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 22 December 2010

an apology to HM Coastguard......and some musings on radios

It seems my last post may have inadvertently caused offence. I’ve had a reply from HM Coastguard, which has rightly pointed out that I hadn’t yet read the document on their website before passing comment about the proposed cuts. It’s a fair point – I responded to the initial news reports and should have known better – sorry!

The comment also raised the issue of perhaps putting in a fixed waterproof VHF capable of 25W transmission in Arwen. It didn’t answer my initial query of whether or not my 5W hand held would be adequate enough. However, the very nice guys at the Dinghy Cruising Association Yahoo group came to my rescue and the consensus seems to be that the original radio transmitters will be kept and so my 5W output will be picked up and relayed to Falmouth or Southampton with no problem at all.

So this comment from HM coastguard got me thinking further about a) putting a fixed VHF unit into Arwen and b) about the implications of the proposed cuts and closures to HM Coastguard stations.

Firstly the fixed radio issue. My thanks must go to DCA members for such a quick and illuminating response. When you are new to this – it is reassuring to know that experienced advice is only an email away. DCA members put the following case for and against having a fixed waterproof VHF in an open dinghy.

Oliver briefed me that “all new fixed VHF sets are DSC enabled. This includes the facility for automated distress calls. The better ones enable the radio to be interfaced with a GPS set, so that the automated distress call can include the GPS position. However, if you have only the pre-DSC operator's licence you will need to upgrade. Entry level fixed sets are around £100, but you get what you pay for, and it may well be worth paying significantly more. Some of the "professional quality" sets are I think around £450”. At which point – this just goes well outside my potential budget!

This is a Cobra MRF55 DCS fixed unit which can be got for around £90 at the moment

Installation of a fixed unit will require a masthead antenna. The height of the antenna will be one of the factors that determines the range of communication. Wattage output is the other. A fixed radio needs an external 12V battery which will need to be leak proof and firmly secured (so it doesn’t go flying in a capsize). What kind of battery also raises questions – cheaper car batteries are often not leak proof. Miniature 12 V batteries can be bought but again are not always leak proof. The radio set will need to be waterproof – not so much of a problem I guess since rib runabouts must have VHF units which are fixed and therefore waterproof. A capsize is likely to damage a mast head antenna and so the radio is gone as well in that eventuality.

Oliver also suggested an alternative approach - using a masthead antenna with my existing hand-held set. I will have to check but I think my handheld does actually have an antenna socket. Solves the battery problem but since it’s only a 5W handheld – not the power outage one; similarly a capsize could lose the masthead antenna – so no progress on that front either.
And now to the coastguard reorganization/closures. Falmouth will go to daylight hours only. Brixham will close. There will be a new super centre at Southampton/Portsmouth. HM coastguard tells me that the original transmitters will stay. They didn’t say that my hand held would still be picked up but read their reply comment on the post below. I may well, through inexperience, have lost the full implications of what they are saying to me. I think this is where I am at, at this time. Some argue that MRCC’s are merely call centres which reroute distress messages to local staff on the ground in that area (SAR, RNLI, Coastguard cliff teams, Harbour Masters etc). I’ve heard the argument that air traffic control is only two centres for the whole of the UK. There is some validity to these arguments. However, experience suggests that when you rationalize you do lose that local knowledge element that can be so valuable and save vital minutes. Friends who work in various industries where their local centres have been closed in favour of one or two national centres tell me that because people at these centres don’t know the ground – they get the most stupid directions or instructions sent to them, which if those sending them knew the area – they’d know were impossible to fulfill or that there would have been better alternatives which only local would have known. I’m slightly baffled at how Falmouth has such a great reputation for dealing with international incidents way out into the north Atlantic and as far away as Bermuda…and yet they are to be reduced in staffing and down to daylight hours……doesn’t this expertise and proven success count for anything? Finally I’m worried that the consultation period is rather short……this government seems to be making a habit of rushing things through – education is littered with rushed through consultations at the moment. It is very easy to cut something in haste – it takes a long time to put what you cut back into action when you discover that your hasty decision was a cock up!
We are very lucky to have the Coastguard service we have – their experience and dedication is legendary. It should not be thrown away lightly! I’m still ambivalent about the government’s decision to cut coastguard provision….but I’m very distrustful of their consultation process and the speed at which they rush things through…….so I’ll suspend judgment for now and reflect and read further. Watch this space.


Saturday 18 December 2010

yep - it got worse......but why is it we grind to a halt over a few inches?

It did snow again last night as I predicted and we woke to a couple of inches. Being on a north facing slope means the snow doesn't clear - we don't get much sunshine in winter because we are at the immediate foot of a high hill. The valley across from us gets the sun and over there everything turned to slush pretty quickly.

Actually I got up at three in the morning and this was the scene under our street light

The view from our porch across the valley to our local parish church which dates back to the 12th century , if I remember correctly. This was at 8.30am this morning

And poor old Arwen under her tarp's at the same time

We do seem to grind to a halt and the whole transport infrastructure seems to go into chaos with only a few inches of snow. I guess we just can't afford to invest in the snow clearing equipment we need for times like this - when these times may only happen once very few years.

