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

Wednesday 29 August 2012

A Jolly up the Tamar

Friday may well be one of the last few trips I do in Arwen this year. It has been dismal. I've barely sailed her in 2012. I'm thinking of sailing up under the Saltash Bridges up to Weir Quay. It is a round trip of about 20 nm or so depending on how much tacking up the river I have to do.

Possible options for Friday

The tides are favourable; big springs rising during the day. Against it is a variable wind situation with winds looking as if they will be blowing from the north west so it will be a hard beat up that channel! We have also had huge rainfall so there will be huge volumes of water coming off the upland moors as well flowing downwards. Should make for a speedy return trip though!

the various weather report sites

An alternative is to go left and up to Dandy Hole on The Lynher. I still haven't reached it yet!!

Another alternative is to stay in the sound and do some drills. there is a floating pontoon on the north side of Drake's island at the moment providing an opportunity for doing some 'coming alongside' work; similarly some large unused buoys are also available in the vicinity. time spent doing such drills is time well spent in my opinion.

the tidal info for the next few days: remember 1 hr has to be added for BST

I dunno! I'll make a decision tomorrow night. In the meantime if you are interested in either rivers, here are some previous posts to inform you


tiller tamer for navigator

Robert has been sharing his tiller tamer on the JW forum. He has used it very successfully on a 20+ mile journey in 15 - 20 knot winds. He says it could be locked off to give him up to 15 minutes free hands in which he could get a snack; move about his boat etc. Having browsed the website it certainly looks a good idea.
I have a tiller tamer on Arwen, a sightly different configuration but it works equally well. I adapted it from 8
and at

I've found it just as useful. Well worth installing.


'Stacey' spanish motovespa 125 super' update: thank heavens for Granddad's

There are considerable advantages to having a Granddad who is an engineer. He thinks like a an engineer; solves complex problems like an engineer. It is a thinking process to behold.
Last Tuesday Granddad managed to advance the work done on 'Stacey' our 1971 motovespa 125 super restoration project after a stall of a few months!

pre-restoration 'Stacey'

So for the one or two who are interested in 'Stacey': where have we actually got to?

Well Granddad solved the problem of the wonky headset. There was far too much play in it after we had tightened it up and we couldn't work out why. Turning a square nut in the headset through 90 degrees cured the problem! Yeah I know, don't say anything. It was a humbling moment for Granddad's son as grandson turned to his Dad with a look of derision on his face!

We also managed to get the gear cables installed and threaded correctly but then the real fun started and that Granddad was unable to resolve, as much as he wanted to! But he had to leave that afternoon and had already stayed 2 hrs beyong his initial departure time and we all knew a late home Granddad might get into trouble with a lovely 'Granny'! So he had to leave us with the gear cable fiasco to sort out....and we failed miserably! We have had to send out a plea for physical assistance i.e 'please come to our garage and help us' kind of assistance to Vespa forum members who live in south west England!

So here is a summary of our plea for help sent down the fibre optic cables and out in to the ether early this morning:

"The end is so near ‘in sight’ yet feels so far away!

Basically everything has been restored but we are stuck on three or four BIG things

1.       The gear cables are proving a nightmare beyond our capabilities and very basic knowledge. We have installed three sets and each time run into the same problem. When you twist the gear change on the handle bar it will drop into first from neutral but when you try to twist the grip back to select neutral or other higher gears – nothing – the tube will not budge one iota; Nada!; if you disconnect the cables and use pliers to turn the gear selector at base of engine – there is no problem – spin the wheel and the gears select easily.
We will recheck whether we have the gear selector arm in correwctly on the right hand side of this picture
The clutch works fine as well (although see final point below). We are not sure whether we have the gear selector head correctly positioned within the headset unit or not but it seems to have sufficient rotation room to move through all the gears 1 to 4. Basically we are stumped and have no idea what to do next. People gave us very detailed instructions in response to a previous plea for help and we followed them to the letter. Hence the success with sorting the clutch cable. We have also swapped the gear cables around just in case we inserted them and connected them the wrong way as well; so we have done that!
the gear selector arm is at the base of the engine unit behind the flywheel and so is difficult to get at!

2.       There is a problem with the speedo and we have fitted a new cable as well and stripped out the speedo drive twice. If you don’t put the speedo in and just have the cable poking out the top of the fork then when you rotate the wheel the cable rotates too. Put on the speedo and rotate the wheel and nothing – not a flicker of the needle and we don’t know why and don’t have sufficient knowledge to work it out either. Very frustrating!
I'm really beginning to HATE this speedo unit!

