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

Thursday 27 October 2011

I'm looking out the window and........

I think the guys on JW’s forum are taking the a very nice way. We have been suffering howling gales and heavy autumnal rain here in Plymouth for the last week........and they are running a very interesting forum thread on.......................sailing in light winds!
Ha! Ha! I say as I watch the trees around me losing leaves and bending near double....ha Ha very funny!

It's a good question: how do you sail effectively in light winds
can you have a different set of sails to cope with it?

Despite the irony of the situation which I know will be lost on them all – there has been, as always, some really interesting dialogue and thinking. I don’t want to repeat it all or the subtle variations and nuances in ideas. People should join the forum if they want that level of detail. But here are some main points.

It started when Thomas asked if there were any thoughts for light air sails for his pathfinder. Big overlapping lightweight jibs and a top sail were some suggestions which then raised questions about the need for a roller furler; the need for a forestay and a bowsprit extension. How much might the overlap on the jib be? Perhaps more roach in the main with full sized battens could be an alternative?

Some advice was proffered...set the jib flying on an extra halyard with a double halyard on a block at the head of the sail to tension up the luff; in this way the normal jib could be furled and stowed and the extra large jib could be dropped when the wind rose.

Another line of thought was about the skills needed to sail in very light winds....forget altering the boat....learn these skills and any boat will do better in light winds. Would the book by Tom Cunliffe, "Hand Reef and Steer" have any worthwhile advice and tips in it for arranging rigs and light airs sailing?
John had this to say about sailing in light winds.........

“Sailing in light weather is a skill, needs practice, and patience. The boat
does not feel "lively" or powered up no matter what you do, but in the hands of
someone who has been interested enough to learn the ways, can cover a lot more
water than those who have not and as a consequence are stuck there like a raisin
in a pudding”.

He went on to explain that patience and relaxing were vital in light winds; having the boat correctly orientated to the wind, never lower than beam on and preferably about 60 deg off the wind direction was good; running a silk wind stream from mast head or yard was a good tip too.

The trick? Ease the sails out until the leach tell tales fly and then gradually pull in the sail until they stall and then ease the sail out a fraction. No sudden movements so the boat doesn’t rock and slow......and then the boat should start moving albeit slowly.

Once moving, steer for optimum pointing angle AND DON’T PINCH or sail close to wind as speed will fall off. Watch you don’t sheet in too much which will stall the wind flow across the sails. Keep feeling for the stall point and use the leach tell tales.

With regard to sail setting John advised they should be set full, easing the outhaul and the halyard, moving the jib sheet fairlead forward and inward a little. Trim the boat – bow down and heeled slightly to leeward and the stresses ‘sit still’!

Minute tiller movements and if sailing downwind, go at 150 deg off the wind direction so there is some flow past the boat.

As John put it.........
“The objective here is to get the boat moving, keep it moving, build speed, and use that tiny breath of wind. It’s fun, can be very satisfying, especially when you are sailing with a group or another boat where the crew don’t know what you do”!

Others noted that good sailors know where to find the light airs and most wind and that some suggest the use of a GPS to judge speed and to help make these small adjustments. Avoid excessive turns on the rudder as it acts as a big brake. Hold the tiller in one direction; allow the boat to find its own way. Try using a logger too!

My thanks to Steve, JW, Robin, Anders, Thomas, George, Hajo, Osbert and others for some illuminating discourse.
Of course you could always switch on the outboard.................................I can’t believe I just said that. I go now to wash out my mouth with coal tar soap and water!


Wednesday 26 October 2011

pssst a secret confession.....

Number one son and I like narrow gauge railways in Wales.........I cannot believe we have confessed to this....but there we are.  It's part of our heritage...we come from engineers, both sides of the family, all of whom loved steam engines. One grandad even worked on one of the narrow gauge welsh railways as a chief engineer for many steam is sort of in our blood really.

Which is why we headed north to the welsh highland railway at Caernarvon this weekend just gone. Opened recently, it now runs all the way to Porthmadog, through the famous Aberglaslyn Pass. Twenty five odd miles of magical welsh highland scenery, on the flanks of Snowdon. Twists and turns, switchback loops, passing through places full of slate mining history.  I won't bore you with the details but actually it was a good journey.

we travelled first class on the way down the line: inside the pullman carriage

going along the Aberglaslyn pass

taking on water again: the gradient on this line is truly impressive!

we were in the last carriage...which shows you how tight some of the bends were!

towards the end of the journey, the mountains are left far behind as you approach the coastal plains.....these are the tiny mountains by the way; the railway skirts the highest mountain in England and Wales!

