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 January 2014

whilst daydreaming about 'kit I'd like to own'......

Another piece of kit that has caught my eye is the Powertraveller Powermonkey Extreme 5V and 12V Solar Portable Charger.  I have the smaller version which charges my phone with no problem at all. A tremendous bit of kit which goes everywhere with me on my travels whether it be a weekend break here or as far afield as Costa Rica. However, it isn’t beefy enough to recharge an Ipad for example; and it struggles to recharge my GoPro camera. Hence the interest in its bigger brother!
The powermonkey extreme comes as follows:

·         Standard USB & DC Port Outputs
·         Fully waterproof (30 minutes at 1m depth) and rugged built solar powered charger (means shock resistant!!) which charges the battery unit  in around 20 hours in optimal light conditions; it can charge 5V appliances directly too! It can be attached to many things via a rugged Velcro strap
·         Charge an iPhone or smartphone up to 6 times (using sync/charge cable supplied by Apple); and an Ipad x 2
·         Standard USB and 12V DC port output built in
·         Simultaneously charge 5V and 12V devices
·         Lightweight and compact for portability – 456 gms; folded down measuring 180 x 100 x 55mm in the travel case
·         With a 9000mAh lithium polymer battery and an a/c charger unit with universal fittings

In the box it comes with:
·         ·  1 x 9000mAh lithium polymer battery unit
·         ·  1 x high performance solar panel
·         ·  1 x USB charging cable
·         ·  1 x DC connection cable
·         ·  1 x DC connector tip “L53D”
·         ·  8 x mobile device tips
·         ·  1 x female car charger socket
·         ·  1 x Velcro strap
·         ·  1 x International AC mains charger for UK, USA, Europe
·         ·  1 x zipped travel case
·         ·  1 x tip storage pouch
·         ·  1 x user guide

Reviews on the powermonkey extreme are very positive. Many discuss its amazing power capacity; its ability to charge so many different bits of kit; its lightweightness and rugged construction. Many talk about how the battery will recharge an iphone over 5 times; others recommend using the solar panel to recharge the battery once its dropped to 70%. It can be ‘daisy chained’ as well. In other words you can attach it to the solar panel and still charge two appliances at the same time; and the battery will continue to recharge at the same time – sounds great!

On the negative size – recharging the battery using only the solar panels does take forever it would seem….up to two days of good sunshine availability! Not an issue if you can leave it out for much of the day on your boat thwart though.
My small powermonkey charger has been going strong for three years; dropped, sat on, dunked, frozen in Finland at minus 40C…it is my favourite all time bit of kit. It would seem that the powermonkey extreme is as equally versatile and tough…….if only I could afford one!



Tuesday 28 January 2014

The palm be or not to be....that is the question............

There is a dilemma brewing … I replace my ageing Crewsaver buoyancy aid with a new one when the sailing season starts.
I am, I confess, a buoyancy aid man when in the dinghy.  Personal choice I guess. My Crewsaver is showing signs of wear and tear. The pocket zips have almost now corroded; they jam constantly, despite being rinsed in freshwater frequently after a trip. The Velcro on the adjustment shoulder straps is looking worse for wear too. An odd tiny tear in the fabric completes the look.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still serviceable. I think! It has kept me afloat when I have gone overboard on the odd occasion last year. But with pockets that now don’t zip up – well…..I think the time may have come to send it to a restful place of retirement…the garage shelf…where it can stay as a backup one.  Which now raises the dilemma – what do I replace it with?

Heading up the top of the list is the Palm Kaikoura. Met a sailing instructor last year who had one and he swore by his for dinghy use.

The blurb goes like this:

The Palm Kaikoura is a premium touring and sea expedition buoyancy aid.  It has a front zipped entry.  Packed with features and storage space.  Ideal for ocean expedition paddling, sea kayaking, touring, canoeing and instruction. Designed to give comfort and freedom of movement. The Palm Kaikoura took many years to develop and took on board views and opinions of many of the world’s top paddlers to offer a feature rich vest.

