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

Sunday 22 June 2014

The Sevylor Colorado Premium Inflatable Canoe

'She what must be obeyed' has invested in a new fitness routine for us. An inflatable double canoe!

It had its maiden voyage today out at Salcombe.  We forgot to fit the skeg in our haste to try out said inflatable but actually it went better than I thought. We managed to pack a rucksack in the back with towels etc. It takes some pumping up, so we invested in an electrical pump plugged into the cig socket in the car. Its slower than the hand pump, around 10 minutes, but I am less likely to have a heart attack!

Paddling across the creek from the Batson boat ramp, we managed to navigate across the fairway without incident. Big silver bass and mullet passed beneath us. I have to say pulling up on the golden sand beach with turquoise waters melding into deep blue, it was an impressive sight. Beyond were the pastel colours of the houses of Salcombe on the hill slope rising up the plateau of the South Hams.

Boats passed to and fro; the water taxi plied a busy trade between the two banks ferrying families over to the East Portlemouth Beaches. 'Two lattes and a read of the Times' later, lunch disappeared and we lay on the beach propped up by the inflatable. A wonderful 24C with a light breeze and wonderful blue skies.

It was turning out to be a great day until it was cut short by our daughter who was in a panic in a car park in Plymouth. A lot of liquid was gushing out the bottom of her car......'what should I do Dad?'

'What indeed'?  I could think of several suggestions!
Sitting in a multi-storey car park for an hour and a half waiting for the AA........wasn't one of them!

the last of the Figaro Du solitaire

David and Goliath?
the last boats depart
off they go heading for the breakwater

Monday 16 June 2014

Solitaire du Figaro and the Barbican Jazz Festival

I don't know who the group was but they were really good

Every year the Barbican hums to Jazz and blues

And with lovely weather as well - what a great event

The highest I have ever seen the tide inside Sutton harbour

The last hours before departure

Last minute sorting

...and last minute interviews for French TV

One hour to go before departure

The marshals are ready outside the lock gates

And two by two they exit the locks and cross the Cattedown

Here is our local hero and his boat team Plymouth - whey hey 'go Team Plymouth'!!

40 boats, all identical; all with their engines ready to have sealed before the start line

Passing Mountbatten Breakwater

The sound is proving to be busy
This is the controversial dock dredger I think
It dredges sludge from the dockyards and then goes around to Whitsand Bay to discharge it...which appears to be having a very detrimental effect according to locals

Queen's Harbour Master out and about keeping an eye on events

The delay, because of a lack of wind, was so severe that the ferry ended up
on the scene which caused further delays

Passing Drakes Island and just getting ready for the turn into Millbay Docks

A few more pictures and possibly a video clip of the Jazz festival tomorrow or the day after.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Just don't say a word........

We arrived on the hoe at 4pm. The boats came out early and we just caught them in time. They then went out to the eastern end of the breakwater where they stayed for, wait for it five hours! At 9pm I called it a day. At 9.30 they set sail coming nowhere near the hoe.

A complete lack of wind!!!

Didn't see that one coming at all!

A few pic us to follow tomorrow but don't hold your breath
A solitaire du figaro which just didn't live up to the hype but it wasn't their fault.

Solitaire du figaro

And this one

Will give you the updates and details on the next stage of this race. 
It's going to be fun!

Tonight 6.30pm waving goodbye to them as they race the hoe!

Wednesday 11 June 2014

The Solitaire du Figaro

Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour  is hosting some of the world’s top sailors tonight.

Before they arrived........
The 45th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro arrived around 4pm. A tough race, it is considered to be the world championships for single-handed yachtsmen and women, one of the main training grounds for the famous Vendee Globe.

They will leave on Saturday starting with a 6.30pm race right in front of the hoe, all 40 boats. It's the Americas Cup all over again and thousands will descend on Plymouth Hoe to watch the thrilling spectacle. And I will be there, promise, to bring all the action for you!
In the meantime the boats and crew are getting downtime tonight.





Monday 9 June 2014

hatches...........what to do?

