Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Home

On Monday we left Cowes at 5am and had a brisk fair wind sail all day in bright weather. The wind petered out about midnight by which time we had got to Dungeness. We anchored for a few hours of sleep on the east side of Dungeness. This is a useful anchorage and safe under most conditions but the boat does roll around a bit on the swell. If you are tired enough you don't much mind.

On Tuesday morning we got going about 6.30 but had mostly light winds. Off Dover we saw a Channel swimmer with his escort boat. He still had another 20 miles to go. The conditions must have been right for them as Dover Coastguard were warning shipping of  'numerous' swimmers. The first Channel swimmer, the remarkable Captain Matthew Webb, of course had no escort boat or any other kind of support in case of trouble.

Later a gentle SE breeze sprang up and we sailed into the Swale just as it was getting dark.
Bonita back on her home mooring

And so ends Bonita's big cruise which we have been planning for about two years. This is quite possibly the farthest she has ever sailed in a single summer.  She has come out of it quite well: a few harbour scuffs and scrapes, a new gearbox and lots of chipped varnish but that seems to be about all. Her old world elegance remains unruffled.

I have been asked several times how I feel about finishing the trip. To sail your own boat around Britain is a marvelous experience and one that I would recommend to any yachtsman. To some extent there's relief to have completed it: to have got back to where we started without significant loss or damage. I also have increased respect and admiration for those early sailors who made similar voyages in similar boats but without an engine or modern navigational aids. 

And of course none of it would have been possible without generous support and understanding from my family, friends, work colleagues, the Old Gaffers Association, and those crew members who gave up their annual holiday to be part of Bonita's big adventure. Thank you all.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Homeward bound

Sarah and Royal Sovereign Tower
With a too-good-to-resist westerly we have set off for home only briefly pausing for the night anchored in the lee of Dungeness.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Finish of the Round Britain Challenge

On Sunday morning there was a simple gathering in Cowes of the skippers, crews and friends of the 20 boats involved in the Round Britain Challenge. In words pictures and music there were reflections of the shared experiences of the cruise. Many felt it had been greatly enriched by being part of a group of broadly similar boats cruising together.

Barbara Runnells sings 'Moon River'
The cruise has not completely ended: Minstrel and Capraia will not have finished their circumnavigations until they get back to Milford Haven. We and several other boats will be heading  eastwards for home tomorrow.
In the evening Sarah and I went out for dinner with Sian and Ant and Barbara from Moon River.

Barbara is much admired by us all for having completed the circumnavigation single-handed. Single-handed coastal sailing with its ever-present navigational and shipping hazards requires constant vigilance; in this respect it is much more demanding than offshore single-handing.

Jolyon, Eric and Mary with Minstrel
The effects of the RBC will carry on for a while; in this month's issue of Classic Boat there is a fine article on Witch by Claudia Myatt while Nic Compton's article on Bonita is due to appear in the October issue. No doubt there will be much exchange of photos when we all get home. Our Dutch friends are planning ways to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their branch of the OGA in 2014. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Racing in heavy weather

Taking in a reef
Saturday morning bought strong and blustery SW winds. About sixty gaffers set out bravely to race in the Solent and presented a fine sight. There were several press boats in attendance and they must have got some excellent pictures. This photo was taken by Sam Scott. Sam, Vicky and Ant followed the fleet in a launch. In the picture we are in the process of taking in yet another reef in the mainsail.

Everyone had a wet and exciting sail. Unfortunately there was some damage and a few collisions. At least two boats became entangled with the race marks while another became entangled with fishing gear laid next to one of the marks. A fair number of boats retired due to the stress of weather.

Bonita had D, Tim and John helping out. We had a somewhat wet sail with a fair bit of water flowing over the deck which washed the scrubbing brush overboard. Apart from that mishap Bonita took it well. There were some dramatic photos taken of her leaping from wave to wave such as this posted on Facebook by Nic Compton. We hope to post some more race photos in this blog in due course.

