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".

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Monday, 20 August 2018

Overnighting at Calstock: Episode 9

A sad milestone I 200th video vlog on my Youtube channel - I suspect I probably need to get out more and gain a life............. :)

Anyway, the last in the series Cruising up the Tamar and Lynher (although there will be a bonus end video out in the next fortnight or so)................enjoy.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

sailing up the tamar - a local history lesson

Winds from astern blow the little white yawl with tan sails through the narrows of the mighty Hamoaze, close to the red port Cremyll Battery channel buoy. The last of the 4.9m tide has ebbed and crossing the slack water, to hug the shallows, this inexperienced skipper in trade mark blue fleece and red kayak expedition buoyancy aid, eases his mainsail downhaul. The sail bellies more and then fills and so he eases mainsheet to take advantage of the slight increase in breeze. On a downwind run, his sail presses against hemp shroud and the almost fully raised centreboard gently knocks from side to side in its poorly fitting centre-case.  He watches intently the little foot ferry ahead as it glides its way across the channel from Admirals Hard ramp, tucked away in Stonehouse Pool.

On his port side, the Cremyll slipway and ahead, the large stone pillar with its QHM speed warnings. The Skipper shudders as memories of a near catastrophe four years ago flood back. Then, attentively focused on the ferry and a stunning gaff yawl heading for the sound, he almost impaled poor Arwen’s bowsprit on this pillar; in front of a very crowded Edgecumbe Arms with its many revellers enjoying the afternoon sunshine on the riverside terrace beer garden.  Still, he muses, looking on the bright side, it wouldn’t have been as embarrassing as the time he sank thigh deep in thick mud when carrying his lapstrake canoe Angharad over the mudflats outside a certain pub in Noss Mayo. On that occasion he really got the tide times wrong and he proved to be that pub’s evening entertainment. Four years on, he still hasn’t returned to that pub out of fear that some local might recognise him.

The boomkin rattles in its socket; the mizzens flaps as it changes side, awakening the sailor from his reverie. The Edgecumbe Belle has unerringly arrived at the ramp disembarking her passengers for a day in the grounds of Mt Edgecumbe Country Park. A ferry has plied these very waters at this point between Devon and Cornwall since the 11th century when rowing boats carried people and horse-boats carried livestock and fodder. In 1511 the Edgecumbe family took control of the route, keeping it for the next four hundred years. The first steamboat ferries appeared in 1885.  The Cremyll ferry is now a much-loved city institution; a summer tradition. A trip across to Cawsand, a walk around the stunning coast and through the country park and a return trip back on the Edgecumbe Belle.  

A slow turn to port and Mashford’s yard comes into view. There has been a boatyard at Cremyll for 270 years. Bought by the Mashford’s in 1930, the yard built antisubmarine motor launches and assault craft for the Admiralty during WWII. Sir Francis Chichester fitted out here; Ann Davison had the yard build her ‘Felicity Ann’. Today, ship building and repair still takes place at the yard; work for Babcock and Serco; local fishing and diving boat commissions; and private sailing and motorboat repairs.  Mashford’s, another river Tamar institution.

The sailor checks his yellow pilotage notebook with its sketch maps, bearings and tidal information and slowly edges onto a course of 272M.  0.6 NM should take him across to the west mud port red buoy at the edge of the high-speed training area for HMS Rayleigh and the Royal Marines at HMS Tamar.  He waivers slightly, for an alternative is in his notes, 289M and 0.4NM to South Rubble starboard can. It would mean crossing the main channel and skirting up the corner edge of the Number One yard at the Devonport Dockyard. Crossing the 25m deep channel at low tide there would be little flow; the south westerly breezes are good. But it would be close to a lee shore and whilst CH14 QHM Port authority hasn’t reported major ship movements at this time, a tug cutting that corner could cause a problem. The Skipper of the little yawl errs on the side of caution and sticks with his original course. Plenty of room to leeward if need be and in the lee of the high-speed training area. Decision made. He faces astern momentarily to free the lower mizzen sail which has caught slightly on the tilted 3.5hp Tohatsu outboard. It’s a rare occurrence but one he is always alert to.

