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 25 December 2016

Christmas traditions

in our house I am often the first to rise. I like the peace and quiet. It is my time to catch up on the papers and news online. One of the stories which caught my eye this morning and one that I have been following for some time is the revitalisation of tomb exploration in Egypt. For a few months now, archaeologists have been digging down to discover a new tomb in the valley of the Kings. Last week they managed to break through into an ante chamber and yesterday they managed to break through to a new room in which they discovered a tomb. I cannot begin to image the excitement for archaeologists at moments like this. As a closet historian, it must be so exhilarating. Anyway, I digress. What caught my eye this morning is that they have opened the tomb and discovered a mummy. This is the first discover of a fully preserved mummy for quite some time. What has made this a particularly interesting discovery is the fact that this mummy is very very old, predating many others found in the valley. Even more remarkable is the fact that it was covered in chocolate and crushed hazelnuts. Archaeologists confirmed this morning with much excitement that they have now indeed found the lost tomb of Pharaoh Roche.

Merry Christmas everyone! May your day be full of joy, happiness, fun and love. And may your cracker jokes be better than this one.
Best wishes to you all
Steve and Arwen

Tuesday 20 December 2016

The passing of AA Gill

I was saddened by the recent death of our journalist and critic AA Gill. His writing has been evocative, critical, funny, acerbic.

However, in his last piece for 'The Times', he made this statement.......and I have come to realise it needs to go on my classroom wall in massive font so that every single geography student I teach sees it, reads it and understands it.......... . I hope I have instilled in my own children the same understanding, even if I didn't express it with such eloquence...............

"I have always encouraged my children to be inquisitive, to get out there, to see the world. We only pass this way once, I tell them, this globe is where you live, not just this corner of this one city. See your birthright, meet the neighbours, don't just leave your travelling to the TV and glossy magazines"

Amen to that! 

Sunday 18 December 2016

a winter sail

The fog hung deep in the valley as dawn rose, the grey blanket punctuated by vertical grey irregular pillars of smoke from early morning coal fires. Breath froze instantly in white clouds of vapour and it took more brute force than normal to remove Arwen's tarps. Stiff and unyielding with fallen leaves frozen to their outsides, the tarps crackled, their white frosting shattering into myriads of little jagged fault lines. The thin ropes tying the tarp to the trailer were as unyielding; knots frozen solid, refusing to allow a millimetre of slip in a rope. Fingernails and tips became bent sore and raw as slowly their heat thawed frozen string.

The car door refused to open, welded shut by a white rime of frost. Swirly broad leafed patterns intricate across the roof and windscreen showed how cold last night had been. Once the invisible door weld had broken, the engine coughed into life and then purred quietly, the interior fans coming to life breathing warmth to the windscreen. Before long, trickles of water started, each one a meandering rivulet finding its own path down the screen to the waiting wiper well.

Exhaust fumes lay heavy near the ground, unable to rise through the sinking cold air. The smell of diesel permeated the street's crisp cold air whilst lawn grass, way too long, because its growth had been ignored since September, bowed heavily, each blade laden with frost crystals reflecting rainbow slivers of dawn light. Further down the street the eerie fog blanket muffled the sounds of a waking road, the greyness interspersed with the neon glow of new street lamps, their triangular downward facing arcs giving glimmers of hope in a dull, dull streetscape.

The gossamer delicate threaded spider web that hung between winch handle and trailer coupling was admired for a time, minuscule droplets hanging in perfect formation from its hair like threads, before that too was gently brushed to one side. "Sorry Mr Spider!" I always feel guilty about that.

I have no idea why I decided to get up at 7am this morning and go sailing. Who in their right mind would go in the gloom with a promise of 2 knots of wind and temperatures barely above 2C? Even at QAB marina at 9 am, Drakes island was hidden by a dense grey fog bank where the warmer waters of the Tamar met the cold, cold air from the north. It wasn't exactly appealing!

