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

Monday 30 September 2013


out and about last week and managed to get some shots which I guess are iconic symbols of where I live

I am a lucky man!



Sunday 29 September 2013

Another navigator is launched

Very nice, very good looking and professionally built. Find the details at


Saturday 28 September 2013

Steve Evans 51

Steve Evans 51 is a twitter account of what is possibly one of the most remarkable people I have ever seen on TV.  Steve has just been on BBC breakfast talking about the cancer fund and funding of cancer treatments. He is a terminally ill cancer sufferer whose compassion, humour, intellect, zest for life, philosophy, integrity has just shone through like a giant beacon of light from the heavens. This man has just touched the heart of our nation because anyone who just watched this interview between him and Charlie and Louise just couldn't have failed to have been moved by his words and attitude. I cannot begin to imagine what kind of journey Steve, his family and friends have been on in the last few years but his simple, clear, humble words and zest for life will be a very lasting legacy for many who watched this five minute segment.


Early Saturday mornings

Saturday mornings I like to get up real early. I watch the news to get the week's updates; bbc 'click' to get my gadget fix and simultaneously I flick through my flipboard articles. Today I found two nice video clips......well I like them!


Wednesday 25 September 2013

Too much equipment on a dinghy?

Some one said to me the other day "wow you carry quite a bit of equipment on board don't you". This has got me thinking!!!!!!

So what do I carry on board Arwen?

- drogue and long line
- handheld GPS
- flares in grab bag (2 red parachute; 2 red handhelds; 2 orange handheld smokes; 1 orange smoke canister
- foghorn
- collapsible radar reflector
- spare danforth anchor and long warp
- grab bag with first aid kit, bivvy bag, whistle, torch, flares, bottle of water, high energy snack bars, spare rope
- spare lifejackets x 4; three with harnesses
- handheld compass
- mounted steering compass
- handheld VHF radio
- protected mobile phone
- 1 kg powder fire extinguisher
- hand held pump, bailer, 1 gallon bucket
- oars
- 20m throw rescue line
- reach over rope boarding ladder
- brass step attached to transom
- torch and spare batteries
- extending boat hook
- large CQR anchor and 40m warp with 6m of chain
- large fenders 2 x 2' long and 8" wide
- binoculars
- safety knife x 2
- sponges x 4
- four mooring warps x 10m each
- spare rope x 10mm x 30m for towing, extra mooring warp etc

- mainsail battened
- jib sail
- mizzen sail
First Aid

- Prescriptions/medications etc.
- Bandages and bandaids.
- Eyewash.
- wound dressing bandages assorted sizes x 4
- Antiseptic cream & spray.
- paracetamol tablets
- sea sickness tablets
- alka seltzer
- Vaseline.
- Chapstick.
- Sunscreen. Factor 15 and factor 50
- Nail clippers, scissors & tweezers.
- Spare prescription glasses
- burn dressings x 3
- emergency rescue foil blankets x 2
- micro pore tape x 2 rolls
- triangular bandages x 2
- crepe roll bandages x 2
- eye drops
- stitches strips
- cotton wool
- gauze pads
- safety pins
- antiseptic satchets and wipes
High Priority Items

- sallopettes, waterproof jacket, sealskinz hat, sailing gloves, wellies, wetsuit shoes
- spare clothing set in waterproof bag along with here lightweight towels
- spare waterproof jacket and fleece
- hot drinks and food and snacks
- spare fuel, normally 5 litres for a day trip, in one 5 litre container and then also two 1.5 litre fuel bottles for quick top ups
- fuel funnel
- outboard engine toolkit and spares
- rigging toolkit and spares e.g. Blocks, cleats, screws, sealant etc
- windup and solar powered radio
- solar power power monkey gadget for charging phone, radio and camera
- digital camera and GoPro camera with assorted mounts and mini tripods


- Nautical almanac PBO small boat edition
- tide tables, relevant charts,
- Parallel rulers.  A
- Pens. Pencils & erasers.
- Ship's log, note books and jotting paper.
- passage plans and log book

I think this is it for now. Most of this just stays on board permanently and then I add camping and cooking gear on top for overnight stays along with tarpaulin and vortex bivvy bag or tent outer. I may well also add four 25 litre water jerry cans as well as ballast.

Phew, maybe they were right! I am carrying way too much!



Tuesday 24 September 2013

The joy of sailing a small boat

There is a young lady in my school who is an extraordinary sailor. She has been truly bitten by the bug and can be found out every Saturday morning on the waters of the Tamar with the local charity sailing group. So keen is she, that she has completed RYA levels 1 and 2; seamanship and the practical day skipper courses with success.