With a more open expanse of water, he leans forward from his aft port position and tidies cockpit halyards. When he rigged Arwen, he arranged for all lines to return aft of the centre thwarts. Here are the cleats and cams that secure downhaul, snotter, centreboard and mainsail. Add in the jib sheets which he also brings back when single handed sailing and it can become a right rats’ nest of tangled lines.  Now, he quickly sorts, flakes and gathers these lines, stuffing them gently into their respective halyard bags attached to the rear wall of the centre thwarts. The Huntingford tiller tamer holds Arwen on her course and the skipper’s movements are slow and deliberate so as not to unsettle her trim and balance.  For good measure and just because he likes coiling and flaking ropes, something from deep within his DNA, from his old mountaineering days, he sorts the 10mm hemp mainsheet into a nicely flaked coil on the rear cockpit floor and does likewise with green mizzen sheet. That’s much better; far less chance of tripping himself up when he stands in a few minutes to ease his cramped legs. Going overboard with feet in a tangled mess of lines would be very, very embarrassing, not to say quite inconvenient.

Sails fill and sag as the wind builds and falls. The tide turns and the many boats on the Torpoint moorings ahead slowly turn to face downriver as the flood tide makes its presence felt. Lone seagulls wheel overhead, hoping for a thrown scrap morsel of the cheese and marmite baps that the sailor is tucking into. He never, never, leaves shore without at least four of these culinary delights. He once managed to smuggle baps, cheese and one pot of marmite up Kilimanjaro; twice! Throw in a royal gala apple, banana, bag of mixed nuts, raisins and assorted dried fruit pieces along with a Toblerone bar (other apple and chocolate types are available but not has highly rated by Skipper) and he feels he can cope with anything that the day might throw at him. Oh, and a flask of tea; Tetley’s, of course. One should never, never, forget the tea!

Torpoint slides by. An eighteenth-century planned town based on a grid design commissioned by Reginald Pole Carew in 1774. His family, now the Carew Poles still live in the family seat at Antony House, just outside of the town; now run by the National Trust. Torpoint, a town famous for a 1796 shooting battle between the crew of the Viper and a large party of armour liquor smugglers, in which one person was killed and five seriously injured. Torpoint, a town that grew as dockyard workers settled there, the ferries grew in size and the Royal Navy established its main training base at HMS Rayleigh along with the Thanckes refuelling depot.  Torpoint, a  town on a stunning low ridged peninsula with St John’s lake to the south and Thanckes lake and the river Lynher estuary to the north. A peninsula of farmland much altered in recent decades although still retaining some of its scattered farmsteads with their medieval features still forming part of Cornwall’s Anciently Enclosed land. And sadly, most people just drive off the ferry and straight through the town on their way to the beaches and coastal villages of the Rame peninsula beyond. A shame, for they miss Antony House with its Humphrey Repton planned gardens, stunning architecture and family history. A favourite visiting place of skipper and her indoors!

Behind Arwen, closing astern as she potters up alongside the Torpoint mooring trots, an Edwardian gentleman’s gaff yacht appears. A thing of beauty, some half nautical mile astern. Cream coloured clinker hull with varnished tops and cabin side panels; deep tan sails. Under mainsail alone, this lovely craft closes on Arwen and so skipper whilst deeply admiring the craft decides to try and keep ahead of it. A little self-imposed competition for which he feels genuinely and immensely guilty; but which none the less, offers a little modicum of fun on a hot, hot day. Never the greatest of sail trimmers, the dehydrated sailor sets to with enthusiasm. Easing himself off a direct downwind run and into more of a downwind semi run/broad reach kind of track, he starts to pull in main sail, reset centreboard and adjust mizzen. Honestly, he has no idea what he is doing but using his handheld GPS tracker, he fiddles around until he notes a marginal increase in hull speed; and then he promptly forgets what he did to gain such extra movement. Still, not to worry, for his boat, Arwen, built with his own fair hands and that of his father, father in law and children, shows a clean pair of heels and stays ahead of the 25’ stunner aft. Shameful behaviour on the part of Arwen’s skipper. Frankly quite childish, but his little bout of self-smug satisfaction is about to be vanquished further ahead.

