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.
Arwen has a YouTube channel of her own. Search "plymouthwelshboy".






Monday, 9 October 2017

Building a galley box for dinghy cruising......the saga nears an end.

There is something special about constructing something with your own hands from scratch. It doesn't matter whether it turns out perfect or flawed. It is the contemplation, the peace and quiet, the moments of reflection. The rasp of a surform on wood, the smell of wood shavings during planing. The gentle sanding, and bending down to eye the lines. The smell of wood glues, the rhythmic movement of brushes during the spreading of glue on wood. It is the 'internal' visualisation of a product, from simple sketch and plan on paper to a 3 dimensional reality.

For me, it never turns out right but I am OK with that. No shelf is ever level in our house; no picture frame ever  aligns with it's neighbour. I do try hard at what I do but lets face it, I'm the D+ kid - 'tries really, really hard, has plenty of enthusiasm, but execution lacks finesse or skill'. My parents have kept many school reports of mine which say something akin to that.........I turned out to be a late developer. I'm rather hoping that will be the same with my woodworking skills. Maybe I should go and take a woodworking class or two to help make that happen.

If I was truthfully honest, there was no need for a galley box. I have always made do with a large plastic box in a waterproof roll down bag. But I needed something to focus on, to help me overcome the transition from full time working in the thick of it in school to the more sedate life of retirement, especially since her indoors delayed her retirement date by several weeks after mine.  Hence the work bench and galley box projects. There is only so much gardening, long walks, bike riding and housework a man can do to keep himself occupied!!


Previous posts gave details of the start and development of the galley box project. Here we near the end of phase one - the construction. The galley box will occupy a small space forward of the port side thwart, between the centreboard case and the curved hull side. It will hold cooking stove and pans, utensils and crockery, food supplies and cleaning materials. Enough for a three day trip. It can be carried in the car boot as well for picnics on day trips. I think my American friends would call it a 'chuck box'.

Here the lid is fitted. Nothing has been trimmed to size yet or sanded. No glue has been cleared up.
The finished box will have side handles; the front panels held in by brass turnbuttons.

The stove will be kept assembled during sailing. Spare pans and kettle will slip in the space below along with bowl, collapsible mug and utensils. 

The cooking area has been lined, rightly or wrongly with aluminium sheet held by a contact adhesive which was recommended by some FaceBook friends. My Dad will be pleased to know that as a kid I did listen to him......and he swears by this glue - will stick anything to anything ...............apparently................according to Dad! Little wooden sections stop the trangia base from sliding about and there is 3cm ventilation gap all around between stove windshield and galley box walls. 

On the left the top section is a lift out tray. The four holes will have 'rope' through them to act as a lift out handle. The middle box is fixed; the bottom box more of  an elongated hole in which will be tea towel, sponges, rubbish bags, washing up liquid. 

The inside of the lid will have thin heat proof matting laid in the interior so I can place hot pans on it instead of Arwen's thwarts (ssh.....you didn't hear me confess to that!) 

So next steps?
Lots of gentle sanding and glue excess blob removal. Most of it got cleaned up as I went along. But, as you know, some still seems to escape and gets missed. 
Wood filler in one or two gaps, where gaps shouldn't exist, but somehow seem to!
Then painting - three coats of aluminium flake paint, three of Pre-Kote and three of Toplac burgundy, the same colour as Arwen's top strip. The top of the lid may have a dragon painted onto it or a chess board outline. Can't quite decide which, or maybe even nothing and just left plain. The lid will be fastened using straps which will go all around the box. There will be two runners on the base to lift it slightly above the cockpit floor and out of any spray water or rain that has collected inside. 

If you are interested in the construction steps, the base was cut first and then the back and two sides. The internal wall running from back to front was then cut and along with the five vertical support pillars, all this was glued up first. Afterwards, the cooking area back wall and the cooking area base shelf and also the base shelf for the middle left hand side compartment were cut and installed. Then the two front doors were cut, tested and trimmed to fit. Finally, the box unit and lid were made. 

Costs so far?
Most of the wood I had but I needed a little more so around £9 for the ply; about £10 for the two types of glue I used. Roughly £12 for the two thin aluminium sheets and around £4 for the heat proof matting. Paint I already had plenty of that! All up I guess it is around the £35 mark or so. 

Has it been worth that expenditure in terms of cost effectiveness - nope! Has it been worth it in terms of keeping me busy, exercising my brain and just giving me some simple creative fun, absolutely!!

I'll post pictures of finished product after the sanding and painting - in a couple of weeks time. 





