Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and i am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's battery marina in the barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.
Arwen has a YouTube channel of her own. Search "plymouthwelshboy".

Saturday, 14 April 2012

pondering dinghy safety issues

I’ve been thinking! Not a pretty sight and frankly often a waste of brainpower on my part because I never seem to arrive at any concrete decision but hey ho!

So to my first question: Would installing a masthead auto inflation flotation device be of any benefit on Arwen? Could she invert? I have no idea. The mainmast is hollow. There is a huge sail area under which air might be trapped and which would provide a fair surface area resistance (I assume?). There is plenty of flotation under the front deck; the forward, centre, side and stern thwarts.

It might give me more time to free all sheets, sort out the centreboard, haul myself up onto it and slowly lift her out of the water.............I need to work this out, re-test it this summer for real with sails up and see what happens. Some people do use them on smaller dinghies than Arwen. I have seen them attached to various lasers, wayfayers and rivas in Plymouth Sound. They seem to be permanently inflated and bob about at the top of the mast. I have no idea whether one would make a difference on Arwen or not. But it is worth considering the pros and cons of one.

Then there is the thorny issue of what to wear when sailing – buoyancy aid or manual/auto inflate life jacket? Wow! Is it down to personal preference? Actual advantages one over the other? Is it down to the type of sailing that you do and the nature of the waters and weather conditions in which you predominantly sail?

Here are some thoughts and I hasten to add that I’m not saying they are right or wrong and that everyone must make their own choices based on experience, preference, common sense, sailing conditions etc etc etc.

Buoyancy Aids, advantages I think are: it keeps you afloat in upright position; it keeps the body area warmer. Some are cut to make arm movements etc easier (especially canoe/kayak buoyancy aids) and some come with pockets for knife, (mini-flares – if you are a paranoid sailor like I am)

Disadvantages? Well the obvious one I guess which is ‘will they float you face down if you were unconscious and unable to roll yourself over or is that merely a myth’? Would your head fall forward therefore putting your nose and mouth closer to the water? Where do you clip your waterproof handheld VHF? (I’ve taken to clipping it high up under one of the straps so that with my failing sight and hearing – I can see it and hear it!). Attachments such as phones and VHF’s are likely to get tangled in things (I know from personal experience on that one)

So what about Life jackets? Well my immediate thoughts are that the advantages include: Auto inflate jackets turn you the right way up if knocked unconscious by the swinging boom and life jackets can be orally re-inflated as needed via top up mouth valve and tube. They tend to be less restrictive when un-inflated than buoyancy aids and a crotch strap keeps it secure. You can sort of dunk yourself under a bit as the boat comes back upright during a capsize, and the buoyancy of the bladders then pops you back up enough to give some momentum as you grab the gunwale, lift one leg up over it and roll back aboard (as someone put it). On the other hand........................
Disadvantages include it being difficult to get back over the gunwale when fully inflated. So a lifejacket will need some deflation beforehand using the cap and tube (well that is how it works on mine). Ever tried deflating one by sticking the cap into the tube? Fiddly and likely to be impossible whilst hanging onto a righting line or the side of the boat! Swimming on your back with huge inflated bladders on your chest – how easy is that? How long can that be sustained for? I’ve never tried it. Which is easier to swim in buoyancy aid or lifejacket? I know I can swim slowly in a lifejacket because I’ve had to!

One issue that will be guaranteed to generate lively debate will be the issue of life lines in dinghies and day sailing boats. Should I wear a life line when sailing single handed along coastal passages? I have sailed with and without them in Arwen and my initial views go like this:

You safer if you were having to go up on the foredeck or work around the upper part of the mast. I have only had to go up on the deck twice. Once was when dropping sails, the falling main got caught up and would not drop any further. The forward end of the top yard had become entangled in the original lazy jacks. On deck as the Arwen rolled, I felt vulnerable. I had clipped myself into a life line I have permanently stowed in the cockpit. On that occasion it clipped to my life jacket D buckle. The second occasion the furler roller jammed and from a hove to position I had to crawl across deck, lean on the bowsprit and inch my way forward to the roller mechanism. Felt exceptionally vulnerable! Glad had life line and was wearing life jacket again! I have on longer voyages along coastal passages also clipped in whilst hove to. Sometimes Arwen has rolled about and I’ve been unbalanced moving around the boat even when keeping myself as low down as possible. The life line has given me reassurance.

But what about the disadvantages?

If I was wearing a life line when Arwen capsized...what would happen? Getting tangled up in a capsize I fear would be a nightmare and extremely dangerous. What happens if I actually fall out of Arwen  whilst attached to a life line and she sails I get towed along? Would I have the strength to hand over hand myself back along the life line to the emergency footstep and rope ladder that I store in the port transom corner? Could I reach up whilst being towed along? How would me being towed along affect trim and direction?

Should you wear one in fog if there is a risk of collision and being dragged down by another yacht/boat? Trying to wear one with a buoyancy aid – where do you attach it to exactly?

Um on this issue I have more questions than answers and genuinely have no idea about what the right thing to do would be. When sailing singlehanded on coastal passages and not in the confines of the Tamar or Sound (where there are plenty of other boat users most days out and about and in quick distance of you in event of an emergency)....what should I wear buoyancy aid or life jacket; and life line on or not?

Has anyone got any views or practical experiences they can share with me via comments?

As always all advice greatly appreciated


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