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

Saturday 31 January 2015

My fire kit

I realised the other day that during the summer on my jaunt up the lynher I used my fire kit to start my beach fire at Redshank Point. And I had forgotten to replenish it. So today I took five minutes to make up a little fire starting survival kit that goes in the grab bag in a sealed Tupperware container. It comprises

Three little mini light glow snap sticks
Six little fire sticks
Some powder that catches fire very quickly, bought from a survival store
Two nine hour slow burn candles
Some wind proof matches
A survival blanket 
A signalling mirror
A Flint striker and key
Some cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly

I really don't think I will ever need to use it as sailing anywhere along my stretch of coast isn't far from some habitation but as I discovered in the summer, anchoring off a beach, beach combing for some kindling and small bits of driftwood, and building a tiny little fire whilst making a brew........well it is quite a pleasant little interlude!

Roll on spring and some sailing weather. 
Plans for Easter through to summer sailing this year include

An invitation from my friend to sail within down at Falmouth in his post boat. Then in arwen, 

Sailing eastwards around to Dartmouth and up the Dart to Totnes, taking Arwen out at Totnes
Sailing westwards down to Falmouth, taking in Fowey and then the Helford River, along with the estuary rivers around the Fal
Sailing over to Salcombe and right up into her creek heads 

And on these journeys, maybe some stop offs at Polperro and Looe, maybe mevagissy and a few smaller village harbours on the way to and from Falmouth. Who knows? See where wind, tide and mood take me!

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Dinghy cruising grab bags - What goes in your dinghy grab bag?

I am never sure about what to put in a grab bag for a day sail or for extended coastal hop sailing. So here we go. This is my first effort. If you think I have too much, too little, inappropriate stuff......missing something vital, then do get in touch via the comment box.

Now be kind. I have been laid up in bed for two days with a somewhat virulent sickness bug!


Grab bag contents
Spare glasses
Spare vhf
Spare batteries
Bottles of water
First aid kit
Thermal blankets
Sea sick tablets
Chocolate bars
Radio licence
Powerboat licence
Money and credit cards
Spare knife
Some light sticks
Gorilla tape roll
Head torch and spare batteries
Signalling mirror

Longer than an inshore/ rivers day cruise
Fire kit including waterproof matches, cotton wool balls, petroleum jelly 
Power monkey recharger kit
Sunblock and lip salve 
Snorkel mask
Boil in a bag ration pack
10m braided thin line hank
Beanie hat
Waterproof gloves
Liquid soap
Long burn candle
Spare change of clothes

Sunday 25 January 2015

Proud of myself

a 60% discount sail on in the musto shop at Salcombe. I walked in, had a good rummage; was almost sucked in by a pair of waterproof trousers, but resisted. I resisted several items as it happens. Consequently I am very proud of my restraint. She wot must be obeyed normally whispers in my ear "new coat/wellies/trousers...or early retirement?"

So I feel I had the moral high ground today when she walked out of whiteface and sea salt with assorted dresses, cardigans and blouses.

"Clothes darling or early retirement?" ..... I thought it but refrained.....after all she has over several years funded a boat and assorted equipment without any complaint. I am indeed a very lucky man

Tuesday 20 January 2015

the winter blues

OFSTED....a word that strikes fear into the heart of all sane teachers. It shouldn't but it does. That inspection which casts a judgement once every three years or so on your teaching, your school etc. So much rides on that judgement!
Anyway, they are imminent - any time now; school life is hectic, manic, deranged.......choose your adjective!

In the meantime, Arwen languishes on the drive. I had a peek under her covers at the weekend. Not as much water has penetrated the tarp covers as I was expecting. It didn't reach the bottom of those circular hatches that I have so regretted installing in the vertical bulkhead of the front thwart. Removal of said hatches gave me a pleasant surprise - no  water ingress!

Mould? Oh yeah! Black spores everywhere so that will need cleaning out with soft scour pad and soapy water asap - it gets everywhere and is difficult to get at under the decksides! The mast is looking slightly worse for wear, where the tarp has rested over it. It isn't rotting; still very solid but it does have a damp bedraggled look to it!

And so to my list of chores to restore life into Arwen ready for the sailing season.......

