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

Sunday 29 January 2012

I’ve been thinking about sailing again. Up until this weekend all my thoughts have been about A level geography and the need to make sure that my students are fully prepared for their exam on Thursday. It is an issues paper in which they have to ‘unwrap’ a planning issue, in this case the Twin Bridges redevelopment of Poole. It takes so much time to prepare and research....but now the end is in sight............I hope!

Lots of things have been exercising my mind. Where to store my anchor so it is safer, more out of the way and easily accessible! How to better secure the ballast bags I sail with so in the event of a capsize, they remain secured to the floors and in Arwen! Whether I should be installing a bilge pump after the episode last August when it rained on the Fowey trip and I ended up with 6” of water sloshing around Arwen’s floors. I need to do a capsize test this year but finding somewhere sheltered, easily accessible and out of the way is a nightmare around Plymouth Sound. I am wondering about Cellars beach in the Yealm. And then there is the issue of lazy Jacks because I’m still not happy with the current arrangement; then on top of that there issue of reefing.

Um, someone told me that one of the joys of small boat sailing was thinking about the modifications you could make to make life easier................well I’m not so sure!

Anyway reefing! I don’t tend to sail in much over force four but that isn’t the point. I need to have a simple reefing system which I have practised at so that in an emergency I am familiar with it. I think I read somewhere, probably on Duckworks that a design Jim Michalak notes that if the wind doubles from 5 – 10 knots, the force on the sail will increase by four times.

So I need something that is quick, simple to do, reliable and definitely reduces the force operating on the sails so that sailing is safe and achievable. It has to allow me to still point into the wind and keep the boat balanced at all times. And of course, I have to be able to reef it whilst under way, well during a heave to! I know that you have to be more aware of the need to reef when heading up wind.

So how do I reef in Arwen? Well, in my head it goes like this. Up until now I have heaved to, lowered the mainsail slightly, let out the mainsheet and then slackened off the downhaul. Then I have transferred the downhaul to the first reef eye closest to the luff of the sail and then pulled the first reefing line at the aft end of the sprit boom. I have a sort of slab reefing system so the sail is pulled downwards and against the aft end of the sprit boom. Then I have brailed up the loose sail and tied it off with the reefing ropes so that it is neatly bundled below the sprit boom. Finally I then re-hoist the mainsail, tie off the halyard and tension the downhaul again.

But is this the right way? Should I actually leave the mainsail slightly lower down the mast? I have also wondered whether it might be easier to just heave to under jib/mizzen and completely drop the mains sail into the boat and reef it in there and then re-hoist the whole lot again.

And another thing.......with a yawl configuration, should I give consideration to what order I should shorten sail in? Somewhere, I think on Duckworth’s again, I read that I might consider shortening sail in this order..................full sail down to a single reefed main; from there I guess it is either a second reef or furl the jib. After that.....well I’m guessing here but I’d go jib and mizzen only – drop the main. If it is really blowy – drop the jib and mizzen and use a reefed main only. If I’m down to this I’m running downwind and for nearest cover I’m thinking!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

well there we are....................

My little outboard which had some problems has been fixed and is now residing at a local chandler and I have a credit note for £150........which I can spend piecemeal.....there is no time limit on it. So now it's thinking about what things to get.......creating a shopping!