CH14 cackles into life announcing the departure of tugs from one of the dockyard basins as the sailor threads his boat up through the moored boats at Torpoint. Past the Torpoint Marina found within the old ballast pond walls, built by French prisoners of war in 1783 to shelter the ballast barges. The walls have been repaired and are now an ancient monument; one of two surviving ballast ponds in the UK. Here, is a sense of local history. The old ships of the line carried ballast stones and sand in the eighteenth century to keep themselves stable. The ballast was bought to and fro on barges alongside as and when needed or as and when ships were laid up during peace time when cannon, stores and main mast were removed. Ballast was used to compensate. When ships were reactivated, some of the ballast was removed and stored once more. The sailor is unclear whether the removed ballast was actually dumped within the pond or merely stored on the barges which were kept within the pond wall confines.

He suddenly jolts back to life. Arwen is almost upon the Torpoint ferries. Three large vehicle chain ferries plying their way between Devonport and Torpoint carrying regular commuter traffic. Arwen’s skipper sucks in his breath. Normally with 400m to go he would lower engine, start it and motor through but today he is going to resist the temptation and the growing knot in his stomach. An aim of this three-day river cruise is NOT to use the engine at all. Some would say that the best way to achieve that is to not take it at all but skipper who is fiercely paranoiac and lacking in sailing confidence still feels that is a step too far. Still threading the needle under sail……. He sucks air through his teeth and takes a look all around. Then turning his focus to the ferries he works out which are landing on which shore; and which are looking ready to depart. The trick is to arrive just as two have landed and one is past the centre of the channel.
The fates shine kindly on the little boat and her inexperienced skipper. The breeze builds in the last 200m and at a steady, tide assisted 4 kts, Arwen hugs the port shoreline and nips behind a departing ferry, ensuring there is enough distance between her and the ferry rear so that the chains have sunk back down into their black watery oblivion once more.  It would be so embarrassing to catch the centreboard on a descending chain. Think of the paper work for ferry operator, QHM and her indoors.

Having cleared 100m upriver along the outer edge of the small craft moorings and past the exposed wreck of some long-forgotten pleasure boat, Skipper realises that he can breathe again and let out his ample stomach. A Murray Mint calms his nerves and he allows himself a fleeting congratulatory mental slap on the back. Another milestone on the way to being a dinghy cruiser has been achieved.
Of course, he did have a pair of oars on board but as he glances at them in their galvanised rowlocks, he realises with horror that they still remain tied on; blades still bungie corded to cleats on the rear cockpit sides; their position for when trailering the boat between places. He still has sooo much to learn, not least of which is make several checks before departing the launch ramp!

350M on the steering compass which sits astride the centreboard cap. A Silva compass. Its seal rotted away last year and the outer protective rim came away in Skipper’s hands when he picked it up whilst on a voyage to Fowey. But now it is back in position, repaired. Skipper is proud of that repair. The judicious use of white marine sealant and no one would know about the damage done. His sealing skills look quite professional!

The tiller is angled to starboard and Arwen edges out into the main channel to take advantage of the flooding 0.8 kt tidal stream; and to avoid the rather large blue hulled tanker firmly moored to yellow mooring dolphins and the concrete Yonderberry fuelling depot ahead. The new red burgee made by good friend Dave flutters over the starboard side, from its lofty position at the top of the mainsail yard.  Two of the tankers crew sit languishing on a lighter moored alongside the tanker hull and skipper muses on how incongruous it seems that one of the crew is smoking in front of a large sign that says ‘NO SMOKING’. Perhaps the crew member thinks it is ironic. Skipper wishes for a bit more wind, tidal flow and speed; just in case!
He thinks he read somewhere that the tanker is storing fuel for the Frigates because the concrete pier is crumbling and is badly in need of repair. The pier, part of the Thanckes fuelling complex, has served the naval dockyard opposite for almost 70 years. Built in the 1950’s the jetty is suffering severe accelerated saltwater corrosion and it needs upgrading and modernising. There has been an application to dredge the surrounding seabed and dump the dredging’s around Rame Head in Whitsand Bay but that has met with much local opposition. In the meantime, divers have fitted sacrificial anode systems to protect steel pylons and the mooring dolphins. It is amazing the irrelevant trivia that Skipper stores often incorrectly in his head!