  • can I seal off those circular hatches in some way? Can I then cut and install a new 10" circular locking hatch in the flat seat part of the thwart under the deck - so it gives me better access to the storage space? What if I just ran marine sealant around the hatch rims - would that seal them?
  • clean off the mould - a good soapy wash down of all areas
  • paint over the divots and dings where silver grey aluminium oxide paint is exposed - thank heavens I gave Arwen three coats of the stuff and then four coats of undercoat before the three layers of topside paint (no - honestly - I did do that much painting.....I think I have OCD or ADHD tendencies)
  • I have some lead flashing reclaimed from a neighbour's roof extension - about 30lbs weight - can I flatten it into large thin ingots and then epoxy it in to the floors of the central lockers either side of the centreboard case - to give extra weight/stability to Arwen? Is this safe? is this worth doing? Or shall I just carry on strapping in 4 x 25 litre water containers either side of the case when I am single-handing across coastal waters between Falmouth and Dartmouth?
  • new oars - never got around to making them this winter - ur huh!
  • sanding down the mast and coating it with burgess sealer for the season - urgent need to sort
  • getting rid of clutter - Arwen always seems to be so untidy or is it her owner always seems to be untidy?
Well that is a starting list. Of course until OFSTED have been and gone - all Sunday's are work days; I know, if things were going well, then the arrival of OFSTED shouldn't mean any change to routines or normal workloads.......but as all teachers will tell you ...rubbish!  We are so inundated each day that you never tick off any list you have and say "well done - managed to do it all today" are always, despite best efforts, at least 6 weeks behind on marking..........working four hours each night after school and desperately trying to keep up with each new initiative or change thrown at you by each successive government.

I love teaching - it is a privilege - but why does it have to be so physically exhausting and draining every day?

A case of the winter blues - sorry folks - normal cheerful service will be resumed tomorrow - promise.

Sunday 18 January 2015

winter sunshine

After all the rain and howling winds what a great little pleasure to see sunshine. One of those cold crisp winter days but even on the Hoe with no wind - if you wrapped up warm and got shelter behind a screen, the sun's rays were just enough to generate some much welcome and needed sunshine.

poor Tinside Pool on the Hoe always looks the worst for wear during winter when big storm waves break over the front of it and fill the pool with grimy seawater. However in Spring it gets its annual spring clean and opens just after Easter every year all pristine and clean.........amazing!
This morning we took the opportunity for a brisk walk around Plymouth Hoe from the Barbican and back again. It throws in a couple of hills and some stunning scenery and we always end at a nice café somewhere for a coffee and catch up with the Sunday papers. then it is back home to start the weekly Sunday afternoon school work catch up - marking, lesson preparation etc. for the forth coming week.
barely a breeze first thing in the morning. A few dinghies are heading out in to Jennycliffe Bay past the Mountbatten Breakwater.

looking towards the entrance to the Tamar in the far background, the little stone harbour complex in the mid-ground is West Hoe Pier. the restaurants either side of it were badly damaged in last Winter's storms and still have huge amounts of scaffolding surrounding them and propping them up as they are refurbished.

Welcome to our 'European gateway - Millbay Docks' as advertised by our city council. I'd love to meet the wag who came up with that title for what is at the moment a fairly unglamorous gateway! Still the city does have a vision for this area - which is experiencing urban regeneration. Part of the old docks has been turned into a new marina; the far side is where the RoRo ferry to Roscoff in France berths; the new apartments - will they sell? time will tell.

'Her indoors' outdoors reading the Sunday's at the Terrace Café on the hoe. it is an outdoor terrace café on the side of the hoe with stunning views.

waiting for the footbridge to close after a yacht has passed through the docks, outward bound

A lovely little gem for sale

this is the newly built Plymouth University diving centre next to Queen Anne's Battery marina where Arwen gets launched.

A huge improvement on what was there before - new ramps, new lifting gear, new workshops and classrooms and I suspect a café terrace too.

Monday 5 January 2015

A Finnish sunrise

Is a sight to behold. At this time of year the sun barely raises itself above the horizon and there are only a few hours of daylight.

This morning, far on the horizon, behind the expanse plains of pinewoods the sky is a dull orange. The colours graduate themselves. Above the orange are faint yellowy oranges; above these, the colours graduate out yellows to light faint green; from greens to light blues and turquoises and from these to deeper blues, navy, and eventually the inky black/purples of the upper skies where distant stars still twinkle.

All this colour spectrum is punctuated by the odd low, flat, disc like cloud, deep grey in colour. Of course, this is only on the horizon in the Far East across the vast Russian steppes. To the west, land and sky merge in one black mass, the horizon as yet indistinguishable.

As the sun slowly emerges for another day, these colours, of course, change. Watery yellows and greens, various shades of turquoise climb higher in the sky. The orange glow deepens at the base and at sometime around 10 ish, the sun will make its first tentative appearance over the horizon line, a deep orange disc that inches it's way higher.

For a few hours we will ski in sunlight before this powerhouse of our solar system starts its gentle journey downwards to once again hide itself on the other side of our planet.

What an extraordinary world we live on!

Saturday 3 January 2015

Husky dogs

I'd forgotten how yappy they are, always getting in a tangle and argumentative with each other. On the other hand when they get themselves organised boy can they go. Our poor team of six had considerable weight to tow and it showed on the hills when I would have to jump off the sledge and push and run. I don't know who got more of a work out them or me!  We did very well with steering, braking and general mushing. Only one incident when the sledge went one way, I went the other, the dog team choose a different route and her indoors hung on for grim life as sledge went vertical onto one runner on a sharp corner. I managed to regain control and honour and she was genuinely impressed. Wow!