So..................on the list is
  • a fixed compass somewhere in the boat
  • a manual bilge pump....yes? no?  not sure?
  • new flares cos the others are now out of date, yes? no? maybe? not sure? um!
  • a waterproof VHF?
  • a new set of oars (would rather make them frankly....but then there is a VESPA STUCK IN MY GARAGE STILL)
  • a little wind anemometer hand held  thing?
  • a strobe laser torch instead of flares? Um not sure!
  • new life jackets - the others are 7 yrs old?
  • new cleats for the jib sheets - I want ones that mount on the inside of the boat and are easier to put the sheets in and out of
  • replacing my trailer rollers from the hard plastic to nice rubber ones - kinder on Arwen's hull?
  • paint for dings
  • canoe paddle blades for Angharad, Arwen's tender
  • anchor chocks - could I fit the Anchor to the foredeck without it snagging the jib sheet?
  • a clutch for the main halyard instead of my current cleat - would that be simpler and quicker to use or is it too new fangled?
  • hand held rechargeable spotlight?
  • new hatches because two have warped over the years and are leaking
I know I'm very lucky. What I was offered in cash was far less than the offer on the credit note. I've never had this some of money before to spend on it has come as a surprise and sort of 'bonus'. Truthfully, we didn't expect the outboard after 11 years faithful service to be resurrected but there we go...a talented outboard engineer did some magic when others just said it was knackered. I knew that if someone could resurrect it, they'd get a good deal. I had it serviced annually; stored it tank dry during winter; flushed it with freshwater after every trip.......stored it upright etc, etc, etc.

I'll take my time deciding what to get; I won't spend it all at once. I'm conscious that the household budget is under pressure. This credit note can just sit here I will cushion Arwen if there is an emergency - gear failure, accidental damage etc. A priority is a pair of paddles for Angharad and I can get a cheap pair for £15 at the store which is all I need.

I'm lucky, times are hard. I'll think it over a while..........just so long as the chandler remains in business!


but just out of interest, if people came into a little money to spend on their small boat what would they consider getting and why? I'd be interested to know.

Thursday 19 January 2012

"Hi Steve, Phil here again, This is 1 area where I disagree with the RNLI. They maintain that other people will spot your flares and know your in trouble. Great, it doesn't mean they will react, and you don't know what's going on rescue wise. you are purely passive. After the VHF I think a mobile phone is best at the distance offshore that you sail you will almost certainly get a signal, and best of all you know that help is on it's way. Very important in the psychology of survival/rescue. Don't get me wrong I think the RNLI are fantastic, but they have to think that all people are incapable and do everything for them. Personally, I think self rescue is by far the best option. Good discussion point though. Phil"

There has been some good discussion in the comments below and also on the open boat forum. It does make me sit up and think and the comment from Phil above has really made me think. What if I capsize, can I actually right the boat? I can without all the sails onboard but have never tried it with sails in place. If I capsize its likely to be in gusty winds. The boat floats quite high so she is going to be drifting fairly quickly I suspect. I've got to free mizzen, main and jib sheets; retrieve the centreboard and then somehow turn the bow into the wind. Then I have to haul myself up onto the centreboard and using jib sheet try and get the boat upright. An open boat with a big cockpit there will be a fair amount of water in her - a bucket and bale like hell job. Things will be floating about although they are all tied onto the hull. The anchor in the bucket, I hope, will have stayed in it secured by the bungee across the top but, honestly, I'm not sure about that.

So worst case scenario, I'm in the water holding onto a drifting boat and trying to use VHF; if VHF is out I do have mobile phone and as Phil says 4 miles out transmission signal should be fine. Closer in, well my experience is patchy. Within 500m of a cliffy shoreline - it's zero! 

So I think in the worst case scenario when VHF and phone have failed I'll see what is around; if there are boats within visibility and its that life threatening; or impossible to right the boat - an orange floating smoke to attract attention and get help. If they don't seem to be coming then activate the SPOT and then another orsange smoke (which of course makes the assumption that you have been able to retrieve them from the boat within a grab bag).  If boats arrive then I can use their VHF to alert coastguard of the situation so when they get the SPOT message they know not to react. In fact I wonder if there is someway I can cancel an emergency button on the SPOT? Must check that.

So is this a safe plan, what do people think? Has anyone actually worked out scenarios for what they do in such eventualities? If you have I'd love to hear from you about your 'plans'.

Phil thanks for your comments. They've started an important train of thought which hopefully will lead to me being safer on the water. Appreciated.


