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 30 March 2011

some musings about Sunday's fiasco!

I’ve been reflecting on what happened on Sunday. Why didn’t I do well under jib and mizzen? What was I doing wrong?

I was so perplexed that I asked John Welsford’s forum members who immediately contributed greatly to my reflections.

A number of different possibilities seem to have emerged.

Did I divert my attention in the middle of the tack to tend to the mizzen and so divert my attention away from making the move crisply? So did I make the turn too slowly? There seems to be a consensus building that this may have been one of the issues. I was certainly struggling to get her to turn at all. At one point I even checked to see that the rudder blade hadn’t sprung upwards out of the water (it hadn’t).

Some pointed out that leaving the jib until it fills from the ‘wrong side’ and then gently releasing whilst sheeting in on the other side should have pulled Arwen through the turn.

I did ease the mizzen and it would seem that many view this as being the correct thing to do just before turning into the tack. If it had been tightly sheeted then it would just have held Arwen head to wind.

I think I may well have had some lee helm on reflection, so Arwen didn’t want to turn into the wind when I was beating towards it. I needed to get a good speed in the water, which I was doing. I did bear away to get speed further but then I ended up being on a beam reach and starting a tack from a beam reach clearly doesn’t work because the sail just depowered as I started to turn.

Maybe I should have released the jib sheet completely when I started the turn (I think I did) and I should have turned the boat smartly through the wind. I think that I threw the tiller over significantly and this may have contributed to a loss in speed and almost a stalling effect. I needed to time the turn so that the hulk pivoted sharply on the top of a wave. I did also try backing the jib but this didn’t seem to work either.

Definitely part of the problem was that the narrow estuary meant you didn’t have much ‘wiggle room’ to complete these manoeuvres before a set of rocks were in front of you. I know that I needed to tighten the jib sheet immediately she’d gone through head to wind but I never got the opportunity to do so!

Was I underpowered – didn’t feel like it; felt like I was riding an out of control roller coaster! The centreboard was well down which I assume is the correct position for a tack. I tried various shades of tightening/de-tensioning on the mizzen sheet to no avail.

Gybing was definitely something I didn’t think of at the time and should have done – it would have been a better and safer option – lesson learned!

Richard Schmidt is an experienced navigator sailor and he had this to say

“Pull the mizzen in tight and push the tiller over to turn the boat into wind. Backwind the jib to pull the bow around to the new tack and once you are though the eye of the wind release the mizzen to allow the bow to fall away on the other tack. Then you can swop the jib onto the new jack, bear away to get some speed and start pulling in the mizzen and jib. And you are done. If you get stuck you can gybe instead of tacking. Sounds crazy but if you release the mizzen as you bear away it is pretty easy to do. Just concentrate on trimming the sails to match the wind direction. The actual gybe is pretty mild as the mizzen is so small”

There is a lot to reflect on here and the need to make another set of crib sheet notes. There is more to practice in more moderate conditions as Jon suggests on the forum. As always, my thanks to forum members, Jon, Anders, Richard, Thomas and Robin.

Yet again, John W’s forum has come to the rescue with timely advice. I cannot stress enough that if you are building or thinking of building one of John’s designs (trust me you should, you won’t be disappointed), then you have to join his yahoo forum. The guys are outstanding in their knowledge, advice and support of each other.


Sunday 27 March 2011 forecast threw up some interesting surprises.......

Oh Lordy me, what a difference a day can make.

North easterlies force 4 and rising to force 5. Straight down the fairway and nowhere to hide from it given the orientation of the Kingsbridge estuary. Little wavelets and white horses everywhere and an incoming tide against a strong northerly wind made life .........well let’s say difficult and leave it at that!

It started so well. An early rise and I was on the slipway 20 miles away for 8am. No wind, fog burning off, the sun a pale orange disc in the sky slowly rising upwards from behind Tonos point.

Arwen took a bit longer to rig than normal. I’d made some alterations, forgotten the order of other procedures and so it was a good 45 minutes. I was also not rushing because I wanted to make sure everything was OK.

She launched easily, sliding off the rollers despite having rested on them all winter. I was able to ‘rope walk’ her around the mooring pontoon to the port side, where you can then tie up and moor for 30 minutes. Zipped the car up the ramp and around the corner into a parking bay (wonderful when Salcombe is so empty ‘pre season start’; an absolute nightmare as soon as the Easter Holidays begin).

