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

Wednesday 28 February 2018


One of the joys of retirement. I have more time to do the garden!
To this end, I recently regained control of the upper garden slopes and woodland. Several days were spent bush cutting down the brambles, bracken and overgrowth. some brambles were over an inch in diameter, mega beasties!

found the steps again

The steepness makes it treacherous under foot, particularly an issue when using a bush cutter. but it is done.

Found the wendy house although I suspect it is time for it to be demolished

The hazel bushes have been trimmed and felled in places and devon hedged. However, specialist help in the form of a tree surgeon and his team were required for some of the work. Several trees needed felling in order to open up the garden slope.

Our aim is to return it to bluebell woodland and to create a green corridor linking several gardens with the field further along the hillside.

It has been worth the effort. In the last two weeks fallow deer have returned, pheasants have wandered back down the lower garden, the fox is back and wild garlic is now flourishing as ground cover. All in three weeks. Been worth the effort!

I am feeling guilty about the squirrels though. They are feeling slightly displaced and confused!

In the meantime, as I finish this blog post, it has been snowing for several hours. This is highly unusual in my neck of the woods, given how south and coastal we are. A stiff easterly gale is causing blizzards periodically and the east facing side of trees are lined with snow giving the woodland a very wintery feel.

Sunday 25 February 2018

catching up

Today I managed an hour in the garage. Freezing, dressed in thermals with two woolly hats on to help the ear not worsen, I managed to round the top yard and sand it. I then added one coat of varnish. Rather exhausting and so I retreated back to the warmth upstairs. In the meantime cough and ear infection continue unabated. I may have to recourse to a second doctor visit and worse still antibiotics - ugh!

On the plus side, depending on whose viewpoint you follow, the house smells wonderful. Varnishy smells are percolating up from garage below. Her indoors, on the other hand, doesn't quite see it that way!

Friday 23 February 2018

A welsford navigator across the pond

well having been dragged to the doctor by her indoors, to gain confirmation of a severe ear infection, I have been confined to the house. And this has given me time on my hands, so I've caught up on some reading. On duckworks, I came across this lovely short article by Tim Ingersoll about his navigator. So much of it resonated with me.
A lovely piece of writing, thanks Tim.

Thursday 22 February 2018

sleepless nights and wood shavings

I'm not that often unwell. I have a teacher inbuilt immunity, developed over countless years of countless classrooms and teenagers. I've had brushes with some serious illnesses but, touch wood, so far have managed to get there early each time and so been able to take preventative as well as reactive treatments.

But I have to say this week I have been struck down by a virus - you know the one - a throat which feels like you swallowed a chainsaw. A cough which makes you feel like a chainsaw is running amok in your chest and lungs and a headache which feels like some one inserted a drill through one ear and out the other.  And no it isn't man flu!

The upshot of this is I havent had more than about 3 hrs sleep each of the last five nights and the only way of getting any sleep is to sit upright on the sofa wedged in by pillows.

Now I share this not to gain sympathy. Her indoors had to look up the meaning of the world when I mentioned it a few days ago; but because, when suffering most, I get the greatest illumination! Like a bolt out of the blue.

I have been fretting for sometime why I cant get Arwen's sails to set properly. It is the design or the cut of them and despite being quite disparaging of myself I do know one or two things about sailing now. So when all of that is eliminated, then what is left?

I must have done something wrong when building her and fitting her out. Nah, can't be. I followed the plans religiously; I triple checked. I then checked another three times after that. I can't be that dim!

And in the middle of a severe hacking coughing fit at 3am it dawned on me - the top yard is 4cm square; not 4cm in diameter! I made it square at the time to save time to get out sailing with the intention of coming back soon after to round the spar off. Only I never did! It should be 4 cm in diameter. Which means there is much to shave off. No wonder it has always been hard to haul it up!!

So, for an hour each day, I have hauled myself down to the garage and through earache, throat ache and cough, I have made the spar gauge, made the securing chocks and shaved the top yard 4cm in diameter.  And when I feel better next week I will make a start on the sprit boom as well.

Illumination strikes at the most unusual times! Sadly, having not improved as I'd hope, sanding will have to wait until next week; as will the sprit boom.

