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".

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Grey clouds, wind and sunshine

I love sailing around Plymouth Sound. It's big........plenty of space. Today was a good day. It started breezy. Getting on the water at 10.00am grey clouds were gathering. The launch went well although I had to ask, courteously of course, a rather elegant swan to move. She'd decided to stay exactly where I was trying to launch and several polite requests were ignored. Only the very slow reversing of the trailer into the water persuaded her to glide away.

QAB, the marina, have installed new pontoons. No more having to risk life and limb stepping off the pontoon onto a thin metal bracket to get the mooring warp around the tall metal pontoon cylinders that hold it in place. It was such a pleasant surprise. Well done QAB and THANK YOU!

I wasn't as organised as I should have been today and I was somewhat annoyed with myself. I'd forgotten to check radio batteries and when I switched it on it went flat. I will not set out to sea without my handheld VHF so this was desperate stuff. However, I managed to find two floating about in my little ditty box; and two out of the GPS saved the day. But lesson learnt!

By now it was an hour or so before high tide when we finally glided out into the barbican and out between the citadel and outer wall of the marina. The cattedown was busy. Water taxis flitted between various shorelines and several ribs were out practising 'holding station' on mooring buoys.
The wind was increasing force four or five from the north east. Very dark greys  clouds lurked low over Dartmoor and the sea was a greenish grey slate colour.

The aim of the day was to sail in stronger winds. I normally sail force three or four. Getting in some sail control, reefing and higher wind conditions are the aim of my "once a month sailing" plan throughout the winter.  On raising sails it was clear that this experience would be happening. Under jib, mizzen and main, Arwen heeled over and scuttled rather sharply across the sound. For a time we sailed near broad reaches with Arwen sailing herself very well. It's just a matter of letting the mizzen out and sheeting the jib in hard. Then playing about with the mainsail to find  the 'magic' position.

As wind gusts rose, I hove to and set about reefing. This is only the second time I have reefed Arwen and it wasn't a pretty sight! Sloppy, untidy, but functional is what I think the report card would say. reefing Arwen involves slackening off the mainsheet slightly, and lowering the mainsail a little. With the mainsail lower, you go forward and transfer the slackened off downhaul up to the next reefing cringle. You then pull on the slab reefing line which pulls the leech down. Finally tying off the reefing ties to trap the spare sail, everything is then ready to tighten up again. never sure, I keep the mainsail at its lower position and tighten up the downhaul. you just have to remember to duck or lift the boom over your head when tacking and gybing. I assume, probably wrongly, that pulling the sail up to its normal position raises the centre of gravity again, which sounds wrong to me, given you are reefing to slightly depower the sails. But what do I know.......I still get confused over what rig Arwen has!  Despite all this lack of knowledge what is clear is that reefed Arwen is incredibly well mannered. The heeling stopped and Arwen carried on  ploughing her route across the sound. Sometimes with jib and sometimes without, we sailed up and down and from east to west.

Not so busy out on the sound, a highlight was the Plymouth lifeboats (inshore and offshore) returning from outside the breakwater; a sight to see as they 'bounced' across waves sending up sheets of spume and spray. Against the dark grey cloud backdrop, the orange of the boats stood out like bright flashes, 'nautical kingfishers', if you see what I mean. A lovely Cornish pilot boat with tan sails broad reached back and forth, a pretty sight in the little beams of sunshine that broke through the low, grey and ominous loud base; little shafts of 'spotlight intensity' sunlight reflecting off her cream topsides. She carried a mainsail and two jib sails and heeled well.

At some point during the morning Arwen and I shot through the " bridges" on the western side of Drakes Island, twice! The return didn't quite go according to plan but we made it. By now rising winds were making tacking without a jib difficult and so it was redeployed. I never seem to get tacking under just main and mizzen correct; Arwen always stalls head to wind irrespective of whatever position I have the mizzen. I'm clearly doing something wrong!

The seas had turned slate grey by now; 'frothy' white horses were appearing frequently and the sea surface rippled malignantly as squalls and gusts scuttled off the moors and down across the cattedown entrance. Arwen held her course, punching through waves with ease, spume being parted  either side of her bow. Only the occasional dollop came inboard.  In the distance, RFA 'Wave rider' tugged at her substantial mooring buoy. The mooring hawser was huge and it was clear to see the force exerted on the buoy as it dipped to leeward under the immense pull of the ship, under combined force of wind and tide.

Over the course of the early afternoon the wind steadied and decreased to force four. the sun began to break through clouds and more boats began to magically appear. For us it was time to retire and so we headed inshore, racing down to the south side of Drakes island, skirting its shore as close as we dare. A series of very short tacks bought us off the Royal Corinthian Yacht club with its splendid position perched on the cliff top of the Hoe. By now the wind was blowing directly down the cattedown. About twelve large yachts were circulating in the entrance, waiting for the sirens to blast the start of the race. Slotting a series of tacks between them would be risky and so I slowed and we parallelled their tacks up and down on a series of short reaches. Within minutes the race had started, huge Genoas were released and billowed in to life - reds, blues, even a pink one. Arwen and I did a few more short tacks and glided into the Cattedown where turning head to wind, jib was furled, mainsail dropped and fenders deployed. As Arwen drifted to a halt, mooring warps were arranged and the outboard started.

We eased in to the barbican, past the fishermen on the car park walls high above on our left. Keeping a wary eye out for reversing water taxis and tour boats off the main pontoons, we eased forward and finally made our turn eastwards into the narrow lane leading up to the ramp. We positively glided past a whole host of large white plastic boats moored at their finger pontoons either side of us and cutting the engine at the last moment, Arwen drifted into place alongside a new pontoon section with the merest of bumps. A perfect return!


Osbert said...

Hi steve

Tacking without a jib. Have you tried backing the mainsail while leaving the mizzen sheet completely loose?

That works for me on my walkabout which has no jib.

steve said...

Osbert, my friend, remember who you are conversing with!!!
So this backing the mainsail malarkey ........I sheet it in tight and then tack and delay its release?? How does it work forgiving my ignorance in these matters?

I am so dim!