Tuesday, 2 March 2021
John did an outstanding talk to the Dinghy Cruising Association at their AGM in February. You can find it for free here on the DCA website. Enjoy, great thinking and small boat building philosophy.
If you are into dinghy cruising and haven't yet heard about the Dinghy cruising Association, take a good luck around their website and go download one of the free copies of their much regarded Dinghy Cruising Journal.
Sunday, 28 February 2021
A new initiative from the RYA and you can also enter a competition to have your own dinghy trail published
A really good idea from the RYA and well done to all those who helped develop this idea.
Friday, 26 February 2021
I have always been fascinated with rivers. It comes of being a geographer I suspect. River geomorphology (and Hydrology) was one of my ‘A’ Level teaching specialisms and as a child I spent many a happy day pootling around local streams catching and releasing all manner of river organisms and small fish.
Rivers often reflect the character of the countryside through which they flow and influence greatly peoples’ daily lives along their riverbanks. They can even influence the design of the vessels that trade along their waterways; and so it is with the Tamar where many of the local boats took on a character and form best suited transporting the river’s agricultural and mining resources.
Rising far away in the bogs of Eastcott Moor, near Morwenstow, two miles from the Bristol Channel coast, the Tamar is one of those geological freaks of nature that I have written about before, for it flowed southwards instead of the short journey north. Now it forms the administrative border between Devon and Cornwall for almost its entire length. Not having its source on Dartmoor, the Tamar is less subject to the sudden run-off surges of storm water; it’s a geographical oddity that has had an important bearing on its history and use as a trading waterway.
The Tamar and her navigable tributaries have played over a 1000-year role in the local agrarian and industrial economy and communities. The rough, hilly but very fertile terrain on both sides of the river have been worked for tin, from the times of Edward 1st. Ancient footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the landscape leading down to the river’s shores, the only outlet for much of the resources gained from this area over the intervening centuries.
From Weirhead, just below Gunnislake down to Devils point at Plymouth, the river is tidal and navigable. The 14th century salmon weir at Weir Head prevents further passage up river although records show that prior to the weir’s construction, the Vikings sailed much further upriver to attack the village of Lydford. For much of its history, two ports dominated the river’s commercial life, Morwellham on the Devon banks in the upper river reaches and Saltash, just above the entrance to the tributary river, the Lynher.
Morwellham’s growth was rapid. Mentioned as a quay in 1240 and part of the Manor of Morwell, rich alluvial tin deposits in this area supplied most of Europe, leading to the establishment of a Benedictine Abbey and the growth of the stannary town of Tavistock. Vessels plied up and down the river to Morwellham Quay, where in its heyday in the 19th century, it could accommodate vessels of some 300 tonnes burthen. At this time, extensive deposits of copper and arsenic were discovered and mining flourished in the surrounding hillsides. Sadly, it was a short lived mining boom, over by the end of the century.
Saltash was already far more prominent some 200 years before Morwellham. In 1069 it was held by Reginald de Valletort for William the Conquereror and Saltash borough gained jurisdiction over the rivers Tamar and Lynher from her ‘Seigneurs,’ who in 1270 were recorded as maintaining a ferry at Saltash. By 1337 the Burgesses of Saltash were paying the Black Prince £10 per year for a ferry across Saltash Passage.
Those Burgesses new a thing or two about turning a profit. Sand dredged from the Tamar off Saltash was always much in demand and the burgesses levied 12d annually on every barge carrying sand; the same fee was levied on every boat carrying a fishing net as well. However, by 1616, the Duke of Cornwall grew wise to the profits that were being made and so took action to recover the royalties owed him. By the reign of George IV, Saltash burgesses were paying an annual rent of £18 to the Duchy, along with 100 oysters to the King’s local auditor.