3.       Having restored the engine we have yet to a) start it up or b) test the electrics and so we need someone around to help us do those things so we don’t blow up the engine or ourselves

4.       A minor point but when we bought the bike up from being on its side during cable installation to upright we noticed that the little black bung that sits at the top of the tube on the clutch plate (where I think the clutch spring and brass plunger are located) had popped out; oil had leaked out. What does this mean? Have we got the clutch cable too tight?
Why did the bung pop out of the top of this tube?

We are so close to getting ‘Stacey’ (my son’s name for the scooter – I have no idea why and neither does he!!) on the road but despite months of playing about we have been beaten by these issues and know it

So……rather than get people travelling long ways to come and help us, as deeply appreciative as we are of these generous offers, is there anyone you know of locally within say 70 miles of Plymouth who is either a great scooter fan and mechanic or who owns a scooter repair/restoration business who might be able to help us out. We approached a couple of businesses in Plymouth but they just don’t seem interested and they are general scooter and motorcycle repair places and we sense we need people who know and understand older scoots

Any suggestions would be deeply welcome because right now we are stalled!

Steve and Sam

1971 Spanish motovespa 125 super restoration
PS below are the blog pages posting on 'Stacey's rebuild progress....for masochists, the bored, the insomniacs...these pages will cure your woes!"
Well, lets hope that some kind souls out there can be our 'knights on shining armoured scooters' because right now we are pretty desperate! We'll let you know how it goes!
Steve and a crestfallen number one son.
here are the previous blog entries for those who are remotely interested:

Tuesday 28 August 2012

what food should dinghy cruisers take with them?

I was thinking about this only the other day. Steve Earley of Spartina fame always does good blogs on food but then I came across this one. Well worth the read as always. Pearls of insight and wisdom from creeksailor at


a tribute to one of my heroes

Neil Armstrong August 5th 1930 to August 25th 2012

We all have personal heroes; people who inspire us through their deeds, manners and relationships with others. I have a few. Some are local people I know; others are family members both past and present. Then there are famous people. For me there were Scott and Oates; Shackleton; Hillary and Norgay. You can see I’m from an expedition background!
However, another set of my heroes were members of the Apollo missions in the late 60’s and early 70’s; and the astronauts of the later shuttle missions. Although I am a geographer, I suspect that if I were able to rerun my life, and I had been better at maths and physics in school, astrophysics and astronomy could have become real passions and a career option.
Space exploration like terrestrial exploration has always fascinated me and so it was with great sadness that I like everyone else heard of the death this week of Neil Armstrong.
There will be many extraordinary testaments to this man in the next week or so. I cannot do him justice but here are a few reasons why this man was a personal hero.

 I was one of the 600 million who saw him land on the moon and take those steps down to the lunar surface. I was seven. The whole of my primary school had been assembled in the hall. My class were late in. As a seven year old I wasn’t really tuned into the events that were unfolding but I was astute enough to know that all the school assembled outside of normal assembly time was something special; as was the one black and white TV mounted on a stand on the stage. Being at the back I knew I had to get to the front to make sense of the flickering images. I wriggled snake like on my stomach through the maze of students to end up in the front row and I was captivated. They say catch a child early and they can develop passions from those first encounters. I was mesmerised. Since then I’ve been a space geek! Funny the childhood memories we carry.
There can be no one who can deny that Neil Armstrong was an exceptionally courageous man. Acknowledged by Buzz Aldrin, another brave soul, as ‘the best pilot I know’. Neil survived 78 combat missions in Korea and managed to land the lunar module with only 10 seconds worth of fuel remaining. Such courage is to be respected and saluted.
The leader in today’s ‘Times’ was entitled ‘The Right Stuff’ and went on to note how Armstrong’s ‘personal modesty contrasted with the immensity of his achievement. He exemplified courage and the human quest for understanding’.

As one of three astronauts, Armstrong set off with only a 50-50 chance of success; the lunar module actually used less computing power than my cheap smart phone. He was part of an era of human achievement and endeavour which has yet to be equalled. I still marvel at the fact that Armstrong was the first man to step onto another body within space other than our own planet.

I admired his innate modesty and reticence. His loathing of the spotlight and the trappings of fame was something I admired. He became an educator, teaching engineering in Cincinnati (American friends I hope I spelt that right). It is clear he was loved by family, friends, colleagues and students. He was the only civilian in the Apollo 11 team and described as modest, diligent, highly intelligent and not given to excesses. He did not rush to an opinion before having spent much thought on the issue.
I have followed his career over the years; I’ve read the accounts of his landing of the module and the coolness he exhibited under pressure; his accomplishments on the Gemini programme. He was an extraordinary man.

