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

Wednesday 28 July 2010

....there and back again!

What a fantastic day’s sailing....and I’ve managed to make my first solo sailing cruise out beyond the breakwater over to the river Yealm. Everything pretty well went much to plan although the first leg out beyond the breakwater involved several tacks since the wind was coming directly from the south and not the west as forecast.

Outward leg with a series of tacks.....I still have to get this 'angles and lines'
bit sorted but at least I'm getting there......I went for speed mainly!

I departed 09.30am from the east mallard buoy which is just off the end of the Mountbatten breakwater. It took an hour of tacking back and forth to reach the breakwater......I’d planned for 45 minutes so I’m quite pleased really. I passed a lovely Cornish shrimper anchored right under Jennycliffe just off the beach. They were bobbing head to wind having a cup of tea and then raised sails and set off across the front of the hoe heading for the Tamar I suspect.

The big red LPG tanker came out on the outgoing tide, passing me around 9.40 ish as I was marvelling at how low and fast cormorants fly....they hug those wave tops and travel at extraordinary speeds – they are so graceful and streamlined in the air; as they are in water. One kept me company for 10 minutes, diving alongside the boat and then bobbing back up again a bit further ahead of me.

Passing the Whitesands marker on the eastern side of the sound
I used to fish about 100m off this point in an old dinghy someone had given me
The slight blurriness - haven't got used to holding camera and tiller simultaneously - sorry folks

Passing Bovisand fort and the eastern end of the breakwater at 10.35 – I was able to say hi to some passing canoeists.......who were travelling across my bows to go inside the breakwater. They were heading over to Mt Edgecumbe. At this stage Arwen was doing a close reach at about 4.5kts and the winds were light but slowly heading around to the south west.

Looks like hard work that does! Difficult to believe when you see
me now...but I used to do quite a bit of canoeing!

Fort Bovisand, the old Napoleonic fort on the a top diving school.
The big gully is I think, where there was a inclined bought the
cannon balls down from the armoury above - all powered by horses

I was surprised at how many boats were out and about
for a weekday......guess its tourists...which is great for local
marine businesses

Just south of the breakwater, the sea state changed and Arwen started to roll and plunge – deep troughs and big crests – a wind against tide situation through a confined area! She still managed to make 4.5kts but there was a lot of slamming and corkscrewing motion – quite fun actually! Passing heybrook bay, a motor cruiser came past....everyone waving and yelling across what a wonderful sight under full sail Arwen made...well that’s down to the designer John Welsford.......but its kind of nice getting the compliments.

We passed the Heybrook bay outer marker post...found at the end of renny rocks. So often I have seen this in the distance, from safe within the confines of the breakwater and sound....but now I was actually passing it. It was a milestone for Arwen and me...the furthest out to sea we’d been...brilliant. It was 11.15am and we were cruising at 3.5 kts – the wind had dropped slightly and I hadn’t quite trimmed the sails properly...a crease was appearing from clew to peak but I couldn’t be bothered to get up and alter the sprit boom position – lazy sailor – sorry folks!

Outer Renny Rocks post....visible from Plymouth Hoe

The great Mewstone began to loom is incredibly steep on the landward side; a number of small fishing boats were trying to fish the outer ledges which extend seawards on the open sea’s an underwater wave cut platform. Well, they were brave guys that’s all I can say because the waves above that ledge were pitching in all directions; steepening with awe inspiring troughs. The inevitable happened and all moved at some stage to the more sheltered and somewhat smoother waters on the north east side. But fair do’s to them for trying.

The great mewstone island...found in Wembury Bay

Going to the south of the mewstone...we are really out at sea now!

By now it was 11.45am, we’d turned into a downwind position coming around the southern side of the Mewstone and we were down to 1.9 kts. A series of turns onto beam reaches and then direct downwind sections....and we arrived at the outer red buoy marking the tip of Yealm bar at 12.30pm. By 12.40 I’d anchored off cellars beach and had dived into the sea for a quick swim over to the beach. There were a few families crab hunting under the rocks...the squeals of delight that periodically punctuated the air suggested some success!. The water was relatively warm and I snorkelled across the kelp and sea grass beds onto the sands......a few flat fish (dabs and plaice); a shoal of small mullet gliding by and several crabs scuttling across the bottom to the nearest seaweed clump. A group of teenage girls braved the waters.....plenty of screams then......and then everyone drifted off back up the cliff path and I had the beach to my self – perfect lunch stop!