Saturday, 7 October 2017

Galley box sagas continue

I have to confess I am enjoying myself in the garage. The new work bench has made such a difference. I still can't measure accurately. Laughable isn't it. 55 years old and incapable of measuring accurately or cutting a piece of wood straight. Ho hum!

This is the situation as of tonight....................................

The aluminium sheet has been cut and loosely put in. It will act as a little heat resistance although to be fair there isn't much coming out of a Trangia on the whole. Shelf supports are in. I've decided that the top one will be a lift out box and then the second one down on the left will be a permanent box affair. The bottom left space will be for tea towels, sponges, rubbish bags etc. The middle one will contain condiments, teabags, sugar and food. The space under the stove shelf will hold collapsible mug, bowl, spork and other utensils. It will also hold food. Water, milk and fruit juice will be in the compartment at the back. Trangia fuel will be rightly stored in the fuel locker on-board Arwen. The Lid has been cut. It will have a deep rim edge which will rest on the outside corner protection pieces of the box. The inside of the lid will have heat resistant matting glued inside it for pans to rest on. 

The front of the box will be two panels which slide out once the lid is taken off. They will be held in place with brass turn buttons. The box will get three coats of aluminium flake paint, three coats of PreKote and then three coats of Toplac. Colour - whatever I have left on my paint shelves!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Dartmoor Roaming

It started with a walk and finished with.........

It started with an early morning walk up to one of my favourite tors

where I had the place to myself on a wonderful crisp October morning

with the far off views to the stunning Plymouth Sound 

Then it was back to do some more to the galley box


The day finished with a trip to our old atmospheric Reel cinema and movie night with her-indoors
A perfect day!


Thursday, 5 October 2017


It started with some ideas. These were put out for 'consultation' via Facebook forums.
There were many, many helpful suggestions and observations. 
I employed CAD techniques (cardboard aided design) and made several mock ups, each one evolving after helpful Facebook discussion.


I revised several times the aims of what I wanted to achieve; these limited by space and weight considerations.  Eventually, the design clarified itself.....a simple galley box to carry stores for two or three days plus cooking and eating equipment. My thanks to all those who helped edit my lists, modify my ambitions, and who brought a realistic pragmatism to my thinking. 


The first measurements were made and then rechecked many, many, many times. Several gallons of tea were consumed during the intervening breaks between re-measurements. Much time was spent sat on 'Rodin's stool' in the garage musing; and then measurements were checked again. 
It seems to have gone much better thus far and I think I know why. I haven't rushed at it. In the past pressures of time and family commitments have made me rush and in doing so I have made mistakes. But now those time pressures are a thing of the past and I am enjoying it more, thinking about it more. A simple measurement can take as long as it needs, or as long as I like it to last. Wonderful! 

The band saw got a much needed clean and overhaul. A new blade, retaining band blocks altered, smoothed and turned over; band saw retaining wheels cleaned; a decade of sawdust removed from inside workings. The saw was re-levelled; the platform re-levelled. It felt good. And then the first cuts were made and they went true and straight. 



Edges were lightly sanded and set squares employed to make sure that corners were true.  Sadly, I came to the realisation that my old jigsaw of 20 years had seen better days. Another tool which has done sterling service but now needs to be retired. Even with new blades, the cut is slightly jagged; the motor strains; the little blower is intermittent and the support frame slightly rusted. Perhaps with another clean, I can get a few more years out of it yet. My jigsaw has been instrumental in the building of several kayaks, canoes and Arwen herself. My jigsaw deserves a  reprieve and I am a sentimental old fool too!


Several cuppas later.........and no I'm not a fan of the company on the cup but it was a present and I rather like the dragon.............


All the pieces have been cut out and sanded and checked for square-ness. Their dimensions as they should be. Well, I have to confess that is a 'first' on any wood work I have done. Strips are measured, cut and glued ready to form the side and shelf supports. Some are added to the base, clamped in place for thirty minutes whilst the quick setting glue starts its initial cure. 




Side runners for shelves are added and one of the sides is stuck and taped in place. At every stage there is a dry run first; measurements are rechecked; the CAD is hauled over and my 'initial thinking' is checked or amended. As my Tanzania mountaineering friends were fond of saying 'Pole Pole', 'slowly, slowly'. 

Well it took a whole day but here is where we pause. The 'galley box' saga will continue sometime this week. 











Wednesday, 27 September 2017

building things....

I like building wooden things. I'm rubbish at measuring, can't cut a straight line even with table and band saw; things never quite seem to go as planned. I'm not Mr.  Bodge Job but sadly neither am I Mr Professional so it looks workmanlike.

It just never quite turns out as accurate as I planned. My poor dad and him an engineer too!