I believe that we have lost something with the move away from developing our exploration in space. The Curiosity project on Mars is truly awe inspiring but NASA not pursuing manned space flight is a great sadness. I know we have so many problems on our planet to put right but somehow I think we need to continue the amazing achievements of this man and his Apollo programme contemporaries. The greatest tribute and memorial we could pay him and his colleagues is to go back to the moon; to use it as a ‘stepping stone (in the words of our space scientist Colin Pillinger) to the rest of the solar system’.
The legacies of that first moonwalk have been immense…satellite TV, GPS tracking systems, the ‘look-back-in-wonder pictures of Planet Earth which spawned the modern environmental movement of which my own daughter is becoming a part.
I was deeply moved by the words of Neil Armstrong’s family this week and I finish this blog post with those words. Perhaps tomorrow I might briefly share the astonishing story of Neil’s piloting of the lunar module on that day in 1969. If you don't know the actual details, its well worth a read!

For those who may ask what can they do to honour Neil, we have a simple request: Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink”

Monday 27 August 2012

I read somewhere that John recommended 14 stone as temporary ballast in a navigator for inexperienced sailors to dampen the liveliness of the boat in ‘gusty’ weather. I commented on the JW forum that having used sand bags I’d swapped to 4 x 25 Lt water jerry cans strapped alongside the centreboard casing. My problem was that these took up some of the for’ard cockpit room and so I was wondering if I could use some lead flashing attached to the floor instead and then cover it with a new plywood floor.
I provide plenty of ballast with my ample girth!!
One forum member was surprised about talk of ballast in a navigator as he found his navigator had plenty of stability and even when sailing in 20 knots with only one reef there is no stability problem. He accepts that two reefs may be more appropriate and that the tiller does provide some weather helm resistance and deep attention paid to easing the mainsheet and keeping an eye out for gusts. He felt that as long as an appropriate sail area was chosen for the prevailing conditions then there should be no stability problem encountered.  Additional ballast makes the boat heavy, less nimble in light winds and difficult to retrieve onto the trailer. He finished by acknowledging that at the end of the day it was down to whatever people felt comfortable with.
I've never had a problem winching Arwen on even with 4 sandbag's of  ballast
on the floor alongside the centre case
Another member noted that reefing appropriately and at the right time was the key to stability and that if people wanted to use ballast that was fair enough. He felt water ballast was the way to go and seemed to be used quite a lot by RAID boats. Water ballast had the advantage of being easily dumped.
Someone who is building a pathfinder felt that putting slightly additional weight in the centreboard would be sufficient and would keep the extra weight really low down in the boat. This prompted an analysis of the value of an additionally weighted centreboard. A steel centreboard would be required and two navigator owners have installed 100Kg steel centreboards which made a noticeable difference in heavy weather. On the downside a really big purchase would be required to raise these boards; if it dropped accidently damage and injury could be severe; and they’d cost significantly more.
I was never happy with sandbags even when they were strapped in
They were a pain to stand on, took up room etc etc

Joel of ‘Ellie’ fame noted that too much weight in the centreboard would mean that the board wouldn’t lift if you actually accidentally touched bottom (yeah good point like that’s never happened to me before…….!!!!!!!)
An interesting point was raised about the fact that extra ballast alongside the centre case would do little to prevent a capsize but when a boat is on its side that is when it would help making it easier to right. This gentleman put lead pigs along the case in his boat and also some buoyancy bags. The ballast has had no effect on performance and did stabilise his boats by damping its movement. He did make this nice observation
 ‘When sailing alone I don't have to hop up onto the gunwale so often in gusts either. As John W wrote: "but for someone who is new the ballast will just settle the boat and slow its reactions a little in heavy winds." This is not only for someone new but also for someone who doesn't want to hop up and down a lot’.
Finally one or two people noted that the use of sandbags as ballast shouldn’t be dismissed. They fall out when capsized; and they are great to use as temporary mooring points for mooring warps to be tied to. On the other hand someone did wrly observe that is fine so long as they clear the side coaming deck when the boat is on its side. If they get caught there that could make righting the boat VERY difficult!
So there you have it. Ballast in boats, a matter of personal preference. Someone calculated that my 4 jerry cans were the equivalent to around 14 stone or so. That’s an extra person in the boat!  I think it is probably time to go out without extra ballast and start developing teh confidence to handle Arwen in slightly livelier conditions.


problem replying to comments

Bob, Joel thanks for  your comments. I will reply but at the moment bogger is preventing me from posting comment replies. I have no idea why but bear with me please


Sunday 26 August 2012

an empty slapton beach

Number one daughter was doing conservation work this morning and it gave me an opportunity to drop her off early at her volunteering placement and head on down to Slapton Beach.

the only time I'll get to be a giant and 'larger than life'!

With such an early start I almost had the whole beach to myself. Sadly no mackerel and during four hours of spinning I only saw four landed in my stretch between 10 anglers.

