Gordon and Pauline took their old wooden cruiser "Chimere" up the non-tidal Thames in 2016, stopping off at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival on the way. This is what they found........
There is something about wooden boats that stirs even the most glass reinforced heart. The shine of varnish, the elegant lines, or the sheer variety of traditionally built boats has a lure like no other. You may shy away from owning one (I don't blame you, the upkeep can be horrendous) but looking and admiring is the next best thing.
And where better to view traditionally built craft than the Thames Traditional Boat Festival held each year at Henley-on-Thames? Admittedly, these are mainly river boats - the sailing barges and smacks can't get this far up the Thames - but the spectacle is still there.
First held in 1978 as a rally for owners of wooden boats, time and increased popularity has brought changes. No longer is it an event where the public came to see boaters at play. It is now a day out for the public in its own right, with more than 10,000 people visiting over a long weekend in July.
Getting the balance between bank-side entertainment and the boating has been a major challenge for the volunteer organisers, one they have succeeded in achieving admirably. Onshore there are boat builder's stands, demonstrations, exhibitions, boat jumble, craft tents, food, a pub and live music 'till late on the Saturday night.
But it is really still about boats, attracting over 200 each year. Among the lovingly restored and maintained historic boats this year were the Dunkirk Little Ships, a first world war motor torpedo boat (they fired their single torpedo over the stern), and MTB 102 its WWII equivalent.
Add to these the steam boats, Edwardian launches, slipper-stern day boats, skiffs and cabin cruisers. All are traditionally built (no GRP or plywood allowed!) and many are truly veteran, some well over 100 years old.
The river is a scene of continuous activity: There are sail pasts with a commentary on each boat. There are featured boats like Bluebird K3 (attended last year but sadly missed out this year) and Gloriana the replica Thames Row Barge that has become a regular visitor. The magnificent steam launch Alaska usually runs a free scheduled passenger service. Many cruiser owners open their boats to visitors and take them on board for the sail pasts when they can.
But for stirring emotion you cannot beat the daily parade of Dunkirk little ships, often with veterans on board.
One particularly poignant moment at this year's festival was to mark the deaths in the terrorist attack in France a few days earlier. A cruiser over from St Malo for the festival paraded with the two motor torpedo boats to the last post sounded by a bugler ashore. Not a dry eye among the spectators lining the bank.
Traditional craft take a lot of maintenance and there is a thriving traditional boat industry along the river to support the owners. Some of us do our own maintenance but those with the funds keep the yards busy. Want to restore an old boat? Re-varnish to a mirror finish? Refit the interior? The yards will welcome you. The money involved can get silly; one boat this year was restored at a cost of over a million pounds. Needless to say it won the trophy for best boat at the Festival!
The 2017 Festival will on 14 to 16 July at Fawley Meadow, Henley, just off the Henley to Marlow road. Plenty of free car parking but an entrance fee of around £12 per person. Full information and a gallery of pictures from previous festivals on the official web site www.tradboatfestival.com
If you do visit the Festival, keep an eye open for "Chimere" and come aboard for a drink. We will be flying the GXSA pennant.
Traditional, restored or replica?
Or how to start an argument!
Traditional boats are generally agreed to be those constructed of traditional materials in a traditional way. Mainly that means wood, but can include riveted steel boats. Some are quite old - going back to the late 1800s - while others are quite new and are a testament to survival of skills and the continued interest in beautiful boats. Many of the older boats are from the latter years of traditional boatbuilding until costs and GRP forced its near demise.
The real dissention starts over the question of restoration and when the result becomes a replica. Does keeping one plank from the original boat in an otherwise new build mean the boat is "restored" and can claim its age from the first build? Or is it a replica? Owners of restored boats can get quite touchy when asked how much of the original craft remains.
What the boatyards say is that if the rebuild takes place in the same volume as the original - ie the structure is replaced bit by bit - it is a restoration even if nothing of the original remains. If it is built alongside the original, it's a replica.
I'm not sure I agree, but it is good for a heated discussion, if nothing else!
Bornholm, Island in the Sun
By John Apps
It is claimed that the island of Bornholm has more sunny days than anywhere else in Denmark. In summer the sun does certainly seem to shine constantly and a high seems to settle over that part of the Baltic and produce idyllic summer days.
Bornholm marked in red. Denmark is white.
For the Danes, Bornholm is considered to be a holiday island and there is a constant flow of ferries and aircraft bringing holiday makers to its shores. Because it is closer to Sweden Germany and Poland than it is to Denmark itself it also attracts tourists from those other European countries as well.
Then there are the pleasure boats that visit Bornholm. In its 22 boat harbours you can see flags from most European countries but the overwhelming number are Danish, Swedish, German and Polish. And of course as with everywhere in Europe there is a large representation of boats from the Netherlands.
The British ensign must be a rarity as I was asked a number of times what country my red ensign represented, displaying the Union Jack in the top corner and the rest a big expanse of red. One German woman asked if it was perhaps the NZ flag. I had a NZ ensign down below so I showed her the extra four stars that the NZ flag had. Most seem satisfied with the argument that the Red ensign like most things British was an oddity. I did say to one enquirer that it represented the Communist Party of Great Britain but fortunately they didn’t accept that answer.
Strategically Bornholm has been important as an island in the middle of the Baltic. Hammershus, the largest castle ruin in Northern Europe is on the northern tip of the island. Gudjem on the North East coast is one of richest areas of Viking settlements in all of Denmark.