But I'm glad I did. Sometimes it is worth the effort, for behind that fog bank lay sunshine, gentle breezes, stunning sunny reflections on the water and crisp visibility. An empty Plymouth Sound with an almost mirror like quality to its surface. Sometimes it pays to persevere!

Merry Christmas everyone. I wish you and all your families a good festive break. Thanks for joining Arwen and me this year and please do join us on our voyages in 2017. 

Saturday 10 December 2016

Robert has been remembering when he built 'Annie'. A master craftsman in his own right, it is always worth reading Robert's ideas and take on things. He, John, Joel and my good friend Dave are my 'go to' guys where boat building is concerned.

On a different note, poor Arwen has been neglected and lies forlorn on the drive. My sail trimming skills are taking a bit of a beating on an online forum, justifiably so I guess since most days I have no idea what I am doing when trying to set the mainsail on Arwen, despite expert advice from John, Joel and others. It is pouring with rain; I've got nine or so hours work to to do over the weekend marking, lesson planning and trying to get to grips with the insane workload that seems to befall those in education at the moment and I have just broken a bandsaw blade trying to finish off making dozens of small log reindeer for a charity event on Tuesday......and I don't have a spare blade. It is clearly one of those weeks!

With mock papers to mark, test papers from all other teaching groups to grade and basically around thirty hours marking to complete this week, Christmas is feeling a very long way off. Hopefully, then, I will get Arwen off the drive and go for a sail, irrespective of the weather. I'm needing some 'space' as 'her indoors' puts it

Monday 14 November 2016

Hold onto your hats

enjoy this film of a navigator sailing in, er, challenging conditions........!

Thursday 10 November 2016

A few more videos.....

From Roger Barnes, President of the Dinghy Cruising Association. He promises more to follow. Classic, simple, elegant and packed with sound advice and experience. High quality and well scripted with a unique presenting style. If you have read his book on dinghy cruising, then you know what to expect.
Enjoy, and thanks Roger. Video clips of this quality take considerable time. Much appreciated.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

forgive me but

this blog is primarily about Arwen and my voyages in her. But it is in effect, also my on line diary and as such, other things sometimes appear. I am hopeless at writing things down but am more likely to record things at my computer, because, ironically I spend so much time in front of it when not teaching .i.e data crunching, lesson planing, resource preparation, on line marking, answering homework inquiries, emails from parents etc etc etc. So when a few, rare, precious minutes appear when I'm not being pulled in one thousand different directions, I am likely to snatch that moment to 'jot down' experiences and memories other than just sailing in Arwen. I guess this is my apology to any loyal readers about posting on occasions my holiday travel experiences.

Sicily was our summer trip. I've done a few posts on our wonderful experiences. One of the most enjoyable was our visit to a small lagoon island on which one of the oldest Phoenician city ruins can be found. On the other side of the lagoon? The astonishing and famous Trapani Salt pans.

I hope my holiday diaries don't bore you too much


Saline di Trapani proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. The saline salt pans border a 1.5m deep lagoon known as a Stagnone, off the west coast between Marsala and Trapani where stunning golden beaches, warm breezes, the distant Egardi Islands and perfect sunsets combine to provide a beautiful Rivera setting.

embarkation point! Out of the narrow canal is the lagoon

 The short 20 minute boat journey to the tiny island displayed a high level of seamanship on the part of the captain as he piloted the boat across the shallow mudflats following the metal pole markers. Expertly coming alongside a short landing stage in strong force five winds, the boat barely kissed the painted old car tyres, before we disgorged onto the Isola of Pantaleo and the Phoenician settlement of Mozia. Established in the 8th century BC, it was coveted for its strategic trading position.

a model of what archaeologists believe Mozia may have looked like 

The museum was fascinating with extraordinary finds from the excavated works. From necropoli to guardhouses; from domestic houses to temple ruins, we roamed freely. The original town was finally destroyed by Dionysius of Syracuse in 397BC and it strikes me that in the fourth and third centuries BC, the mediterranean  peoples were an argumentative lot, intent on grabbing land, slaves, trade routes and just about everything else!!

the historian in me was sooooo excited....Phoenician far back in history......these are the ruins of a guard house 

note the ancient open pipes at the side of the steps to improve drainage

so much debate......a port? A fish pond?  A ceremonial bathing pool?

what is left of the ancient town centre

Having spent a pleasant three hours walking the island and exploring the museum we returned to the salt pans.