For her it isn't the massing of qualifications but the gaining of experiences. And I am privileged enough to remember the first time she stepped into a dinghy, on a sailing course I was helping to lead at Salcombe. Who would have thought that three years later it would lead to what will be for her a life long passion. This young lady is intelligent, warm humoured, humble, quick to learn, brave and caring and it is an immense privilege being around her. Whilst on gate duty last week, she and I got to start talking about why we love sailing so much.......and bizarrely we struggled to put it into words.

So I have reflected this week as I have pottered about my school and tried to tease out what draws some of us to sail in small boats.

For me it is the realisation that I have built something from scratch with my own bare hands. Using plans by a gifted designer I created an object of beauty (well Arwen passes the 10' test at least!!). I know my boat, every nook and cranny, every bolt, joint and screw. I know the hidden scars, the bodged bits; the areas of which I am most proud. I learnt to read plans, take measurements, craft wood into shapes; take my time and visualise what 'could be' as well as 'what was'.

And now I have learnt to develop intricate relationships between tiller, sail and wind; between waves and tides. That sense of empowerment as all fall in to place and a boat surges ahead, bow cutting through the waves under the power of wind alone. As we meld together, boat and helmsman, my spirits soar and we fly. Five knots becomes an exhilarating speed. Time becomes meaningless as I ease in to reading the puffs of wind scuttling across the distant waters; watching the wake against distant shore markers. I tack to catch breezes, adjusting halyards and sheets intuitively to get the maximum life from my sails. When a sail fills and the boat surges forward in life, it takes your breath away. My heart slows, I take deep breaths of clean salt air and work pressures become a distant memory. The discomfort of dollops of spray, of rain cascading off sails and down the neck are ignored; of blistered rough hands as jib sheets bite raw, contentment is gained from the labour of drawing them tight. Serenity descends. There are small but deep pleasures to be gained from bending on the top gaff boom; of coiling warps neatly; of trimming mizzen and jib just so that a boat sails itself. A deep satisfaction as the skills of pilotage become clearer and the realisation takes hold that this is just the beginning of a life long learning curve and banking of varied but valuable experiences. Sailing has taught me to be humble, persistent, accurate, courageous, respectful. It has opened to me a camaraderie of new friendships, some worldwide.

As my young student friend and I leaned against the school gates struggling to put in to words why we loved sailing so much, we both knew it didn't matter. Respect for the sea, a love of marine life, and all of the above we have shared. We really didn't need words to express it.....we just both knew what it really meant.


Dedicated to my young sailing friend who has inspired me so much
the call of the open sea and voyages afar and near

Monday 23 September 2013

a standing lug yawl in action..........

some recent photos of Arwen in action

making a tack upriver at Salcombe


a juvenile, not sure whether to stay or fly as I go by

playing with the GoPro
concentration as we pass through the moorings

trying to be creative with the GoPro.....and sadly not doing it
out in the estuary admiring the cliff line




Interesting small boat video clips

Although not about john's boats, there are some lovely clips here and some useful tips for all small boat owners. Enjoy.


last video clip from Salcombe

Sunday 22 September 2013

Passage planning and safety thoughts

In learned something new today......"lee bowing". I'd not heard the term before but now I have briefly read up on it I can see it makes sense. Apparently when approaching the shore you try to get things in such a way that the wind is blowing on the windward bow but the tide is pushing against the lee bow. In this way you will not drift too far along the coastline in either direction from your intended mark.

I've been thinking about longer distance sailing again. Didn't do much this summer but I am wondering about a couple of weekend voyages in the not too distant future. SOLAS regulations state you should take into account weather, tides, limitations of the vessel and her crew, navigational dangers and a contingency plan in case things go wrong.

Anyway I started to think that actually having some lists drawn up to help my thinking might be useful. So for my passage planning checklist I guess it might cover the following

- my charts
- tidal stream data from my small boats almanac
- port details for all the ports I will or may have to call in

Then with a more detailed view in mind
- passage plan review on small scale charts
- any inshore passages, most of mine would be
- sunrise, sunset, daylight hours times
- tidal ranges, springs or neaps, direction of tides to avoid foul tide streams, ETA's at various places along a tidal flow/stream
- weather patterns in the lead up to departure along with latest forecasts and details about where to get different forecast updates whilst on passage
- pilotage plans for ports visiting both entry and exit
- filling in my passage plan tables with notes about courses, waypoints etc
- programming the GPS with waypoints
- working out minimum times to get between waypoints and whether these are achievable given latest forecasts
- dangers to be avoided including distances off rock marks, shoals, wrecks etc
- working out clearing bearings for above and any headlands on route
- identifying sheltered refuges and their entry points

After all this I guess it is a matter of checking boat safety equipment. I use the Dinghy Cruising Association safety guidelines. Then checking the supplies needed for the passage. This includes catering (food, water, cooking equipment, cooking fuel, rubbish disposal, cleaning equipment) and things for boat (spare fuel, outboard toolkit, spare rigging equipment and hardware etc).