Monday 16 January 2012

Flares on small open boats?

“Hello! For those of you who carry flares, what do you recommend. Arwen's handheld flares have expired and I want to get new ones. Does anyone have any views on types, makes etc which would be most useful for someone like me who coastal dinghy cruises up to about four or five miles off shore along the coast anywhere ranging from Falmouth along to Torquay? (but mainly based around Plymouth). Any thoughts or recommendations?”

An innocent enough question I thought, posed to one of the forums I subscribe to! And what a flurry of opinions and comments it led to, all of which were quite illuminating (I’m sure there is a pun in there somewhere....flares......illuminating? Never mind!)


Some commented that they don’t carry flares because they are dangerous, scary and prone to the odd misfire or two, as experienced by an RYA Yachtmaster instructor during a class demonstration a year or two ago, when it malfunctioned, exploding backwards into him! Some people have experienced them melting under intense heat and so the message is – wear a really thick leather glove when you let them off. Now let me think, I’m sinking, sending off a mayday and will I remember the glove? Um! Some commented that it relied on people seeing it, recognising it and, if at sea taking accurate bearings and reporting its position accurately to coastguard. Some dryly observed ‘if they were listening’ – a reference to our HM Coastguard cuts we are experiencing here in the UK.

Inevitably many commented about the problem of disposal of them. What do you do with expired ones if you haven’t let them off on November 5th or 31st December? I can never get a clear answer from anyone about what to do with my old flares. I’ve offered them to our local mountain rescue group for training purposes and am awaiting a reply! Well I thought this was a good idea. I did mountain leadership training and if flares are not too out of date they could be useful in training sessions?
Many people were in favour of waterproof VHF handheld radios as the primary safety gear. If you couldn’t reach coastguard, a mayday relay to another boat probably would. Laser lights were mentioned but I think the jury is out at the moment on their effectiveness. Someone from Orkney commented that the coastguard and helicopter teams had tested one up there and that while they were good as a signalling device, it was felt they were not as effective as a flare. Many mentioned carrying EPIRBS or smaller personal locator beacons. I carry a SPOT PLB.

And what about the situation in which you find yourself needing to set off a flare? Someone drily commented that you are likely to be capsized and the flares under water.......there is an issue about where exactly you keep them to hand on the boat isn’t there? Near the tiller? In an emergency grab bag that floats? Actually, where do people keep their flares when onboard?

Some people are, like me, carrying a pack of mini flares. I carry them in a buoyancy aid pocket. If I go in, they go in with me! I like these. I’m familiar with them having used them in mountain rescue situations before.

A few people did comment that they carried orange handheld smoke flares and that these were more visible in daylight and the smoke lingered for a good 15 minutes. I like orange smokes as well. I carry an orange ‘smoke can’ which you can throw in the water as well.

I have to say that that kind of flare does pinpoint and last a long time!

So where does this leave me?

1. I am the paranoid type. I think if it is electronic, waterproof or not, it is likely to fail just when you need it. Worst case scenario – both VHF and PLB go down at the same time

2. Planning for that highly unlikely but just my luck scenario.....I need to carry something else!

3. Something else is one pack of miniflares on my person; and a set of orange handheld smokes easy to hand. Perhaps two orange smoke cans as well.

4. Very hot red fiery so sure and since I don’t do night sailing....but then what if I get caught out on a long passage and end up capsizing at dusk? Well it could happen!

5. Anti collision white flares.........lesson is don’t put self in situation where likely to collide with something if you can help it! Keep a good eye out?

In saying all this, a few people pointed out that you need to let flares off in two and a good combination is 1 minute red flare to attract attention followed by 1 orange flare to keep location in sight. Makes sense. Someone observed that flares are damn good for starting fires of driftwood should you have to swim to shore, wet, cold and exhausted. It’s a fair point!

So.......if I’m sailing normally maximum of four miles offshore and normally along a coastline.........what should I go for? Anyone got any more thoughts before I make a decision?