Sunday 18 February 2018

DCA south west group meeting

I spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening yesterday with some talented, good humoured, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people talking boats, sailing destinations along the SW west coast and other bits and pieces. It was  real pleasure and joy to listen to people sharing their boat building and restoration stories along with tales of small boat cruises.

A pub lunch, lovely walk along the river, cuppa in a local café followed by anther pub evening meal and meeting after.

I picked up a number of ideas. Bearing buddies for the trailer was one. A really good informal demonstration and explanation of the navionic chart app for android phones was another. I arrived at the realisation that maybe my white tarp and water pipe cockpit tent may need a slight upgrade (although I don't dinghy cruise often enough to warrant the outlay on something like a duck cotton tent).

Another handy hint, carry a small pot of touch up paint and when there is a scratch or ding, sand it immediately and paint over. Oh how I wished I'd thought of that one so long ago - it would have saved such current anguish over the state of Arwen and the need for this winter refit.

In listening to people and their various stories and experiences it did occur to me that I really don't know enough about sail trimming and rig tuning to get the best out of Arwen. Having sailed for seven years now - I've only averaged around 8 trips a year and most of those are day sails. In terms of sailing hours I guess Arwen and I have amassed something like 400 hrs of sailing since first learning in a laser 1.

I need to contact some navigator sailors, specifically those using the standing lug sail sprit boom yawl configuration. I need specific rig tuning advice and tips.

In the meantime, lots has been achieved: the rudder restoration, new mast supports when trailering boat, a galley box built, a broken cleat replaced, mast fittings tightened and odd shackles replaced, boomkin checked, floor rails on anchor buckets, collapsible sleeping platform built and fitted, mast re-varnished, some hull dents filled, sanded and painted .

So what is outstanding in this refit/refurbishment?
  • replacing a through coaming fitting which came loose where the furling line runs
  • installing a bilge pump
  • repairing a slight crack in the mast foot box
  • making a cover to go over mast slot in thwart to sop rainwater collecting in it when Arwen is on the drive
  • repainting cockpit sole with interdeck grey paint, which I may even extend up onto the rear   cockpit thwart tops
  • some trailer maintenance - re-greasing rollers, replacing a missing rear roller side roller, cleaning wheel rims which have rusted over time, re-inflating tyres to correct pressures after resting over winter
  • moving some hatches from thwart side bulkheads to actual thwart tops
  • sanding and recoating rubbing strips and gunnel rubbing strake
  • painting hull interior
  • new varnish to coaming seat backs
Arwen has been neglected for seven years so I guess  its hardly surprising some remedial work needs doing. After all she lives under a tarp on the drive most of her life and I've been remiss in maintaining her. Those odd little jobs that needed doing, well they amassed over time!!

Thursday 15 February 2018

onwards and upwards......a busy week

It has been a busy week. On the work bench now finished - clean up of an old seagull outboard; the sleeping platform and mast supports sanded and Danish oiled. I'm about to disappear in to the garage to finish the sort out of Arwen's equipment. I assembled the runners on the anchor buckets last night and reassembled anchor chain and warps, mousing (? - I think that is the right term) all shackles with cable ties.

I've sorted through toolkits and refined them slightly and reduced the number of spares I carry. I have to put in a new cleat when it stops raining, if that ever happens!

Rudder has been repainted and assembled. Mast refurbished, so only spars now to go and in main they just need a few holes filled and sanded, where I have moved hardware about. Outboard needs a quick service and I am thinking of doing that myself if I can find any information on the internet about how to do it.

On a different note, I have been doing lots in the garden over the last week. We have the upper garden on very steep slopes and it is ancient oak woodland. I allowed it to become neglected and overgrown so this week I cleared 2m high 4cm thick brambles and lots of bracken. I felled 16 small, stringy ash saplings to give more light. and did some hedge coppicing with old out of control hazel bushes and trees. The result? Well this morning we woke to discover fallow deer in the upper garden grazing young shoots. It is so nice to have the deer back in the garden after an eight year absence; along with a fox who is starting to stroll through on a more regular basis; as bold as brass he comes down to sit on the veg boxes so he can stare in the kitchen to see what we are up to - cheeky mite!

Found the long lost steps

Fair to say old Wendy house has had it

Hedge felling 

Found the old tree house but will be taking it down now and reusing the wood for new raised beds for lavender plants

Thinned out spindly saplings and cleared the brambles. 

