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

Sunday 31 October 2010

The horror and Heroism below decks

There was a very interesting piece in the Daily Mail this week. It isn’t a paper I read – too politically biased and Tory for my tastes; but someone drew my attention to a lovely piece by Bernard Cornwell. He is the author of historical novels and the ‘Sharpe’ series. His books are excellent reads and I recommend them to all. Anyway, I share with you the highlights of this article which focused on ‘the horror and heroism below decks at Trafalgar’.

Cornwell starts with a summary about how Victory wreathed in smoke seems doomed to be destroyed by the French ship Redoubtable. Nelson lies dying below deck from a sharp-shooter’s well aimed bullet and the Redoubtable crew are about to throw a bridge across to Victory for a boarding assault. But all is not yet lost, for HMS Temeraire sails across Redoubtable’s stern and delivers a broadside that rips through oak beams and decking and destroys one-third of the best trained crew in the French navy. Cannonballs and 68lb carronades rip into crowded upper decks and when redoubtable finally surrenders, only 156 of her 643 crew have survived the onslaught.

Nelson lies dying below deck on Victory

However, a new account, a letter from Robert Hope, a 28 yr old Kentish sailmaker aboard HMS Temeraire, sheds new light on the events of Trafalgar and it has been released by the National Maritime Museum. Robert, writing to his brother John, two weeks after the battle, shows how proud the whole navy are of their victory that day. It also shares some interesting facts about life onboard a Royal navy ship in the early 1800’s.

I was surprised to learn that only about 10% of injuries and deaths on board such ships were blamed on enemy action. Most were due to drowning, sickness and accidents. Sickness? Well, whilst high ranking officers had space and luxury, with expensive furnishings, the majority of crew were crammed into damp, dark and stale air decks below. Midshipmen had quarters not much bigger than dog kennels; ordinary crew had a hammock space 18” wide. Here, these crew worked 4 hr watches – 4 hrs on and 4 hrs off.

Victory and Temeraire race for the enemy

Food was an issue – diet was poor. With 2lbs of peas each week, each man would also get 4lb of beef; 2lb of pork – both heavily salted, stringy and as tough as leather; 120z of cheese was infested with red worms and the ‘hard tack’ biscuits were infested with weevils. Allocated half a pint of rum diluted with three-parts water to make a grog – it was often replaced with a pint of beer instead. Lemon juice stopped scurvy but other diseases such as dysentery were common. The stinking smell of hundreds of unwashed men, combined with smells of tobacco, tar, sewage and rot must have been overwhelming and unbearable.

The worst off were top-men. Climbing the rigging in near gale force conditions, most were blown to their deaths. On the bowsprit, known as the widow-maker, men who fell were sucked below the hull, never to be seen again.

Robert Hope, a sailmaker, would have seen all of this at first hand. Another sailmakers responsibility was, of course, disposer of the dead. Whilst officers coffins were the wooden cots they slept in, ordinary sailors were simply sewn into their hammocks, with the last stitch being sown through the deceased’s nose....a sort of final check before a burial at sea!

Height of battle at Trafalgar

Sailors spent many months at sea on blockade or picket duties. Prostitutes were smuggled onboard for light relief during the non-stop training drills. This practice was vital and so it was the Royal navy could discharge and reload a gun at one round every two minutes – two or even three times the speed of their French counter-parts. I hadn’t realised, but the British Navy was the only one equipped with the deadly carronades – lightweight guns nicknamed ‘smashers’ because of their close range destructive capabilities.

During engagement, life below decks was horrendous. Temporary operating theatres were set up on orlop decks with coiled ropes acting as mattresses for those waiting the surgeons skills – or lack of them in some cases. On many ships, orlop walls were painted red – it hid blood splatters! Good surgeon’s prided themselves on removing a man’s leg in a minute or less – extraordinary pain when your only relief was a grog of rum. Above, sand on decks helped bare footed gunners get a grip as the blood flowed across decks. Stripped to the waist because of the heat below decks, men wrapped scarves around their heads to reduce the ear damage from pounding guns. Many went prematurely deaf.

Redoubtable at Trafalgar as Temeraire and Victory carry on the assault
The rest of the article goes on to recount the battle events which I won’t recount here but Cornwell does finish with a lovely point which I quote in full.

'Now, as politicians destroy the Royal navy with economic cuts, it is good to rediscover Robert Hope’s letter, a reminder of the Temeraire’s glory days – and a time when Whitehall understood that Britain is an island, and an island needs a navy’.

Given the debacle over the fact that we are building two new Aircraft carriers which won’t actually have planes to put on them.....I think he makes an excellent point!

On a different note – Angharad is finished and as soon as the inclement weather has passed, I’ll launch her and post some pictures.


