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 background 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.

Thursday, 4 August 2016


We left Middelburg early this morning and came down the canal to Flushing (Vlissingen). However it is still blowing hard from the SW with waves and spray coming over the harbour breakwater, so we have stayed in port. It's supposed to be getting better tomorrow. I keep telling the crew that prolonged strong winds in August are very rare - usually when sailing at this time of year there is not enough wind. However regardless of the statistics prolonged strong head winds are what we have.

We walked round Flushing which has mostly been rebuilt in the post war reconstruction style of architecture. Occasional interesting art pieces add variety to what is otherwise a fairly utilitarian style:
Flushing town centre
We looked at a couple of museums; the picture shows William admiring one of the exhibits in the pram museum (free entry, donations welcome). 
William tests some prams
The Zeeland maritime museum was also excellent and provided a wider historical context of the importance of Flushing in Dutch maritime history.

Above the beach at Flushing near the harbour are a series of memorials marking the liberation from Nazi occupation in October 1944. The beach (codenamed 'Uncle') was sucessfully assaulted by a mixed Canadian, British and Polish amphibious force and the occupying Germans were driven back. There are lots of memorials like this celebrating the liberation in Normandy but this is the first of this sort I've seen in Holland where maybe relations with today's Germany are slightly more nuanced than they are in rural France. 
The Dutch civilian population suffered greatly in the war as a result of the Nazi occupation.
German miniature submarine
The third picture shows one of the exhibits on display as part of the liberation memorial. In this container is a German miniature submarine which contained a small supply of fuel and two torpedoes. These submarines were used to disrupt shipping in the river Schelde off Flushing in the final stages of the war. These miniature submarines were towed into the vicinity of the river by tugs and were not expected to return from their mission.


Today was just as windy - indeed the forecast has been upgraded to force 8 from the southwest. However the good news is that the rain has stopped. Clearly this was a day for sailing in sheltered water. We had a quick sail for the few miles from Wemeldinge to the lock into Veerse Meer. Veerse Meer is a very pretty piece of water. We used to come here quite often in Bonita, though this was our first visit in more than 20 years.There are more boats than there were then, and beside the Meer the trees have grown more and there are more caravans. On the water  there were boats of all sorts out in the brisk wind.
Maybe we should have stopped at Veere which is historic and very quaint, but we wanted to push on so we locked into the canal to Middelburg. The first two pictures are of the lock: Martha is standing on Bonita's fore-deck.
Waiting for the lock to Mddelburg
In the lock on the Middelburg canal
It is only a few miles down the canal to Middelburg. Here we filled up with fuel and eventually manoeuvred the boats into a very crowded canal in the middle of the town.
Typical Middelburg street
Middelburg Church
The centre of Middelburg has lots of the sort of interesting old buildings that distinguish so many Dutch towns. They demonstrate the wealth, civic pride and cultivated good taste of their period, as of course they were intended to do.
My father used to like bringing Bonita to this area as he had been based in Middelburg at the end of the war. As the Allies were advancing through northern Europe the Germans had fortified this island - Walcheren - which controlled the approaches to Antwerp. The RAF removed this threat by bombing the sea walls thereby flooding the island. Subsequently my father was sent by the War Office to assist with the operation of closing the gaps in the sea wall.

Press cutting from 3 October 1945
Closing a gap is easy at first by filling it with stones and other rubble, but as it narrows the force of the water rushing through the gap is such that anything will be swept away. One possibility is to completely close off the gap in exactly the few minutes at the top of the tide when no water is flowing. Dad did this by getting some of the large floating Phoenix caissons, designed for use in Mulberry harbour which he arranged to be towed to site and sunk in the breach. The Dutch engineers, who were experts at this sort of thing, were at first sceptical that this method would work but nevertheless the operation was completely successful and the Phoenix caissons are still there. They are no longer part of the sea wall, which has been extended around them, they have now been turned into a museum.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


This morning we had a nice SE wind which might well have tempted us out to sea. We resisted this partly because the forecast was SW force 5-7, and partly because it was misty with visibility less than half a mile.  So instead we have been working through the inland waterways of Zeeland in South Holland. These are not canals, but enclosed waterways that in places are several miles wide between low lying sandy islands.

