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

Tuesday 31 August 2010


Angharad is the new 'stickleback canoe' I'm building as a small tender for Arwen.....she's featured in a previous post. Progress has been slow finishing her with one or two disasters on the way. Below is a shot of what a well built one looks like - this one was built by Adrian Gingell and was on display at Beale Park boat show this year.

Iain Oughtred's Stickleback canoe design built by Adrian Gingell - what a stunner!

Today was a good day - I managed to coat the gunwales with Deks Ojie - several coats as they dried nicely in the sunshine. Also managed to give a final coat of International Toplac White to the interior and the outer coaming. so she is now drying in the garage......all that has to be done now is
a) primer coat on hull
b) several top coats of Toplac burgundy colour to match the sheer plank of Arwen on hull
c) four more varnish coats to deck area
d) putting on some side ropes around deck
e) putting on painters at each end

.......oh yes.......and finding some cheap double blade kayak paddles.........sort of a necessity really!
I'll leave this post with another shot of Adrian's stunning canoe......

The one year I don't go to Beale...........and the sun is actually shining!


Sunday 29 August 2010

Sneaked out for a sail!

I did have the intention of sailing around into Whitsand Bay. The weather forecasts leading up to yesterday had been getting favourable.....winds from NW light force 3 or 4 maximum. Outgoing tide - HT at 0830........could sail around Rame Head and then sail back.

Sadly it wasn't to be........the weather once again was changeable and whilst the wind was a constant force 4; there were times when it was gusting force 5/6 and experience has taught me that you need to be careful along our coastline in these conditions. Arwen is a boat designed to easily cope with that...but sadly her Skipper's experience doesn't quite match her capabilities....yet!

The day started well - flat, glassy calm seas and no wind. Motoring out on the out going tide was pleasant. people were fishing the falling tide off the mountbatten breakwater point. Casting into deep water can get bass, thornback rays and pollack; float fishing or spinning gets mackerel and pollack. Big ballan wrasse cruise between the boulders. at night you can get conger eels as well. I've caught mullet off there before now.......but sadly I think the place is now overfished because of its easy accessibility.

I've done some minor modifications on Arwen since the Salcombe trip.  I've installed some elastic between black plastic eyes - across the front starboard thwart. Now I can secure charts underneath it and when not needing them - the front thwart cushion goes over the top.  I discovered I could alter the position of the cam cleat on the mainsheet block (which attaches to the rear deck on a huge mahogany block of wood). Now the mainsheet doesn't jam - its free running BUT I can lock off the mainsheet if needbe in the cam cleat; basically I moved it up to its top position. I tend to now trap the mainsheet between the wooden tiller extension and the tiller which can be done one handed and that serves nicely!

As I motored out to my normal 'pull up the sails' position just south of the mountbatten breakwater, the coastguard broadcast the updated weather forecast.....NW winds, slight to moderate seas and rising from force 4 to force 5/6. That sort of settled it really....with an outgoing tide; wind against tide situation and worsening weather - rounding Rame Head in a 14' open boat isn't for the inexperienced. There are some nasty tidal overfalls off that headland unless you go 3 miles offshore.
Getting up the Tamar wasn't to be an option unless I motored - outgoing spring tide rushing through the devil point's narrows and then because much of the river runs north to south - constant tacking across the channel to make any really that appealing.

Plan B....the safer option!

And so to plan B........I'd just mess about in the sound and just on the southern side of the breakwater. So it was I headed across to Cawsand.....following some of the bigger boats out through the wide western entrance. Plenty of bigger boats were hightailing it down to Looe and Fowey......the north west winds and orientation of the coast would mean that they would be on a broad or close reach most of the way....perfect sailing conditions for them.  I played 'chase' with some of them and actually overtook a few too.......Arwen has an impressive turn of speed when she needs to....but I needed to be careful........I'd managed to leave the four ballast sacks I carry on the driveway - doh! Without ballast and in rising winds - she can prove to be a mite skittish for a newbie sailor! 

Western end Plymouth breakwater lighthouse

After passing the breakwater lighthouse - I headed on down to the draystone buoy....I was in too minds......should I attempt the sail around Rame?  But then the wind began to rise and common sense took over..........I turned head to wind facing Penlee chapel and whilst heaved to....put in a reef in the mainsail. I have a slab reefing system which is easy to use - you unhook the the downhaul tackle and clip it to the next eye up the sail; then you pull on the slab reef sheet and finally work your way along the boom - tying the loose sail with the reef strings. It was whilst doing this that I remembered something from the bigbury bay incident reported a few posts ago .......a) I needed a snap shackle already in the next reef eye cringle up - it would make it easier adjusting the downhaul; and secondly....b) on the front edge of the sail - there was a reef tie missing so that it left a bit of the sail flapping. You'll see this in the video that goes with this post. Must remember to sort these out for next sail.

Arwen is really well behaved under a reef.......the ride became more comfortable; she didn't heel as much and weather helm became more manageable. I'm beginning to get the hang of her sail configuration now. when tacking, I allow the jib to back until Arwen has swung her bow right through 70 degrees before releasing the jib sheet so it can blow to the other side..........under this method........she doesn't stall head to wind and rarely loses any speed in the tack.  I've stopped being lazy and now move forward as and when to adjust the sprit boom rig tackle.  I keep more attention on sail trim and am getting better at sailing just on the wind edge; making constant small adjustments when I see the leading edge of the sail beginning to billow inwards. The jib tell tales have been a great help. I think methodically about setting sails and I'm getting a handle for using the mizzen.......slackening it off when needed. Before I just left it tensioned.

