Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and I am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's Battery marina in the Barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises together.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

'The slow passage to the river Yealm and back again': An Introduction

I always pride myself on providing people with good entertainment value, after all I'm a clown!
And so it was when I approached cellars Beach at the mouth to the river Yealm on Thursday, I lived up to that 'reputation'.

This was a voyage that I had meticulously planned the night before with a detailed passage plan, putting into use the knowledge I had gained during my recently completed RYA Day Skippers course. It is scary how quickly you forget the basics, but more of that later.

The beach wasn't particularly crowded, a couple of small ribs pulled up the beach with families scattered along the beach having picnics or exploring the small expanse of rocks each side for crabs etc. Four large 30' yachts rode their anchors some 40m offshore just out of the small approach channel which wound sinuously back on itself behind the notorious Yealm bar before curving eastwards once more in to the deep valley entrance to the inner river harbour.

Feeling slightly stressed from a voyage that had taken way too long and in which my miserable passage planning skills came to light, I approached with caution, my plan approach under motor, to then switch to paddle for the last few metres. Picnic anchor with stretchy anchor buddy attached, ready flaked on the port side deck, I would drop anchor about 10m off shore, paddle in, jump off the boat in 30cm or so of water and with the rear stern mooring warp, hold Arwen against the pull of the anchor buddy; lifting out my drone bag and lunch, i'd slowly release the stern mooring line and Arwen would obediently pull out to the deeper water, I'd stroll ashore and tie off the stern rope on a suitable rock.

It came as a hell of a shock when I jumped off the deck into what I thought was 30cm only to find myself up above my waist in a barely visible pool of water.

That damned eel grass doesn't half camouflage those holes dug by kids on beaches!
A truly 'Vicar of Dibley' moment!
And for readers who don't know that much loved British comedy clip, here it is!

Still can't watch that clip without laughing myself silly. Just like the rest of the nation, comedy gold!

Anyway, as to my passage plan? Well I made several basic mistakes, but that's where the best learning takes place. Firstly, whatever possessed me to do a plan based on an average speed of 4kts per hour? Bonkers given the wind speed and direction. Secondly, I forgot to check when the inshore waters forecast was issued; consequently, the wind seed I was expecting , wasn't what I got! Force 3 it definitely wasn't; becalmed and barely force 1 was what most of the morning was like!

End result, I was around an hour and a half behind my estimated times of arrival at each waypoint.
On the plus side, distance calculations, bearings, tidal stream calculations and course to steer calculations were all pretty accurate.

It did become clear to me, as it does every year, that having a passage plan and appropriate waypoints that can be verified by alternative means (charted marks; bearings to distance objects, transits etc) is one thing. The course you may have to tack is of course completely different.  In my plan, I tacked up the side of Jennycliffe Bay, from Dunston Buoy to the eastern end of the breakwater. With ESE winds, that should have put me on a close reach/close haul. But, Arwen tends to point 50 - 60 degrees off the wind for a close haul and in hindsight I would have been better going across the sound and out of the western end of the breakwater. I forgot an important rule 'sail for speed, not shortest course over ground'.

Ho hum, lesson learned, because what I expected to take an hour and a half around to the Yealm, ended up taking 3.5 hrs against a 0.5kt westerly tidal stream, which I had planned to avoid.

Interestingly enough though, the return journey with incoming tide, fair tidal stream and wind from astern, took only 45 mins. When you get all the elements works!

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