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 www.YouTube.com/c/plymouthwelshboy 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, 27 August 2018

Dinghy cruising: effective sail trimming on a welsford navigator

Sail trimming baffles me at the best of times. Recently, there has been much debate about my inability to trim Arwen's sails correctly. This is due to inexperience as a sailor and not fully understanding sail dynamics.


As one member of the dinghy cruising association Facebook group told me......"it can take years to internalise at an unconscious level the automatic unthinking adjustment of sails"......rather like we all do when driving a car.


A very good friend managed to get some photographs of Arwen out on the water recently. These are the very first photos I have ever seen of Arwen sailing and they have provided me with lots of information.

welsford navigator with standing lug sail

The saggy jib stay. The dreaded throat to clew crease. The not completely set jib. The poor mainsail shape.

I'm not really doing justice to John Welsford's design.


But there are a few things beginning to emerge.  Firstly, whether the mainsail should actually be tied on at the very aft end of the top yard. Secondly, how the tack should be held much closer to the mast. Thirdly, how the down-haul tackle should be attached to the top of the deck next to the mast base.


This last one is an interesting point, since I have tried that arrangement and there was no way I could get any tension on the luff before both blocks had met at deck surface. It just didn't work.
Which raises the question why not and whether I have done something stupid during the build process and got my measurements wrong! Not only did the blocks close too early without applying sufficient tension but that the sail foot also caught up with the coaming top. Ho hum!


So next steps.
1. move the top peak sail tie on point to very aft of yard which may lift the tack a few inches up the mast
2. refit deck mounted down-haul tackle and see if doing 1 above makes any difference
3. do 1 above but alter the down-haul tackle so that a line runs from an S hook on the sail tack, down through the deck, through a turning block and then reattaches to the down-haul tackle which would run horizontally along the front of the centrecase/front thwart top
4. adjust the bobstay fittings to apply tension to the bowsprit so that the jib stay gets more tension on it

welsford navigator arwen

Over the next few weeks, Arwen and I will get out in the Sound and see whether these adjustments work. we could always enlist the help of a local sailmaker to see if adjustments could be made to the sail shape as well I guess, if need be.

Whilst out on the water, we will also spend time doing the following until it becomes better understood and more automatic


  • reefing the main
  • sailing under reefed main only
  • sailing under jib and mizzen only
  • sailing under main and mizzen only
  • dropping mainsail between lazy jacks and down into the boat more quickly that I do now (and finding the best place to store the furled mainsail, yard and boom in the boat so that it doesn't interfere with tiller etc. 
john welsford navigator arwen

I also want to set up a separate area on the rear thwart of my charts - so fitting some thin bungee cord; and sorting out where to put the smaller kedge anchor so that I have more clear space on the bottom boards. I'd like to try and free up room to move the position of the galley box so that I can actually use it whilst hove to at sea, without having to lift it off the floor and onto one of the side thwarts. it was something I noticed in one of Roger Barnes's videos about his homely dinghy. He was able to use his galley box in its original position. Another illustration of his ability to make things simple, effective, functional and seaman like.


Sunday, 26 August 2018

Dinghy cruising: sailing in Salcombe - a trailer for forthcoming series

Despite the upset of last week, (see previous posts) there will be a series dinghy cruising the Salcombe and Kingsbridge estuary coming out during late September/October.

Here is a taster of things to come, a thank you to all those who helped me with advice last week. thank you all and enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVBFY7TWjd8


Saturday, 25 August 2018

Dinghy cruising: sailing a small open boat in heavier weather

Following on from my previous post and Facebook pleas for advice

Tips on what to do next time

Firstly, thank you to all of you who so kindly took the time to offer advice, tips, words or wisdom and encouragement. They were greatly appreciated. As a mountaineer and a mountain leader, I always encouraged students to use hindsight to analyse difficult situations they encountered in the ‘hills’. So, with this in mind, here is what I have gleaned from your comments. Now I need to go away and think about it and where necessary, act upon it. Apologies to anyone who sees their comment somewhat prĂ©cised or paraphrased.

Why didn’t things work?

The navigator is an amazingly seaworthy boat with a variety of sail configurations. She is a strong, stable, well built, small open coastal cruiser in which I have complete faith and trust. In far more capable hands, she has proven herself on some amazing offshore passages and voyages. People expressed surprise that a Welsford boat could not sail to weather at about 55-60 deg off the wind and so get me to another position. Basically, it isn’t the boat! It can do all of that and so much more. In which case it was me!!  So, I handled things badly in some way due to lack of experience. From what I can remember, things went like this.