I managed to alter the homemade outboard bracket, extending it slightly....with the result that the rudder now clears the prop.......since the Salcombe sail - I now tie the outboard so it can't turn and I steer by tiller - a much more comfortable experience although great care is needed entering and exiting the QAB marina lanes - Arwen now has a far larger 'turning circle'.

Anyway, we played about reaching between Penlee point and Bovisand for an hour or so......watching bigger boats head out to sea. Arwen rode the waves well. I hove to to watch boats and have a bite to eat.....Arwen obediently drifted forward and downwind - very well mannered. I even remembered to hove to on starboard tack!

And was time to head back in.  I managed to pick a right line which put me on a close reach across the outer sound and so into the eastern entrance. A short tack across the entrance put me on a line to clear Bovisand point and head close hauled down the Jennycliffe bay side of the sound. This was with one hour to go before low water and so the ebb had faltered and the wind against tide chop didn't arise. We'd keep an average speed of 3.8 kts for most of the trip; the fastest speed was 5.2kts....surfing on a broad reach across the waves towards Bovisand!

Of course - it couldn't last!  I arrived back at the QAB slip to find it was low tide and there was no water alongside the mooring pontoons. I tied up alongside a small motorboat for an hour...cleared the boat and dozed in the sun. When I thought the tide had risen sufficiently, I warped Arwen alongside the pontoon - a difficult manoeuvre since the wind was trying to blow her off it!  Fetched the car, reversed the trailer down into the water; got Arwen on the trailer with considerable difficulty as she wanted to be blown off it. A kind dinghy sailor who had just arrived back on the over slip kept a stern line on Arwen to minimise the drift. 

The left hand ramp at half low tide I was about to discover some new issues!

Went to drive the car up the ramp - nothing!  Trailer was well and truly stuck; tide was racing in - water up to the exhaust.......nothing - wheels spinning; front wheels in water...calamity!  Tried to push Arwen off trailer to lighten it - nothing ...she jammed. Water now over back wheels; over exhaust and up front wheels........I was about to lose the lot - called for the tractor - down they came a racing!  Just when I thought car boat and trailer were goners - Arwen floated free.....I jumped in and car started and it actually gripped - slowly inch by inch she moved out of the briny............thank God............I would have really hated explaining that one to the Missus!  Blinding panic and fear of how I would explain the car submerged at the bottom of the will be the stuff of my nightmares for the next few weeks! Lessons learned?
1. don't try and get the boat out at low tide
2. there is a lip and a drop at the end of the ramp that catches the trailers of the unwary and stupid!!!
3. there is no front towing point on my car! You have to flip a panel out and screw in a towing eye....which is under the boot the boot...where the boot hatch can't be opened because its blocked by the trailer.......doh!!!!!!!

This sailing business......boy is it one big learning curve!!


A short video of our outing can be found at


Tuesday 24 August 2010

odds and ends

I'm building an Iain oughtred 'Stickleback' canoe. It's a lapstrake and a lovely design which sadly I've rushed. There have been disasters as well - the planks sprung out  from one of the stems and it required a lot of epoxy and filler to get them its a good job she's to be painted. She's going to be a small tender for Arwen to save me driving her up onto beaches. It isn't my best work - I know I can and have done better.

I've burned in two or three celtic designs - a cross; a celtic mythical dragon bird and a celtic dog.

I've got to sand along some of the planks; repaint the cockpit and then paint the hull.

I spent today down at Falmouth and went out on a 10m rib......zipping about in force 4/5 - quite exhilarating at times although I do prefer Arwen. We got to see some grey seals basking in what sun there was.

I also managed to pop into the maritime museum and caught up with this boat being bought alongside the fueling pontoon. All in all, it was quite a fun day.


Sunday 22 August 2010

in the boat shed and keep turning left

If you haven't come across Gavin's website 'intheboatshed'......then it is well worth a browse and adding to your favourites. His latest posting has a link to Dylan Winter's latest film clip. Both Gavin and Dylan are amazing in their knowledge, skills and commitment to what they do. You can find many more of Dylan's clips on you tube - try searching 'keep turning left'. He also has a subscription based website where you can pay for and download his films

I'm waiting for the weather here in Plymouth to pick up a little so that I can get a sail up the Tamar. 'She wot must be obeyed' has asked if she can come could have picked me off the floor!!  Maybe its a guilt thing over giving me the wrong forecast last week......or maybe she actually does occasionally like spending time with me.........I'll go with the latter! If I can get up as far as Cargreen or a little way up the Lynher - I'll be watch out for post updates next week. In the meantime, although not in Arwen - I will be out of Falmouth for a couple of hours on a fast rib sometime next week and will post a little summary of what I discover.  In the meantime enjoy Gavin's site and the links to Dylan's at


Tuesday 17 August 2010

Day two report salcombe to Plymouth

When I sat there in Salcombe Wednesday evening, bobbing at my mooring phone and radio reception was patchy and so I couldn’t get the weather forecast for Thursday! So I texted my wife with clear, simple instructions......’please darling could you watch the local weather forecast for me – inshore waters particularly wind speeds and directions’!

‘Force 2/3 from north.......sea state slight; visibility good’ came the reply. 'Brilliant' thinks I - a lovely broad reach sail all back along that wonderful coastline – a cracking day to look forward to! And what a thoughtful clever wife I have too.