  • Flex formed front panel wraps around torso giving unparalleled comfort and fit
  • Neoprene lined armhole to prevent chafing
  • Front zip entry; YYK tough plastic construction
  • Large front cargo pockets with internal compartments, clip in points and velcro sealed opening for VHF radio aerial
  • Fleece lined hand warmer pockets behind cargo pockets
  • Shoulder pocket with whistle
  • Large rear cargo pocket designed to accommodate a 1.5L hydration bladder
  • 3D anti ride-up waist belt
  • Easy Glide strap adjustment throughout
  • Solas¨ reflective detail on shoulders, front and rear panels
  • Front and rear lash tabs
  • Vent Mesh inner lining for next to the skin comfort
  • Gaia PVC free foam throughout

So much for the hyperbole. A video review is here.

Anyway, I have yet to find one locally but what is attracting me are the number of pockets. I am forever putting things down in Arwen and then watching them slide about or, worse still, I forget where I put them down due to my severe absentmindedness, which as anyone who knows me will tell you, is genuine and alarmingly getting worse. So what kind of things do I want to carry with me? Well strapped somewhere my SPOT PLB; sunglasses; my radio; knife; some chocolate bars or sweets; whistle; car key bag; money and cards pouch; personal mini flares pack. When you read canoeing forums, many have been impressed with it, not only in its capacity but also in its essential property of keeping you afloat.  Much has been made of its front zip entry which makes it easy to take off if you want to quickly remove an item of clothing or put an extra one on. My current BA is an over the head one which requires some interesting contortions from me, which as I age further, I’m damn sure will end up with me dislocating a shoulder, or falling out of the boat!

It would also suit any little canoeing adventures I want to do this year in Angharad, the wee canoe tender built for Arwen. There are other slightly less ‘pocketed’ palm BA’s.  The Palm Taupo is highly recommended.
Anyway, it is something to think about and try and track down so I can take a closer look. As I say, I may have to bite the bullet and then the ‘I like my old BA and I don’t have the money anyway’ feeling kicks in.

If you know of anyone who has one and you can get them to give an honest opinion of it – do please let me know


PS the BIG question of course is if I do bite the bullet, as my birthday approaches, what colour do I go for - red, blue or (shudder deeply) yellow?

Sunday 26 January 2014

I think I've found another sailing hero

Named Bill. I'll doubt he'll thank me for this but I've just been reading his sailing logs down around the Fal and that part of Cornwall in various small boats. Bill is 80 and has been finishing off the building of a paradox. Great boat, love it.
I hope I have Bill's wisdom, skills, knowledge, writing ability and zest for life when I'm 80. My dad does, so I'm hoping its genetic! In the meantime after a tough few days travelling up to North Wales and back for a family funeral, it has been nice to just chill and sit in my chair next to our window with its views out over the small town below and moors in the distance, and just read Bill's logs.
Roll on the summer sun. And thanks Bill


Thursday 23 January 2014

More about the Cook Straits

Having read about Grant’s exploits sailing across the Cook strait, the geographer in me thought……..”Um , I wonder what that entails?”
It would seem the strait is between the north and south island of New Zealand, about 20 odd kilometres at its narrowest point (15 miles in old money?). Wikipedia said it is considered “ one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world”. 
Sounds intriguing I thought!
Apparently strong tidal flows are one issue along with the bizarre fact that if it is high tide at one end of the strait, it will simultaneously be low tide at the other end. That caused me some head scratching! Somewhere low water and high water have to meet!!
A quick check and it seems there is zero height change in the middle.  Tidal surges should flow one direction for six hours and then the reverse direction for six hours but in stormy weather this pattern can be severely disrupted with tidal flows going the same direction for several hours more than it should. Coupled with broken water caused by differing warmth currents along the submarine canyons this place probably deserves its fierce some reputation. 22 kilometres doesn't sound much until you factor in everything else and then........well quite some undertaking. 
Well done Grant!

