Sunday, 23 August 2015

End of the cruise

Thames barge match off Southend
We woke on Saturday morning in Stangate creek on the river Medway to very little wind. On leaving we found a bit

more breeze from the East and encountered the Thames sailing barge match in progress off Southend. We crossed the river to watch the barges turning round a mark. This was Julie's first experience of sailing in the Thames estuary and as always there is much of interest to see.

Off Southend there are the remains of a Phoenix pontoon that was under tow destined for Mulberry harbour when the towline broke and it ended up stranded on the Essex shore. The masts of the sunken ammunition ship Richard Montgomery are easily visible on the sands close to the Medway entrance channel. No-one knows quite how much ammunition remains aboard or what state it is in. We passed quite close as we returned from watching the barges, over the Kentish flats on a rising tide and into the Swale just before high water. 

Bonita's 2015 Channel cruise covered nearly 600 miles in 14 days. There was only one day when we didn't sail - due to fog when we were in Le Havre. We had a few difficult moments, but achieved the main purpose of cruising in an old boat which is, as always, to get back home without loss or significant damage. 

Mulberry Phoenix caissons
The high point undoubtedly was the few hours spent at anchor in Mulberry B harbour off Arromanches contemplating the events that took place there 71 years ago, a trip I have wanted to make for a long time.  We would liked to have spent longer there and we wondered several times if it would have been worth waiting for better weather. However the anchorage is so exposed that I would only go ashore or spend the night there in completely settled conditions and so we might have waited a long time. 

The last photo from Bonita's cockpit shows some of the remaining Phoenix caissons at Mulberry B. These are all of the later type - they have concrete decking to prevent the caissons filling with water and the walls collapsing outwards during storm conditions. This modification was recommended by Allan Beckett who noticed how some of the original caissons disintegrated during the storm that struck Mulberry harbour on 19 June 1944.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Swale & Medway

Although our cruise is coming to an end we awoke this morning to a bright sky and a pleasant Southerly wind and decided it was too good to miss. We took the tide out of the Swale and crossed the Kentish flats at low tide (minimum depth 1m under keel) to look at the Red Sand 2nd World War fort. We then hauled in the sheets and headed for the river Medway.

Grain Edge Fort
In the the first picture is the Grain Edge fort at the entrance to the Medway. It no longer has any military use and has recently been on the market renamed 'No1 The Thames'. Whoever buys it will certainly need to spend a great deal on decoration and home improvements. The asking price it seems is £500,000, for which you could get a pleasant flat in Chiswick. The fort would undoubtedly have more space than a flat in Chiswick and maybe less trouble from neighbours but might lose out on social life and accessibility to the shops. We felt that selling it would be real test of the salesman's skill.

The new linkspan by Beckett Rankine
We sailed up the Medway as far as Upnor. The Medway seems to be getting progressively de-industrialised.
The oil refinery is long gone; the power stations have been shut down, the container cranes were silent and the berths empty. An exception to this is the increasing activity at Sheerness.

We were pleased to see the excellent Beckett Rankine designed vehicle linkspan (second photo) - recently installed at the Ro-Ro terminal and in use as we sailed by.

After  getting as far as Upnor we decided to look for a quieter bit of the river. So we turned downstream and eventually anchored in Stangate creek for the night. There were quite a few boats there this evening  but even so the powerful feeling of peaceful remoteness and solitude was present as always in this delightful anchorage.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Secure borders

After passing Dungeness we slowed down a bit as the wind became light; we passed Dover in the
Protecting the coast (1)
dark at around 10pm. Fortunately there was good visibility as there is a constant stream of ferries entering and leaving the harbour. There are often several in sight at once and they get up to about 20 knots within minutes of leaving the harbour. There is also a lot of mysterious activity clearly designed to discourage illegal immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats. We saw several border patrol vessels such as the one in the picture. They don't give an AIS signal but their silhouette is distinctive even in the dark.  At night we saw a helicopter hovering over the beach looking around with its searchlight. You never see if they have found anything but their presence is very obvious. The border patrol didn't appear to pay any attention to our 127 year old gaffer slowly running along the coast under full sail. Maybe they could see we were law abiding citizens, or maybe they just thought that even refugees wouldn't be that desperate.

