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

Friday, 14 February 2020

New learning keeping reefing simple

I've been catching up on the DCA forum reading and one set of posts caught my attention, about reefing. There, within a few minutes reading, were several longstanding questions I'd had, that finally got answered.

The problem of my topping lift/ lazy jacks was easily solved. My arrangement is a combined topping lift/lazy jack arrangement in which a line runs from the cockpit, around a block at the foot of the mast, up the side of the mast to another block attached up top. From there it runs down the starboard side of the sail, through a loop eye on the base of the boom and back up the other side where it is tied off at the top of the mast, port side. The sail furls neatly between the two lines and when I haul the free end of the line back in the cockpit; it acts as a topping lift and raises the boom.

Now, when putting up the boom tent, I have had to haul lots of spare line through and then grasp the two lazy jacks and move them forward along the boom to tie them off against the mast. I can then lay out and unfold the boom tarp tent.

However, Chris had a far more simpler idea. He has a hook on the underside of his boom and the line goes under the boom and is retained in the aft facing hook. He then unclips the lazy jacks loop from the hook and just takes it forward to the mast. No pulling loads of line through. So simple...wish I'd thought of that.

His second idea relates to reefing pennants. I have a reefing pennant that is tied off in a bowline around the boom, runs up to the leech reefing cringle and then back down the other side, around a block on the side of the boom and off to a cleat.  Chris kept it simple. He just runs the pennant up to the cringle, through it and then immediately has a parrel bead tied off on the pennant end. When sail is up, the pennant is just one side of the sail. Come reefing time, he pulls on the parrel bead and down comes the leech to the first reefing point. The surplus pennant line is ran along the boom to a cleat. Simple!

I wish I could think simple like Chris. 
(In hindsight I could have rephrased that last sentence...and wish to point out I am not casting any aspersions on Chris's cognitive mental thought processes :) )  

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Installing a small electric bilge pump in Arwen. Part 1

Thus far, I have managed to get away with having a large bucket, a kayak pump and a bailer as my emergency stuff on-board Arwen.

I have every intention of installing a Whale Gusher Urchin with removable handle along the centre case when funds permit.  In the meantime, good friend Dave very generously donated a small Whale Orca electric bilge pump to Arwen.  It is a 12V DC pump with a 1.5 amp draw and pumps 450 gph or 28/lts/min with a 1m head. 

Followers of the blog will know that I have avoided installing a large 12v battery system for powering small electronics on Arwen. Still cycling, camping and travelling, I buy equipment that will cross sports. Thus I went for a series of small power banks and a Solar panel system for recharging and powering up my VHF radio and camera battery equipment and gimbals.

So why install a small electric bilge pump?

  • to pump out rain

    water that cascades off the sails during showers and collects along various points throughout the cockpit
  • to pump out the rainwater that leaks through Arwen's tarpaulin and collects against the front thwart bulkhead (the drive is steep sloped). 
  • to have a movable system which can be put in forward or rear cockpit sections as necessary
So, what is the set up I am going to attempt? Well its a idea shamelessly stolen from kayakers and open canoeists.....a small 12V 7amp battery in a box with associated wiring and switches and a pump that can be moved about. The box and pump on its plywood base can be placed under bungee straps that will adorn front, centre ad stern thwarts and also at various corners of the forward and aft cockpit areas. 

It is always difficult trying to sail and use the kayak pump during a shower - so hopefully this system will make things easier.  Below is a list of the components and a simple wiring diagram (forgive my poor drawing skills). There will be a video telling the story of the installation later on this spring. 

The components:

  • a sealed lead acid Yuasa rechargeable battery 12V 7amp
  • a Lock n Seal plastic box
  • one 12v on-off switch
  • 1 thru-hull fitting - 3/4" internal diametre
  • a length of smooth bore, reinforced plastic pipe 3/4" internal diametre - I avoided corrugated pipe as it can reduce discharge rates by up to 30%
  • a 2 amp fuse and in-line fuse holder
  • the Whale Orca 500 pump
  • a piece of 9mm plywood which will be varnished and act as the base for the strainer to be screwed to
  • various spade and butt connectors
  • several lengths of heat shrink tubing
  • a small 12V battery charger 

The wiring diagram:

Of course, people who know me well will tell you that I have no idea what I'm doing most days. so, this will be an interesting experiment! I really have no idea whether its a good idea or not; or whether it will work or not; but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  'You don't know what you don't know' and 'necessity is the mother of all invention'. 

The intention is to put the battery, fuse and switch inside or on top of the box. I know that a lead acid sealed battery can still vent hydrogen and therefore should never be put in a sealed box. Consequently, I need to find a way of venting the box whilst minimising possible water ingress. I have no idea on this issue so if any readers do - please drop me a comment in the box below. 

