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 www.YouTube.com/c/plymouthwelshboy 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

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

The arrival of my new telescope , the Skywatcher Discovery 150 i GOTO

 My new telescope finally arrived last week.  

Skywatcher Discovery 150i GOTO newtonian telescope
with SynScan app on smartphone to control its movement and access the database

Regular readers will know that I have taken up astrophotography and astronomy. My intention is to do them both when out on overnight up-river voyages in Arwen. There are one or two lovely, relatively dark sky, spots up the Lynher and Tamar and on gentle breeze days I might take either the Ioptron skytracker pro or the telescope with me. I am just working on how to safely keep them waterproofed and securely stored out of harm's way in Arwen. There again I might only take the skytracker as that is lightweight, small and portable.  (You can read about that by referring back a couple of posts). 


So, over the last few nights of clear skies I have been down to a local beach spot where the light pollution from the city is less. I can sit in the boot of the car, with the boot door raised above me and have telescope and ioptron tracker set up on tripods outside. 

It has, putting it mildly, been an interesting learning curve these last few nights. A good job I am a life time learning fan! Thus far, I have made some simple basic errors but had lots of fun and some good learning experiences:

  • tripping over the tripods or knocking them when moving around - I am innately clumsy
  • not getting the tripods level at the start
  • not adjusting and calibrating my phone correctly so that the GOTO mount was out in its own tracking of stars and galaxies - that was a frustrating hour and a half trying to work out why the telescope pointed 90 degrees away from the object I had commanded it to GOTO πŸ˜•
  • forgetting to set my phone to a red night setting, so every time I referred to one of the apps - it lit up bright white and ruined my night vision, which I had spent the last 30 minutes building up
  • not calibrating the skytracker correctly so that the 200 x 2 minute photos I took were all out with elongated stars - that's over two hours of my life I won't get back again 😭
  • watching the power cable from the powertank to the GOTO mount, wrap itself around the tripod as I made the telescope change various directions - that was a cable knot that took some sorting!
  • not being able to set the camera and lens to the correct orientation because the first ball head mount I used was too small and unbeknown to me, kept slipping during the three hours that I tried to take photos with an intervalometer 😩. That was 400 photos into the digital waste bin! 
  • trying to get my head around the various eyepieces and how to use them in conjunction with Barlow lenses
  • trying to remember and recognise the key constellations and marker stars 
The skies above my back garden are too light polluted and also give restricted views of the night sky. Plenty of open skies facing north and nothing facing south due to the steeply wooded garden slope. 



Moon rise around 01.30 am over the river Yealm estuary

Last night my neighbours in the car park proved entertaining. For several hours they had a small BBQ between their two converted campervans. It was full of dancing orange flames and they sat around it singing, playing sitar music and the bongos and chanting. It got fairly wacky but chilled around 12.20am when one of them continually tried to get into their van without opening a door. When she passed out, I wasn't sure whether it was due to drink, concussion or the copious amounts of weed consumed. Either way, her companions carried her into the van and all seemed well. They put out the BBQ fire and everything was quiet for the rest of the night. 

Millennials eh? Such lightweights! In bed by 1.00 am!

So, one of the key things I am learning is that it is easier to get the images on the night and a damn sight harder to then process them in the software the next day! I am trying to master PIPP, Sequator, AutoStarkkert, Deep Sky Stacker and Affinity Photo. 

HUGE learning curve! 

No, seriously HUGE!!

So here are my first images using the ioptron skytracker pro. I haven't quite yet mastered how to use the DSLR on the telescope. That is next week's learning! 

