Monday, 31 December 2018

Happy New Year!

Bonita is now snug under her winter covers, while the usual list of maintenance jobs gets tackled. No major work is planned for this winter, although sometimes jobs which start small seem to end up getting a lot bigger.

The picture below is a reminder of a long warm summer: Bonita is racing in the Solent Old Gaffers race in a brisk breeze - photo taken by Julie Patuck in Susan J.

And below is a much older picture of Bonita in the River Stour - taken by the famous East Coast photographer Den Phillips in around 1985. Like most boats Bonita looks especially good in shots taken from the lee side as this emphasises her elegant sheerline.

Classic Boat Awards - Centenarian of the Year

Once again Bonita has been nominated for the Classic Boat magazine Centenarian of the year. She is the oldest of the six boats being considered for this award, and as far as I can see, she is the only one that has not had a major rebuild.  I'm not sure of the process by which she got onto the shortlist, but its nice that she is there. On the previous two occasions we were nominated, Bonita was a runner up to the main prize so it would be good if we could do better in 2019.  The winner is decided by people voting online. Please do support us by visiting their website-  - and casting a vote for Bonita!

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Round and round the island (of Sheppey)

Pictures taken on the Old Gaffers Association 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 Sheppey as recorded by Justin's 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.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Folly

We left Yarmouth harbour yesterday morning.  When the harbour is full there is very little space for manoevering old boats, certainly not enough to turn Bonita under engine. However with the help of Susan J's crew and a couple of long ropes we managed to turn Bonita round to get her bowsprit pointing optimistically towards the harbour entrance, without I hope causing too much disruption. There was still a brisk SW wind so once clear of the harbour we ran back up the Solent to the river Medina under just headsails and mizzen.  In the afternoon we joined the Old Gaffers rally on pontoons near the top of the Medina opposite the Folly Inn. This rally celebrates 55 years since the founding of the Old Gaffers Association which has done so much to promote the cause of traditional and traditional-style boats.

Emanuel and Bonita
There are lots of Gaffers here already with more due on Thursday - over 100 boats are expected in all. There should be plenty of custom for the pub over the next few days. The owners of the small open boats are camping in tents in a field behind the Inn.

The picture shows Bonita next to Emanuel, built in 1928. She was sailed across the Atlantic by her first owner, Commander Graham, who wrote a book about the rather traumatic experience. She is now kept at Sandwich in Kent. Her current owner, Rob Holden originally found her in very neglected condition but has extensively restored her so she looks marvellous now with gleaming varnish and brasswork.

At supper in the Folly Inn we met some old friends and as always were amazed by some of the exploits of those who sail singlehanded. Rob produced a cake to celebrate Emanuel's  90th birthday. It seems her exact launch date is not known but today was her 'official birthday'.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


We had a brisk SW wind today and left Cowes at the beginning of the West going tide.  We had a lively tack down the Solent to Yarmouth with several reefs in the mainsail. We passed the intrepid and much-travelled Robinetta heading the other way to Cowes. Here is Alison Cable's fine photo of Bonita underway.

There was quite a bit of heavy swell when we took the sails down outside Yarmouth harbour which gave us a few minutes of excitement.  Yarmouth harbour is packed out with yachts but there were two harbourmasters out in their launches shepherding new arrivals, and with a bit of a push from both of the launches together Bonita was eventually squeezed into a berth.

I haven't been to Yarmouth for many years and I don't think Bonita has ever been here before.  It's certainly a harbour and town with plenty of charm and interest.  Susan J is here with Dave and Julie Patuck and it's interesting to see the changes and improvements they have made in a little more than a year of ownership.  

The picture shows Susan J ( on the right) and Minx tied up ahead of Bonita.  We were interested to see Minx as she is a GRP replica of a 1936 Crossfields built Morecambe Bay Prawner.  She is normally based at Brixham and is owned by Paul and Penny Jolly who are keen traditional boat enthusiasts.