I'm still developing navigation skills....its going to take some time!

the entrance to the River Yealm. The bar is to the left in the photograph
This is 150m inside the estuary shows how narrow the entrance for boats is!

Cellars beach, a relatively calm anchorage unless winds are directly from the west
in which case - they whistle down through the estuary entrance!

The channel really does pass very close to the rocks and beach at this point and it was noticeable that all yachts hugged those red channel markers tightly. A couple of lovely boats passed by motoring out in to the outer estuary area. The bar began to uncover as the tide fell further – waves showing where the treacherous sands were. By now it was drizzling and visibility out at sea had reduced significantly to about could see the rain squalls tracking across the coastline...pretty impressive. Somehow I managed to sail through and avoid them all – don’t ask me how.....but it didn’t rain on me once today!

Arwen at anchor off cellars beach

I prised myself away and out of the relative shelter of the Yealm at 1.45pm.........the wind by now had turned to the west and so it was some longish tacks upwind. I kept going through areas of steep waves followed by really still glassy areas as if oil had been poured on water – quite peculiar.

I came quite close to ending upon the slimers – doh.....forgot about them....and having taken avoidance action, it was a beam reach out to sea to clear the ledges of the Mewstone. By now the wind had picked up and before long we were heading around the Mewstone and back towards Plymouth on a reach doing 5.5kts – we were racing along! The time from the outer breakwater back to Mallard buoy.......20 minutes (an hour out; 20 minutes back in – wow!)

Weather turning nasty as I approach Plymouth Sound.
The rocky peninsula on the east is Renny rocks at Heybrook Bay

I actually close hauled all the way back down the eastern side of the sound and then took a leaf out of all the big yachts following me in (9 of them in a line astern – huge billowing canvas sails....I felt a right minnow in Arwen, but sailing that as everyone over took – there were waves , smiles, compliments.......good fun)....anyway taking a leaf out of their books – I did what the ones in front they entered the Cattedown, they furled jibs, turned head to wind rapidly , dropped sails and then turned back eastwards and motored in; Arwen’s sails were furled and dropped slickly between the lazy jacks, the outboard started first went slick, felt slick and I suspect looked pretty slick.

Return leg from River Yealm to Plymouth Sound

Racing back across Wembury Bay in a series of tacks to clear
The Mewstone and get an angle of approach that will take
me in one long run down the eastern side of Plymouth Sound

So the statistics........maximum speed was 6.7 kts (the fastest Arwen and I have been – another wow moment); average speed across the trip was 3.5kts. Journey time excluding stops was 5 hrs 18 minutes and the distance travelled 16.8 nautical miles. For Arwen and me – it’s our longest journey, with the fastest speeds on some legs...with the windiest conditions – gusting force 5+at times. I remembered what John and others said and a) went for speed not angle of approach and b) kept an eye on the amount of weather helm, adjusting the mizzen as necessary. Although we were angled at times, at no stage did she seem over pressed with regard to the amount of canvas up...well at least there seemed to be just a little weather helm and it never became too much.

I feel we achieved a milestone’s given me a huge confidence boost in my own for Arwen, I never had any doubts about her – she’s a thorough bred design....I knew she could do it all! Thank you John!

Here is a film record of the day....enjoy

Monday 26 July 2010

trip to the yealm and back tomorrow

As promised here are the proposed details of my trip tomorrow. I'm leaving QAB and sailing 16 NM as a return trip. I reckon I'll average 3 kts so dead reckoning makes it roughly 5 - 6 hr trip without stops. The tides are springs with a tidal range of 4m. HT is 6.50am 5.0m; low tide is 1335 1.0m. if I've planned this I'll go out of Plymouth Sound on the ebb and should have a 3kt flow going with me; if I leave the yealm promptly at slack water....I won't combat the incoming tide and I should be able to pick it up going through the breakwater gaps into the sound on the return leg.

The weather is changeable at the moment. The 1435 forecast from the Met office (confirmed by wind guru) puts the weather at westerly winds 8 - 14 knots with afternoon gusts of 23 knts (basically force 3 - 4 rising 5); some drizzle, but visibility is moderate to good and the sea state is slight to moderate with wave heights around 1m.

