Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and i am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's battery marina in the barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sailing a laser

Was a new experience....well not quite new but an extremely long time ago.
I have become sedentary in Arwen. Clearly!
Oh my! It was like stepping into a Ferrari! 

Picture the scene. A lovely gently sweeping broad bay, some fifteen miles of golden sandy beaches from one headland around to the next. A vast bay. Onshore breezes, blowing at around force four. The biggest dinghy sailing beach operation in the med and a team of beach crew who are all outstanding in their respective fields. 

Waves out in the bay, some breaking at their tops. Waves breaking onto the beach in regular lines. The beach slopes and suddenly drops a few feet just inside the breaker catches the unwary. The waves come directly onshore in regular lines. They aren't high but they do give tremendous 'surfing' potential for lasers because you are approaching the beach directly downwind!!! You have to turn at the last moment into a beam reach and then pull up dagger board, steer immediately head to wind, release rudder down haul and jump out on the windward side. If all goes well, your laser is pointing head to wind and the breaking wave actually carries it stern first up the beach for you.

Now I am not one to gloat. Honest. But I have to say I was over come with smugness as I watched the advanced laser class come in and five of them manage to capsize onto the beach causing pandemonium for the beach recovery crews.  Whilst they were standing around, the capsized advanced class, feelings somewhat sheepish, I managed to do a textbook landing. It was impressive, it looked good and I have to confess it was sheer blind luck not skill. But as one of the beach crew said...." There is no need to tell the advanced class that!"

I did capsize twice. Mental note to oneself....never, I repeat never, try and gybe as a wave rolls under you! Lesson learned hard way made funnier by the fact that the dagger board fell out and so trying to right the boat became comical but I managed to sort and do it in under a minute which the safety boat said was impressive.  I say desperate men can do amazing things when pushed to extremes!

And all that main sheet stuff sloshing around your feet? Yep it caused the second capsize. I went to dump the mainsail when caught in a vicious gust and was somewhat dismayed to find my foot and leg going with it through the ratchet block, so to speak.........spectacular capsize.  Ever skimmed stones across a pond? Ever seen a human replicate a skimming stone? But, I did hold onto the main sheet even though I was some ten feet away from the boat. They need to trim their main sheets that's all I have to say on the matter.

As a teacher it is always a joy to see young people, from tot's to those in their early twenties, enjoying themselves, learning new things and just having fun. It is what keeps teachers young at heart.  I know what possessed me to get into a laser...the fact that in my head I am still thinking like when I was twenty seven, only with more wisdom and experience. The body, of course, reminds me frequently that actually I am fifty two, short, fat and unfit!

I cannot begin to describe how much fun I had today on the water. I think I have done over a hundred sit ups today trying to keep the boat balanced and trimmed. I genuinely can't move and will pay a huge price tomorrow. If I drop a fork in the restaurant tomorrow morning, I'm in BIG trouble!

The scenery is classic Mediterranean. The mountains on the eastern end of the bay are huge. And they come right down to the shore, their slopes a mix of rock and dry yellows soil and bleached vegetation scrub. between those mountains and the very high hill at the other end of the bay is a large flat plain of farmland, right down to the beach edge. Broken up by olive groves, farmhouses, and some areas of woodland, irrigation is a must. Each little Greek house has trees around it to provide it with shade, all are fruit trees of some form. A little vegetable plot next to that and then the endless fields, all strip farming.

The Greek staff are just as lovely and welcoming as the English Neilson team. I chatted briefly to some of the estates team this morning...broken English between us.......I have no idea what they were trying to tell me about the land either side of the hotel but there were lots of smiles from what must have been a sixty plus man. His skin was nut brown, his hair grey flecked with white. His smile was dazzling and his eyes twinkly and full of warmth and humour. This man was wise, fun and clearly well respected.

My fingers are ceasing up, not the only bit of me to feel this effect I have to confess. My Royal Marine colleague in school is often wont to remind me "remember steve.........'no pain no gain'". And his favourite "remember steve its all mind over matter......I don't mind and you don't matter"
Goodnight everyone sleep tight...and if your time zone is somewhat different to mind......morning folks and have a great day

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Nelson messini beach club

What can I say? Another excellent Neilson centre. The short transfer time yesterday was a great boon, the slight delay in getting into our rooms, a hiccup. Messini is the newest beach club and I have to say I am genuinely very impressed. What brings me back to Neilson time and time again are the staff, equipment, tuition and facilities. They are all top class. That includes everyone from kids club staff to kitchen and restaurant teams and hotel staff and cleaners. Excellence and standards are just the norm.