It's a tough landscape with many an abandoned farm house

Then we went camping in the Forest of Dean in South Wales....during the storms.......and it rained...and rained.....and rained......and the wind blew gale force with weather warnings....and the tent withstood it all. To cap it all we even saw deer and wild pigs in the forest and put in to practice our tracking skills learned from Ray Mears!

saw this cheeky little chap but so far have failed to get a positive identification of what bird it is

Ha...couldn't see the woods for the to speak!

found some wonderful reflections

an amazing old log covered in mosses and lichens

a reminder that it is a working forest

it was in here we ran into the wild pig and the deer...too fast to get photos though - sorry!

Time with my son is time well spent. He's quite the knowledgeable outdoors man although I drew the line at eating beech leaves!

Nothing to do with boats.....but there was a neat little harbour at Caernarvon in front of the castle!

Narrow gauge railways, scenery, wonderful people, male voice choirs, quarrying, farming, fishing and coal mining, Celtic history, home to king Arthur, home to Torchwood and generally centre of the known universe.....Wales.............and castles of abundance.....built to keep us welsh in by the terrified English!  Funny how times change, now we welsh are doing 'missionary work' in English schools educating them!!!!!!


Wednesday 19 October 2011

anchoring off a beach......

has baffled me for some time do I land on Cawsand beach and then not have to stand there holding the boat to stop it going broadside?
I could drop a stern anchor on the way in and then anchor fore and aft....but I couldn't quite work out how that would work. Then some discussion appeared on the JW forum and all of a sudden...some smart ideas started to appear.

Pete kicked it off with a great description which went like this.......

"You will need two anchors unless you have a convenient tree on land.
Fasten a long line (painter) to the bow ring. Attach good block onto each anchor. Reeve the line from the bow through the block on the bow anchor then through the block on the stern anchor and fasten it onto the stern. As you approach shore, drop the stern anchor a reasonable way out and feed out the line from the stern as you approach shore. Disembark.
Now set the bow anchor into the sand (rocks) on the beach. Pull in the line coming from the stern anchor. The boat will be pulled out to sea and the excess line will pass through the block on the bow anchor and go out with the boat.  Retrieve the boat by hauling on the bow line.
This keeps the hull clear of rocks and out of harm’s way. Use good line and check your knots or splices!!"

Then there were various discussions about the merits of pulley blocks versus stainless steel rings versus very large shackles with very smooth interiors............

Then Joel came up with a neat simple solution (one which I really like). In fact he’s detailed it on his own blog at

Then ‘Smilicus’ came to the rescue as well providing us with a very neat diagram (thank you because I had offered to try and draw one out and put it on the blog...but now I am saved the thinking...and feeling somewhat tired and slightly defeated this week, I really appreciate that break).

In fact Smilicus went on to say ...........................

"We used to camp next to a tidal river and we used a system similar to this to change the position of our boat (reel in to board at high tide or move the boat further out at low tide. It worked pretty well and you could almost get in without your feet getting wet.  The System - drop your anchor in deeper water with enough anchor chain and a  small length of rope. At the end of the rope secure a good quality marine pulley. Then you create a loop of rope with two hook clips on (boat length apart on that loop - to clip you boat on to)
Then there is another anchor on the beach with a line that is connected with a pulley to the loop. This way you can reel your boat in and out from the boat or from the beach. If in the boat, you use the other side (the side where no hook clips are) to cleat it off at the correct position you want your boat.
It sounds complicated, but once you set it up once it is a piece of cake."

.The blog of Smilicus can be found at

So there we have it. A cool, simple to use system, which can be used for those short beach picnic stops. It will work well off the shingle beach at Cawsand I think; or over at Barn Pool near Mt. Edgecumbe...or perhaps off one or two of the beaches at East Portlemouth over at Salcombe. I’m looking forward to rigging this system and trying it out sometime. I always carry two anchors in Arwen so it is a case of getting sufficient quantity of good quality rope to form the loop...oh and some really large, smooth stainless steel shackles I guess.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

and here is even more to cheer us up when a new navigator gets launched

Happy birthday Wayne and congratulations on a fine launch, a lovely family day out and a brilliant looking boat called 'Good enough'.......brilliant name and the boat......well it looks far better than its name my friend!

I believe they call this the 'happy boat builder' photo
Copyright Wayne!

Read about the family day out and launch at :

I love it when another navigator gets its first launch. Actually I love it when any boat gets its first launch. This has cheered me up no-end!

and into the water goes 'Good enough'
copyright Wayne

I've just realised something. Having build some odd canoes etc.....Arwen is my first boat proper and she's white hulled. All the rest were the same green as 'Good Enough'. How weird.......I wonder why I changed?