120 lights Canon 800d with 24mm lens  Exposure 55s each at ISO 800 and F/2.8
and then x25 dark frames followed by x 25 bias frames 
It is supposed to be the North America Nebula! 

same camera - 50 exposures at 1/250 with 200mm lens at F/10 and ISO 100


This is the top photograph after my first attempt at processing
The red cloud is hydrogen gas 

The Ioptron Skywatcher Pro



So, later this month, I will set out with the skytracker above and head up the local rivers for some sailing fun. I will beach each night and dry out and from above the high tide mark I will set up the new tripod, ioptron and camera and try to get some night sky shots. Hopefully some of the milky way above Arwen on a remote beach. But that involves taking two separate photographs, one of Arwen and the landscape and then a series of shots of the milky way, before creating a composite image.

And that is a whole new skill set to master! 
Its hard work this astrophotography malarkey! 




Saturday, 22 May 2021

Rudder repaired

 The rudder is repaired and repainted. Time to go sailing again. Time to see if once and for all I can get to grips with proper seaman like sail trimming ...... Feels like such a dark art 😱. I just don't get why I don't understand how to do it properly.

So frustrating. 



Tuesday, 18 May 2021

The Ioptron Skytracker Pro

 As well as a telescope for my newly found hobbies of astronomy and astrophotography (which by the way still hasn’t arrived yet and I ordered it back at the start of January and its now May as I write this blog), I have just received an Ioptron skytracker Polar Pro.

Copyright: Ioptron

It is basically a compact, motorised one axis mount which precisely tracks the stars as they pass overhead of you. It has a maximum payload capacity of 6.6 pounds; weighs 2.5 lbs and is made of die-cast aluminium covered by ABS plastic. It has an internal battery (2000 mAh) which is rechargeable using a micro USB cable and it has 4 tracking speeds.

Copyright:AstroBackyard

And when I mean compact, I really do mean compact. It fits in my hand and my camera bag with no problem.

Well packaged it arrives in a padded bag. It is a snug fit. I struggle to get it in and out but I guess that means it won’t shift around!

Unpacking the kit, I discovered the mount, an alt-azimuth base, a brass 3/8 and ¼ inch threaded ball head mount plate, a charging cable and the polar scope. People will also need a ball head to mount their camera to the tracker. I just used one I had off my Joby Gorillapod.

Copyright: AstroBackyard

I’ve spent a couple of hours fiddling around with it working out how to set the latitude angle and also how to alter the horizontal plane as well and I think I have these worked out now. The polar scope has proved troublesome. This little scope has a scale reticule inside it which you use to line up the tracker with Polaris in the night sky. Sadly, my reticule seems to be a 90-degree angle to what it should be which does my head in when trying to do the simple alignment adjustments needed. I have contacted Rother Valley Optics and Ioptron to see if one of them can send me a new one.

Here is my problem. When the polar scope is correctly inserted into its holder as per the instruction manual, my reticule scale is not in the correct position. It is 90 degrees off to the left! 

I have yet to have a clear night where I can now get out and use it but I am assured by various astrophotography groups I subscribe to that I should now be able to take longer exposures of the night sky without any star trailing and that I should be able to capture images of distant nebulae and galaxies.

with the new tracker and some more on-line learning, I should be able to capture images like this using just my DSLR and the basic lenses. Above is the horsehead nebulae of Orion's belt and below the core of the Milky Way

I’m rather excited by this prospect. Anyway, the kit is coming with my Camera gear every time we now travel in Bryony (our motorhome) or Arwen (my 14’ cruising dinghy). I have the dark skies of Norfolk and North Wales beckoning me in the next few months along with planned voyages around the Fowey, Fal, Helford and Tamar rivers!

And now you can see why we have gone to the trouble of up-plating Bryony! It was the tow bar, the e bikes, the bike rack, the telescope and the camera gear wot did us in. Maggie would like to point out that when we recently went through all the stuff we could ditch out of Bryony, all she had that was her’s …. were her clothes and ………. a tiny 12v hair dryer!

I am still trying to live this down!

 

On Arwen, I haven’t yet decided whether to take the telescope in the boat. I am still trying how to keep it safe and waterproofed during a capsize. However, the tracker will come with me on each overnight trip now.