Today I have been doing day one of my national powerboat qualification. I have never been in a powerboat before....I know....difficult to believe but basically true. The very odd encounter when I have been leading sailing holidays for school students but basically limited experience and so I thought it was time I learned how to drive and control one. My instructor was outstanding. He would be. An extraordinary amount of experience and skill along with an easy going instruction manner. It's just typical of every Neilson staff member I come across. 

This afternoon, redoing some level two dinghy sailing skills and I have polished up some things heaps. It pays to get tuition again and a constructively critical eye or bad habits creep in.  Tomorrow I am in a single handed laser. After Arwen, this should be an interesting encounter. I haven't capsized anything in five years! And now you know why I am redoing some level two stuff for a bit! And centre main sheets......after an aft main sheet....what a kurffle that is! 

Still, I'm chilling at one of the bars, cold drink in hand, lovely breeze, temp of thirty degrees C and here is my current view!

Internet access is erratic so if you post a comment I apologise in advance if I don't reply immediately. 

post 'mini-adventure' reflections

What have I learned from my little jaunt?

In no particular order............
  • spend more time on day sails practising set manoeuvres to build up experience - sailing on and off moorings in various places; sailing onto and off anchor in various places; heaving too; reefing afloat; MOB drills with a fender and bucket; anchoring on a beach; using my anchor beach pulley system until I gain familiarity with its benefits and pitfalls - I just don't do enough of this and should dedicate a set portion of time afloat each trip to doing one of these  
  • on a similar note - spend a bit of time when afloat doing pilotage - taking transects; bearings on things; calculating leeway; calculating speed etc
  • stop off and enjoy places on route and plan more time into extended passages for such things - I should have stuck my nose in around Forder Lake and Tematon Lake; I could have anchored for lunch on one of the other remote beach spots; I should have gone and at least taken a look at St Germans from the water.
  • rethink how I pack expedition kit on Arwen. That inaccessible front locker hatch below deck and blocked by mast is driving me insane with frustration! I need to repack Arwen so that one centre thwart locker is given over to cooking gear and food. The stern thwart locker needs to be reorganised so that clothing and sleeping gear goes in that one. Spare ropes can be stored in one side thwart locker; in the other can go spare lifejackets. Cushions are squashable and lightweight and could be stored in the forward under deck locker.
  • I need to build some sort of raised ring protection on the deck around the mast hole. When washing down the deck water disappears in it and collects in the boxed in mast step way below - a nuisance and something I forget to sponge out quite frequently.
I am sure other things will occur to me as I potter about over the next few days.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Cruising the River Lynher: The movie

First the public had the taster..............the 'movie trailer'......................the 2 minute 'taster' of the mega-blockbuster to come..................

And then came this..............'The movie'......................the much anticipated Mega-blockbuster!!!!!!!!!


Monday, 11 August 2014

Dinghy cruising up the River Lynher part three

"Stay close to the Ince buoy and the northern shoreline when passing Black Rock as there is a large mud/sank bank that dries out in mid channel. Deeper draft boats should not proceed past this point 2.5 hrs either side of low tide". I took heed of the RYA pilotage notes on the Lynher and kept close to the green starboard buoy off Black Rock; as did the larger draft boat ahead of me! I of course needn't have worried as much since Arwen only draws 8 inches when her centreboard is up, which it was!

From Ince Point to Black Rock and the Ince buoy had been a leisurely affair. Following the compass bearing of 238M from Anthony buoy had brought me past Ince Castle and a lovely hillside of arable land and Cornish hedgerows. trees lined the bank and in the bay just before Black Rock lay another Drascombe, cream hull and tan sails, riding at anchor no more than 6m offshore whilst its occupants played bat and ball on the gravel beach.....another little isolated sun trap beach. Beyond Black Rock lay the huge mouth of Tredown Lake, its mudflats still exposed; its creeks reed lined. Marshes fringed the upper creek area and wading birds went to and fro across the muds. Flocks of small terns drifted on the incoming tide; herons and white egrets stood motionless on one leg at the waters edge. The winds had shifted again; around to the north and so Arwen was on a close reach, her mainsail pulled in; her jib taut. to avoid crowding in on the boat 300m ahead I allowed the sails to spill air and we cruised along at a few knots aided by the incoming tide. On this point of sail, the mainsail was across the sun and provided welcome relief and shade from the heat and brightness. With Arwen practically sailing herself, albeit slowly, I was able to stretch my legs, stand and admire the views further afield than could be seen from a seated position. To the SW lay Wacker Lake, another muddy creek and mudflats but with a car park and a quay. Popular with SUP people (stand up paddle boarders to the uninitiated), there are one or two good clips of paddle boarders having fun at Wacker Lake on YouTube! one or two clips are aerial showing the great views and relief of the area.