As the sun shines and sparkles off the deep waters of the Tamar, the hot sailor surveys the dockyard opposite. Once the home of Trafalgar class subs and Type 45 destroyers, these have been now moved to Portsmouth and Faslane. In just under three centuries, 300 ships were built at this dockyard. The last HMS Scylla in 1971, decommissioned and sunk close inshore in Whitsand Bay to provide an artificial reef to protect the cliffs at Freathy and to develop a thriving dive boat trade within his fair ocean city.Now the north yard houses the frigate complex, three tall looming buildings with their dry docks and basins. The nuclear sub refit yard lies at the northern end, its 80-tonne cantilever crane missing from the skyline, having collapsed unexpectedly a year or two ago. Within the Weston Mill basin he spies one of the large amphibious assault ships. He cannot make out which it is. Bulwark? Albion? His binoculars are clearly focused. But sadly, his eyes aren’t any more. He makes a mental note to adjust the binoculars when he moors up at the Lynher entrance up ahead.  The launch ramps at HMS Tamar alongside are engulfed in a fug of thick smoke and noise! Landing craft are being started up or is it hovercraft? Difficult to see, moored barges are in the way. And, as always, holding station, slowly moving back and forth across the entrance, the reassuring presence of one of the large MOD Police boats.  

Four miles long, 25 tidal berths, 5 basins across 2.5 km squared. Two thousand, five hundred employees; supporting 400 local firms and contributing 10% of the local economy. Still the main frigate and vanguard Sub refitting base. With HMS Rayleigh on the western shore and the HQ of Flag Officer Sea Training for the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Home to the assault ships Albion and Bulwark, most of the Hydrographic fleet, seven type 23 frigates and the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector. Containing four scheduled monuments, thirty listed buildings and one original slipway still having its 200-hundred-year-old roof still above it, the naval Dockyards at Devonport are part of the fabric of this fair ocean city and Skipper, like most Plymothians is rather proud of this Royal Navy heritage.

Just under two hours after departing the northern shore of Drakes Island, Arwen arrives on station at the mouth of the Lynher. It is time for a stop, a break and so her skipper selects his favourite yellow outer mooring buoy. Just on the southern outskirts of many small craft trots, it gives him ‘wiggle room’.  With 300m to go, he plans his approach; sailing upwind and mid channel past the buoy to get a good look around. Options rattle around in his head. He rarely sails onto a mooring can. He could motor. Nope defeats the object of the trip. He could sail from downwind, dropping mizzen and mainsail and coming in under jib but tidal flow has to be considered. It is building and even under just jib, chances are he will race by and find himself in the mooring trots.  Best approach is to come from river, facing into wind and tide. He prepares mooring pole, unclipped from starboard side deck and releases the long painter that runs down the outside starboard sheer plank. With luck, he can bring the mooring can along his starboard side; if he misses he has plenty of open water to starboard into which he can drift and start again. 

Grabbing the mainsheet, he eases it and tiller to such a point that the mainsail and sprit boom gybe gently over his head and releasing them both, he guides Arwen onto a close reach. The jib roller halyard is pulled and jib obediently furls. With mainsheet in his hand he pulls and eases the sail and gently moves into the flow and wind. His boats speed slows significantly; the bow starts to drop away up river; he risks pinching a little against the wind. At the last moment he eases the mizzen and the buoy comes alongside. Not as close as he would like. There is a mad scramble with mooring pole; he manages to hook on and in a turn of speed and agility not often seen, painter is securely through the buoy eye and tied off on the forward bow samson post. Tripping over the centre thwart, he raises centreboard, releases rudder so it flips up and drops mainsail into an untidy hanging heap between its lazy jacks.