I will let you know how I get on with the tracker. This could be the start of a new interest group: ‘motorhoming astronomers!’

Clear skies, live long and prosper motorhoming buddies, and fair winds to all you sailors.

Steve

 

What are my initial impressions of the tracker?

Pros: Seems lightweight, portable, easy to put in camera rucksack. Fits on my standard photographic tripod. Has a good padded travel case. Construction seems solid. Well designed. Procedure to align tracker with Polaris seems straight forward from the videos I have watched thus far. Can be used in either northern or southern hemisphere – so will be taken on our future international travels as well. Easy to adjust. The associated app for locating Polaris works well. The motor is soundless, very impressive. There are four speeds – one for tracking night sky; one for night sky with landscape included; and two others for sun and moon tracking.

Cons: without the optional counterweight stem, then the payload is only 2.4lbs which is basically a DSLR and 50mm lens max so o telephoto lenses on it without the counterweight. Need to take all straps off your camera so they don’t catch the polar scope. Similarly make a little bag to hold your intervalometer so that it can be velcro’d to a tripod leg. That stops the cable from catching anything as the mount rotates.

If you would like to know more about how he tracker works, these videos should help






Sunday, 9 May 2021

A much welcome 'shake down' cruise in a John Welsford designed 'navigator' called Arwen

 https://youtu.be/xq0Cpg8O7Rc



A much needed shake down cruise

 At last. It has been a long, long wait but finally, finally, I have been out on the water in Arwen.

The log details are simple enough:

  • Force 3 winds with gusts to 17knots; SE around to SSW
  • Low tide at 10.00am; high tide at 16.00pm
  • passage plan: to sail across to Cremyll, just inside the entrance of the river Tamar and then back out into Plymouth Sound, with possible end of day trip up the river Plym before returning to Queen Ann's Battery marina. 
In a shake down cruise I would expect to do sailing on various points of wind, practise some reefing and heaving to, re-stow some of the onboard equipment and possibly practise using the anchor buddy by landing on a near by beach.

All that went out the window. The winds were perfect for just settling back and reaching back and fore across the sound. And why not?

So, I am baffled as to how I managed to take chunks out of my rudder! A mystery; but tomorrow is clearly going to be another 'repair' day! 

Ho hum!




Monday, 5 April 2021

First astronomy outings

 First astronomy outings

Funny old thing is life. Just as I was cursing my bad luck, a fortuitous stroke of good luck befell me. Regular blog readers will know I have ordered a telescope. I have taken up astronomy and the telescope will accompany us in Bryony our motorhome and onboard Arwen for some trips. You can read about the telescope and what I have been learning about amateur astronomy in previous blog posts or you can pop across to https://wherenexthun.blogspot.com for more detailed posts.

Anyway, said telescope was due at the end of February. Then it got delayed to the end of March. Then “It’s possible that it is on one of the crates on that ship in the Suez Canal”. Now it is due at the end of April! I’m not holding my breath on this one. A shortage of raw materials, a lack of workers, a shortage of shipping crates and uncertainty in supplies and back orders apparently.

So, the fortuitous good luck? Whilst browsing Facebook ‘market place’ for something entirely different, I “accidently” came across a table top, 4” Newtonian Dobsonian, beginner’s telescope in good condition; hardly used in fact.

I promptly checked out the prices of new ones and discovered that you couldn’t get one new for love nor money anywhere in the UK at this moment in time. Every telescope stockist known to man this side of the English Channel is ‘out of stock – awaiting new orders’.

And here was this one, barely used and just under half the price of a new one. By the time I had contacted the seller it was too late. He had someone coming to see it that morning. So disappointing; but imagine my glee when three hours later the seller contacted me to say the buyer hadn’t turned up. “Would you like to buy it?” Would I like to buy it? Would I….never mind!

It turns out that he hadn’t used it once. The little plastic insulator tab was still in the battery compartment. Brand new - what a stroke of luck.