Wayne, may you and your family have many long voyages in her and once again....happy birthday!!


The Happy family
copyright Wayne or Joel (sorry guys can't remember which one took it...sorry!!)

here is something to cheer us all up.......

I can't remember whether I've drawn attention to these three YouTube videos of Navigators...but here they are and enjoy............

Well done to Shanghai948.....nice boat and nice sailing too......I needed a little cheering up


Monday 17 October 2011

things can only get better

the words of that song have been rattling around in my head for the last few days.............

We have had a disaster with 'Stacey', my son's much loved motovespa 125 super 1971 scooter. It is catastrophic and we are both reeling somewhat. We are at a loss on how we missed it having spent hundreds of hours poring over every small frame photograph we could find......but there we are. We've read every book, trawled every photograph on the internet; checked in weekly with progress reports to the forum; asked for their advice frequently and acted up on it.......but nowhere did we see this one coming..............

The bad news is in the photograph below, missed by everyone on forums, until one eagle eyed person asked the question......................

'What is that arch shaped hole in the front legshield and why on earth did you put it in?'

Number one son and I bought the scooter with that already there hidden behind the front wheel and mudguard. We assumed it was just as it should be......but clearly not. A request for photographs of the underneath by forum members then led to a catalogue of troubles..........the rear brake plate is not an original - it is homemade and would appear to be inadequate for the job it has to do.  The floor plate seems to have too many welds in it and therefore there may be structural integrity issues. The missing arch section is definitely a structural issue!!  What it should look like is like this..........

Net result........we need to sandblast her back to bare metal; weld in a new front section level with the rest of the legshield to strengthen and hid the missing arch bit; we need to weld in a new one piece floor panel. We then need to refill the holes drilled for the brake plate we had and buy a new rear brake pedal and fit that. 

After that we need to re-epoxy prime her; respray her etc etc.

My son is gutted. I can barely look at him because I've let him down so badly although he doesn't blame me one bit. I missed the 'bleedin obvious' as they say around here......I'm still at a loss how I did was literally staring me in the face! Over £1000 about to go down the drain; and then another £1000 to redo it all again.   I'm at a loss for words......other than "how could I have been so stupid as to miss something so bleedin obvious"?
Well we need to call in some experts on scooters and get them to come and check her out.....but I'm not very hopeful.  I think we may have to bite the bullet and put back our plans for a finishing date so that we can start a savings plan again over the next year or two. In the meantime, two very kind gents from the smallframe scooter forum have offered to come down from Bristol and take a look as long as we pay petrol, provide a cuppa and then take them out on a trip on Arwen........who would have thought it....two scooterists who like the sea AND  small boats......they are indeed truly blessed gentlemen.

A very chastened Steve

a short clip of Saturday's 'reflective motor/sail'

Below is just a short clip of being out and about on Saturday. I need to get a new camera. My little red one isn't that good........which is beside the point, as it too, gave up the ghost on Saturday and uttered its last little shutter sound...........I take care of my equipment so carefully.....but lets face it........the last two outings have not been good.....written outboard engine; one radio; one video camera and now one small digital defies belief and logic! I have never ever had so many equipment issues in one short space of time. I'm the man still using rucsacs, mountaineering and travel clothing 25 years old because I've looked after it so well.....baffling!

I also forgot about and rediscovered this link to a nice navigator build in progress at the moment -

Wilfried's navigator build is still ongoing and can be seen here as well......

and talking of navigator builds.....Wayne had his boat blessed over the weekend and there is a nice report at

I think he was launching it today. I know it will have gone well and I'm really looking forward to hearing his news and the photograph reports


Sunday 16 October 2011

I needed to get out on the water yesterday. It has been a painful week and I needed space to think, reflect and thank God or the spirits or whoever it is for my blessings. 

I rose early and was preparing Arwen at QAB before the sun had fully risen. It was promising to be a calm- ish day with winds SE 8 knots and temperatures of around 17 Celsius as a ridge of high pressure pushed up from the south, blocking the depressions and fronts building off the Atlantic.

It was an opportunity to try out the new outboard and radio as well after my disasters of the Fowey trip in August.  The motor started promptly and chugged away; stalling a a few times until I got use to the new type of choke. The rest of the controls are much the same although a twist grip throttle takes a little bit of getting used to. it performed beautifully throughout the morning, starting first time and gently pushing me through whatever currents came my way.