Within the ancient charters rewritten over time, the boundaries of the Tamar remained clearly defined. The Tamar’s waters, attached to the borough of Saltash, ran seaward to an imaginary line drawn across Plymouth Sound from Penlee Point on the west to the Shagstone on the East; thence to Prince Rock and Liara, to Old Man’s Beard in the Tavy and to Ogle (Okel) tor rock above Calstock in the Tamar. They ran from Guddenbeak Point on the St German’s or Lynher river to Crumble Tor rock in the Lynher and included all the intervening bays, creeks and places as far as high-water mark.
The clever Saltash Burgesses hadn’t missed a trick. Saltash was due one schilling from every vessel dropping anchor in the Port of Plymouth in the area defined above; the fees to be collected as they passed Drakes Island at the narrow entrance to the estuary.
A good description of Victorian life on the Tamar can be gleaned from the writing of Mr G P Hearder in his ‘Guide to the Tamar’. In 1841, he engaged two watermen to row him the length of the Tamar in a single day and he recorded what he saw on his trip. Saltash beaches were full of ships and ship-building yards; the women of the town out on the sands raking up cockles. ‘The absence of clothing on their nether regions is a grotesque appearance’ wrote Hearder.
Above Cargreen, he witnessed men in anchored boats using rakes three feet long to separate the oysters from their gravelly beds, whilst further upriver near Weir Quay, he watched a huge chimney belching enormous volumes of smoke from the furnaces below it. An extensive silver and lead refining plant was once established there and Hearder wrote that his ears were assaulted by the noise of water wheels and the creaking of engines that drained the mines. At the quayside, he witnessed three brigs and assorted barges offloading limestone, coal and other commodities for the surrounding countryside before loading back up with metalliferous ores.
Today, the smelting/mine office is a bungalow, the quayside a small boatyard and the surrounding hillsides are disfigured by huge spoil heaps and desolate decaying mine buildings. An industrial archaeologist’s paradise and playground, Hearder’s description of a thriving busy shipping lane and industrial landscape has all but disappeared. The water borne folk who once battled daily with erratic tides, merciless currents, fickle winds and thick squelching mud have long gone.
It comes as a surprise that records show that in the 1850’s, a greater number of vessels carrying a higher tonnage of cargoes were being handled along the Tamar than on the Mersey and into the Port of Liverpool. But this was, to all intents and purposes, a short-lived boom. Stealthy, unannounced globalisation was already rearing its head. Alluvial tin from Malaya, copper from America, Australia and South Africa; all could be mined more cheaply, more quickly and in greater quantities. The shallow limited deposits of the Tamar valley were doomed to be left in the ground; only recovered by a very short-lived revival in trade, when demand for sand, bricks and other building materials for the extensions to the Devonport Dockyard soared in 1896. By 1907, when the Keynham extension to the dockyards were open, this trade to cased to exist.
Monday, 22 February 2021
It is hard work and a very steep learning curve, this astrophotography malarkey.
Still, here is my very first effort a waxing gibbous moon, taken a bit early in the evening.
Camera details were:
- ISO 100
- 200mm lens
- manual focus
Friday, 19 February 2021
Exploring the industrial archaeology of the river Tamar
I have over the years made many voyages up the river Tamar and also the Lynher. However, more often than not, I have sailed up both rivers as far as I can and in doing so, I have passed by many nooks and crannies’ that are worthy of fuller exploration.
I had two articles recently published in the Dinghy Cruising Journal outlining one such three-day trip back in 2019 and you can access those articles here, if you are interested:
I also wrote another article for another magazine on what I had learned as a novice sailor about dinghy cruising up tidal rivers, an article aimed at beginners like me:
If you prefer visual, then my playlist of Tamar and Lynher cruises can be found here:
Use the 'search' box on the right hand menu to find other posts about the Tamar and the Lynher - use the terms 'Tamar' and 'Lynher'.
Use the 'search' box on the right hand menu to find other posts about the Tamar and the Lynher - use the terms 'Tamar' and 'Lynher'.
So, with all that material available to encourage you to bring your boat down this way for a cruise, why do any more about sailing the Tamar?