I remember times on Slapton when the mackerel were in you could almost catch them by just throwing in a bucket and pulling it back to the beach!

It was nice however to listen to the hiss of retreating backwash as bubbles and froth dissolved; to watch dried out seaweed be picked up and dropped by the gentle breeze and to watch the waves break along a beach.

For much of the early morning I was kept company by oystercatchers and four cormorants who dived and bobbed along my stretch of the beach. pebbles were picked up and carried up the beach at an angle by breaking waves only to be rolled back down by the backwash. I wonder if pebbles ever get frustrated at being constantly translocated along a beach?

It was nice to get out again and soak up what will be the last of the sunshine before I start the new year. Not catching any fish was immaterial!


Saturday 25 August 2012

For dad........


Friday 24 August 2012

a good read about another navigator

can be found at

Stephen Thorpe describes the building of his fabulous navigator. Enjoy.

Returning from the River Yealm

Day two of my little trip with Dad dawned overcast and grey; a complete contrast to the previous day’s sunshine. The spring tide was just reaching its high water mark when woke; a tidy up and trip across to the pontoon and toilets was followed by a leisurely breakfast and a tidy up on board. With everything correctly stowed, Arwen departed at 9.15am just on the top of the tide.
We immediately appreciated how sheltered the overnight mooring had been and how considerate the yealm harbour master had been in his choice for us when we turned the first corner and headed out towards misery point. The south westerly winds howled down the channel at around 18 kts. Frankly a complete surprise and clearly not what the forecast was predicting. At Cellars beach I made the decision to anchor off the beach and put in a reef. Good seamanship dictates being sensible and making sound decisions.
You can imagine my surprise then when turning into Wembury Bay, the wind dropped to around 9 knots. In fact at times it dropped further and so one of our first actions out at sea was to shake out the reef in Arwen’s mainsail.
I’d like to say that the day improved no end but that wouldn’t be true. The sea in Wembury Bay can be, well let’s say, ‘difficult’. On this day, tacking against the south west winds meant taking a line that at times put you almost sideways on to the rollers and Arwen pitched and rolled wickedly!
You know where this is heading. Whilst Dad, as always, was in his element…….I wasn’t! Without warning I was violently sea sick and I mean violently for several minutes. Dad, somewhat surprised, maintained his composure. I actually managed to keep helming Arwen whilst being sea sick but what I’m most proud of is the due consideration I showed my Dad. I managed to be sick on the leeward side, downwind and behind of him. I thought that was really rather decent of me!
After being sick, life became somewhat unpleasant and it was a good thing I was able to focus on helming. I had a wicked headache and ringing in my ears. Knowing that if I went around the south of the Mewstone the waves would be worse over the ledges I opted to take the ‘shorter’ route between the island and the mainland. This move can only be attempted on spring tides and in the upper part of the tidal rise. Ledges extend out from both the mainland point and the island leaving a very narrow channel with deep water. What made life trickier was that the winds being south westerly meant that taking this line put us on a close haul and despite the centre board being fully down there was plenty of leeway slippage as the winds began to rise again. This meant that we had to put in a couple of tacks to keep us from approaching the leeshore to closely and making such tacks was difficult because of the proximity of the ‘inner and outer slimers’; a set of isolated rocky outcrops which at high tide were covered and invisible but just below the surface!
I took a transit! Lining up the shagstone rock with Cawsand Village would give me a line to try and stay on which would after the tack put me centrally placed through the gap between island and main shore. Surprisingly, despite a heaving stomach, banging headache, rising winds and changing wave pattern, I managed to hold that close haul for almost a mile. We passed 20’ south of the shagstone mark.
Throughout all of this Dad chatted away. I wanted him to helm but selfishly I knew relinquishing the helm would mean that I would not be able to concentrate on something and this would lead to more sea sickness. Apart from which the tricky piloting and changeable wave pattern made me feel a more experienced hand at the helm would be a sensible precaution.
The weather changed from cloud and wind to bright sunshine and no wind back to cloud and rising winds. One front with towering clouds rushed by.  Having managed an average of 4.5 knots through most of the morning I knew it was time to curtail the trip. I was losing concentration and so we headed across the breakwater and into the sound via the western entrance. As we turned north east, the winds blew directly from behind and so we slowly made our way up the sound at what seemed a snail’s pace. I felt sorry for Dad but knew it was the right decision to end the trip.
As it would have it that decision was beneficial. The tide on the slipway had dropped far more than I had anticipated and we only just had enough water to run the trailer down and haul Arwen out. Had we left it 20 minutes more we would have had to wait another 3 hrs. before there would have been sufficient depth to get the trailer in.
Whilst I de-rigged Arwen dad went for a wander around the yard. There were several marine engineers working on different boats and that provided interest for Dad particularly where large inboard engines were being dismantled! I think it is a sign of the times that Dad reported back that several of the boats were being overhauled before being put up for sale.
I’m glad Dad and I got to sail together even if it were for a shorter time period. We don’t get enough time together. He is easy going, easy to spend time with. I love the way his engineering brain approaches technological problems.
 I think next time we may well trailer Arwen somewhere and then camp on land and do a series of day sails. The Fal and Helford River systems sound like a good idea. I suspect both of us are at an age where Arwen’s narrow thwarts aren’t quite comfortable enough for a good night’s sleep!!

