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".

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

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.



Bob said...

I'm enjoying your adventures and read your blog for inspiration while I build my Pathfinder: Gardens of Fenwick.

Genetics must, indeed, be a factor in the love for the sea. A few years ago about 55 or so of my cousins gathered for a family reunion. After dinner one night we got to talking about hobbies... it turned out that 37 of us sail! We all knew our grandfather had been an engineering officer on a German-flagged ocean liner but none of us knew how many of us are involved in sailing. We have not researched the family tree for earlier seafarers but I wouldn't be surprised to find more.

Fenwick, Michigan

steve said...

hello Bob. glad you are enjoying the blog. It's a sort of on-line diary really. My great Grandad spent a large amount of time at sea and worked for Sir Thomas Lipton during the Americas cup races of the early 1900's. Must have been quite a family gathering!
I'm intrigued by the name of your did the name come about?

Bob said...

Hi Steve,

Don't know what happened to my response to your question - my guess is 'operator error.'

Here is a link to a blog post explaining the origins of the name "Gardens of Fenwick."