And so, I have been out on two sessions under the stars putting into practice what I have learned so far. Which turned out to be nowhere near as much as I thought I had!

Session one was a shambles. I couldn’t find the stars or nebulae I was looking for. I couldn’t get the finderscope to work properly and I hadn’t aligned it correctly. A misaligned red dot finderscope on a telescope is a devious creationist thing of Satan! Let’s just leave it there shall we!



I dropped eyepieces in the dark. I kept leaving my red light on my headtorch on full beam. I couldn’t use higher magnification eyepieces because I kept losing the star I was looking at; don’t get me started on how to use a Barlow lens!


I tried to align the smartphone holder, in the dark. That’s an hour of my life I won’t get back again!

So much easier to align the smartphone holder in daylight!

You have to be a contortionist to use the finderscope. It has a red dot which seems to migrate within the viewfinder on its own accord. If the telescope is elevated at an angle of greater than 45 degrees, you have to virtually lie on the floor to be able to sight up the finderscope. They advertise it as a table top telescope for beginners. Are these beginners fairy folk?  You’d have to be the size of a barbie or action man to sight up this scope. Or you would need a table which is five feet high!

And then, just as you focus on something interesting, it moves out of view. So, you have to chase after it, only you have to remember that the image is upside down and reversed so the way you think you need to move the tube assembly is actually wrong, it’s the ‘other’ direction!

Meanwhile, to actually look down the eyepiece requires back breaking bends and after a few minutes, you can’t physically straighten. Throw in extreme cold, biting winds, stumbling around in the dark, a completely useless set of planetarium apps because you chose the only spot in your locality which doesn’t have any form of smart phone signal and hey it’s a challenging night!

And yes, I adored every minute of it! I am well and truly hooked.

Of course, it doesn’t help if you are trying to learn two separate things simultaneously. There is astrophotography – taking photographs of night landscapes and night skies; and there is astronomy – learning about the night sky and using a telescope to view night sky objects. Trying to learn both at the same time is …… courageous, challenging, stimulating …………. stupid!

But hey, being stupid, can sometimes be really, really fun can’t it!

Steve

 

PS: the photo below is the result of my second night session and I have outlined the details below.

“Last night was my first proper astrophotography session. I am trying to get to grips with two things - learning basic astronomy using a Newtonian telescope and astrophotography - using a DSLR camera and lens without a star tracker. I'm starting from a base of no knowledge whatsoever, but ever the lifelong learner..............

This is my first ever astro-photograph of a nebula. I took 300 photos of the general vicinity of the nebula as follows 1.3 sec,  300 images,  F/2.8,  ISO 1600,  200mm FL

No calibration frames and no star tracker.

I used the software program DeepSkyStacker for the very first time and then loaded the image up into Affinity Photo which is also new to me. I have never used Photoshop or Lightroom...so the learning curve has been steep to say the least.

This is my first effort. I will get better!

Messier 42, NGC 1976 - Great Orion Nebula - one of the brightest nebulae in the sky, one of the nearest star forming regions to our planet, Earth.  It is visible to the naked eye as a hazy patch surrounding the middle star of Orion's sword - Theta Orionis. The sword is just south of Orion's belt.

It is a diffuse emission nebula. If I were able to use a star tracker and longer exposure times, the nebula would appear redder and more violet-blue in colour. The greenish tint is caused by radiation from doubly ionized oxygen. It is 1350 light years away from us and is approximately 24 light years across in size. The youngest brightest stars within it are thought to be about 100,000 years old and emit large quantities of ionizing ultraviolet radiation, thus causing the nebula to glow by fluorescence.

There are approximately 700 stars in various stages of formation within this nebula.

Rubbish photo but what marvels of the multiverse there are to see if we take the time to look up occasionally”. 

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Every garden should have...