An inelegant, flustered arrival; yet again. The sailor dreams of a mooring buoy arriving alongside midships, on the correct side, with his small boat obediently stopped in the water. With mainsail, centreboard and rudder stowed calmly and correctly. With chins unbruised from an encounter with the thwart seat edges. With no gouges taken out of rub rails.
It has, of course, yet to happen that way. Despite his best efforts and practice, there is far too much to remember; too many lines to sort; too many variables of wind and tide. He is content to accept that he has arrived and hooked on without damaging any of the expensive boats moored in the trots immediately to the north.

It is time for a cheese and marmite bap, a cuppa and a breather before checking the pilotage for the next leg up the Lynher.  

Monday, 13 August 2018

Episode 8: sailing the Tamar from Halton to Cotehele and stopping off to see the sailing barge 'Shamrock'

This is the penultimate video in the series. The last epsiode, 'Overnight at Calstock' will be published next week. Thanks for sticking with us and all the positive comments about the new series and video/vlog look. 

Over the next few months, look out for a new YouTube channel introductory trailer and all being well, a series in which I sail over to Kingsbridge from Plymouth. I'm also hoping to do a video about building Arwen a new pair of oars during the winter months. 

So, next week, the last episode in this series. In the meantime, hope you enjoy this one. Drop me a comment in the box below or in the comment box on my YouTube channel. All constructive advice and comment welcome.

Take care now and happy sailing. 

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Entering the Hamoaze, on the river Tamar

One hundred and thirty-six square feet of tan coloured canvas, the little boat’s sails fill with the SSE breezes and slowly cross her cockpit as her skipper tacks to enter the narrow Hamoaze. Mainsail and mizzen filled, the backed jib is released, whipping across to the sounds of halyards rattling their blocks on the wide side decks. Her sharp, vertical stem bites deep into the slight wind against tide chop side and she ploughs forward, her sharply curved forefoot and flared lower bow parting the grey, jade green tinged, wavelets with ease.  The annoying knocking from the centreboard, even when raised, a reminder that its fit in its case is best termed ‘loose’.

14’ 6” long, with 5’ 10” beam, this little boat is loaded with camping gear for her four-day cruise upriver. 9’ oars lie along coaming and side deck, resting in galvanised rowlocks and overhanging her transom. A pine paddle lashed down to port foredeck; within her hull, airtight waterproof bags lay low along hull side for stability and ‘extra’ buoyancy.  

To the unknowledgeable observer, she makes a pretty sight, a handsome boat, white hulled with a burgundy sheer plank, stark against the woodland and grassy slopes of Mt. Edgecumbe Country Park on the western shore that be Cornwall. To the well-informed, standing at Devils Point on the eastern shore that be Devon, she is ‘Arwen’, a John Welsford designed ‘navigator’, a familiar sight on the coastal and estuarine waters around Plymouth Sound. And no, her skipper still hasn’t managed to eliminate that throat to clew crease that makes her so instantly recognisable.

Said skipper sheets in mainsail and mizzen, spilling a little wind on their downwind run. It reduces the ‘plunge and bounce motion’ as they pass through the entrance chop. He frets about how untidy the cockpit interior looks. With her under deck locker and smaller ‘sealed’ lockers in all thwarts, side, centre and stern, his little boat has plenty of storage and buoyancy space; and yet, she always seems crammed. A reflection of his habitually disorganised personality. Observers standing high enough on the shores would see bucket and boom crutch, two white fenders and two mooring warps of 10m and 15m length adorning the starboard forward cockpit side. Opposite on the port side, two more fenders, more mooring warps, spare fuel cans and the home-made galley box. Everything ‘excessively’ lashed to the hull with bungee and cord. It echoes the skippers semi-permanent paranoiac state in which he lives his life.

