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 31 August 2015

A local boat builder

from our local paper, The Evening Herald, an article about a local wooden boat builder and restorer, Will And Sara Stirling

Their website is at


Navigator build update

For P in Cornwall........

Until you are well enough to raise sails on your own boat P, this one is for you and I hope it keeps you going and your spirits high. Fair winds and may the fish continually bite for you P.


Sunday 30 August 2015

Welcome back

after a break, a blog returns


Sunday 23 August 2015

Dinghy cruising: Using your sail's tell tales!

Tell tails are somewhat absent on Arwen. I've decided I need some and I need to position them correctly. So for the last few days I have read around a couple of articles and this is a summary of what I have gleaned thus far.

My aim by the way, is to try and improve my genuinely appalling sail trimming knowledge and technique!!

So a summary thus far, which of course, as normally is the case, I have no idea whether its useful and  accurate or not. The problem with being a newbie sailor is you have nothing to fall back on in terms of experience when dealing with new things and so cannot determine whether what you are reading is genuinely useful or not. I guess you just have to go out there and try it!

I like experimenting anyway!!

So, a summary, thus far

  • tell tales show airflow over the sail surface.
  • when the sail luff passes through the wind, the wind velocity at the sail's surface decreases due to friction with the sail and this is called 'the boundary layer'
  • correctly trimmed, the boundary layer stays intact and the tell tales stream aft, parallel to each other, on either side of the sail
  • if the velocity of the boundary layer decreases and separates from the sail, it results in more loss of speed and power
  • too close to the wind or under trimmed - the boundary layer slows on the windward side and the tell tale lifts
  • too far off the wind or over trimmed and the opposite happens - with the tell tale on the leeward side of sail lifting or stalling along with a consequence loss of power
That seems to be the basic theory - I think!

It seems that getting the leeward sail tell tale streaming is the most important thing to do and this follows the basic maxim "if in doubt - let it out"! Doing this encourages more airflow over the outside leeward side of the sail and thus reduces loss of power/velocity.

Another maxim I read was "inside drops, pull in - outside drops, let out" which I think is based on the premise that if the inside, i.e. windward tell tale stalls or drops, pull in the sail and/or bear away; and if the windward, i.e. leeward outside tell tale drops or stalls, ease out sail and/or luff up towards the wind.

Has anyone else found that as they get older, retaining this stuff in their head.....becomes harder? Maybe it is just me then!

I found these videos helpful:

so, where to position new tell tales on Arwen? Ah well, that seems a little harder. The advice seems to be

  • on the jib - two sets - each 30cm approx. back from the luff
  • on the mainsail - one set 50 cm back from the luff and approximately 60cm up from foot of sail. here it is at optimum position for glancing up to, without losing the gaze on the water in front
  • and using 15 cm pieces of fine wool; although jury appeared out on that one - some arguing wool when wet stuck to sails; others favouring thin strips of sail cloth, which doesn't

and what about leech tell tales I hear you ask? Just when I thought it couldn't get more complicated......

  • mount three sets on the mainsail, where the battens are
  • around 20 cm long wool strips
and how do you use them?
I'm glad you asked! It would appear that leech tell tales are used as follows:

  • to gauge the degree of twist in the leech of the sail and how it affects wind flow across sail surfaces
  • want to have all of them streaming straight back for about half the time. Over half the time indicates too much air flowing over sail freely and therefore losing lots of its power, so trim the mainsail. Under half the time - need to loosen the leech and ease the sheet

Ah Ha! Well that was as clear as mud to me; and do leech tell tales really matter on Arwen anyway. Probably not!

If I have got any of this wrong, do let me know via the comment box below


Thursday 20 August 2015

Navigator nutters

One of Paul Ricketts videos
Search his YouTube channel for more.

Oh my!

hold your breath!
First video on the left hand side of page

Oh my!


Tuesday 18 August 2015


This is an amazing work of art and dedication to the brave crews who voluntarily man our waters and come to us in our times of need and danger. Well done to Jack Lowe for such an imaginative tribute and archive.

Spotted it on Gavin Atkin's 'intheboatshed' website which is in itself an amazing archive of our seafaring history and close affection with boats and the sea.

Both sites well worth a visit and bookmark.


Rolex Fastnet update

I downloaded a free app to my IPad which shows me the positioning of all the boats in the race  and I've been listening to Fastnet FM radio as well.
Rather jolly and exciting!

The first boats back will be tomorrow morning around 6am. Most are expected back on Friday. The high pressure which sat over this part of the country today has rather slowed things down. However, with heavy rain fronts moving in, I suspect that happy situation won't last long!!

Sunday 16 August 2015

putting the 'spice' back into my GoPro video films

I have a growing anxiety that the short video films I make of my sailing trips are becoming too boring and mundane. Initially, I did them merely as a visual record of our voyages together and because, lets face it, I am slightly geeky and like playing about with simple video editing tech.
But, having been a fan of GoPro video of the week for some time, I am coming to the dawning realisation that my films are much the same as always.......boring, predictable, mundane, unimaginative. And I don't want them to be that....I want to look back when I am old and frail on some good quality films and memories.