The events:

After a couple of severe gusts during which we heeled rather severely, and with increasing windspeeds and lumpier seas developing, I turned to windward and ran downwind under mizzen, main and jib and slightly out to sea to get space from the lee shore that was slightly parallel and ahead of me.
 I then managed to turn head to wind in a trough and dropped the main between lazy jacks and tied sail up whilst avoiding being sea sick…..a first for me!! Now under jib and mizzen, I ran further downwind and out to sea slightly whilst I tried to regain some composure before deciding that such a course was not an option. With mizzen practically at right angles to the transom, I furled some of the jib.
This course would take me along a rocky coast with few natural bays or gullies that I could safely get into. I would be in danger of crossing possible severe over-falls around Start Point and then having to turn northwards to get onto a broad reach to make the safety of Dartmouth; around 10 miles at least. A mile and a half into the wind behind me were the steep cliffs at the harbour entrance to where I could make out far calmer water and so rightly or wrongly that was elected for option. 
When I came to tack around, I would get so far and then stall; or Arwen just wouldn’t make the turn. When I gybed, a similar result happened. I tried pulling the mizzen base in to help make the turn; backing the jib; centreboard fully down; centreboard up. I just could not get to head to wind before being blown sideways at the bow and turned back downwind.

Why might this have happened apart from my inexperience and incorrect sailing strategies?

Some people suggested it may very well be that the jib and mizzen don't have enough power to drive the boat to windward when the windage from the hull is increased due to high angles of heel. As the sails become more horizontal they lose power, and as the hull becomes more vertical there's more surface area for the wind to push against.  Add to that the force of the waves striking the windward side of the boat, and clawing off to windward would certainly have been a challenge.
The boat needs a certain amount of "horsepower" to overcome the push of the wind on the hull and rig so it can go to windward.  There is a windspeed and sea state combination where it’s just not possible to do that.
As one person observed “If you think about the physics, you can see why turning into the wind with only jib & mizzen would cause problems. At the point where you are beam on, force is being applied to both ends of the hull, almost a guaranteed stall”.