I spent some time this morning entering waypoints into my GPS and setting up a route plan. I intend motoring out to east mallard buoy just off the Mountbatten breakwater, raising sails and then sailing off to the Duke Rock Buoy just north of the eastern end of the Plymouth breakwater. if the wind holds true as westerlies - this pretty much puts me on a beam reach starboard tack sail all the way (although I've already learned that nothing is ever as easy as it looks or sounds in sailing!)

From there its a short hop across to the eastern end of the breakwater and then on southwards to east tinker buoy. From there I am heading to around 300m south west of the Great Mewstone island; then a short downwind sail to south of the island to clear the inner and outer slimes. The GPS then has to pick up a transit which lines up Wembury church tower to the north and the cardinal marks at cellars beach in the yealm outer estuary entrance (a bearing of 088M). Finally I'll know I've cleared the bar at low water-ish time if I stay to the left of the port red buoy marking the southern tip of this treacherous place.

Obviously, the return leg is the reverse of this route. If the wind remains from the west...its going to be a very long series of tacks to windward to pass Great Mewstone before turning north onto a beam reach back into Plymouth Sound.

Well that's it really.  This is the longest venture Arwen will have made and whilst I have complete faith in the seaworthiness of my's my abilities I am more concerned about. I hope I have the skills and knowledge to be safe and successful tomorrow.

Wish me luck


Sunday 25 July 2010

A little stunner

A brief post....was heading across to Monty's on the Barbican for lattes and bacon pancake stacks with maple syrup and side salad breakfast....and time to read Sunday papers.....minus teenage kids.....when spotted this lovely boat.......I was told it is a rare example of a river tamar dinghy...I have no idea whether that's true or not.......but I think you will agree - it is a little stunner.

I'm off sailing around to the river yealm on Tuesday.......I'll detail more tomorrow...but you can check out a previous post on my musings about the yealm at


Saturday 24 July 2010

Like watching a beached elephant on!

Well, I have to say, getting back into Arwen from the water provided an interesting feat of endurance......I’ve definitely got to lose a few pounds this summer....although with fairness I have lost quite a bit of weight over the last few months already – so things are looking up. Anyway more about my gymnastic feats later on!

Arwen's deck seems a lot higher from water level!

The day started well......a launch at Queen Anne’s Battery by Sutton Harbour just inside the Cattedown entrance......where I met my very first blog’ve actually read some of my blog........I was slightly overwhelmed. Despite them reading it, I would say this even if they hadn’t. I always launch at’s a great ramp, easy parking, good mooring pontoon...there is a little cafe which makes brilliant bacon rolls and wonderful coffee to take away...and most importantly the QAB team are great people – always smiling; always a positive word.....always a helping hand to take a mooring rope if they are passing by. I Like QAB and I like their office and yard team too......people who make you feel welcome. I also guess it has its advantages if you are a visiting yacht – you can catch a water taxi straight across to the Barbican – or it’s a 10 minute stroll around past the Marine Aquarium. The historic Barbican has old buildings, curio shops and it’s a 10 minute walk into the main city centre. There are two big chandlers with 10 minutes walk of the mooring pontoons as well .

Followed this nice boat out from Queen Anne's Battery

Anyway back to yesterday’s trip. The kids came with me yesterday (there’s a first!) and they sailed across Plymouth Sound with me to Cawsand (enticed by the offer of a swim (my daughter) and a Cornish pasty, chips and coke (my son!!).

'Hey Dad....I hate my photo being taken' look!

Wind was from west south west and so Cawsand was virtually in the no-go it was tacking most of the way; it was also very light (6 knots) and of variable direction....making it even trickier. The tide was coming in (a 4.8m tide) and so we were going against the flow. In saying that we averaged 3.8 knots most of the way; took some deviations to see some of the Russian and US Naval ships (in port to do manoeuvres with our Navy)...and generally ambled across. My daughter did most of the helming...and very well she did too as she hasn’t sailed a boat in almost a year! There was one rough always gets a bit ‘rolly’ just west of the end of the western end o f the breakwater. This is where the main channel is and of course, it’s an area no longer in the lee of the massive breakwater!

My sailing buddy......the only one in the family who shares
her Dad's passion for boats and all things to do with the sea!

We tried out the new tacking manoeuvre recommended by Steve Early (Log of Spartina)......who told us to keep the jib backed as we went into the that the bow would whip around faster and then release jibs and reset them when through the turn. Coupled with advice from friends off the John Welsford forum about not turning the tiller/rudder so hard over......and guess what – we went through all tacks successfully without losing any speed or stalling......HEY THANKS GUYS!