Part of the issue is that I cannot get GoPro Studio 2 to work on my laptop despite several re-installments. It just continually freezes and then you lose everything you have edited thus far, necessitating the need to start all over again. 'Frustrated' does not do justice to how I feel when this happens! But it also means I lose some rather good editing tricks and tools.

Time pressures are another issue, especially if a sail has taken place during a term time. Weekends become precious, especially with the certain knowledge that much of each Sunday will be taken up in school work preparation and marking and so I rush the filming, giving little thought to a storyline; ditto with the editing.

Then there is my lack of filming knowledge. Oh I wish I had the creative talents of Dylan Winter (strangely enough, his cousin is one of my closest friends.....a claim to fame....sort of......) or of 'Eye in the Hand', someone else who makes his films so simple and classy. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I actually scripted, filmed and directed a 40 minute programme which almost made the BBC schedules but it was alas a long, long time ago and clearly I have forgotten whatever knowledge and skills I had then.

Anyway, enough is enough and I have to put this right. Only I don't know how!

Don't get me wrong - I sort of understand the mechanics of good film clips. The Missus calls me '20 second Steve'......a reference to my need to film segments of 20 second length everywhere I go....she isn't referring to anything else I hasten to add! At least I'd rather hope not!

Anyway, swiftly moving on, getting a variety of shots, narrow and wide, slow panning and not zooming; letting the action unfold; linking shots in someway for easier edits later - all of that I get, even if I don't practice it well. Can't believe I am going to confess to this but I actually have a simple proforma which lists all the different shots I can from various activities on a day's sail - a sort of checklist, an aide memoire.

But it is the story line which is tripping me up. Getting a good storyline to glue all these shots together is critical and I don't know what story lines to go with. ' A summer sail' is getting boring! So I need ideas for simple story lines; I also need to better understand what potential viewers might want to see in a short 5 minute video of a sailing dinghy called 'Arwen'. I can't provide 'seat of your pants' scares, thrills and spill - leave that to Laser 1 sailors. I have the glimmer of a story about searching out the best Latte in the world......its slowly taking shape in the recesses of my mind.......but I need inspiration.

So dear blog readers, over to you ........what would you like simple dinghy cruising videos to be like; what do you think makes a worthwhile video you would give up five minutes to watch? Have you any suggestions for simple storylines? You can find my videos on this blog page or on my YouTube channel - search 'Plymouthwelshboy' all one word.

All suggestions, as long as they are clean, good humoured and fit for human reading, are welcome


Not about Welsford navigators

but well worth watching


Saturday 15 August 2015

Welsh for magical Sea Goddess....or thereabouts..........

On the driveway, safely stowed and ready to be covered over

another scrape - I hit the concrete brick gate pillar as I pulled her off the drive this morning....first time it has ever happened in eight years.......still can't explain what went wrong...........

time for a new winch me thinks

everything secure if not shipshape

now is this not the best ever flag in the world with the best ever dragon you have ever seen.....

tucked up, ready for bed and the foul weather about to descend upon us! Again!!

The Rolex Fastnet Race 2015

Starts from Cowes on the Isle of Wight tomorrow. It finishes at plymouth next week. The Rolex Fastnet village is being set up at Yacht Haven Marina down on Mountbatten. I'm not sure when boats will be arriving back but most activity seems to be Thursday with live music. Still they have a big screen and viewing area so I will pootle  on down. More information about the race can be found at

In the meantime, big kid that I am, I'm getting excited at the prospect of the British National Fireworks Championship, held here in Plymouth every year. It's this Tuesday and Wednesday night and this year we have the famous Red Arrows display team performing over the sound before hand.

Awesome, loud, but simply awesome!
It is going to be an exciting week. The big kid in me can't wait!!!

a few photos from this week's sail with 'Her indoors'

sliding past the coastline of Penlee Point at the mouth of Cawsand Bay

that top boom has a mind of its own and frequently manages to change the side of the mast it is if by magic..........irritating or what!

Cawsand on the left and Kingsand on the right.........that be Cornwall over there

ghosting along the side of Mt Edgecumbe country park

Fort Picklecombe off the starboard bow

homeward bound............Plymouth Hoe straight ahead

Friday 14 August 2015

MV Ocean Majesty

We first saw her stern. You could almost have mistaken it briefly for the stern of one of the Brittany Ferries. As we came out of Sutton Harbour, under motor, I glanced along the Hoe foreshore as I always do. There reversing out of Millbay Docks was a towering white ship's stern........but wait, this one was, I felt, strangely shaped.

