Sunday, 14 August 2016

Swale Match

On Saturday Bonita took part in this year's Swale Match - the 44th year it has been held. We always enjoy the Match as it is the only event where gaffers, Thames barges and assorted other old boats race over the same course. This combination adds interest and excitement, especially when tacking alongside the bigger boats in a confined channel. Bonita rarely does very well in this race unless we have strong winds. 

Today we had a fine bright day with a force 3-4 SW, and Allan, Alice and Sarah as crew. Alice steered for the downwind leg when she overtook several boats, though some of these later passed us on the windward stretches. There was some uncertainty aboard about the exact course and we might have gone the wrong side of one of the buoys as a result. However this would not have significantly affected the outcome and sadly we won no prizes. We did however have a good sail and a fine day so many thanks to the Kentish Sail Association for their excellent organisation of the event.

The prize-giving as usual was a convivial affair at the Shipwrights Arms in Hollowshore. We met up with some old friends including Simon and Sharon who have just returned from sailing round  the west coast of Ireland in Cygnet, a lovely 1906 yawl.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Return home

We had planned to cross over from Dunkerque last night, but were discouraged by a forecast of patchy fog. We both have unpleasant experiences of crossing shipping lanes in fog, and patchy fog can seem pretty bad if you are in the middle of a patch. So we left this morning at 7am instead. We had a SW wind force 5 gusting to 7 which seemed quite enough. For the first few miles we were in the Dunkerque approach channel tacking straight to windward. After that we had a fast but rather wet reach across the Channel. The day ended with a very slow journey along the north Kent coast heading into a stiff wind and a spring tide. We picked up our buoy on the Swale at about midnight.

So this brings Bonita's Baltic cruise to an end. It was a great experience despite many setbacks and we had more than our share of bad weather and head winds. There were lots of benefits of cruising in company and we enjoyed being with Calismarde and her crew.

Many thanks to all my long suffering work colleagues, family and friends who have made this adventure possible.

In this year of Brexit when we crossed many international borders visiting 7 countries people may be interested to know that no-one during the whole trip asked to see a passport, and no-one asked to see our ship's papers.

The star of the show of course is Bonita who like a proper lady is always elegant, glamorous and well behaved despite sometimes being rather roughly treated.

And the hero of the piece is surely William Crossfield (1847 - 1921), who designed and built Bonita. He described himself as a joiner, yacht and boatbuilder. He was a prolific builder and one of the most talented of his time. I like to think that having got a commission for a racing yacht from paper mill owner Edwin Grundy Wrigley, he put all his skill and effort into ensuring that she was a strong boat and that everything was of the highest standard. It is testament to his skill that 128 years later she still has all of her original planks and frames. 

Crossfields at Arnside, from L-R Fred, William snr., William jnr. and Frank
The photo on the right was taken circa 1910, it shows William Crossfield with his sons Fred, William jnr. and his nephew Frank in their boatyard at Arnside where Bonita was built.

Saturday, 6 August 2016


We left Ostend at 8am; the beginning of the west going tide. We were helped in this process by a gentle shove from the harbourmaster's inflatable dinghy to assist Bonita in turning to port under motor. It was bright and sunny but with a wind slightly North of west. However by the time the tide was finished we were in Dunkerque. This makes France the sixth country of Bonita's 2016 North European tour.

We were fascinated to find the Shtandart in port. She was built in Russia and is a reproduction of a 1703 frigate built for Peter the Great. Peter was keen to establish the Russian navy and came to Deptford to learn about shipbuilding.
The Shtandart seems to be a good reproduction, as faithful as is compatible with safety for a seagoing boat. 
She has an active programme, sailing many thousands of miles every year. She was attracting lots of attention today. There was a group of enthusiasts singing sea shanties - sometimes familiar tunes but with the words in French.
Bonita's 1938 Customs clearance certificate
The rather florid certificate above proves Bonita's customs clearance on her first visit to Dunkerque in June 1938. They don't make official documents like they used to. There have been many changes both to the port of Dunkerque and to La République Française since this certificate was issued.


There were still moderate WNW winds today but there was a clear sky so we left Flushing early to get the tide down the coast. Before we left however the last Dutch lock of our trip left its mark. As we were entering the lock at Flushing to go out into the river Scheldt the lock gate started closing on us just as we were going into the lock. It was too late for me to avoid it and although it could have been much worse there does not seem to be any damage apart from some loss of paint on the port topsides.

The Scheldt tide is quite strong so it's important to get the timing right. And after a few hours we were off Oostende (Ostend) in Belgium. Bonita's first trip to Ostend was in 1947 when she represented Britain at a sporting event. She was the only British boat in the harbour at the time and got entered into a race. Sadly she was hardly in racing trim and came comfortably last.

Today the harbour is busy with boats of many nationalities, though the ferry traffic to the UK has gone. The harbour is much safer to enter now than it was a few years ago. 

The breakwater used to be an open lattice structure though which the tide used to flow so the entrance could be difficult for low power boats. There is now a much better outer breakwater in the bacground of the picture below.
Ostend in August is packed with Belgian holidaymakers (above) and there are all sorts of entertainments including free live performances on the seafront - see below.