My 'loves visiting museums with his Dad' buddy.........
hates boats.......awesome on horseback........loves the
British Museum!

We also tried something else that one of the guys on the forum told me. I’ve been having trouble keeping the upper yard tied close to the mast; and keeping its for’ard end going past the mast. Someone suggested when I tie on the main-haul halyard – leave enough spare so that I could loop it around the mast and tie it back onto the yard. Well it certainly more banging or flapping of the upper part of the sail; dropping the sail was a different matter – it didn’t drop and so we were being spun around by the wind; the sail was billowing out over the port side of the boat....I had to jump up on deck and struggle with a flapping sail and yard to untie the loop – then it went down as sweetly as anything between my lazy! Don’t want to repeat that again and wouldn’t be able to if single handed – so need to rethink ‘loop idea’ again!

The loop around the mast idea; I also forgot to take off the normal
parrell bead strop that I - need to rethink the whole thing

Lovely old clinker built fishing boat...drifting for Bass between
The Draystone buoy and back of Drakes Island

It was a cloudy day with some sunny spells and temperatures around 19C....and more importantly. It didn’t rain! Fish were jumping (mainly mackerel) but also some bright orange fish which we have never seen before.....know I’m a keen fisherman and I know our fish....but this one......well it beats me......the water seems warm and we have over several years been getting more exotic fish drifting up from the I am on the fish identification really was bright orange too!

Testing the water temperature!!

Cawsand had several boats moored in it – right up close to the shore line where there was a combination of shelter from wind, deep water and no rocks – the sea was a lovely green colour due to the sand beneath. Most of the boats were big white and blue plastic thingies......however, tucked in between them were two drascombes rafted up together. We dropped sails and went the last 50m by outboard – motored up and down and checked the anchorage and then dropped anchor...ending up about 20m from the shoreline and out of the breeze that was picking up. Then my daughter had this bright idea about going for a swim....and so in we son having the good sense to stay in the wasn’t quite as warm as we thought! So it was a short 10 minute swim! Managed to get some shots of Arwen; discovered that if I held onto the sides my feet can rest on the skeg beneath. Discovered that I can’t pull myself up out of the water....sides are too high up. The little brass step on the transom helps but is still too high up to get a foot onto it without being a contortionist who is able to raise a leg above head height. HOWEVER, a rope ladder strop hung off the back port corner, coupled with the brass step and ‘bob’s yer uncle’ – the rope ladder enables me to stand vertically in the water alongside the hull; the brass step is now within range and so out I pop over the coaming to end up in a heap in the cockpit gratings! I did it I know the ‘method’ damned exhausting though!

Moored just off shore in the lee of a wooded hill, Cawsand village and old
Napoleonic fort in background!

Arwen looks great from the waterline....she really does have lovely curves...despite being built in a garage with only 18” clearance both sides. The bow is odd – I’d never noticed before...well they say that no boat has identical sides...Arwen definitely doesn’ adds to her charm!

Pictureques Kingsands, nextdoor to Cawsands

Towelled down, ham sandwiches, hot chocolate drinks and we were ready to start off; weighing anchor is easy with two in the boat – I pull up; daughter keeps engine ticking over and pointing head to problem. We made good progress back running on a training run with wind almost behind us.....making 4kts....and then the wind! Weird!! Nothing for it but to motor the last 1.5NM back to QAB...where we helped a young guy in his 20’s launch his huge 7m long big that despite dipping the double wheels well over the top.....the boat just wouldn’t shift.....he asked me to reverse his car a little further down the ramp whilst he remained in the boat...lowering two HUGH outboards.....I jumped it’s some form of four wheel Nissan Tank drive thingy which doesn’t have normal I did think about giving it a go...but hey the thought of the entire rig submerged at the foot of the slipway with the tide still coming in........I got out, jumped onto his trailer and used brute force to push the bow...his rib rolled off eventually.......moral of the tale? If it’s so big you can’t launch single handed, then it ain’t worth small boat philosophy!!!!!! (Said with tongue firmly in cheek).

Oh.....the looks like a beached elephant seal bit?  Well watch me getting back into Arwe
and and you see what I mean....enjoy!

Tuesday 20 July 2010

short report about last week

What a fantastic week I had last week. Sure, it was early morning starts....7am collecting students followed by a 45 minute drive....but the little boat trip across to our base each morning made it all worthwhile. Salcombe really is a wonderfully picturesque estuary/harbour.