Anyway I have been cutting new sleeping boards as per Joel Bergen plans. The top sides have been cut; uprights just have to be measured and dry fitted but rain has stopped play, probably up until May next year!! I think we skipped autumn somewhere.

So, a side project - the galley box. Facebook followers will have seen my trials and tribulations on that social media site. Anyway, we are now at the building phase......watch this space!

So, measure out components; check measurements twice; sit down have cuppa. Go back, check all measurements again; discover mistakes - have another cuppa. Go back make corrections - have a cuppa. Do one final check - discover original measurements were indeed right first time. Make alterations - have a cuppa. Check twice more and then finally make the cuts...........only to discover that your first assumption that you had made mistakes was indeed actually the correct observation and you shouldn't have re-corrected the corrections you made.

It is going to be a longggg October!

side tops for new sleeping platforms awaiting their bottoms so to speak

what's in my head.....isn't necessarily what is going to turn out in a few weeks time

CAD version (cardboard aided design) version 3
The left hand side will have a set of pull out draws

Even with precise measuring tools - well its me - there is no guarantee what  measure will actually be accurate..........happens every time.........measure 20cm.......it turns out 19 instead.........its a gift..........I have no idea how it happens.......but I am sooooo talented at it.....!!
Measured inaccuracy.....its a real skill!





Friday, 22 September 2017

Lessons learned, experiences gained...............


There can be a harmony and tranquillity to a gently rising tidal estuarine flow. In the Lynher the brown, muddy waters creep slowly across the shoreline and up through the creeks and gulley’s; inching their way across the sunbathed mudflats. The brown black ooze sparkles in the sun, iridescent light reflection patterns etched across its flats and depressions. The creeping tides progress is marked by a thin, sinuous, silvery white line of froth. Occasionally, clumps of brown bubbles, sculpted into a myriad of geometric designs snake and swirl across the eddies, the result of fertiliser run off from the surrounding hills. 

Dead leaves surf the very leading edges of this creeping tide, having their last hurrah before decomposing back into life nurturing nutrients; their photosynthesising activity for the mighty shoreline oaks, is done. It is a sure sign that autumn is on its way.

Across the mirror glass watery surface, the odd twig and small branch stick a spidery limb skywards as they float on their last journey, to be eventually washed up on some beach or rocky shoreline. With any luck, they will be retrieved by a beachcomber and dried out and given new life again; as a beachcombing artwork, bought from a local harbour gallery or souvenir shop, thereby gaining a new life in someone’s home. A treasured memory of a good holiday, a pleasant and happy time along a Devon or Cornish coastline.

The natural beauty of the Lynher was deeply welcomed after the industrial busyness of the Tamar.




The haul up the Tamar was a long slog into stiff northerly breezes. Multiple tacks across the channel, confined in places as we past the dockyard; the Police boats quick to edge closer if they thought we had ventured too close to the eastern shore. Progress was slow and on the odd occasion the motor was used to ease us past a tricky spot. Arwen was not designed for rowing and even with the favourable incoming spring tide, rowing into the wind would have been exhausting, if not nearly impossible.

To purists, using the motor is a travesty; the cause of poor sailing skills development; a destroyer of peace and quiet; a foul polluter. And, yes to an extent I agree. After all I am the man who shuns the use of a GPS when mountain walking. I prefer the old ways, the honed craft of simultaneously using map and compass. Shunned too are SATNAV’s in cars……destroyer of basic map and atlas skills. On these fronts, I am clearly a luddite! On the other hand, her indoors is a pragmatist. An outstanding navigator using maps, she knows when to resort to SATNAV, and does so. So it is, that I am the same with the outboard. I’m relaxed about resorting to its use on occasions. I am out to enjoy the journey whether it be by sail, oar or motor and on this particular day, I practically had the water to myself, so I was of little intrusion into others enjoyment.

Progress up the Lynher, via Anthony Passage was easier. The steady breeze, now beam-on, allowed a good reach under jib and mizzen and the incoming tide helped. Arwen ghosted along, the sound of small wavelets slapping her bow; the faint outboard engine sounds from ribs depositing navy recruits aboard their permanently moored training ship fading with increasing distance upriver from Jupiter Point.

Past Forder Creek with its old medieval mills, quarries, limekilns and quaysides. Once upon a time, a hive of industrial activity, flour milling, fulling, market gardening and lime burning, the mill still stands; the area now a conservation area. Formerly of the Trematon manor granted to Sir Nigel Loring by the Black Prince himself in 1373, medieval tenants would have brought their grain to be milled and ground to flour. How much of it they would keep for themselves – I know not. In a later century, the quaysides became dung docks. The night soil and street sweepings from the new Devonport dock in the 1820’s bought across and deposited on quaysides; a prize much valued by the Tamar Valley farmers for its rich organic matter.

