Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Monday 13 May 2024

The northern lights

 We've been north of the Arctic Circle several times in Norway and Finland. We spent four weeks touring Iceland.

So it's typical that the best display of northern lights we have ever seen was in our own back yard. Friday May 10th.    A night we shall not forget in a hurry.

And all taken on a midrange android smartphone. 🙄😆

Saturday 27 April 2024

UK navigator for sale

Setting up an ASIair mini and autoguiding with DSLR and Skywatcher Star Adventurer 2i

 I make no apologies for this. Arwen's meanderings is overwhelmingly a blog about Arwen, my John Welsford designed 'navigator'.  I have a separate blog about our motorhome adventures in 'Bryony' our autosleeper broadway EB. If you are interested in motorhoming you can find this blog at

'Bryony' under clear skies and scented pine trees 
listening to the roar of crashing surf waves down at Zahora in southern Spain 

Now occasionally, and by occasionally I mean 'not at all that often', and 'mainly during winter months when sailing is almost impossible due to inclement weather', I will post about my stargazing activities. This is because I rarely post about them and don't want to set up a third blog! Two is enough! 

The weather has been inclement. I haven't had an opportunity to get out on Arwen and although I post mainly about astronomy on my Facebook account, I have a few friends who don't use facebook but are interested in my astronomy and so I post occasionally here where they can subscribe to it. They ignore all the boat posts as none of them are boaty 😂

Anyway, if you aren't into astronomy, ignore this post! Normal boaty stuff will resume in next one. 

I have got into astrophotography in a big way. I'm a complete newbie at it - so many silly errors but the Facebook astrophotography groups I am a member of, like the sailing ones I enjoy, are a tolerant, kind and supportive bunch and go out of their way to help newbies. 

The Rosette nebula in top right corner 

I have recently upgraded my kit to the following: (bold are new additions) 

copyright - last weblink above 

  • ZWO 120mm mini camera
  • RVO 32mm F/4 guidescope 
the RVO F/4 32mm FL 128mm guide scope with the ZWO 120mm mini guidecam

So why the new additional kit? Why autoguide?

I can get exposures of up to 90" on the samyang lens and around 60" on the zenithstar with really good polar alignment. However, as astrophotographers we know that on some DSO's getting 120" or 180", especially if using a clip in filter, is paramount. And to do this successfully ...... we need to autoguide. 

There are loads of really good youtube tutorials out there on how to set up autoguiding and the ASIair, especially those by Peter Zelinka, Astro Venture and Astroblender. I've been through dozens of them and have finally compiled myself a check list.  

I share the check list below for all those newbies who have struggled like me. I hope it helps. I suggest you watch the various videos to not only gain familiarity with the ASIair app interface but to also internalise how to set up the various cable connections and how to do Polar aligning, plate solving and auto running.  
One thing I will stress is careful cable management so that nothing snags. Took me ages to work all that out!  Oh, and check you have switched on main camera, guide camera and mount in the app and that you have entered their correct settings.

Make notes, compare them with mine below. If you think I have missed anything let me know and I'll test it and correct immediately. 

Good luck. Hope this helps. 

originally I had the ASIair attached to the tripod because of weight limits on the tracker but I have subsequently moved it up to attach to the lens cradle (although I have not tested it yet - it has made cable management simpler as a result) 

Using ASIair mini and autoguiding with SWSA 2i

A . setting up mount 

1.      Polar alignment – level tripod – polar line MANUALLY (tracker off) 

2.      Balance - counterweights RA and DEC  - green dovetail as low as poss on mounting plate of SWSA

3.      Take test shots – with main camera and Bahtinov mask on - slew to target for night – East heavy -  and test shots –– tape focus ring  

4.      Recheck focus and then Star safari – get co-ordinates for night’s target  

5.      Connect cables to Asiair - CHECK TEMP FOR NIGHT – PROTECT ASIair MINI IF BELOW 0 degrees – BUBBLE WRAP?

6.      Power up ASIair and check plate solving works – annotate to see Polaris;  

7.       Check gain and focus guide scope camera (gain 60 – 70) focus in focus mode; give settling time – manually adjust until star size low and peak value high) (To focus the guidescope I found I had to switch off the guide cam - then switch off the main camera. Then go back to main camera settings and select guide cam as the main cam - put in correct focal length of guide cam. Then under main camera in preview take some test shots and adjust your guidescope until it is correctly focused. when this is achieved, go back through all the settings and return them to what they should be i.e. your main camera is your DSLR with correct focal length entered; your guidecam is whatever guide cam you are using with correct Focal length; and the mount is switched on) 

8.      Test photo – annotate to check polaris in frame – cross hairs on

9.      Plate solve for Polaris should be – RA 2h 31m 47s   Dec +89D  15’  50”

10.  Now polar align within ASIair app (tracker ON) - mount to home position – aiming for less than 30” and smiley face – slew to between 60 degrees   - follow PA instructions in app. 