Thursday 23 August 2012

Arriving in a sheltered harbour in the evening sunshine is something to behold. And so it was Monday night as we meandered around the river between the moored yachts and motor cruisers. The channel is reasonably wide but is bound by steep hillsides which fall to the water line; thick with native woodland and some wonderful properties. In fact if you like coastal properties with stunning views then Newton Ferrers is definitely your kind of place.
The sun setting in the west cast a lovely yellowy orange glow across all the hillsides. The water, a deep green, was like glass, with the odd ripple from a little wind gust. Having found our mooring inshore of the wooden gaff boat ‘Charlotte’, we motored across to the harbour master’s pontoon to pay our harbour dues and to introduce ourselves. Then it was back to the mooring and the settling down for the night.
This trip I’d opted for a dome tent; my old one actually. I’d briefly tried it on Arwen some months ago and so knew it would fit but I hadn’t bothered to put on any fixings such as hooks and loops to secure it. Thus we spent some 20 minutes anchoring tent poles against cleats and tying them on with Para cord. At the end the whole structure seemed quite stable albeit there were gaps along the bottom where the coaming was but it wasn’t going to rain overnight so we were quite happy.
It proved to be very roomy with plenty of head room; and most of the cockpit got covered. I wouldn’t like to have vouched for its stability had the wind got up though and so it has strengthened my resolve to design a tent cockpit for Arwen and have a go at making one before next summer.
Having two on-board necessitated some careful thinking and rearranging of kit. We had to plan what to do where and when in advance of actions. Dad took up a stern seat where he could admire the view and as he put it ‘keep out of the way’ whilst I sorted stoves and food. As always I was using two trangia stoves, one on loan from number 1 son. I love trangias. They are simple to use, superbly engineered and designed and give a warmth to the tent as they cook food. First order of the day a cuppa and some soup followed by meat balls and spaghetti for dad and stew and dumplings for me. Main course over it was fruit and custard, biscuits and another cuppa…..and some Toblerone that Dad had sneaked on board (well done Dad!) And all of this was to the accompaniment of Radio 4 and both our favourite programme ‘Just a minute’. Perfect!
Cooking over a camp stove is one of life’s simple pleasures and even the washing up and cleaning up don’t seem to be chores when you have scenery and wildlife. A young cormorant came by and stayed a while diving under Arwen and providing us with some great memories. But then the sun sank behind the hills and the little inside bend where were moored fell into shadow; so it was we opted for an early night. We slipped our mooring and pottered over to the pontoon for the toilet block and then returned and sorted the sleeping mats, sleeping bags and bits and pieces needed for the night. By 10pm we were in our bags and by 10.30 one of us was snoring in a deep sleep…and it wasn’t me!
the first of two short videos about our little adventure to the River Yealm. Our overnight camp and sail back will follow tonight or tomorrow but its GCSE results day and we are off to celebrate with number 1 son. If you have teenagers getting GCSE results today I hope they achieved what they aspired to and I wish them (and you) a happy celebratory day



Wednesday 22 August 2012

postscript: an update

remember a post I did a few days ago about Will Stirling's boat 'Integrity'? Well Gavin has posted further photos and an an update........

If  you visit '' for latest news you will also discover that Pete Goss is selling his boat for £80,000. Now that is a boat I'd like to own!

Now where's that Friday Euromillions lottery winning ticket?


Can a love of the sea be genetically inherited?

