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

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.



Joel Bergen said...

No photos of the patio?

Thank you Steve. You're too kind. And thanks for sharing your journey with us. How thrilling it must be in a Navigator on the open sea. I really enjoy your writings about the rich history of the area. What a spectacular part of the world you live in!

steve said...

A good internet friend wouldn't mention that patio!!!!!!

Glad you are enjoying the accounts. I am extremely lucky to live where I do and I don't take it for granted. I used to live in the south east near London - awful place! here I am surrounded by wonderful coastlines, the fantastic dartmoor National Park and the wonderful rolling hills of the South Hams. With our rich naval and royal marine heritage, and our history of explorers, Plymouth is a wonderful place to live.

Your boat is looking superb Joel