Ready for chopping in to logs although an old work colleague suggested building a KON TIKI 2

So, some saplings to cut into firewood logs tomorrow; a scheduled rescuing of the cherry tree from ivy and buddleia overgrowth; reducing hedge height and thinning it out between us and neighbour and then the tree surgeon coming back to thin out and lop some of the trees to allow more light back in. Our aim - restoration to full bluebell woodland which is what it was many years ago. It is part of an ancient woodland corridor and nature reserve area so this management will help enormously.

Busy, busy, busy and hopefully some sailing and testing of the new galley box in the next month or so. In the meantime, some more walking on Dartmoor, this time a very pleasant walk with friends up to the ancient Wistman's wood

Friday 9 February 2018

Dinghy cruising: building a galley box for a dinghy

Part two of my article about building a galley box for Arwen is now available at

There was a lovely comment from Seth (thanks Seth) about permanently attaching the straps that keep the lid on to the bottom of the box so that I never misplace or leave them behind somewhere. A great tip much appreciated Seth - thanks.

There is now just a series of three articles to appear on Duckworks magazine about what camera and filming gear I carry on Arwen, how I go about creating a short sailing film and how I am slowly establishing my own YouTube channel. These articles will probably appear in March sometime.

In the meantime, sleeping platform, and mast rests have been Danish oiled and are drying in the garage and I am slowly reassembling what equipment I carry on board her. Although Arwen's hull needs a fresh coat of paint inside and out, I may well slip her back in the water earlier than I intended for some end of winter/beginning of spring sailing and will then take her out again for a paint over Easter/May time when hopefully we will get a few days of sunny dryish weather.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

The last of the 'The Gran Canaria Travel Diaries' The second walk to Roque Nublo

Here is the last of the video travelogues.

You can download a playlist of the other video diaries at

For the rest of the blog posts associated with our tour search the January 2018 folder on the right hand side of the homepage on this blog.

For those of you only interested in Arwen, normal service will now be resumed. 

Tuesday 6 February 2018

dinghy cruising: building a galley box - galley box for Arwen article now published

my article on the galley box I made for Arwen is now published on the Duckworks magazine website. Part one can be found at

I guess part two will be out next week. 

The Gran Canaria Travel Diaries: The northern tour of Cenobio de Valeron and Firgas

Our last day was spent driving to the north via the western circumnavigation route GC-200. It is a stunning drive, particularly the upper north west section which hugs the coastline. Vertical cliffs pounded by the big Atlantic storm waves. Breath taking.

The road between Mogan and La Aldea  de San Nicholas is a Top Gear type of drive. The road loops and twists and clings to steep mountain sides. Astonishing views across great valleys and mountain ridges; occasional glimpses down ravines to the wild Atlantic. Small mountain communities of white washed houses with flat roofs. There is a point along this road where you transition from the dusty lava flows and barren landscape of the southern island to one of verdant green lush vegetation. Hillslopes are covered in a variety of shrubs. Moss grows on rocky outcrops and rocks glisten from moisture that seeps outwards from the soil layer. This island is definitely one of two climates. Nowhere is this more evident that around La Aldea. The hillsides and gently flattening or terraced spurs of land that extend down from the great mountain ranges are covered with banana plantations. No ordinary plantations are these for they are covered. Across hill slopes, hundreds of acres of white, semi translucent plastic sheeting spread forth as large squares or rectangles; the plastic sheeting supported on mesh netting strung across large steel frames and thin girders. The sides of these covered areas are vertical, the shapes square, straight, symmetrical. Through the odd tear, glimpses of nurseries and fully-grown bananas. It is an amazing area and well worth the hour drive from Mogan just to view this.

After such a twisty, inspiring but mentally draining drive, Playa de La Aldea was a welcome relief. Here a small L shaped stone breakwater protected a small fleet of open inshore fishing boats; a stony beach and a few cafes. On the beach were wooden platforms for sunbathing. A café was prettily decorated with painted fish and fishing nets. To one side a huge 12m square helicopter landing pad marked by a huge white H and a flagpole with a bright red and white stripped windsock. Behind it, a picnic area beneath dwarf palm trees, shady and protected from the strong northerly winds. Gran Canaria does municipal picnic sites really well. They are clean, well-cared for, landscaped. There are BBQ brick grills and ovens. They are popular and even in the winter season, there were several small camper vans and vans parked here overnight.