The sea is in my Dad’s blood. He’s an engineer by trade; started on the steam railways as an apprentice to a master craftsman and sort of progressed from there. His Dad, my Granddad, was on the railways too. However, his Dad, my Great Granddad, well he was a sea man. He was descended from a long line of people who worked in Cowes on the Isle of Wight either as ‘Watermen’ (pilots, Dockers, Ships Carpenters, Ropers etc.) on the river front or as ‘Postmaster General’s’ and ‘General Grocers’ for the island and Queen Victoria when she was staying at Osborne House.
Never quite worked out how Dad and Granddad decided to go into the railways instead but both of them had a great love of the sea and this was surely evident in Dad over the last few days. In fact having recently traced my family tree back through Dad’s family to 1722, it is amazing how many Uncles, Great Uncles and Great, Great, Uncles ended up going to sea. Difficult to believe but absolutely true, I discovered whilst researching the tree that we have family relatives of the same surname living here in Plymouth and we never knew. They were descended from my Great, Great, Granddad’s brother. I haven’t contacted them….. I don’t know whether to or not but they all ended up in the Royal Navy, right down to the present day generation! Anyway I digress! Suffice to say Dad’s family have always had a connection with the sea in one form or another since the mid 1700’s. I think it carries on in me because I cannot live more than five miles away from the sea. I have to know it is within 10 minutes of me even if I don’t visit it every day. As a teenager I spent every day visiting the local beaches.  How weird is that….or maybe it is just genetics!
My Dad and I finally got to go sailing together and camp on-board Arwen. The trip, embarrassingly, was cut short and I’m really disappointed and guilty about that but Ce Sera Sera and all that. Both of us had been looking forward to a trip and we had waited patiently for a weather window, right tides and Dad not working to all coincide.
So it was Monday on which we departed for a cruise around to the River Yealm; nothing too adventurous. Rigging Arwen took 45 minutes and then we packed her for the trip. There was quite a bit to stow for two people and working out where to distribute the weight so that the boat was balanced and trim was quite a feat of mental prowess! Eventually everything was stowed and when we stood back at the pontoon Arwen was balanced fore and aft perfectly; and there was just the barest hint of a lilt to port; barely noticeable to the naked eye! Moreover, most of the weight had been kept low and there was some room in the fore cockpit area (I emphasise ‘some’!) We launched at QAB as always at 10am 45 minutes after the spring tide had reached its highest point. Using the ebbing tide we pottered out into the Cattedown admiring a lovely two masted old Tamar barge type boat tied up at the fuelling pontoon. The sun shone as promised by the Met Office, the wind stayed at a balmy 10 knots and the skies remained cloudless until mid-afternoon. Perfect!!
Out in Jennycliffe Bay we went through some basics………….how to start/stop/neutral the outboard (should I fall overboard by some freak accident); we ran through what the various ropes did (Dad’s only comment….”well she’s a lovely boat but there is a lot to take in isn’t there!” [Sorry Dad!!] And then Dad took the helm for the first time. It took ten or so minutes to get used to how to tack and swap sides facing aft; how to hold a tiller and mainsheet simultaneously; but once he got the hang of it he was a natural. No truly he was. He picked a tack (about 50 degrees off the wind) and held that course perfectly across the south east of Drakes Island with minimal drift. As I explained the principles of sailing he put it into practice. We fidgeted about a bit until we had got Arwen balanced….Dad doesn’t move as fast as he used to so moving his legs around Arwen’s cockpit was a little slow until he could find comfortable positions but once there our wake trailed disappeared; we lifted the outboard out to reduce drag and hey presto we were flying. Dad held a steady 5.2 knots on his first tack (I was suitably impressed….the old man can still teach me a thing or two!) whilst gently chiding me that I had forgotten my Mum’s birthday [sorry mum…….!]
The crossing to Cawsand shot by literally; we skirted along the rocks lining the Fort Picklecombe shore and Dad looked as happy as someone who was pigging on a giant bar of white Toblerone whilst under their favourite blanket on the sofa watching their top most favourite movie with all the family out of the house (an odd metaphor for contentment but its late at night and I’m suffering and it’s the best I can come up with….or maybe that’s my actual definition of contentment….um!)
Before we knew it we were approaching the crowded anchorage of Cawsand. I taught Dad how to heave to and from that we tidied up Arwen and then turned head to wind to neatly stow the sails between the lazy jacks. Motoring through the maze of anchored boats we picked a spot on the beach taking note of the slight leeway drift and the proximity of some nasty rocks downwind.
Now some people are frankly stupid! Don’t get me wrong please. I am by nature very easy going, laid back and tolerant but occasionally people can irritate me. Take for example landing a boat on a beach. You see a small 15’ boat with outboard approaching the beach very slowly, its occupants smiling, indicating where they wish to beach the boat. It approaches slowly with just enough power to overcome the leeward drift. Now all the swimmers messing in the shallows have to do is just move slightly out of the way. The occupants point to where they wish to track and land on the beach; so what do those swimming and messing about do?  They stay precisely in the path of the oncoming boat. In fact as the boat is forced to change course, the swimmers immediately change their direction and put themselves back in front of the boat.  Even when the boat slows and starts to drift sideways towards the rocks the swimmers put themselves immediately under the bow with only a metre between them and the arriving boat.  Some people are just plain stupid! And it wasn’t the occupants of the boat on this occasion!
Despite all that we still managed to arrive on Cawsand beach with an elegant style; cutting the engine at just the right time so Arwen gently beached herself with barely a scrunch of gravel or sand. I hopped out and held the boat steady and Dad gracefully exited by climbing on the deck and then stepping down. Very Captain like!
Our departure from the beach was actually even better than our arrival (I know it sounds like boasting but sometimes when there are difficulties around and some planned action goes really well then you can afford yourself a small pat on the back surely?) The cross wind and swirling eddy against the steep rock wall, the daft swimmers and the numerous boats at anchor 20 m off the beach made for a tricky exit. So we planned it and then executed the plan.  Dad sat on the port side slightly aft to lift the bow. I turned the bow slightly upwind and then pushed her out so that the prop had about a foot of water under her; holding her steady and starting the engine I then pushed off with one foot and then hopped over the side deck gracefully to engage the gears and steer the outboard so that we avoided swimmers and steered for the only gap between the moored boats. Pulling the rudder downhaul and the centre board down a little gave greater tracking and before we knew it we had got off the beach, avoided the swimmers, not drifted onto the rocks, not fallen into the cockpit in a heap and not driven the bowsprit in to the expensive looking moored motorboats! Dad looked relaxed clearly thinking all this was a normal departure. Genuinely, I surprised myself considerably. Frankly that departure was a recipe for a very public and humiliating disaster. Relief does not begin to some up my emotions! Sometimes ignorance of how things work is bliss because had Dad known of all the potential pitfalls with departure he’d never have stepped back into Arwen! I love it when a plan comes together!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We had managed to reach Cawsand some 4 nm of tacking in 45 minutes …….speed fluctuated between 5.9 and 4.8 knots. I think that is a pretty good speed isn’t it? It did feel as if we were flying along on some occasions…quite exhilarating really. I did have to hike out onto the side deck on occasions to keep Arwen level especially as the wind seemed to shift continually between west and south-south-west; there was slight weather-helm pressure on the tiller but not so much that it was tiresome or uncomfortable. She felt balanced, stable, fast and safe.
Leg one over with; leg two was from Cawsand via the western end of the breakwater across to the OSR North buoy and then on to pass the south of the Great Mewstone island.  The winds had shifted to the south giving us a mixture of broad and close reaches. We flew along. The waves rolled in with deep 4’ troughs and dollops of spray came over the bow. It was magic! Dad’s grin just kept growing. We chatted about the scenery, local landmarks, the boat’s performance; how the sail luff indicated when we were pinching; how the jib tell tales helped us get as close to the wind as we could.
We rarely chat do Dad and I. Both of us are naturally quiet, almost reticent at times. I have to say it was really nice just to have time with Dad. And before we knew it, it was time for Dad to give up the helm so I could turn Arwen head to wind ready for dropping the sails before doing the entrance to the Yealm.
The yellow pins mark the channel to follow when entering the Yealm if you want to avoid 'a grounding'

