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, 17 June 2019

Wooden oar making and how not to do it

So, worrying about other things I sought respite in turning square loom oars into octagonal oar looms only to later discover at the end that I had actually shaved octagonal the area that had to remain square edged for the upper loom counterweights.

In addition, I had forgotten even after initially checking the plans twenty minutes earlier - that the loom taped from 46mm down to 38mm in diameter. Mine is now an octagonal 40mm diameter along the length!

I don't think people fully appreciate how much energy and effort goes into maintaining the high levels of incompetency and moronship that I achieve daily. In fact I have often felt people have just not sufficiently celebrated these particular talents of mine.

After all it takes a really unique ability to be really bloody stupid at everything!

I'm now going to find a quiet corner to cry in after which I guess I will go down the DIY store buy some strip pine and stick back on the edges I spent the afternoon taking off!

If only God had had the foresight to provide me with a brain..................................................................

Friday, 14 June 2019

First impressions of the Big Blue 5v 28W solar panel charger

Regular readers of this blog will know I am aiming to charge all electrical devices on Arwen in a sustainable manner using a combination of power banks and a portable solar panel charger. Previous posts on charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising can be found by accessing the menu on the right - June 2019.

The charger I bought was the Big Blue 5V 28W solar charger – which came top in many online review sites. 

It helped that the price had fallen by £20 in a flash sale on Amazon as well – so I managed to get it for around £40. Right time, right place – it rarely happens for me.

I have tried the panel once so far and was impressed. In partially cloudy conditions it charged the phone up 15% in just under an hour – supplying an average v amperage throughout that time. I have nothing to compare this with but I felt it was fast and efficient. Accompanying literature suggests it has an amazing 21% to 23.5% solar efficiency.

POSTSCRIPT  update - today in fairly sunny conditions it charged the phone up 50% in just under an hour and three quarters. 

It comes with two USB out-ports but based on this initial test in partially cloudy conditions, I’m thinking it is probably best to use one port at a time rather than two simultaneously – so that you get maximum charging efficiency to a device. I know it contains a chip which assures a stable charge rate.

The Big Blue comes with an auto restart and charge interruption recovery function (so if a cloud passes over the sun, or if the sun angle changes to cause a temporary shadow on the panels - it starts recharging when the sun reappears) and a very cool integrated digital ammeter. Hence, I know what amperage was being produced.

The pack seems durable – a Cordura outer rucksack like material which should stand up to abrasion forces and it comes with four small carabineer hooks and a USB micro cable. You will need other cables for digital cameras and GoPros etc – but the panel will charge most of these devices. The carabineers hook to four eyelets so that it can be hung in various positions off rucksacks etc. There is a pocket for the device you are charging but in many reviews, it seems that your device could overheat in the pocket in the full sun and therefore the best option was to get a longer USB cable and keep the charging device in the shade in a bag.

The actual panels themselves are Sunpower panels and these seem to be generally regarded as the best.

Overall this seems to be a simple, uncomplicated charger and I’m already liking it just from initial tests. It will lie across my saddle bags, across one of Arwen’s thwarts or dangle from my 30 Lt day sack. It also comes with a two year warranty as well.

What are the cons? Well it is a bit big and bulky – not massively so – just over the weight of an Ipad I guess. On the kitchen scales it is weighing in at 22 ounces. Of course, this is a trade off as the larger the panel the more efficient it is but the heavier it will be. It isn’t fully waterproof (to IPX4) but is splash proof which is fine.

Charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising using portable power banks

Previous posts on charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising can be found by accessing the menu on the right - June 2019.

My new iMuto Tarus X4 20,000 mAh power bank and separate Big Blue 28W solar panel charger duly arrived in the post this morning.  I am trying to develop a portable electronics device charging system that can be used across all my outdoor activities including dinghy cruising. Regular readers will know I am also trying to avoid installing a 12v system in Arwen. The issue of charging the VHF from a power bank may have been solved by a company called ‘MyVolts’ and I will share the outcome of the experiment in a future post.

In this blog I briefly summarize first impressions of the iMuto power bank. It is on the table alongside me and over the last forty minutes it has dropped 5% in its power storage but taken my android phone up from 63% charge up to 94% charge. Bottom line it seems fast and powerful!

Other initial impressions – compact and rugged construction. Aesthetically pleasing design with rounded corners, the pack is hand size and about an inch thick. However, I suspect some would say it is form over function and rather dull looking. It came with a bag and USB cable. The digital display showing what % of power is left is so much better that other power banks which indicate power level left through the number of flashing blue lights. You know precisely what power you have left. The accompanying data sheet says the iMuto will charge an iPad mini 2 times, or a galaxy S8 4 times and apparently a MacBook 1 time. My phone charge, if I use Navionics charts on it will last around 7 hrs. It is an old phone! So theoretically I should get several days sailing charges from this power bank.

