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

Friday 30 August 2013

another new navigator hits the water

Robert gave an inspiring summary of his first voyages to Catalina island on the JW builders forum. He also posted three little YouTube video clips.



Thursday 29 August 2013

sailing in plymouth sound part 2

video of sailing this week in Plymouth sound......

when I should have been preparing for the new term.......oh what the heck!  When the sun is shining......and a 70 hour working week is looming once again..... you have to grab all the chances you can for a great day's sailing. This is part one - I hope you enjoy it.


Wednesday 28 August 2013

Plymouth Sound sailing

Today was lovely. Just enough breeze to give me between 3 - 4 knots. No fish though and boy did I try. I was using a Dexter wedge around 2oz and I cast in all directions, counted all depths and spun at different retrieves. I 'walked the dog', jerked  the lure, made it change sudden direction. Nothing. Nada! Not a sausage! Frankly it was depressing and I have clearly lost my touch. I've been fishing for 44 years.......humiliating!

As I left QAB marina and entered the Cattedown, these were the vessels that accompanied in that famous stretch of water

On the other hand, the sailing was great. Arwen and I bobbed along at 3 knots along Jennycliffe Bay. The wind, from the south west, built and faded throughout the day. The water was clear and that lovely deep green colour. The sun shone, the sky had high thin clouds which just hazed the sun slightly, enough to make it all very pleasant.

I tried catching him....but it wasn't to be

One of the new 'home made' blocks in action

We shot passed the eastern end of the Plymouth breakwater and tacked over towards Bovisand beach before tacking around onto a westerly course. We skimmed alongside the outer breakwater wall being careful to avoid the submerged and semi submerged large breakwater blocks.

The VERY large mooring buoys on the inside of the breakwater

slipping past the Bovisand/Jennycliffe bay shoreline

skirting the outer face of the breakwater and passing the fort which lies on its northern side

However, I missed the lobster pot float and we ran over it! It caught on the rudder and caused a near mishap as we stalled and started to swing inwards, alarmingly close to the submerged blocks. Hanging over the back to free the ropes and floats only served to accentuate the feeling of impending doom and grounding and some judicious use of the outboard was needed to get us out of trouble. Lesson learn't........keep a better look out!

passing inside the western end of the breakwater and on to Kingsand

A number of small fishing boats were out but there seemed to be few fish over the gunnel's. We bounced along at 4 knots into Cawsand Bay, noting the very large warship on our port bow which seemed to be making a series of slow turns around a large triangle. A quick look at the chart showed it was going backward and forward over the degaussing area. A tug was on standby just in case.  Another large inshore gas tanker boat was moored south of Drakes Island as well.

Kingsand, very picturesque


We skirted along the Mt. Edgecumbe  shoreline almost to Kingsand on a reach before having to make a series of tacks out to sea in order to gain an appropriate angle into Kingsand. The breeze over Penlee point became fickle at this point, gusting, fading, changing directions.  Sailing a little too close to one moored boat due to a sudden wind shift and clearing it only by a few feet, I decided to err on the side of caution and threaded my way between moored yachts and back out to the relative safety of the central bay.

Passing one of the channel buoys

By now the wind was coming astern and Arwen drifted downwind back to the Cattedown. She sails very well downwind and I was able to stand, secure the tiller on occasions to briefly go forward and tidy ropes and fenders. She made 2.7 knots all the way down wind avoiding the outgoing Brittany Ferry.

There were a number of yachts out today but very few small boats, a Cornish shrimper, a small folk boat and one very nice traditional old gentleman's sailing boat....Edwardian in looks and design. Very graceful.

In all we covered around 14 miles today. Our top speed was 4.5 knots. The sails set well and Arwen sailed herself for much of the time. Thanks to Joel's tips, I've started to get this 'no hand on tiller' sailing lark buttoned down. Quite often I change direction merely by adjusting jib or mizzen....its wonderful when you finally 'get the basics'!!!

Rural life

I haven't had a chance yet to stop at a roadside soda high up in the hills yet. I keep meaning to but I sense a slight reluctance from the other three occupants in the car.....well the children. 'Her indoors' is much more adventurous. I'm baffled by how people make a living in such remote locations. I know it must be agricultural small holdings and probably pineapples, coffee and sugar cane; some chickens, goats and the odd cow or two perhaps but it seems a pretty tough life. Yet through every village we pass locals smile and occasionally wave. Small children bounce about, always seeming to be laughing; women have time to stop and chat along the roadside, with much laughter, hand waving and affection for one another. It seems idyllic but clearly must be a struggle, or perhaps it isn't? Maybe these Costa Ricans have it right; they live with what they have; make good use of what they have got. Take time to enjoy each others company and value each others skills and qualities. Maybe we have it all wrong in our society?