The problems of my hatches on Arwen are keeping me awake so to speak.
Here is my problem.......
  1. the plans I had for Arwen were, I think, first generation ones and showed the hatch to the forward 'under the deck' locker behind the forward bulkhead as being central on the bulkhead
  2. I followed the plans because I was new to boat building........................
  3. and so I didn't spot the problem..................................
  4. which is that the mast is right in front of this hatch and it limits a) hatch removal - making it fiddly and b) it limits what can be put either side of the mast into the hatch size wise
  5. I want to make a new 'more accessible' hatch to one side of the mast so that I can use the under the deck storage locker.......
  6. ....which leaves me wondering a) how to seal up the old hatch  b) how to cut out and install a new hatch   c) whether this will weaken the bulkhead and therefore should be avoided altogether?
To add to my little woes, I have the continued dilemma of the front thwart hatches. These are two round 8" diameter inspection hatches in the vertical bulkhead that forms the front wall of the thwart. They have a tendency to leak....albeit slowly, when the boat is stored on my sloping drive and rainwater manages to permeate the tarpaulins. So I assume that in a capsize and a cockpit full of water, similar leakage through the hatches will take place whilst I am bailing out!  So............
  1. can I seal these up in someway by removing the circular plastic hatches and putting ply covers over the holes and epoxying them sealed; followed by repainting?
  2. could I put new better quality 8" round hatches in the seat tops so I can access the storage locker from above
  3. is it worth doing all this fiddling around or should I just leave them as they are.......slow leakers and the locker space filled with 2 litre coke bottles to displace any water that may leak in?
I have managed thus far....but I was just conscious that there was a lot of stuff in Arwen's cockpit that had to be stored and tied down on our recent trip up the river Tamar; 'stuff' that could have usefully been stored away in the lockers available but that inaccessible for above mentioned reasons.............

Problems, problems, problems.....what to do?

Suggestions in a comment box deeply appreciated!

Sunday 8 June 2014

The cloaks we wear..........

I enjoyed my amble up the Tamar. It may not have been under sail all the way BUT next time it will be having now got a lie of the land ...and channel.
It felt strange returning to normality. As Arwen and I approached the last meander before arriving at Weir Quay, we became more conscious of 'normality' descending.  We were moving from the peace and quiet of rurality to the buzz and 'hyper' business of urban life; from gentle upper tidal riverine life with its reed beds, mud banks and soundtrack of birds, livestock and gurgling river current; to a sound track of trains, cars, factory hums and dockyard clangs.
It felt a melancholy journey back , that last two nautical miles or so from Weir Quay to the two Tamar bridges and as we passed beneath them, I knew our micro adventure was over. The cloak of 'mini explorer' slid from my shoulders to be replaced by the one labelled 'father, husband, teacher, bread winner'. Don't get me wrong I love wearing the latter cloak; an immense privilege resulting in me becoming such a better person than I would have been without wearing it. But, just occasionally, it is nice to take it off, hang it up on a hook, and take off the pegs another cloak, a different one, just for a few days.

I hope I have been able to share with you a sense of the wonder, beauty and privilege it is to live next to the stunning World Heritage Site that is the Tamar Valley.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Having a micro adventure.....or not?

Alastair Humphreys – Adventurer, author and motivational speaker – is accredited with devising the concept of a ‘micro Adventure’
A ‘Micro Adventure’ is a simple idea. It is about taking an opportunity close to home and around us to get out into the wild; to go and appreciate the beauty close by.  A Micro Adventure has to be invigorating and enjoyable but not expensive – cheap – is the key word here. It must not require a huge amount of pre planning and preparation; nor should it require huge amounts of fitness of the part of those participating in it.
Micro Adventures are about discovering new places in your own backyard; finding new experiences not tried before or once upon done but long forgotten.  A Micro adventure should stretch you physically, mentally or culturally. You should push yourself hard and do the activity adventure to the best of your ability.
Basically a micro adventure is the spirit of a huge big adventure crammed into a weekend or midweek.
So did my two day jaunt up the Tamar count as a micro Adventure?
Well I think partially so.  I did go somewhere different and never explored before and it was right on my back doorstep so to speak. 
 I did try something that was mentally challenging – I didn’t know what to expect. It’s the first time I have navigated Arwen so far up a river. I was getting outside of my normal comfort zone (big wide open expanses of sea not narrow meandering channels). 
I was certainly enthusiastic about the adventure; I think it was reasonably ambitious as a first foray into dinghy cruising in upper river sections; I was certainly very curious to find out what the area was like, what things I would need to take into account for when I next go up the Tamar – sailing as far as possible.

Alistair Humphreys gives micro adventure examples as 'climbing a nearby hill'; 'sleeping under the stars in a local wood'; 'jumping into a river for a wild swim'; 'sleeping out on the moors around a camp fire toasting marshmallows'…… does camping under a new self-designed dinghy tent count?

I could have been far more ambitious and ought to have been. I will be significantly outside my comfort zone, for example, when I don’t actually spend an overnight at a mooring but rather on an anchor! Steve Early style so to speak (Log of Spartina) – he is definitely a Micro Adventure man in my eyes!  Just about everyone bar me in the Dinghy Cruising Association – yep – I think they are all micro adventure men and women
And yet I may be too hard on myself.  One of the aims of a micro adventure is to get a fresh perspective; time to think; time away from the pressures and constraints of work and other social expectations. I think my foray up the Tamar allowed me to do that although, again, I add a caveat that I did mine towards the end of my week holiday. The real proof of the pudding will be when I go off on Friday evening and don’t return until Sunday afternoon during a normal teaching/working week.
Um! I really don’t feel quite brave enough to do that just yet…….what if I got Arwen stuck on a mudflat and didn’t make it back into school for a Monday? Ouch…..the social stigma! 
So maybe I’m a closeted micro adventurer just beginning to take baby steps!