So.........imagine what dark and evil thoughts I had, when down to just jib and mizzen, with water coming over the side coaming – i.e. flooding in; standing VERTICALLY, on the side supports of the thwarts, trying to cling on in terrified fashion, to dear life; as Arwen pitched, tossed and generally threw herself over the crests and troughs of 8’ waves in Bigbury bay; where it’s clear to even the dimmest sailor that force 2/3 it is not.............and some gusts are clearly force 6+!

A text comes through which I manage to read whilst singing down from one hundred green bottles – a ploy to stop me screaming in terror out loud......’Darling – may have confused Bristol channel and English channel forecasts...winds could be force 5 with gusts force 6/7....have fun!’.

It’s a bloody good job I’m not Darth Vader........or she’d have certainly encounter the ‘dark side of the force’ even if she was a hundred miles away at her Mother’s!

Early morning....the Sun barely rising over Salcombe's raft ups

But ...I launch into our log account part way through and should, with fairness to all, start at the beginning 0530 with the rising of the sun! I had a fantastic night’s sleep – it didn’t rain; the wind didn’t rise; Arwen didn’t drift off from her mooring because of chafing ropes; nobody came to steal my outboard in the dark of the night....wonderful! It is clearly a great feeling to wake up and discover your boat is exactly where you ‘parked’ it the night before!!!

This video will give you some idea of what \I woke up to 

On the little beach, 20m away, egrets plodded the shore shallows; herons stood motionless in the glassy, unrippled sea. I love early mornings......often when camping I’m up at the crack of dawn to watch the eastern sky brighten. On this day it was accompanied by the gentle chug chug of diesel engines on early departing inshore lobster and crab boats.

one of our grey herons often found along our estuaries

At a certain point in every dawn break, the dawn chorus suddenly begins and this day was no started with small birds onshore – blackbirds, robins......and by the end was a cacophony of seagulls, oystercatchers and everything else in between – a wonderful accompaniment to breakfast cereal, hot chocolate, tinned fruit and fox’s ginger cream biscuits! Arwen gently creaked as her boom rubbed against the mast. The beach had been smoothed out over night as the tide had come back in – all evidence of human activity from the day before erased....a fresh start of a new day. The herons were stalking small fry in the shallows and periodically would pounce downwards – some poor sand eel rapidly swallowed. I swear I saw once launce still wriggling as it descended inside the throat of one heron!

I check the weather around me – grey skies – some patches of blue; high cloud base; switch on mobile and an SMS message appears....a weather forecast update from my wife....force 2/3.....looks like it’s a goer then although winds still from west not north west as predicted earlier in week – so it will be an upwind beat all the way back to Plymouth.......fair enough then....a long day about to emerge but that is part of the fun!

It doesn’t take long to tidy up, pack away and ready the boat. A motor across to the rubbish bins pontoon; and then Arwen’s bowsprit points along the outer estuary. It’s only 7am and all the boats we pass rafted up are still quiet, occupants still asleep. We have the estuary to ourselves! At 0730, sails are raised and we are off.......but winds are very light and progress upwind is hard.....the tidal stream is against us and we are making only 1.7kts....process along the shore is excruciatingly slow but I remain determined...minimal use of motor is the order of the day.

However, determination is short lived and my ‘inexperience’ shows through........after one hour of tacking back and forth Arwen and I have made exactly.........wait for it..............400m progress along the shoreline. Huh!

rocky and nowhere to hide if it turns nasty...........!

In the meantime, maybe I’m imagining it....but isn’t the wind picking up and getting...well.......gusty? And it seems to be feeling awfully ‘rolly’ again! And yes.....that does appear to be breakfast going over the port side deck.......again! Double huh! and a doh! thrown in for good measure! you can see some of what \I mean - minus the breakfast bit at

I resort to quick to give up......I’m ashamed........but sea sickness is not good at the start of the day and there is a long way to go. I tuck close to the cliff line – 30m offshore – conscious of all those hidden ledges and reefs. We motor along cautiously at 3 kts but Arwen is beginning to ‘slam’. Waves are rolling in directly at right angles along the cliff line, their troughs deep and their crests high; huge dollops of water are coming over the foredeck and whilst everything in the front half of the boat is relatively dry, the back cockpit well is filling up and my waterproofs are soaked!

‘I’ll duck into Soar Mill cove’ think I...............or maybe I won’t given the rollers going into it are grim; it has only a 10m wide entrance and long outcrops of rock either side. Learning point 1 for the day - think about escape routes and hiding places; they look great on charts and maps but what will they be like under different wind and wave conditions..........what an idiot! I near Bolt tail and the wind seems to drop.....I’ll try sailing again with one reef in the sail for prudence! Learning point 2 - don’t do that just before you enter a huge bay expanse of water - it’s asking for trouble on a day like this......I am such a stupid numpty!

Doh!!!!! I shoot into Bigbury bay and all hell breaks loose; I turn head to wind and drop the main – it’s that or go over. I’m on jib and mizzen - much better and we are tacking 2kts out to sea. It feels safer, we are less heeled over. It’s the first time I’ve sailed under just jib and mizzen – I like it! I go to tack.......she turns head to wind and stalls – um! I resume my starboard tack, build up speed and try again.......she stalls........again! Learning point 3 – surely someone sensible would have taken the opportunity to learn how the boat handled under jib and mizzen BEFORE doing an extended coastal passage. I’m a highly qualified mountain leader - I wouldn’t dream of going on expedition having not tried all of my kit before hand – so why didn’t I apply this rule to this trip? I’m feeling rather rueful!