One of the other reasons I bought it was the fact that it has a ‘smart’ protection system that will identify the charging requirements of the device it is plugged into and then intelligently adapt the level of current supplied to a safe and speedy level. So, no over-charging, over voltage or short circuiting!

The charging input is 5v/2.1A micro USB connection. It came with 85% charge and the booklet says it will take 10 hrs to charge and you can do it off a laptop or normal compatible wall phone charger.  The two out-ports are rated at 2.1A and 1A.

How durable it is only time will tell. It feels solid and well-constructed.

Negatives as such – well only one I can initially spot and that is it is a slightly heavier beastie that I expected – around 460 gms – so a tad bulky. It is certainly thick – around an inch. However, given I do little trekking nowadays where weight would be an issue – I’m OK with this. But don’t expect this to slip in the back pocket of your jeans.

Oh, and one more thing – it comes with a little inbuilt LED torch. Useful in a tent or under the tarp on Arwen.  I will update this post after a few months of testing it.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Making wooden oars for a dinghy - the saga continues

It continues. Oar one has been rough shaped and just needs some finishing with spoke shave. Oar two is being cut out of its blank. No machines have been used or harmed in the making of these oars. The Japanese pullsaw, spoke shave and Stanley block plane are holding up well.  I have been enjoying myself taking this slow approach to oar making.

I still have to track down leather for the loom protectors. I will be fibre glassing blade tips. The blades will be painted as will the counterweights at the inner ends. The looms will be varnished.

Following the plans......................

Tracing around the self made  patterns

hand cutting the blanks

saving the sawdust - I have no idea why though - some deep psychosis here 

Oar one almost complete 

Just needs some final spoke shave work 


Monday, 10 June 2019

The wonderful NHS - it is worth fighting for

With the furore over Trump and the USA 'buying' the NHS - I got to experience the best of it once again recently. Two days after an emergency Doctor's appointment I was in hospital getting exploratory tests done. Biopsy results will be back in under three weeks. It is a nervous wait.

On the day, my surgical team treated 40 patients that day. During all the time I was there what impressed me most was the dignity, compassion, kindness, interest and good natured banter shared with the patients. Nurses who barely had time to get a tea break themselves but who managed to rustle up a tea, coffee or hot chocolate with custard creams for each of their patients that day. Nurses who between doing med obs, cleaning beds and equipment, moving patients on beds between treatment and recovery bays - had time to sit with those who were nervous, those who were in pain and those who just wanted to talk.   A ward where banter and humour echoed off the walls despite the fact that they were overstretched and undermanned.

Where professionalism underpinned everything they did that day, from the welcome and paper work to explaining to each patient what was going to happen and why; patiently answering questions, carefully listening, acting on patient's wishes and finally ensuring that each patient understood the findings and implications of their examinations and what the next steps should be. It didn't matter your background, wealth or ethnicity - you all got treated the same - fairly, with dignity, kindness and respect and all for free.

Which brings me back to the USA possibly wanting a slice of the NHS in any future BREXIT trade negotiations.

May hell freeze over before that happens. 

We should never, under any circumstances, expect to see a USA insurance based healthcare system here in the UK. None of the NHS services should be privatised if truth be known. If we want to fund the NHS, if we want it to grow, provide the most advanced medicine and treatemts and avoid the unfairness of a postcode lottery for treatment and drugs provision then we need to fund it. Maybe, we do need to add a penny or two to basic income tax to fund it - and yes, that may need means testing in some way so that it is fair to all earners; perhaps it should be a penny or two on national insurance for all - perhaps instead of empty promises, our prospective Prime Minster candidates should explain truthfully how they intend to protect, fund and improve the NHS so that such inequalities between postcodes do not exist.

Somethings are precious and worth fighting for - the NHS is one of those things. For that matter, so is social care provision!

charging your small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising

Whilst waiting for the new 24W Big Blue solar panel to arrive, I am now turning attention to investigating whether I can establish a connection between my Powermonkey traveller and my ICOM M23.

The Big Blue 28W solar charger 

A 1.7mm x 4mm male barrel jack into the radio charge point

The 12v outport on the PowerMonkey Traveller uses a 1.7mm x 5.5mm male barrel jack. The power bank gives out 5v 700mA or DC 12v 0.8A. It is a 10,000 mAh capacity. It is quite old now and there are better integrated solar charger/power banks out there now. But, as always, I get sentimentally attached to pieces of equipment that have served me well and accompanied me on my travels. This power bank is one such piece.

The other power bank I use is an iMuto 20000mAh with two 5v/2.4A USB ports.

The VHF radio is charged by a 1.7mm x 4mm male barrel jack - the wall charger giving out 6v 0.6A. It has a 3.7v Li-ion battery 1500mAh.