After everyone had got back safely there was a prize-giving in the marina. Bonita came around the middle of the field as she often seems to. Of the RBC boats, Witch and Annabel J both did well winning prizes. The round Britain boats all are carrying a lot of extra gear and may have grown a bit of weed in the last four months, so any success against the local racers is impressive.

video
The video shows replica whaling boat Molly, one of the few open boats to complete the course. At the end of the upwind leg we overtook her while her crew had a lengthy break to bail her out but once she was emptied they resumed the race and stormed by us in fine, if precarious, form.

It looks as though tomorrow may be quite windy as well, but we plan to head back to the Swale soon.



Saturday, 17 August 2013

Trevor's lessons from Bonita's circumnavigation

As I watch Bonita tacking up the Solent on my PC in Canada....
Click on the picture above or on this link to watch the video...
Bonita Track in Old Gaffers' Race 17 August 2013

Watersports and Celebration

Blindfold rowing - John and Emma lead Mike and Sarah
Today started wet and windy but nevertheless the gaffer's festival continued with watersports in and around the marina. These were similar to the ones we had enjoyed in Ipswich where the weather had been much warmer. 

D and Mary from Minstrel took part in the downwind rubber dinghy racing. Propelled by two large coloured
umbrellas they contributed elegance and dignity but at a more measured pace than some of the participants. We had more success in the blindfold rowing which was won by John and Emma in Young Alert's dinghy. Runners up were Sarah and myself in Bonita's deflating inflatable. The twins will have to decide how best to share the prize - an engraved commemorative glass - with George as owner of the winning dinghy.

The winning Solent clog
The photo shows hot competition in the clog racing. Various teams have spent weeks converting wooden clogs into ingenious sailing boats. Steering was sometimes erratic in the gusty winds. The race was won by a clog boat made by the OGA's Solent area.

Sian's RBC cake
In the evening the extended Beckett family were invited to Sian and Ant's flat outside Cowes. Also present were Jon, Jane and Geoff who had crewed for me at various stages of the trip. Sian and Ant had arranged a magnificent celebration to mark Bonita's big voyage. The picture below shows a magnificent round Britain cake complete with key ports identified and surrounded by a turbulent sea.

11 of Bonita's 16 RBC crew. Tim, Geoff, D, Jane, Mike, Sian,
Sarah, Ant, Emma, John and Jon
The fourth picture shows the members of the crew in their prized Beckett Rankine sponsored shirts. The evening was a suitable tribute to the affection in which the old boat is held.

Tomorrow there are plans for one of the biggest races of gaff rigged boats ever held, but strong winds are forecast so it remains to be seen how many make it out there.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Dressed overall

The new gearbox was fixed and working by lunchtime thanks to the hard work and excellent service by RHP Marine of Cowes. Restored to full power, but with her owner somewhat poorer, Bonita motored the few hundred yards down the river Medina to join dozens of other gaff rigged boats. The next few days of varied activities and entertainments will form the culmination of the OGA 50th anniversary celebrations and the end of the Round Britain Challenge. 

Most of the boats are dressed overall with code flags and the overall effect of hundreds of multicoloured flags fluttering in the breeze was very striking and must have impressed any casual visitors that something special was going on.

The pictures show cousin George Beckett on Young  Alert, which I used to own and which George has restored and sails fearlessly. He has just returned from a single handed trip to Guernsey. 

Also here is Sian and Ant's boat Mary Louise.This is the first time our three boats have been together in the same port.

In the evening the refined air of Cowes was enlivened by suitable festivities at the Open Mic evening.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gathering Gaffers


The photo shows a large empty space where the gearbox used to be.  The good news is that our new gearbox has turned up. The bad news is that is slightly longer than the old one and doesn't quite fit. However it should be possible to make it fit without too much trouble and we hope to be mobile again by midday tomorrow.

In the meantime gaffers are beginning to arrive, including the Round Britain boats Toucando, High Barbaree and Minstrel.

 Britannia looking bleak

On the quay at East Cowes is the impressive hull of the replica of the Britannia, the King's Yacht between 1893 and 1936 and one of the most successful racing yachts ever built. The original was sunk after the death of George V as he stipulated in his will. The replica was built in Russia in 1994 and transported to England for completion and now reconstruction; its been a troubled project and she has yet to have her first sail.