Then there is sorting out my SPOT PLB including the tracking page and notifying the coastguard and my nominated safety people, including leaving a copy of passage plans with my close friend who is an excellent small boat sailor.

Finally, out of paranoia, a final check of the passage plan against chart and an ordnance survey mark, circling any noticeable landmarks that can be used as checkpoints on the way. At this point I often annotate my charts with courses, bearings, tidal heights etc. I also draw up any tidal port height charts.

I also came across an interesting article in October's PBO magazine by Sticky Stapylton, a yacht master ocean ticket holder and RYAN yachtmaster instructor. He has a few handy little tips. One is taking account of high and low pressure and the impact it will have on tidal heights. To what extent it would affect me and Arwen I don't know but he argued that a change of one millibar leads to a change of sea level by 1 centimetre. He had a chart which he used to calculate such changes and it goes like this.....

963mb.    +0.5m
983mb.    +0.2m
1003mb.  +0.1m
1013mb.  0
1023mb.  - 0.1m
1043mb.  - 0.3m

He has a similar chart for converting the rule of 12ths into %s as well. Very useful.

He also made some interesting checklists about what to do in heavy weather. His advice included
- not planning passages so that ports of refuge are on lee shores or where there a wind over tide situations
- preparing in position ready any drogues that may need to be deployed, getting them out of cockpit lockers in advance so that when deployed there is no risk of cockpit locker swamping
- plot position and if a survival situation is anticipated, report position and interiors to coastguard
- keeping a towel close by to charts in the cockpit to dry them
- making sure no gear can shift, come loose or roll around
- putting on heavy weather gear in advance
- make sure grab bag is accessible and secure but easy to release
- tape up exposed locker hatch seams with duct tape
- make sure anchor and deck gear is very secure
- hoist radar reflector on separate mast halyard
- get some snack food available and easy to hand along with water bottle
- check PLB is still working, spare batteries to internal dry pocket in jacket, safety knife attached to lifejacket along with light, whistle, spray hood, personal small flares,

Most of this I do as a matter of daily sailing checks but it never hurts to have a laminated checklist to run trough to give peace of mind does it. Of course,  if I have done my pre safety passage planning, then I am unlikely to be setting sail in the first ace. I guess this is the checklist for when things unexpectedly change whilst at sea.

Sticky had a similar checklist for what to do in fog.
- slowing down and getting a fix on the chart
- Reviewing the passage plan
- if possible, heading for shallow water and anchoring
- being aware that if heading for a GPS waypoint, others may be doing the same from the opposite direction
- keeping channel 16 on and listening to all communications
- hoisting radar reflector immediately
- flares and torches and whistles to hand
- stopping engine at regular intervals to listen

There was more useful advice but this gives the flavour. Sticky has a website
Go to
Sticky's forms can be downloaded from


Tuesday 17 September 2013

some real positive thoughts

I think he sums it up positively and gives out some really good messages. An excellent blog, non-welsford - but we can forgive him!


first video sailing in Salcombe

Hope you enjoy it



How do you get a navigator up a beach without a trailer?

Huh! You learn something new everyday; Richard  asked the forum this question and a range of answers emerged but the definitive one came from John himself.  Three sausage shaped 150mm diameter rollers or fenders, take the main sheet tackle off the main sail and attach it to anchor somewhat higher up the beach, attach other end to bow hook and pull, moving rollers from stern to bow as they emerge.

Huh! That is so simple........why didn't I think of it? Now I really do have to try that at some stage

Steve .