 Floor space immediately aft of the front thwart side lockers and either side of the centre-case, occupied by anchors; a small kedge anchor with chain and 100’ of warp on port side. This ‘picnic stop’ Danforth anchor with attached anchor buddy bungee is for pulling his little boat off the beach and into deeper water during those beachside al fresco stops. On starboard floor, stored in another plastic blue tray, secured tightly by bungee cords and webbing straps, lies the ‘beast’ – a Bruce anchor, way too big for what he needs, but it was free and adds ballast. It has yet to drag even in fiercest currents, its weight and bulk reassure this amateur sailor who has yet to develop that strong understanding of sea, boat, weather and equipment that more experienced sailors have after spending countless decades on boats along their coasts. A late arrival to this sailing past-time, this skipper will learn with time what can and cannot be dispensed with. An experienced mountaineer, he knows he would only carry 30lbs maximum for a four-night camp, so he muses on why there so much ‘stuff’ in his boat? What were the words of the Dinghy Cruising Association journal editor Keith Muscott now ringing in his head? ‘dinghy cruising is just backpacking but on water’.

Skipper and boat ease their way up channel towards the Cremyll red port can marker, hugging inshore, conscious of their proximity to jagged rocky fingers protruding from the Cornish coastline. Here the outgoing ebb is less powerful but still not to be underestimated. And, the waters here run deep!

He feels the weight of history upon his shoulders, for he sails waters once plied by Sir Francis Chichester, as he bought his own boat down from Mashfords yard at Cremyll after her fitting out. Or Anne Davidson setting sail from the same yard in her four tonner ‘Felicity Ann’, the first lady to do a single handed transatlantic crossing. For two centuries at least, HM ships have sailed to and from the naval dockyard up at Devonport with families and friends gathering to wave them off or welcome them home from Devils Point on the eastern shore opposite. Even Nelson himself came through these straits at one time.

Across the waters, his gaze falls on the Devil’s Point peninsula with its stunning southerly and westerly views across the Tamar entrance towards Mt Edgecumbe and out across Drakes Island and Plymouth Sound with its magnificent breakwater, to the distant Eddystone lighthouse on the far horizon. To its north the famous Royal William yard, a former RN victualling yard. Nelson definitely alighted the admiral’s steps at this place.  What must this place have been like when the cannon from its abandoned 1530’s blockhouse rang out to warn ships, a relict of Henry VIII’s coastal defences? How the skies of early 1940’s must have lit up above as the costal artillery search lights light up skies and seas in search of enemy planes and E boats, crews dashing from barracks to load the 6lb guns. Now only the gun and search light platforms remain.

And the Royal William Yard, once an immense hive of activity and skill? What would Architect Sir John Rennie make of the award winning, multimillion pound conversion of bakeries, armouries and cooperages to luxury apartments, restaurants and galleries? The skipper thinks he’d be pleased. Urban Splash, design architects and winners of multiple conservation and restoration awards for their work here. Grade 1 listed buildings sensitively converted in a £60 million refit. A cultural centre for this fair ocean city.

The little boat with her reflective skipper surges forward in a sudden gust; he eases mizzen and mainsail a little to take advantage of the increased breeze. A steady 3 kts against the last of the 0.2 kt southerly ebb flow.  310M on the compass, 0.1 nm to the Cremyll can.  A quick glance to little yellow notebook with its pilotage notes and sketch maps; all is well; course is as it should be. He loves it when a plan actually works.

Little boat and skipper continue to skirt the rocks as the Cremyll gun battery at Mt Edgecumbe looms alongside. Tourists wave from the top of the semi-circular, forbidding, grey walled battery of seven guns. He waves back. Cameras click and whirr. Do the visitors know the battery was built as part of the inner sea defences in the 1860’s to protect the Royal William Victualling Yard and Navy dockyard at Devonport? Today, they rest, appreciating the stupendous views out over Drakes Island and the distant Plymouth Sound but few of these visitors might ever know that they stand on a Victorian fort that stands on a blockhouse dating from the 1540’s; which in turn, was occupied by royalist forces during our English Civil war. Perhaps, they may be aware of its more modern usage during WW2 when it was ‘reactivated’ as a guard room to protect the anti-submarine booms at the mouth of Hamoaze.