My thanks to all those who kindly replied on the openboat forum. Their advice and thoughts, as always, well considered and thoughtful, based on practical experiences. Ladies and gents – thanks!


Saturday 14 January 2012

Up and running and functioning well.........

one tohatsu outboard 3.5 hp standard shaft. Been serviced, worn parts replaced and ticking over sweetly.

or can see it here at

Wednesday 11 January 2012

a wonderful surprise................

My family got together last week with the family of my close friend. We (the adults) are teachers; the children are the same ages and we have known each other for nearly twenty one years! We get on well and enjoy each others company. My friend is my sailing partner - he got me into boat building when he handed over a partially completed 'Highlander' which needed fitting out and painting. That was my first boat 'Pugwash'. I loved that boat and we pottered around Plymouth Sound. It was my fishing boat - I never bothered to build the mast, centreboard case etc. I just used it as a fishing dinghy with my old tohatsu 3.5 hp engine hanging off the side. It was taking life in your hands at times. It only had a 14" high freeboard; and out in a swell - life got interesting if you stood up. On one occasion I caught a bass and nearly joined it in the briny when trying to lift it out of the water with a net.

Anyway I'm digressing. My friend - my sailing buddy, sailing mentor and sailing instructor (he's very experienced, owned several small boats and handles Arwen far better than me!!) surprised me last week by presenting me with a new red hard backed log book for Arwen. I'm really chuffed! Up to now I record voyages on the blog in general details and I briefly summarise the voyage in an RYA logbook which is getting tatty.

Now this new log book - well - what can I say - it has everything! there are pages for waypoint lists, serial numbers of my equipment (outboard to VHF radio); a visitors page and an very useful page on buoyage because I keep forgetting which side of cardinal buoy points to go on!

The actual log pages are very detailed. There are sections of tides and weather forecast updates (nicely arranged into sea areas, wind now, wind later, weather, sea state and visibility). The main page is columns (time, course steered, log reading (haven't got one of them on Arwen), wind speed (need one of those hand held windy things - anemometers), latitude, longitude, barometer (nope missing one of them too); tide adjustments and then a wide column at the end for log narrative). Each page has plenty of space to write on.

It was a really nice kind gesture and now I'm faced with a dilemma - should I back date it i.e. fill in all my entries from the old RYA paper log book (which are thin on detail) or should I just start the new red log book from 2012?

Umm! decisions, decisions! How much time do I have; what's the point of copying it all out again (although it makes nice reading); can I just elastic band in the old book to the inside cover of the new one?

i think I'm leaning to finding a way of inserting the old log book by gluing it to the back inside cover. The trailer tickets which I get each time I visit QAB I also keep in an envelope and I could glue those into the inside front cover. in this way everything including my dinghy certificates are all inside the new red book - a perfect solution!

Did I say Arwen and I are really chuffed to have a new shiny red log book from our good friend?


Wednesday 4 January 2012

new splashproof Aquabourne windup radio for Arwen

I also had another really useful Christmas present from my sister in law and her husband......a lovely Aquabourne wind up/solar 2 band am/fm radio....which is splash proof.

Now I have for sometime been getting rather frustrated and confused in the boat. Occasionally I like to listen to the radio especially on my longer passages and up until now I have had to use my mobile phone. This is fine but it requires me using headphones and so I then can’t hear any radio messages properly from my handheld VHF. Apart from which, don’t you find that constant mini earphones in your ears start to make them burn after a time – or maybe it is just me frying my brains! And worse still....sometimes I can’t quite work out whether the voice I’m hearing is from the radio or from the VHF which makes listening to dramas on the radio ....a confusing experience .......because they are interlaced with weather reports, people doing CH16 voice checks and on occasions the inane twittering conversations of idiots conversing on CH16 instead of some other one.
There are some huge advantages to this new radio addition to Arwen’s inventory!

