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".

Monday, 9 April 2012

They have the southern slipway at QAB off limits at the moment. They are installing new drainage across the top of the slip and so it isn’t accessible. It is amazing how a lack of use leads to so much green algae and seaweed build up on the slip in such a short space of time. In the meantime, using the northern slip which is the marinas main slip – is a luxury. The ramp is very long and so you can come out even at low tide; there is plenty of pontoon space right out in to deepish water in the little inlet off the main Sutton harbour approach. I don’t have to rush or worry about receding tides and lack of water depth.

The little creek leading up to the slipway on the right

I try to work around the marina staff and not get in the way. They are a great bunch of people, welcoming, friendly and always supportive. They are also extremely busy and they all work really hard using their four wheeled drive hauling out/hoisting sling vehicle constantly. It is a massive beastie and needs some clearance room. It takes boats in and out of the water non-stop – for scrubbing down or for antifouling back up on the yard hard standing.

Kingsand in the distance

Thus I try to find an out of the way place to rig Arwen, always checking that it’s OK with the yard crew and then I go through my pre launch routine. We all have a prelaunch routine and I’m sure it differs from person to person. Mine is always the same! Lighting board and tie down straps are removed; rudder, tiller and Boomkin installed; mizzen mast is inserted and mizzen sail unwound, hauled up and then furled appropriately ready for use later. The outboard is attached and secured; fuel checked and then tilted upwards. After that it is the raising of main mast; sorting halyards and side stays; tying on the top yard; attaching and hauling up jib; checking furling roller; and then finally sorting out fenders and mooring warps. (There is a bit more to it than that – there are other things e.g. attaching my homemade tiller tamer; tightening up the bow sprit ropes below it (bobstay?); tying the parrel loop between mast and top yard etc; hoisting the boom up on the topping lift etc).

the new anchor arrangement on trial

Equipment is then put on board and stowed correctly last of all. A final check and then a quick stroll around the yard to check with the team that it is OK to launch and off we go; reversing down the ramp. At the water’s edge, the securing rope from trailer to stem is unattached; the trailer is reversed up to its axles in water and then securing winch tape unhooked. A shove and Arwen normally floats off; I have this habit of immediately turning her around so that she faces out to sea and then tying her against the pontoon. The trailer is recovered and driven back up the yard where it is unattached and left in a designated spot. The car is taken out of the yard to the car park next door and I visit the harbour office to pay the launch fee. I then meander down to the loo; then down the pontoon onto Arwen. This yard routine takes around 40 minutes. I can do it in 25 but actually rarely do so. I often have a quick chat with the yard crew and like to take my time making sure Arwen is rigged correctly. It is an opportunity to check and make mental notes about things that need doing or repairing before next outing. For me launching is part of the day’s ‘sailing experience’.

I have an ‘immediate on board pre-launch routine’ as well. The outboard is swung down and immediately tested and warmed up for a few minutes. Whilst that is happening, all ropes are checked and made sure they are running freely where they should be in the cockpit. Clothing is stowed around the cockpit sides in the storage areas; my radio, phone are checked, switched on and put in their waterproof pouches; the SPOT PLB is checked and switched on. My buoyancy aid goes on and the radio, PLB and phone attached to it in their designated places. I check my mini-flares and knife are in the buoyancy aid pockets along with the whistle. Food and drink are stored in cockpit pockets; charts inserted under the bungee cords on the starboard centre front thwart. My GPS is attached to a cleat next to the centreboard and the compass checked. I then send an OK signal to my wife via SPOT. The first signal tells her I’m about to go out on the water and I then send them half hourly. They go as text messages direct to her mobile so irrespective of whether she is out shopping or visiting friends, she knows I’m OK, even if not where I am precisely. She always knows which area I’m in though before I depart.

a neighbour in my anchorage

Now all that sounds long winded but on a good day and when feeling in a hurry – from arrival to actual departure can be done in 30 minutes. Normally though I take 45 – 60 minutes. I’m happy with is all part of the experience.

And so it was on Friday Arwen poked her bow sprit out in to the little creek that runs alongside the national marine aquarium; gliding past a swan who was more interested in sticking its elegant head and neck down into the muddy bottom to find tasty morsels at low tide. The winds blew from the north so from directly abeam at a gentle force 3 as we turned south at the end of the pontoons and headed out of the Sutton harbour area and into the larger Cattedown. You need eyes in the back of your head in this short stretch. From behind is the Sutton harbour lock gates through which come fishing trawlers, fishing boats, large yachts and all manner of other craft; from immediately to port are the three exits from QAB marina and of course the fuelling pontoon – always busy. As you clear the protective walls of the marina you have the water taxis, dockyard cruise boats and pilot boats; maybe the odd small coastal tanker or two as well; there will be the ribs from Mountbatten water sports centre; the dive boats and of course all the moored yachts. Yep it is a busy stretch of water and I’m always relieved to have got out of it in one piece and without mishap! To add another potential danger, there are all the fisherman on the starboard side, from the car park casting their lures and floats......all to be avoided!

And now you know why I NEVER directly sail out of the marina.......some brave souls do but in lighter and more nimble dinghies than Arwen. Everyone motors out of this small area if they have any common sense!

For a change on this Friday, I decided to motor across the front of the Hoe over to the large yellow buoys on the northern side of Drakes Island. Here I grabbed one, moored up and checked motor fuel one more time. I also raised the mainsail to check that the lazy jacks were working correctly. From there I actually sailed off the mooring, something I rarely do. It’s quite easy over there; there isn’t anything in the way! So we slide past the Millbay docks entrance and pointed bow towards the breakwater. With the wind from the north, it was a beam reach/training run across the sound and the back of Drakes Island towards Fort Picklecombe. Although the wind remained force three throughout, there were gusts, some of which were quite strong, and whilst Arwen averaged 4.1 kts across the sound, there were times when she was flying at 6.2 kts in the gusts, surging across the small waves like a thoroughbred. Droplets of white spray would rise up over her bow and actually appear iridescent in the sunshine. I remember Joshua Slocum in one of his chapters describing the spray as ‘sparkling diamonds’. He wasn’t far of in that description, not far off at all! It was magical.