“We are defined by our ‘9-to-5’: but what about our ‘5-to-9’?

Alistair Humphreys

Dinghy cruising: Meandering up the Tamar part 5

Some banks are littered with old wrecks. How heart breaking it is to see old boats abandoned and neglected.  One is an old paddle steamer. To think fully restored, what a sight that would be making its way up the Tamar, taking tourists to Cotehele House on the higher tides. Another wreck, if it can be called that, is the bow section of a hull; upright between support stands…half finished? Cut in half in some serious marine accident? How random is it?

We follow the course taken by many a fine sailing vessel in the past. Vessels of 300 tonnes used to sail as far as Morwellham quay just above Calstock. Coal and fertiliser were bought upstream along with sea sand to spread on the fields.  Limestone was imported and burned in the numerous limekilns that line the banksides at river quays such as Haldon and Cotehele.  Later, street sweepings and other refuse from Plymouth and Devonport were carried upstream, another source of manure for the fields along the valley sides!  Later still, large baulks of timber for pit props along with coal to power the mine pumps were carried up the river.  In the meantime, Bricks, Granite, Copper, Lead, and manganese ores were exported downstream.  Agricultural produce was another major cargo downstream to the rapidly growing towns of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse.

A typical Tamar sailing barge was built on the river bank, was up to sixty tonnes and had a peaked gaff rigged mainsail and a fore staysail.  They must have taken some piloting and river craft on the part of their skippers!  In 1820 or 1821 the first paddle steamer on the Tamar inaugurated a service between Calstock and Devonport to deliver foodstuffs to the Devonport steamer quays, where it was put on the railway to be taken to London by next morning.  By now it was the early 1800’s. What a major part in local history has this river played. Sadly, the railway connections to Tavistock, Calstock and Gunnislake sounded the end of the river traffic. Minerals were directly shipped out by train. The lucrative tourism trade continued on the packet steamers from Devonport until around 1939 when local piers at Plymouth and Devonport were closed and the packet steamers requisitioned for the war.
As we round the final part of the first meander, high on the hillside we get our first glimpse of Pentille Castle amongst the oak trees.

Having refuelled the outboard at Saltash and Cargreen, I’m now having a mild panic about how much fuel is left and where can I moor to refuel. I can’t reach the mooring platform at the bottom on Pentille Quay with its bathing house.

The tide hasn’t reached it yet. No choice but to push up river and hope that I can get alongside Haldon Quay for a brief stop.  Refuelling in the centre of the river is not a prospect I look forward to!

Tuesday 3 June 2014

dinghy cruising: Meandering up the River Tamar part 4

At the start of the first big meander loop the landscape has changed dramatically. The river flows gently, no waves. The wind has dropped. The current as the tide carries us along is pretty fast and the outboard is on idle yet we make around four knots.

Past a series of big yachts moored in the deep water, past old little launch ramps, decayed and dilapidated; past eroded trees, fallen from the steep hillside banks; the brown water laps at Arwen’s hull. There is a stillness and calm about the valley and its river. On a low hill a tractor chugs around an area of hooped poly tunnels. Ploughed soils are rick loamy dark brown. Herons, suddenly disturbed by our appearance, take off, skimming low across the brown waters, the beat of their long wings, steady and rhythmic.

Trains can be heard in the distance behind us, rumbling across the seven spans of the Tavy iron bridge. A two car train appears briefly on the hillside, making its way up one of the most attractive branch lines in the UK, the Tamar Valley Branch line to Calstock.

The banks are changing. Flat expanses of huge reed beds with thick brown oozing mud; they are the home of wading birds; the snow white egrets, the tall grey herons and occasionally even the rare and famed Avocets, symbol of the RSPB. The mud flats rise a metre or so above us. On the inner bank there is an embankment of some sort, overgrown with marshland plants and reeds.  Beyond them lie green fields tinged with yellow – buttercups blooming.  It is glorious, stunning scenery.  The Tamar River and its banks are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a European Special Area of Conservation, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. One of its special features is the low rocky reefs far inland where zonation of rocky habitats, both intertidal and subtidal can be observed. Those very reefs are the ones I keep a wary eye out for. They really do extend inland!