• It never needs batteries, having an integrated solar charging panel, compact folding winding handle and the ability to charge it by USB (cable supplied)

• Apparently it is energy efficient and thus will work for a long time on low amounts of energy (highly environmentally friendly and cost effective)

• Thanks to a 14 inch extendable and adjustable aerial it has fantastic reception – I am genuinely really impressed with it

• It has a 3 high power LED torch built in and an alarm clock.

• You can charge up iPods, phones etc using the crank handle

• It’s a nice compact design and lightweight

• After 1 hour of charging in sunlight radio will work for 20 – 30 minutes; works for 7 – 9 hours when fully charged.

• It has a robust, tough feel to it – the build quality seems good and it has a rubber coating which feels grippy

It does take a little winding I must say. The old wrist starts to give up after a while especially if you crank it at the recommended three turns per second. However, it is a minor niggle. I’m well chuffed with this little gadget and can’t wait to road test it on Arwen’s next trip


Monday 2 January 2012

marine conservation zones....and a little help if you have the time

Regular readers will know that my daughter is studying wildlife conservation at university here in the UK and she's in her second year. One of her small research assignments is to create a questionnaire on an environmental/wildlife issue of her choice and she's chosen to do it on marine conservation zones. Readers will know that I have expressed my own personal views about MCZ's in posts early last year (which elicited some interesting comments for and against from bloggers on both sides of the arguments). Anyway, the UK government is looking to set up 27 MCZ's around our inshore waters and consultation with interested stakeholders is about to begin. My daughter is interested in 'how informed or aware of the proposed MCZ's are the British public?'

If you live in the UK and read this blog; and if you can spare three minutes to visit this website below to complete her questionnaire, my daughter would be exceedingly grateful. I don't think it is breaking any blogging rules. She is aiming to get a random sample size of 50 people. Her questionnaire/survey is here and  it is completely anonymous.

I am still reading up on the proposed MCZ's and will when I have digested the various proposals try and give a summary about their location, structure and the proposed consultation mechanism here on the blog. At the moment my daughter and I can see arguments both for and against them. I expected her to be very pro conservation but actually she is closer to my stance than I realised. My current stance without too much reading is that I welcome anything that helps conserve or develop our declining inshore marine biodiversity AS LONG AS  it does not lead to increasing economic hardship for those who depend on the sea for a living. If the latter group of people were able to gain from the establishment of MCZ's then all the better.
That is my initial viewpoint. I'm sure it will become better informed as I read more about the proposals, consultation process and the pro's and con's of the MCZ's.

Anyway, if you could help my daughter complete her questionnaire, both of us would be very grateful to you. In the meantime a happy new year to you and I hope you had a good Christmas and new year festivities.


PS a head's up - plans for the new year - or perhaps new year's resolutions
1. get out sailing at least once per month
2. when the lighter longer evenings arrive - go sailing in the evening (heresy! I'm a teacher - we work every evening....what am I saying?)
3. fix that spare wheel to the trailer
4. make and fix an outboard bracket onto the trailer
5. sort out those lazy jacks once and for all
6. re varnish the mast
7. touch up dents and dings
8. sail up the dart or sail down the dart from Totnes; overnight in the estuary and sail back up again
9. take Dad sail camping up the Tamar for a couple of days
10. tow the boat down to Falmouth and sail a few days around the various rivers in the area
11. actually join the dinghy cruising association on one of their jaunts
12. think about whether Arwen is 'good enough' to enter the 'watercraft amateur boat building awards' at Beale park because for the first time ever, half term falls on the four days of the festival...........may be this is overambitious here.........the standards at Beale are SO HIGH!!
13. do a longer coastal expedition - Plymouth - Salcombe - Dartmouth - Torquay....sounds an interesting adventure!
14. stop being lazy and learn to sail onto and off a mooring properly without using the outboard!!
15. build a new set of oars for Arwen