We did so much sailing last week – in horrendous times it was force 6, gusting force 8 and in a Laser Pico that is no joke – exhilarating! I have never sailed so fast in such a small boat before..........leaning out so far that your head is in water at times – awesome! Anyway, we managed to film all the sailing...but for security reasons I cannot show it obviously. I have put some short clips together which don’t identify students – we were racing with one student per instructor to give them a ‘thrill ride experience’ in force 5 winds with gusts to force 7. You can find it here at

It was really difficult finding shelter areas in which teenagers could learn to sail but surprisingly by end of week at least 12 had gained RYA levels 1 and 2 – a testimony to the talented instructors we used. We travelled everywhere, Mill sands at the outer estuary edge; frogmore creek and south pool..........when the tide is in some of the little river tributaries are wonderful.

We did have a day of carnage ......21 capsizes in 35 minutes......violent gusts; but all the teenagers, none of whom had sailed before, picked themselves back up and got on with.......sailing....very brave despite some being terrified. All want to come back again next year!

The day of Armageddon saw 51 capsizes in 55 minutes......when I looked around at one point I saw EVERY single Pico except mine capsized with kids hanging on laughing themselves silly despite horrendous windy gusts.....that’s just great to see in this day and age of XBOX addicts! I know some of you will say that is ridiculous...they were only starting sailing.......well they were safe; there were several safety boats out; an instructor ratio of one to four; it was a hazard free sailing area; they were able to opt out if they wanted to ........and they were having FUN!

Of course, there were other funny when the instructors set up a race only to watch all the teenagers sail straight across a mid channel sandbank and get themselves stranded in 50cm of water.......all having to jump out and wade their boats out of trouble – hilarious.......well you had to be there really! I found it funny because I had the good sense to raise my rudder and dagger board and so avoided trouble.......with a falling spring tide already 2 hrs down.......sheer carnage!

Sailing Arwen has made me a lazy sailor – there was lots I had forgotten about sail trimming; boat balance and trim etc......make a mistake in a high speed Pico and it ends in tears....well in the water! Sadly I’m getting too old for this acrobatic movement from one side of the boat to the other....and of course I sail an aft rigged boat – so a centre rigged one initially caused me a few problems. At the end of the week I’d only capsized once and given the conditions – I’m really quite proud of that! It was good to go back through the level 2 syllabus and practice things like sailing on and off beaches...something I rarely do in Arwen as I resort to the outboard to easily....shame on me!

I’m intending to get out sailing in Arwen within the week and so will post a report then......I plan on doing lots of sailing now the summer holidays have arrived!!


Monday 19 July 2010

Hey still alive!

hey folks...still alive....but sorry been out of touch for a bit. I've been sailing with a bunch of fantastic teenagers all last week in Salcombe. Man do I hate Laser Picos...far too small....but in truth - such great fun!

I'll post a longer report next week, but in the are some of the boats moored in Salcombe at the moment........enjoy!


Sunday 11 July 2010

Can you believe it?

It has been heatwave in our area now for a couple of months - heat wave by British standards....our local reservoir is getting quite low and the ground in dry and parched. local Farmers are worried about the quality of the grass - they won't have enough winter silage at this rate. I'm out sailing next week for five days in Salcombe.......and guess what..............rain! Lots of it! Can you believe it?


Wednesday 7 July 2010

checking out Salcombe

I'm off in Salcombe all next week and so popped across late this afternoon to check things out one more time and to meet a few people to discuss strategies etc. Managed to get a few photographs whilst over there.........enjoy!

People getting ready for a dinghy race at one of the slipways
I think these are 'Merlin' dinghies

All pointing head to wind

They appear to be light and probably quite fast I should think

As I walked around to the office, I came across this brace of beauties

One of the lovely little boat building sheds that back onto the creek

Not 100% sure but I think this is one of the Salcombe yawls
Hope he has that securely tied off somewhere

Arrived along the town front just in time to see one of the Merlins tacking up the small creek

He was pretty content just to watch the world drift by

Locals plied back and forth.....moving the myriad of hire inflatables.....

......that congregate like an impenetrable grey pathway behind the Whitestrand Pontoon

The South Sands ferry comes and goes on the top of the tide..........

........watched over by the might of the Salcombe RNLI lifeboat.............

..whilst at the moorings..all the little boats just bobbed about on the tide!