Well, it’s the valleys unique industrial archaeology. The Tamar valley and its associated tributaries are an UNESCO World Heritage site. Everything from brick works to arsenic mines and much more besides. And during a conversation up at Cotehele, with some local filmmakers about something else entirely, I suddenly realised I had been missing opportunities when voyaging the area to really explore this hidden and/or long forgotten history.
If you believe in co-incidences, then you will like this one. A week after this conversation, a blog and vlog subscriber got in touch with me as well to offer me an old copy of a book about the maritime culture of the Tamar Valley. I could have it, if I promised to go and explore the salt marsh areas opposite Cargreen.
We have been so used to learning about the maritime history associated with the river Tamar, about boats like ‘Shamrock’ and the people who sailed her or some of the famous boatyards such as that of ‘Goss’ up at Calstock, that as Ian D Merry put it in his lovely Maritime Monograph and Report ‘The shipping and trade of the river Tamar’ (Part 1 – No. 46, 1980)
“much information was also being uncovered not only about the barges and other sailing craft using the river……..but above all about the river’s influence on the pattern of life and shipping along its banks.”
“..the close interweaving of land and shipping activities in the lives of the population along its tidal reaches had a significance and interest setting them apart from other south England riverside communities”.
I’m now part way through this lovely book/pamphlet and I have to say it is a fascinating read and its helping crystallise some ideas in my head.
The Tamar with its variable winds and tides, mudflats and fringing marshlands, is a rich, complex river system where through history, a mariner’s world and that of local farmers often combined. Many farmers were part time bargemen or active shareholders in the barges that took their produce down river to market. Often farmers had their own little boats to go off in search of sand or seaweed for manure on their fields and many farms had their own little quaysides. Some even acted as ferry points across the river from Devon to Cornwall and back again. Whatever the case, as Merry observed “the possession of a boat and the skill to use it was as essential to the Tamar Valley farmer as knowing where his best field lay for the growing of wheat”.
It is these little quays that attract my interest. I’ve managed to ground myself on the ancient remains of one of them already; trapping Arwen’s rudder between some old Cornish boulders and rotting timber baulks that edged an original old stone quay, on the way up to Treluggan. A sharp lesson learned about always keeping your eye out for navigation hazards and not closing too close with a river shoreline!
Then, I haven't been up the Tavy yet to Bere Ferrers and Lopwell Dam; I haven't explored Millbrook and I still fancy seeing how far I can get up the rivers Polbathic and Tiddy. Then there are the Kingsmill, Wivelscombe and Forder Lakes as well.
With its steep valley sides, frequent reedy river margins and lack of roads down to the water’s edge, there was always gong to be a close relationship between farmer and sailor in the Tamar Valley. The river was always the easiest way of getting into and out of the area. And then of course, there was the 19th C discovery of metalliferous mines. As Merry says, the Tamar valley, already a notable Middle Ages centre for lead and silver mining, became a major centre of copper and arsenic production as well. And from that point on, local sailing transport dominated the river right up to the end of WW2.
As is the way, one industry attracts another, the good old geographical ‘multiplier effect’. Agriculture and mining led to shipbuilding; the need for quaysides led to quarrying. A demand for local housing generated by all these industries led to local brickmaking. With primitive quays and rocky, sloping hards, local boats had to be rugged and thus Tamar barges were massively timbered boats. By the 19th C two types of boat for the Tamar were being built – the Tamar barges – heavy and stout and capable of coastal voyages; and then lighter boats for ’inside the river’ work.
With all this in mind, an idea has begun to take shape. An exploration series of mini voyages; piloting Arwen up the many muddy creeks and tidal inlets to find the hidden brickworks, the crumbling farm quaysides, the old arsenic mines and the ancient limekilns. Journeys, pushing through small creeks in fringing reedbeds and up the tiny streams into the old ‘Lakes’.