Quibus Nobilis Est Animus
I do hope they can get the project completed as it would be marvellous to see Britannia sailing again. We visited the shop in the High Street supporting this project and selling T-shirts, photos etc. They certainly need to raise a lot of money but the plan is to move the hull to Portsmouth to continue the work with the intention of getting her sailing by 2015.  Designed by G L Watson Britannia was originally built as a gaff cutter but converted to Bermudan rig for the last ten years or so of her life. Sadly the reconstruction will not represent the Britannia as she was in her finest days, but will also have a bermudan rig.

Engine trouble in Cowes

Last night Sarah came down on the train to join us in Gosport and this morning we motored out of the harbour.   This took a little time as Bonita was berthed in the middle of a large marina and it soon became very clear that all was not well with the engine. There were gruesome grinding noises coming out of the gearbox and intermittent loss of power. 

I wondered about turning back to Gosport to get it fixed, but decided that if  we were to be engineless, with the OGA weekend coming up it would be better to be stuck in Cowes than stuck in Gosport.  We therefore crossed the Solent and with some difficulty tied up on the pontoon of a marine engineering firm on the Medina river.

I had been feeling quite smug that we had got round Britain without any major mechanical problems, but  it seems the 30 year old gearbox was not up to the strain. We have after all done quite a lot of manoeuvering in quite a lot of harbours in the last three months.  

At present it looks hopeful  that we might be able to get a replacement gearbox in the next day or two.  Once it was clear there was nothing else we could do today we looked round the town.  I haven't been here for a couple of years, and although many of the shops I remembered have gone they have all been replaced by other shops of very much the same sort.  There is certainly a unique atmosphere about Cowes in August and the arrival of over 200 gaffers later this week will definitely add to this.

In the evening we had supper with Sian and Ant who crewed with us earlier in the cruise and have a flat in the town.
 
You can get just about anything to do with yachts fixed at Cowes so we  are hoping to be back in action soon.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

And yet another tribute...

Congratulations to Bonita, Mike & Deirdre, and all the rest of the crew who played a part in the circumnavigation, by Bonita, of mainland Great Britain!

The early weeks of  Bonita's voyage were plagued with appalling and unreasonably unseasonable weather. Despite the penetrating cold and my losing 5 kg north of Lands End (amply replenished once we got to Waterford) I feel privileged to have been able to take a small part as the head wind continued to veer against her. Crossing the Irish Sea was my longest passage under sail to date and reminiscent of simpler sailing in the sixties and early seventies; albeit in even smaller grp boats, only one of which was a 22 ft gunter rigged not-so-old gaffer!

While I regret that I will be unable to join you all in Cowes for the finale I wish you a great time there - you deserve it!  Well done to all of you, especially Bonita, who has Mike in particular to thank for her ongoing, and now well proven, seaworthiness at 125 years old! 

Mike is also to be congratulated for running a very happy ship. Despite the challenge of cramped conditions and the late-to-arrive summer there has clearly been no shortage of friends and family queuing up to join the crew.

David Patuck

Monday, 12 August 2013

Light and shade in Portsmouth

After a weekend of entertaining visitors we are waiting for more durable crew, due this evening. We have to be in Cowes on Thursday for the start of the big gaffers' festival.

There is much of interest to see in Portsmouth apart from the major warships, and there are several small naval museums. There is a display of ships' figureheads and it seems that some battleships still carried figureheads at the time Bonita was launched. 

The picture is of the figurehead of HMS Blazer, a small paddle gunship from 1847. Paddle steamers did not make good warships as the paddles were too vulnerable to damage, and the Blazer might seem to be of little significance. However her captain wanted his crew to look smart, allegedly for a visit by Queen Victoria, so he had short blue jackets with collars, lapels and brass buttons made and issued to his sailors. His sartorial taste lives on and his ships name has entered the language even if his naval exploits might have been forgotten.