So, what could I have done differently – your tips and thoughts

This is where I have plenty to think about and go out and do so thank you to you all. Suggestions included:
        “To turn upwind in such situation next time, reduce the lateral force on the bow which was pushing it away from the wind direction, by using reefed main and mizzen only”.
        “Difficult rudder control suggests imbalanced sails so just the reefed main would be better option as there are less sails to deal with and it makes running and reaching easier. A mizzen has tendency to head boat up into wind, so use just reefed main”.
        “When tacking, release the main (or mizzen sheet) and back wind the jib to allow the bow to come through the eye of the wind? Only when on the other tack release the back-winded jib and sheet in the mizzen”.
        “Drop the main and put up a small trysail?”
        “Think of your mizzen as an ariel rudder. Take all your sails down, she should sit more or less head to wind.  Ease the mizzen out and she will bear away downwind. To sail towards the wind, sheet the mizzen in and then sheet in the headsail.   If you were in a lumpy sea with a lot of wind you probably didn’t have enough power to close haul with just a headsail and mizzen.  Make sure you always have a lot of sea-room and try sailing “full and bye” a few points off the wind which will give you more speed.  When you are on the move, water passing over your rudder will allow you to tack, choose your wave, try backing the headsail and mizzen if possible to help you round.  To gybe, let the mizzen out, again make sure you have sea-room
        “Deep reef the main and sail with headsail, main and mizzen. Reef early and keep to windward with loads of sea room to allow for heavy weather manoeuvring”.
        “Fully down centreboard would be my choice in those conditions”
        “In winds from 16-20 knots hold sheets in hands, not in jammers to let them go fast in case of a gust and go downwind if possible”.
        “Dumping the main and the mizzen and just tried with your jib would have given a good start. If you didn’t have the horse power you needed, reef the main and start off again, SLOWLY until you have the sail area that provides the power you need without being over powered”.
        “It helps to reduce the amount of centre-board in stronger winds when sailing upwind as it balances the boat better.  The greater leeway you generate is balanced by reduced heel, leading to better speed through the water which then makes manoeuvring easier. Also, with reduced sail the boat will become unbalanced to a degree as the centre of effort changes position, so adjusting the board can correct this.  Once the boat is set up with one of the rig options sail along and feel the weight on the helm and adjust the board to see what difference that makes”.
        “You will need to have main up with triple reef. And storm jib up to go upwind...and that is if the boat is not overpowered, with your size and weight, I think in those conditions it is better to run. Should you have no space (lee shore) your thinking was correct and jibing would have been the way to turn the boat. If the speed hinders you, you can throw some rope out the transom to act as a sea anchor. Also, a bucket well tied will do. Hove to [was another option to consider]”
        “When the wind shifts like that, go straight to jib and mizzen.  The wind you had was too much for even a double reefed main.  Then, look for shelter downwind or on a beam reach.  With that much wind, and leeway, a beam reach is all you can expect.  Tacking under jib and mizzen is not easy even in ideal conditions.  Gybe all the way around instead. I think I'd have run downwind under jib and mizzen to the closest thing resembling shelter”.
        “Your mizzen has a huge impact on your ability to tack or gybe, especially if you don't have speed. When tacking, as you come head to wind, loosen the mizzen sheet a bit or she can stall you out head to wind, then retrim after you are through the tack. Also, don't loosen your jib sheet to soon as you want that power for as long as it's available. In some conditions, I'll let the jib backwind  (fill on the backside) to push the nose across before I loosen the sheet. If you do that, be prepared to quickly release the old working sheet and trim in the other side as you come through the tack”. 
        “Running downwind or on a broad reach, you want to make sure your sails are out far enough or the boat will want to come back to windward. Get the mizzen out perpendicular to the transom. When gybing, just grab the foot of the mizzen and pull it across without touching the sheet. That moves it quickly and helps you finish the gybe. You definitely want the jib out when sailing downwind. If you end up in irons after sorting out a reef or making other adjustments, loosen the mizzen sheet, grab the foot of the sail and pull it in towards the transom while pushing the tiller the to the same side and the boat will quickly back you off the wind”.
         “The center-board is key as that's your pivot point for the power generated by your jib and mizzen. If that wasn't down, it's tough to turn the boat!!”
          “You need lots of boat speed ... but at the same time you are reefed down, so have less sail up and so less power. Try bearing off, getting the boat going as fast as possible, pick a flat-ish bit of sea and then sail her round. Also, make sure the plate is fully down”.
          “Try "backing" the mizzen. I sometimes lash mine far over to leward before an attempt to cross the wind. Then, if you can at least get her up dead into the wind, or near enough, the mizzen will  do the rest, but prevent getting caught in irons. Once the jib backs, you're sure to complete your tack. Just be ready to free up that mizzen once the tack is done! *You can practice this at anchor with a bit of wind, lash the mizzen to one side or the other and watch as the bow swings opposite the "backed" mizzen. This is also a great way to sail out the anchor with control”.
          “Drop the main. Straight away preferably into lazy jacks. Immediately you have a balanced rig with centre of effort lower. Ease the jib and mizzen and head off away from danger e.g. the rocks. If still being tested by the wind, wind in a bit of jib... If still over powered with that rig, it is probably time to go straight to the motor”. While of course it's good not to rely on your motor, there's nothing wrong with using it when need to!” “Don’t think it’s a failure if you have to use your outboard for a bit of extra power, to push you through those waves when going to windward, unless you have a mean machine racing yacht, beating to windward in heavy weather is always a misery, only the purist won’t pop the engine in forward gear with a few revs on to keep the hull moving through the water”. “Would have put the engine on as soon as I realised I didn't have full control of the boat. I know you were trying not to use the engine all summer but surely the reason you carry an engine is to be an alternative means of propulsion when sailing isn't working and rowing not possible. This was such a situation. Well done for making the right call and thanks for sharing”.