Shooting past Agaete on the GC-2, and old Galdar, we headed towards one of the principal archaeological sites on Gran Canaria,  Cenobio de Valeron.  In English it means Valeron’s Monastery. It is in fact a pre-hispanic collective granary built before Roman times and used until the conquest of the island by the Spanish in the 15th century. Over looking the San Felipe ravine with its huge GC2 motorway bridge, the caves are dug out of soft volcanic tuff and the steep sided slopes and location way back from the coast made it an easily defensible site. There are some 300 compartments on eight levels and it was, in its own way, quietly impressive. Each compartment was shut with a door made of wood and then sealed with an ash mortar to make the compartment weather proof. When they were excavated idols, paintings, ceramics, human bones and ash were found in some of the compartments. The views from the caves were impressive and it was a good little site to visit on the GC 291.

Firgas proved to be a delight. Winding up the GC-350, past hillside towns of brightly coloured houses, market garden terraces and banana plantations, the scenery was stunning. We love the local houses, especially those where owners had allowed many boulders to appear through the exterior paint. The older houses in the narrower streets had the traditional arched wooden framed windows opening onto ornate balconies with intricate iron work.

One of the really attractive features of Firgas is the one street called Paseo de Canarias. Here you find a 25m long waterfall cascade bordered by attractive flower beds. Alongside, running up the gradient are found beautiful porcelain tiled bench seats, one per district on Gran Canaria. Blues, yellows and whites, the seats incorporate wonderful tiled pictures of scenery from that particular district. Above each one is its associated heraldic shield.

Better still, is the street above with a similar cascade but with relief maps and hand painted tile pictures for each individual Canary island. It is simple, effective and very appealing. Throw in a lovely church, town square and small traditional corner bar and Firgas prove a lovely mid tour stopover, a really pleasant surprise.

The café con Leche was very tasty but nowhere near as tasty as the warm apple pie with thick caramel sauce and sweet vanilla ice cream; a small bar with its low ceiling, tiny windows, wooden ceiling beams and bar tables built on old wine barrels. We sat on wicker chairs out on the pedestrianised pavement area overlooking the waterfall cascade. Locals chatted away and through the open heavy oak wood door we studied the traditional bar interior. Across the road from us, the stylish Church of San Roque and its garden square. It was built in 1502 on the ruins of what was the first chapel. Within the square is a statute of one of the town’s saints, San Juan De Ortega. The views from the northern part of the square across the coastal cliffs and out to the Atlantic, are stunning. Behind us was the Casa de la Cultura, formerly a hotel and then a town hall, it now houses the library, an exhibition room and an events hall.  

With a population of around 7000 and founded in 1488, the town with its views of the northern part of the island and its famed bottled water industry, was worth a detour.

And one last feature, an unusual statute of a stock man with a bull. Hidden in a garden between palms, shrubs and bamboo, the statute of Pedro Aleman Montesdeoca came as a surprise. Moreover, this livestock farmer is still alive, is a local legend and is in his 90’s. Somewhere in the town is a museum with a display of all his trophies. I think it’s a rather lovely story.

Sunday 4 February 2018

so much on the work bench

Well there is so much on the work bench at the moment. My friend loaned me an old seagull outboard many, many years ago, which I'd forgotten about but found during the garage clearance. Its clean and the fuel was emptied from the tank a long time ago but my friend is going to give a go at restoring it. The piston seems to be moving so it hasn't seized. He's talented and creative so if anyone can restore it, he most certainly can.

Also on the bench the new sleeping platform with its supports that needs varnishing; also in need of varnish two mast support pieces for the rear transom deck. The front one is in the process of being cut on the band saw and sanded as well.

The runners for the two anchor trays have been varnished and need attaching to respective buckets.
All in all that should keep me busy for the next couple of days.
After that, I need to reorganise how I pack things in Arwen - a spring clean and prioritization exercise is due.

In the meantime I have started getting out whenever the weather is amenable to secure some coastal footage which can be incorporated in to this year's video diaries; and then there are a few magazine articles lying on my study desk which need finishing and proof reading before submission. That deadline is looming fast so I need to get a move on!