Then the wind would drop and Arwen would suddenly become listless. I hate light winds. I don’t have sufficient sailing skills or knowledge to make good headway in them. We did OK on Friday though; we never dipped below 2kts and I’m pleased with that, especially at times when the tell tales on the shrouds drooped listlessly; and especially as we were going the opposite way on an incoming tide!

oops - need to sort out sail trimming!

The new lazy jacks are a dream. Everything seems to work so much better or maybe that’s just my imagination. I have discovered a routine which seems to work well. To raise the sail, it goes like this....

• Topping lift has sprit boom slightly raised at start

• Sail ties are removed

• Downhaul is slackened off

• Arwen is turned head to wind and the mizzen sail tightened up

• The sprit boom snotter is slackened off slightly

• The main halyard is hauled and the top yard rises rapidly all the way to the very top up against the main mast sheave unit; it is then tied off in the cockpit

• The topping lift is released

• The snotter is tightened up

• The downhaul is then tightened up until sail creases disappear

And at that point everything seems hunky dory. The sail seems to be higher above my head now. The creases seem to have disappeared although they have a tendency to reappear after 15 minutes sailing (anyone know why?).

And then we are sailing together, the hiss of water running alongside Arwen’s hull. Cockpit ropes are sorted in to halyard bags; a weather eye is kept on the sailing area for boat movements and there is time to get comfortable. The mizzen and jib are trimmed and the mainsail readjusted.

On day sails of a few hours I tend not to keep detailed log records; I try to video things, take photographs and commit things to memory. On Friday, I had no real aims other than practise coming up to mooring buoys and I confess I soon grew bored of that – I think little and often is probably the right approach to developing sailing skills such as these. I didn’t bother to try out the anchor pulley system on Cawsand beach either......too many boats, too many day trippers on the ferry and a whacking big catamaran dried out up on the beach. Another day for that particular job I think.

To be honest I was content to feel the breeze in my hair, the sun on my face; to hear the hiss of the water sluicing by and to hear the flap of the occasional sail. To listen to plays on radio four on my new waterproof radio; To watch rainbows in the spray, eat marmite and cheese sandwiches and just watch the world sail on by.......; to have no-one demand of me anything like extra revision classes or lunch time meetings, or preparing reports or papers; I really needed a day out on the water and thanks to my understanding and loving wife and kids.....I got two days in one week....I think it was my 50th birthday treat!

I did drop anchor in Cawsand Bay alongside the steeply wooded rocks on the southern edge of the bay. The new Anchor arrangement takes a little getting used to. It isn’t as quick to deploy as the anchor in the bin method I had before. It is a little fiddly to extract from the anchor well up front; when pulling up anchor, it is a little fiddly to flake the line back into the cockpit neatly and stowing the anchor takes a minute or two. In a wide, clear anchorage with plenty of distance between you and shore or other boats, this won’t be a problem. On Friday, with the shore 20 metres behind me; and large ‘posh boats’ 10 metres either side of me – well I was sensible and had the engine started; I temporarily shoved the anchor into the well and motored out another 30m before stowing the anchor and raising sails. I’m not sure how well it will work trying to raise sails and then sail off anchor.....that will be my next experiment next trip out.

and finally returning back up the little creek to the QAB slip after a lovely sail

Well, Arwen’s fifth birthday comes up in August...maybe I could persuade my loving and very tolerant family that she needs a five day sailing celebration!...I’m thinking....Plymouth – Salcombe – Dartmouth – Torquay in one week; launch at Plymouth and recover at that sounds like an adventure! Alternatively, launch at Fowey and do Fowey, Falmouth, Helston; and bays/beaches in that area. Um – time to make some plans! My Dad will be 75 this year too – sounds like a good excuse for a joint sailing trip!


PS two short film clips this posting because I couldn’t get ‘YouTube’ to accept a longer one - sorry about that


Tasman said...

G'day Steve

"The creases seem to have disappeared although they have a tendency to reappear after 15 minutes sailing (anyone know why?)."

Are you using Spectra for halyards, downhaul etc ? The use of Spectra rope will avoid the stretching that is probably causing the sail creases to reappear if not using it.
Cheers John

steve said...

G'day back John
never thought of that - I'm using dyneema; but tightening everything up again after 20 mins or so would make sense - good point - cheers mate and thanks for getting in touch


Joel Bergen said...

Excellent report, Steve. I enjoyed reading it very much, although I confess I had to Google "Marmite" to see what it was. Like, Dude, seriously? Brewer's yeast on crackers? You'd have to lose a bet for that to happen here. Come to Seattle, my friend, and I'll treat you to a batch of my Geoduck dip for your crackers. I think you'd enjoy it.

steve said...

Am I right in assuming geoduck is a clam based dip? Marmite - we have a saying here - 'you either love it or hate it'; we even describe people as marmite characters - 'you either love em or hate em - there is no inbetween'!


Joel Bergen said...

Yes, but not just any clam. Their freakish, scary long necks make them the subject of many off-color jokes. It was my attempt to think of a strange local dish to compete with marmite. The joke seemed funnier yesterday. Trans-continental odd food humor ain't easy! lol!

steve said...

team marmite with cranbury and stilton cheese - now there is a concoction I sadly like but that is not to everyone's taste - I wonder what that says about me?