Follow up actions to consider

1.       “Consider buying yourself a storm jib. With a storm jib, a heavily reefed main and some practice you’ll be ready for the Straights of Magellan”. đŸ™‚
2.       “Check the weather forecast more carefully and look at a number of different sources of weather information”
3.       “Have a contingency plan for such an eventuality – know which bays you can run downwind to”
4.       “On a calmer day try all the different rig options to see how well they balance.  This will give you more knowledge on how the boat reacts, thus what is best for tougher conditions.  Also you will have a few options for adjusting the shape of the sails, which will also affect the balance and power, so worth adjusting those as well”.
5.       “Start sailing and trying out your boat in days with marginal weather. When its hairy enough but not disastrous conditions and feel your boat. Start challenging yourself.4. Take this as a learning experience and do what u r doing, re live it analyse and ask yourself what u did right or wrong. Then when out in those rough days test yourself under controlled conditions”.
6.       “Practice reefing in good weather until you can do it in a few seconds without thinking”.
7.       “Seems to me sailing in lighter winds with the various sail configurations will help you learn how your boat handles. Next time you'll be calmer, because you recognise that calm is the key to making everything go smoother”.

Other points people made:

“One of the other key things is to make sure your motor has a fuel hose and tank, so if you have to motor for 45 mins into a gathering gale or whatever you don't suddenly run out of fuel from a top tank as I have seen happen to a mate”. [which is an interesting point as I have a 3.5hp Tohatsu which has an internal tank and I can motor for about 40 minutes on mid revs; and yes I have frequently hung off the back to refuel in wavy conditions – not pleasant]

“Anchor and wait it out; put up mizzen to keep pointing into the wind”



My thanks to you all – it has been a really helpful discussion with lots of points to consider. Thank you to all of you below for your tips, reassurance, encouragement. Greatly appreciated and I will let you all know how I get on over the next few weeks.

Thanks to
Bill      Denis      Roger      David      LJ      Ken      Lisa      Nick      Kevin      Tim      John      Mike
Michael      JW      Duncan      Stuart      Quecon      Ed      Alexia      Graham      Chris      DK
Patrick      Tim      Joel      Paul      Dana      Albert      Mattias      Ignacio      Doug      Richard      Justin
Jim      Thomas      Melissa      Cornelius      Grldtnt      Geoff      Seb      Scott      Wade


And one other conundrum!!

Michael and Richard, looking at a photo of Arwen spotted this.......the perpetual crease I always have in the sail. 

Do you have a loop around the mast at the tack? it looks like the boom is pulling the bottom front corner of the sail away from the mast. Put a loop around the mast before the sprit boom is fully tensioned. That is very likely what the problem is ... it is a huge  gap and will be altering the angle at the throat so you get the crease. Sail corners have to be kept close to the spars they are attached to. In the photo it looks like you have the downhaul going into the cockpit ... it should be close to the mast. But just pull the tack forward to get rid of the gap first and see what happens. Basically the throat of the sail is cut with a certain angle. If the angle is distorted, particularly reduced, by either the yard angling lower (usually downhaul tension is inadequate which you have looked at already) or the tack moving back, then get that crease. The sprit boom is very powerful for pulling the clew back and a lot of that tension will be along the foot”.

Well here are the photographs in question:



 Now over the years John has patiently explained several times how to remove the crease and I have acted upon everything but it still remains and so this now raises tow other questions

1. did the sail maker alter the cut of the sail and I never noticed because I don't know enough about sails?
2. and the more likely - did I do something silly when building Arwen, deviating away from the plans, in such a way to cause this problem?

I am beginning to think the answer is yes to question 2.  

Firstly, I built the cockpit coaming about an inch and a half higher than the plans suggested. I'm sure I had a stupid reason at the time for doing so but here is the golden lesson, when you have never built a boat before, NEVER, NEVER deviate from the plans without checking the implications with the designer first (sorry John!). The designer designed it with the coaming height in mind for a reason!!

Secondly, I am now looking for the plans again to check measurements. Comments from Michael and Richard have made me think not only is the cockpit height wrong but that the coaming has come to far forward into the cockpit itself by what looks like three inches or so. So did I forget to cut excess of the deck king plank during the building phase and just put the coaming on without checking? Plausible, given I built it each evening after a long school day and normally didn't start building work until 9pm each night. 

At present, I can get plenty of tension on the downhaul but what it does, due to its position, is it pulls the tack away from the mast into the cockpit in order to clear the coaming; and that is the likely cause of the crease.

Now I could put the downhaul halyards down through the deck in front of the mast by attaching a single line to the tack, running it through the deck and then attaching it to the downhaul block and tackle. In this way I could haul the tack down as far as the deck but then I couldnt apply any more tension. if I did this, what other adaptations would I have to make to the top yard halyard attachment point; and to the sprit boom attachment point on the mast?