Dandy Hole was clearly in sight. two yachts lay at anchor, well spaced so they could circle when the tide turned. Hugging close to the southern shore and steep tree lined slope, they were well protected and it was clear why the anchorage has such a great reputation. I had feared that it would be crowded, being the summer and with all the fine weather we have had, but two boats? That was a pleasant surprise and bonus.

Dandy Hole proved to be a delight. the sun shone off the water, deep and slow flowing. Arwen by now had turned head to the wind and it was clear there was insufficient tacking room up channel. her sails were dropped, tied and stored within her cockpit. Her mizzen lowered and tied off, her jib furled. Barely drifting in the current I was afforded great views of Redshank Point, a small beach backed by a flat grass bank, then salt marsh and mudflats. It had always been one of my proposed overnight mooring spots. Clearly it was popular for on its grassy bank, three pieces of 2" by 2' diameter scaffolding pipes had been driven into the bank to provide tie up points for mooring warps. we meandered over, passing around the stern of a delightful 18' wooden sail boat with cabin. An elegant craft she had come down channel from St Germans under jib alone.

The beach was stony not rocky. A mixture of mud, small stones and clumps of seaweed. It shelved steeply in only one or two places.  It would be sheltered on this occasion as overnight weather predictions were for light winds from the west and no rain. It was a 'definite possibility'. But the intention was to sail to St Germans and so under the lowest of throttles, Arwen's bow was turned up channel and we voyaged through the channel between Erth Hill and its neighbour on the western shore. Ever conscious of the pilotage advice and work I had put in beforehand, a close look out was kept for the green and white channel edge marking poles; and a close eye on the compass bearing 323M which I hoped would keep me mid channel in the deepest part.

Arriving 400m off from St Germans Quay it became clear that I didn't want a busy anchorage. Redshank Point was calling and so we turned and slipped back along the way we had come....the outboard coughing at its low throttle setting and then cutting out twice.......each time giving me heart palpitations for I knew it would be a tricky sail or a very long row back to QAB!

Ten metres off the beach, over went the Kedge anchor , out the back of the stern on the port side away from the outboard; Arwen gently drifted forward onto the beach with the gentlest of crunches on the shingle. I had chosen my spot carefully, clumps of seaweed, large patches of mud, few stones that I could see. Jumping off the foredeck into 8 inches of water I carried the mooring forward and round turn two half hitched her to the mooring pole. There was another hour to high tide. And so I explored the beach, chose the campfire point and collected the firewood, all the time keeping an eye on Arwen. She drifted around a little as the winds changed direction; and on several occasions I went down to check her. As the tide began to fall around 1600, I started what were several trips to her; each time pushing her down beach a wee bit more and adjusting the stern anchor warp. Eventually I was happy. She settled on a bed of seaweed and mud and came to rest. Arwen's first beaching and overnight stop.
of course, being paranoid, when the tide had fallen significantly more and exposed the anchor in the mud......I waded out, collected it, waded further out and threw it into the just cant have enough Kedge anchor warp out in deep water can you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dinghy cruising up the River Lynher part two

Having semi successfully sailed off the mooring at Henn Point and located the red port can buoy that marked the entrance to the Lynher, Arwen and I were ready. Before us stretched a sinuous river, one that had flowed over the centuries through a landscape comprising of slates and grits laid down in Devonian times. Ancient woodlands spread down to the waters edge and throughout the Lynher's length, people through the ages had used it as a transport route. This is part of the ancient Tamar Valley Industrial heritage. There were things to see, appreciate and marvel at.

A scan of pilotage notes showed 0.4NM on a bearing of 256M to beggar island buoy.  And so we ghosted into the Lynher past the small craft moorings on its northern side, pushed along by a gentle 2 knot intermittent breeze from the north. That was to be indicative of the passage, gentle shifting breezes that built slightly and then dropped away completely. But time was now on our side and the scenery was stunning, the weather hot, sunny and blue skies; the river empty of boat traffic, peaceful, serene and inviting.