As skipper keeps a wary eye on the slow progress of the small Cremyll passenger ferry leaving its slipway ahead, he notices the flotsam of an immense ria ebb tide drifting by on its journey to the wider oceans.  Twigs and driftwood, seaweed, plastic bottles, frayed blue three strand rope, a small white fender. It saddens him to see such detritus and the damage it causes the marine environment but then he is distracted from his gloomy thought train, for beneath it all, in the warmer surface waters drift the translucent, circular pale forms of jellyfish. An entire colony of jellyfish, their shimmering canopies adorned with four brownish circular outlines. No control on their direction, these delicate beings drift on the outgoing currents, destinations unknown. Oystercatchers skim the waves off the starboard bow as they shoot across towards Millbrook lake mudflats to grab a last meal before the flood tides cover their larder once more. A mackerel jumps high off his starboard aft quarter, its sides glistening in the sun. Yes, the sun is on his back, the breezes are fair, the scenery isgrand, the sense of history immense. Ahead the dockyards of Devonport, the mudflat lakes of Millbrook and St John’s with their wading birds.

It’s going to be a magnificent four-day cruise.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018


It’s the tiny growing awareness of that existence of a miniscule glimmer of light; that dim pinprick glow in the east that penetrates white tarp walls and eyelids. The cockpit interior with all its contents gently emerges from the night gloom with the reluctant opening of one eye; individual objects taking on a form and shape of their own in the greyness of early sunrise. The headtorch, reading glasses, VHF radio and charging mobile on its portable battery bank; the red PFD alongside the powerful hand torch on the opposite side thwart.  

Cool damp air touches one’s exposed face, a drop of condensation coagulates overhead, overcoming gravity. Drip.

Phew……..the tiny splash on the exposed keelson plank below accompanied by an overwhelming sense of relief. It missed. A sudden wet awaking averted, but only just!

Semi consciousness comes with the start of the dawn chorus, well before that dim dawn glow appears. Our ‘’feathered alarm clock friends’ (RSPB) start early, defending their territories and singing to attract a mate, for in that cold dim light of a new morn, effort in foraging is wasted. Insects have yet to warm up, and early morning flight in this dim, grey light risks attracting the attention of a shadowy, deadly silent, night-time predator returning from late night-time foray across woods and creek-side meadows. On these calm, still, mornings, perhaps it is best to stay snuggled in sleeping bag a few minutes more, listening to the blackbirds, robins and song thrushes warbling their symphony far and wide across wooded valley. "The avian Glyndebourne that has welcomed the dawn of our ancestors in similar fashion for countless centuries" as Henry Porter of 'The Guardian Newspaper’ once put it.  “To be alone in the dawn chorus reminds us of how precious life is”.


The light peach glow that creeps across side thwarts and along cockpit length. There is no noise from cars or planes; the sleeping house-boaters moored across the creek have yet to wake and put their radios on.  Such uninterrupted peace is to be savoured. 
The once lengthening shadows shorten and fade as the sun rises and avian chorus reaches a crescendo before dwindling as birds fly in search of the warmed and unwary insects and worms clinging to stalk, bramble and soil cast.

Full consciousness arrives with a start! That realisation that high spring tide is turning, risking  imminent and embarrassing grounding on mudflats below. 'All hands to the deck!' The brain is coerced into ordering body to shed itself of warm night time attire for the ever so slightly damp day clothing; that same clothing so carefully stored in a bag within one’s bivvy bag to keep it……warm! 

Limbs scramble to untangle themselves from sleeping bag and bivvy, an inelegant ordeal of squirming and ducking to avoid condensation transferring to bare torso and the new day’s clothes.
Through the aft end tarp flaps, the first glimpse of emerging day. The grey veils of night time gauze retreat, un-swathing the gently flowing river with its tendrils of fine mist that hang above the warm waters below. The first faint hints of pink and gold caress the upper most branches of mighty oaks high on valley sides as the sun’s warm life-giving rays slowly roll down the slopes. "As form and colour of things are restored, the dawn remakes the world in its antique pattern"; so says Oscar Wilde. 