We had a convivial evening with Dave and Julie, Paul and Penny in the Royal Solent Yacht club in Yarmouth.  The waters of the Solent looked much more placid seen from the sedate and elegant surroundings of the yacht club, and we look forward to some more gentle sailing tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

East Cowes and the Floating Bridge

Bonita has been resting in Gosport for a few days but we returned today with invigorated crew ( D ).  The hot sunny weather with mostly Easterly or Northerly winds seems to have gone for good and we had an overcast day with a brisk SW wind today.  We left Portsmouth harbour just before high water and had a lively beat under full sail the few miles to the river Medina.  We tied up at East Cowes Marina, which usually has ample space for boats that are difficult to manoeuvre.  We took the chain ferry (known as the 'floating bridge') to sample the delights of an evening in West Cowes.

There has been a chain ferry here for many years but this was our first experience of the new one, installed last year. The previous one was getting a bit tatty but seemed pretty reliable. However the new one, rumoured to have cost around £3m, has had loads of what might charitably be called teething troubles.  It has been out of action for prolonged periods due to breakdowns, there have been damaged cars and problems attributed to siltation that did not seem to trouble its predecessor.  When we travelled on it, the ferry was working OK but there was a tug employed to push it sideways against the pressure of the tide to ensure that the ferry ended up where it should on the other side of the river.  Perhaps this too is one of the teething troubles which will be resolved when the new ferry has settled in. 

We saw lots of small gaffers arriving today and expect to meet up with some of the bigger ones soon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Rolling Down Channel

The morning after the Swale race Tim and I woke at 5 am to find a fine dawn with a light Easterly breeze.  We set off accompanied by four or five other gaffers and motored most of the way to the North Foreland after which the wind built up enough to be useful.  We had a fine fair wind sail down channel, rolling along past the Kent and Sussex beaches and cliffs under a blue sky in bright sunshine at a steady 6 - 7 knots.  We felt sorry for all the poor people ashore trying to avoid getting heatstroke.  We were still going well when we passed Beachy Head at dusk.  But off Brighton the wind eased away and we motored through the night and most of the rest of the way to the Solent.  Still, we had a run from the Swale to Gosport in 30 hours which is pretty good.  We tied up in Haslar Marina and went in search of showers and a late cooked breakfast - both very welcome after a night at sea.

STS Tenacious

Portsmouth harbour is always interesting as there is so much traffic on the water and many interesting boats. The first picture above shows the Training Ship Tenacious. She is a newish wooden square rigged ship that is adapted for taking disabled crew members. This does not by any means restrict her to gentle cruising.  She recently returned from a round the world trip which included a stormy passage in the Southern Ocean and round Cape Horn which was distinguished by a record quantity of broken crockery.

Hugo Boss

The second picture shows the Hugo Boss, here motoring along quietly. This high technology sailing boat rises out of the water on hydrofoils and can achieve speeds of 30 - 35 knots during ocean passages. There are some dramatic videos of her achieving amazing speeds in rough conditions.

The third picture shows the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth viewed here from the Gosport waterside gardens. The QE is huge, and the entrance to Portsmouth harbour has had to be specially dredged and straightened to enable her to squeeze in.  New marker posts have also been installed to guide her safely in.  There is obviously no margin for error.  She may have state of the art defences and no doubt will be a formidable fighting force when she has some aircraft on her decks.  But she wouldn't be much use protecting British interests on the world stage if she couldn't get out of port.  What would happen if some unfriendly power perhaps sabotaged a cross- channel ferry so it sank in the entrance to the harbour?  No doubt there are top secret contingency plans to prevent this sort of thing, which are not obvious to a couple of tired yachtsmen.

On a more mundane level, there are a couple of gaffers here in preparation for the Cowes Rally - East Breeze, and Rosebud, an impressive looking nearly new steel gaffer from Gravesend in the Thames.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

46th Swale Race

Saturday saw the Swale race, which is the only race where Thames Barges, smacks, Gaffers and assorted other elderly craft compete together. There are usually a couple of old steam ships as well.
On the morning of the race the river Swale is a fine sight with many anchored vessels getting ready for the start, as shown in the first photo. On Bonita we had Tim, D and Sarah as crew. It was hot and sunny with light northerly winds. Certainly the sort of day when its better to be afloat than ashore. Everyone had a fun day although as usual Bonita just missed the prize list.