B. start the plate solving process

1.      Check that PA is still accurate  - if not start again

2.      Slew to target for night

3.      Select guide interface LHS - Tap plate solving – check target in position - tap clear  calibration

4.      tap preview – tap plate solving

5.      Adjust RA and DEC – use 5” exposures – increase to 10” if need be – repeat until close to coordinates for tonight’s target – test shot after each moveadjust RA first! Hit cancel when adjusted and then repeat for DEC 

tips -  Carry out az/dec adjustments – after each refresh, wait 3” and refresh again before next adjustment to allow vibrations to settle down - try to work away some distance from tripod to prevent ground vibrations. Aiming for less than 10” error

I have also got away with only using one counterweight AND a small weight made up of two fishing weights and a bolt that are taped together and that thread into the bolt hole at the end of the counterweight bar

C. start the autoguiding focus/calibration

1.      Focus Guide scope and auto-guide camera – NOT ON POLARIS AREA – go to DSO target

2.      Clear calibration tab – top right corner graph

3.      Double tap graph – guiding screen – check DEC IS OFF; or guiding settings

4.      3” exposure  zenith 2”(gain 60 – 70) (can take 5 to 10 mins for calibration)

5.      Try calibration step of 5000 not 2000 – see side box

6.      Start calibration  - if ASIair doesn’t choose star – increase the gain for guide camera – aim for star peak of 80 – 200 for proper lock on 

 Tips - When star chosen  and after you tapped cross hairs to start plate solve - should move guide camera around 25 pixels (px). First west/then east – optimally 5 – 8 steps. When this calibration finishes it will auto start guiding. 

If number of steps <4 – calibration = poor  - adjust calibration step to smaller number in the guide menu

 If number of steps too many – ASIair wont reach 25 px in reasonable time – you get a time out message – so adjust calibration to larger number  - try 5000

 If imaging towards zenith – increase calibration step

Don’t pick brightest star for green box – mid level bright star best – tap on chosen star – green box appears (Aim to minimise star halos when focusing)  Then click crosshairs icon

If DEC red line jumps off graph =  poor polar alignment – redo. Aiming for +/- 4 on RA line. If graph jumpy – decrease RA aggressiveness in guiding tab

E. set up auto run/main camera settings 

1.      preview – autorun

2.      first delay 15” – interval 3” – set up for 1 image only; put in target  

3.      when image appears on screen – zoom in and check no star trailing – if unclear go back and refocus main camera and then start from C above

4.      set up auto run details for night  - fill in target etc

5.       lights info  - AVOID MERIDIAN FLIP – DO CALCULATIONS OF EXPOSURE TIME TOTAL  - work out how many lights required before meridian flip – enter data  - press autorun



At end – repeat main camera focusing procedure – preview – test shots x 3” – zoom in on screen and check sharpness and adjust main lens focus accordingly.   Repeat autoguider refocusing procedure.    Adjust for temperatures changes 

The above all makes sense to me and seems to work. But then I have watched over 8 hrs worth of videos to try and get my head around it all. I am famously, a very slow learner and the family nick named me "ten second Steve" on account of my short retention span! 

If you are a newbie and just starting autoguiding with a DSLR on a star tracker, let me know how it goes and whether this helps. Happy stargazing. 

Normal boat blogging will now be resumed 😁

Tuesday 5 March 2024

The small traditional sailing boat Facebook group

 On the face book group Small Traditional Sailing Boats....march is navigator month.  There are some excellent posts throughout the month about John's design

Search for #STSBnavigator on the group's page to find all the posts. 

If you are into small traditional sailing boats, join the group. I promise you won't regret it. Brilliant group. 