Arwen’s centreboard is going to bounce on the sandbanks; her rudder may get stuck in the mud. I’m going to miscalculate and find myself ‘high and dry’ until the next tide. I will have to learn to work the spring tides effectively. I’d better sort out the rowing position, because there is going to be a fair amount of that. I may even need to fashion some form of ‘punt pole’. I need to learn how to tow ‘Angharad’ my tiny ‘Stickleback’ canoe behind Arwen.
But, the glimpses of reed wildlife, the ruins of Victorian industrial archaeology, opportunities for some stunning landscape astrophotography with the milky way behind old chimney stacks; and meeting people who still rely on the river for their economic survival. What great experiences these will be. What a set of mini voyages. All those sailing skills to be learned and mastered.
Over the next few weeks, I will study the maps, the charts and old photographs, to work out an itinerary of places to visit by boat, canoe and on foot. I’ll share these plans as they unfold. To be sure, it isn’t going to be a one-year project. My initial guess is this will take a couple of sailing seasons at least and my first inclination is to head up river to Calstock and from there right up to Morwellham quay. From there, I will then slowly work down the river in sections. It may be over ambitious; I may give up part way through because I tire of it and there are, let’s face it, other places to sail and adventures to be had (I’m still working on my ‘grand voyage’ one sailing season – a complete voyage from Penzance back around to Topsham, up the river Exe – stopping off at various places and sailing up some river systems like the Fal and the Fowey).
Time will tell. But right now, this Tamar project has caught my interest and its worth pursuing a little further.
Some interesting pictures of the old quayside of New Port on the upper Tamar can be found here:
Monday, 15 February 2021
I am awaiting my new telescope. A new hobby I'm taking up. It will travel with me when we go motorhoming in Bryony.
But, and I know it sounds stupid, but what if it could accompany me upriver....the Tamar....in Arwen?
There are some lovely spots with minimal light pollution and some big open skies; some framed with stupendous viaducts; others with mill houses. There are some little marsh creeks, where there is sufficient hard ground or a hidden crumbling quayside where I could stand a tripod mounted scope securely. Certainly plenty of good spots for some landscape astrophotography at the very least.
Anyway, to this end, here are some posts I've written about my tentative footsteps into the world of astronomy. I will post blogs at a later date about my tentative steps into the world of marine landscape astrophotography when I have got my head around it. For now, most of my reading time is focused on getting to grips with the night sky constellations, lists of deep space objects and working out how to use a computerized GOTO mount system.
I also rashly signed up to some OU courses on astronomy as well!
You can find my first blogs about beginning with a telescope here at
In the meantime, aside of reading 'Turn Left at Orion', I have also been reading a fascinating book about the history of the Tamar valley. It's made me think a deeper exploration of my local river system is required. I normally sail straight up the rivers to their headwaters, bypassing lots of interesting places.
So this year when lock down is lifted I intend exploring the marshes, lakes, creeks, tributaries, nooks and crannies of the river Tamar. Along the way I will stop off and take time to explore the history of this extraordinary place.
More in future posts but you can access videos of my recent cruises up the Tamar and Lynher here
Start with this short appetiser 😉😁 Here's to getting back out of lock down and back onto the water. Fair winds everyone.
Saturday, 13 February 2021
I have just had the privilege of listening to John do a zoom talk to the Dinghy Cruising Association. It was about boat design and John took us through the steps and considerations he goes through when designing his boats.
It was a extraordinary talk and just showed what a greater thinker and designer he is. From the comments it was clearly very well received.
I love the navigator design. I just wish I could do justice to the design and sail Arwen better.
I think the talk was recorded and it will be available at some stage, probably on the DCA website.
If you are interested in boat design or John's designs, this is a talk worth listening to.
When lock down is lifted, I will get back in Arwen and endeavour to sail her better this year. It's understanding sail trimming that lets me down each time. The navigator is an excellent boat, if only her skipper could do better 🙄
Sunday, 31 January 2021
Joel has modified his sleeping platform onboard his navigator. The link is here
Tuesday, 26 January 2021
How many of us, dried out on a beach, have stuck our head out from under the boom tent, to look upwards at the myriad of stars and celestial bodies above our head to marvel at the vastness of the universe around us?