Several of the Gaffers are heading off down channel after the race to get to the Old Gaffers celebrations in Cowes in a few days time.

The second picture shows the contented crew enjoying a snack while on the run to the finish mark. The unseamanlike-looking umbrella gives some protection from the hot sun. There are quite a few Gaffers astern, though it would be better had there been rather more.

No blog is complete without at least one useless but vaguely relevant historical fact, and 1888 was also the year the British public started enjoying bananas. In this year Edward Fyffe, a London tea merchant started importing bananas from the West Indies. 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Crew training

We went for a short sail in the Swale with Allan, Alice and Toby. It was a warm day with a light NE breeze. Toby is now 16 months old so takes a lively interest in activity aboard, helps with pulling on ropes and loves waving to people on passing boats. A friendly wave from Toby always gets a gratifying response.

The first picture shows Toby in Bonitas cockpit chair - designed so its occupant can see whats going on and offer advice without getting too much in the way.

Toby in charge

The cockpit chair was originally made about 30 years ago for Allan - seen steering in the upper photo but occupying the chair in the picture below.

D and Allan in Bonitas cockpit

Saturday, 16 June 2018


On Thursday were were visited by Gerald Lewin and David Munge. They came chugging through the Swale from Queenborough in a little motor launch on the rising tide. Both are old members of Erith Yacht Club and remembered Bonita from when she was kept at Erith further up the river Thames. Bonita was based at Erith between 1937 and 1968. We had the EYC burgee at the masthead to mark their visit.
Gerald had particularly fond memories of Bonita and Dad. He was last aboard when he was 13 and Dad had invited him to help crew in a race. He was entrusted with taking the tiller, but found that the downside of this is that the helmsman gets a steady stream of well meaning advice from the rest of the crew who feel the course being steered is not quite as perfect as perhaps it could be. Previous to this he had only sailed in dinghies: the old Hamble Stars which were kept at Erith. Dad always thought that dinghy sailors made better helmsmen as you get immediate feedback in a dinghy.

We talked about happy memories of Erith which in the days when the river was much busier and more polluted could sometimes be an exciting place in which to learn to sail. Sadly Gerald and David  did not have time to come for a sail on Bonita on this visit before returning to Queenborough while there was still enough water in the river.

                                                         Gerald and David

Today was a bright and blustery day and we went for a sail with Vic and Mark. Most of the boats out had a reef in but we did not seem to find this necessary. Vic of course is an experienced Bonita sailor - specialising in sunbathing weather- but today was Marks first time afloat in her. We charged around the river at top speed before picking up the buoy under sail at the top of the tide.

                                                    Vic with Mark steering

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Mast stepping

Bonita was craned back into the creek at the beginning of the week. Worryingly she often leaks a bit after being lifted back, probably as the hull must distort a bit while propped up ashore and also while hanging in the crane slings. However the leaks usually dry up in a few days. No doubt the tenacious Faversham creek mud, which seems to get everywhere, helps in this process. We will keep Bonita in the mud for a few more days to let things settle before taking her out to her mooring in the river.

Yesterday we reattached the rigging to the mast and had it lifted back into the boat. Its customary to put one or more copper coins under the base of the mast before it goes back in. Some purists would say that the date on the coin should be the year the boat was built, but with a Victorian boat this seems an unnecessary complication. Putting coins under the mast is a very ancient tradition and is supposed to bring good luck.  Archaeologists  excavating Roman ships have found coins placed under the heel of the mast by the original builders.

                                                     Two 2p coins in the mast step 

The reason for this ritual is not hard to see. The base of the mast sits in a mortice in the keel and any water collecting there cannot drain away. The copper salts from the coin will help inhibit the fungus that causes wood rot. While the coins themselves may or may not bring good luck, clearly any rot that develops at the base of the mast is very likely to bring bad luck.

Owners of boats with metal masts need not worry about rot but it seems that they too often want to benefit from the good luck associated with the traditional coin under the mast step.  The trouble is that a copper coin will quickly cause electrolytic decay of the aluminium. It would be logical to use an aluminium coin: some of these were minted during the period of hyperinflation in Germany in the 1920s, but they are not now readily available and may not be considered very lucky.  Apparently the recommended solution is to encase the copper coin in epoxy or silicone to insulate it from the mast. Even cruise liners and naval vessels it seems sometimes have coins welded to the base of their steel masts to bring them good fortune.