If anyone has any advice or suggestions on the viability of this or about the possible problem of the crease, do please let me know because I have done something daft and so am not showing off John's brilliant design to best advantage and that isn't fair on him or his amazingly, wonderful boat 'navigator'. 

I'm sure I was never this thick or stupid as a mountaineer!!


Thursday, 23 August 2018

Dinghy cruising: sailing in strong winds

I panicked today and I am really annoyed with myself. As an old mountaineer, I have always prided myself on remaining calm and collected when disaster strikes; when ice bridges collapsed under me; when metal rungs on cliff-side ladders broke with age under my feet; when huge thunderstorms suddenly appeared without warning or when falling on a climb, iron work put in to keep me attached to the cliff suddenly pinged out.........that kind of stuff.

But today in Salcombe, I allowed fear to take over and I was stupid and defeatist. The forecast turned out to be wrong or at best under estimated and it caught me by surprise and I didn't handle it well.

Out beyond the bar, the winds suddenly picked up and came roaring down in powerful gusts off the western cliffs. Waves were whipped up, white horses appearing from nowhere. It caught everyone by surprise outside and inside the ria. Boats piled in from offshore to get to shelter.

I reefed down early but in one savage gust nearly went over, rescuing a near capsize by somehow managing to wrestle the tiller the right way so pointing up into the gust. From there in it was a catalogue of mistakes due to inexperience I suppose. A second near capsize despite furling the jib and managing to get a reef in the mainsail.

I went down to jib and mizzen and that was manageable until I came to try and tack or gybe back upwind and then it went pear shaped. I just couldn't turn Arwen around, no matter what I did.

Eventually, having been swept downwind towards Prawle Point and the lee shore, I resorted to outboard, something I have been studiously avoiding all summer season. Even then, it was hard work getting back into the lee of the steep cliffs that line the western entrance to the ria.

I did try going in to the ria for a sail but I noticed many of the smaller boats were heavily reefed and as the afternoon wore on, most sail boats disappeared. Even ribs were having a hard time and the number of hire boats on the water dropped dramatically. Everyone battened down the hatches and sought strong moorings.

Hoping to have camped overnight, I couldn't find a single sheltered beach anywhere and so I gave up and came home. Defeatism in the face of a little adversity. I'd have never been so easily defeated mountaineering so why did I allow myself to be so now?

Anyway, somewhat sheepish, I have some questions and am seeking advice. Given the unexpected winds which were well above the 14kts predicted (I'd say but then my sense of survival probably means I have overestimated their strength) and some of the huge gusts (I recorded one on my windy thingy at 31 kts)............what should I have done?

1. I furled jib; then reefed mainsail; then went down to jib and mizzen. Was that the right way to do things? What would have been my other options? What would you have done in these circumstances?

2. When under jib and mizzen and trying to turn from a downwind run back up into the wind to get a close reach.....well firstly is it possible or was I trying to do the impossible?  And what should I have done under jib and mizzen to tack around correctly in these conditions if it is possible?

Sorry for such dumb questions, but for the first time every out on the water, my confidence got shaken slightly and I need to get back out there under similar conditions, probably within the Plymouth Sound where there is more room and start practising and putting things right!

When you fall off the bike, you need to get back on , as my Dad used to say when we were young

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Monday, 20 August 2018

Dinghy cruising Over-night at Calstock on the river Tamar: Episode 9

A sad milestone I think.......my 200th video vlog on my Youtube channel - I suspect I probably need to get out more and gain a life............. :)

Anyway, the last in the series Cruising up the Tamar and Lynher (although there will be a bonus end video out in the next fortnight or so)................enjoy.


Sunday, 19 August 2018

dinghy cruising: sailing up the lower river Tamar


Winds from astern blow the little white yawl with tan sails through the narrows of the mighty Hamoaze, close to the red port Cremyll Battery channel buoy. The last of the 4.9m tide has ebbed and crossing the slack water, to hug the shallows, this inexperienced skipper in trade mark blue fleece and red kayak expedition buoyancy aid, eases his mainsail downhaul. The sail bellies more and then fills and so he eases mainsheet to take advantage of the slight increase in breeze. On a downwind run, his sail presses against hemp shroud and the almost fully raised centreboard gently knocks from side to side in its poorly fitting centre-case.  He watches intently the little foot ferry ahead as it glides its way across the channel from Admirals Hard ramp, tucked away in Stonehouse Pool.