It is amazing how much you can learn from looking at other boats similar to yours. For example, I have noticed a variety of little modifications and deviations from the plans that other navigator builders have done ..... which just make plain common sense

  • two front bulkhead access hatches to under foredeck locker either side of the main mast, instead of just one big one directly behind it
  • access hatches in the front thwart top instead of its vertical bulkhead - so much easier 
  • ditto round 8" access hatches in the side thwart tops instead of their vertical bulkheads
  • lower coamings
  • block and tackle tensioning bobstay arrangements to make it easier to adjust from deck or cockpit and for when putting bow up against trailer winch posts
  • doing away with the centre thwart lockers either side of the centreboat and just leaving open space under the centre thwarts
  • home made furlers
  • simple arrangements for reefing
  • ditto simple arrangements for boom tent erection 
  • detachable lazy jack systems
  • a sculling position on the rear transom deck
  • a novel bowsprit arrangement so that an anchor bow roller can be installed
  • slim line centreboards 
Wish I had that creative inventive engineering mind that so many fellow navigator builders seem to have! 😩

Tuesday 30 January 2024

How to sail a yawl

 This video is delightful....not just for it's information but also it's tone, composition and setting


Friday 19 January 2024

Navigation in small open sailing boats

 I thought I'd pose the question on  a facebook forum where I am one of the admins

"How do people go about their navigation in a small open sailing boat?"

It provoked some interesting comments - not so much about the skills as what they use.

The majority of people seem to employ/carry the following:

  • Navionics app on smart phone (very popular)
  • Paper charts (less popular)
  • Chart plotter (fewer)
  • Some form of Garmin with either maps or charts
  • Tidal stream atlas and tide tables 
  • Handheld VHF radio
  • Depth sounder (odd one or two)
  • Binoculars
  • Handheld compass of some type 
  • AIS app on smartphone
  • OS maps app or paper map of area being cruised
  • Cruising guide
  • Breton Plotter and compass dividers (odd person or two)
People were less forthcoming about HOW they did their navigation but I deduced a couple of things from the comments. Firstly, in small cruising dinghies, a lot of people seem very dependent on electronic apps - smartphone based in the main. Quite a few would plot a position on a chart every hour or so as a back up. Many employed google earth/streetview/community photos to do their pre-passage planning. 

Secondly, it seems sensible to call it 'pilotage' rather than 'navigation'. I pondered this distinction for a while and I think it comes down to this - in a cruising dinghy you are rarely out of sight of land. Even when I cruise inshore I'm no more than three miles off shore at the most. Several times I was questioned about my carrying OS maps as well as charts and this surprised me. To be truthful, I often find the OS maps more useful than the charts for position finding. Mind you - OS maps don't show depths or pilotage buoys etc and that is of course invaluable. 

So, how do I do my small boat pilotage? I don't know this is the right way - but it is a way that works for me - although I'd love to hear anyone else's approach 

Pre trip - depending on where I am heading obviously, or how familiar I am with the waters, a combination of 
  • tides check
  • weather check - wind speed and direction, sea state, wave direction, air temp
  • tidal stream check and calculations - tidal streams/directions/drift for duration of voyage, gates and tidal range heights  
  • potential route plan ideas - Google Earth searches, streetview and community photos
  • waypoints entered into navionics and Garmin InReach
  • note buoys and lights on passage route
  • note all potential hazards on passage - marked on chart
  • check entry/exit requirements any harbours/ports calling in at  along with sailing advice
  • plan escape routes and potential escape anchorages
  • lights and annotated pilotage sketch maps if new area in little waterproof notebook
  • written passage plan summary - waypoints or markers, compass bearings marked on paper chart and/or in little notebook on the annotated sketch maps. 
  • contact details for various harbour masters etc 
On the day
  • weather information check against proposed passage plan - is it still feasible? 
  • passage plan copy left with someone along with ETA's etc
  • final check navionics and InReach waypoints 
  • InReach tracking page activated and test track messages sent to Wife and Daughter 
In the boat on the day
  • Check route progress on Navionics and/or chart and/or OS map
  • Enter a brief course, speed, estimated position note in log book every 30 mins
  • Plot a fixed point with time at position once an hour on paper chart
  • Ping an "OK" message every hour which goes from Garmin INReach to daughter and/or wife - it notes exact position and time and so gives them a regular update of my progress
  • weather apps check every three hours or so
What navigation skills do I use regularly and what do I rarely do? 
Regular use in boat
  • rules of road
  • lighting and buoys knowledge
  • basic chart and OS map interpretation
  • Compass bearings
  • plotting my position using a breton plotter viahree point fixes
  • measuring distances 
  • basic tidal stream interpretation 
  • transits
What I do very rarely 
  • tidal height calculations - if I ground, I ground - I'll float off at some stage 
  • estimated position plotting 
  • course to steer plotting/calculations
  • GPS plotting webs on my charts 

I did complete an RYA Day Skipper course about five years ago. It was really good and very informative. But, I've never mastered being able to do estimated positions on a chart in a 14 dinghy a mile off shore - without feeling sick; very sick! 