I’m also heading further out than I might wish and then........savage gust one..........I’m hit broadside.....Arwen is up....she’s almost over....water is rushing along the side deck and over the coaming. I try to turn the tiller and head her into the wind.....little response....she goes slowly.......time stands still – there is green furious water everywhere! She inches around and stalls head to wind; I fall un-ceremoniously back into the starboard thwart......I’m terrified..........I can see another squall approaching.........but it suddenly shifts around – another broadside...........I let the jib loose......we are up and up and sideways and broached to the rollers – they are coming beam on......and up over the crest we roll.......another bout of sea sickness........I swear blind gust 3 actually spun the boat full 360 degrees! The general wind may be force 4/5 but those gusts have to be force 6+.

The jib gets furled; the motor starts first time – thank God – I hang over the back of the transom – steering the outboard and we head for the nearest beach. It’s Thurlstone. I can just make out a sheltered curved tiny bay of sand with no breaking waves....a promontory headland jutting out 50m – just enough to shelter behind............3 kts and huge sideways drift – it’s a struggle to keep the outboard tracking the right direction.....and all the time that beam sea – and rolling.......and corkscrewing and ......rolling and yep sea sick again.

Doesn't it look so serene - Thurlstone; outside in the's raging!

I cannot begin to describe the feeling of relief as I drop anchor in the shelter of that tiny, tiny bay. Families are playing on the sand; small waves break. Arwen bobs safely and obediently at her anchor. I bail out the boat; I hang off the transom and refuel the outboard....tohatsu 3.5hp.......I LOVE my outboard! Drink, some biscuits....a little brick or two of chocolate.....I’m feeling more cheerful. Out at sea – the whitecaps are fading; the sea seems to be subsiding; sunshine is breaking through. I decide to lock the motor down tight – I rope her so she cannot twist – a precaution. I can use the tiller/rudder to steer and not sat twisted around with one hand on the outboard tiller to steer will surely help with the sea sickness. And then I decide to carry on!

Just don’t say anything – I know!

I edge past the little promontory out into the bay. Its calm, there is a gentle breeze.......I could sail in this........up goes the main and jib....we are off tacking – starboard tack – 2.8kts.........Burgh island looms into view. I can do this......the bad times are over!

You can spot the squalls can’t you! They come at you at terrifying speed – the darkening of the water; the sudden micro rippling of the surface; the sudden build up of white crested waves...........but this time I was ready...........I had a reef in the main and I went to let it out........only it didn’ filled and remained firmly where it was.......I let go of the mainsheet.....nothing........Arwen started to heel.......over and over came that green water over the side deck........I turned her head to wind, she responded and the heeling subsided........that damn mainsheet what was snagging it? The jam cleat at the base of the block which attaches the mainsheet to the transom rear...............learning point 4...........why didn’t you remove that jam cleat before...when you knew it had a tendency to jam the stupid can you get? Oh and learning point 5 - just because a sudden improvement in weather occurs, doesn’t necessarily mean the worst is over! If you have a healthy respect for changeable mountain weather – apply the same thinking to the sea.......moron!

It’s back.....the rolling, the slamming up and down into the troughs.......and what do I do? I carry on into the full teeth of it making for Mothercombe - my next escape point shelter. No – I don’t turn around and head straight back for nearer Thurlstone................hindsight is a wonderful thing....but what possessed me at that point in time to make such a stupid error of judgement – I just cannot account for it!

Mothercombe beach - sheltered in westerlies but watch those reefs at the entrance!

Mothercombe is nasty and again an example of how not just to rely on charts and maps. Low water showed a huge reef of rocks stretching unbroken 30m across the beach/bay. Mid tide upwards – you’d never see them until you hit them. A small dinghy like Arwen can slip over them just and through the!

I refuel, eat, drink, pause for breath and bail out. It’s sheltered but now a sort of suicidal desire to get home invades me. I’ve had it – I’m not staying out another night in this lot - I’m motoring all the way home! I’ll hug the cliff line – the next stretch will give me shelter from the westerly’s! And of course – it does.........using rudder and tiller with motor tied off – there is no sea sickness – we make 3.5kts and life is pleasant all the way to Stoke point. Edging around Stoke point, it’s back to slamming and rolling and pitching....but we are inching along.....the motor chugging away......and then a realisation.....learning point a bolt out of the blue.............if the engine fails now what happens next? I can’t sail in this; the tidal stream is strong and parallel to the coastline; the waves are almost at right angles to me and the shore; we’d drift backwards and onto rocks within seconds – it’s a leeshore...........and there is nowhere and I mean nowhere to beach safely on this stretch.......Dear Lord....have I learned nothing over the last year about leeshores?

That stretch of 2 miles to the Yealm seemed like an eternity of prayer and mutterings and just sheer desperate will power to hang on......never have I been so relieved to actually enter a harbour before. I motor past the exposed bar where kids are playing in short canoes – surfing the waves that break over it. A small 20’ yacht is coming up behind me in the narrow channel – he’s overtaking and edging me closer to the rocks on the starboard side and I’m forced into the eelgrass beds. The engine begins to splutter as grass wraps around the prop – what is this guy doing – he’s 4m’s away and I not too politely ask him to move over – he has plenty of clearance on his port side....he laughs.......what arrogance? And then, he cuts the corner.......I’m stupid...but this is extraordinary.......and inevitable......a crunch, a grind and yep – he’s grounded.........and forgive me everyone but I laugh out loud. I cannot believe after all I have been through – I was that uncharitable to someone else coming in from the squalls........but secretly? Serves him right!