Artwork above by the following artists:
Geoff Hunt
Auguste Etienne Francois Mayer
Montague Dawson

Tuesday 19 October 2010

new pathfinder launch

Jon has launched his new boat - it looks fantastic - great craftsmanship - well done Jon.
Chuck made a short film of the inaugural launch/sail I think and you can see it here

Jon's site is at


In the meantime make sure  you stay in touch with Steve and Spartina who have just returned from their last voyage of the season
Go to

That's one impressive storm front Steve - look forward to hear how you coped with that one.

Half term holidays are coming up and I hopefully I can get two things done  a) launch Angharad  and b) go for a last sail of the season - I'm aiming to try and sail some way up the Tamar, weather and tides permitting.

I might even call in here for a bevvy or two......the famous union pub at Saltash passage


Sunday 17 October 2010

well didn't quite make it....but..........

I didn't quite get Angharad finished - a vespa got in the way!
I've rushed Angharad - I could have done better I know; but I've had fun and she's turned out semi ok. she'll make a fine tender to pull behind Arwen on those days I don't want to beach Arwen.

Angharad in her final colours and partly rigged on deck

I've still got odd jobs to do - finish off the side deck rigging; sort out the painter; finish the backseat rest support......but hopefully I'll get these done so she pops in the water the week after next.

Douglas fir gunwales; mahogany stems; international toplac paint 'bounty red' exterior

A little strip douglas fir floor panel - for standing and sitting on

In the meantime below are some pictures of my next project - non boat related so it won't be appearing on this blog again - we may have to start another one. It is a motovespa douglas 125 super - or at least we think it is. If anyone knows better, please, please, please drop us a comment or two.

Registered in 1972 and still going strong

We are about to disassemble her and then restore her back to her former glory. Vespa is Italian for wasp! This is an old lady - circa 1967 and she still runs - we zipped her up and down the road before we bought her!

Unusual arrangement for carrying a spare - most were put behind legshield where toolbox can be seen

Apart from rust, perished tyres, a broken headlight and one wrecked shock absorber - everything else seems fine - the paintwork will need redoing - plenty of odd rust patches.

Anyway more of Angharad's progress next week and we'll let you know how we get on with the vespa periodically - probably on a different site as this one is for Arwen


Tuesday 12 October 2010

it could be this weekend........

'Weyhey' as they say in some parts of the UK........this weekend could be a number of firsts........first time to see Angharad finished. Her last coat of paint went on tonight. She is a resplendent bounty red (like Arwen's top plank) with white interior. She has a semi varnished deck with pyrography dragons and celtic crosses burned in. her navy blue painter has been attached and we now have to do final touch ups and attach her side deck rigging....I'm still awaiting brass screws and surface cups but the black webbing tape has arrived. So, maybe, just maybe, she may get launched this weekend......but then there is the issue of the scooter!

In a fit of madness, my teenage son persuaded me that now his sister has just started university it would be a good time for some father /son bonding and since he doesn't like boats and I hate horses  - we needed something neutral to bond a vespa scooter restoration would be perfect wouldn't it Dad?

And so we will be heading off to darkest southern Cornwall to collect a 1969 vespa 125 primivera which we purchased over eBay........I must be stark raving mad! But my son, knowing what buttons to push, suggested that if I'd never ever done woodworking before and could build Arwen - a scooter restoration should be peanuts!

And I fell for it!

Rescued from a barn - it does actually go. There is some rust but with TLC and some careful restoration it should be a fantastic scooter at the end of the two years.......have I no sanity whatsoever? This is my 'doh - Homer moment' of all times!

I wonder if I googled 'how to switch on a scooter and move off on one under control?'  I might get some useful tips...for yes dear readers - I have never sat on or driven a scooter or motorbike in my life.......I'm beginning to see flaws in my son's logic!

In the meantime I suffer the ignominy of my wife bursting into hysterics of laughter every time she sees me!


Ps I dimly remember her doing that when I suggested I build a maybe, just maybe.......I might just get the last laugh!

Monday 4 October 2010

Page three picture boats

 A fellow blogger Robert runs two blogs. One is page three picture boats found at
There are some great pictures here - be sure to click on older posts at bottom and as as you scan down the page don't miss the picture of Arwen and a very miscreant crew!

Robert's other blog is called 'what was the middle thing?' and it well worth a read. you can find it at  He is a fellow navigator builder...and therefore is a special person! And wait until you see what he does with Violins. Robert is one talented guy and a great philosopher....enjoy his blogs - I do!


Things I never knew about the Atlantic Ocean

Sometimes, reading the Sunday paper can be a real pleasure. You come across little nuggets or gems which make you think; or reflect on things. One such gem for me was a recent piece in the Times newspaper by Simon Winchester. I think it was a Saturday Times essay called '33 million magnificent square miles'. Simon was sharing extracts from his new book called 'Atlantic: A vast ocean of a million stories'.
Now my homewaters are just up from where the Atlantic turns into the English Channel; the south west is greatly influenced by this body of water - our weather certainly is with all depressions originating over it. The Gulf stream brings a mild winter to Cornwall and Devon shores; the big breakers on our north and south shores - so ideal for surfing - originate far out in the Atlantic. And so it was I was drawn to this full page essay....and what a gem it was.