Geologically Bornholm is split between Scaninavian bedrock and European lowland bedrock. At Natur Bornholm site just outside the village of Aakirkeby it is possible to stand on rock that under one foot is 1.2 Billion years younger than under the other foot.
Most yachts arriving from Britain will probably stop off beforehand in Denmark or Sweden, although Germany is another alternative and then make a passage to Ronne which is the capital of Bornholm. Ronne has two ports: the very busy ferry and commercial port and a completely separate marina to the north of the main port. Ronne ferry port can on a summer’s day resemble Dover with the number of ferries (including high speed ferries) going to and fro to Sweden, German and Denmark.
Even though the marina is separated from the main port it is well located close to all facilities in the main town. The harbour master will direct you into a convenient berth and take your lines if he or she is available. It is the normal Baltic two posts astern and bows to the dock. Ronne like most Danish marinas has a machine to pay for berthing by credit card. The unmanned diesel dispenser also accepts credit cards but may not accept British credit cards as I found. However 500 metres away from the marina there was a perfectly good service station where I could fill up cans at a very reasonable price.
When paying for my berthing at Ronne, the machine offered me 6 nights for the price of five at most of the marinas on Bornholm. I knew I would only stay two nights at Ronne and was then going on to Svaneke on the East Coast to meet family. Svaneke was included in the deal so I paid for 5 nights.
The only day on Bornholm that there was a decent wind blowing was the day I made the voyage from Ronne to Svaneke round the southern tip of the island. I had a 20 knot westerly which was ideal to broad reach down the west coast and then a beam reach back up the east coast. Expecting Svaneke to be busy I had considered going into Arsedale (pronounced Osdel, fortunately), but while I had seen Svaneke harbour previously from the shore and noted a significant number of rocks I had not seen Arsedale before and with 20 knots of wind I decided to try Svaneke first and go back one mile to Arsedale if it was full. Arriving late in the day after a 40 mile voyage, the harbour looked very full with the outer harbour packed solid with beamy French and German designed boats. However the Harbour Master was on the groin to greet me. Assessed my 9’6” (2.95 metres) beam and directed me between two fishing boats in the inner harbour with an inch (3cm) either side to spare.
Svaneke is one of those lovely medieval towns that are can still be seen around the Baltic. One of the fortunate things about Bornholm’s declining permanent population (around 39000 at last count) is that there is a limited demand for modern housing. Svaneke has a very good selection of restaurants and takeaways as well as a well stocked mini supermarket and a micro brewery. The Fish and Chip takeaway just up from the boat harbour offers great fish and chips although the fish being a number of small pieces rather than one big piece is not as we in the UK would expect.
If Bornholm is the sunniest place in Denmark then Svaneke has to be the sunniest place on Bornholm. It is the most easterly point and its few very narrow sandy beaches are packed out with holidaymakers.
A delightful day trip or overnight stop from most of the ports on the East Coast of Bornholm is to go to Christianso. Christianso in fact comprises three islands: Christiansø, Frederiksø and Græsholm, plus a number of minor rocks and skerries. Only Christianso and Fredrickso are populated while Graesholm is a bird sanctuary. Christainso and Fredrickso are separated by a sound which forms a wonderful natural harbour. At one stage is was a major defensive position for the Danish Navy but now the old military accommodations are mostly occupied by artists and writers.
Christianso also has a vibrant fishing industry and its Sild (Herring) are considered a delicacy throughout Denmark. Most of the meals I had in various peoples houses on Bornholm included at least one serving of Sild done is a variety of sauces.
It has a good variety of restaurants and ice cream shops. Sitting overlooking the harbour is a wonderful way to spend a lazy lunchtime. For the more active it seems to be a very popular place to have a swim particularly on the western side of Fredrickso. Many yachts see it as a good opportunity to put their kayaks in the water and go for a paddle.
I took a boat load of family up to Christianso from Svaneke. About two and a half hours motoring due to lack of wind, that high was still hanging around. When we arrived at the southern entrance to the harbour we were informed by a waiting motor boat that there was no room in the harbour. Fortunately my daughter in law who was born and bred in Svaneke suggested we try the north entrance. We managed to navigate our way around through the numerous skerries and kayakers to the northern entrance using Navionics on the Android pad. There were very few boats inside the northern entrance and we soon found a good mooring.
A rarely opened swing footbridge separates the northern side of the sound from the southern. While the ferry wharf bringing trippers to the islands is located on the north side, we found it produced little wash to disturb our boat. We were there on a relatively windless day but it is advised that if there are strong winds you decide whether to enter the north or south entrances. A black ball or three red lights are shown if it is not advisable to enter the harbour.
I had my two year old grand daughter on board for the trip along with her parents and we decided that it might be best to go back to Svaneke for the night. However if you can stay, they say that Christianso only shows its unique atmosphere after 1700 hours when all the 3 hour tourists have left. There is quite a celebration at the inn to which yacht people staying overnight are very welcome.
One place that is on my list for the next time I visit Bornholm by boat is Hammerhavn on the northern tip of the island. It is described as a beautifully scenic harbour with no village activities or service facilities. It is also the closest marina to the Hammershus Ruin, that large fortification, mentioned previously.
On leaving Bornholm I made up for missing out on Hammerhavn by making my next port of call the marina at Lohme on the German island of Rugen another idyllic spot with no village activities unless you are a mountain goat and very few facilities, but lots of sylvan beauty.