Tuesday 21 January 2014

crossing the Cook Straits

Sailing a pathfinder across the Cook Strait

I’ve just learned that one brave soul has sailed a pathfinder across the strait between north and south island in New Zealand.  Grant Therese achieved this feat yesterday and it took, by my calculations, 9 hours. He was well kitted out with GPS, ERIPs, safety harness etc.  I think the Cook Strait suffers strong winds, fast currents and changeable weather. Friends comment on his excellent preparation and planning in advance.
I don’t think this is a small undertaking by any means. In fact I sense it is a rather impressive achievement. 
I’m missing sailing and am quite looking forward to doing some voyaging. It won’t be on the scale above but my intention this year is to try and sail down to Falmouth via Fowey and spend a few days around the Fal or alternatively sail eastwards around to Torquay via Salcombe, Dartmouth and Brixham.
Well done to grant. Quite some achievement in a small open boat.

Dinghy cruising: the perfect cruising dinghy?

The DCA forum has been spending quite a bit of time discussing ‘performance’ in a cruising dinghy.  What are the ultimate criteria for choosing a good cruising dinghy? This wasn’t a conversation about safety and how to ensure it in a dinghy – more about cruising performance and associated issues.

Not in any particular order, but forum members quoted the following:

·         Comfortable boat to reduce tiredness and improve decision making of skipper

·         Reduce dousing by dollops of water over the bow

·         Reasonable windward ability but not super critical

·         Ditto for speed

·         Habitability under way and at anchor

·         Ability to adapt to different sea and wind states

·         Reasonable manoeuvrability on land and sea

·         A dodger to reduce wind exposure

·         Minimising the times you need to go out onto the foredeck – so all sail controls leading aft; roller reefing and furling of jib

·         Perhaps having some rope system that allows anchoring and its retrieval from midway down the cockpit

·         Appropriate inventory for the cruising grounds and conditions covered

·         Easy availability of spares

·         Easy to repair

·         Easy towing

·         Ease of launching and retrieval of boat

·         Good ability of boat to run ashore to escape worsening conditions

·         Does purchase price/cost factor into this list?

·         Insurance costs – a known type/class of dinghy may well incur cheaper insurance quotes

·         The cost of fuel for the towing vehicle

·         Adequate floatation

I thought it was a very interesting conversation thread and as always reflected the deep knowledge and experience of DCA members. If you are a dinghy sailor thinking of dinghy cruising joining the Dinghy Cruising Association would, in my humble opinion, be a worthwhile move.  Intelligent, thought provoking debate about sailing and dinghies.
As a ‘secret lurker’ on the forum I have learned loads.
As for Arwen. Well she seems to do well on the small craft safety test; she passed the RNLI free safety inspection. I’m guessing that her performance is merely limited by the inexperience of her skipper!!

Sunday 19 January 2014

And whilst I was messing about.......

............with models..........Osbert in the meantime was getting down to practicalities........and actually working it out on his boat. Given I think he lives up in Scotland, I really can't blame the weather down far south for stopping me getting out on Arwen. Anyway, here are Osbert's thoughts......


Saturday 18 January 2014

Model tents

Take one set of plans; mark out on 4mm ply and join the dots.
Then take a 3mm drill and drill holes judiciously.
Take some springy electric cable ties and then add plastic sheeting......
Simmer for a while as you grapple with tucks and cuts and then leave
Come back after several cups of tea and survey...........

Well I made one tunnel tent and got an idea of what it looks like in terms of cloth and cuts. I then tried the square tent using the BBQ sticks.

Now I just have to trim to shape and measure out and scale back up again to the real thing.
It was a fun couple of hours leaving me plenty to think about


Wednesday 15 January 2014

boat tents

I'm back on that again. Osbert who owns a walkabout boat started thinking on his tent and how he wanted to alter it. That got me thinking not least because of a picture he posted of a pathfinder 'Moody blue' which had an interesting boat tent.

these are images of  'Moody Blue'
I think they belong to H Peerdeman who I haven't been able to contact yet. If you are Mr P, please contact me so I can formally ask permission to show these here; or, of course, remove them at your request. I quite like this design - very roomy inside - but will it 'catch the wind' too much?