The Pillars of on..........

Firstly, Simon questions how the view that "the Atlantic is merely a vast waste of time that rolls with infuriating slowness 6 miles beneath us as we sit cramped on the milk-run planes between Heathrow and Kennedy", has come into existence? why do we view the Atlantic as "a mere something that prevents us from getting where we want to go as quickly as we would like to"?  What an interesting question I thought! As Simon points out.....what happened to the days when to cross the Atlantic on an Empress or a Queen cruiser was seen to be an excellent adventure full of salt spume, storms and cruel seas?

How have we reduced such an amazing body of water down to merely 'the pond'?  I have to say he does raise some thought provoking questions!

He suggests many reasons, some mainly to do with aircraft pilots - details about 'our crossing today'; the 'track we will follow will take us out over the north Atlantic before turning south down along the coast of.......'  which sort of diminishes the sheer distances involved really! 'We will arrive ahead of schedule due to a tail wind of.........'; or 'we have caught up during the crossing and so will only be a few minutes late descending into Heathrow.....'  are phrases I've often heard but never really thought of.....I mean lets face it - its dull grey, boring, with the odd ship track to interest you and it goes on for several hours.......and there is so much in flight entertainment......why would we bother to think about what a great body of water we are crossing?

Simon raises the spectre of famous places we pass over but which never get mentioned by flight crews.......ancient ocean history he calls it in names such as 'Bloody foreland', Innishtrahull', 'Fastnet Rock', 'Cape Farewell', 'Nantucket' and 'The Ambrose lighthouse'.

I was never really aware that it was the great Phoenician traders who first ventured out onto the Atlantic in a search for further trade. According to Simon, the story goes that in the 8th century BC, Phoenician galloi were plying trade between various ports across the Mediterranean Sea. No-one ventured out past the Pillars of Hercules (Gib rock and opposite Jebel Musa). trade was between famous cities - Alexandria, Genoa, Tripoli. Known as the Sea of Perpetual gloom ( I rather like that description), sailors kept well away from the fierce Atlantic swells. Great profits could be made from trading Murex snails (I'm beginning to feel sorry for these little guys and I don't even know what they look like!) which provided a much favoured indelible purple dye popular with the Mediterranean elite families, and so, it is likely that one brave Phoenician captain took his ships out between the Pillars of Hercules into those fearsome seas. Trading posts were established at the port of Essaouira, where the poor snails seemed to breed in abundance....and so 3000 years ago, as Simon puts it, 'the world reached a tipping point......where the Mediterranean Sea had been the inland sea of world civilization......but now the Atlantic was to seize that role and expand it'.  Wow!
He puts up a lovely argument that Parliamentary democracy starts within sight of the Atlantic.......hang on readers, before you rush to object....wait for his argument! Winchester claims that with 'impeccable symbolism' the Atlantic is itself born under the first Parliament - Thingvellir in Iceland! Here tectonic plates tear apart to form the mid Atlantic ridge (we move at a rate of 4 - 5cm per year away from our American cousins...across the pond (said with tongue firmly in cheek)). Anyway here, in the valley on the island was formed the Althing...the Reykjavik Althing is the world's oldest surviving parliament.......all in sight of this great vast ocean.

Simon goes on to discuss trade, the setting up of 'The Hanseatic League' and the growth of ports across Scandinavia....but my favourite anecdote is one about Chaim Weizmann, professor of Biology at the University of Manchester in 1916.

HMS Repulse around 1916

Apparently, the Atlantic is responsible for the birth of the State of Israel! I hear the phrase from one of our old comedians here in UK, 'not a lot of people know that' ringing in my ears. The Professor developed a biological method for making large quantities of acetone. He discussed this over lunch with a somewhat bored editor of the Manchester Guardian, C. P. Scott. Scott, a week later, told the story to one David Lloyd George, who immediately informed the Royal Navy. Now at this time our great Navy was losing the Atlantic war against the German U boats.....since naval gunners had run out of cordite.... a key component of which was........wait for it........acetone! Weizmann, was given the keys of the Nicholson's Gin Distillery in London and the message went out to school boys across the nation.....'bring us your horse chestnuts and conkers me sons'! Acetone began to flow out of the stills which were taken to the Navy's cordite factory in Dorset....the newly made munitions were sent to our ships.............and the Battle of the Atlantic was tipped somewhat in our favour!    So where does Israel fit into this?  Well, according to Winchester, Weizmann wanted nothing from our government in terms of thanks........however, he was a committed Zionist and he'd welcome a formal declaration by the British Government that it would 'favour the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine'. Thus 30 years later, under the Balfour declaration, the State of Israel came into being - a product of chemistry and the Atlantic Ocean!

His essay went on to cite many more examples of the unique history of the Atlantic....and I will leave you to search for it online via the Times newspaper website......for me it was a cracking article and I will not see those Atlantic rollers in the same way when I'm next in Arwen, heading around Rame Head, south to Looe!