I would like to tell you I had learned my lessons but no – I left the Yealm rested....and wait for it...sailed under jib and mizzen into the Wembury bay........only to be faced with more squalls; more stalling in tacks....and so I motored around to Plymouth Sound. My objective was to get inside the safe calm waters of the breakwater area. Learning point 7 – the wind had backed to the north; it was an incoming tide against an offshore wind through a narrow entrance between a breakwater and a headland...........I was sea sick 3 more times before reaching Sutton harbour; Arwen slammed herself silly and at one point I was making only 1.4kts with the throttle fully open.......why didn’t I just stay in the yealm overnight?

So there we are...........I survived but there but by the grace of God I suspect. I made so many stupid, stupid errors of judgement which I’d never have made in a mountaineering setting. I covered a total of 25nm – most of it on motor. I learned a lot about weather and sea states!

Things I’ve learned after reflection

1. Turn back don’t go on – discretion is the better part of valour

2. Think about what happens if the engine were to fail along a leeshore with no escape points

3. Loosen the mizzen to tack when under jib and mizzen (I think!)

4. It may be force ¾ general wind but it’s the squalls that count – and yes the sun can still shine when the sea is furious!

5. How decision making is impaired when really sea sick

6. When planning a route dead reckoning is all well and good but it doesn’t take into account wind directions, need to track according to wind shifts etc; navigating in an open boat and doing chart work is a recipe for sea sickness in moderate sea states and upwards.

7. Arwen will float when capsized but how likely am I to be able to right her – what’s my plan then?

8. How to do a mooring – consideration of tidal currents when under motor

9. Get some rubber tubing for mooring to buoy warp

10. Practice Radio protocols for calling up harbour masters

11. Improve my reading of lat and long and programming it to gps; and triple check it is right!

12. Carrying an OS map at all times

13. Using my fish finder depth gauge as an another data source for being able to contour and navigate using depth soundings off chart

14. Under cliffs and just a mile out at sea – mobile networks disappear

15. My bolt holes at low tide and northerly winds – easy to access – clear views with off shore winds – but mid tide when rocks not seen and cross winds – then what? Useless! Choose escape points more carefully!

16. No bolt holes between stoke and yealm – then what?

17. Remove the jamming cleat at end of main sheet; think through what alternative might be!

I know I made some really silly mistakes on this trip which could have resulted in having to call out volunteer rescue services – I know what the implications of that are. At the moment, I feel rueful, chastened and stupid......but I guess I have been lucky and have learned loads as well!


PS – my biggest bit of time get the right forecast and DON’T leave Salcombe!

second part of day one voyage plymouth to salcombe

Hello everyone and thanks for the kind comments posted recently about my day one voyage from Plymouth to Salcombe. You can see part 2 of that day's voyage and overnight on-board camp at this link here

I'm just writing up my summary of day is giving me much to muse over as you will see in a couple of days time when I post two didn't go according to plan........and......well frankly I've been reliving bits of it over and over again in my mind.........sometimes you make really silly decisions which you look back on and wonder how the hell you didn't apply common sense and all your mountaineering experience and skills to arrive at a safer decision.........still I did say in my lead up post to the trip about being 'cautiously over-ambitious!'

Hope you enjoy part 2 video clip of day one......there isn't much video of day two believe me so make the most of this one!

Take care


Look what I got moored up next to in Salcombe - isn't she a fantastic restoration?
I know........I've shown the picture! I just love this boat!

Monday 16 August 2010

Film - day one;part one Plymouth to Bolt tail

hi folks. Find the first of a few short films of the most recent voyage ( that be posted along with day two update.....over next few days. Hope you enjoy!


day two taster........coming in to anchor in shelter of Mothercombe beach!

Friday 13 August 2010

Confessions of a newbie dinghy cruiser..........


Dear blog readers – I have several confessions to make and some will surprise you and I’d like to apologise now. Please forgive me my sins for I have let down the dinghy cruising community. Confession 1 – I was sea sick 6 times on my first day of sailing to Salcombe; and I had only just cleared the Plymouth Breakwater. I am sooooo sorry! My humiliation is complete....I have nowhere to hide such shame!

I supposed to start at the beginning would be

Day 1 August 11th first solo open coast voyage: destination Salcombe!

Firstly a quick summary of my intended route so that you can compare it with what actually happened on the Google GPS summary and my SPOT tracker page. (Go to this website page for the SPOT tracker details; see the Google map below for overall summary of route)
 (note that on the menu on the left – there are three pages and page three is day one! It works backwards!)

I departed on time from Duke Rock Buoy at the eastern end of the breakwater – 0830am. The weather forecast was for 10 – 15kt winds with gusts to 20kts – from the North West. General weather was to be sunny spells with good visibility and slight sea state.

Dukes Rock Buoy inside breakwater at eastern end

FOG! Loads of it – couldn’t make out the breakwater; visibility reduced to 200m; dead calm – virtually no wind! Ha! Good start – brushed up on my pilotage skills more rapidly than I thought.

Confession 2: I can read Lat and Long from a chart accurately but can’t enter waypoints into my GPS with accuracy – nope – managed to have ALL my waypoints wrong – clearly how I read Lat and Long and how I enter them on GPS is different – please don’t say anything – my humiliation is only just starting....I did warn you! Anyway I had a compass, an ordnance survey map and detailed charts – so it was back to grunt chart work on Arwen’s side thwarts.