Thursday, 30 January 2020

What could possibly go wrong?

One bilge pump, kindly donated by good friend Dave (for which I  owe him a meal and trip up north to explore some harbours)

One 12v 7.0 Ah lead sealed battery.

One borrowed 'The 12V bible for boats' book.

One idiot with less electrical knowledge than a garden squirrel who still has to get a waterproof toggle switch, an in-line waterproof 2 amp fuse, some extra wire and some heat shrink tubing.

What could possibly go wrong?

Blog post and video to follow in next few weeks when it stops raining!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Writing articles

Writing articles for journals is hard work. I am currently grappling with this now - trying to work out what the magazine audience might want. Alas, I am not the most concise or erudite of people.

The audience are small boat sailors and dinghy cruisers. I've just submitted two articles - a part one and part two about a recent voyage up the Lynher and Tamar rivers close to home.

One of the very best small boat magazines available and I'm not just saying that because they have accepted two articles from me. It is of an amazing quality with a mix of rally reports, letters and a wide range of in-depth feature articles 

I think that a good recount article (in this instance)  should have a clear start middle and end; be anecdotal, informative and past tense (although I may have used some poetic licence here by writing it in the present tense).

I went for strong opening paragraphs, I hope - recounting a situation and then spending time leading up to how it happened. I tried to move the reader forward using a variety of approaches - timings; my inner voice thinking; our position on the river; by state of tide etc.

I included some dialogue I encountered form locals I met and really focused on trying to bring the places I passed through alive - smells, sounds, sights, emotions, scenery, wildlife, events and encounters, history and landmarks. I wanted readers to have a strong sense of place through little stories about features, local history - trying to build a picture of the rivers and how they might have looked and changed through time.  I was aiming to paint a picture in a readers minds eye - tough task!

Was there any drama - yup - some - whether I conveyed it well enough and the tensions that ensued, I don't know - guess we will find out from reader comments and correspondence in next few issues.

I tried to 'show' and 'tell' and 'ponder/muse' throughout. I hoped I conveyed the joys of single handed sailing a small boat on local voyages up stunning rivers. The skills learned well and not so well to move a craft by sail, oar, wind and current alone.

Did I use enough signposts to help readers keep a focus on the goals of the article - don't know. Did I use sufficiently vivid language? No idea but I hope I did my English teachers who taught me justice. ringing deep in the recesses of my brain are their entreaties about reining in prose, moving it swiftly along so that it hits the emotions of my readers.
One teacher always talked about the poetry of prose, the hidden rhythms of hard nouns and startling verbs, where nouns burn pictures in the mind and verbs move every noun along. the stab of sudden moonlight, the ripples of the lake in the darkness; the murmuring, chuckling voice of the outgoing tidal waters in the upper most river creeks? i read these examples somewhere some time ago and they stuck with me but I cant remember where I read them - but I liked them.

Another teacher of mine talked about letting a reader 'see, hear and feel' - I definitely went for that in both articles. Oh and take the reader down 'startling paths' - mystery, surprise, logic, tension, suspense, vulnerability.


I've just submitted another article about my inability to master the simple standing lug sail rig. 'Tips for sailing up tidal rivers' lies here on the computer in front of me - a work in progress!

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

January 1st 2020

Joining us throughout today have been some fat squirrels which I suspect we need to put on a diet and two new visitors - a young stag and doe. All taken through our kitchen window just after first light this morning but they are still here now in the late afternoon.

Happy New Year everyone from our woodland garden.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Happy New Year

Wherever you may be, whether you be sailing or not, Happy New Year to you all and may 2020 bring all that you desire.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Sorting what I carry and where I store it

One of the things I must do is go back through what I carry on-board Arwen and re-think where I store it all.

Back in May 2010 I stored things like this

Recently, I have been storing things like this...

I'm sure I carry way too much.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Some of the posts from 2019.......

May I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Over the festive season, if you need a quick fix of dinghy cruising nautica, here are some of the posts from 2019.....

I managed to sail up two rivers without resorting to the outboard. I started to learn some canvas work skills, built a set of oars and reshaped the yard and boom. I added five new videos to my YouTube channel at

I saw plenty of wildlife, visited some lovely traditional boatyards and met wonderful new people.

Anyway, have a wonderful festive break - see you out on the water in 2020.

Finally in print

Sailing back from the river Yealm

Making a sailors ditty bag

Making new shrouds for Arwen

Note: these are the old shrouds - I made new ones out of dyneema

Building a new pair of oars - part 11

Sailing up South Pool creek

Charging a VHF using portable power banks

A day sail around Plymouth Sound

Getting great photographs of your boat out on the water

Safety considerations  - what do you carry in your PFD?

Making galley boxes - an update