There is also a museum dedicated to Nelson with many portraits of him on display. This  bust is supposed to represent the best likeness of him at the time of his death. I was interested that none of the paintings or sculptures on display show his facial injuries for which there is ample medical evidence. 

He was blinded in his right eye in battle in 1794 leaving the pupil so widely dilated that the blue iris was barely visible (his own description). He had a wound to his forehead sustained at the Battle of the Nile which left a conspicuous scar and, due to a poor surgical repair resulted in a paralysis of the left forehead that must have been very obvious. Yet these injuries are not apparent in his later portraits, even those that show both eyes clearly. 

Maybe its more acceptable if our heros are thought to have face and brain intact, even if there might be other bits of them missing.

We have now probably been in Gosport long enough and hope to move on tomorrow.

The Scotts' sunny Solent sail - by Vicky

The Scott family taking in the sights
Not having seen my Dad for four months was compensation enough to face the drizzly rain hitting the windscreen on the drive down to Portsmouth at 8am on a Sunday morning. Myself, my boyfriend Sam Scott and his parents Dave and Debbie made for a motley crew of decidedly inexperienced sailors. The weather at Gosport Harbour lit up as if to welcome our arrival though and we soon found ourselves heading out into the sunlit Solent and eating salty cheese sandwiches. We saw the old navy Forts that had been turned into mid-sea hotels and speculated on whether Tesco would deliver. What happens if you need a cleaner?

We had a beautiful trip out to the Isle of Wight and back with very few incidents.  Whilst coming back into the marina Mike was pulling out a rope that happened to be looped round Sam's feet, just before we contacted the pontoon, but no one fell overboard so all in all we deemed it a success. We moored up and has a fantastic dinner at The Boat House cafe. We could watch the sun going down with the same enthusiasm as the old sea salts littering the bar could finish their ales. Heading back to London I felt rather wistful and I'm now looking forward to seeing Dad and Bonita again in Cowes next weekend.

Another tribute pours in...


Geoff Jones shares his memories of Mike and Bonita

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Visitors

A day in Gosport. In the morning I rewired the navigation lights that had failed at an awkward moment when entering Newhaven at night a few days ago.  There are two excellent chandleries in Gosport so I have been trying to get a few jobs done. One chandlery actually sells silicon bronze screws, which is almost the highest indicator of quality for a wooden boat enthusiast.

Diana
Later my friend Diana came for lunch. Her experience of sailing is mostly in Mediterranean waters and she was seeing Bonita's elegant lines and primitive facilities for the first time.










Family Forrest
In the afternoon we were visited by the Forrest family: Alistair, Lucy, William and Sophie. Alistair helped with Bonita many years ago on a trip from Alderney to Dover.

Sophie
The third picture shows Sophie inspecting the stern locker for any signs of deterioration. The timbers in the stern locker are bare wood and have never been painted. It is an impossible area for an adult to reach and I have never been able to persuade a small child that it needs doing.  Instead this space just gets an annual spray round with wood preserver which so far seems to have been good enough.

The Morcambe Bay prawner's characteristic elliptical counter stern was always a weakness as the enclosed space is prone to rot and is difficult to maintain. Morecambe Bay fishermen quite often used to saw off the counter and plank the stern over if rot developed in this area. The job could be done on the beach on a single tide so there was little lost fishing time although the loss in aesthetics was somewhat greater.
I am hoping that the annual preservative spray will avoid the need for such drastic measures.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Waiting for crew

John and Emma, who had bought us down from Brightlingsea and along the south coast. had to leave last night - so Bonita is in Gosport being tidied up and awaiting more crew.

God's Port
Gosport doesn't have the excitement of its neighbour Portsmouth, and it sometimes seems the main attraction is the passenger ferry across the harbour. As can be seen from the sign, Gosport is the millennium town - whatever that may mean. Millennium memorials all seem a bit tired now and the generation of children growing up who know no other millennium must find it all a bit odd. In any case the town is firmly rooted in a previous millennium: it was named God's Port by the Bishop of Winchester who arrived here after a harrowing voyage in 1144. We can all recognise the feeling of relief and gratitude in solid ground underfoot after a stormy sea trip.