It was high tide at 07.30 and so I was leaving the sound on an outgoing tide. The tidal stream along the coast was up to 11.00, in my favour tracking at 0.6 kts easterly as well. The distance I calculated on the chart was 20nm. My intended route summary was Gt. Mewstone rock (south west side); Stoke Point; mouth of the Erme and across to Burgh Island; from there across to Bolt Tail and along the cliffs to Bolt Head and into the harbour. You can see the intended track on this previous blog at
I’d marked everything on a passage plan and on my chart – each leg had tidal direction, distances, timings, compass bearings – I like to be prepared – an old mountaineering leader’s habit! The wind coming from the North West should give me a sort of close reach along the coastline....or so I thought! As it happened the wind blew directly from the west and so it was virtually a downwind run all the way to Salcombe – wonderful!

I had several escape routes planned – into the yealm; into the shelter of the rocks at Mothercombe (more on that on day two); tuck in behind Burgh Island; and in desperate circumstances – soar mill cove – a dangerous manoeuvre only to be attempted in offshore northerly winds.

Got to sort out how Lat and Long is stored in this GPS unit!

So how did the day go?

I 'hurled' at 08.40am; and repeated then for an hour around the west side of the Great Mewstone – over both side decks of poor Arwen! The poor boat is now truly christened! You see there was no wind – and the boat just drifted aimlessly.....only there were huge troughs rolling in off the Atlantic from far off ocean storms – the troughs were 6 – 8’ deep and beam on......oh Lordy me did we roll! And roll! And Roll! Up came breakfast..........and note to myself – NEVER hurl over the windward side deck! Nough said on that topic! Then the fog cleared, as it does, the sun came out, the seas continued to roll in but the wind picked up and we started to make 3.5kts around the south of the Mewstone and I craved a double decker chocolate weird is that.......violently ill one minute - eating chocolate the next! We passed the Mewstone at 0915.

The Great Mewstone island in Wembury Bay

Across Wembury bay we at times started to get 4.5kts – fun. Romping along we approached Gara point and the old abandoned coastguard cottage high on the cliff tops at just after 10.40. And then, wait for it, I saw my first gannet along this part of our coastline – it soared up high and then plummeted at missile velocities into the sea – it was awesome – what a fantastic bird and much bigger than I thought – graceful in the air- and up it popped with what looked like a large launce or is amazing how such a sight can cheer you up so much.

The Gannet - graceful and awesome diver - copyright David Tipling

Stoke point passed at 11.00 ish and we were 20 minutes ahead of my chart which point I decided to do something brave. I had originally intended to keep very close to the shoreline in case of accidents and so would head across to Burgh Island. Around me – a number of larger yachts were heading straight across Bigbury bay for Bolt Tail and so I decided to do the meant being 3 miles offshore but hey, the wind was behind me......we were going along at 4 kts or so; the waves were rolling in from behind and making us surf along ( more on that later) would cut off a bit of distance...and so.......confession 3.......I changed my route and went off into the deep blue sea! Deviated off my passage plan route! We passed the Erme estuary entrance at 11.30; Burgh island passed by at 11.41; Reached Bolt head slightly ahead of time (at 12.48) and then went further out – about 1.5 miles....I was conscious of hidden ledges and reefs marked on the chart and didn’t want to come a cropper on those on my first outing! Having reached out to sea to get some speed; I then reached back in again towards the towering cliffs. We passed the Bolberry communication tower at 1318.

Bolt Tail with Bigbury Bay on the left and four miles of cliffs to Bolt Head

At this point I then discovered something else not thought about – no mobile phone reception. Although I have a SPOT tracker, which should send messages to my wife’s mobile phone it doesn’t.....don’t get me started on this one...but here in the UK, mobile networks like virgin and orange won’t recognise the signals from SPOT and won’t support turning them from emails into SMS texts...........I haven’t finished with them on this one yet believe me – but I arranged with a friend to keep an eye on my progress via tracker and I would send SMS updates from my mobile phone to my wife who was away at her Mother’s for a few days. Of course, with no regular hourly SMS messages – she began to this is something we have to put right for next time. It takes a couple of hours to sail along Bolt Tail to Bolt head (reached at 1413) and by then, the tidal stream had reversed and I was facing a 0.8kt stream going west! At Salcombe harbour mouth – still no mobile phone and so I tacked across the bay and eventually got one message she would be reassured and not reaching the phone for the coastguard! It was fun tacking around in the outer Salcombe estuary – the wind had risen force 4 and at times we were making over 5kts.

Burgh island with the famous art deco hotel

It also gave me time to listen in to channel 14 – the harbour master’s channel...for here comes another confession.....confession 4 – I have never used my VHF handheld radio – I have completed the course but never yet used it and actually I was unsure how to request a berth in a harbour........I know.......please, dear readers, don’t cry......I did warn you! So I listened to all these people calling up on channel 14....and I realised something......there are some really snooty overbearing and over-demanding sailors out there – they want this and that; they don’t want to be alongside X....I think the harbour team at Salcombe, although raking in the money, are really patient souls.....they have to be!

Dusk over Salcombe

Anyway, after playing in the estuary (around 15.00) – it was time to turn head to wind, furl all sails and take a deep breath and call up the HM......I followed protocol and got an immediate reply....mooring buoy 79 – a red plastic can just off ditchen beach on east Portlemouth side – oh joys of joys – what a fantastic location..........I love that part of the harbour – just out of the main fairway; wonderful beaches; able to look out over the town – wonderful!