But for me? 
It is as if as one entity, the entire valley heaves a sigh of relief and contentment. Dawn is bringing her colour palette to reeds and mudflats, meadows and marshes. As John Ruskin wrote “A dawn, truly observed, is a moment of birth, a call to action for the day. Let every dawn of morning be to you as the beginning of life”. 

Of course, it is unlikely that John Ruskin ever had to rush to catch the top of a rapidly ebbing tide!

Saturday, 28 July 2018

The latest video vlog series about sailing up the rivers Lynher and Tamar in UK

Below is the latest video vlog in this series:

There are several other episodes in this current series and these can be found at this website

and there you can select playlist and then select the one about the Lynher and Tamar cruise series 2018.

I have two more episodes to add - one about cruising the stretch of the Tamar from Weir quay up to Calstock; and then the last one, overnighting at Calstock and setting off early morning back down the river as far as Halton Quay.

The videos are a change from my normal approach. I have always maintained that they are a visual diary to my future 80 year old self, to remind me when I am old and grey and slower moving, that yes I did build a boat and yes, I did get out and sail it and yes, I did do some camping and exploration on board. However, in using YouTube as a storage/access area, I failed to take into account that others may well view them as well. 

I have been genuinely surprised and humbled by the comments many have left and I have learned a huge amount from kind people commenting constructively on my sailing.  Changing my approach to my video diaries, by spending more time commenting about what I see and pass; about the social, environmental and economic issues surrounding the areas I pass through - has bought a substantial number of new subscribers to my channel. I can only assume, that despite the longer video length (most are around 10 minutes - which seems way too long to me in this day and age), they are striking a chord with some viewers. 

There are now three series to view
  • The Penlee Picnic series
  • The slow passage to the river Yealm and back again
  • The Lynher and Tamar river cruise series
In addition, I have created some new playlists to help organise videos - so check them out. All videos have a 'click to subscribe' button embedded within them along with info cards briefly offering opportunities to click on and retrieve other videos in that particular series. 

I have also created pin boards in Pinterest and Goggle+ - see the websites below where I hope I can build further interest in John Welsford's designs.

If  you decide to watch any of the videos, do let me know what you think. All constructive comment is most welcome. This is a new venture for me, a slight re-orientation of what I was intending to do. 

Do the videos work for you? 
Are they what you would like to see about dinghy cruising? 
What else would you like to see in the videos? 
How might they be improved? 
Should I just stop and return to doing them just as a visual diary for myself...........? 

If you have a view at all, do let me know in the comment box below. 

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Bristol Harbourside festival 2018

Some pictures from a very enjoyable weekend - the annual harbourside festival of music, poetry, prose and waterside events

Almost think you were in Paris......................

The Royal Navy Patrol boats proved a popular attraction 

A couple of tall ships 

One of the old dockside houses 

a small boat show

One of these has been converted by the City council into a B and b but I couldn't find which one

maritime details...................

The old heritage of Bristol docks 

For Dad..........

a reminder of his employment roots..........

Original GWR Dad!!

making your live-aboard stand out 

A mug of tea and plenty of wood and varnish - what more is there to life?

Nick Park's take on Brunel?

competitors for the cardboard boat race

Rescuers for said race waiting by.....

Discussing tactics......sink or swim?

calm before the storm

getting the waiting crowds into a frenzy of anticipation................

the start.........a 1940's fire boat from WWII

will the cardboard cutter win?

Time spent out on the water is time never wasted................

A splendid sight...................

the junior cardboard boat event took an unexpected turn........literally...........

Almost ready, starting the count down

it was surprising how many sank on entry to the water..................!!

Valiant effort...........................

superb jet ski stunts from the British and European champion.......

250,000 visited Bristol harbour side over the weekend.......

salvage........I wonder what it is worth............

the most popular attraction on Saturday - the Newfoundland Dog rescue team.....awesome.......

standing by......just in case......