Much of this landscape we pass through is owned by the Cornish Wildlife Trust. The SSSI status of the valley is due to its unique biodiversity and varying habitats for waders and wildfowl. Wintering avocets, black tailed godwits, whimbrels, greenshanks, golden plovers and more…. They are all here watching us as we make our slow progress up the silent river. As I watch the trees and reed beds, I’m pretty sure eyes are watching us back!

The channel Thalweg meanders. A little bit of knowledge about rivers is useful after all! I ferry glide Arwen from one side of the channel to the other as we follow the Thalweg (a current that marks the deepest part of the channel).  Every so often, a tiny tributary breaks through the reed beds. A narrow waterway deep into the heart of the reeds, it is tempting to push up one of them and explore further. But wisdom takes over, for although it is a rising tide, the tiny channels, barely the width of Arwen’s beam, are choked with old reeds. What I would need is a punting pole, for use of the outboard would be impossible. Getting in would be easy………getting out…….well that could be trickier. I wonder how Arwen would punt backwards?

Between the reed beds we glimpse houses, exquisite cottages. What an amazing place to live. All this nature and scenery on your doorstep; it’s another world. Sadly I know little of it which is shameful given it is on my doorstep figuratively speaking!

Meandering up the tamar part 3a

Passing up through the Hamoze to the River Lynher

Monday 2 June 2014

Dinghy cruising: meandering up the river Tamar part 3

We depart QAB on the falling tide, using the north slip with the permission of the marina yardies. Arwen is packed. All the front cockpit is filled with three waterproof expedition bags; one with sleeping gear and spare clothing; one with food and cooking equipment; the last with tent materials. The clouds are an ominous grey, low, and very wet looking. But my foulies are on, including waterproof trousers and we are ready for anything.

This is my 75th trip in Arwen, our three hundredth hour will be clocked up on his voyage.

The calm before the storm?
Out into Jennycliffe Bay we motor and sails are raised. It becomes clear it will be breezy, some violent gusts but Arwen and I potter about getting a feel for the conditions. We are under mizzen and main only. The sprit boom has been raised to a new position to see if we can eliminate the ‘dreaded crease’. The luff of the sail has been pulled in closer to the mast by using some rope.

More of Kevin Stares videos can be found on his YouTube channel at

We run through some basics, coming into the wind, where Arwen, with her mizzen sheeted in hard sits facing the wind. She never deviates, sails flap along the centreline. She behaves impeccably. With jib out we carry out some heaving too and again she behaves as she should.  And then we potter off to see the submarine anchored in the lee of the breakwater. But getting too close is clearly not being allowed and so our thoughts turn to the expedition.

Under main and mizzen, we head up north west into the mouth of the Tamar, via the bridges at the western end of Drakes Island. The wind is astern and the gusts have us surfing on occasions. It feels both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time; a sort of mildly out of control!    

I think this is 'Double de Ginn', a postboat based at QAB

It's going well. We make around four knots shooting the narrows between Cremyll Battery and Devils Point. Up past King Billy and number one shed of the old dockyards, the aft wind drives us forward towards Torpoint and then suddenly the winds shift, northerly straight down the channel. Caught in an eddy we claw helplessly westwards towards the mudflats. Huge gusts ferociously fill the sail; no time for heave too; no time to reef. Out comes the jib. We tack just in time and head south back down the channel putting distance between us and the accursed mudflats. Many a fine ship has ended her days on Millbrook Lake mudflats but not us. Not this day! With a gunnel and rubbing strake leaning in the water we career down the Hamoze to open water and we tack around once more. The jib is furled, the mizzen eased further and the mainsail eased out. We've achieve a beam reach which takes us through the Torpoint ferries path and past the moored tanker. The mouth of the Lynher beckons.

Being overtaken by a rowing boat...ah the pain and humiliation

sailing past 'King billy' and the number one yard shed

and up past the dockyards

And we safely negotiate the three Torpoint ferries whilst under sail power!

We sail as far as the bridges. After that the wind drops and the channel narrows considerably. The tide hasn’t started to push up river yet and with the wind shifting to NNE it’s going to be hard work trying to tack up a narrow channel which runs north. We are pinching way to close to the wind to make progress. The sails come down and now it’s by motor. Up to Cargreen following the starboard and port buoys carefully. The left hand mudflats extend outwards some distance from the shore. Whilst the tide is rising, it still wouldn’t be fun to get stuck on them. For our first trip up the Tamar, caution is the watch word. Next time we will sail as far as we can, because then we will have ‘knowledge’ of the channel and its vagaries.

Past Weir Quay boat yard, you enter the first of the meanders. This one is massive. The river almost bends back on itself. The pilotage notes are really clear. Hug the outside channel where the deep water is!

Weir Quay Boatyard