Monday 16 September 2013

Things I learned in Salcombe on Saturday

1.    Trim all ropes and halyards to the correct sizes before going out again, especially reefing ropes and the main sheet and topping lift. All a way too long and irritatingly flop, hang about or tangle
2.    Sailing just under main sail can be really enjoyable and makes you think more about how the sail fills and backs, especially when pinching to windward
3.    The closer to shore you get in an estuary, the more depth you run out of!!!
4.    Starboard tack has right of way in most situations so hold your ground and don't allow other yawls to intimidate you into making avoidance moves which then put you in  danger or difficulties
5.    At the ramp, think about others, don't hold people up, wait your turn, offer to help others, show some common courtesy
6.    Stop and take time to talk with people. There are very many interested in Arwen who want to know more about her and her designer. That is one of the joys of sailing so build in time on trips to do that
7.    Backing the jib can really help get you out of tight turns and corners
8.    Learn to predict where the wind will gust off the hills and where it will suddenly drop because it is blocked by hills.......anticipating these will help you anticipate wind shifts better
9.    It is better to go behind moored boats than think you can make it across the front of them....remember a combination of factors....wind AND tide could push you sideways. LEEWAY!!!
10.   Discretion and caution are useful qualities, if in doubt, don't take the risk!
11.   Practice, practice,practice so that mooring alongside a pontoon becomes instinctive like driving a car
12.   Suspend more time learning to read your mainsails and replace the lost tell tales over winter!!!
13.   On a day sail in sheltered waters you don't have to carry every bit of kit.......empty the boat occasionally!!!
14.   Try to sail by releasing or hauling in the jib rather than constantly turning the tiller
15.   Don't be afraid to gybe if the situation demands it
16.   Remind yourself frequently about balance, trim, centreboard situation, sail trim, course made good, leeway, depth under hull, speed across ground, tidal movements and tidal speed changes....just take it in and absorb it as you go, learn to think about it instinctively
17.   Plot courses through moorings as as you have a tack, think about an alternative escape plan at the other end if wind fails, shifts or there is insufficient room behind the boats you are heading towards
18.   The reefing laces on the mainsail are too short.......lengthen them.......a random thought that occurred to me in the outer estuary on Saturday
19.   Bite the bullet, sail back to the ramp one day; have the engine ready for an emergency, but have the courage and faith in your own skills
20.    Put the row locks in before launching and leave them in until you recover the boat........something I have never bothered to do, but in the close confines of an estuary with lots of moorings, being able to ship oars rapidly, is quicker than firing up the outboard .......I think!

I am sure more, deeper and profound thoughts will occur to me over the next few days


Saturday 14 September 2013

Nerve wracking sailing in Salcombe

Nerve wracking. Soooo many moorings to pass through; a north wind straight down the channel from Kingsbridge and constant tacking. And several emergency crash gybes when the wind shifted.....and oh boy did it shift all day from north west to north east; from north east to west.........within seconds sometimes.

It was an excellent day all things considered. The boat park attendant was very helpful, informed and courteous. A very likeable gentleman with a tricky job since I suspect that not all ramp users are as considerate as you might hope for. Speaking from what I saw today......just minor irritating behaviour - a sort of  'we are alright Jack, never mind you pal'.

Only one close encounter with a boat - too close and I escaped in very lucky circumstances. Lets just say if the boat had had a bowsprit I would have be skewered and as it was Arwen's sail brushed over the front of the bow hung I said too close .....but again one of those shifting wind situations in which I had nowhere really to go.

Lots of superb Salcombe yawls out and on the water. What graceful boats. A terrible stereotype but many seemed to be crewed by lawyer, banker or doctor looking types; as I said an awful stereotype and so I apologise unreservedly to all Salcombe yawl owners. Did make me chuckle though.


The water was busy in a nice way. Lots of youth groups doing Saturday morning sailing in lasers, picos and toppers; some very talented youngsters out there. The Kingsbridge - Salcombe little ferry boat plied up and down the river as did the water taxi and East Portlemouth ferry.

I started the day with a stop off at the new Whitestrand pontoon getting a take away coffee from Captain Morgan's, along with a rather tasty bacon sarnie. Sat on the pontoon sides and watched the world go by; very nice. Then pottered up river under motor towards the first creek where I raised sails. Cormorants sat on mooring buoys soaking up the sun. Some of them looked really young.

And the highlight of the day? I sailed up to a pontoon......four times and apart from the first attempt, each went perfectly.......just turning up into the wind at the last moment so that Arwen gently kissed alongside. It did help that the pontoon was aligned north - south so that the wind blew straight along it....but its the first time I've done it so I'll take the advantages offered.

A good day and much needed. It has been a tough week and I needed some 'me-time' for a few hours.
The next sails though I'd quite like some daughter for a start and my good friend, who has been slightly unwell but is on the mend. Both are excellent company and sailing should be with good people who's company you enjoy. Hopefully the weather will break in the next few weeks to give us another sunny Saturday.