I could just buy a spare radio battery - around £20 and charge both up before I leave home. Each battery will last around 10 hrs. So three days sailing possibly and then I could use my spare radio which takes AA batteries for the remainder of any trip - but that would chomp through batteries and I am trying to be sustainable here.

I am trying to avoid installing a 12v system in Arwen - instead spending money on items that will be used across a range of activities from climbing and camping trips to cycle  and canoe touring.  I have elaborated on these principles in previous recent posts.

I am no electrician but I am assuming that a USB cable with a male barrel jack on the end running from either power bank to the radio isn't going to charge it - power bank out put is 5v/2.4A and the radio input from its wall charger is 6v 0.6A.

So I need something to increase the 5v to 6v I am assuming.  I have been looking at something such as this

This item is a 5v USB to 6v 1.05A converter with centre positive polarity (what is that?)
I have contacted the seller 'MyVolts' who are based in Dublin - asking for their help and advice as to whether this connecting cable will link the power banks and radio correctly and I await their answer.

I know the simplest solution is to put in a 12v system in my spare galley box with appropriate usb and cigarette sockets and possibly an inverter/converter affair. However, it is one more thing in Arwen and something that I cannot then use across my other outdoor activities.

But I'm not powering a bilge pump or a GPS/chartplotter. All I need to recharge are GoPro and camera batteries, my mobile phone, a tablet and the VHF radio. All except the latter also go with me when trekking, canoeing, camping, cycle touring and climbing. The Big Blue 28w solar charger recharges tablet, phone, batteries and power banks. It won't power charge the VHF.

I cannot be, surely, the only dinghy cruiser who doesn't want to install a 12v system but does want a flexible, sustainable approach to charging small electronic devices?

I will let you know what MyVolts come back with and what solution I find in my next post. 

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Dinghy cruising a Welsford navigator episode 2 day sailing around Plymouth Sound

Episode 2 of day sailing around Plymouth Sound

My dinghy cruising channel can be found at 

charging your small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising using portable solar panel

An update on small boat electronics

Although I did say the next blog post will be about the advice and tips I got on installing a 12v system on Arwen, I am delaying it for a week. Some people have given really interesting feedback whilst others have briefly shared their systems and it is worth writing it up and sharing it. 

All the blogs about charging electronics on a small boat are found at the end of this one.

Instead, in this blog post I want to briefly sum up my research about solar panels and charging external batteries with solar panels.

I am, if truth be known, still leaning towards not installing a 12v system in the boat and instead having a more portable range of power charging options – a couple of large capacity external power banks which could be topped up or recharged if necessary, by a separate solar panel system - a system that would cover all my varying outdoor pursuits. 

You can imagine my delight therefore, when I dug out the literature that accompanied my old PowerMonkey Traveller Extreme battery and solar panel (above). The power pack gives out 5v via a USB but also gives out 12v (at 0.8a) and I'd forgotten that - that is enough to charge my VHF radio. All I need to find is a cable to connect the two – a cable that has a 2.5mm jack plug at each end. So I will need to find an 'electrician' for that one. 

So, unbeknown to me, my one big issue has just been solved – charging the radio. 

Of course, getting the right combination of separate solar panels and external battery power bank will be critical. I’ve done quite a bit of reading on line and here is a brief summary of my findings regarding portable solar panels, just in case anyone else is thinking of going down this route.

The obvious

Firstly, look for reputable brands, read the reviews on buying and tech sites and check out in the reviews what customer service is like if the panels have had to be returned for some reason. As always high-quality descriptions of the panels with very few literary mistakes are a helpful reassurance.

 Most reviewer sites seem to agree that pocket sized panels won’t meet the needs of power-hungry tablets and phones. Where they are effective, they are then let down by poor charging times using direct sunlight to charge the device.  Larger capacity panels seem far more effective and faster charging but at the price of bulk and weight.  Generally, the higher the wattage, the faster devices will charge.

Basic electric terminology

It is really important to have an understanding of basic electric terminology and this was where I was initially struggling.  However, GearLab gave a good plumbing analogy which helped.
Voltage = water pressure
Current (amps) = flow rate
Ohms (resistance) = pipe size
Watts is a measure of electrical power (which is voltage x current)

Watts and Amps are commonly referred to in descriptions of the performance of various panels. Again, what seems clear to most reviewers is that a 4 or 5W panel is good enough to charge small phones or MP3 players but takes at least 4 – 6 hrs to charge a device.  7+W is needed to charge most modern smart phones.  If you are charging multiple devices or an Ipad – then 15+W’s is required and if you want to charge a laptop – go with a panel, battery and an inverter combination. Any AC devices will require 25+W’s panel, a battery and a DC to AC inverter.

Integrated battery and solar panel systems are becoming increasingly popular especially if you want enough power just to see you through a weekend.