That is the thing about the Tamar Valley and its tributaries. They are alive with history. It is a world UNESCO heritage site for its former industrial archaeology; rightly so. Scattered across the far recesses of tributaries that join the Lynher, the old crumbling remains of decaying quaysides lie forlorn; once thriving, now difficult to access due to the centuries of mud that have deposited between them and the tributary channels. Left now as roosting places for birds. Their Tamar slate rocks are now lichen covered and blackened above the water line; and weed fringed below. Grassy and brambles adorn their flattened surfaces; their access tracks overgrown and forgotten.



We were entering the world of tidal, reed fringed marshes and lagoons, tiny creeks and vast, treacherously shallow inlets. I kept a sharp eye on the chart and searched frequently for the red and green buoys that marked the meandering channel up towards the deep-water anchorage of dandy hole.  Occasionally a dull thud reverberated from Arwen’s bilges as centreboard hit sandbank and raised itself, straining against the elastic downhaul holding it in place. A good, yet primitive depth sounder.

Herons and egrets raised their heads; their intense scrutiny of shallow waters momentarily broken by our brief passing. Cormorants, basking in the sun on buoys, bobbed up and down, stretching and contracting their necks and wings, trying to decide whether this interloping boat was friend or foe; should they fly or stay put? They didn’t quite have the courage of two small terns I met earlier. They choose to stay and  ‘fight’.  I’d selected their mooring can at the Lynher. Big mistake on my part. Respect the natural world or it will bite you back when you least expect it. The terns, busy preening and chatting to each other when I arrived, were exceedingly disgruntled about having to give up their yellow, flat topped can. So indignant, they actually refused to move when I tried to thread a mooring painter through the metal loop. I physically pushed them off; they wheeled away upwards and spent a few minutes circling Arwen, their shrill calls making their feelings very plain. I did, with fairness,  feel very guilty for several minutes after.



Our gently sedate progress up river was rudely and abruptly ended as we rounded Dandy Hole and past Redshanks Beach. The mile-long stretch of straight, narrow channel between steep wooded slopes ahead was a seething mass of angry, white topped wavelets, foam and spray. Of course it would be. Poor pilotage on my part. Wind against tide channelled down a narrow passage; didn’t see that one coming. Should have though! Under sail we did try tacking, but centreboard grounded several times and it was clear we were ahead of sufficient tidal depth at this point.  Upriver, an 18’ or so, old wooden motor cruiser gingerly made its way up the channel, its skipper crossing the channel from side to side, clearly following the depths on a depth counter of some form. His progress slow, planned, considered. Under motor, Arwen couldn’t go that slow. The current surged her forward, the wind held her firm. At low revs, she floundered and her bow was pushed off course, back downstream. At some point I knew we would catch up the little cruiser ahead and overtake her. The skill would be to pick the appropriate safe point to do so.

The problem with using a Tohatsu 3.5 hp is that it has an integral 1.5 litre tank; that and the fact that it is very difficult to judge when it is about to run out of fuel and require a top up. Suffice to say, it was a hairy minute or two hanging off the transom balancing a funnel and fuel bottle trying to top up the tank without spilling a drop into the water, mid channel, in a stiff breeze, going broadside, back down the river. We did manage it but it was hairy! I guess sailing is as much about lessons learned and experience gained as it is about enjoying the scenery and being out on the water. Several lessons and much experience was being ‘gained’ on this trip; not least of which was better pilotage and passage planning skills for the future!

As we regained composure and gently surged ahead on sufficient revs to overcome the wind but not spoil the serenity of the scenery, the wooden cruiser dropped alongside.

“Hello, do you know the passage up to St German’s? Can we follow you in?” 

“Sorry, I’m not familiar with it either, but the channel there with its pole markers leads up to the Treluggan yard; the channel up the Tiddy, meanders over to the left; watch for the mudflats on the starboard, they are very shallow and extend out some way; what do you draw?”

I crept forward, eyes flickering from chart to markers; from features on shorelines to transits. Drawing no more than 3’ I wasn’t unduly worried. The tide still had two hours to go; I’d strand myself and float off. I’d rather avoid the boat behind stranding as well due to my ignorance and inability to read chart depths.  Pressure on!!

 I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was with relief that I tied alongside the little floating pontoon outside the sailing club. There was greater relief to watch the lovely little motor boat edge past me, safe and sound too. I suspect more down to her skipper’s exceptional boat handling and pilotage skills than my ‘pathfinding’! Phew!