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 28 April 2014

storm tactics and heavy weather 2

'A very thought provoking and insightful post Steve. You've got me convinced now that I'm not carrying enough safety gear. Thanks for the inspiration and the fine examples'

So said Joel after reading the post previous to this one. Nice to have some praise, but I'm not confident about what I wrote in the last post. The idea of putting a drogue over the bow and lying in the floorboards doesn't really seem a viable option to me in a small open dinghy.

I think a drogue over the stern as you make a downwind run is probably a far better option. All being well - you have some refuge on the leeshore, downwind of you! Better to head for that if all other options are failing.

Anyway, Joel's comment got me thinking, as always about the whole issue of safety in stormy seas. My main aim is never to get caught out i.e. choosing an appropriate weather window!  Running out to sea to get sea room during a storm also 'feels' wrong. I would have thought that waves further out to sea will be even bigger and there would be a serious risk of swamping, broaching etc in a small dinghy.

If I were to be capsized, staying with the boat would be essential so harnesses are a definite. Carrying VHF, mobile, GPS, PLB, knife, some boiled sweets and a spray hood in my buoyancy aid - a must. If I had to sit on an upturned hull; or if I couldn't get Arwen upright again, at least drifting attached to her makes me easier to see and find.

Masthead buoyancy - well it may be worth hoisting an inflated expedition dry sac and seeing what issues that causes next time I'm out (so note to self for next trip...........
  • it will be the 300th hour in Arwen and 75th trip so party!
  • raise the attachment point for the snotter as outlined in a previous post - advice from Joel
  • similarly, tension the downhaul more and pull the tack of the sail closer to the mast and secure
  • raise an expedition drybag or attach one to top of mast; use a running halyard line on loop around block so it can be lowered if needbe)
Having drybags, fenders etc low down and attached to hull sides - definitely displaces water in swamped hull and provides floatation. But what about my anchor?

Ah! That Anchor. A 15lb Bruce anchor with 3m of chain and then almost 40m of rode. Kept upfront in the anchor well on the starboard side just behind the bowsprit and secured with elastic straps - it can be seen in the photo below.  Is its storage location an issue?

the anchor and warp are stored on the left hand side of the bowsprit in this photo between oar and stemhead; you can just make out anchor shank sticking up

 If heading upwind in stormy conditions would it cause the bow to bury itself - would this be a good thing? On a downwind run in stormy conditions would that weight cause the bow to dig into the waves and so induce a nasty broach gybe or far worse a pitch-pole situation?

Oh dear! I feel one of 'my headaches' coming know the ones.........confused, tense,!
I'd better go for a lie down on the sofa with a marmite sandwich, glass of milk and Hawaii 5-0 on the TV; and everyone kicked out of the if that could ever happen in my household!

Looking back: old photos and memories

Whilst doing some sorting out of files I found two fuzzy photographs. One was the only other time I have almost run aground with Arwen (regular readers will recall from a post last week the embarrassment I suffered when running aground the mudflats in Salcombe).

This fuzzy photo - it has been taken as a frozen image off a short film I made - shows the time when the jib had twisted badly and the furler jammed. So intent was I on solving that problem that I didn't see the underwater hazards ahead until too late - fortunately I went over the rocks with about 2' of water to spare. Phew! In fairness , from water level, I didn't see them ahead when looking double lesson learnt!

The other photo is from a couple of years ago - again a poor image captured off a poor quality film. It was the time I was surrounded by a school of porpoise in the middle of Jennycliffe bay on the eastern side of Plymouth Sound. In fairness I was trying to film with one hand and steer and sheet the main with the other. Still happy memories. Lets hope the porpoise make a return this year. I did try to avoid them but they kept coming up so close - very unusual.  Normally I try to keep 25m from them minimum. But this lot were pretty inquisitive.  Not for the first time have I been surprised by porpoise popping up alongside Arwen. On the very day she was out for her first sail, we had a porpoise accompany her for 25 minutes.......right up as close as this one!  Perhaps Arwen makes some underwater noise or swirly water pattern that porpoise find amusing!!