On his port side, the Cremyll slipway and ahead, the large stone pillar with its QHM speed warnings. The Skipper shudders as memories of a near catastrophe four years ago flood back. Then, attentively focused on the ferry and a stunning gaff yawl heading for the sound, he almost impaled poor Arwen’s bowsprit on this pillar; in front of a very crowded Edgecumbe Arms with its many revellers enjoying the afternoon sunshine on the riverside terrace beer garden.  Still, he muses, looking on the bright side, it wouldn’t have been as embarrassing as the time he sank thigh deep in thick mud when carrying his lapstrake canoe Angharad over the mudflats outside a certain pub in Noss Mayo. On that occasion he really got the tide times wrong and he proved to be that pub’s evening entertainment. Four years on, he still hasn’t returned to that pub out of fear that some local might recognise him.

The boomkin rattles in its socket; the mizzens flaps as it changes side, awakening the sailor from his reverie. The Edgecumbe Belle has unerringly arrived at the ramp disembarking her passengers for a day in the grounds of Mt Edgecumbe Country Park. A ferry has plied these very waters at this point between Devon and Cornwall since the 11th century when rowing boats carried people and horse-boats carried livestock and fodder. In 1511 the Edgecumbe family took control of the route, keeping it for the next four hundred years. The first steamboat ferries appeared in 1885.  The Cremyll ferry is now a much-loved city institution; a summer tradition. A trip across to Cawsand, a walk around the stunning coast and through the country park and a return trip back on the Edgecumbe Belle.  

A slow turn to port and Mashford’s yard comes into view. There has been a boatyard at Cremyll for 270 years. Bought by the Mashford’s in 1930, the yard built antisubmarine motor launches and assault craft for the Admiralty during WWII. Sir Francis Chichester fitted out here; Ann Davison had the yard build her ‘Felicity Ann’. Today, ship building and repair still takes place at the yard; work for Babcock and Serco; local fishing and diving boat commissions; and private sailing and motorboat repairs.  Mashford’s, another river Tamar institution.

The sailor checks his yellow pilotage notebook with its sketch maps, bearings and tidal information and slowly edges onto a course of 272M.  0.6 NM should take him across to the west mud port red buoy at the edge of the high-speed training area for HMS Rayleigh and the Royal Marines at HMS Tamar.  He waivers slightly, for an alternative is in his notes, 289M and 0.4NM to South Rubble starboard can. It would mean crossing the main channel and skirting up the corner edge of the Number One yard at the Devonport Dockyard. Crossing the 25m deep channel at low tide there would be little flow; the south westerly breezes are good. But it would be close to a lee shore and whilst CH14 QHM Port authority hasn’t reported major ship movements at this time, a tug cutting that corner could cause a problem. The Skipper of the little yawl errs on the side of caution and sticks with his original course. Plenty of room to leeward if need be and in the lee of the high-speed training area. Decision made. He faces astern momentarily to free the lower mizzen sail which has caught slightly on the tilted 3.5hp Tohatsu outboard. It’s a rare occurrence but one he is always alert to.

With a more open expanse of water, he leans forward from his aft port position and tidies cockpit halyards. When he rigged Arwen, he arranged for all lines to return aft of the centre thwarts. Here are the cleats and cams that secure downhaul, snotter, centreboard and mainsail. Add in the jib sheets which he also brings back when single handed sailing and it can become a right rats’ nest of tangled lines.  Now, he quickly sorts, flakes and gathers these lines, stuffing them gently into their respective halyard bags attached to the rear wall of the centre thwarts. The Huntingford tiller tamer holds Arwen on her course and the skipper’s movements are slow and deliberate so as not to unsettle her trim and balance.  For good measure and just because he likes coiling and flaking ropes, something from deep within his DNA, from his old mountaineering days, he sorts the 10mm hemp mainsheet into a nicely flaked coil on the rear cockpit floor and does likewise with green mizzen sheet. That’s much better; far less chance of tripping himself up when he stands in a few minutes to ease his cramped legs. Going overboard with feet in a tangled mess of lines would be very, very embarrassing, not to say quite inconvenient.