By the way, its pointless doing it in the dark.....can't see anything! Makes it fun in one way........uncertainty. Boring in all other ways! 

Friday 2 January 2015

The crunch of snow

The familiar, rhythmic crunch of footsteps on hard packed snow....the only sound in the darkness as we cross the newly groomed pistes in search of another night of aurora borealis. It's midnight. Piste slope lights are switched off. The little log cabin bar has closed although some late night revellers are out on the balcony smoking; one brave lass is performing cartwheels in the snow to impress her beau. Clearly an acrobatic snowboarder. Ah, what it is to be twenty something!

We head across the three neighbouring piste slopes and past the 30m waterfall ice wall; the scene of what will be my downfall tomorrow. In a fit of enthusiasm and not much thought I signed up for ice climbing. I last did it in my twenties when I weighed four stone less; was thin, lean and honed and extremely fit. Those days did once exist, a long time ago. I was never heavily into climbing. Mountaineering yes, rock climbing no. Ice axe training was a requirement. How to brake yourself if you slipped on the snow and went careering off downslope. How to extract yourself back up the vertical walls of any crevasse you accidentally fell into. That kind of thing. I completed it on the Mer de Glacé in Chamonix, France. Ah those were the days......the Mt. Blanc circuit and all that malarkey. Vertical spires, endless steel ladders; sleeping platforms in the Dome du Gouter hut. Distant memories that have no impact on the kids.....but once, once upon a time, I could give them all a run for their money.

Anyway, the waterfall was lit up. Two double roped black climbing ropes snaking up the rock face, stark against the pearly white ice. What was I thinking??? We crunched our slow methodical amble passed the waterfall and up the track, ever increasingly enveloped by the dark and the pine trees either side. Inside my head I was desperately trying to remember what I could about ice climbing. " small steps up; feet waist width apart; keep feet level before swinging axes; think triangles.....can't remember why; waist in and shoulders back to place axes; hips out and looking down to place feet; keeping central line of body and central line for ice axes either side of body's centre of gravity"
Well remembering theory is one thing. Actually doing it will be another. Still it will give offspring and missus a huge giggle, only the two kids haven't yet caught on that they are signed up for it as well. That will teach them to mock my skiing efforts!

After crunching snow for over a kilometre it was clear the clouds wouldn't be clearing any time soon and so we turned and crunched back again. The acrobat was still perfecting her flips but the neon 'open' sign had been switched off and the enticing cafe hut had closed for the night. Ah well, we tried!

Christmas Day

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope your festivities are going well wherever you are in the world.

Our day started with the sun creeping slowly up above the horizon. After the excitement of viewing the aurora borealis last night, this morning has started slightly subdued. Breakfast was a quiet affair, watching the valley below from our mountainside perch above the pine clad steep slopes. The cold air is sinking fast leaving the smoke plume from the little power station below flattened. It streams sideways unable to lift vertically against the weight of descending cold air. Temperature inversion is causing a deep fog in the valley below. The visitor centre, souvenir shop and k- market have all but disappeared. Above this fog bank, the sky is a pinkish hue. 

We are getting ready to play our traditional family Christmas game. We all buy some silly pressies and wrap them. They are then put in the centre of the table. Taking turns we roll a dice. 1 means you can take a pressie from the centre. 2 means you can take someone else's pressie from them; 3 you have to give a pressie to someone from your pile. You get the point! It can get very competitive. A 6 means you can unwrap one of your pressies and it then remains yours. A time limit is imposed of thirty minutes. Some family members are devious, cunning strategists!!!!  They are all funny, silly little pressies but the game is fun, hilarious at times. 

Lifts open today at midday, we may just get some runs in before we go off husky dog sledge racing through the Finnish forests. Last night the reindeer sleigh ride was cut short. We would have died out there as temperatures plummeted to minus 27 Celsius. The blankets did little to protect us from the raw wind and the plod of reindeer was so slow it sort of prolonged a masochist self imposed agony. 

I lost my gopro last night. It slipped out of the sledge through a gap between the wooden stringers. When I discovered this half way round I was gutted; bereft. My gopro is my favourite all time gadget and I have had such fun using it. Fortunately, a Welshman following in the sleigh behind saw it and lunged successfully for it; reuniting me at the end of the trip. I was sooooo grateful. The fact that my saviour was a fellow Welshman from the same area I grew up in just made the icing on the cake! It was good to hear a welsh voice in the wild area of Finland. 

And so here we are Christmas Day 2014. Where has the time gone this year?
Wherever you are, enjoy your day. 
Happy Christmas and happy new year when it arrives.