We eventually went into Ramsgate at about 3am: tricky in the dark due to a very strong spring tide running across the harbour entrance but worked out OK with Dave at the helm and the engine on full power.

On Thursday morning we had to be fortified with a large Ramsgate all-day breakfast at 11am then sadly John had to return home by train. With Dave and Julie we left harbour around 1pm and in light southerly winds sailed along the North Kent coast to the Swale.

Protecting the coast (2)
We have seen many miles of fine white chalk cliffs on this trip and the  French have some that are just as fine as the famous white cliffs of Dover. The cliffs are white of course because the rock is unstable and the surface is being constantly refreshed as the rock is eroded and falls into the sea. White cliffs are slowly but continually receding as their the lower levels are undercut by wave action. Where this process has for some reason  stopped the cliffs soon become off- white and eventually will cover over completely with vegetation. The second picture was taken near the North Foreland. There must be many owners of cliff top properties with a fine view but an uncertain future due to erosion beneath them hoping that the local council can be persuaded to fund some coastal protection works.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Past famous wrecks...

HMS Resolution by Willem van de Velde
The wind settled overnight and we left Brighton marina at slack water (around 8am) without further embarrassment or loss of paint. We had a long run in light SW winds past Beachy head and on towards Dungeness. On the East side of Beachy head, in Pevensey Bay there are numerous wrecks marked on the chart. One of these is thought to be HMS Resolution, the famous subject of a painting by Willem van de Velde the younger of her making to windward in a gale, with everything in perfect order. 

The Resolution was a victim of the great gale of 1703, one of the worst storms to strike the UK in recorded history and an event that caused widespread devastation ashore and afloat along the south coast. Many ships were wrecked on the Goodwin Sands.

The Resolution was anchored at Spithead protected by the Isle of Wight when the storm struck. Her anchor cables parted, as did those of the spare anchors that the crew dropped.They tried to set sail to gain control of the ship, but she was driven onto the Owers reef where she pounded and started leaking. Eventually she was driven past Beachy head and sank in Pevensey Bay. There is evidence for all this in the testimony of the crew members that survived.  

The wrecks in this area include victims of various battles with the French and Dutch. However in the last few years underwater wreckage and cannon have been found which seem likely to have come from the Resolution.  Even if it is her, the difficulties of making any worthwhile exploration on this exposed coastline would be immense.

At present we are running in much quieter weather passing the Advanced Gas Cooled reactor at Dungeness B nuclear power station.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Heading East

Dave and Julie Patuck with a French ferry
Today we got up early to catch the tide and a Northerly wind which turned out to be much lighter than predicted. Heading East from Cowes past Portsmouth it was noticeable that a) most of the big ship traffic we saw consisted of ferries, and b) that most of these ferries are French.   Is this a sign of a once proud seafaring trading nation in decline, or a symbol of economic strength that other nations want to share?  As so often with these sort of questions you can make the answer fit either way.

We had light winds as far as the Looe channel off Selsey Bill, but after that a south-westerly breeze of slowly increasing strength set in.  We must have made a fine sight passing Brighton pier for any punters who happened to be looking out to sea. The video below shows us making good progress off Shoreham.

Our return to Brighton marina was complicated by the problems of manoeuvring in a strong crosswind but eventually we settled into a suitable berth with some assistance from the marina staff and as much elegance as was possible in the circumstances. An advantage of wooden boats is that minor damage can easily be made good with stopping and paint and its soon easy to forget that it ever happened.

We have returned to Brighton so soon after our last visit for a crew change: D has to return to home and to work, and we welcomed Julie Patuck who has not previously been aboard Bonita but has plenty of experience in smaller boats. If the strong winds persist then getting out of the harbour tomorrow may be her first experience of a different sort of sailing.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Solent sailing

On Sunday night we were joined by D and John so we are adequately crewed if slightly cramped aboard. We spent the night on Haslar marina next to a man in a motor boat who was amazed that Bonita had been in the family so long. He changes boats every 2 or 3 years which must involve making lots of difficult decisions of a type which which don't trouble us.
Cowes' new offshore breakwater taking shape

We had a gentle day sailing in the Solent and anchored in Osbourne bay for a swim.We then went to Cowes to sample the nightlife. 