I motored up the fairway, weaving between the Pico dinghies, the little hire boat dinghies and dories......and then suddenly realised something – like a bolt out of the blue.......confession 5 (I know you are now about to reach for the Kleenex - in tears of pity and horror!) on earth do you pick up a mooring.....I’ve never moored Arwen to anything; my level 2 RYA course only touched on it very briefly.........ouch! Yep, the mooring was in full gaze of the beachside public....all those families playing, all arrived on beach via little inflatable rib dinghies...all hardened sailing families – this was about to be SO publically humiliating. So I found mooring 79; took a run past it; idled the motor, watched which way the tide was running; tried to decide which was strongest wind or tide....and then realised it didn’t matter much as I was under motor not sail....and so into the tide won.....I idled up; came alongside it; grabbed it with the my mooring pole – slipped a pre-prepared (oh yes – I’m nothing if not professional!!!!!!!) mooring line through the eye and took it forward to the bow; Arwen obediently fell back gently – I tied off on the Samson post and hey presto – my first successful mooring – how chuffed was I? And no one took a blind bit of notice on the beach! Huh! (Time? 15.34!)Then paranoia set in – what if the mooring rope chafed on the metal eye? What If a drifted off – so I went back for’ard and secured another mooring line just for good luck – I mean what are the odds of two 10mm mooring lines chafing at the same time eh?

And so I had done first solo voyage – a distance of around 24nm in total; I moored up around a total of 7 hrs and 6 lots of vomit.....this dinghy cruising lark is so much fun!

By 7pm I had cooked myself a meal on my trusted trangia stove and the little butane stove my mother-in-law gave as a Christmas pressie. Soup and crackers, followed by pasta shells in a sauce; and peaches for desert. Some nice Fox’s biscuits and a couple of hot chocolate drinks – wonderful! There is nothing quite like the hiss of camping stoves to tell a man he is truly alive! In the meantime I watched harbour life go by and wasn’t it wonderful.

Look what I moored up alongside - what a beauty!

The little green launch from ICC Salcombe, which only a few weeks ago ferried me back to the whitestrands pontoon each evening during our school sailing course, plied its way between the ferry and the pontoon; teenagers in dories weaved between expensive moored yachts – their laughter echoing over the water – girls wrapped in towels and boys in ‘T’ shirts. The warm, early evening sun reflected off rippled deep green waters; the chatter on channel 14 kept me amused with HM assigning berths and people requesting different things. People played on the beach 30 yards away on golden pristine sands; bright sun tents fluttered in the gentle evening breeze. A huge white 40’ motor cruiser acted as a wind break from the NW winds for Arwen. At 6pm the gig races started in the main fairway – several teams with a klaxon and a race director who was clearly getting frustrated that some gigs couldn’t hold their position at the start line! 8’ dinghy ribs weaved in and out – some looking precariously overloaded with people who didn’t have life jackets on – are people mad? Arwen would rock gently as their wake washed down her sides. At 20.00, the sun began to sink down behind the hill on which most of Salcombe town is became cooler and so I rigged the tent......well that’s too generous a word of it – I rigged a rope between the two masts and slung a black tarpaulin over it – tied it off along the side decks and hey presto – nice and cosy with sea views at either end....what bliss! The beaches and East Portlemouth were bathed golden in the last of the dying sun’s rays; chatter on channel 14 was dying down; the irritating buzz of yacht tender dinghies fell away. Harbour master launches chugged up and down collecting mooring fees from huge yachts; the smell of beachside BBQ’s wafted over the water to Arwen. The giant Scots pines flanking the beach, fell silent as the breeze died......and tranquillity descended....just in time for my quick snack of crackers and hot chocolate drink....the warm hiss of my stove the only sound – perfect!

The other side of me!

I mused over whether bringing a piece of hose pipe to put over my mooring ropes might reduce chafing.....(still paranoid!); and then strains of trumpet rippled out across the water from one of the water edge bars in town......and boy was it good – old war time jazz numbers...smoochy stuff......lines of pretty coloured lights twinkled; the sounds of people’s laughter echoing across the water; one by one house lights switching on until Salcombe was bathed in a warm neon orange glow. That trumpet playing was wicked – nothing like live music in a waterside pub – wow! I was half tempted to gate crash by calling over the water taxi – but only half tempted...I was enjoying my first on board camping session on Arwen.

My mooring buoy

I laid out my down sleeping bag (made by Rab – 30 years old and absolutely fantastic – duck down and indestructible – it’s been everywhere with me – up Mt Blanc; up Kilimanjaro...across the Serengeti.....and up most mountains in Wales!) I tucked it into my gortex bivvy bag also 20 years old – one of the first generation of gortex bags and still going very strong. I haven’t made extension thwarts for Arwen – so it was laid along the side bench........I have learned to sleep in a very narrow space since being with my wife....who seems to sleep diagonally across a bed! At 22.00, the last revellers came back to East Portlemouth via yacht tenders...wrapped up against the chill...some bizarrely still eating ice creams...true holiday spirit I feel! The first twinkling star appeared in the sky; there was a sunset glow over the town......and finally by 23.00....Salcombe was asleep........the harbour crew did their last rounds.....checking moorings were secure; sorting out last minute problems on various rafts of boats; retrieving a Pico dinghy loose from its moorings.......and then I was asleep......must have been because I don’t remember anything after that!

