Monday, 11 March 2013

Mud and Wooden Boats

Bonita is now floating peacefully in the welcoming muddy ooze of Faversham creek, snug under her winter covers.  I cannot understand why so many owners of wooden boats have them craned out every winter: wallowing in soft smelly mud is so much better for the wood and stops it drying out. The smell of the mud (so evocative to those who love the tidal Thames, but for others perhaps an acquired taste)  is caused by lack of oxygen in the ooze which reduces marine growth and preserves the wood.
At present work outside has been slightly discouraged by brisk northerly winds and flurries of snow, but there is still  much to be done inside overhauling the gear.
There are hundreds of separate components that make a boat safe and seaworthy, and on an old boat at any one time many of them are partially worn out.  Minor running repairs are an integral part of any cruise.  Only people who buy a new boat  have the luxury of having everything new at once.  Most of Bonita's gear is between one and thirty years old.  Now is the time to worry about what I should be worrying about.
There is also the little matter of the crew. While Bonita can be sailed single handed, manoeuvring under engine is always an adventure and I would not wish to enter a modern marina without a skilled crew.  Admiring glances from the owners of expensive 21st century yachts can quickly turn to outright hostility when things go wrong. And with a long bowsprit things can go very wrong indeed.  

Fortunately I have had lots of offers of help from family and friends, and I am trying to spread them out evenly through the summer.  I just hope that the London (and Canada) based friends who have happily agreed to join ship at some remote harbour in the north of Scotland know what sort of journey they have committed themselves to.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Preparing Bonita for the Round Britain Challenge

On Thursday I got a phone call saying that the yard had put Bonita back in the water and she wasn’t leaking.  So far so good.

This is just a small piece of the work involved in getting Bonita ready for her big cruise.  We are planning to join the Old Gaffers 50th anniversary Round Britain Challenge starting from the Hamble on 5th May.  I had always been told it was unlucky to write in a ship's log what the destination was as she might easily end up somewhere else entirely: you should write ‘towards New York’ rather than ‘to New York’.  Perhaps the same superstition applies to blogs as well as to logs.

So we are planning  to set off down channel in late April with the hope of eventually getting back  about 4 months later.

Bonita is 35 feet long, weighs 9 tons and was built in 1888. Most boats surviving from those days are old fishing boats, but Bonita was built as a yacht.  She is a very elegant old lady, but there are few luxuries when living aboard.  She has been in the family since about 1936 so we know a fair bit about her maintenance – what has and what hasn’t been done.  She is largely original, and unlike many old boats she has never been rebuilt.  She seems sound but is definitely old.  Bonita is the oldest boat in the round Britain rally.

The first big decision, apart from negotiating the time off work, was whether the hull needed any work done to strengthen it. The planks were fastened to the frames mostly with iron nails. The boat seemed strong enough and didn't leak, but I knew that a few of the nails were not holding properly. The rest seemed OK as far as anyone could tell but they were all just as old. Most wooden boats get refastened before they get to their second century:  it would have to be done one day.  So I decided to get her refastened by the proper shipwrights in Alan Staley's yard in Faversham.  Hundreds of bronze screws were driven in next to the iron fastenings.  I had wondered about doing the job myself, but when I visited the yard and found four people working on her at once I realised that it would have taken me an awful lot of weekends.

So after six weeks in the yard,  Bonita is now back in the water, or rather in the mud at Ironwharf boatyard.  There is still plenty to be done. She is going to have an inflatable liferaft for the first time ever, up to date flares for the first time in many years, and many other small improvements.  Its also an excuse to clear out some of the junk that’s accumulated and all those things that might just be useful but never are.