Now the Yealm is a lovely estuary but it does have a notorious entrance with a large sand bar and a narrow channel to starboard. Get it wrong and ‘you come a cropper’. I’ve seen yachts strand themselves on that bar and fall sideways on a receding tide only to then be swirled around and bashed about as the tide floods in again!  It can be made even more difficult when the winds are strong and blowing from the west or south west straight up the river mouth entrance!  We gently motored in on the flooding tide keeping the red buoys well to port and a weather eye on the rocks to starboard. We turned when we sighted the two white mark poles high on the cliff which gave us a transit to follow around the back of the bar. After that it was a case of navigating through the four rows of moored boats and following the curve of the river around Misery Point to Yealm pool, the junction between Noss Mayo Creek and the main Yealm River. We had arrived
Arrival on the harbour master’s pontoon was a little tricky with a huge tide running but we motored upstream turned into the tide taking account of the tricky side currents and leeway and then gently motored down into the tide to arrive alongside the pontoon with barely a bump. It is the first time I have ever managed to motor alongside a pontoon and cut the engine so that we drift to a stop exactly alongside a mooring cleat at the front end of a pontoon leaving room behind for another boat and all under the watchful eye of the harbour Master.
We liked the harbour master. Tall, thoughtful, with humorous eyes and a gentle manner. He handled his Plymouth Pilot launch really well. He admired Arwen; clearly knew something about building boats and directed us to a lovely little mooring on the inside of the bend and close to the rocky shoreline. Sheltered, it gave lovely views across the river and was only a 3 minute motor across to the pontoon and toilet block. The harbour master smiled when he discovered we were camping on board and he wished us well and a good night’s sleep. I think he admired our adventurous spirit!
More tomorrow with a little video of day one, something about our on-board camping arrangements and an embarrassing dilemma I had to resolve but I leave you with this evening photograph from our lovely little mooring on the inside of a bend
Good night, sleep tight.