At about midday we did indeed get a brisk SW wind with rain. We mostly motored and this evening tied up in the harbour at Wemeldinge. We were last here two years ago as guests of the Dutch Old Gaffers who were celebrating their tenth anniversary with a cruise through Holland. This was organised with the usual Dutch efficiency and everyone had a marvellous time.

The Bom Dia
After many hours of persistent fine horizontal rain there are few dry places left on a small boat,  so we felt we had to resort to supper in a restaurant ashore (see picture). We returned to the boats more philosophical and slightly dryer. The wind is still howling in the rigging tonight and we are thinking it may be a while before we get to home waters.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


It wasn't chaos when we left Scheveningen but there was quite a lot of congestion as several boats left at once and there isn't much manoevering space. We didn't leave until nearly lunchtime as the wind was SW at first.
We would prefer to go straight back to the Thames but the winds have been persistently SW or Westerly with the possibility of strong winds - force 6 to 7 - forecast. That sort of thing is best avoided in an elderly boat on a prolonged passage in open water.

So today we sailed a few miles down the coast. The first picture shows us off the Hook of Holland where the immense Europoort has been built on a huge expanse of reclaimed land jutting out from the old coastline.
In the evening we came to the lock at the Haringvliet. This is a deep inlet that is 800 years old - it is recorded that it was formed as a result of flooding in 1216. Since then this area has been prone to flooding - as has much of Holland. There was a disastrous storm surge here in 1953 when there were floods on the east coast of England as well. As a result of this, the Dutch devised the Delta scheme, consisting of large barriers and sea walls to permanently remove the risk of flooding that had beem such a feature of Dutch life throughout history. The second picture shows the huge barrier across the Haringvliet. There are gates in the barrier to allow tidal flow but this is now completely under control.

The Dutch are not afraid to think big when it comes to engineering schemes and the scale of  some of projects we have seen is most impressive.

This evening we are in Stellendam, just inside the Haringvliet barrier. We can carry on south through the inland waterways if that seems the better option tomorrow.

Monday, 1 August 2016


Megan left Calismarde this morning; but her crew has been reinforced by the arrival of William and Lucy. On Bonita I still have Dave, plus Martha on loan from Calismarde.

We left Amsterdam this morning with hopes of crossing to England. However when we got down the canal to Ijmuiden on the North Sea coast we found the wind was a moderate Westerly, so we reverted to plan B. We had a good sail due south with sunshine much of the way. The picture is of a dutch schooner, the Stortemelk which we passed heading north.
The Stortemelk

After about 20 miles we came to rest in Scheveningen harbour. This is really packed out in July and August; yachts are rafted up right across the harbour. We asked one of the locals what happens when someone on the inside wants to leave - he simply said 'it's chaos'. We shall see in the morning.

It seems that no one who isn't Dutch can pronounce 'Scheveningen' properly. The first syllable is produced far back in the throat. Apparently in the second world war the Dutch resistance fighters used to get people to say 'Scheveningen' as a test; only true Dutchmen could do this and so it would unmask imposters and foreign spies.

Battle of Scheveningen by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraten
By chance we are here on the anniversary of the Battle of Scheveningen on 31 July 1653, a
naval engagement off the coast. This was the last battle of the first Anglo-Dutch war and was won by the English. The Dutch and the English had a bit of a love-hate relationship in the 17th century. There were three wars in which the Dutch had some major victories, although the English were ultimately more successful. Yet on two occasions the Dutch promoted regime change in England. In 1660 they backed the return of Charles II who had been in exile in Holland; then in 1688 they supported the invasion which displaced the legitimate monarch, James II - in favour of Mary and her Dutch husband William.

As we go to bed with the boats firmly wedged in the harbour the wind remains in the West. Still, we are hopeful for tomorrow.