Each small home is well kept with often colour walls and coloured tin roofs. Gardens are well tended, front porches  and yards swept. The isn't any rubbish, no derelict machinery in yards. Washing dries on lines or on the roofs of the buildings. Each home has a pile of chopped timbers. Colourful flowers grow, entwined in the wire fences that surround properties. It sounds an idyllic picture and to some extents it appears to be one.............but the geographer within me keeps niggling it?
The bigger villages have small schools.....a few buildings with high up slatted open windows. Some in the larger villages have some playground swings or climbing frames but not all. Each school has its own name......'Acapulco School' has been our favourite....a school smaller than our house, set on the inside bend of a tight mountain bend with simply stunning views across the valleys and down to the Nicoya peninsula and the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

How much fun can you have?

How much fun can you have in just one morning. At the Hacienda Gauchipelin they really understand what laid back and 'fun' look like in one package. It started with zip lining through the canopy and inside a canyon. Throw in abseiling, a climb out of the canyon and several zip wires of 300m or so in length and actually it was good fun.

The zip wires go for a kilometre or two through a narrow canyon and involve everything from abseiling to jumping off slides and Tarzan swings

Good instructors, good equipment and three other families from San Francisco, Denver and somewhere in Idaho. Our new family word is 'hinky'.....when something goes wrong or not according to plan. We like 'hinky'!

There is a 'knack' to keeping yourself heading straight
Don't let the large handholds fool you. It has been 30 years since I used to climb in the Alps and this was the first climb in 30 years..........I made it though!
Well with adrenaline surging it was time for river tubing down the rio Bravia. Oh my! Take one heavy gauge rubber donut ring with reinforced sides, webbing straps and internally webbing sprung seat. You sit in it with bottom well down inside and legs hanging out one side in a semi upward position. Your hands grip one handle each either side in a death grip and off you launch.

Here is a painful lesson to note........when using the GoPro, don't just check the batteries. Check the memory card as well because 57 seconds into filming my descent - the memory card registered full, the GoPro switched off and I was none the wiser.......gutted is not a strong enough adjective!

When they said rapids and pools down a fast flowing river in a deep wooded gorge.......I'm not sure which bit of it I missed but I now know what a sock feels like on a wash and spin cycle.

The trip started with a bus ride on a genuine USA school of the long big yellow ones. We were so excited! They are iconic and to get to ride on one albeit in Costa Rica was kinda cool. This bus had clearly come from the department of Burlington .....written large down each side. It had clearly also done duty as a school bus in Costa Rica. You can see why, with big wheels and huge ground clearance, it was perfect for the rock tracks around the hacienda.

We LOVED these buses. You see them in so many films. They are so US to go in one was fab. Sorry to all our US readers, I expect when you have been in one yellow bus, you've been in them all!

Whilst one yellow bus served as people transport, the other carried one hundred large 5' in diameter rubber tubing rings; all bus seats removed and rubber rings stood on their sides, you could fit about four across standing them on their sides. A bus full of rubber rings looked quite comical. Well I guess you had to be there.

After kitting us with crash lids, flotation jackets and warning us to keep our hands inside the tube at all times, we set off walking the 100m to the rivers edge. The instructors forgot to mention it was 100m down a single file track and a near vertical gorge face. How funny...trying to carry a rubber tube sideways, whose height almost matched your own. The few who decided to roll them?  Well runaway tubes bounce down rock faces and try to bowl over as many people in front as possible. Funny does not do justice to the scenario!

One  hour of laughing in exhilaration, fear, terror, confusion and much else followed. There were fifty of us but at no time did we feel crowded; we were well spaced in small groups. Occasionally some of us were becalmed in the deeper pools. This necessitated rolling, somewhat awkwardly, onto your stomach front whilst lying across the top of the tube and doggie paddling. A friendly person might bump into you by accident to help you over come inertia. These periods of restful calm were short. The rest of the time was shooting between narrow rocky channels; bouncing down 4' rapids and drops. On one I came my only cropper...dropping four feet down a rocky gully come sluice, I fell forward and too much weight on one front part of the tune and I was unceremoniously flipped out and the tube landed on me! Nothing hurt except pride! I bounced off rocks, trees, got grounded, went down several rapids backwards ( nerve wracking and I learned to develop owl like tendencies very quickly.....I.e. swivel the neck as quickly as possible). Quite simply, it's a blast. The best thing I have ever done and I have done some great things. This truly topped the lot. If you go to Costa Rica then visit the Hacienda Gauchipelin. See Juan and Felix and Mario. Go horse riding, zip lining, canyon tubing. Visit the hot springs, get a mud treatment. This is one laid back place and well worth the visit.