I was sooo tempted to borrow this to sail back - can you believe it - the island administrators leave this for visiting tourists to use.......unreal!

These salt pans are extraordinary. Covering almost a square kilometre or so were a series of rectangular and near rectangular ponds of differing depths separated by small raised walkways on the top of brick walls. In the corners of some ponds were portable Archimedes screws in long wooden cylindrical tubes. Dotted at irregular intervals, small brick windmills. Both are used to pump water from the lagoon into the various ponds. The outer most ones are the deepest and as you work inland they become progressively shallower until the inner most ones are less than a foot deep. 

From high up, the pans are a mosaic of colours from blues to greys, from greys to orangey red browns and then to the various whites of the salt. The different colours are caused by the varying depth of water and varying salt concentrations within each pan and how that combines to refract daylight. It is visually stunning. Meanwhile, piled up on small quaysides are mounds of white salt ready to be cleaned and bagged.

Along some of the walls run tiny narrow gauge tram lines and a tiny, tiny sit on diesel pulls some tiny, tiny, tippy trucks. The salt is hauled from the outer most landward pans back to a central collecting area near a road. A series of portable conveyor belts take the salt from the pan into the trucks. But the hard work is done by hand.

Antonia Trapani's family have collected it the same way by hand for generations. Men scrap and skim the salt crystals off the shallow water into small rounded conical piles. From the air, these are in perfect symmetrical rows. Each pile is then loaded into wheel barrows. The barrow is turned on its side and long handled spades are used to scoop salt into it. When three quarters full, the barrow is lifted upright and the last remaining scoops added. The full load is taken over to the corner and tipped onto the conveyor belt which carries the salt upwards to be deposited as an even larger conical pile on the quayside. It is astonishing how hard the men work and how quick they are to clear a salt pan when it is ready. The salt men come from the same few families, great grandfather, grandfather, son and grandson. That sense of family history tied to the land once again shines through. It is a key characteristic of life in Sicily.

The windmills, stripped of their sails look rather like small lighthouses from a distance and remind me of those on the ends of Plymouth breakwater. The wood lattice frames of the sails are tied off with one and a half inch hemp ropes. The gleaming white sailcloths, of the same fabric as Arwen's sails, are stored inside on hanging ropes, ready for use. The gears that drive the milling stones below or in this case the Archimedes screws are made of wood and iron spindles.

There was a tiny museum built with EU funding and it is well worth a visit. Slick atmospheric videos showing the processes, original footage from the 1950s and aerial drone footage from last year enthral visitors.  Old tools, a climb up the windmill, stunning views from the top, and some lovely salt crystal formations add to the sense of learning. Of all our travels in Sicily thus far, the salt pans of Trapani have been the most fascinating by far.

After visiting the salt pans, we called in at Santa Maria resort to discover four kite surfing schools and a host of kites flying across the shallow lagoon waters. From beginners to advanced practitioners, the air was full of amazing shapes and colour curved kites. Spray was going in all directions as surfers shot up and down in parallel designated zones. There was an extraordinary. buzz about the place. Hammocks between Palm trees and almost entirely an exclusive clientele aged 16 - 30 or so. It reminded me of my climbing days when we would congregate in throngs at Chamonix to tackle the high peaks like the Mt Blanc circuit, the Aguille Rouge and du Midi.