Friday 13 September 2013

Salcombe tomorrow

It is looking ok for Salcombe tomorrow I think. High tide is around 13.05pm at 4.2 m; a neap, this means that tidal currents will be minimal in the confines of the fairway channel. The weather is looking as follows

0700Medium-level cloud11 °CNNW6 mphVery Good
1000Sunny intervals13 °CN10 mphVery Good
1300Medium-level cloud15 °CN11 mphVery Good
1600Sunny intervals16 °CN11 mphVery Good
1900Sunny14 °CN9 mphVery Good
NightClear Sky8 °CNW6 mphGood

This comes from the Met Office website. Wind direction may be an issue. If I want to head up river it will be a direct beat into the wind requiring lots of tacking but I am guessing most visitors boats have moved off moorings and the may well be some space in the channel and with neap tides the mudflats won't be so much of an issue first thing in the morning. If I launch for 10.00am then I can go up on the flood and come back down on the ebb. I will have a chance to explore one or two of the tributaries and may even beach on one for a week picnic break before getting off fast as the ebb begins.  I won't take fishing gear; you need your wits about you the upper channel although lower down towards the wolf rock you could get some reasonable drifts set up I suspect.

I had to buy some new flares and here is a lesson for us all. I suddenly discovered mine had expired by a year or so. Very careless seamanship. My orange buoyant float and the red a parachute flare still have two years on them but all the handheld orange smokes were well out. Now I face the irritating task of finding somewhere to dispose of them. The chandler didnt want to know. My nearest MCA coastguard station which might take them is Brixham, an hour away and around a one and half hour round trip. I want to dispose of them safely so I wonder what others do. If you have any ideas let me know via the comment box.
I ordered some more sheaves to finish the wooden blocks I have been making and irritatingly they haven't arrived either and the chandler I ordered them from didnt bother to tell me he was waiting for the, to arrive. I do hate sloppy service or lack of courtesy....a quick email just. Letting me know and offering me the choice of a refund or waiting goes a long way. Sufficient to say he has now lost my buqsiness and next time I will go elsewhere.
I wonder if I am beginning to suffer "victor Meldrew" syndrome in my older age? (Overseas readers, Victor was a character in a long running and popular comedy series here in the Uk...a retired man who was grumpy about everything and who had a very patient, long suffering wife...a very funny series......his catch phrase which for a time entered the English language as an idiom was "I can't believe it"...... Said in an an extremely exasperated tone!)

Anyway, moving on. Tonight I am making a new extension handle for my GoPro hero 2 camera. The idea is that it will give me some shots of Arwen from outside of the boat......I hope!
I have bought a cheap telescopic handle for a paint rush which extends to Round 8 feet. I will flatten the end with a hammer and drill a five mm hole into which I will secure a 5 mm bolt. Onto that will be screwed the tripod adapter for a GoPro camera and I'll superglue it on. I'll drill a hole further back down the pole through which a thin but tough safety lanyard will be tied , so hat sould the tripod mount untwist by some obscure method, the camera will still be securely attached.
We'll see how it goes but hopefully some footage will emerge along with some timed photo shots. I have so few shots of Arwen from a viewpoint of looking at her on the water.

I suspect tomorrow 

Sunday 8 September 2013

Stacey...our motovespa 125 super

Number one son rode his 1971 motovespa 125 super 100 miles to his grandmother's recently and he did it very well. It was his first long journey. I sort of followed pulling the scooter trailer or went ahead.....just in case but all went very well. Moreover, she did it on one tank of petrol as well which we thought was quite impressive. At the end all he had was a small oil leak which was easily fixed.

Our route was straight forward keeping to lanes, minor roads and smaller A roads. We went from Plymouth to Yelverton; to Postbridge and then across to Moretonhampstead. it was a fantastic ride across the moors in lovely early morning sunshine. Son had to contend with cattle lying n the road sunbathing; sheep crossing roads; a flock just sitting there. Then there was Darth Vader in Moretonhampstead - a somewhat surreal moment until we realised it was carnival day! Around the back of Exeter along the Exwick road, we then went north through Silverton, Willand and Uffculume. Here the countryside was stunning, gentle windy country lanes, bordered with lovely Devon banks rich in flora and fauna. One road had several white vertical measuring markers to show the flooding depths of the little stream. we did get lost once or twice in this area. From Uffculume we headed north to Wellington, around the back of Taunton and then on across the peat moors towards Glastonbury. It took around five hours but only 3 hrs were driving time. the rest were breaks and mini pit stops. My favourite moment? Watching my son disappear around a bend going the wrong way as he was boxed in and overtaken on the dual carriage bend so that he couldn't filter into the right hand turning lane. His face was priceless!

I think his next journey is to Land's End and back!


His first break at Postbridge on Dartmoor

The trailer we got on Ebay - old but serviceable; we added new wheels - difficult to get as they are the old 'bearings in the wheel rim' type

Next stop on outskirts of Exeter

Then in the lovely village of Uffculme

last stop in a lay by just outside Wellington

'The scratches'.........gained when the cover fell off one day. After that we fitted a lock!!