As I see it I have two options
  • buy an off the shelf cheap dome or tunnel tent and get one as close as I can to the dimensions of Arwen.
  • construct my own and tailor make it to what I want
.........................and exactly what I want is still troubling me.........slightly

In no particular order are requirements such as
  • easy of assembly and packing away
  • storage in minimal space in boat
  • minimal weight
  • maximum protection from elements
  • low enough so it doesn't act like a giant sail and cause swinging at anchor
  • light colour - so light can come through
  • minimal condensation on inside
  • entrances - side; bow and stern
  • windows somewhere
  • option to roll up doors but have bug netting - allow breeze through if need be
  • lowish height but high enough for sitting upright comfortably on side thwarts
  • strong and rigid enough to withstand some wind force!
  • goes over the side decks so I can put things on them without them dropping in to the tight fitting around gunwale
  • elasticated hems - attached to hooks below rubbing strakes on outside?
Some people have suggested buying a couple of real cheap tents and cutting them up and re-stitching them on home sewing machine to what I want - I could salvage tent zips, window panels etc; use existing tent pole tunnels etc. I guess it could be possible. Canvas seems very expensive.

again apologies but I don't know where these came from via the internet. I think the boat is a roamer? I suspect this is a DCA colleague but I am not sure. It is a very well made tent and I really quite like the design as long as there is comfortable sitting up room inside?
if you are the owner of these pictures, please do contact me and let me know - I will, of course either acknowledge your copyright immediately, or of course remove them. Thanks

Anyway this weekend what I am going to do is to try and make a mock up. I saw pictures somewhere where someone had laid out a scale plan of the boat on a piece of plywood through which they had drilled evenly spaced small holes along the outside end of the boat. Through these they had bent electric cable ties - the thin plastic ones. These formed hoops from one side to the other. Over this they had cut out thin plastic polythene shapes and assembled them over the hoops to make a sort of tunnel tent with tapered ends. In this way they were able to work out what kind of cutting patterns they needed; how many tent 'panels' there would be; what shape they might be etc.

It was a clever idea.  Which then made me alternative to the dome/tunnel is a box design and I could use the very thin BBQ kebab skewers to represent aluminium poles and make a mock up like that too!!

Well that is Saturday taken care of and I'll post photographs and you can make up your minds on whether it helped me make a choice or not!! In the meantime previous musings on a tent for Arwen can be found at


PS Of course if I was a real genius I'd design something which could act BOTH as boat cover and a tent........but that is probably stretching my little deteriorating grey cells a wee too much........or is it????

Monday 13 January 2014

In a similar vein

Regular readers will know of my past musings about a tent for Arwen. Osbert has been doing similar thinking regarding his welsford 'walkabout' and you can read his thoughts here

Troy class sailing dinghies

Not quite welsford boats but lovely all the same, Gavin has posted a lovely clip at his blog 'intheboatshed'.

Enjoy at

Saturday 4 January 2014


The new tarpaulin arrived. I'm not overly impressed. It says waterproof but we will see. I spent an hour sorting plastic sheet and tarps. I think I will have to bite the bullet this year and invest in a properly made waterproof cover for Arwen. It will cost but at least I won't constantly be pumping her out or emptying the under front thwart locker.

The binocular and compass bins are fitted. Although they look good, I'm not convinced about whether they will be useful or not. The binocular one went down the side of the centreboard on starboard side just forward of the centre thwart hatch; in arms reach of where I put all my charts etc when coastal cruising. The compass one attached to the coaming next to my little plastic handy wallet which stores pencils, sharpeners, rubbers, notebook etc; again within arms reach of my navigation area!

I have a gut feeling both are going to get in the way and I'll end up removing them. You know what they say.......'KISS........keep it simple stupid'!

'Stupid' Steve

Friday 3 January 2014

compass box and binocular rack

built out of scrap wood.......a windfall of mahogany of some sort out of an office refurbishment, the binocular rack and compass bin just await attachment to the coamings.

Doused liberally in Danish oil which seems to have done the job (I wasn't sure to be truthful about whether this would be sufficient waterproofing but it seems to be so far in 'under the tap' tests), they now need to be attached at prudent points.

