Saturday, 5 August 2017

A short cruise

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.

                                                      Toby and his Dad on Bonita

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.

Medway cruise

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.

                                                       Queenborough shipbreakers

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.

                                                            Unsettled weather


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.

                                                             HMS Gannet

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.

                               The Kent, an 880 hp diesel tug built in 1948 leaving
                                 Chatham marina where she is usually berthed

                                                       Pretty Penny in the Medway

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Bob's your uncle

Bonita is now starting on her 130th season.  In 1888, Queen Victoria had been on the throne for more than 50 years. Jack the Ripper was on the rampage in Whitechapel.  The prime minister was Robert Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury. He was prime minister three times- taking over the leadership of the Conservatives after Disraeli's death - but is little remembered now.  Notably, as prime minister he once appointed his nephew to a very senior government position. There was surprise and comment as there were plenty of more qualified and more experienced candidates available outside his immediate family.

This gave rise to the phrase  'Bob's your uncle'  to mark the happy occasion when things have turned out perhaps better than might have been expected.  No doubt the Marquess would be dismayed that this might be the most durable legacy of his long political career.

We had an inaugural sail yesterday out into the Thames estuary and back in light winds to make sure all the gear had been set up right.  Poor Bonita is still waiting for her topsides to be painted and for her antifouling, but it should get done before too long.

                                                       The 'new' anchor winch

The picture shows Bonita's anchor winch. This is not original: at first she had a traditional handspike windlass as can often be seen on fishing smacks. It was slow and took up a lot of space on the foredeck.

During WWII my father was at one time in charge of an army engineering workshop. Some trainee welders needed an exercise in fabricating a complex steel structure from engineering drawings, so Dad produced a suitable design to test their skills. Once completed, the army had no further use for it and the winch found a more permanent home bolted down on Bonita's foredeck. It is an immensely robust piece of kit. Occasionally we take it off and dismantle it to get the pieces re-galvanised, last done in 2001.

And what is planed for this seasons sailing? Its difficult to do a major trip every year and I have not bought any more charts of foreign parts. Among the blogging  East Coast Old Gaffers, Robinetta and Bonify are setting out on major voyages. This year we hope to fit in some sailing in home waters.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Classic Boat awards 2017

I had not previously noticed a flagpole and blue ensign among the fashionable shops and hotels in Knightsbridge in West London. But here, backing onto Hyde Park, is the club house of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, founded in 1775 and one of the oldest yacht clubs in the world.  Perhaps it might have been possible to see the river Thames from this spot in 1775 looking over the fields and marshes of rural Chelsea, but you certainly can't today.

However the elegant  Royal Thames Yacht Club was a very appropriate place to host the 2017 Classic Boat award ceremony last night. The clubhouse was packed with boat builders, owners, sailors and traditional boat enthusiasts from many countries. The whole occasion was generously hosted and organised by Classic Boat magazine.

There were prizes in several categories including restorations and newly built boats along classic lines.

The awards have been running for some years but a new prize this year, awarded jointly by Classic Boat and Gstaad Yacht Club, is for the 'Centenarian of the Year'.  One of the speakers suggested that there were only about 200 boats over a hundred years old in good sailing condition in the world. This surprised me as we have seen quite a lot on the East Coast of England and in Holland and I would have thought there were rather more. Maybe this is where they are all congregated, where people appreciate and understand the pleasures and problems of looking after these old ladies?

Bonita was one of six centenarians shortlisted (see the full list here), and the oldest by several years. The prize went to Jolie Brise. Built in 1913, she is a relatively young centenarian but is one of the best known yachts in the world and is still very actively sailed covering thousands of miles every year introducing schoolchildren to the rigorous benefits of traditional boat sailing.

 D with Bonita's runner-up certificate

An interesting and enjoyable evening and a pleasant contrast to a busy day at work and the bustle of London's West End.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Mast maintenance

Most years Bonita's mast stays in place on the boat. I usually sandpaper and varnish it by hoisting myself up the mast in the bosun's chair, a simple device consisting of a plank of wood and a loop of rope. This definitely provides good exercise, but I worry that the varnish may not protect some of the places where the wire rigging lies against the wood.  About once every 5 years or so I get the mast lifted out by the yard crane to do the job properly. This was last done in 2012. We don't know how old the mast is but it must be over a hundred years old.

                                                          The mast under cover

The mast only just fits into our garage-cum-workshop. Its a tight squeeze to get it in and even more difficult to get it out again without damaging the new varnish. But it must do the mast good to be out of the winter weather for a couple of months.

All solid wooden masts seem to develop longitudinal cracks in them, running along the grain of the wood. These cracks don't appear to weaken the mast significantly but its a worry that they might let the damp in. The cracks need to be filled by a flexible filler that allows some movement without splitting the wood further.  No doubt there are modern synthetic compounds that can be used but the traditional filler for this is a mixture of beeswax and linseed oil. By heating them together in roughly equal quantities you get a useful filler that can be squeezed into place, can easily be varnished  and never completely hardens. After this it takes several tins of varnish before the mast is ready to be craned back in for the new season.

Monday, 16 January 2017

This blog wins a prize!

For  the sailor based in the South East, January brings the London Boat Show. Here on damp and dismal winter days, in the cavernous expanse of the Excel centre we are encouraged to dream of those tropical seas and blue skies where there are always happy photogenic crews and fair winds. For the more practical, it is still an excellent place to compare different types of waterproof clothing or to browse through foreign charts, but the Boat Show has undoubtedly been undermined over the last few years by selling over the internet that needs no human contact.

There are some astonishing savings to be made at the show, as this sign on a large gleaming motor cruiser indicates. However after careful thought we decided that we could save even more money by sticking with the old boat we already have.

On the last Saturday of the London Boat Show the Old Gaffers hold their AGM: this year in a pub by the West India Docks. I had not been to an OGA AGM before but it is a jolly affair, with many old friends and no more time spent on the formalities of the meeting than is absolutely necessary. We were presented with the Francis B Cooke trophy, an East Coast area trophy for the best log or blog. I thought there were some other good blogs, but maybe it was decided that it was Bonita's turn this year.

John with the Francis B Cooke trophy

The picture shows John holding the Francis B Cooke trophy. It is a nicely made wooden half model of a small yacht, and the trophy has been won by a number of well known East Coast boats over the years. It is a lovely thing to own and put on display for a year. There is no indication on the trophy how old it is, which boat the model represents, or what, if any, connection there is with F B Cooke.

Francis B Cooke (1872 - 1974) was a well known and prolific writer of yachting books and articles. Unfortunately his books are now rarely seen and he is almost forgotten, but he was very influential in the popularising of small boat cruising in the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote largely about Thames Estuary sailing and was based in the river Crouch in Essex. Some people rather unkindly said that indeed he very rarely left the sheltered waters of the Crouch. He more or less gave up sailing at the age of 70, but continued to write almost until his death. Cooke was a great lover of small boats and the tidal waters of the Thames Estuary and its a pleasure to be awarded the trophy that is named after him.