Jolie Brise
The second photo is of the wonderful Jolie Brise, one of the most famous yachts in the world - she was at Gosport today. She was built as a Le Havre pilot cutter in 1913, but the days of sailing pilot cutters were ending and she was soon converted into a yacht. She won the first Fastnet race in 1925, and two subsequent races. Sadly she is not coming to the OGA rally in Cowes, but was stocking up for this year's Fastnet race in her centenary year.

Navigato ... the onward journey, the onward search - by Ant Bennett

What an achievement!  How did he do it?  How did he have the patience and calmness to persuade this elderly
lady Bonita on such a passage and to bring her to Cowes looking so resplendent?  
Congratulations
Photo Nic Compton

How did he also put up with all the different crews and our individual ways and keep it so much fun?  
Even more congratulations!

How has it affected Mike? 

I don't know, but I have been reading Navigations by the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney; on the subject of journeys he writes:

"in antiquity, Irish scholars were known for their practice of "navigato"...
  ...a journey undertaken by boat - a circular itinerary of exodus and return.
The aim was to undergo an apprenticeship to signs of strangeness with a view to becoming more attentive to the meanings of one's own time and place...
  ...geographical, spiritual, intellectual."

Thanks for my time with you.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Old Warships

Bonita stayed in Gosport today and as it was my birthday the twins and I took the ferry to Portsmouth. We saw the Mary Rose (better preserved than when I last saw her), HMS Victory (worse, but some work is in progress) and HMS Warrior which I had not seen before. The Warrior, launched in 1861, is a very impressive demonstration of mid Victorian naval power with many fascinating points of detail. We were interested that there is a demand to book her for wedding receptions and parties; a little odd since she is the mid-nineteenth century equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. It seems very different from getting married in church.

The photo above shows Emma at the helm of the Warrior.  In spite of her revolutionary design, in service the ship was very hard to steer and erratic to maneuver. There are facilities for up to 24 men to steer at once using linked wheels on three decks. One reason for this is that she did not have a balanced rudder. A balanced rudder has up to a quarter of the rudder blade extending forward of the rudder post, and it greatly reduces the effort required to steer powered ships that have a propeller directly in front of the rudder. The etching on the left shows the stern of Warrior under construction at Thames Ironworks. The two-bladed propeller was located in front of the rudder post and could be retracted up into the hull when the ship was under sail.

In the evening D and Sarah joined us to see something of Portsmouth after dark.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Portsmouth Harbour

Bonita from Brighton's Palace Pier by Nic Compton
We woke in Newhaven to a brisk NE breeze and a cloudy sky. Nic had taken lots of pictures aboard yesterday but had none of Bonita sailing. We eventually agreed that he would take the bus to Brighton and get out on the end of pier: we would take the boat down there and sail past a couple of times as close to the pier as we could.  This is one of his pictures. It was quite a blustery morning with gusts coming off the land which is why we have a couple of reefs in the mainsail, but the sea looks fairly calm. There are some more of Nic's lovely photos posted on Facebook.

After this excitement was over we settled down to a fair weather sail past Selsey Bill and into Portsmouth harbour. We took a berth on Gosport marina where there are several huge racing boats being prepared for a 2013/14 circumnavigation (of the world).
We admired the boats but were not sure we envied the crews who seem to have a fairly spartan life centred around getting the best performance out of their boat. That sort of thing wouldn't appeal to everyone..

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Newhaven

Nic at work!
Yesterday evening we were joined in Ramsgate by Nic Compton who is a journalist. He is interested in Bonita's circumnavigation and is going to spend a couple of days with us as we head down Channel.

We locked out of the inner harbour about 10.30pm and immediately it seemed like a bad idea. There was a heavy swell rolling into the outer harbour and we had an uncomfortable and noisy night on the pontoon which we shared with the wind farm service boats. It also soon became clear that theirs is a 24 hour operation. We woke up, or at least got up, at 4.30am to find a NW wind so we left immediately and had a fine sail with good wind and fair tide until we were past Dungeness. The breeze then died away as we neared Beachy Head so we motored the last few miles to Newhaven. 