The first picture shows the new breakwater being constructed at Cowes across the entrance to the river Medina. Cowes has always been an exposed, uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous place to leave a boat in a strong Northerly wind so the extra protection will be welcome. Cowes is totally dependent on yachting and with the huge numbers of people who come to enjoy Cowes week in early August.

However all such marine works can cause unexpected erosion and/or siltation of the surrounding waters so it is to be hoped that it all works out as planned. The fill for lower part of the breakwater was placed by dredgers last summer and now, after time has been allowed for settlement, they are placing the upper rock armour layers. 

Gipsy Moth IV looking smart
The second picture shows Gipsy Moth IV, in which Sir Francis Chichester, at the age of 65, sailed around the world single-handed in 1966-7 with only one stop. He was the first person to achieve this feat. For years Gipsy Moth IV was on display ashore at Greenwich next to the Cutty Sark. There she began to look tired, neglected and insignificant besides her much larger neighbour. It is good that she has now been restored to full sailing condition and she looks very well cared for. Wooden boats are much better preserved when kept afloat and in service although it is sadly too late for the Cutty Sark.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Portsmouth harbour

We haven't been to Brighton for a couple of years and the marina complex seems to be getting bigger and bigger. There are some large new apartment blocks being built actually in the marina and lots of shops and restaurants that obviously must bring in people from a wide area - not just wandering yachtsmen. We wonder if one day the marina may be completely boxed in and separated from the sea by the unstoppable growth of fashionable high cost flats spreading out from the shore and into the English Channel.

We were lured out of Brighton before breakfast by a moderate northerly wind blowing through the marina.
The i360 rising above Brighton

Unfortunately it faded away almost completely before we had got very far and we spent most of the day under motor. The picture on the right shows a view of Brighton from the sea. The East pier as always seems thriving with many attractions, but little is left of the long derelict West pier. In its place is rising a tower that looks a bit like a municipal incinerator chimney but it will eventually be the i360 - an observation tower with circular gondola that goes up and down. It does seem a bit brash, oversized and out of place so maybe it will fit in well in the Brighton landscape.

We had a sunny day which was handy for drying out everything that got wet after our Channel crossing, but not much wind. By evening we had arrived in Portsmouth harbour and tied up in Haslar marina in Gosport.

HMS Medusa
HMS Medusa is also here: she is a Harbour Defence Motor Launch - the only survivor of a class of over 400 boats. She was launched in 1943 and played an active role on D- day and later in Mulberry harbour. She is preserved in sea going condition by a voluntary organisation and looks marvellous.

We are in Gosport awaiting crew reinforcements.

Saturday, 15 August 2015


We woke on Friday to an unpromising forecast - head winds - but once we got out of the harbour at Le Havre Dave and I found a moderate Southerly wind. My original plan had been to stop at Ouistreham but when we got there we were doing over 6 knots with all sail up including our large reaching jib. We were going so well we decided to carry on and by midday we were off Arromanches-les-Bains

This little Normandy town is the site of the Mulberry B harbour which was, for a few months in 1944, the busiest harbour in the world. This remarkable harbour was assembled from prefabricated sections and towed across the Channel immediately after D-day to provide the flow of troops and materials needed to support the liberation of France and defeat of Nazi Germany. The Allies took three months to get out of Normandy and the supply lines through Mulberry were crucial to sustaining this effort. 

Bonita with the Phoenix breakwater caissons at Mulberry B
Today the remnants of the harbour consist mainly of an outer semicircle of huge concrete caissons that formed the
outer harbour wall. Sadly the harbour no longer provides any shelter from the weather but the large quantity of wreckage make entering it and moving about hazardous. My father, Allan Beckett, was here in 1944 on the second day after D Day. He designed the floating roadway, codenamed 'Whale', and the Kite anchors that secured them and he then supervised their assembly here at Mulberry B which is now called 'Port Winston'.  The floating roadways allowed rapid unloading of tanks and lorries inside the harbour. There are several preserved sections of Whale roadway ashore and a replica Kite anchor sits atop a fine monument that the French have erected to my father close to the beach. 