Sunday 27 April 2014

Stormy weather tactics for small open boats

I've started to give some thought to voyages I'd like to try and make this year during May Half term and during the summer. In no particular order:

1. going up the Lynher for an overnight at St Germans or boating World
2. going up the Tamar as far as Calstock for an overnight
3. sailing from Plymouth, via Salcombe to Dartmouth and up to Totnes; and or around to Torquay
4. Towing the boat down to Falmouth and sailing back to Plymouth via Mevagissy and Polperro or Looe

Regular readers of this blog will say "huh said that last year and the year before that...and still haven't done those voyages yet!"  this is true.....but this year........I intend making a concerted effort!

The last two voyages would necessitate some open water sailing about four miles off shore and with the weather we have been having, close attention to appropriate weather opportunities would be needed. As I was thinking about this I spotted a Dinghy Cruising Association forum post about stormy weather tactics for small open boats. How appropriate!
DCA forum members have draw attention to some interesting forum posts about storm tactics, most of the posting being on the wooden boat forum but there have been references to other sites.

I have never given much thought to being caught out in stormy conditions. I've always kept a careful eye out on the weather; avoided sailing in conditions where there might be a risk of the weather deteriorating. But that isn't the point. I might get caught out one day. In fact I have. On my first voyage to Salcombe and back I ended up sailing back home in around 15 knots but with gusts of up to 25 knots. You can read about those voyages here at

Anyway, just off Bolt Tail in Bigbury Bay, I got caught by a ferocious gust and before I had time to spill sail, luff up or do anything, Arwen was almost on her side with deep green water running down the starboard side deck. I was stood almost upright with my feet on the side wall of the starboard side thwart and the tiller/rudder were unresponsive. I was inexperienced, sailing under jib and mizzen and probably outside my 'experience zone'.....but hey a good learning experience I guess!
I learnt much from that experience about predicting weather, reeling early, sailing under mizzen and jib, anticipating wind gusts around headlands and down valleys...............

Which brings me back to storm I really know what to do if I am sailing from Falmouth in the summer and I get caught out four or five miles off shore due to sudden 'unexpected' summer storms/squalls?

So what do various woodenboat forum members suggest you do in heavy seas and strong winds? Well in no particularly order, but worthy of consideration are

1. Watch the weather and don't leave harbour if there is a serious risk of stormy weather within my intended sailing time

2. Make sure all our hatches are sealed and as watertight as possible before going to sea so that if I do take on water it will stay in the cockpit and can be bailed out at some stage

3. If caught out, head out to sea to gain some sea room especially if on a lee shore. In such circumstances try to sail down wind. (There was discussion about whether this could be done with just jib; or under bare poles; or with just mizzen up; and about ensuring that you ran perpendicular to the wave fronts to avoid broaching so this would require constant careful steering)

4. Drop the main, furl the jib, tighten the mizzen and turn head to wind but make sure rudder is secured amidships as we'd  be moving backwards. If doing this strategy, then deploying a drogue over the stern; or even a large loop of anchor warp would help slow the backward drift

5. The higher the wind, the less centreboard we should have down

6. One thing many forum members commented on was making sure that no water could come up through the centre case if the boat was swamped. Water could well up through faster than I could bale it out. (Now this is a problem on Arwen because she does have the font part of the centre case open. I think John Welsford has altered the design since I first built Arwen so I need to get my head around this problem).

7. Keep any flotation bags, waterproof storage bags, fenders, etc strapped low down on Arwen's hull sides near the floor. They will displace water in a swamped hull. More importantly, having them too high up on the hull sides could make her float too high when on her side, increasing the risk of her turning turtle

 8. Plan escape refuges on long routes so if the weather is going to turn, get into harbour before it does so. (This is something I have always done as a matter of routine passage planning - its a hangover form my old mountaineering days - always know your escape routes!!).