Sunset over Seven Sisters
Nic took more photos in one day than we have taken in the last 3 months and is interested in all aspects of the trip and Bonita's history. He also knows Newhaven harbour well which was useful when entering in the dark.  We had a moment's excitement when entering Newhaven when both Bonita's port and starboard navigation lights failed, presumably due to an electrical fault. There was no time to fix it and it's not really a good idea to enter a ferry port without lights. Luckily we have a spare battery powered set aboard (never before used) so everything was OK.

I thought it was too late to be worth radioing the marina, but as we approached we were met by two very helpful members of staff who had seen us approaching on AIS. The AIS tracking system has been used by large ships for several years but is a new toy for us this season and I have been impressed by how quickly it is being adopted by yachts and its many uses.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Tale of two tugs

Today we were forecast strong SW winds with a change to N winds on Tuesday so unsurprisingly most of the gaffers chose to have a rest day in port.  There are two old steam tugs in Ramsgate undergoing restoration which illustrate the difficulties inherent in preserving old boats, particularly large ones. 

Portwey is a twin screw coal fired steam tug built in Glasgow in 1927. She is the last of her type in the UK and one of very few in the world. She is being restored with lottery money and is on the slipway with new patches welded onto the dodgy bits of the hull, paint being applied and other purposeful activity going on.

Cervia is a 1,000 horsepower steam tug built in 1946. There is a tragic story attached to her early years: she was attending a large ship in the London docks when she was rolled over and sunk, drowning her crew of five. She was raised a few days later and eventually put back into service. Being 'girt' by the towline and capsized is a well recognised danger for tugs when turning or slowing a large ship if the towing hawser takes load at right angles to the  long axis of the tug. With the tug being towed sideways by the ship there is not much the tug skipper can do to get out of the situation except by releasing the towline. Today this can be done remotely from the bridge but in Cervia's day it could only be done by a crew member striking the release lever on the tow hook with a sledge hammer; difficult to do with the tug being towed sideways and heeled over at an angle.

Cervia has more flags but rather less new paint than Portwey. She is being worked on intermittently by a small but dedicated band of volunteers. Sadly Cervia gives the impression that, despite their hard work, she may well be deteriorating more quickly than she is being restored, and unless she can get a heritage lottery grant it's difficult to see much of a future for her. 

How many vintage steam tugs are needed - even in a country which is sympathetic to both steam power and picturesque old boats?  Restoring these tired old workhorses to a safe condition costs a lot and their ability to earn money through tourism and film work must be limited.

On a more positive note, our plans today are to lock out of the inner harbour around midnight with a hope of an early start with a fair tide tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Parade of Sail

Robinetta
This morning we had a Parade of Sail which involved about half the gaffers locking out of Ramsgate inner harbour, sailing up and down off the beach for a couple of hours, and then locking back in again. It was a pleasant sail on a warm bright day with light winds: one of those days when it is more comfortable to be on the water.  

Bonita's crew see old boats sailing everyday of course, but I later heard that quite a lot of people were enjoying watching the event from the beach.

The picture shows Robinetta in the parade of sail. She was built in 1937 and  the noted yachting journalist Maurice Griffiths called her 'a saucy little tub'.

In the evening we enjoyed a meal in the Oak Hotel by the waterfront. 

We have seen many changes in Ramsgate over the years, many for the better. One thing I don't remember from previous visits is the large commercial aircraft coming in low over the town centre to land at Manston airport. There are not at present very many of them, at least by Heathrow or Gatwick standards. However if no clear decision is made on airport expansion in the South East and there is just some increased activity all round, then more traffic at Manston might well have a detrimental effect on this relatively unspoilt part of Kent. It could be argued that one advantage of the Goodwin Sands airport proposal is that this air traffic would be moved offshore ending these low level flights over Ramsgate and enabling Manston to be returned to being part of rural England. 