We have been to Arromanches a number of times before for events associated with commemorating Dad's work; however we have never visited by sea before or had the opportunity to see the Mulberry caissons close up. This was Bonita's first ever visit to Mulberry harbour.

Bonita with the town of Arromanches in the background
We threaded our way carefully through the remains of the entrance channel and anchored in 8m water.  There is of course the risk of losing the anchor if it becomes entangled with some of the many pieces of wreckage here.    We would liked to have gone ashore but sadly this didn't seem like a good idea. The beach is very flat so we had to anchor almost half a mile offshore. Also a strong NW wind was forecast and black clouds were gathering. The whole anchorage is very exposed to winds from this sector.

We had lunch and I rowed around taking pictures to record the momentous occasion.

At about 4pm there was a tremendous rain squall with a strong NW wind. As soon as visibility had improved a bit we got the anchor up and set out to sea. It was blowing very hard and even with a fully reefed main Bonita was going too fast with lots of solid water on deck and plenty of wet down below as well.  So we dropped the mainsail altogether and carried on under mizzen, staysail and jib. She was much more comfortable under this rig and was going almost as fast. We carried on like this overnight and with daylight the wind moderated and eventually shifted to the SW.  We saw the unmistakable shape of Beachy Head ahead and by 3pm we were tied up in Brighton marina.

More details on Allan Beckett's work on Mulberry Harbour can be found here.

Friday, 14 August 2015

A day in Le Havre

We thought we had been out in strong winds yesterday but we were woken at about 1am by a tremendous squall.  The wind strength must have been about force 10. Although the boat was safe enough in the marina we had to get up from our bunks to secure the furled jib and mizzen sails which were flapping about wildly. We were very glad not to be out at sea.

Today Alice and Allan sadly ran out of time and had to return home on the ferry, having helped us get all the way from the Swale.

Dave and I looked around Le Havre. It is a busy port city but most of the buildings are modern as it was extensively bombed in the Second World War. Pictures taken at the time show widespread devastation, not very different from the pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atom bomb attacks; the effects on those unlucky enough to have been in the city at the time cannot have been very different.

Many of the buildings are the bland apartments and office blocks so typical of hasty post war reconstruction. There are however some striking public buildings. The photos show external and interior views of St Joseph's Roman Catholic church; this building, constructed between 1951 and 1958, replaced the original church on the site which had been reduced to rubble. St Joseph's was designed by French architect Auguste Perret who was responsible for much of Le Havre's post-war reconstruction. St Joseph's spire is a prominent feature of the skyline throughout this part of the city and can be seen a long way out to sea.
There was no sailing today due to foggy weather and the need to stock up for the next stage. At present the forecast for the next day or two looks unhelpful, but we feel there are limited attractions for a prolonged stay in Le Havre so we are hoping to move on soon.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Passage to Le Havre

A fine collection of veterans
This morning we looked round the centre of Dieppe, did some shopping and saw a rally of about a dozen veteran cars. One had the date of 1911 on it and the rest seemed of similar age.All great fun with much smoke, noise and a powerful aroma of hot oil and unburnt petrol. They left with much sounding of horns and good wishes from the many spectators.

We left Dieppe at about midday and found a brisk NE wind which raised a marked swell in the harbour entrance. We had intended to go to Fecamp, about 28 miles along the coast but by the time we were off the harbour the wind had strengthened to force 6-7. The old boat had been rolling along in fine style at pretty much her maximum hull speed so we had reached Fecamp rather earlier than expected: it was low water and I thought that there could be a difficult swell on the entrance bar, which only has around 1m over it at LW springs. 