Weardle quay, with its cottages and quayside slipped gently away aft. Now residential properties, there was little from the water view to show that once it had been a major naval training school with its own GWR railway holt above it in the hill on what is now the hidden main line Penzance to Paddington.

Wearde Quay today

HMS Defiance was a 5000 tonne warship built at Pembroke Docks in South Wales. Completed in 1861, she was then already obsolete, made redundant by the advent of the new ironclad warships and thus in the early 1880's the Sea Lords, on deciding that Devonport should have its own Torpedo Training Establishment, ordered that Defiance be converted to a sea training school and moored permanently off Weardle Quay in the Lynher.

HMS Defiance Sea Torpedo and Dive Training School
Various vessels were assigned to her, tugs, pinnaces and tenders, to carry stores, personnel and messages. Other hulks were added to her, connected by an extensive network of footbridges and by 1920 she had a complement of 1000 personnel. But time, water and ever expanding demands took their toll on the Defiance and in 1930 she was towed away and the training school was closed, so ending 45 years of naval training at Weardle Quay.
One other little footnote of interest.............A Captain Henry Jackson met one young Guglielmo Marconi at a war office conference in 1896. They struck up a lasting friendship despite their age difference and so it came to pass that the first ever ship to ship radio communication took place at HMS Defiance training school on the River Lynher. Jackson set up a radio transmitter on a gunboat HMS Scourge. By 1897, signals from the Scourge could be received anywhere she went in the Tamar estuaries!

Beggar Island, slipping past on our port side.
Its extensive sloping rocky platforms hidden under the water, a nasty trap for the unwary boats who try to take short cuts or cut inside of the red port marker. Winds were light from the north east and Arwen's sails were fully out to capture what breeze there was; centreboard was raised and the mainsheet trailed slightly in the water on the port side. Fickle winds gave a slow drift past the island "presumed to be the retreat of the notorious Bampflyde Moore Carew, King of the beggars" according to Nettleton's Guide to Plymouth. We didn't see any beggars but there were plenty of birds and I am sure one or two were spoonbills although I could have been wrong.

Before us now lay a tight turn south west, following the sinuous channel down to sandacre buoy; we were searching for the green starboard can...224M on the compass; ahead lay HMS Jupiter Point, the sail training centre, its small craft moorings and the permanently anchored HMS Brecon in mid channel. She, a Falklands war veteran is now the first taste of life on board ship that all naval recruits get, but as we glided past, she was empty; no action today at the training school. In someway I was rather relieved. Contending with speeding ribs, novice naval recruits and the hoarsely barked commands of the frustrated but eternally humorous Chief Petty Officers would have spoilt the tranquillity.

view across from Anthony's Passage with HMS Jupiter and HMS Brecon in view

The rumbling of a train over a viaduct caught our attention; through the trees on the north bank could be glimpsed partial flashes of a First Great Western Train, southward bound for Penzance. The opening of Forder Lake hove into view with the great viaduct to its rear. I was tempted, very tempted to mosey into the Lake but it would have required starting up the motor and I was unsure of what to expect. Quick reference to the chart and pilotage notes indicated there would be sufficient water to sail in and out again.......but that nagging, niggling self doubt gremlin appeared on my shoulder, whispering away in my ear......"Don't go in Steve; what if you get stuck; keep to the schedule Steve, up river; we go upriver....."  And again due to lack of confidence in my own abilities I erred on the side of caution.....but next time we visit the Lynher....we visit with the intention of sailing in, just as next time we go to Calstock....we sail all the way!

These two photos show Forder Lake and viaduct

The viaduct is a listed building! Forder Lake is an ANOB (Area of outstanding Natural Beauty) and a Conservation Area as well. It has a mill pond and unusually an artificial island made up of old wooden boats! named after a medieval fording point across the brook that feeds into it, the area was an important medieval industrial site with flour and fulling mills, quarries, lime burning kilns and an extensive market gardening area. The flour mill is mentioned in historical documents dating from 1296; it was valued at £24.0S.3d in 1373 when the Black Prince granted the manor to his loyal servant in arms Sir Henry Loring. In the 1600's the fulling mill was weaving cloth, cleaning it, shrinking and thickening it. The quarries were working the 'Blue Elvan Dyke' stone, the internal tramways taking it down to the quayside where it was loaded into Tamar sailing Barges to be used later as road stone in the growing towns of Devonport and Plymouth. 

one of the Forder Mills and the millpond

Forder Lake didn't always smell nice either! Dock dung from Devonport in the form of street sweepings and night soil was bought back to the quayside; a highly valued commodity by the manor farmers....a rich organic fertilizer to be spread across their fields!! As the industrial revolution spread across the country, the 1800's saw the Tamar sailing barges with their long booms and high peaked mainsails bring cargoes of limestone, coal and dock dung; and carry away stone, grain, fruit and veg.....but alas by the 1930's these fine boats had seen their heyday come and go. One remains....the Shamrock.....restored and moored at Cotehele up the Tamar (see previous posts on cruising the Tamar for further details about Shamrock or use the blog search engine box).

