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 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!