Rather than wait off for the tide to rise we decided it would be more sensible to press on to Le Havre, an extra 20 or so miles but a harbour that its possible to enter safely at any time. We had a wild sail with Bonita surfing down the heavy following seas. At times we were logging over 10 knots while Alice was steering, an unbroken record for the day. Bonita took it all in her stride and got us safely into Le Havre shortly after dark. 

We had supper aboard. One of life's great pleasures is being comfortable and secure onboard a boat in a safe harbour while its blowing hard outside.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Le Treport memories

The white vans of Boulogne
We spent a couple of hours shopping in Boulogne. While in most British ports we have visited the fishing industry seems to be in terminal decline, here the inshore fishing business seems to be flourishing with lots of boats coming and going. The picture shows a row of white vans lined up in the fish dock waiting for the day's catch to arrive.

We left Boulogne mid morning with a light northerly breeze which developed over the course of the day to a respectable force 4. We sailed past the Somme estuary, Le Treport, and entered Dieppe harbour after dark with Allan at the helm. 

This stretch of coast has some vivid memories for us. Bonita was last here in 1964 when my father had the family aboard and we were caught out in a strong SW wind as dusk fell. We approached Le Treport which is a small drying harbour and hailed a local fishing boat.They told us that there would not be enough water in the entrance for us. So we carried on tacking down the coast through a wild night with many reefs in. In those days we had no modern aids to navigation, not even an echo sounder. So we tacked in until we heard the sound of the surf on the cliffs, then tacked out until we seemed a long way offshore. 

Eventually we were off Dieppe and after some struggling with the temperamental hand start Gleniffer 2 cylinder petrol/paraffin engine that Bonita then had we entered the harbour in the early hours of the morning. We tied up to the quayside and later locked into the inner harbour. It blew hard for several days so we bought kites and flew them from the beach. A memorable experience and a fine piece of seamanship by my father with just my mother and three young children aboard.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


The white cliffs of  Dover astern on a grey morning
Today bought a moderate SW wind. This would have been perfect for going to Calais.  However this seemed not so attractive. Calais is rumoured to be full of asylum seekers desperate to get into the UK and various French and English officials who job it is to stop them.We have a lot of sympathy with the refugees who are often showing energy and initiative in escaping from civil wars or similar disasters and looking for a better life. However we thought Calais might be less suitable as a holiday destination, so we hauled in the sheets and headed south.

We had a brisk sail and after 6 hours reached Boulogne. The marina was full partly as there was a rally of Dutch yachts, but we squeezed in eventually.

It is many years since we were last here but the town is still busy despite the loss of the ferry traffic. It is definitely worth the walk up to the old fortified town where there are many interesting attractions. We had supper in a restaurant there and walked round the old ramparts.  
The Pharoah's ship in Boulogne

The second photo shows a model of Cheops' ship from ancient Egypt. The original is over 4,000 years old and at 42m is rather longer than this model. It was a little unclear why this model was on display in Boulogne (although that may be due to poor understanding of the French explanation on our part). But its interesting to see the quality in woodworking and how the design works due to the shipwrights' thorough understanding of the materials they had available to them.

While we felt we could spend another couple of days exploring Boulogne we also hope for reasonable weather to move on west tomorrow.

Monday, 10 August 2015

2015 Swale Race

Alice on the race
Saturday 8 August, the day of the Swale race, began with dense fog and complete calm, but by the time of the start the fog had burned away and we had a light NE breeze. As always the race was a fine spectacle with lots of gaffers old and new, sailing barges,  assorted old motor boats and bermudian yachts. Our crew on Bonita consisted of Dave Patuck (now fully recovered from last year's Dutch trip) Allan and Alice. Although we had a fine day Bonita's performance was sadly not at her best. I attributed this to unwise use of cheap antifouling rather than any lack of skill or concentration among the crew. The first picture shows Alice with one of the few boats we overtook in the background.

Geoff Jones and his prizewinning crew

The evening prizegiving in the Shipwrights Arms was a very jolly affair as always and it was nice to catch up with some old friends. Geoff Jones on Calismarde got the cup and pennant for the first classic Bermudian yacht. The picture shows Geoff together with his skilled crew and admirers and their prized pennant.

We are now heading off down Channel...