9. Install some masthead buoyancy if going over a couple of miles out to sea. this could be a commercially bought one attached to the mast - or it could be a fender strung up; or I have seen used successfully a waterproof expedition drysac inflated and attached by Halyard. the latter are very lightweight but have surprising buoyancy when needed)

 10. Hove to and if necessary deploy a drogue over the stern as we run downwind; or over the bow but keeping it to one side if bow pointing into the wind

 11. Make sure everything is properly tied down and tied on i.e. items are actually restrained and tied in such a way that they become part of the boat. (here I need to do some more work on this. It isn't enough to have things attached to the boat by long pieces of string - they have to be actually restrained and stopped from floating around should the boat capsize or get swamped)

 12. Wearing a safety harness attached to an eye bolt, which I need to add somewhere to the keel hog running through the boat. (And having a safety rope that would be long enough for me to swim around the boat from one side to the other; again I have the harness but I haven't checked whether it will clip to my new buoyancy aid or not; and whether the warp attached to it is long enough))

 13. Install some righting lines. I've posted on this before but done nothing about it and I need to revisit this and think about it carefully

These aren't in any order and I need to fully think through some of the points above and what they mean. Food for thought. I am sure people will have views and actually if you do, please share them via the comment box below. I  will appreciate your time and advice - thank you.

In the meantime making more securing points and a fixed eye ring at the base of the cockpit; and righting lines, of course, are things I can be usefully getting on with


Tuesday 22 April 2014

dinghy cruising: Sail trimming on a sprit boomed yawl

Joel has been taking a look at my videos and offered some much needed advice on how to do the sail trimming a little better. Two minor adjustments were suggested. The first I was thinking about. I'd already got the little cord with carabiner clip attached ....ready on the luff around the first reeling point. My aim was to attach it around the mast pulling the luff closer. Tightening the down haul further would help as well. This would eliminate the crease in the sail. Well creases actually. It was a good spot by Joel.

His second point has really made me think. I've never fully understood how sprit booms are supposed to work but my understanding is improving thanks to the patience and generous inputs of Joel and John.

Joel suggests......

"Raise the front of your boom higher up the mast.  If you have a look at your "Sailing to Salcombe" video, at 1:04 - 1:10, you can see your boom bobbing up and down with each puff of wind. You're looking at wasted energy.  Preventing the boom from moving up and down will divert that energy into moving the boat forward instead".

Apparently the foot of my sail does the same thing as a vang on the boom I.e. it holds the boom down.....but this necessitates the foot of the sail being really tight.

Joel went on to explain that the boom needs to be a higher position on the mast. In this way it will be harder for it to rotate. He suggested "The plans show the sprit boom crossing the mast right about where the first reef line is, but I'd try a bit higher than that.  It might take a bit of experimentation.  Too low and the boom can more easily bob up.  Too high and the boom might spoil the sail shape.  But there’s a spot in between that’s Just Right". 

I don't know whether Joel has ever taught but he should do. Simple, clear, concise explanation with an annotated photo......and I understood it immediately.
And so the learning curve continues.

Thanks Joel for taking the time to explain things so simply and clearly.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Completing my log

I noticed that last week I sailed my 298th hour in Arwen. At first I though I must have sailed more but actually I only sail on average about once a month so twelve times a year. Arwen is in her seventh year. I discovered the total number of outings is seventy four.

So next outing will be a bit of a celebration - 300 hours and the seventy fifth trip. I need to give some thought about how to celebrate this.


Saturday 19 April 2014

Parc Guell

One of the places we visited was Parc Guell. High on the hill of El Carmel in the Gracia district of Barcelona, it is one of Gaudi's landscape masterpieces. Built between 1900 and 1914, it was originally destined to be a luxury housing estate! you can read more about it here at
(with all the warnings associated with wiki!)
Catalan flag
now it is a municipal park

the entrance

the focus of the parc is the terrace on columns seen above
it has a windy serpent on it

the seat backs form the sinuous serpent


Gaudi's aim was to design a place that promoted peace and calm

the walls are meant to imitate the trees in front of and on top of them

Catalan Spanish really have chilling out down to an art form

stunning views across the city to the Mediterranean

Gaudi's house


souvenir sellers who disappear and reappear after the municipal police have passed by


the blue and white tower left me baffled but then I walked on and.......

eventually discovered the parc entrance


distinctive Gaudi mosaic tiles

So was it peaceful and calm?
We spent two lovely hours wandering around it
Definitely worth a visit