Outboard started after three pulls, having been recently serviced, and off we chugged to the Whitestrands pontoon outside the harbour office, where I was going to pay my harbour dues....but hey they were! It was then I noticed the stiffening breeze. It kept me very nicely pinned against the Whitestrands pontoon which requires some moving the boat back to the corner where I could swing her around and then warp her off on a bow spring. It’s note helped by not having a reverse on the outboard.

On entering the main fairway, I knew I was in trouble, the wind came scudding around the corner in huge gusts. I shot off towards Salcombe bar and when in the middle of the fairway, turned head to wind, quickly raising the mizzen. It became obvious straight away that wind was winning over tide. I was going backwards at a rate of knots and it wasn’t safe to get her mainsail up in conditions like this. Arwen is very sensitive to the slightest shift in balance and she will turn broadside to wind pretty quickly, mizzen or no mizzen. So I chugged past a mooring buoy, took a look and then turned in a big sweeping circle and very slowly motored up to it. Down the starboard side it came so that I could grasp it with a hand whilst quickly slipping a prepared mooring warp through the eye. We dropped back 5’ on the mooring and I tied it off at the Samson post.

It was clear, if I was going to attempt sailing in these conditions a reef (or two) would be required and so another first, I reefed Arwen whilst she was moored at a buoy.

After which a cup of hot chocolate to steady the nerves and I raised the main sail. It obediently flapped straight down the centre line but it was obvious even with two reefs, I was going to be overpowered. The Kingsbridge estuary is not the place to be overpowered in. Things happen quickly; you tack and are immediately across to the other side before you know it and she narrows rapidly. At the other end, Wolf rock is very inconveniently blocking part of the harbour entrance, either preventing you from tacking across or more dangerously, waiting for you to be blown down broadsides on to the rocks!

The mainsail came down. Well, everyone says she sails well in these conditions under jib and mizzen. So another first, I actually slipped a mooring under jib and mizzen only. Wow, did we reach across that estuary or what – she shot across. Which then presented another set of dangers because she wouldn’t tack. I tried everything, releasing the mizzen, tightening the mizzen. Taking it right off.....but she would not tack through the wind and so in imminent danger of hitting rocks on the east side, I furled the jib (with alacrity I might add), started the motor and just managed to turn her with 15’ to the rocks....far too close for comfort as far as I was concerned.

I did try jib and mizzen a couple of times more with the same end result and so self preservation took over and I gave up. If any readers know what I was doing wrong, please enlighten me!

I did pootle up estuary to see if it was more sheltered and had to take sanctuary on a mooring behind a larger vessel such was the wind. The newer sporty plastic zippy dinghies coped with no problem although one or two made some spectacular capsizes.

After two hours of to-ing and fro-ing, I’d had enough. There wasn’t going to be any sailing in these conditions within the confines of the moorings and small fairway.

It was worth going out. It was a shake down and testing of rigging systems, reminding oneself of procedures and what went were and so on. I did feel slightly guilty but I came home early and I’ve been able to sort out admin and do some letters to parents etc.

Lesson learned? Next time, check the forecast a bit more closely!


Saturday 26 March 2011

....its looking good.......

Arwen is packed. She is on the road. She is hitched up to the car. Everything is tied down. The waterproofs have been dug out. Fresh batteries put in the handheld VHF and GPS. Done a quick trip over to Salcombe today to take a look around.
Have done my marking, performance management review and lesson planning this afternoon. Having calculated that the hours I could work on my 'outreach role' since September 2010 were 166 hrs and I've clocked up 193.5 hrs, I feel its time to take back some time for myself.
And so, for the first time ever during a normal school week, I am going to be a rebel!

I am going sailing on a Sunday, instead of working all through it.

This is a first. It has never happened before. It probably won't ever happen again. I shall feel guilty, I will need serious counselling. Seriously! After all I am a British teacher and as all British teachers know........we always work on Sundays!

Sadly, I cannot ever recall never working on a Sunday before during term time, and I've been teaching 27 years. Wow!


Tuesday 22 March 2011

a restored old relic in Plymouth......nicely done!

I also managed to pay a visit to the impressive Royal William Victualling Yard on Sunday which was designed by Sir John Rennie (1794-1874) for use by the Admiralty as a victualling depot for the Royal Navy.

an aerial of the yard as it is today

as it first looked
Work started in 1826 and in the following year the Duke of Clarence laid the coping stone of the sea wall. This was laid 11 feet under water by means of a cast-iron diving bell only 6ft x 4ft.

300,000 tons of rock were moved to facilitate its construction. The Yard was completed in 1835, by when the Duke of Clarence had succeeded to the Throne as King William IV and as a result of an Admiralty Order dated 3 December 1833 it was named the Royal William Victualling Yard after King William IV, the last Lord High Admiral.

from the Mayflower inlet

There is a granite entrance gateway in Cremyll Street standing at 13 feet 9 inch high with a statue of the King William IV in Portland stone, surrounded by carvings illustrating the trades that flourished inside the walls -- butchers, bakers and coopers.

on the right - the police station...and on the left - the slaughter house

There is a separate ceremonial access from the sea at the Clarence Steps, guarded by a pair of cast iron gates embellished with crossed fouled anchors.

To the left of the entrance is the police house, which used to be manned by an Inspector, three Sergeants and twelve Constables, suggesting that a Sergeant and four Constables each covered three 8-hour shifts per day.

To the right of the entrance is the slaughter house. Although completed in 1831, it was not used for its purpose for another 28 years. Between 70 and 80 head of cattle could be slaughtered simultaneously. They would have been driven down through Stonehouse and in through the gateway to the right of the main entrance, inside which there were "cattle lairs". It ceased to be used as a slaughterhouse in 1885.

the old slaughter house - honestly!

Both the slaughter house and police house were given special architectural treatment by Rennie to give a good impression to visitors.

The general facing of the remaining buildings is of wrought limestone. But the plinth throughout and the dressings, cornices and architraves are of granite. The door and window frames are cast iron, as are the internal columns of the warehouses and the girders and lintels of the cooperage. Several of the stores are roofed with iron.

still the original doors

Up the road to the left were the Officers' Residences. The one furthest away, No. 1, was the home of the Yard Superintendent and the one nearest the main roadway, No. 2, was for the Chief Clerk.

There was a Mills and Bakery, brought into use in 1843, where two 40hp steam engines drove 27 millstones capable of grinding 100 bushels of corn every hour, or 270,000 lbs (122,500 kilos) every week. It also housed 12 conveyor ovens. It is thought this was never used to full capacity. Baking ceased in 1925.

The Basin, almost square at 250 feet by 200 feet was designed for deep-water hoys and barges and to overcome the problems for sea access that had been experience at the previous victualling depot near the Barbican. The swivel bridge over the entrance to the tidal basin was constructed by the Horseley Iron Company and added as an afterthought to improve circulation of traffic around the Yard.

Overlooking the Basin is the Melville Block, named after Lord Melville, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1827. Despite its grand design, it was a general storehouse and also served as the administration block. The entrance is surmounted by a clock and bell tower, the clock being the work of Messrs Vulliamy & Son of Pall Mall in London. The buildings enclose Melville Square.

Incidentally, the clock has a teak-wood pendulum that is 14 feet in length, supporting a ball weighing some 2½ cwt. In 1893 it was stated that it vibrated once in every two seconds in an arc from 3º to 3º 30´ from the zero point of rest. The clock was at that time composed of 1,393 pieces.

The next building on the right, after the Basin, was the unused Brewhouse, capable of producing 30,000 gallons (137,000 litres) of beer per day. The beer ration ceased in 1831, before the Yard was opened, after which the Brewhouse only produced a small quantity for the Naval Hospital and the Royal Marine Infirmary. Although the building lay empty for a long time, it did eventually find a use as a slaughterhouse in 1885, a store for vegetables, meat and rum in 1891, and an armaments workshop in 1936 until becoming a submarine torpedo workshop in 1971. In 1972 it finally became the headquarters of the No. 2 Raiding Squadron of the Royal Marines.

It is said that at one time about 250 men were employed in the Yard, as well as officers and a superintendent.

The Yard started to become run-down from 1970 onwards, when the Royal Navy's entitlement to a tot of rum ended. In July 1985 the then Minister of Defence, Michael Heseltine, announced the closure of the Yard because it was no longer seen as appropriate to use a scheduled ancient monument for the storage of Naval equipment. The Royal William Victualling Yard finally closed on August 26th 1992.

On April 1st 1993 the Yard was taken over by the Plymouth Development Corporation (PDC) along with two other important sites at Mount Wise and Mount Batten. The PDC had extensive plans for spending £45 million of Government money on regeneration and redevelopment. When the Development Corporation ceased to exist on March 31st 1998, the responsibility for the site devolved to the South West of England Regional Development Agency.

In August 1997 there was a £60 million plan by MEPC to turn the Yard into a massive factory shopping outlet. This was followed by a plan by Courtleigh Property Holding Ltd for a £100 million development that would have included a four-star hotel, museum, shops and other businesses.

A £10 million plan was revealed on December 5th 2000 for converting the Grade 1 listed Mills and Bakery building into a restaurant, wine bar, shops, offices and luxury apartments. The proposal came from the Phoenix Trust, an organisation set up by HRH the Prince Charles to help breathe new life into historic buildings. Detailed plans were drawn up by Mr Peter Sutton of the Totnes, Devon, firm of architects Harrison Sutton Partnership. At the same time, Manchester-based Urban Splash were proposing to convert the Clarence and Brewhouse buildings into 91 apartments, shops, waterfront restaurant and an exhibition centre or museum, while Enterprise PLC, based in Preston, were proposing to convert the New Cooperage and Slaughter House at the entrance to the Yard into offices, restaurant, and other communal facilities.

And believe it or not, all these proposals came to fruition.

The brewhouse is now an award winning building of 78 apartments, together with ground floor commercial space for exhibitions, cafés and restaurants.

.The Mills bakery is now 86 apartments, commercial and office space. You can find out more about the Royal William yard development at

If you want to find the price of one of these luxurious apartments then visit this site

If you decide to buy one, please can I come and visit?


hidden inner courtyards

concrete white cows

and this little lovely in the basin

Sunday 20 March 2011

..on a slipway search.......

I was out and about this afternoon looking at various launching ramps around Plymouth. The one at Elphinstone Quay on the edge of the Barbican is easily accessible. All you pay for is the car park and the trailer is stored to one side.

It's a long way down with a right angled bend at the end

Plenty of ramp even at low water

Absolutely nowhere to tie up a boat - useless!

It is a nasty ramp though...that right hand bend looks awkward. Apart from that when you’ve pushed the boat off the trailer – there is nothing to tie it up to – not a sausage – no rings in concrete – nothing! Perhaps it’s me – but does this seem stupid? I mean – whilst I’m driving back up the ramp to park car and trailer – the boat drifts off into the Cattedown! No wonder this slip doesn’t seem well used except by Jet Ski enthusiasts.

this is a size 10 footprint
The story goes that this guy sailed up to this ramp for the first time...jumped out and immediately landed in wet concrete which the council had just put down as part of a temporary repair
Now I wonder who that could have been...........................

The ramp next door seems even trickier – it’s so steep – I’m not confident the car would pull a fully loaded Arwen back up that ramp!

I took a little stroll around the Barbican as well. There is a huge amount of old history in this place. I love it.

Lots of new developments but it gives the area character

This is one of the old Sutton Harbour walls. Back in the 1800's fishing luggers used to tie up at these walls and dry out on the mud below

You can see the old blocked up archway at the foot of the steps
Long before the lock gates were put in....the boats would dry out on the mud and then the fish would be off loaded onto carts. these would then go through tunnels under the wharves up into the town centre

The old railway lines from the 1940's are still laid down in the cobbles
There has been plenty of 'gentrification' in this area

No more fishing luggers - just these beasties

This used to be an old marine chandlers - it was a real little warren of cubby holes - piled high with chandlery. Now it is a restaurant but they have done the conversion in keeping with the area

One of the old quayside cranes preserved

A Cornish shrimper off for a day sail?
Then  I shot across to the little used slip at Mayflower. Now this one seems a little better although it’s very short on car parking space....and turning space to think about it. There is a nice beach on which to rest Arwen whilst parking – also there are rings in concrete – so some fenders out and she could be moored against the ramp wall for a few minutes. This is a useful slip as it gets you inside the Tamar area. It would save about 30 minutes motoring from QAB through Devil Point narrows. A good one to launch and return to if I was heading up the Lynher.

The pontoons below to the Mayflower Marina and that's the river Tamar in the background

At least this one has rings and a wall you can tie up to whilst you park the trailer and car

There is another one over at Oreston but parking is a big issue and it dries out at low water – pretty village though.

Enjoying the spring sunshine

The lovely village of Oreston right down on the banks of the Cattedown

A lovely ramp with tie up rings and wall but at low tide - a bit of a drop off the ramp!

Whilst over this side of the Plym across from Oreston, I came across this. I think she is an old RAF launch – a hospital or search and rescue boat.

RAF 'search and rescue launch'?

an old tug tied up at the breakers yard - shame

A quick Internet search found that the RAF launch was at one time based at RAF Gan.....and for those wanting to know is a site showing her in her former glory RAF 2748

Here is more about her from the historic ships record.

RAF Gan was apparently in the Maldives and here is a site full of history about this former RAF station.
Must have been an interesting posting out in the Indian Ocean.