More fascinating, were all the kites stretched across acres of AstroTurf at the shore edges. Huge 6/7 m kites with inflated tubing, weighted down by packs and boards so that they wouldn't blow away. All colours, all logos; a true kaleidoscope of changing colours in the sinking sun. We chatted with two twenty something year old girls briefly, whose English was impeccable and watched the surfers having fun before we wound our way out of the resort and back to Baglio Antico. Secretly I think we both wanted to give it a go but knew that our kite surfing days were probably behind us. My shoulder is already wrecked and her indoors has a dodgy knee. The spirit and will were definitely there but the bodies show the signs of ageing, wear and tear! Never mind, for twenty minutes, we felt 'hip' again! Thanks Santa Maria for making us feel welcome! 

Saturday 22 October 2016

Routine maintenance at the end of the season

A nice day doing routine maintenance on Arwen. Now all she needs is a paint!

Friday 21 October 2016

some maintenance work tomorrow

All being well, after my elbow and then a rather unexpected pit stop in the local casualty unit because everyone thought I was having a stroke (which turned out to be inflammation of a cranial nerve), I might just, just mind you, be able to do some low level maintenance work on poor Arwen tomorrow. I'm not sure who needs it more - her or me at the moment!

The weather should be fine tomorrow with bright sunny spells and winds from if I turn her around after pulling her down off the drive, she should point into the wind and I should be able to raise sails whilst she is on the road......well that is the theory...................

My intention is to

  • run the snotter control line back down through the deck and along the port side of the centre board so that it is easier to hand in the aft cockpit
  • take off the slab reefing system and simplify reefing so that it is just a case of attaching luff reef cringle and leech cringe appropriately - I haven't explained it very well but I know what I have to do. I will then remove various cleats on the boom and fill the holes left behind. 
  • tidy up where the various control lines run along the centre board sides by running them through new deck eyes
  • sort out one or two cam cleats which are falling apart
  • replace the one cam cleat for the mainsail halyard with a horn cleat. 
  • sort out my various tool kits and spares - I carry way too much so rationalization is needed
  • remove the jack stays and just clip the extra long harness into a hook attacked to the keel plank in aft cockpit
  • sort out the tiller tamer which keeps jamming for some obscure reason as yet unfathomable to me
  • sort out and replace the tell tales on the shrouds which keep catching
  • re position the fishing rods to a more secure location
  • attach more deck hoops for another gas pipe length for the cockpit tent
  • try and make the topping lift on the mizzen more effective 
  • lengthen the down haul on the mizzen boom snotter
  • remove some storage bags i made on side coamings - they aren't large enough and it would be better to just have one canvas bag of ropes with loops in attached somewhere forward into which sail ties etc can go for storage. I have an old mesh dive bag somewhere which will suffice 
  • tidy up the new cockpit bags 'her indoors' made for Arwen at the start of the summer
these halyard bags made such a difference during the summer cruise to Fowey

I would also like to try and put down some rubber mat flooring so it is easier on bare feet which rightly or wrongly is how I normally sail in the summer months.  Anyway, we will see how we progress tomorrow. I'll take photographs of my poor handiwork!

she needs a good clean up and de-rigging for the winter months although I am tempted to try and get out in her a couple of times in November if I can

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Whilst rushing through the barbican at the weekend

I came across...............

Alec from the BBC One Show

being filmed by this chappie...

I then paused to admire this beauty.......

before my eye was caught by something unusual in the Barbican!

And having walked towards the tall masts, I came upon this special one......

A Russian tall ship on a fleeting stopover.....................

with lots of masts and rigging..........

plenty of crows nests.......................

and a rather fine mizzen sail 

quite a fierce some figure head.......

which proved to be one of many carvings on board ...........

ooohhh! They are I see them from a different perspective!!

the police paid a visit to admire the ship...................

whilst the crew re-tensioned the rigging

and made sail repairs.................

I suspect they will get around to repairing the scrapes...........

clearly they have bought spare timber for such eventualities.........

she sort of fitted in well with the ambiance of the old Barbican