Bonita lovely but blurry
Strong SW winds are forecast for tomorrow but we will decide in the morning whether to choose the discomforts of the sea or the attractions of Ramsgate.

The tributes start pouring in...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ramsgate Gathering

There is much of interest in Ramsgate and many memories of the Dunkirk little ships of 1940. 

Tamzine at the Imperial War Museum
My brother-in-law Ant Bennett has a link to the smallest little ship to make the journey and return intact. Tamzine is a 14 ft 9in dinghy that was built for Ant's father, Ralph. Ralph was away on active service but Tamzine was kept at Birchington, near Margate and was unceremoniously commandeered for the evacuation. 
She was used to ferry troops from the beaches to the larger ships offshore and then, rather than being abandoned, remarkably she was bought back to England. 

She had no form of identification but was by chance recognised by a friend of Ralph's, and Tamzine and Ralph were reunited in due course when he got back from service abroad. The dinghy had suffered a bit of wear and tear and had acquired stains in the bilges thought to be due to blood. Tamzine continued to give good service throughout Ant's childhood and then, following Ralph's death in 1980, the family donated this smallest of the little ships to the Imperial War Museum. The blood stains can no longer been seen though as the IWM had her bottom planks replaced.

We were today visited by our friends Sue and Russell who live in Ramsgate and are enthusiastic local historians. Sue last came aboard Bonita when she was here for the OGA 25th anniversary celebrations in 1988.
Russell, Sue, Emma and John
Viscount De L'Isle
The formal part of today's proceedings included a welcome from Viscount De L'Isle, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, and by Laura Sandys the local MP. We were all impressed by how clearly they recognised the importance of the OGA in preserving our maritime heritage, and by Rob Holden's powers of influence.

In the evening we enjoyed the hospitality of the Royal Temple Yacht club in their fine clubhouse overlooking the harbour.

Ramsgate

We left the Swale in light winds and partly motored, partly sailed down the Kent coast and round the North Foreland to Ramsgate. Ramsgate harbour is always a favourite, full of interest and history. The town has a separate life of its own.

Ramsgate RNLI station
Ramsgate inner harbour is the site of an excellent lifeboat station designed by our sponsors Beckett Rankine. They tell us that the RNLI are an interesting client to work for as they require their facilities to be designed with a 120 year design life. To provide such durability in a maritime environment is not easily done and most commercial port clients are unwilling to pay the premium for it. The inshore lifeboat is stored inside the building and the design brief for the building required the large door to be able to be opened in any weather since there is no upper wind speed limit for an RNLI launch. The building has a substantial steel frame designed to withstand the uplift forces which would result from opening the large door during a south westerly hurricane!

We had a fair amount of manoeuvring in marina berths but eventually Bonita came to rest without damage in the heritage section of the inner harbour. There are several other gaffers here and the whole weekend has been ably organised by Rob and Jan Holden. Their lovely little cutter Emanuel, which once sailed the Atlantic, is here too.

Dunkirk Little Ship Sundowner
The second picture shows Bonita astern of the motor yacht Sundowner,which has an interesting history. Originally built in 1912 as an admiralty launch, she was converted to a yacht for Charles Lightoller. He was the second mate on the Titanic and the most senior officer to survive her sinking; he subsequently gave evidence at the official enquiries. Between the wars he cruised extensively in European waters in Sundowner, and in 1940 took her to Dunkirk, filled her with 130 soldiers from the beaches and bought them all back to Ramsgate. She survived multiple attacks from the air during the journey as well as the hazard of wash from fast moving Destroyers. It is very appropriate that she is preserved and on display here  in Ramsgate.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Swale

Emma and Shivering Sands
We were right to stay in Brightlingsea yesterday. Today we woke to a warm sunny day with a force 3 SE wind.
We left the harbour at high tide - 8.20am- and had a sparkling sail across the estuary. We went quite close to two of the second world war anti-aircraft forts as the pictures show. 