 A little log store. This one is built out of scrap wood I had lying around in the garage. It accompanies the new fire pit....which contains volcanic pumice ash from Etna of all places.....

We don't have outdoor fires very often but with a cleared patio area and the old BBQ and patio heater sent to the recycling tip.....we are altering the evening ambience...πŸ˜„

I just made/built this as I went along........and it shows πŸ˜„




Thursday, 4 March 2021

Should recreational sailors pay for the disposal of their expired pyrotechnic flares?

 Now, this little news clip on page 10 of ‘Sailing Today’ caught my eye. “You pay for flare disposal” says government.

Apparently, the DOT wants leisure sailors to pay for flare disposal and it has put this proposal out to consultation which ends on 15th March. The department is proposing a ‘polluter pays’ principle. It says in the consultation document:

“The industry should have in place effective mechanisms and processes that facilitate the safe management, containment, storage and disposal of such items……and for which they are usually obliged to pay”

“It is perhaps not unreasonable, therefore, to encourage the recreational boating sector to adopt a similar approach in disposing of its own waste products”, the consultation says.  

I’m not sure how I feel about this proposal so I’d welcome other peoples’ comments in the comment box below so that I can gain a range of perspectives to help me reach an informed opinion.  

 

I used to take my expired flares to Brixham coastguard before it closed. Then Force Four chandlery took them when I bought a new set from them.  However, the coastguard scheme operating at 17 stations ended in December 2021 apparently, because their contract with an ordnance disposal contract came to an end. Hence the consultation now.  There are, so it seems, 360,000 flares in circulation throughout UK maritime waters, within any one three-year period!

 

So, why does this interest me?

Well, I carry flares onboard Arwen. Two red handheld, two orange smoke handhelds, a floating orange smoke. One white handheld.  I have no idea whether that is what I should be carrying – it came as a sort of inshore coastal waters pack deal.  I know that for recreational vessels up to 13.7m in length, there are no statutory requirements of safety equipment other than those required under SOLAS V. For recreational boats over 13.7m in length I think they have to carry a minimum of four red pyrotechnic flares (but I still need to check this fact so bear with me).

In truth, I’ve never been comfortable with pyrotechnics. I have used some whilst mountain rescue training many, many years ago. I’ve never used any in a boat. I found them unpredictable to say the least; but that could be due to my unfamiliarity with using them.

It strikes me that they are now an antiquated method of distress alerting. After all modern technology seems to provide safer, more reliable alternatives to pyrotechnics. There is EPIRB, PLB, VHF DSC, AIS for a start – some of that I carry on Arwen (smartphone AIS plotter, PLB (with SAR tracking, various navigation apps)). I have a handheld VHF but it does have the obvious limitations regarding range, line of sight etc. As a general rule, I very rarely travel more than four miles off shore when sailing the south Devon and Cornwall coastlines, so do I need ot carry pyrotechnic flares at all?

Most of this techie stuff is affordable and seemingly far safer to use than rolling about in a sinking boat trying to light a flare which then lasts a few seconds (orange smokes excepted). But then, in fairness, I have never had to use any of the technology in a distress situation whilst at sea, so maybe I don’t know enough about this to make any valid points! And if all else fails, an orange floating smoke in an emergency will be very welcome, thank you very much.

On the other hand, I only carry a limited number of orange smokes and these could be used up pretty quickly without any guaranteed success in an emergency situation.  The red flares will burn for no more than 15s max I suspect. There is no guarantee that anyone will see them and then go on to alert the emergency services. In fact, the RYA lists a whole number of problems with using pyrotechnics, not least of which is their limited three-year serviceable life and the disposal of them afterwards.

As I said before, I know that the regulations are clear that I don’t need to carry any pyrotechnics whatsoever on my boat given its size. Recreational boaters below 24m in length (that’s their boat, not themselves) are free to choose what means of distress alerting and location they wish to carry according to the RYA summary of the guidance. But they also say…… “The RYA strongly recommends that recreational craft carry both a means of distress alerting and a means of indicating location should Search and Rescue (SAR) services be required”. I’m sure my VHF, smart phone and PLB cover this.

