singing of  'For those in peril on the sea'.

Today Guy and Geoff, who so valiantly helped get Bonita down from Scotland, ran out of time. Fortunately they've been replaced by Sian & Ant so all should be well. Ant previously helped on our very cold trip down the English Channel in May so he's hoping for kinder weather this time.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Newcastle Rest Day

Yesterday evening there was a reception, ably organised by Jim Bell, and with some excellent singing by the choir - Voice Male. We attended in our custom made and much admired Beckett Rankine rugby shirts. A jolly evening, and it was quite late this morning before there was much sign of life on the gaffers' pontoon. The boats are looking very festive with many flags fluttering in the sunshine attracting a lot of attention from the discerning folk of Newcastle. It is also quite warm, probably the warmest day of the year so far and convincing evidence that summer is here at last.

We spent the morning looking around and visited the Castle - this dates from the 1160s. This is not actually the New Castle: that was the previous one built in 1080. This one got knocked about a bit in the Civil War in 1644 when it was besieged by the Scots, but has since been restored and is worth a visit.

We also saw this impressive figure on a stone column. Usually grand statues like this are built to commemorate someone who has supervised the killing of a lot of foreigners, but this was erected in honour of Earl Grey. He seems to have been a peaceful politician who guided the 1832 reform act through parliament.

We also visited the Baltic Centre for contemporary art - certainly an experience - and watched the Millenium 'winking eye' bridge open. It seems to open at pre-ordained times whether or not there are any ships wanting to pass underneath.

Tonight another evening of traditional entertainment is being arranged to help make this a memorable visit.

Friday, 5 July 2013


Coals to Newcastle
We locked out of the Royal Quays marina and motored up the Tyne in bright sunshine and with a fair tide. This is an interesting journey. There is hardly any of the old heavy industry that made the Tyne famous - I think we saw only one ship repair yard in an area that used to be a centre of shipbuilding. We saw coal being unloaded from a freighter having been presumably imported from abroad.  There are quite a few decaying quays and derelict factories. But there is also a lot of regeneration and new industry. 

Svitzer's tug berth
Notable among these are the fine new floating jetty for Svitzer's escort tugs which has been designed by our sponsors Beckett Rankine to replace an old fire damaged wooden wharf. It was in active use as we passed by.

A Gaggle(?) of Gaffers

After the voyage up the lower Tyne, the city of Newcastle comes as a great contrast. There is the bustle of a busy city centre and the river is crossed by a series of dramatic high level bridges. The Gaffers passed under the 'winking' Millenium Bridge which rotates around a horizontal axis.

There are about 20 gaffers here rafted up in the city centre, dressed overall with many flags. The boats look good, although we wonder what the citizens of Newcastle make of us as they go out on a warm Friday evening. Like us many of them are also dressed up to draw attention to what they consider to be their finer points.

This is our first large gathering of gaffers since Plymouth, since we took a shortcut up the Irish East coast. A busy program of activities has been laid on for us including folk singing this evening. Click here for details.