A high spring tide of 5.4m at 8am gave plenty of water beneath me at the pontoon; rafts of seaweed lying on the ramp at the highest point of the tide. As the sun rose, it bathed everything in a warm orangey glow. There were few about. The sea was perfect , mirror glass with clumps of seaweed, sticks, odd pieces of wood and the odd plastic bits of flotsam drifting out on the outgoing tide.  Occasionally invisible puffs of wind would ripple the surface of the sea, darkening it slightly. I followed an old fishing trawler out from Sutton harbour lock gates and got a friendly wave from its skipper. I had no specific plans....I just needed to chill and think.

I motored past Mountbatten breakwater and waved to the fishermen who were casting lines from its outer edge. They'd been there through the night to catch the top of the  tide, a prime time for mackerel, pollack and conger, that day break period. A few waved back.  Out in to Jennycliffe bay on the eastern side and there I came to rest and I drifted around for a time. There was no wind and so I motored across to the north of Drakes Island and practiced motoring up to and tying up at one of the large yellow buoys.

Across from me Mt Edgecumbe woodlands were brightening in the warm embers of the rising sun, the strips of grass becoming more visible as daylight became brighter, the lawns sweeping up to the old house at the top.

I have always maintained that this is a diary of my adventures and sails in Arwen and it records where we go, what we do and how we feel.  Sitting in Arwen yesterday gave me some private time to mourn the passing of a dear friend this week. I attended his funeral on Wednesday. we had known each other for thirty one years and had been really close during our late teens and twenties. Growing apart during our forties because of different work, interests and growing teenagers, we'd come back together in the last couple of years. he had fought valiantly against cancer for a number of years. I never heard him moan; he always put others before himself and he was a remarkable man. Practically to all intents and purposes, a Buddhist, he was deeply spiritual, intellectually sharp, constantly curious and had that insatiable appetite for knowledge that you see in young children. As his closest friend said, he was always asking the 'why' question.  He was humble, warm humoured, would genuinely do anything for anyone and accepted me for who I was.......I have always struggled in the adult world.......I don't understand its codes, conventions and practices. I spend most of my time terrified in social situations. Teenagers and children though, I really get!  My friend understood this about me. I won't say any more about him.......he was honest, humble, kind, compassionate, inquisitive and had more integrity and honour than most other people I know.  I will miss him and I hope through my bumbling words last Wednesday, at his funeral, I did him justice.

My friend loved the outdoors, the moors and woodlands. I don't like woodlands, never have! I love open spaces and vistas, wild mountains, coastal scenery. However, he would have appreciated the views across to Mt Edgecumbe yesterday morning and so in memory of him, I took a little potter that I could see the woodlands that he always liked........even if it was from a boat (he was never too keen on boats!)

There were a number of private small fishing boats out and about. One was speeding up from in front of me and I thought he were about to cross my bows as some arrogant speedboat types do and create huge waves for Arwen to bounce across....but he didn't. right in the middle of the sound, he slowed down and then went behind me, with a was really quite touching and restored my faith that here are small motorboat owners out there with a sense of chivalry!  I sailed alongside one for a time, the wind so light that I drifted past him. We were able to chat about what he was fishing for; what lures he was using and how his summer had been. Nice guy...he admired Arwen, asked how she sailed and what her 'quirks' were.  It was a pleasant few minutes shared between two people who like being out on the water. I like that camaraderie.
As we chatted a cormorant popped up, took a look at us, decided he didn't like what he saw and so ran across the water building up speed for a take off.......boy did those little webbed feet run across that water.

A sailed on across the sound towards Jennycliffe and reflected on the other sad news of the week. Someone I know and love and care for very deeply has lost her first baby, being a few months pregnant. She (and her lovely husband) are distraught and there are no words of comfort I can offer either of them. I am clumsy with words...they do not come easily to me. despite being a teacher, I am not articulate and I will often remain quiet and hold my own counsel rather than speak.......but it doesn't mean I don't feel the despair that these two good people feel. I will give them a few more days to come to terms with their sad situation and then I will contact them. By then I hope to have found the words that might at least offer them a grain of comfort and solace.

After an hour or two, I'd had enough which is strange. But it was time to come back in. I followed a small crabbing boat back in...we were merely yards apart. The weather beaten skipper sluiced down his small floor and emptied various crates. some lobster pot small fish bait were tipped over the side  for the noisy seagulls flowing behind, who swooped and dived in a stunning display of aerial acrobatics. He waved across to acknowledge my presence and then set about his business again...sorting things out so that when he came alongside the Barbican fish market he'd be ready for his crates of crab and lobster to be swung up off his decks and out onto the quayside.  As we came close to the Cattedown, one of the dockyard tugs was manoeuvring backwards, the skipper showing his amazing skill, holding a course steady and true.