The walk to Roque Nublo in Gran Canaria

The GC503, is according to Jose, a very important road. It is the only one that effectively crosses the land from SW to NE.  It may well be a very important road but it is also exceedingly narrow, exceedingly steep and frankly terrifying in places. Still there is nothing like an adrenaline rush to tell you that you are indeed, still alive and kicking.

How they construct these roads which cling to towering cliffsides over 900m high, I do not know. I always thought Brunel bridge across the Tamar was a marvel of engineering. I am revising my opinion! It is, but road GC503 beats it!

Up through rock barren desolate valleys with small villages and towering lava cliffs either side; up through pine forests which give some relief because they block the view. Blind corners abound; you develop a crick in your neck trying to look up and behind you at the same time to see if anyone is coming down the road above you before you reach that blind double back bend. The car never comes out of second gear; get a corner wrong and it stays in first due to the steep gradient on the bend!  At one point, following a fleet of seven van like people carriers, we reached a point in the road where we actually saw all seven up above us, one per switch back. It was awesome and scary at the same time. Seven white mini coaches glued to the cliffside.

Our destination was the interior of the island, the town of Acayata and beyond it Roque Nublo. Our intention to circumnavigate it; do some bouldering on some of the smaller buttresses. The views from the top were said to be simply stunning, across the whole island in every direction and on good clear days across to MT. Teide on neighbouring Tenerife. 

We climbed; the Citroen Cactus 1.8 strained. But, it held the corners. It held corners like glue and we were somewhat thankful we had opted for the larger vehicle on this occasion, unlike the year before in Sicily when we opted for a 1.1 Toyota Ayia (very good but positively outstripped on the mountains of Sicily).

Through mountain villages perched on cliff buttresses, white washed, red roofed stone houses and narrow streets with the obligatory simple but stunning church and town square; bright flowers bloomed better the higher we went; gardens with date palms and eucalyptus trees for shade. The higher we went, the more smallholdings we saw. On terraces built into the hillside were ccircular open concrete water tanks, their contents a greenish hue; their sides stained with the tide marks of previous water levels. Most of the tanks we saw were only at half capacity, emphasising the drought that seems to be affecting the island.

The path to Roque Nublo is paved. A sort of crazy, flat boulder paving for the first 300m and after that it is rough track. Tiny rivulets flowed down the middle of the paths. Drips fell from pine tree branches, perfuming the fresh mountain air with their delicate fragrance. Underfoot, large pinecones littered the floor along with 6” soft pine needles. Deep russet brown, they gave the whole orange floor a deep orange colour, very stunning against the vivid fresh green of the needles on the trees.

The views up the path as it ascended steeply would have been stunning. Between the orangery coloured trunks could be seen glimpses of valleys 2 or 3 thousand feet below. I say occasionally, for we chose a day when thick cloud seemed to hang everywhere. Think thick murk that graces Scottish and welsh hill tops; think fine drizzle mist which permeates everything. Think howling force 6 winds.  And yes, people really were up there in T shirts, shorts and flipflops. You could spot the British, German and Scandinavians. Dressed in full walking or mountain gear appropriate for the conditions. I’d forsaken walking boots for stout walking trainers but flip flops? Seriously?  Adventurous spirit or foolhardiness? Take your pick!

As the path became rockier, conditions became slippier underfoot. Everything had a glistening sheen from dampness. At times, trying to walk the narrow paths with their precipitous drops on one side on slippy boulders and rocks, required good hand and foot coordination! I’m sure at one point I was on all fours crawling along but then I had taken a wrong turning and was skirting a 40m high rock buttress on a path a mere 18” wide.  I am always amazed how I haven’t lost my head for heights on paths and ridges like this, yet I can’t go to the edge of my hotel balcony without suffering vertigo. Go figure!

The summit of Roque Nublo, is it worth it? Well the flat pitted rocky plateau at the top was a surprise. Didn’t expect that. The views, well in clear weather, I suspect they would be really stunning and worth the trek.

There are several footpath options. I have been immensely impressed with the network of sign posted trekking routes across the island. At Roque Nublo – you can take the easy option and park within 2 km of the summit, but be aware those car parks get immensely crowded. Or you can follow the road further south and park at more remote car parks and walk the lower circumnavigating routes which eventually wind their way to the top; steeper but frankly less crowded and more impressive!