The Rincon de Vieja National Park is an awesome little park in the Guancaste region of Costa Rica. The road up to it is not for the faint hearted and four wheel drive is a necessity but it is good fun. You get a real friendly welcome from the rangers. Nice guys. Trails are well marked and easy to do...well the ones we did were.


We saw fumaroles, mud pots, solfataras, boiling springs and stunning scenery.

I was slightly bemused by this pool. It said 800 Celsius on the board and there was a strong smell of sulphur and some bubbles but not much else!

but these mudpools with their temp over 1000C were much more exciting and really smelly too!
The volcanoes crater trail was closed due to unpredictable volcanic activity, a shame. Clouds of steam rise in columns through some parts of the trees, to be caught by the winds and stretched out like gossamer threads. The smell of sulphur whiffs around on the air and you sense you are coming to somewhere special by the hiss of steam escaping ahead of you.

There is plenty of wildlife to see as well not least of all several variety of lizards!

the paths were covered with green lizards sunbathing!

whilst their cousins much preferred the forest leaf litter floor

It was a cool two days at the Hacienda. Plenty to do and see.

Sailing in Plymouth Sound

Tomorrow will be my last trip this holiday. I have already started work this week, preparing lessons and new courses. School starts on Monday and I will work Thursday - Sunday getting ready. The weather is looking good for tomorrow. Light winds around 8 knots from the north east with several hours of sunshine and no rain. the tides are neaps with high tide around 11 am and around 4.5m.

Sadly I won't be able to fit in an extended passage this year although I haven't ruled out doing something in the October half term!

I am trying to persuade number one son to join me for a bit of fishing. I haven't given up yet although enthusiasm from said son is lacking. It isn't that he doesn't like me; he just hates watersports. However, he does like fishing and so I may persuade him yet.

I'm not sure where I will go. I'd like to try and go up to Dandy Hole on the Lynher but that sounds tricky given the northerly winds. A sail around to the Yealm would be fun or maybe just a cruise up the Plym and around the sound again. I'll decide tomorrow!

He and I did have a good day last week. Son decided he would ride his beloved Stacey, his 1971 motovespa super 125 scooter up to his Grandmother's, a distance of around 100 miles along country roads. You can go via the A38 and M5 motorway but not on a scooter!

It seems such a long time ago when 'Stacey' was stripped down on the work bench in the garage

We took a meandering, somewhat indirect route along minor B class roads and country lanes. It was a really good journey. I either followed or went ahead in the car towing our motorcycle trailer (more of that in a minute). Going over Dartmoor from south to north was a delight. The sun shone, the roads were empty, the views stupendous.

reassembling her bit by bit and that horrible arch section cut out by some former owner who clearly was an idiot!

Son had to drive through a few flocks of sheep on the road, weave between three highland cows and calves sunbathing on a bend in the road by a bridge and avoid hitting Darth Vader in Moretonhampstead square (it was Carnival day!!).  Skirting the back of Exeter through Exwick and then up the main road to Silverton, through the lanes to Willand and on up to Cullumpton. We diverted through the lanes at Uffculume (what stunning rural countryside - a real treat) before gaining the A road to Wellington and Taunton. Skirting Taunton was easy and before you know it we were heading for Glastonbury!

And this was how she looked when we first bought her off eBay all that time ago

The only two scary moments?  When an idiot Landrover driver tail gated my son across the peat moors. the road twist and turns for miles and son was doing 40 - 50mph but landrover driver insisted on staying two feet from son's rear spare tyre and then overtook him on a blind bend. Clown! the other event was when son became boxed in by overtaking cars when he needed to filter across to take a right turning off a duel carriageway. whilst I made the filter lane, son didn't and it was quite funny seeing his somewhat bemused expression as he carried on around the bend on his way to Bridgewater, the totally wrong direction!

And here she is now in her new colours; all reassembled with worn parts replaced; she does 25 to the gallon on short trips around the city and country lanes but much more on longer trips. We did 100 miles last week on one tank of petrol!

And the trailer? Don't ask. We bought it off eBay the day before. it needed new wheels and we purchased those at the local trailer centre. They said they would be easy to fit! Cut a long story short, they weren't and the first one got jammed. We managed to get to the trailer centre who then struggled to move it off but managed and then had the same problem fitting the other one. They did do it though using up their valuable time on other jobs. this was customer service at its best and although it cost it was a great inconvenience to them. Well done to Tamar Trailers in Plympton. Thank you for getting us on the road!

Monday 26 August 2013

Wildlife in the Ostinal mangroves of north west Costa Rica

Here are some of the photographs taken on our extraordinary boat tour with Leroy and Kirsten