A curious example of an old tradition turning into a new superstition.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

A spell ashore

Most years Bonita stays in the water and is painted on the beach between tides. However every few years she needs to be lifted out to tackle those jobs that cannot be done in the few hours before the tide comes back. She was last out of the water in the winter of 2012/13 and has sailed thousands of miles since then.

Bonita was lifted out in early March with a plan to put her back in the water after a month. This tight timetable has several advantages....

a)  it minimises the time the planking is drying out while with luck giving enough fine days for applying paint.
b) it makes me get on with things to keep the work going, especially when new unsuspected problems are found
c) knowing she will soon be lifted back in, the yard have propped her up conveniently by the waters edge on the quayside. In this prominent position while working on the hull I get a constant stream of passing visitors admiring her shape, asking about her age and sometimes offering helpful advice. 

The main thing that needed doing was to refasten the lower rudder pintle which had become loose. The picture below shows the job after the fitting had been bolted back  through new oak plugs and painted with primer. Fortunately the work could be done without removing the rudder from the boat. Removing Bonita's rudder requires digging a four foot deep hole under the stern and dropping the rudder into it, so is not done very often.

                                                           The bottom rudder fitting

Other jobs done include sorting a leak around the echo sounder transducer, replacing corroded bronze bolts securing the log that supports the propeller shaft, refastening the forward mizzen shroud plates, and assorted other minor tasks. 
At present we are in the grip of the 'Beast from the East'. There is a brisk north-east wind with a substantial wind chill, and flurries of snow which discourage any kind of outside work. For painting the hull and producing the glossy yacht-like finish that Bonita deserves, the weather can only get better. 

Friday, 2 February 2018

More Improvements

Winter finds Bonita once again safely in her mudberth at Ironwharf boatyard in Faversham Creek.

A project that I have thinking about for a while is strengthening the counter . This takes a lot of twisting forces, particularly when running in heavy weather. Waves coming up astern lift the boat up by the counter and sometimes ( though not very often) the top of a wave will come aboard over the stern.
The trouble is that access to the counter is through a very small hatch, and unless I take up some of the deck, then any work has to be done through this hatch.

The picture shows Sophie (aged 13) inspecting the counter when she visited us in Gosport in 2013. An adult can just about get his or her head into the stern hatch, or one arm, but not both at once. Any work in the stern locker therefore has to be done unseen and with one hand.

 I decided it would be a good idea to beef up the counter with internal copper reinforcing straps. The way to get a structure to better resist torsion (twisting forces) is to make it into a better tube, so  to be effective the straps need to be as far out towards the side of the boat as possible. 

This photo was taken by lowering a camera into the counter and is a far better view than can be got by squinting through the hatch. It shows the port side with the ( green) exhast pipe going out through the side of the boat. There are now new shiny copper straps that can be seen bolted in place joining the frames to the deck beams.   It must help a bit.

I also thought it might be time for a new mizzen sail. For most of her life Bonita used to have cotton sails. Then one memorable and squally day in 1963 when sailing in the Thames estuary, both the foresail and jib blew out together. Dad decided it was time to switch to terylene and Bonita had a new set of sails for the 1964 season. The mizzen was the last survivor of these, made by the excellent but now sadly defunct firm of Paynes of Poole.

The mizzen has been frequently repaired and patched but had become rather frail. It split from luff to leach during a brisk sail last summer so I reluctantly decided that after more than 50 years it was time for a new one. I used to consider the mizzen as a light weather sail, but increasingly in a gust of wind we drop the mainsail and carry on under headsails and mizzen. So perhaps a new mizzen sail and a strengthened counter are both needed.

So what plans for next season? you may well ask. Its a bit uncertain at present, depending on availability of willing crew. However I have said we will take part in the Old Gaffers 55th anniverary rally in the Solent on August 16-18th. It should be a lively occasion and I hope we will be able to meet up with a few old friends.