East Portlemouth ferry steps

And so to statistics – total journey length was 20nm. Average speed was 3.1kts. Maximum speed was 5.2kts. Total travel time from start to finish – just about 8hrs. (My longest voyage to date was a round trip to the river yealm and back which was 13nm; and within the sound – 16nm – around the breakwater and over to Penlee point and back).

More about day 2 posted later this week...along with some short video films as well......remember forgive me my sins!


Tuesday 10 August 2010

well...the time is approaching to be brave.....

got butterflies - have quadruple checked my passage plan, waypoints in GPS; checked the weather forecast every hour today.....excessive I know.....but hey - this is my first BIG ADVENTURE in I'm entitled to be nervous. paranoid, terrified.......can you remember your first big solo adventure?

you can follow my progress or lack of it by visiting my shared spot personal locator beacon page at

we'll soon find out whether my plans were good or not!  Wish me luck!


Thursday 5 August 2010

Over ambitious.....or cautiously ambitious?

Well, this is it – I’ve decided to be cautiously ambitious and do a bigger trip next week. Sometime Wednesday to Friday next week, I intend to sail from Plymouth 23nm to Salcombe; over night in Salcombe and do the return trip the following day. Obviously, it will be weather dependent – I need settled weather with some good winds around 10 – 14 knots on the day I sail. Its looking promising on the long range forecasts!

The route!

My trip to the yealm did teach me a few things. Firstly, time seems to increase over the amount of time you actually expect to sail and this was confirmed by my friend. So a 24 nm trip at 3kts average should take 8 hours but is likely to take 9 – 10 hours! A long days sail along a stretch of coast with few natural stopping off points. On this calculation – leaving 8.30 means I get into Salcombe around 6pm ish!

The scene of my last voyage/previous post - around Great Mewstone and into the yealm

Then there are the tides to contend with. High tide is 0730 and its 5.6m on Wednesday – so springs are the order of the week!. Low tide is 1342 at 0.4m. Evening high tide is 2030 and 5.8m. It’s outgoing and I intend to start sailing just off Bovisand in the Eastern sound area at 0830. For the first 4 hours the tidal stream will be flowing easterly along the coast, the way I am heading, varying between 0.2 to o.6 that will help. Towards the end of the day as I come along Bolt Tail to Bolt head....the tidal stream will switch so that it flows at 0.2 kts westerly – against me......tiring and frustrating at the end of a long day! On the other hand, the tide will be going in so that might help carry me in past the bar.

The mouth of yealm to stoke point section

Having done my calculations, I hope to be 0930 off the Mewstone; 1100 off stoke point; 1210 off Burgh island; 1345 of Bolt tail and 1545 off Bolt Head.....but adding on that hour 30 minutes or so.....takes it to 1800 ish!!

Stoke point to Mothercombe

One possible emergency bolt hole...if it turns nasty...and assuming winds are from west!

There are few escape points along this coast – the yealm is an obvious one. After that along the stretch to stoke point, there are none. The next one is Mothercombe beach in the lee of the cliffs...if the winds are from any westerly direction. I could also tuck behind Burgh Island (eastern side) and in very desperate circumstances – make for Hope cove although in truth I am reluctant to do this – off shore winds no problem – onshore means this place is very exposed and big surfs! From Bolt Tail to Bolt Head – there is nothing except Soar Mill cove.....really desperate circumstances but doable!

Burgh Island looking across to Stoke point in west

Consequently, I’ve decided that at Burgh Island – I have to make an important decision – if the weather and sea state is getting beyond what I can safely cope with, given my level of experience, then I must turn around and head back – I’ll then be able to duck into Mothercombe or the yealm if reaching Plymouth is impossible. Once Past Bolt Tail – I’m really committed to going into Salcombe.

Soar Mill Cove

There are a number of rocky dangers to contend with and so I need to keep at least 8 cables off shore along the Gara rock to stoke point and Bolt Tail to Bolt head sections. This latter stretch could be very treacherous – ledges, and several prominent rocky outcrops!
I don’t know what other people do but I’ve decided to keep a half hourly log – every 30 minutes, I triangulate where I am using compass; plot GPS lat and Long and record average speed and actual speed along with distance travelled since last log entry. Should I record anything else – if you think so – PLEASE will you let me know – I am a beginner/novice.

I have also taken the precaution of purchasing a spot 2 GPs messenger PLB...I’ve seen how Steve Earley uses his on Spartina. The advantages of SPOT are that I can do a 911 call; update my map position every 10 minutes and send regular OK messages to family – it will give them peace of mind as well.

I’ll leave a detailed passage plan with my wife and a friend as well. I carry a handheld VHF and mobile phone in waterproof cases permanently attached to me; I wear a harness and have a safety line attached which is tied around the forward part of the centre case – it has about 7m of rope and my harness strop. I carry charts for the whole area covered – detailed ones for the sound, yealm and Salcombe estuary.

Bolt Tail cliffs

I'll carry enough fuel on board to make sure i can motor a fair way if need be i can do 3 nm on one tank which is a litre and a bit - so 10 litres should see me able to motor 20nm anyway.

I'll post more later with details of return trip


Tuesday 3 August 2010

Doing some file housekeeping

I discovered this old film of Arwen semi completed - the decks were being placed on.......such untidy fillets and general epoxy mess - unforgiveable.

On a different note - whilst looking for something else - I came across these useful harbour guides on youtube.
St Mawes

I'm hinking of doing a bigger coastal excursion next week - possibly across to Looe and then returning the following day.......I'll research it and let you know.