A place where they aren't out of reach if I sit mid-ships but where they won't be in the way of leaning back against the coaming; where I could reach forward and grab them if sat at the back using the short tiller on the outboard whilst underway. this will need care and thought.

I'll attach them with stainless steel screws but also may use some marine sealant as well to stop water going down the back of them.

In the meantime, when I can get into the boat without having to pump it out......I want to take measurements to build two 'wanigan's for each side of the centreboard - basically lidded bins that will fit neatly into the front cockpit section. Here I can store stuff whilst on camping trips and generally make the cockpit a neater area clear of clutter. Wanigans are made for Canadian canoes but some inventive souls have used similar ideas and principles in their open boats as well. this web link will give you a general idea of what I'm thinking about:

 The idea is that they are portable; strapped in with clips to stop them moving when underway or during a capsize; but easy to remove if camping on board or onshore. I'll build them out of exterior ply and paint them to match Arwen's colour scheme. I'll probably fibreglass their base and sides. One will be solely for camping equipment - kitchen and cooking stuff; bottles and food. The other great idea behind these is that they extend the side thwarts forward more to make a better sleeping platform for me when I camp on board. There is method to my madness on rare occasions!

Some of you will be asking - 'isn't there enough hatch space already on a navigator'?  Well yes there is. In the storage bins either side of the rear centreboard go toolkit; fire extinguishers; spare ropes; sponges; radar reflectors; spare torches; fuel containers etc...and that is them virtually full. In the under seat one at rear goes spare lifejackets; spare clothes etc and when supplies.  The forward locker under the foredeck is virtually inaccessible because the mast is in the way and I didn't have the foresight of other navigator owners to make two hatches one either side of the mast!! Hence getting the single large hatch cover off underway is impossible and at best inconvenient whilst at anchor - so I rarely use it.

Anyway, long lists of things to do and think about...along with re-varnishing the mast. All to be done before best get cracking on!

Thursday 2 January 2014

A complete failure

The tarpaulin has given up. Three times in three days I have had to pump water out of the boat. It collects down towards the bow as the boat sits on the drive. Of course, water then seeps through the lower forward thwart hatches as well. It's a real pain. Anyway a new tarp has been ordered and in the meantime plastic sheeting has been placed over the boat as well.

Just as well for severe warnings have been given about the forthcoming storm due this evening. Coastguard teams and police are on alert for the huge storm and the very high spring tides. People have been asked to avoid promenades, going on beaches etc. there are a huge number of flood warnings and fear of strong winds and high waves overtopping sea defences. Tragically, one young man was washed off a beach New Year's Eve and the coastguard search was called off this afternoon with him not being found.  In Devon and Cornwall this evening we are battening down the hatches for what will be fairly major flood disruption in all low lying coastal areas.

The latest weather warnings can be accessed at

News on the floods can be accessed at


Wednesday 1 January 2014

Jobs done

Reefing ties have been lengthened and replaced using hardy hemp rope's in keeping with my policy of  changing halyards over to synthetic hemp which has a more traditional look. The eye on the boomkin has been replaced with a homemade mahogany block which seems to be working better. The boat has been baled out...the tarpaulin seems to be failing. All sails have been removed and dried out and hung in garage over the winter months.

In the meantime I have constructed from mahogany offcuts, a binocular rack. This will be attached to the coaming mid ships and the binoculars held in ace by a Velcro strap. No more scrambling around to find them under the side decks behind the coaming. In a similar vein, another little rack has been constructed for the handheld compass. I just need to attach them in such a way that they don't interfere with being able to lean back against the coaming when relaxing.

In the meantime, I now have to compose a difficult email to my brother. My nephews have just started fishing. Very excited they are. Santa bought them new rods and a generous uncle sent them a huge parcel of spinners, rigs, floats etc. my nephews live in New Zealand by the way. So the news that my 7 yr old nephew has just spent sseval hours in casualty having a deeply embedded hook extracted from his thumb....well uncle's popularity has probably hit an all time low and I have no idea how to redeem myself.  Any helpful suggestions gratefully received!!!

In the meantime, whilst not such a great start to the new year....happy new year to everyone else!