Wednesday, 9 December 2020


 Not the sort of canvassing they do in elections. There have been one or two small leaks in Bonita's cabin roof and I wondered during the summer if it was time to renew the canvas on the roof. It is possible to patch and paint and hope for the best for another year or two, but I worry about the possibility of rot developing under the canvas. And once you start taking the canvas off its all got to come off: theres no going back. 

So, on the general principle that its the bits you don't look at that are the ones most likely to give trouble, I decided it was time to take off all the varnished fittings and strip off the old canvas. I was relieved to find that some of it was in quite poor condition so the job did need doing. 

The picture shows the planked cabin top in a state of nature with the canvas removed.  The black stuff is old hardened marine glue. There are a number of wooden patches and fillers where there used to be patches of rot. The planks have all been treated with plenty of wood preservative 

I have done this job several times over the years, and each time I wonder if I should use something more durable and more up-to-date than painted canvas. For many years it was covered with linoleum, which must have been difficult to fit to the double curve of the cabin top. The roof does move and flex quite a bit with sailing stresses and people jumping on it. So there is benefit in using a covering that is reasonably flexible and also easy to remove. In general I find a canvas covering lasts about 8 or 10 years.

With patience its fairly easy to stretch on a new piece of heavy grade canvas, as in the second picture. It soaks up a huge quantity of paint so its not a good idea to use expensive yacht enamel.

The fittings are at home waiting for a coat of varnish before going back on. We are also rebuilding the reefing gear in the hope that reefing can be made a bit easier and quicker. 

No doubt a few other things will emerge that need fixing before we are ready for the new season.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

In the mud for lockdown

 When the weather gets a bit windy, Bonitas mooring in the Swale can seem rather exposed, especially at high tide. The boat does roll about a bit when theres a strong wind over tide. I like to think this doesn't do her much harm so long as the mooring is strong enough. The stresses on the hull and rigging must be less than when shes sailing in a bit of a breeze, and at least the topsides get wet to stop them drying out. 

Following this philosophy, I usually keep her afloat till around the middle of November. This year I decided to bring her into the soft and welcoming mud of Faversham creek for the winter just before the second Lockdown, in case visiting her becomes more difficult. 

In contrast to the recent storms, we had a crisp dry day with blue skies. John kindly took a day off work to help with the trip. His video here shows the general view of this part of the river at half flood - Bonita is one of the very few boats still on her mooring.

We got up to Ironwharf boatyard under motor running aground - and kedging off- only once. We were able to remove much of the gear and fit the winter covers before it got dark. And so in a few hours Bonita is transformed from a boat afloat ready to set sail at a moments notice to a being laid up for the worst of the winter.

Sadly for all sorts of reasons we have had very little sailing this year with no long distance trips. Even so, its very therapeutic just sitting on the boat when shes afloat, and maybe sailing around for an hour or two.  Much of the benefit in owning a boat comes from gentle pottering and thinking about her even without going anywhere much at all. Nevertheless, lets hope for a rather more active season next year

Saturday, 29 August 2020

2020 Swale Race cancelled

 Sadly the familiar curse of the August Bank Holiday weather has struck again, and this years Swale race has been cancelled. There were very strong northerly winds and it certainly would have been difficult with a mass of boats on the start line tacking out of the river. Lets hope for better next year. So Bonita is still on her mooring, as in the picture in the last blog post. The only differences today were grey skies and the boat rolling on white-topped waves, even in the sheltered water of the river. 

One of the pleasures of the Swale race is waking up on race morning and finding the river, which is usually so empty full of all sorts of traditional craft all getting ready for the start. As a memory of more settled times, the picture shows the scene just before the 2015 race began as Bonita drifts downriver on the tide towards the start line.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

All dressed up...

 Bonita is on her mooring and has finally been painted. Scrubbing off and painting in the middle of summer is so much easier as the days are long and the water is warm. Also barnacles are less likely to regrow after a midsummer scrub as it comes at a later point in their annual life-cycle.

Sadly it doesnt look as though we will get any more than the occasional day sail this year with no plans for any more adventurous cruising. Some years are just like that. We are hoping to take part in the Swale race later this month. For many years this was run with astonishing efficiency by the late and much-missed Lena Reekie. Last years race had to be cancelled due to stormy weather. This years race will be very different due to social distancing. I imagine that there will be far fewer of the larger boats needing big crews, and the prize giving will be 'virtual' rather than the usual jolly and rather boozy affair ashore. However I think its important that the tradition of the annual Swale race is kept going and we hope Bonita will be there!

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Boat jumble

Sadly Bonita is still laid up in her mud berth. This is due to a combination of the lockdown, work and family commitments. At least shes better off in the mud than she would have been if she was ashore with the planks drying out in the warm weather. We hope to be able to get afloat fairly soon and maybe get in a few days sailing.

Among the cobwebs and dust in the loft space of the garage I came across Bonita's old paraffin navigation lights. These are of indeterminate age - they came with the boat when my father bought her in 1937. They look impressive ; 40 cm high, solidly made and each the size of a bucket. Part of the timeless ritual of preparing for a night at sea was cleaning and filling the lamps and polishing the reflectors with metal polish. They then had to be carried forward to be hung in the rigging.

Unfortunately the lamps had a tendency to blow out in any kind of strong breeze which could be tiresome.

 We had one very difficult episode, after a long crossing from Zeebrugge we were tacking into Harwich harbour in the dark in heavy weather with plenty of shipping about. We had to keep the navigation lights down in the cockpit, and cautiously raised the appropriate lamp over the cockpit coaming when  a ship was approaching in the hope that we would be seen. Even then they often blew out and had to be relit.
That was when I decided that we would have electric nav lights fitted before we spent another night at sea. And the old paraffin lights have spent the last 30 years gathering dust in the loft.

What is to become of them?  They could be converted to electric which would look traditional, but they are so much larger and heavier  than modern navigation lights that it hardly seems worth the trouble. I suppose I could get a few pounds for them on eBay and they might end up with other nautical curios  in a waterside pub somewhere. Its almost easier to return them to the loft.

Monday, 23 March 2020


In these difficult and uncertain times, is there any point in fitting the boat out for the season ahead? Many of the summers sailing events have cancelled, including the Falmouth Classics. If society goes down into total lockdown, perhaps we wont even be able to visit the boat to pump the bilges- although maybe this could be considered as an 'essential activity'.  However I am hoping that at least we will be able to get a bit of day-sailing in the Thames estuary as a bit of light relief from the troubles around us.

Last weekend Allan and Toby helped me move the newly varnished mast down the road to the boatyard to have it craned in. Wheeling a 40 ft mast on a trolley down the middle of the road does cause some disruption to the traffic, but most people are understanding and sometimes even amused.

                                                             Social distancing

Although the sky was blue, there was a cold north wind and we will not be ready to take the boat out to her mooring for another couple of weeks or so. However with her mast and rigging in place Bonita already looks more like she's more ready for her 133rd season afloat

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Gunter rig

Bonita has not always had her gaff yawl rig. She was rigged as a gaff cutter ( with one mast) until 1907, when she was converted to yawl. Then for about 20 years from the mid 60s she sailed under Gunter rig.
Gunter is a variant of gaff rig, where the gaff runs vertically alongside the mast  and takes a triangular mainsail above the masthead, so the overall effect is similar to Bermudan mainsail. It is common on small dinghies but rarer on larger boats. The picture shows Bonita with her gunter mainsail - this photo was taken in Holland in 1971.

Gunter rig is named after Edmund Gunter 1581-1626, an English professor of mathematics. This may sound rather improbable, and as far as we know he had no particular interest in the design of small boats. However he applied the newly discovered logarithms to produce an early version of the slide rule. The slide rule was universally used for calculations involving multiplication or division, and many became very expert with it but it has almost entirely disappeared since the introduction of electronic calculators. Gunters rule consisted of two pieces of wood marked in a logarithmic scale sliding alongside each other, or sometimes one piece of wood with readings taken off with dividers. Gunters rule was much used on ships to perform navigational calculations, and examples has been recovered from old shipwrecks. It must have seemed natural to call the rig with the gaff sliding along the mast 'gunter rig'.

Bonita sailed a bit better to windward under gunter rig, and the first reef was easier to take in. However I did not think it really suited her classic hull shape. So when the time came for a new mainsail I felt we should revert to more traditional gaff rig.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Winter work

There are always things to be done on an old boat during the winter, and its sometimes difficult to decide between the jobs which must be done, those that should be done, and those that it would be nice to do before too long. I try to stop taking things apart by the New Year, and start putting  things back together which gives me a bit of margin for dealing with any unexpected and unwelcome problems which definitely have to be fixed before we go back afloat.

I thought I should check on  the bolts holding down the anchor winch. This led - as things do -to the winch being removed and the decision that it was time it was taken apart and the components regalvanised. Designed by my father, constructed in an army welding shop in the 1940s, the winch was last galvanised about 20 years ago. Hot dip galvanising in a bath of molten zinc is by far the best way of protecting steel in a marine environment and all other  cheaper forms of zinc coating are greatly inferior.

A galvanising works is a large scale concern and their yard was full of huge pieces of structural steel, great piles of farm gates and suchlike. My few pieces of rusty winch parts looked very trivial by comparison. However they seemed happy enough to take a small order. Their minimum charge is for 100kg. The winch seems pretty heavy when you move it about but its still only around 40kg, so its an opportunity to get some other bits of boat ironwork treated 'free'.

                                                     As good as new?

The picture shows the winch reassembled, waiting to go back to the boat. It seems almost a pity to put it back in a hostile corrosive marine environment.

What plans for the new season? Things are still a bit uncertain but we may once again be heading west. We enjoyed the Falmouth Classics last year and may try to fit it in again if we can.