'The Boss' and I have been fortunate enough over the years to have seen some amazing night skies both here in the UK and abroad and we would be hard pressed to choose which location was the most spectacular. How do you compare the deep inky black skies above a small Finnish ski resort, coloured by the faint reds and greens of shimmering northern lights against the extraordinary big sky vistas of the Namib desert where billions of twinkling stars appeared like photons of light escaping through pin prick holes in the smooth black velvet fabric of space?
From looking skywards from the garden of our rainforest lodge in Costa Rica, searching for visible star clusters, glowing nebulae and shooting stars, (accompanied by the nocturnal sound track of frogs and howler monkeys) to looking at Saturn, Jupiter and various nebulae through 10”, 12” and 16” Newtonian Dobsonian Reflector telescopes with local Gran Canaria island astronomers, we have often searched out the beauty that is found within the celestial sphere above us.
For yes, our skies above are a celestial sphere and it can take a little time to get your head around this concept.
Imagine that the interior of a model globe has been painted black. Suspended freely at the centre of the interior is a green tennis ball representing the planet Earth. The black inside surface of the globe around the tennis ball has been divided into random jigsaw shaped pieces – each piece having one of the 88 constellations painted on it. If we were on the tennis ball looking up – we would see a ‘domed’ night sky above us with constellations. This is the celestial sphere!
Surrounding each constellation in our real celestial sphere above us, the other pin pricks of light you see are deep space objects associated with that particular constellation. They are possibly millions of light years beyond the constellation or thousands of light years in front of it, but because, from our visual viewpoint on Earth, they seem to be in its vicinity, they are associated with that particular constellation.
Mind blowing isn’t it - a dome shaped celestial heaven above us - but what stunning beauty it is.
So, why am I sharing this astronomical information with you on a blog purporting to be about dinghy cruising?
As a child I wanted to be a naturalist, an explorer and an astronomer. I ended up being a geography teacher and a traveller but that fascination with the heavens has never left me.
Now with retirement and more leisure time, I am returning to an interest that started long ago, when I did my first solo night under canvas as a 9-year-old in the Llanberis Pass in Snowdonia. I spent most of that night with my head out of the tent, staring up at the skies above. How many stars were out there? How did space form? How far could I go before I reached the edge? What was beyond space? Who out there, was watching me, watching them, watching me? Why did stars shoot across the sky?
Simple curiosity - it has never left me – and I hope it never will.
And so I am wondering, is it possible to safely secure a telescope in your dinghy, so that it remains in a waterproof cocoon until needed? Is it possible to land on a beach and stop a couple of nights to do some deep sky stargazing?
I'm thinking of all those places tucked away up my local rivers where there is minimal light pollution - up at Treluggan on the river Lynher or at Cotehele on the Tamar?
What fantastic opportunities are there for some real stargazing and astronomical curiosity?
I don't know whether its possible or not; whether it is worth risking such delicate equipment; whether it would be better to take astronomical binoculars and tripod rather than a telescope. But I think it is worth considering and investigating further.
I am also thinking about travelling in our new motorhome with a telescope as well. Of course, the perfect combination would be towing Arwen behind the motorhome but that is a step too far for 'SWMBO' at this moment in time 😄
Since I am completely new to this field of science and hobby, I thought it might be useful to start at the very beginning, tracing my journey from researching about and buying a telescope right through to using it for the first time when on tour with Bryony and then possibly in Arwen.
So, over the next few months, a regular series of posts about ‘astronomy whilst on motorhome tour’ (and potentially 'sheltered water dinghy cruising') will appear on this blog and/or my associated motorhoming blog which can be found at https://wherenexthun.blogspot.com where you can enter the word 'astronomy' in the search bar to get all related posts.