And the view along our road at 9.10am - its quite exciting really

Still, it won't last for Christmas - there is a thaw setting in the south west of England - sometime later next week. It has been fun. I love that 'blanket of quiet' that descends when snow covers the land; and the lack of traffic noise that normally wafts up from the main road in the valley below.

I expect this will be my last post before Christmas - so I take this opportunity to say 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year' to all those followers of 'Arwen's Meanderings'. May 2011 bring you happiness and prosperity and thank you for taking the time to pay us a visit this year.


Friday 17 December 2010

hey its snowing!!

It's snowing. We rarely get snow here in Plymouth UK - we are so far south and it is normally so mild - the gulf stream and mild waters of the Atlantic keep our air temp a few degrees above elsewhere in the UK. However, we are being given severe weather warnings and we woke to a small snow cover this morning. It is supposed to get far worse tonight - the temp is dropping rapidly so who knows? I definitely can't see the moors from our front window which is always a sure sign the weather is closing in and the skies look grey and leaden! maybe we will get our white Christmas here in Plymouth - the first one in 30 odd years! Here's hoping!

This is Arwen at the moment:

this is the fresh snow - the stuff that fell last night has almost melted away
Arwen is on our new driveway which we had dug out so that it would make
it easier reversing her up and onto the slope.

Arwen will be OK under that lot - there are three separate tarpaulins covering her. It's just the weight of snow building up on them that is the issue.

the view at the moment along our little street - some of the snow is sticking again
if it does - it will be tricky getting out of the road tomorrow - our little road ends in two steep hill corners either end - fun in ice!

Definitely NOT sailing weather at the moment!
On other matters - we learned today that as part of the severe economic cutbacks the country is facing - some of our coastguard stations are being axed. My local one, Brixham, is being closed. Falmouth, our big rescue co-ordination centre - which stretches far out into the north Atlantic is being reduced in staffing and to operating during daylight hours only. We will have a new super centre at Southampton. I think the cuts are a big mistake and lives will be put at risk. My little handheld VHF won't reach Falmouth or Southampton - that's for sure. I feel really sorry for all those expert coastguards who are losing their jobs. They have all been outstanding and will be greatly missed by us all. I'll report more on the cuts to coastguard services in UK when I have a better handle on what is being proposed.


Tuesday 14 December 2010

analyzing the stat's!

I've been looking at the stat's for this blog. It's quite interesting and so I share with you a very brief summary of the main headlines. Since the blog was started back in May 2010, people from 76 countries have visited the site. The UK and the USA have the biggest numbers of visitors, followed by Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Way down the list of visits, but of no lesser importance to me, are some interesting places e.g. Qatar, Macedonia, Kuwait and Bangladesh. I'm thinking of getting a world wall map for my classroom and putting in pins and strings - the geographer in me senses there is a pattern in there somewhere worth retrieving.

Today we have had 28 page views. Yesterday it was 48. Last month we had 1648 page views and for all time since the blog started - 9978. hey, you've just made that total rise by merely visiting me now and you are most welcome. Sit back, kick off your shoes - go to oldest posts first and enjoy. take a break - get a coffee - come back - chill for a while with me and Arwen.

Many people catch up with Arwens Meanderings via another website. Duckwork's is the most popular referring url. Othe popular ones include Dave's 'openboat' site; Rob's 'the middle thing' site, Gavin's 'in the boat shed' site, Joel's 'navigator' site; and Steve's 'log of Spartina' site. All these can be accessed from the menus on the right hand side of this blog and hey guys - thanks for the mention - much appreciated.

Peak traffic to Arwen's blog was September 2010 - I sense that many enjoyed the tale of my extended voyage to Salcombe and my reoccurring bouts of sea sickness - harsh people - to take enjoyment from someone else's suffering - harsh indeed! One person on YouTube even asked if I could remember next time to film myself hurling up over the side.....yeah - of course I will - can't understand why I so selfishly forgot to do that in the first place!!!!!!!!!!

There have been around 1900 searches using google.  The most popular search terms have been 'Arwen', 'Welsford', lug sail', 'lugsail yawl' and 'dinghy cruising'. The most interesting one, worthy of further investigation I feel was this rather intriguing entry ' Steven tied to a mast short story'. I'm still trying to work out how that search led to 'Arwens Meanderings'!


Friday 10 December 2010

bad winter weather

I took the decision to pack away Arwen for the winter. It took me an hour or so. The tarpaulins over her had frozen solid. Over the last few weeks water had permeated the tarp and collected in the bilges/floor. Because Arwen is stored on a sloping drive, the water flows down and collects at the base of the front thwart. Because I seal the hatch rims with Vaseline, water hasn't leaked through into the under thwart locker but it was inches deep on the floor.

Not on the driveway but on the QAB slip a few months back

Anyway, off came the jib and the jib furler off the bowsprit. The end of the furler cord which runs back to the cockpit has frayed and so will need new whipping. The end of the jib halyard has actually suffered a similar fate - partly because I've been remiss in not whipping it immediately I saw the fray start. So there is one job in the evenings. I removed the main halyard and need to check that carefully for wear and tear.

Out came the mainsheet and jib sheets (another frayed job needing remedial action). I also took out all the paraphernalia  like fenders, and halyard bags. One or two of these were damp and are now drying in the garage. The gratings were a bit damp and had started to get mouldy - so they need sanding down and re- soaking in Deks Oljie. Out came seat cushions and they have been cleaned.  Basically it was a good opportunity to do some cleaning up. I now have to decide whether I'm going to sand down the mast and re coat that in Deks Oljie as well - its a matter of shifting things around in the garage - like a dismantled 1960's scooter!!!!!

Hand on heart - it needs doing; there are a few dings in it which need filling as well. Its all part of looking after a wooden boat and that is what the fun is about isn't is?


Tuesday 7 December 2010

do you ever wake up in the night........

with little niggles.....things that start worrying you and grow out of all proportion?  I've woken up for several nights now with a little fear which is growing in my mind....and I can't shake it loose.......have I put on so much weight recently that a) I will not fit inside Angharad...and b) if I do fit inside.........she'll sink and water will flood into the cockpit across the deck?

I blame my Mother - she saw me recently after a spell of not seeing me and remarked 'darling you really must lose weight'

Gee - thanks Mum! Now look what you've started - rampant paranoia! And a vision I can't shake loose.........I'm at the slip at Queen Anne's battery; everyone has turned up to celebrate the launch of Angharad...they are lining the pontoons; I sit in her, push off and..................gurgle gurgle gurgle! I sink never to resurface again!


Robert's labour of love

Robert's labour of love is finally on its way and you can purchase it. All the details are here at his site at

I am really looking forward to reading this book.  Robert is a craftsman and a really reflective guy - it will be a brilliant and insightful read for all those interested in small open boats - sailing them , building them or dreaming about them. I look at some of the people who have also made contributions - they are legends in the navigator world - these people really inspired me when building Arwen. I pored for hours over Barrett's photographs and wished constantly  I had her level of expertise, craftsmanship and artistry. I complied a huge scrapbook of every photograph I could find of a navigator before I ever started on Arwen; I annotated these pictures with questions, ideas, design features I wanted off these boats; some things I didn't want. I scrutinised these peoples websites, flickr photos and blogs. I spent hours visualising, constructing things in my mind. Dave P's site gave me inspiration - real people, building real boats and having fun in them. These people are my heros! They are the reason I managed to start Arwen and whilst she will never win any beauty prizes like all the other navigators will - I did have fun building her; I did achieve an ambition; I did learn a huge amount and oh hell yes - have I had fun sailing her or have I had fun sailing her! However, I'd be less than honest if I didn't say I got frustrated too - despite my best efforts - I just don't seem to have the skill set some of these people used to drive me mad that despite measuring something 6 times - I'd still cut it to discover a 3 - 6 mm gap had suddenly materialised from nowhere...urgh!  I guess we all have to learn - I'm really good at helping kids carpentry skills....well - hey I'll just live with imperfection!

You see this is the thing - you need people like the Dave's, Rob, John, Martin, Owen, Chuck, Richard, Barrett, Kevin (Steve of Spartina fame and Wilfred - see his site sometime!!) - people who will willingly share their time, expertise and passion; who will encourage the novices with words of wisdom; whose creative efforts provide something to aspire to in your own creations; where there is no such thing as a stupid question - or if there is - it is never acknowledged as being one...........

Maybe I'm biased....but I really did look around other designers - I went to them all..and then after each one - I kept returning to a welsford would have been a pathfinder - had the garage extended another 6' forward - but sadly despite the best efforts of my 'harry potter mad' son - the garage didn't do a 'Sirius Black' house extending jobbie and so a navigator it cut your cloth (or boat in this case) to fit......etc etc......

I haven't seen the book yet but I don't have to in order to firmly recommend it to all - it has a pedigree behind it - an inspired author - some inspired practicing contributors and an inspired designer. What more do you need - go get one - you won't be disappointed - promise!


Saturday 4 December 2010

a nifty idea

Whilst catching up with what is happening out there I came across this really nifty idea for a tiller tamer which I will now do over the winter on Arwen - I found it at Jon's site which you can access here

It really is quite simple and clever. I, like Jon, have found that using the mizzen to actually lie head to wind hasn't been easy and as soon as I move around the boat the balance shifts and so the main sheet doesn't lie along the centre line. Maybe I've been doing it wrong but securing the tiller in this way is certainly a step in the right direction - nice one Jon - thank you!


well done Thomas - another pathfinder launched

Tom and his crew rolling the boat way back sometime this year 
when clearly I was not paying enough attention

Bit old is this news - but I have only just caught up with it - Thomas Hamernik has launched his Pathfinder - he did it in August and there is a great article on duckworks at

There are a couple of great video clips as well at and another one at

And here he is sailing it. I think the copyright of this photo belongs to Tom.

It's a lovely boat and a great design - well it would be - an obviously talented builder and a great designer - 'wot more can I say?' Other than - "sorry Tom that I didn't publicise your great launch sooner - please forgive me"