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, 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



Anonymous said...

One thing I have been working on with Good Enough is putting empty plastic bottles in the buoyancy compartments.

I have found that 20oz and 1 litre bottles fit nicely in the side seats, and I can fit full empty gallon jugs from milk in the forepeak. Obviously, feel free to leave room for stowage as needed.

This will reduce the amount of water the compartments can hold if the hatches leak and/or fail. It should also still let air move around when you pull the hatches, to avoid mildew and rot.


steve said...

Hi Wayne
I have done something similar on Arwen. I stuck loads of 2 litre Pepsi plastic bottles in the front thwart; and also along the side thwarts. I'm hoping that will do the trick should the worst happen. You and your family are well?


Anonymous said...


Yes, we are doing well. It sounds like we implemented the same solution to a possibly leaking hatch!

I will say, based on the last sail, gusts of 30 +/- knots are quite uncomfortable even without much chop. It definitely overpowered the boat even on just jib and mizzen.

Just out of curiosity, will you be dealing with a lee shore or will it be upwind or across the wind? If the former it makes things much less comforting.

Happy Easter and best of luck!

steve said...

all my hatches - well the vertical side wall ones - leak slightly - really irritating; tried all sorts of sealing including Vaseline on threads - to no avail.

Glad family are well.

Most of the time open coast sailing is on lee shore as prevailing winds are westerlies. When highs dominate - then they are offshore winds from the north - very nice because almost gives a broad reach along the coastline.

If I head eastwards on south westerlies - then winds are from aft; and its nice down wind runs but evil coming home the following day - that relentless beat into chop!

If going up rivers - then if SW' winds - quite nice - pushes you up the Tamar but return is choppy especially if on outgoing tide. gets very hairy at narrows of Tamar entrance in to Plymouth Sound - racing tide out and wide over tide - deep troughs and crests - horrible and outboard has cut out on me in the narrows more than once in such conditions

Consequently I suspect I will tow Arwen down to Falmouth - launch her there and sail back to Plymouth after a few days cruising river Helford and river tributaries of the Fal - might potter along coast westwards as far as Coverack as well.

if SW prevails - could go eastwards along to Salcombe and then north up to Dartmouth in which case the second stretch will be offshore into Dartmouth and then make my way up to Totnes and take boat out there - if there are sufficiently high spring tides at right time.

Its lovely to have options to ponder!

Happy Easter to you too by the way. Hope yours was good

Joel Bergen said...

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.