 

And so, to my main issue with this consultation: electronic visual distress signals (EVDS). Known to some as laser flares, they are handheld non pyrotechnic devices which work out cheaper, safer, easier to use and easier to dispose of than traditional pyrotechnic flares. However, they are not currently recognised as an international distress signal in COLREG Annex IV. So, they cannot be considered a means of initiating distress but can be used for visual location once a distress alert has been sent (MCA recognition in Marine Information Note 542M+F).  

Now I know I am not a brilliant, experienced sailor; I know my experiences are limited to basically messing about in a small boat on inshore coastal and estuary waters. But, surely, it is time for the MCA to recognise that small boats in particular shouldn’t be carrying dangerous pyrotechnics and that there is a wealth of other better technology for distress alerting out there and this includes making EVDS part of that solution.

Rightly or wrongly, I feel pressured into having old pyrotechnics onboard even though I have other better distress alerting technologies available to me. I know it’s a self-imposed pressure born out of paranoia and a healthy self-preservation, major risk adverse instinct. But I wonder if there is a need for the government to come really clean about what recreational boaters need to carry in terms of distress alerting equipment – the RYA and RNLI have useful information on it. Is it time for research on the effectiveness of EVDS to be published and their inclusion into COLREGs be made, if it hasn’t been done so yet? Surely the common sense, sustainable approach is to try and reduce the number of old-style pyrotechnic flares being used in the first place. Then there wouldn’t be a disposal problem and the need for another cost added to boating! Should the government, MCA and other regulatory bodies now include EVDS’s? Would they be useful as a distress signal during daylight if all other distress alert technologies you had, had failed?

As regular readers of this blog know, I am oft to comment how simplistic my views often are and how generally naive I am about marine issues. I sense I am being rather naΓ―ve now, so fire away, give me your thoughts in the comment box below. Educate me towards a more enlightened perspective on this issue and consultation because at the moment the sceptic within me says the government has just found another money-making venture whilst my more ‘trusting’ soul says its right we should pay – it’s the sustainable fair way of resolving the problem and why should the MCA cover our costs?  

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Arwen gets a spring clean

 I got out in Arwen four times during 2020. That is our worst sailing year together. The reasons are obvious - a number of lock downs, but even so!

My first trip was 24th June and we did a five hour sail around Plymouth Sound in ESE to SE winds at a steady 10 knots with gusts up to 18kts. It was a 4.8m outgoing tide.

The second trip was 1st August. six hours sailing in F3/4 winds with gusts to F5. We went out to Draystone Buoy and Rame Head and it was very rolly. I remember that trip - I was seasick. I fell on a hatch badly and hurt my knee. The reefing system broke.  

We went out again on the 8th and then the 13th August as well. The first trip I was accompanied by Mag, her annual boat trip. Over to Cawsands, cup of coffee, sail back along the outer breakwater. Light winds, cloudless skies, 24C.  

On the last trip I was seeking out the porpoise, the tuna shoals and Minke whales. Found all except the whales. Could hear them but couldn't see them. Got some great views of diving gannets and two sunfish, so that was a good bonus. Nice SSW breeze, very light. Apparently I went up to three miles past the breakwater on the way to the Eddystone lighthouse.


Well, with the PM announcing his road map I hope to do more sailing this year than last. Admittedly there are some trip away in the motorhome that interfere with sailing plans but I should get a huge chunk of the summer. I should be able to go out on the water again from March 8th. 

And towards that aim, Arwen came off the drive for the first time since August. She was as you can see from the video, in a bit of a state. However, four hours later and she was clean, well clean-ish, with some areas for maintenance identified and her interior lockers tidied up. 

It was good to get back on board her even if it was just dream sailing along our road!