Ah Ha!  Stranger visitor lurking at the ferry terminal. Swiftly, 'Ocean Majesty' reversed her full length out across the channel and then turned to starboard. Within a minute her sharp bow was pointing south as she made way out between the red and green channel buoys. After passing the eastern end of Drakes Island and the danger marks, she came to a stop just south of the island and to one side of the channel. The port pilot boat stood station off her starboard bow.

Rarely do ships anchor in this part of the sound. Mistakenly I had thought she was getting underway and departing our fair city, but not quite yet. A glance to the horizon and there very faintly, the unmistakeable shape of the Brittany Ferry 'Amorique'. The riddle is solved. MV 'Ocean Majesty' was giving up her comfortable berth to the rightful owner.

Later on that afternoon as the tide built, one of our river cruise tourist boats emerged from Millbay Docks. On the starboard side of the cruise ship, just above the waterline, a large door had been opened in the hull and the little tourist boat, dwarfed by its giant 'cousin' gently drew forward under the starboard bow to come alongside. Passengers were disgorged into the bowels of the ship and another similar trip was made during the next half hour or so.

We didn't see 'Ocean Majesty' depart. Mind you we didn't see her arrive either......a ghost ship slipping in and out of ports unnoticed ................spooky!

So who is this long, sleek, white leviathan? Well a little research threw up a surprise. She was formerly a ferry called the 'San Juan' and she was built in 1966 which makes her almost as old as me. Wow! She has had several name changes but became her current self in 1988. Registered in Madeira, Portugal, she has previously been registered in Spain and Greece as well. She is 10,000 tonnes, 134 m long and 15m wide. She has a crew of 257 and can carry around 650 passengers. Her speed is 18 knots. Further research shows that she is a charter vessel and often chartered to the UK based holiday company Page and Moy. It would seem that she caters mainly for German speaking customers and primarily completes two week cruise packages around the Mediterranean and Baltic.

And fancy that........Plymouth seems to be on her cruise destination.......well there we go. Our fair city has had at least two cruise liners this's getting quite busy and hectic out there in the sound!!

Thursday 13 August 2015

'Her Indoors' joins us for a summer day sail

Arwen and I were graced with royalty today. 'Her indoors' joined us for a sail around Plymouth Sound. With a steady breeze of 10 - 14 kts and lots of sun, it was a lovely day; marred only by the fickle nature of the wind. It continually shifted from N to SSE without warning all through the day. There were times when we tacked only to suddenly discover the wind shifting at the same time so that we immediately went head to wind. Very frustrating.

From Mountbatten breakwater end we headed straight up the eastern side of the sound under the lovely grassy cliff sides of Jennycliffe bay. Ghosting past the eastern end of the breakwater, we headed for the Tinker buoys before gybing around to the west and heading for OSR buoys.

The ferry came past; several dive boats with divers down in the depths; 'Ocean Majestic' rode her anchor taking on passengers; yachts came and went. None of the barrel jellyfish I saw a few weeks ago.

The sea was slate grey with rolling waves from the east. Arwen surfed down the wave faces. At times, waves appeared almost level with her decks. Rather a scary kind of way!!!

An error! I sailed into Cawsand Bay. The incoming tide and easterly winds trapped us there and after 40 minutes of fruitless tacking to and fro it became clear motor-sailing out of the bay would be required.

A final brisk tack back up to Plymouth Hoe and another tack into the Mountbatten area and the trip was over. Top speed 4.8nm; distance covered 7 nm.

A grand day out with excellent company!!

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Budapest photos 5

Budapest's Houses of Parliament

four tonnes of gold was used on the ceilings

stunning stain glass windows

statutes of the Kings and Queens of Hungary

ceilings....breath taking.........

Under the Parliament dome, one of the Holiest places in Hungary
the site of the Crown Jewels....,no photos allowed inside and guarded by soldiers 24 hrs per day
St Stephen's Golden Crown is 1000 years old
Awe inspiring................

In the Lobbies of the gentry - statutes of the ordinary peasants and labourers....a reminder of who it was they are representing

The House of Lords equivalent

overlooking the Danube

worked out what it is yet..........for the answer....see the bottom of the post*

Met him in a street.....a bronze of someone but no idea who!

every day temperatures of 35C+......a regular necessity
and the mystery is a cigar holder. In the late 1800's 'gentlemen' were not allowed to smoke in the chambers and so would leave their cigars in a numbered slot so that during the breaks they would be easy to find!

photos from Budapest 4

Little railways built by the Pioneer Scouts and run by children

simple bars and cafes with stunning food and jazz style ambiance

reminders of Hungary's chequered history

...and 'Hero's Square'

hidden churches with.....

afternoon concerts

'Interesting' street sculptures!

Famous musicians (Linzt)

and always a firm personal favourite......street trams

Tuesday 11 August 2015

photos from Budapest 3

old doors and doorways

colourful buildings

ancient spires

and ornate plasterwork

colourful tiled roofs

and King Saint Stephen looking over everything

photos from Budapest 2

History oozes out everywhere

grandiose statues

even more grandiose architecture and museums

nice informal street cafes