John and Knock John






The story of the hurried design and construction of these forts under wartime conditions and their survival for over seventy years without any maintenance at all is quite remarkable and deserves to be better known. The forts are of two types, some like Knock John Tower were constructed in dry docks and then floated into position and sunk. Others like the Shivering Sands Forts were constructed in-situ on piled platforms. Both types were designed by the talented civil engineer Guy Maunsell. Some of the forts had a second life after the war as pirate radio stations and in one case as the independent kingdom of Sealand.

In the evening we sailed into the river Swale and picked up our mooring buoy which we had last let go at the beginning of our circumnavigation on 26 April.

Bonita and her crew have had many adventures in the 97 days since we left. The old lady has in general stood up to the pressures pretty well although at times the crew have shown signs of strain.  However this is not the end of this year's cruise: we have to press on to get the the Old Gaffers bumper festival in Cowes in two weeks time.
Back on our home mooring...

Sailing on the Thames 50 years ago

Bonita on the EYC scrubbing dock
As Bonita sets out on her passage across the Thames Estuary today on the 50th anniversary of the OGA it is a good time to recall how sailing on London's river has changed over the last half century. From 1937 to 1965 Bonita was based at Erith Yacht Club spending the winters in a mud berth dug into the saltings and summers on a swinging mooring. This 1937 photograph shows her up on the scrubbing dock with the EYC club ship Garson I (a converted Thames barge) behind. She has clearly just been painted - no doubt the reason for the photo.

The smart paint wouldn't have lasted very long, after a week or two on her mooring the topsides would have been smeared with oil. Even in the mid 1960s the Thames was a filthy river; as youngsters at the yacht club we were told that if you fell in and took just one mouthful of water you would need a trip to hospital to have your stomach pumped. The warning worked, despite Bonita's lack of guard rails we never did fall in! The only benefit to the pollution was that no antifouling paint was required since no weed or barnacles could grow in the water; the bottom was simply painted with a coat of bitumastic paint to keep it waterproof.

There was much more commercial traffic on the Thames then with a regular procession of ships passing up to the London docks and back. As well as the ships there were thousands of Thames lighters, a large number of which were moored in a barge road off Erith. When a tug or ship passed by the clanging of the moored lighters gave advance warning of the approaching wash and you knew you'd have to hang on a few seconds later. Occasionally one of the lighters would be poorly secured and would break adrift. A number of EYC yachts on their moorings were hit by lighters and a few were sunk by them. It was after a drifting lighter hit Bonita and became caught on her, breaking her bowsprit, springing the planks at the stem and dislodging her rail, that my father decided to move her down river to the safer waters of the Swale.

Allan Beckett
Yachting clothing has undergone dramatic changes. The first photo in this blog, which can be seen here, shows Dad's pre-war sailing outfit. By the time the war had finished he had smartened up a bit and was sailing in his demob suit as seen in the photo on the left; this photo was taken in the early '50s but not a lot had changed by 1960. The cine film below was taken on one of our weekend trips down to Holehaven; you can see that my 'yachting jacket' consisted of a normal raincoat. As I remember the only wet weather oilskins we had aboard were a very stiff and not very waterproof PVC ensemble complete with sou'wester.

In the film Bonita is sailing under her last suit of cotton sails, she got her first  terylene suit in 1964. If stowed away wet the cotton sails would go mouldy - a constant concern. As was blowing the sails out; we spent more than one Saturday evening at anchor hand stitching repairs so that we could sail home on Sunday.

Another notable advance was the invention of melamine crockery, in the days of china there were regular breakages, indeed on the occasion of one particularly vicious squall the crockery cupboard door came open and pretty well every plate aboard was shattered. How Captain Cook managed to keep the fine china dinner service that we saw in Orkney intact (23 June blog entry Fog and wind in the Orkneys) I cannot imagine.



There have been some distinct improvements aboard Bonita over the last 50 years but at the same time much remains unchanged. One constant is that, despite her distinctly cramped 19th century accommodation, she retains the ability to engender great affection in all who sail in her; so much so that many of her crew for the RBC have been insistent that they were not going to miss out on being a part of this, her greatest adventure.

More reminiscences about sailing on the Thames in the pre-terylene era can be found in the History section of the EYC's website here.