I needed to be out on the water yesterday to think about these things.  My friend, he was always good at enveloping you in a bubble of calm, peace and tranquility which would shut out the noisy, intrusive and busy outside world.  The other person I know has a similar ability and also has a heart of gold, ready to do anything for anyone. I know she will be hurting deeply right now but I will be there for her when she is ready for me.
Arwen does that you know. She gives me a sense of peace and space, she brings me closer to a sense of the spiritual. It is difficult to put in to words, but yesterday just a few hours in her on the water in my beloved Plymouth Sound, helped me put my head in order. Both helped me think out what I need to to to support my friend's family in the near and longer term future; and to start thinking about the words that I will say to a lady and her husband, who have lost so much this week as well.
Life is fragile and transitory at best. Sometimes in the hurly burly of daily life, work and expectations of others, we forget what is important and most dearest to us......our friends, our family, our loved ones.


Tuesday 11 October 2011

something to cheer you all up

...until I can get out on the water.......enjoy some new video clips from Kevin and 'SlipJig'

copyright kevin Brennan

copyright kevin brennan

Enjoy.........and Kevin.........THANK YOU!


Saturday 8 October 2011

not getting out and about Arwen as much as I would like to be. School work seems to be dominating weekends again and the weather hasn't really been brilliant. I don't want to get the sails wet because at the moment I cannot stretch them out in the garage to dry on account of a half finished motovespa 125 super from 1971

'Stacey' with her new wires hanging out

I haven't even been able to try out my new outboard yet. Reddish marine in Salcombe are doing the brokerage for me on the old one which seemed to be fixed quite quickly. Mike told me that Tohatsu 2 strokes sell quickly because they are lightweight, robust and well regarded. He's had a few people offer him money for it but they have been 'chancers' offering way below what a second hand Tohatsu is worth.  On the other side, at the recent Newton Abbott Boat Jumble (see previous post) there were three 2 stroke 3.5hp Tohatsu's and each one was being sold for £350+ which seems a little excessive. I am not greedy and I will settle for a fair price. I'm not out to rip off anyone or make a profit. I wouldn't want people doing that to me and so wouldn't do it to others. Fair is fair.

and the other end...wires at the top of the steering column slot

Number 1 son ( I have only one so he's number one by default really as he pointed out to me) came and did some work on 'Stacey' the vespa today. 'About time'.........sort of circulated my brain but I said nothing and played the encouraging father!  He did well and achieved quite a bit in four hours. He cut a bracket which had been holding the rear number plate in the wrong position and then stretched out the plate a little so that the rear tyre rim could fit correctly.

The rear light was wired up (thanks to Al at Beedspeed, who kindly looked at our photographs and then emailed them back telling us exactly what wire went with what other wire and which should be soldered together or not etc). The white rubber seal around it replaces the rubber mat that used to be the backing for the light - apparently getting a white mat is rarer than 'rocking horse sh-t' as one person told me over the phone! Colourful I must say....hadn't heard that expression before!

A quick email to the 'smallframes forum' elicited the reply we'd been dreading......

'yes you amateur newbies...the black plastic cylinder cowling does have to go on and yes you will need to drop the rear shock absorber bolt, swing down the engine and slide it over the time put it on before putting the engine back in its compartment'.

Lesson learned! We felt very rueful!!  But its a job now done. The shiny flywheel protector has been added and the wiring loom inserted (and electricians we are definitely not!!!!!!!!). We've drilled new holes to accept the rear brake pedal plate, attached the rear brake pedal cable; attached the legs (that took soooooooooooooooooooooooo long!). We still haven't attached the leg retraction spring. Neither of us have the muscles to actually stretch it the distance it needs to go despite some comical we need a plan B on that one....and we haven't thought that up yet!

The engine compartment cover took some gently persuasive bending before it would fit...even now it is not quite right but is the best we will get it without fracturing the paint job and that would be a disaster.  We've done some soldering and joining of wires - hoping that we've linked the right ones with each other......otherwise there will be a lot of 'unsoldering' to do!

And that is about it.....four hours work. Not bad for amateurs who genuinely have no idea what they are doing. Secretly, I want 'Stacey' done....I want to store my sails, make space for some winter oar making etc etc.  On the other hand I enjoy our father/son time and I wouldn't rush it for all the stars in the 'Stacey' will take her time, however long that may be..........and winter oar making.........well that may well be a summer project in 2013!