Cormorants flew past, low skimming the waves, wings almost touching the shimmering olive green waters. In the distance shrill cries of oystercatchers pierced the early afternoon tranquillity. Ahead, a large yacht (well large by Arwen's standards...around 30'), slowly drifted upriver, cautiously keeping to the main channel. It was reassuring to see, that like me, the skipper was navigating from one buoy to another; religiously keeping to the deepwater channel. From his position towards Ince Buoy, pilotage notes from the RYA suggested that he could only proceed further upstream if he was within 2 hrs of high tide; and he was; timing it to perfection! Arwen with her three sails was gaining ground on him and I made the decision to fall off the wind slightly; to slow down our track; what was the hurry; why overtake; why intrude on his crews sense of serenity and enjoyment?

Not that I had any choice in the matter....fir that fickle breeze had disappeared. We were becalmed. Carried along only by the current and with barely any steerage control on the rudder, we found ourselves mid channel with nowhere to go.........!  Anthony's Passage was aft; through the trees on the hill to the north, slightly aft of us could be seen occasional glimpses of the Motte and Bailey castle....Trematon Castle. Ahead lay Shillingham Point and the wide entrance to Wivelscombe Lake with its creeks, mudflats and salt marshes.  In the wide bay immediately abeam, riding at anchor, a blue hulled wooden drascombe, its tan sails neatly furled on its masts. I scoured the gravel tree backed beaches for signs of life, but the owner didn't appear. It did seem a lovely landing spot though. Inaccessible except by boat, a gentle hillslope leading away to the horizon and the rolling Cornish countryside behind. The farmers had taken advantage of the fine weather, The grain crop had been harvested on the hill; all that remained were the golden stubble. A Buzzard wheeled overhead, periodically dive bombed by crows or jackdaws. Eventually losing interest, the mighty bird disappeared off to the north and the crows returned to their oak tree to saviour their victory. Four on just didn't seem a fair fight somehow!

Trematon Castle

Trematon castle! My what a history. Storage place of Sir Francis Drakes treasures after his 1580 circumnavigation when he harried the Spanish off South America. Gold, silver, previous gems, emeralds by the score.....all stored their prior to being handed to the Queen. He was a pirate wasn't he!  A real interesting character is Sir Francis...pirate or hero? Maybe both? 

Aerial view Trematon Castle

The castle has a 12th century Keep and was built by Robert, Count of Mortain, half brother of one William the Conqueror! The castle is built on the original site of a roman fort.....many have always thought that the romans stopped at Exeter....well not so....they managed to get a foothold in eastern parts of Cornwall! Trematon castle was part of a Caput, a former central settlement in Anglo Saxon times; a multiple estate of an English feudal barony. And then it hit, having lived in this area for over 25 years, didn't I know about these places? Why had we never visited them before? I felt a 'road trip' with number one son coming on........and soon!

And so, after a tiny bit of gentle motor cruising with jib furled and mainsail sheeted in tight so that Arwen's mainsail lay amidships, we reached Ince Point; Black rock buoy 238M lay ahead; and finally a breeze. Not much but enough to guarantee that from now Arwen would sail. From the north east the smooth river waters rippled as the breeze exerted its friction on the surface; Arwen's mainsail eased out languorously to port, her jib fluttered and filled; sagged and filled again. With centreboard up, we slowly made progress south west.........Ince Castle, Black rock buoy and that mid channel shoaling sand bank lay ahead.  Arwen creaked, the sails flapped, the mainsheet dragged limply over the side, sending a small wake astern........1.3 knots......but hey, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the sun was hot, the river was ours..................serenity enclosed us and the Lynher valley continued to unfold her natural and historical treasures for us to admire...............................

(Please note: health warning: don't rely on these bearings and distances.........on two or three occasions I found I had got them slightly wrong.....pilotage is still a new devious art form to ordnance survey maps - well that's different....those I understand fully!! If you are going up the Lynher by all means use my figures but check them before you go......several times!!)