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, 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......