Sunday 19 August 2012

Well Dad has arrived and we are fairly well packed for our little adventure. tomorrow, we set sail for Cawsand, around to Penlee and Rame head and then straight across the breakwater to the Great Mewstone; from there into the yealm where we hope to get a berth on a visitor mooring if the place isn't too crowded. You can read about the yealm as an anchorage here at a post I did in the summer of 2010
That seems a long time ago.

The tides tomorrow are big springs 5.5m high tide at 8.53 am; on Tuesday the low tide is 15.15 and only 0.8m so this will be a problem. We won't have access to the slipway until 17.15.
I guess we will sail around Wembury Bay a little and possibly try to go up the Tamar a little way as the tide comes down to the low point; or we can anchor over in Barn Pool near Mount Edgecumbe.

It will be the first time Dad has slept on the boat; I hope he understands how primitive it can be. He is sprightly and feisty in his 70's but even so Arwen's thwarts can feel uncomfortable and if it rains a huge amount, the tarpaulin may leak slightly!!

On the otherhand, I'm really looking forward to teaching him the basics of sailing and for a camp trip.
We are having beef stew and dumplings for evening meal OR pasta and meatballs. He hasn't decided yet. It will start with Minestrone soup and finish with fruit pieces and custard......ah I can already hear the hiss of those two trangia stoves. Wonderful!


Wednesday 15 August 2012

I went sailing in Arwen today with my good friend who is a really experienced small boat skipper. He helmed whilst I crewed and it was very interesting to watch him take Arwen over to Cawsand and then around the back of Drakes Island and up the Cattedown through the boat moorings. The winds were fickle, forecast as being 12 knots +, they clearly weren’t. The wind gusted and swirled; it constantly changed direction from south east to south west. It would suddenly die. Despite all this he managed to sail Arwen around 50 degrees off the wind and tacked her several times through 100 degrees.  I comment on this because there has been some interesting discussion about the navigator’s ability to tack which I will summarize in another post later this week.
He kept the mizzen untouched all morning and made many course corrections just by adjusting sails and trim rather than by tiller adjustments. He did pinch close to the wind on many occasions and the jib luff would begin to flap at which point a slight nudge on the tiller put him back on that ‘magic invisible line’ between close haul and over pinching.
What did surprise me today was the amount of leeway and sliding sideways that Arwen did. It is clear that the more you pinch that wind, the more she slides sideways.

It was a nice sail. We averaged about 2 kts per hour; we covered about 6 nautical miles; and we sailed for 3.5 hrs. We passed a buoy laying vessel; some dive boats off the breakwater fort and a lovely double masted gaff rigged oldie boat. As we followed her through the bridges on the western side of Drakes Island, the whiff of fresh paint and varnish wafted over her transom and down to us on the wind. She was a lovely vessel.
The tide was tricky today as well. Just off Drakes Island we went through a very odd patch of water, sort of eddy effect where the surface of the water was heavily jumbled. It is difficult to describe but the water appeared to be jumping upwards in mini fountains. Weird but marvellous to watch. It was a pleasant sail in excellent company and as always when sailing with my friend, I learned loads.


Tuesday 14 August 2012

Here is the second short film sailing in a Bahia this time. The thing about Greece were the very light winds and in a high performance boat thinking about trim and balance was critical.
I have to say I quite liked sailing the Bahia for a change. Don't get me wrong I'd never swap Arwen but just occasionally giving up your Austin 7 for a Ferrari is!


Monday 13 August 2012

I’ve just returned from a week in Greece. 'She wot must be obeyed' and I went to the Neilson beach club ‘the Retreat’ at Sivota. It’s on the Ionian coast. Warm waters, turquoise seas and temperatures of around 35 Celsius; it was lovely.

The hotel has steps everywhere and we had the highest room with 241 steps down to the beach each day! Nough said! Talk about accelerating your heart rate each day!
The Neilson team at bar, restaurant, beach and hotel, were as always, outstanding. I cannot recommend them too highly. We have been on several Neilson beach and skiing holidays and all of them have been exemplary.

The Retreat is not great for experienced dinghy sailors. There just isn’t enough wind frankly. The most it came up to was force 2 for the odd occasion. It is a great venue for learning to dinghy sail however. It was also a great flotilla base and several people I spoke to commented on the excellent yacht instruction they were receiving.

Anyway here is the first of a little film on a laser Pico. I’ll post others of kayaking and sailing a Laser Bahia during the week.

These boats were certainly different to Arwen. The Bahia, whilst stable, is a high performance boat and also centre mainsheet rigged. I had to ‘re-learn several things; not least of which was tacking and gybing facing forward; not having a mizzen to keep me head to wind; and a boat on which trim and balance were really big issues!!