So, I haven't yet got majorly lost. I haven't hit anything! I have arrived later than expected on several occasions but through the Garmin INreach tracking mode and regular pinging of pre-messages - I can keep my wife and daughter update and they can see my progress on a  tracking map. I have grounded a few times - but up some of the rivers with their shifting sandbanks that is probably inevitable.  I've avoided most hazards thus far and have yet to seek shelter in an emergency anchorage. But that maybe because I rarely sail in weather conditions which might make that necessary - and that I guess is another discussion point for another time! 

Monday 15 January 2024

The Small Traditional Sailing boat Facebook forum

 I am, very lucky to be one of the admins for this facebook group which has over 12,000 members.  It is a lovely group with positive, cheery, people who contribute all sorts of things related to small sailing boats. Artwork, photography, video shorts, saturdayisdetailday, nautical book day, sharing details about their nautical adventures and voyages. There is a huge amount to dip into. The group members are a very talented, friendly and knowledgeable bunch and I have been learning loads since I joined. 

Why not pop across when you have  moment to look through the facebook group posts - search the photos and be inspired by art, extraordinary craftsmanship and the sheer variety of STSB's.  The files section has some PDF's on boat photography, trailer maintenance tips, how to create a tool ditty bag and the group thoughts about what the word 'traditional' means in the context of small sailing boats. 

Promise you - you wont regret it. Time well spent. 

Facebook group 'Small Traditional Sailing Boats'. 

Arwen, lying at anchor off Redshanks beach, up the river Lynher in Cornwall

P.S.  The STSB group - is a broad church - so we have people owning all sorts of small sail boats from Welsford designed navigators like mine to Ilur's and Drascombes 😀

Sunday 14 January 2024

The Witch Head nebula

 Proud of this one - difficult target - a reflection nebula. So no filters used to bring out the details.


Canon 800D, Samyang 135mm at F/2.8, Skywatcher Star Adventurer 2i Pro, carbon fibre tripod, William optics wedge, Celestron power tank, dew band heater

Photo - 400 x 30" ISO 800  F/2.8; 25 darks, bias and flat calibration frames 

Processing: SIRIL, Starnet++ and Affinity Photo

Saturday 13 January 2024

Fixing a jamming keel roller

 The last few times Arwen has jammed on her trailer at launch and I have had to resort to roping her down part of the slipway to get the trailer deep enough that she just floats off. 

It took me time but finally I discovered the issue - two things - one a badly positioned keel roller (which jammed against the aft end of the centreboard casing) and secondly, the brass skeg band had come adrift and was digging into the roller on occasions. 

And so I jacked up Arwen and put her on blocks along the trailer keel support - moved the roller along so it sat under the centreboard casing in a better position.

Hopefully this will work. A good job I did it though as I have discovered some rot in the skeg and some touch up painting on the hull bottom that needs doing. That winter maintenance list is growing again! 


Sunday 31 December 2023

Happy New Year to you all

 Happy New Year to you all wherever you may be on our wonderful, special planet.🎄🎅🎇

I'm afraid to look back to the post I did this time last year. It was a list of 'new year resolutions' for 2023 with regard to sailing. I'm pretty sure it will be the same as the one below for forthcoming 2024, but here we go anyway....

  1. fix the trailer so the boat doesn't keep jamming on it
  2. sail down to Fowey and up to Lostwithiel
  3. sail around to Salcombe and then on around Start Point and over to the Dart, up to Totnes
  4. sail from Totnes back down the Dart and around to Torbay
  5. learn to do better sail trimming
  6. revise and relearn everything I've forgotten about inshore passage planning 😕
  7. decide whether to replace some of the cleats in the cockpit
  8. re-bolt the stern cleats
  9. get one night time shot of Arwen dried out on a beach under the milky way!
  10. do a better job as one of the admins of the Small Traditional Sailing Boat Facebook group. My other admin colleagues have been very kind and forgiving of my lack of contribution in recent months and I owe it to them to put this right in 2024. 
If you haven't yet found this Facebook forum group - look it up - a wonderful group 12,000 strong of kind, good humoured, talented people.  I mean on what other facebook group forum would you get
  • #campingafloat (on monday)
  • #artontuesday
  • #saturdayisdetailday
  • #boatofthemonth
  • #telltales - intriguing stories and history behind your boat
  • #burgee - where's your boat been - post a picture
  • #bookonthehook - your best inspiring reads...nautically themed
  • #practicalprojects
All to do with small traditional sailing boats - and that's a broad church so to speak! 

Happy new year to you all. Fair warm winds and calm seas to all my sailing friends and of course, clear skies to all my astrophotography and astronomy ones. 

Steve and Arwen 

and I leave you with the some of the photos I am most proud of from 2023. It took blood, sweat, tears and mountains of new learning to achieve these ...... 😄