Output power

Stress is clearly related to the amount of output power from your panel or battery apparently! Under-powered and charging times are frustratingly long!

Check carefully about the output from the panel or battery power bank you are thinking of buying. Manufacturers’ report total amperage output of both ports combined; they do it for max amperage of each USB port so meaning you have to add all the port amperages to get the total output. It’s a minefield so if you are comparing outputs of various panels or external batteries make sure you are comparing like with like! Some will report 2.1A max so two devices plugged in will share this. Others report 2.1A max where one port is this but the other port is only 1A. It drove me crazy trying to compare different products!

Solar panel considerations

Firstly, types of panel – CIG’s – very flexible, cheaper, lighter but not very durable – delaminate over time.  Mono-crystalline – best for small scale energy consumers – so found in most back-packing models for weekends away in the hills. They are rigid, durable and pretty efficient depending on size and wattage etc.  Poly-crystalline panels are less efficient than mono ones and seem to gain little favour from any reviewers I could find.

Think about your practical needs when deciding what panels to go for. When will you use them most, what kind of climate will you be operating in, will they need to be waterproof, how cloudy will it get on your trips, what weight are they, how long are they?

When looking at folding solar panel chargers, look carefully at the number of USB ports they have and what the amperage is of each port. If you are charging cameras which require a wall charger for example, make sure the panel has an adapter or that you can fit one. Anything requiring a 12v cigarette charging port will not work with most of the panels I looked at without some major modification and addition of regulators or inverters etc.

Built in chargers with solar panels seemed to fail to live up to reviewers’ expectations. The phrase ‘Jack of all trades – master of none’ was repeated on many tech review sites.  On the other hand, separate folding panel packs that could charge a portable power bank – seemed to be a very popular choice for extended trips. If you are looking at the integrated panel and battery system, go for ones with 2-amp ports. These devices do have an advantage in that you can leave them for hours and just periodically adjust them for best angle with sun. You plug in your device that needs charging at night. However, remember that many reviewers found them to be ‘master of none’ – the panels being too small to charge the battery in a reasonable amount of time. In some tests, some integrated units took over 40 hrs of sunlight to fully charge the battery pack.

Remember to think about ease of use. If buying a folding panel pack look for auto restart technology i.e. the panel doesn’t shut off or stop the charging of an attached device if a cloud passes overhead. Avoid anything which requires complicated set ups with excessive numbers of adapters and cables.  Think through your needs carefully and match the panel to your devices regarding watts, amperage etc.  Longer cables are an advantage as it means you can keep the device being charged in a dry bag or rucksack pocket. Waterproofness is a good thing!

Weight wise, as touched on above, the lighter the better so check the combined weight of panel and accessories, not just the panel itself. And remember weight is a compromise because lightness comes at the expense of durability in many instances.

Portability is an important consideration. Folding panel packs which have a stash pocket are good because the charging device is held securely and protected at the same time. Does it have hanging grommets? What is its total length – will it fit across your thwart, rucksack, saddle bags? Does the panel have a fold out stand so it can be propped up off the ground as well?

Finally, check what accessories you need to charge all your electronics and then check compatibility with your choice of folding solar panels.

The solar charger vs external battery dilemma

iMuto 20000mAh compact portable power bank

Most reviewers seemed to like this separate panel and external battery combination - charging the battery at home and then topping it up with the panel every so often. Most external batteries will charge a smart phone 4 or 5 times. Power banks store power, operate at any time, are less bulky, less expensive and lighter that integrated systems and are great for shorter trips away. Power hungry devices such as tablets and high-end smart phones require better quality power banks though. Reviewers teamed the power banks with a folding solar panel pack where they were going off grid for four or more days.

Value for money

One test site had a nice way of working out value for money by looking at price per watt. Divide the price of the chosen panels by their wattage. £10 – 15 per watt they considered good value. £20+ they regarded as expensive unless it came with lots of valuable accessories.

So with all this in mind - what am I looking at?

Well my requirements are fairly simple. I want to be able to charge on the go -  1 android phone, 12 GoPro batteries, 4 camera batteries, occasionally an android tablet, at various times 4 external power banks of varying capacities and of course, my VHF radio. I want a system that is multipurpose - so covers my cycling, camping, canoeing, off grid caravanning and trekking as well. The solar panel component is critical to the whole system - giving me the ability to plug phones and tablets in to it directly for charging or for it to charge up my external power banks. On short trips the panels and a small external battery pack will be the main items taken. I never take a laptop with me when I travel, just the tablet.  And that's it - simplicity, flexibility, portability and efficiency. 

So, I am investigating these three - the first two come up regularly in top ten reviews on gear and tech reviewing websites.



As for battery power banks - still looking! And no - I haven't ruled out just going for a 12v system on Arwen instead. Somewhat torn - there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches!

Other posts about charging electronics on small boats are found here: