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

Saturday 27 August 2011

It is a funny old world..........

Here I am getting excited about the America's Cup taking place in Plymouth........and I discover I have a sort of sideways family connection with the America's Cup of the early 1900's!!!  Sort of!

According to the official America's Cup website, in the beginning.....................

       "In 1851 a radical looking schooner ghosted out of the afternoon mist and swiftly sailed past the Royal Yacht stationed in the Solent, between the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England, on an afternoon when Queen Victoria was watching a sailing race.
     As the schooner, named America, passed the Royal Yacht in first position, and saluted by dipping its ensign three times, Queen Victoria asked one of her attendants to tell her who was in second place.

"Your Majesty, there is no second," came the reply. That phrase, just four words, is still the best description of the America's Cup, and how it represents the singular pursuit of excellence.
      That day in August, 1851, the yacht America, representing the young New York Yacht Club, would go on to beat the best the British could offer and win the Royal Yacht Squadron's 100 Guinea Cup.

 This was more than a simple boat race however, as it symbolised a great victory for the new world over the old, a triumph that unseated Great Britain as the world's undisputed maritime power.
    The trophy would go to the young democracy of the United States and it would be well over 100 years before it was taken away from New York.
    Shortly after America won the 100 Guinea Cup in 1851, New York Yacht Club Commodore John Cox Stevens and the rest of his ownership syndicate sold the celebrated schooner and returned home to New York as heroes. They donated the trophy to the New York Yacht Club under a Deed of Gift, which stated that the trophy was to be "a perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between nations."

    Thus was born the America's Cup, named after the winning schooner America, as opposed to the country.

And so it says on the America’s Cup website.

It goes on to claim that ‘The America's Cup is without a doubt the most difficult trophy in sport to win. In the more than 150 years since that first race off England, only four nations have won what is often called the “oldest trophy in international sport.”

Cool!  However, I’m not particularly interested in the history of the America’s Cup, as interesting as it genuinely is.  It's the slightly obscure sideways 'family' connection with the Cup which has been fascinating me.

My Mum and Dad have been visiting us the last few days in Plymouth and Dad bought with him details of our family tree. During our discussions and explorations (which lasted long into the night - sorry Dad!!!), it emerged that my great grandfather was actually a steward on Sir Thomas Lipton’s steam yacht 'Erin' during the early America’s Cup races, according to his log book. During this time he would have come into contact with very many famous people, ranging from Royalty, to multi-millionaire captains of industry on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only that but he would have met and interacted with the various crews of the Shamrock boats built and sailed by Lipton himself because 'Erin' was the actual tender to the 'Shamrock'. Wow!

The Steam yacht 'Erin'
Copyright Mclean Museum and Gallery

Lipton was clearly a remarkable man. The America’s cup home page history section says this about him:

There were a further six challenges before the turn of the Century, including the first of what came to be called the Lipton era of the America's Cup. Sir Thomas Lipton, the Irish/Scottish tea baron challenged five times between 1899 and 1930. He became the loveable loser; a man whose good-natured approach to the obstacles stacked against him turned him into a folk hero and promoted his business interests in America as well.
While Lipton didn't win the America's Cup, he became one of the first to introduce the idea of sports sponsorship, and he realized a financial windfall from it.

 Lipton's final challenge in 1930 was the first in the new J-Class boats. This was a period of magnificent beauty afloat, as the towering masts carrying an improbable amount of sail powered through the chop off Newport, Rhode Island. Harold Vanderbilt was selected to defend for the New York Yacht Club that year and did so with ease.”
                                        and you can read more about him at these links here......

Sir Thomas Lipton aboard 'SY Erin'
Copyright: Mclean museum and gallery

You can read about 'Shamrock' here as well

'Shamrock 1'
Copyright J.S.Johnson

We (well Dad) has some artefact's from this period of time in our family history, one of which seems to be either a subway, tram or ferry ticket from Hawthorne in New York dated July 1892. It has been punched over 60 times suggesting that my great Granddad lived for a period of time in this district. It ties in with some of his time on board the 'Erin'. There are some messages on embossed notepaper with beautiful and ornate enameled emblems ....flags etc that was clearly the official notepaper of the SY Erin (including some enameled bunting which I suspect spells out the name 'Erin'); we have some photos of my Great Granddad taken on board at Genoa we think.

I did a little searching about the 'SY Erin' today, so Dad this is for you!

Some of the crew of 'SY Erin' playing with the ship's mascot........which was a monkey
copyright: Mclean museum and gallery

Originally she was the AEGUSA built by Scotts in Greenock, Scotland in 1896. She weighed 1242 tonnes, was 257 feet in length and 32 feet in breadth. She had a top speed of 15 kts. She was purchased by Sir Thomas in 1898 and renamed ‘Erin’. She was to act as a tender for his racing yachts (shamrocks).

The actual crew of 'Shamrock' working on her rigging, on board 'SY Erin'
copyright Mclean museum and gallery

When war was declared she was used by the Red Cross to ferry doctors to France and Salonika. I’m slightly hazy after that but I think she was them named HMS AEGUSA, used as a patrol vessel in the Med and had some guns mounted on her decks. There seem to be two contrasting stories about her demise or I may have got my wires crossed...either she was sank in April 1916 by a mine just off Malta, or she was sank by a torpedo whilst going to the rescue of another hospital ship which was sinking, having also been torpedoed. I’ll try and do some further research and get this bit of the story cleared up.

'SY Erin'
copyright Mclean museum and gallery

Amazing co-incidence really isn't I am raving about the America's Cup......when my Dad delivers a family connection (albeit slightly tenuous) this same weekend!


Postscript:  for those interested in where the boats will be is a map!!

and here are some views of the various 'Shamrocks' - all copyright Mclean museum and gallery or J.S. Johnson

'Shamrock III' and 'Enterprise'
copyright J.S.Johnson

'Shamrock IV' going up the Solent on her first sea trials
copyright J.S. Johnson

and here are today's modern racing greyhounds.....what a difference 100 years can make!

copyright 'isails'

copyright sailboats

The America's Cup
copyright Skipper's TV

America's cup is coming, America's cup is coming.......oh yeah!!

America's Cup fever is beginning to hit Plymouth. Just been down to Millbay docks and containers have been off loaded, tents are being set up, ribs lowered in the water. Buildings and tents are sprouting on Plymouth Hoe.......and it's getting exciting!  Here are some starting tit bits - even if you are not into big yachts.......this is going to be impressive and all sailing eyes world wide will be on my fair city.......13 days to go - oh yeah!!

so enjoy these two short video clips - more to follow at some stage

The containers are being unloaded, boats being built.......oh yeah!


Thursday 25 August 2011

day Two: Fowey back to Plymouth

seemed to happen much quicker. I've re-looked at the sums and actually I left Fowey around 8.30am and entered Plymouth Sound at 1.30pm so that was 28 kt over 5 hrs - so an average speed of just over 5kts. That feels pretty good to me I think. Then, of course, I entered QAB marina at low tide and had to wait a couple of hours for it to come up sufficiently to haul out Arwen. Huh, so much for having planned meticulously!! At least in the sunshine, it gave me an opportunity to dry out everything.....but wait, I've been remiss, and I’ve rushed ahead of myself - sorry!

the weather is closing in!!

8.30am saw us depart Fowey harbour entrance in a rising breeze of around 11 or 12 knots from the south west. As such, it was perfect, putting Arwen on a close reach for much of the journey to Polperro. We raced along at around 4.5 - 5.5 knots, surfing on some of the waves that came off the aft starboard quarter. The troublesome leeway current experienced the day before was non-existent and at no time did Arwen feel overpressed with too much sail aloft. White-topped waves, traces of spume whipped off their tops, troughs of water of translucent grey/green......a colour that reminded me of the serpentine rocks down at Kynance Cove in Cornwall.......perfect!

yep, it's definitely getting worse
Of course there was the rain. Torrential amounts in vertical sheets. The cliff tops shrouded in grey mists; walls of rain offshore rapidly making progress landwards. It cascaded off the sails in rivulets like small waterfalls, dripping onto everything below. Cushions became sodden; both aft and forward cockpits began to fill.

At what point do you start bailing out? Is it when there is an inch or two of water in the cockpit floor; five inches? Is it when it starts flowing from the forward cockpit back through the small drainage pipes under centre lockers and into the aft cockpit? Is it when you are suddenly caught by a squall, tipped leeward’s and the boat seems slower than normal in regaining its level trim as gallons of water slosh to one side and then back again?
New to me, the phenomena of too much water in the boat base, I discovered I was a three inches man! At that point when the water began to transfer across the centre line from one side to another I decided it was manual pumping time. This meant hoving to just off Polperro, between Polperro and George Island, just off George Island and just opposite Seaton between Looe and Downderry.......four times!! I pumped out gallons. My bare feet had turned to wrinkled masses of flesh; my waterproofs had leaked under my arms; everything was sodden.........and I learned a thing or two from the experience.......

1. I need to make up some sort of boat cover which can be put across the cockpit from one side to another when it rains; that can clip around the coaming and that has an opening slot for the downhaul; that stretches as far back as the end of the centre case so that only the aft cockpit is I'll need to think this through over the winter

2. Along Arwen's rear thwart sides are openings to give access to under side deck storage. each opening needs to have a roll down waterproof canvas flap that can be buttoned down during bad weather so that the rain is kept out from under the side decks where I store much of what I may need access to during a day voyage

3. I may need to think about installing a simple, easily accessed, manual bilge pump

4. Having ballast sacks on the cockpit floor makes getting access to some of the 'bilge' water darned difficult!!

it's beginning to flow back from the front cockpit through the drainage pipes to the aft cockpit
After just passing Looe, I was cold; wet, stiff, miserable but interestingly, still quite happy and strange. I managed to find a couple of dry towels to wrap around my neck, some dry waterproof sailing gloves and a warm hat and life picked up considerably. A large trawler was hauling scallop nets across one part of the bay and the crew waved to me. Probably wondered who the idiot in an open boat was out in some of the worst rain bursts we have had all summer! The little inshore lobster pot boats were noticeably absent. There were a few divers’ boats over the wreck of the Scylla - they seemed happy - well they were going to get wet anyway!
I looked more in vain hope for any signs of dolphins, basking sharks or sunfish....knowing deep down they'd have headed off shore and for warmer waters. Standing up became a slippy experience..........all that water!

oh boy did it rain or did it rain
And then it started to happen again. All had been going so well, a constant close reach along the coastline with barely any alteration of sails.......then that nasty leeway current pushing me further into the bay and towards the shoreline; before I knew it, Rame Head had loomed out of the rainy murk and it was clear I was going to have to tack back out to sea and towards Looe again if I had any chance of clearing it. Boy it was hard was that 'going around in circles' feeling again. The more I tacked out to sea, the more I seemed to close more rapidly with the shoreline when I finally turned to face eastwards to Plymouth. At one point we came dangerously close to rocks - about 20m - but getting out of that tidal headland rip was proving almost impossible. Another larger yacht behind had fallen into the same trap and had immediately switched to motor sailing......filling me with that niggling dread.....would the outboard start?
No it wouldn't - for 30 minutes it was tack out as far as possible, try to start the engine, find myself back near the rock line again very quickly. It felt a desperate situation but eventually I managed to start the engine, move out to sea and we cleared the headland. Part of me was reluctant to switch off the engine now it was running (just incase it happened again) but I did and so we sailed along Penlee point and through the gap between it and the breakwater. The sun emerged, the rain clouds cleared and there was warmth - 19dC of warmth.....and clearing blue skies. I had time to admire the indented gullied coastline of Penlee point and on a broad reach we ambled down the sound towards Jennycliffe Bay.
The sound was a forest of white sails - everyone was out taking the opportunity of brightening skies and good winds. At Millbay docks - there was a flurry of activity....the preparations for the forthcoming 'America's Cup Heat [yes folks - in September American Cup fever comes to Plymouth Sound and the city is gearing up for what will be a truly momentous sporting event. As I write this now the container ship has arrived and unloaded all the containers at Millbay - containers housing the actual 9 catamarans, offices, crew quarters, workshops, everything needed for the formula one equivalent in the sailing world. We are anticipating thousands descending on our fair city and I will report events in due course....but exciting? Oh yes indeedy!]

bailer pump at the ready again
I shot across Plymouth Sound and into Jennycliffe Bay and heaved to. It took 2 minutes to start the engine with judicious use of the choke that helped me glide slowly back into Sutton harbour entrance(a little bit of water had splashed up over teh engine in a wave trough and I think it got slightly damp). Sailing into the south slip at QAB is impossibility - there just isn’t enough room in the channel between moored boats nor sufficient turning room at the end of the channel cul-de-sac. Sailing onto the north slip is easy - there is a huge expanse of water between the pontoon and the wall/rocks next to the marine aquarium. Get the approach wrong you can turn and try again.......but self launchers cannot use the north slip - that is where the QAB team operate and it is permanently busy with boats being hauled in and out by water crane etc.
I reached the slip at low tide. The concrete ramp ends and there is mud. If you try to drop a trailer into that lot - it's lost! The waiting time gave me plenty of opportunity to organise the boat; sponge out residual water in floor wells, assemble cushions along the pontoon edge where they could dry out in the sun. Waterproofs were slung over the furled sails which had dried nicely as we came down the sound. And then, I was taking my VHF out of its waterproof pouch to switch it off, I slipped on the wet thwarts, dropped the radio aerial first into the one remaining pool of water in the boat. It crackled, fizzed and died, the aerial hung limply at right angles!
One dead radio, one dead waterproof camera from a few trips ago. They say bad luck comes in three's - I hope not. I hope this is the end of some had better be because it’s going to take some explaining to she what must be obeyed!!!!!

The boss hearing of my missfortunes has allowed me to upgrade to a new outboard engine by using the money I'd been saving for new boat covers and rubber rollers for the fund a new four stroke Tohatsu 3.5hp. I got a good deal from the person I bought the original motor from 10 years ago!

The old engine is being serviced and then either he will broker it for me or I will sell it via ebay - so I will get some money back on it....which has paid for a new WATERPROOF VHF............sort of!

SWMBO was actually more understanding (or more resigned) that I first thought........I knew I'd married well!
Voyage summary: the statistics:

Day one: 29 nm

10 hrs sailing

Top speed 7.1 kts

Average speed 3.5 kts approx

Actual dead reckoning distance without tacks 24 nm

Day two: 28 nm

5.5 hrs sailing time

Top speed 5.8 kts

Average speed approx 5.3 kts

Dead reckoning distance estimated without tacks 24 nm

Total distance covered 57 nm

Wednesday 24 August 2011

evening time onboard Arwen

I love camping. Always have, ever since I was a young kid. I love the hiss of a trangia stove, that sudden ‘phut’ sound as the meths flame suddenly enlarges. I know there are people who would argue that there are better stoves than trangias but hey I’ve grown up with them; I love their simplicity and reliability. Scandinavian design – classic, simple lines. If you understand the inherent dangers in using meths as a fuel then you can cook some great meals.

I arrived on buoy at the entrance to Pont Pill in Fowey around 7.30pm. Within half an hour, the tarp had been strung up and the stove assembled. A cup of tea had materialised and I had been able to organise things in the ‘tent’ ready for the night. Meal time was simple – soup, followed by spaghetti and meatballs, then fruit and custard. Some time was spent admiring the view from a sitting position on the front deck.

My neighbours were varied and many. On the port side was a small motorboat with a canvas awning at the back. From within the depths of the rear cockpit of this boat, a very kind couple invited me across for a coffee; offered to fill my thermos flask for the night and wanted to make sure I had everything for breakfast for the following morning. What a really kind gesture. I declined but chatted for a while, explaining I had everything and that I’d be going to bed soon after a 10 hr sailing day. They fully understood, admired Arwen, marvelled that anyone would be daft enough to sail so far in a small open boat and then sleep under a tarpaulin and wished me a good night. I was overwhelmed by their good natured humour and spirit of generosity. On the starboard side were large sailing boats 35’ upwards – rafted 4 deep. Lots of laughter from cockpits and clinking of glasses....but not one glance or acknowledgement. Funny old world – the sailing community isn’t it!!

As dusk fell and the last embers of a setting sun fell behind Fowey hill, brass band music started up and floated across the still ria waters. Big film score tunes drifted across whilst from the little motor cruiser on my port side came Spanish guitar music. Both were excellent but I leaned more towards the Spanish guitar despite being an ex-trumpet player myself. Little rib tenders zipped in and out of the large boats and then calm descended. The little water taxi plied its trade between boats and shore and dark slowly descended. The water turned from a pinkish haze (reflection of the sun) to a deepish grey-green; the odd duck drifted close by hoping for a small titbit thrown overboard.

I’ve never managed to be a scrupulously organised person and this is reflected in the way my cockpit looks under the awning. In the aft foot well starboard side goes the cooking gear – readied for the morning breakfast. Across the starboard thwart goes stuff I may want during the night – book, torch, radio, mobile phone, spare woolly jumper. On the aft thwart goes a change of clothes and waterproofs ready for the morning. Front of starboard thwart and centre case in front cockpit are bucket and bailer; spare mooring fenders and warps and the mooring pole.

I sleep on the port thwart. Over the years I have managed to survive sleeping with a wife who sleeps diagonally across the bed. I am used to sleeping in a 12 inch space!! My head faces the bow, slightly raised on a cushion. I have a ‘Black’s’ thermomat (self inflating), a gortex bivvy bag which is now 30 years old (wow) and a RAB duck down sleeping bag which is also 30 years old and still going strong. All the clothes are in roll down waterproof bags. A plastic sheet lies across the starboard thwart in case the tarp leaks during the night.

And that is seems to work OK for me. The tarp is strung under or over the boom and folded sails –along a rope slung between the two masts. I leave a slight gap and opening at the front and back which allows a good airflow and avoids condensation issues. Rain doesn’t seem to get in. I use a small broom handle tied at right angles to the boom to spread out the tarp sides giving plenty of headroom.

The last time I remember seeing on my watch was 10.15pm.....................

Morning came early. I slept well until around 5am when I needed a wee and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. This was partially due to a very irritating cockerel on the shores of Polruan which crowed incessantly from 5am onwards. A quick peek out over the bow showed a dark, overcast day dawning with some ominous looking cumulonimbus clouds towering above the Fowey bay area – ah ha.......rain then! Pretty warm, no condensation, no rain leaks, everything dry inside the tent – so some bonuses for the day break then. I was still attached to the mooring buoy.....I always feel somewhat surprised and relieved that I am still where I was when I fell asleep. Can’t explain why!

Breakfast was a brew of tea, beans sausages and bacon and some biscuits. It took an hour to have breakfast, wash up, enjoy the morning view and pack away everything in to their water proof bags. Safely stored under the front deck and side decks, there was time to review charts, listen to a radio weather broadcast and check that all halyards, sail ties, etc were safe and where they should be. I watched a large china clay boat navigate its way through the channel. It seemed HUGE in such a small channel – literally filling it side to side in some places. Fowey port pilots earn their money there is no doubt about that. At 7.45am it gave several blasts on a very large horn........somewhat inconsiderate I thought.......given the hundreds of sailors who still seemed sound asleep in their boats (although in truth I thought it was funny and quite enjoyed some of the bleary eyed, heavy heads that poked through cockpits to have a look).

Time to get moving. It took three pulls to get my engine going this morning not ist customary two!  Pull three, it fired and held for a few seconds and died. A wait of a few minutes......pull four it coughed in to life and held. I moved the choke until I found the optimum position and held my breath. The engine coughed, spluttered and warmed up to a decent little chugging sound. That was better. I'd obviously in my not wide awake state used too much choke and flooded the engine. well there is a first time for everything! A sense of relief because it was quite clear to me, we were packed in so densely that I would never have been able to sail out of there...apart from which there was the barest of breezes anyway!

After a few minutes waiting for my little engine to regain some form of life, I walked the mooring buoy down the starboard side, slipped the warps and coiled them and drifted backwards on the current. We turned to starboard and squeezed our way through the boats towards the rubbish skips floating pontoon. Dumping my camp rubbish, Arwen turned her bow towards the estuary entrance and we slipped away in the early morning, with barely a wake.

I like departing harbours early. Ninety percent of the time, you have the place to yourself. Any others up and about are locals, harbour master teams, local fishermen with their varying sized multi coloured small boats. My seaward progress was accompanied by some ducks for a short spell, still ever hopeful that a small titbit would find its way over the port deck. I felt really guilty for I had saved nothing for them. A few cream custard biscuits seemed to satisfy them though and it appeased my guilt. The crew of the ‘Earl of Pembroke’ were up and about. People were scurrying across her varying decks pulling on ropes and moving some of the big spars about......readying for a later departure. I’ve sailed on the ‘Earl of Pembroke’ a couple of years ago – it was a birth treat for my Dad. It was a morning cruise around Charlestown Bay shared with forty others. Despite that, we actually rather enjoyed it. The ship’s crew were experienced, varied and interesting; the boat was fascinating; you could join in as much or as little as you liked setting sails and pulling on ropes. It did give a small insight in to what it must have been like to sail such boats during the 1800’s.

At 8.20am Arwen reached the harbour entrance and we ploughed into the first waves. Winds were picking up, rain bursts and showers could be seen on the horizon. We motored out for about a mile and then pointed into the wind. Raising sails, and turning to the east, Arwen eased herself in to a beam reach at 4.5 kts. Wind was from the south, directly abeam...........if this was to continue it should be a good brisk sail home. I reduced engine throttle, pulled the kill cord and my little engine stopped; and peace descended to that lovey swushing sound as a sail boat passes through the waves.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Arwen goes to fowey day one part 2: fickle currents and rising winds

West of Portwrinkle were several little sandy beaches only accessible by boat. Anchored in the shallows were a few small sailing boats perhaps 5 - 6m in length; a few small ribs had disgorged their occupants on to the beaches. BBQ smoke could be seen drifting up and to the east. If they were hoping to do some body boarding they were to be disappointed at that time for there were few waves breaking. Behind the beaches on the steep cliffs were woodlands, trees blown towards the east by the prevailing winds, contorted in to tilted and flattened shapes. Some cliffs had experienced recent cliff falls, huge scars and gashes forming big reddish grey lines across their greenery.

Nav station onboard Arwen: within the pack are charts, ordnance survey maps, a detailed passage plan etc. The dead reckoning distances, timings and compass directions are marked out on the chart as well as being in the plan. Waypoints are entered into the GPS but to be very honest I only use that for getting a speed reading. I'm the person in UK who doesn't own a satnav!  I believe that if you rely on technology too much - you lose the skills you need to do it manually....and when the technology ceases to function........well......... I know........I'm a luddite!!
The little coastal community of Downderry with so many of its houses with big panoramic windows looking out over Whitesand Bay soon disappeared astern the starboard side of Arwen as the wind began to veer and increase. By 1pm ish it had started to reach 10 or 11 knots and had veered to be running south- south west. Arwen was now doing between 4 - 6 kts helped by the westerly tidal stream of 0.7kts.  Of course, this mean't that waves were building. The height between trough and crest of many was at least 1.5m (6 - 7') and inevitably they were running almost parallel to the coast in the direction Arwen and I were heading.........bouncy is not a good enough adjective to describe that constant crashing into the waves but it will have to do.  Spray was beginning to appear over the front decks with regular monotony. I think Joshua Slocum described spray as 'myriads of diamonds sparkling the in the sun' and you know what, he was right!  At first it was fun crashing into troughs and watching Arwen claw her way up to the crests but then after a couple of grew tiring.....and frustrating!

Heading for Polperro
In that sudden weather lull when the sea calmed

Looe came up fast and we were about 1nm off the narrow channel into her safe port nestled between two steep hills.  Banjo pier with its rounded turret structure at the seaward end stood out; to the right, Looe beach was crowded, and I mean crowded. Looe is a popular tourist destination with a mix of quaint streets, pubs, a thriving fish market and some nice beaches. Two grockle (Cornish for tourist!!) charter fishing boats were making their way back to port, well with the bouncy seas, I can't think it was much fun for landlubbers out there! By now Arwen's sails had filled nicely and had set well, few creases and the boom at a good safe height above my head.  Earlier that morning, due to poor safety checks on my part, the second reefing rope had become loose and undone itself, pulling out from the sail cringle holes. I'd just hanked it and looped it over a cleat because I wasn't expecting the weather to go to force 4! Huh!  Well I did try heaving too but it was so bouncy that actually I decided to avoid sea sickness and carry on. There wasn't a huge amount of weather helm and I didn't feel Arwen was over pressed with canvas for the ailing conditions being experienced.

Off George Island on the western approach to Looe were some small fishing boats laying out crabbing and lobster pots. This is a scene so typical of the west country coast and I admire these small scale fishermen who often supply local restaurants. They go out in yellow oilskins in all weathers, normally single handed, to tend to their pots. And it is hard work - for some of these boats are really small and don't have the benefit of mechanised pot haulers! I passed several pot markers - I always marvel at the assortment of floating bottles, jerrycans, old footballs in nets etc that make up marker buoys. Many in this area have little flags to help increase their visibility - bamboo poles from garden centres with home made flags stuck on made of hessian and plastic sacks. Very effective too!  George island is a nature reserve and not accessible to the public except by prior booking. Boat trips run out there from Looe. Between the island and mainland are rocks - the chart recommends not cutting between island and mainland even at high tide!  There is a white house on the leeward eastern side which I think is lived in by the warden.  Most of it is wooded - low oaks by the looks; although in the middle of one small clearing was a very impressive tepee. On the western flanks are some open fields on which were grazing a small flock of very black sheep. The rocky platforms around the island are extensive and a great place for all sorts of marine life including seals.  The upper rocks have yellowish lichen above them and are purpley grey in colour; then there is a band of black rock colouring before the more common brownish-grey rocks, barnacle and limpet covered; with huge mats of bladderwrack seaweed and kelp. 

At 2.35pm, we hit the overfalls. Hum - if I'd been paying more attention to my notes and chart and less admiring the scenery - then I would have headed out to sea a little more.....but no.....I headed straight into them and boy were there some steep troughs, I mean some steep gut wrenching ones. It was like riding a roller coaster and it was to cause me endless problems for the next hour or so. Not the trough/crests but actually tidal eddies and a wicked side stream. Running parallel to much of the coastline and being close hauled - I was suffering leeway but this combined with odd currents mean't that I was forever being sent sideways towards the rocky coastline. Four times over the next hour and a half I had to turn and head out to sea for several minutes at a time to gain some leeway from the land. Each time I was heading almost back on myself, the wind shifting just as I tacked. All the ground I'd made would disappear. Just before Polperro I was pretty sure I'd entered a 'nether world' of reoccurring 'ground hog day'. I just couldn't clear one small headland at all, it didn't matter how long I headed out to sea, as soon as I resumed direction, tide, current and wind resolved to put me straight back towards the rocks - it was bizzare!  After an hour of desperately trying every sailing trick I knew (which isn't much of a repertoire to be honest), I resorted to cheating and so motor sailed out to sea for almost two miles before resuming course and reverting to sail. 
the entrance to Looe with George Island on the left
If it was any consolation, a small cornish shrimper ahead of me was having similar problems. A big 40' yacht sailed past on the port side about 1.5miles offshore. Lesson learned? Don't hug the coastline so closely - move further off shore, especially when close hauled and with a coastline running near parallel to the wind direction!! In the meantime, I eased my outboard throttle down, killed the engine and reverted to sail. My beloved little engine - it sounded poorly - this was ruining my day!

Such had been my concerns over rocky shorelines, spinning currents and a poorly engine I'd plumb forgot to measure my speed against the 'measured mile' markers found along this stretch of the coastline. Huh - I'd been quite looking forward to doing that - ah well!

Polperro finally came up on the starboard side - it had taken it's time!!  The harbour entrance looked very inviting! I could duck in there and call it a day after all it was 4.30pm. Shelter, warm coffee, nice village pub or two....sounded good.  Mind you, narrow harbour to get into, big breaking waves on its eastern side - can't sail in to it - would need engine - um - maybe not then......and so we passed on. To be honest I had no intention of giving up - it was Fowey or bust and Arwen and I were still in pretty good shape.  A huge orange crane dominated the eastern entrance to Polperro along with some huge light grey concrete blocks - new harbour wall?  New breakwater arm?  Must find out when I return.

A thought crept into my head as we tacked out to sea again to gain some distance from the cliff base (those damn sideways currents - wicked leeway)..........was there enough fuel in the tank for an entry in to Fowey?   when I'd gained a mile offshore, I hove to and took a look. Nope, tank was almost empty. Taking the provident opportunity of a lull in the lumpy waves, I leaned over the back of the transom, inserted the huge round high sided funnel and poured a litre of fuel in to the tank with barely a drop split! Ha - impressive if not precarious!  Arwen hoves to very well. The tiller stays to leeward of its own accord and we sort of sideways claw forward at a slow rate. It's a very reassuring character trait of a small boat, the ability to hove to simply and effectively!!

.....and finally the entrance to Fowey.
There was a point when I thought we'd never reach it in daylight!!
Slowly we clawed our way along towards Fowey, the steep rugged cliffs looking somewhat foreboding now. Arwen was making 4.2kts into a rising headwind (around force 4). We'd both grown accustom to the bouncing waves but the occasional dollops of spray were a rude awakening to the helmsman! It was getting late and I was keen to see the huge pillar on St Catherine's point. It would indicate the entrance to the river harbour.  Slowly we came up on the white house high on the cliff at Polruan and then the stone white cross on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs on the eastern side. We'd made it. 7.10pm  We'd started at 9am so it had been almost a 10 hr day!  At the entrance to the river mouth I hove to and started the outboard.   We slowly entered the port calling up the harbour master on VHF channel 12. Directed to raft up alongside some BIG yachts, it became clear that I was losing engine power and this was going to be tricky. The anchorage was heaving. At the entrance to Pont Pill creek, boats were rafted up four deep at every single buoy. The harbour patrol, sensing there was an issue with my skills level (must have seen the look on my face), kindly directed me to the only open stretch of water amongst hundred's of boats, where there was one single lonely buoy. Well, it was one of those one shot only moments. With engine revs dying fast (I hadn't fille dthe tank sufficiently at harbour mouth - that will teach me!!) I positioned Arwen into the current, grabbed for the mooring pole and extended it to its full extent. There would be no slick coming alongside and stopping with the buoy at midships tonight....this was a get as close as possible to it before engine died and then lunge. The technique worked and I cannot begin to describe the sense of relief of having made it into port safely. And this is true, as I tied onto the buoy, my beloved, faithful little tohatsu engine coughed and died............she'd run out of petrol.


Monday 22 August 2011

Before I start my description of my passage to Fowey and back, I just want to bring to peoples attention an excellent blog site by Joel. He has built an awesome looking navigator and he has put a very detailed rigging guide here at

Joel is clearly a great craftsman and really thinks carefully about functionality and form on his boat. Anyone building or contemplating the build of a Welsford Navigator would do well to visit Joel's site.

And so to epic tales of seafaring.....of voyages along the southern cornish coast, of fog banks, becalming, torrential rain and mysterious and devious tidal currents!

Arwen and I headed south last weekend along the coast from Plymouth to Fowey and back, a return voyage of some 56 nm. Our average speed was 3.7kts; our top speed was a somewhat hair raising (in my opinion, although Arwen seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself) 7.1 kts. We travelled nearly 30nm miles on day one taking some 9 hrs (with the odd heaving too thrown in); it was 26nm on the return leg and an eight hour day.

Enough of statistics! Did we have fun?  Well on day one we most definitely did until the end stretch....but wait.......I rush ahead of myself....for there are tales to be told and pictures to here is our account of

Day one: a voyage from Plymouth to Fowey: part one 

As always I had done my chart work before hand; packed the night before and so when most people were still asleep on our street, we sneaked out, ran Arwen off the driveway and loaded the car with the paraphernalia needed for an overnight camp aboard. I say 'we' because my wonderful wife got up early to come with me to QAB marina so that the car could be bought back home, saving on car parking fees. What devotion above and beyond the call of duty! Mind  you it has taken NINE days for me to do the back garden patio....and  I'm kinda feeling that one request in 28 yrs of marriage to get up early to retrieve the car - isn't really too demanding, given the slavish devotion I have shown to finishing that............patio!!

Um! Fog! Not quite what I had in mind. There were lots of boats going into it and not many coming out my eriee?

Well the weather forecast didn't quite get winds right! There were none. As I rigged Arwen it was clear from the lifeless flags at the marina there was no wind.....none, not a whisper. At 7am it was brilliant blue skies, soaring temperatures, high fluffy 'mares tails' clouds and a smooth as glass sea and I mean smooth! Not a smooth you could pick out perfect reflections in the water of the world above! The kinda of smooth I'd liked to have achieved in the concrete which formed the foundation for that....patio!!

We were aiming for a 9am departure and on the stroke of 9, we cast off mooring warps and eased out gently into the narrow channel between moored boats. The main Sutton harbour area was clear but up there on the Mayflower steps, laughter could be heard from the big white marquees assembled there for the HQ of the just finished 'rolex fastnet race' (last weekend: if interested go to Behind the lock gates were 200 odd boats of all shapes and sizes - all worthy finishers of this small but tough yacht race. 

We eased out in to the main Cattedown area...slightly intimidated by the thought of all those real sailors and boats only metres away from us........the yellow water taxi scuttling about between Mountbatten and the Sutton harbour landing stages and we went down its starboard side.  With the steady chugging of my beloved tohatsu we glided across the smooth seas on the top of the tide towards the Mountbatten breakwater, taking care to skirt its outer edge some distance so as not to disturb the sea anglers float fishing at its end for bass and mackerel.  I then did my normal call to Brixham Coastguards requesting a radio check... to be told I was 'distorted'. Unusual that....normally I'm crystal clear - hey ho!  I am greatly saddened that Brixham Coastguard are to be axed in the government cuts. Despite all our protests and pleas, Brixham is to close. The coastguards at Brixham have been professional, helpful , ever courteous and outstanding in what they have done. I am angered by the cuts but here and now is not the time to vent that anger but I do want to pay tribute to our local coastguard station and say 'thank you for always being there and always listening out. For us small boaties, it is a reassuring peace of mind which is priceless - thank you to you all'

My intention had been to turn eastwards into Jennycliffe Bay, raise sails and tack my way up to the breakwater, for the winds were south west...the direction in which I wanted to go (huh!  More about fickle winds later!!). However, it was not to be, for like last year when I went to Salcombe, I was confronted with FOG. I have ever only seen fog in Plymouth sound twice......both times when I have been starting big coastal what are the chances of that?  This was no ordinary fog however. I watched seven yachts, a small naval dockyard tug and 8 diver ribs disappear into that bank. Now the western sound is pretty big....but even so....that made it pretty busy in that fog bank and that's without taking in to consideration what was coming the other way.    I eased the motor down and at around 1.5 kts eased into the fog bank.

Emerging from the gloom by the western end of the breakwater to find a small coastal tanker waiting to move into the Cattedown

Visibility dropped to no more than 12 metres. The air took on a damp chill. The fog swirled in wreaths around me. Sounds were muted, the distant clang of a bell, the regular chugging of a diesel engine somewhere close by; Arwen glided quietly across the waters......well so much for sailing.

It was 9.20am. The Melampus red port buoy emerged out of the gloom, solid, gently bobbing, seaweed swirling around it in big rafts; some champagne corks floating on the surface went past us on the outgoing tide, the remnants of past Rolex fastnet celebrations? Behind me Drakes Island disappeared in to the grey mass.....this was not what I expected. Occasionally the odd fishing boat suddenly appeared and then just as quickly disappeared again in the murk, forcing me all the time to try and mentally recall where I had seen things. By now it was down to compass work - buoy hopping - next would be 'new ground' buoy and then 'queens ground'. I'd plotted buoys and compass directions from one to another all the way to the outer Draystone buoy last year...just in case I ever encountered fog again.......what fortuitous planning eh?  At 9.53 am the western breakwater end lighthouse started to take shape in the gloom.......gaps were appearing through which could be seen distant sunbeams and rays of light. My spirits soared. It's funny how fog has that effect; I've experienced a similar feeling when caught on mountain tops - it must be the aspect of the 'unknown'; the stretching of ones senses to try and digest and interpret what is happening around oneself.

Penlee point on the western entrance to Plymouth Sound has a medieval chapel on it. Rumour has it you can find coins hidden in the cracks within it; the peninsula is also a nature reserve. When viewed from the sea, it is amazing how many little gullies cut back into the cliff line - all ending in caves; the gullies surrounded by heavy oak woodlands.......very ethereal!
Copyright for photo Bill Watts

On the starboard side, the old white coastguard station on  Penlee point began to coalesce and take shape and then suddenly bursting out into brilliant sunshine, blue skies and a mirror glass sea - wow.......what a wonderful day!  The trees and shrubs of Penlee point looked soooooo green!

The other side of the fog bank? Like a completely different world! Bright skies ,sunshine, calm seas and no wind. Up ahead is the Draystone buoy

It was clear there was no wind. I could raise sails and drift endlessly for ages out by the Knap buoy or I could motor slowly out towards Rame Head. would this be cheating?  Would purist sailors dismiss this voyage because I hadn't sailed it all?  Would I mind?  Not a hoot!  Who cares as long as you are having fun and enjoying the scenery and delights of being out on the water? Decision made and so onwards to Rame Head. Aided by an outgoing tide and a westerly flowing tidal stream of about 0.4 kt ( I do my homework you know..........I actually do think about these things!!), I sat back up on the sidedecks (thanks to the new re-installed tiller extension - ah what bliss) and relaxed. The outboard kill cord was around my lower leg (just in case I relaxed too much and leaned back......and fell out) and I admired the view. Fowey, get ready for here we come!

and the sea just got smoother and smoother! I believe they call this 'glass like?'
To the right is the very tip of the Rame peninsula. That be Cornwall that be! Need a passport to go past there!

With conditions like these, I was highly optimistic of a chance encounter with three of my favourite beasties, dolphins (which have been off Rame all summer), basking sharks (which often drift past Rame) and the oddly shaped sunfish (best described as like floating dustbin lids in shape, grey with bright blues, oranges etc dotted about - love em!). 

sunfish often spotted off the cornish coastlines: copyright Mike Johnson

And so Arwen and I continued to chug serenely across Penlee Point to Rame head.  In my pre-planning for the trip I had mused frequently on how close I could go to the actual point when rounding it. The chart showed deep water up to about 10m off shore. However, the area was also marked with lots of symbols for overfalls and I know that there are fierce rip currents and eddies off the headland as the currents come up and around it from the long Whitesand Bay on its western side. Well, I decided to be careful; and prudent and so headed for 1 nm offshore of the point - plenty of room! (Remember this - for in the day two account later this week - that 1 nm got thrown out of the window with almost dire and tragic circumstances!)

Rame Head and Queeners Point on the left. I have spent many a happy an hour spinning and flicking out floating rapala lures to catch bass, mackerel and pollack off that point. I've caught some cracking big wrass over 5lbs as well! Those gullys are magic!! Rame headland has been used as a hill fort during the Iron Age; the building you can see is a chapel dedicated to St Michael, first licensed for Mass in 1397. It was probably built on the site of a much earlier Cetlic hermitage

Rounding the Rame head, nothing but the wonderful vista of Whitesand Bay - 8 miles long - a sweeping bay backed by steep high cliffs with long golden sandy beaches the entire length.  I often fished these surf strands from the little rocky peninsulas that jut out from the cliff bases along the entire bay. I have seen it flat calm, a raging storm with 10' waves and even the beaches completely covered in wood, when back in the 80's a ship in a storm lost all its cargo of wood planks......oh boy was that a cracking two days. The Cornish always were a bunch of smugglers and that two days proved it.....thousands turned up to help themselves to the free timber. People hired lorries! You couldn't move along the cliff top road. The price of timber at local yards fell through the floor!  Honestly in some places on those beaches there was a 20' depth of timber planks littering the beaches like flotsam!

Wind is a funny thing. Becalmed, I decided to raise sails and 'test the water'. Arwen drifted around at about 0.9 kts in the barest of a breeze; it flicked the shroud telltales listlessly; the overhead long wind streamer at the top of the yard tried vainly to extend itself. Four cormorants drifted by very close, diving down and appearing with sandeels in their beaks. A gannet (my favourite seabird) dove off the nearby cliffs, wheeled up high into the sky and then plunged at neck breaking speed into the clear sparkling waters with barely a splash. 20 seconds later, up it popped 30m away with a huge launce in its bill; it's big black tipped and edge lined wings extended over 2m and slowly it lifted itself out of the water and ito the air in one graceful movement. Pure magic!

passing coastal villages on the way down

No dolphins, no Basking Sharks and no Sunfish though...a shame!
Drifting along aided by that westerly tidal stream, I passed Tregantle Fort at 11.45am, its great grey bulk sitting brooding on the skyline. On eitherside were long grass strips down the cliff slopes - the firing ranges. Beyond these were fields, pastureland for sheep and cattle. Way off on my port side were 15 to 20 yachts motorsailing along on a different bearing......perhaps they were making for Falmouth? They were the big white things, huge sails on the horizons. Arwen and I had nipped more inshore and frankly had the seas to ourselves. Still, I always think it is reassuring to know there are other boats around........just in case!!

Radio chatter on channel 16 was busy; I live a slightly frenetic life on the water! In one ear chattering away are the messages between boats and coastguard - channel 16 - routine traffic in the main; there was a pan pan call when a diving boat off the mewstone hit rocks and lost its propellor. In the other ear is radio 4 on my mobile phone. My brain sort of tunes in from one side to the other. Sometimes I tune out of both and just listen to the hissing of the water as it surges beneath Arwen's hull. With barely a wake streaming aft, we finally passsed Portwrinkle, a lovely coastal village with a huge old grey victorian Hotel on its eastern end and a small curved harbour wall at the western end. A few rows of houses stretch back up the hill and then its farmland again. Whitesand Bay is really a lovely stretch of coastline.

Over in the distant haze, could be seen Downderry and further along the port of Looe.  And more about the voyage from Downderry to Fowey tomorrow.


Sunday 21 August 2011

bad luck happens in three's....doesn't it?

First it was my sanyo waterproof camera........went kaput!  Then my faithful outboard started playing up.......water in the carb (more about that later!!) and then I dropped my replacement samsung camera in the huge puddle of water collecting in my boat (and more about that later too).  So I'm hoping my run of bad luck has ended!

In the meantime, Arwen and I have returned from our voyage to Fowey in one piece.......just!
To whet your appetite for some fuller reports, here are some initial pictures and a preliminary video clip. More updates to follow over the next week or so


The day started with a huge fog bank covering most of the western side of Plymouth Sound. This was just emerging from the fog into brilliant sunshine

One leaving port, one waiting to enter port!

Windless, smooth seas, and Rame Head

Everything the cruising dinghy sailor needs to hand for coastal navigation

Thursday 18 August 2011

Well the Fowey trip looks as if it is a goer tomorrow and Saturday.  All the kit is ready to be packed into waterproof dry bags tonight. The chart work has been done.  Weather forecasts scrutinised at several different sites including:

and finally

The majority verdict is that Friday winds will be 0 - 10kts with occasional gust to 16; from south west or south-south-west; good visibility; little chance of precipitation (good because its like a monsoon outside at the moment) sea state slight. Saturday is a little windier 10 - 15 kts but few gusts; sea state slight to moderate; good visibility. Friday will have some sunny spells but increasing cloud cover; Saturday will be cloudier.  It looks like this is the best - a depression passes over SW England again on Sunday bringing wetter weather. The newspapers in UK have all declared that our BBQ summer is now ended.......I'm still trying to work out when they thought we actually had a BBQ summer. I've been in the country all the time this year.......I must have blinked and missed it!

I've to add my sleeping gear to the growing mound in the main hallway of the house (duck down RAB bag in gortex bivvy bag outer) and we are done.  Evening meal will be lamb and veg soup followed by spaghetti and meatballs with fruit pieces and custard for dessert. Hot chocolate and ginger nut biscuits for nightcap. Breakfast - cereal, beans, bacon and sausages.

I can hear the hissing of my trangia stoves already....a wonderful sound!

Journey details - well with south westerly winds - it will be close reaching most of the way down. Light winds - probably averaging 2 - 3kts per hour. Journey length - well directly it is 24nm; with tacking probably closer to 28/ average speed of 3 knots looking at around 9 hours.  departing Plymouth at 0900 so should arrive at Fowey, all being well, at 6pm ish.  I'm guessing with light winds then there will be little leeway so I'm estimating around 5 degrees on Friday; maybe 7 or 8 degrees on Saturday although the winds will be from aft most of the time on that day. This passage planning stuff is still all new to me - it's trial and error and careful use of OS maps as well.
Tonight I will enter the important waypoints into the GPS and make sure camera, phone etc are charged and new batteries have gone into VHF radio and GPS unit.

safety wise - the stretch from Rame Head to Looe is the bit which concerns me most as there are no bolt holes if the weather turns nasty.  Up to Downderry I will return to Plymouth. Past Downderry, it's refuge in Looe; past Looe - well there is Polperro to duck into.

And that is it. Wish me luck!  If I survive this one - next week Dad and I are going up the Tamar to Calstock!  If the tides and winds let us that is!