So, as a way of introducing astronomy, I reflect on why it might be such a fun thing to do, whether it be from your back garden, local park, a campsite somewhere in the UK or Europe, or from a sheltered tidal inlet up a river system.
Firstly, I want to put the case that astronomy is often about finding and celebrating the stupendous beauty in the celestial skies above our heads.
But, think how much more we would see and appreciate with an amateur telescope? Invisible deep space objects suddenly become visible and whilst an amateur telescope will never give us Hubble style images, our first sighting of the colourful Orion nebula or of Saturn’s rings, on our own telescope, will surely still leave us awe struck.
And who could not be fascinated by the extreme dangers that lurk in our neighbourhood of space? Immense supernova explosions, stars a million times hotter than our own sun, black holes that crush entire areas of the universe. Then there are comets racing across the heavens at hundreds of miles per second and tiny meteorites and rocks impacting our own moon; or what about the intense, inconceivable cold temperatures and vacuum of space, that ISS astronauts encounter on every spacewalk they do? Without our protective magnetic shield, how much of our rich biodiversity would survive the extreme radiation? Yes, space is hostile, extreme and challenging and for some of us that is fascinating in itself. A tremendous demonstration of power surrounding us, that largely goes unnoticed.
From the time humans started to walk on our planet, the heavens above have intrigued us. How much human endeavour and curiosity has been expended over the centuries on trying to better understand the stars?
From thinking the earth was the centre of the universe with all objects revolving around us to now proposing the existence of multi-universes, astronomers have slowly extended our thinking and scientific understanding. We are, as far as we know, one star with one life supporting accompanying planet in just one solar system and one galaxy amongst countless billions of others.
Astronomy has extended our knowledge in physics, maths, philosophy, chemistry, biology. Through astronomy we have realised our place within the universe and learned more about how we came to be and how we are inextricably linked to it; for yes, we are all made of stardust, every atom within our body made from the elements that came from space.
When we look to the stars through our telescopes, we are not looking at that star or galaxy as it is now. We are seeing it as it was hundreds, thousands or even millions of light years ago, when photons of light left it and started travelling in our direction. Thus, the heavens give us a sense of time and insights into our own history.
Our story, our relationship with space – who we are, how we got here, how our planet formed and evolved – has been celebrated down the ages. The myths associated with constellation patterns or how stars guided our first explorations across great oceans and land masses; how they helped denote the start and end of our farming timescales or contributed to our language and culture. Or even more recently, the history of our exploration of space – the race to put a man in space, to orbit our planet, to land and walk on the moon. Here, now, at the start of the 21st century, we have sent probes to neighbouring planets and passing comets, building on those sent out in the 20th century, which have now cleared our very own solar system; still transmitting data from deep space.
On the back of such human endeavours comes the key realisation that the destiny and future of humankind still lies inextricably linked with space. As Elgon Musk and others start to commercialise space travel and exploration, new jobs, new discoveries, new scientific thinking and new branches of engineering evolve to influence every aspect of our daily lives. Our navigation around the planet, the billions of communications we send daily, all dependent upon our understanding of space.
Perhaps, sooner than we might anticipate, many of us will witness people walk on Mars, build a moon base colony and possibly even leave our own solar system on humanity’s very first ‘Star Trek’ into our own galaxy on board large rocket ships.
Now, with all this in mind, who wouldn’t really want to take a telescope with them, to explore the celestial heavens above whilst on their cruises up sheltered riverways?
In my next post on astronomy, I explore what kind of telescopes are available for beginners and what kind of things you might want to consider if you are thinking of taking up amateur astronomy.
You can access this and subsequent posts on astronomy here at https://wherenexthun.blogspot.com/2021/01/buying-your-first-telescope-what-do-you.html
Remember, I am at the very start of my own journey of discovery, so when I write, it is from the perspective of a true beginner with no knowledge of the field. Where I can though, I will pass on useful websites and article references for those who want to delve deeper.
References for images and research: