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.

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