Sails fill and sag as the wind builds and falls. The tide turns and the many boats on the Torpoint moorings ahead slowly turn to face downriver as the flood tide makes its presence felt. Lone seagulls wheel overhead, hoping for a thrown scrap morsel of the cheese and marmite baps that the sailor is tucking into. He never, never, leaves shore without at least four of these culinary delights. He once managed to smuggle baps, cheese and one pot of marmite up Kilimanjaro; twice! Throw in a royal gala apple, banana, bag of mixed nuts, raisins and assorted dried fruit pieces along with a Toblerone bar (other apple and chocolate types are available but not has highly rated by Skipper) and he feels he can cope with anything that the day might throw at him. Oh, and a flask of tea; Tetley’s, of course. One should never, never, forget the tea!

Torpoint slides by. An eighteenth-century planned town based on a grid design commissioned by Reginald Pole Carew in 1774. His family, now the Carew Poles still live in the family seat at Antony House, just outside of the town; now run by the National Trust. Torpoint, a town famous for a 1796 shooting battle between the crew of the Viper and a large party of armour liquor smugglers, in which one person was killed and five seriously injured. Torpoint, a town that grew as dockyard workers settled there, the ferries grew in size and the Royal Navy established its main training base at HMS Rayleigh along with the Thanckes refuelling depot.  Torpoint, a  town on a stunning low ridged peninsula with St John’s lake to the south and Thanckes lake and the river Lynher estuary to the north. A peninsula of farmland much altered in recent decades although still retaining some of its scattered farmsteads with their medieval features still forming part of Cornwall’s Anciently Enclosed land. And sadly, most people just drive off the ferry and straight through the town on their way to the beaches and coastal villages of the Rame peninsula beyond. A shame, for they miss Antony House with its Humphrey Repton planned gardens, stunning architecture and family history. A favourite visiting place of skipper and her indoors!

Behind Arwen, closing astern as she potters up alongside the Torpoint mooring trots, an Edwardian gentleman’s gaff yacht appears. A thing of beauty, some half nautical mile astern. Cream coloured clinker hull with varnished tops and cabin side panels; deep tan sails. Under mainsail alone, this lovely craft closes on Arwen and so skipper whilst deeply admiring the craft decides to try and keep ahead of it. A little self-imposed competition for which he feels genuinely and immensely guilty; but which none the less, offers a little modicum of fun on a hot, hot day. Never the greatest of sail trimmers, the dehydrated sailor sets to with enthusiasm. Easing himself off a direct downwind run and into more of a downwind semi run/broad reach kind of track, he starts to pull in main sail, reset centreboard and adjust mizzen. Honestly, he has no idea what he is doing but using his handheld GPS tracker, he fiddles around until he notes a marginal increase in hull speed; and then he promptly forgets what he did to gain such extra movement. Still, not to worry, for his boat, Arwen, built with his own fair hands and that of his father, father in law and children, shows a clean pair of heels and stays ahead of the 25’ stunner aft. Shameful behaviour on the part of Arwen’s skipper. Frankly quite childish, but his little bout of self-smug satisfaction is about to be vanquished further ahead.

CH14 cackles into life announcing the departure of tugs from one of the dockyard basins as the sailor threads his boat up through the moored boats at Torpoint. Past the Torpoint Marina found within the old ballast pond walls, built by French prisoners of war in 1783 to shelter the ballast barges. The walls have been repaired and are now an ancient monument; one of two surviving ballast ponds in the UK. Here, is a sense of local history. The old ships of the line carried ballast stones and sand in the eighteenth century to keep themselves stable. The ballast was bought to and fro on barges alongside as and when needed or as and when ships were laid up during peace time when cannon, stores and main mast were removed. Ballast was used to compensate. When ships were reactivated, some of the ballast was removed and stored once more. The sailor is unclear whether the removed ballast was actually dumped within the pond or merely stored on the barges which were kept within the pond wall confines.

He suddenly jolts back to life. Arwen is almost upon the Torpoint ferries. Three large vehicle chain ferries plying their way between Devonport and Torpoint carrying regular commuter traffic. Arwen’s skipper sucks in his breath. Normally with 400m to go he would lower engine, start it and motor through but today he is going to resist the temptation and the growing knot in his stomach. An aim of this three-day river cruise is NOT to use the engine at all. Some would say that the best way to achieve that is to not take it at all but skipper who is fiercely paranoiac and lacking in sailing confidence still feels that is a step too far. Still threading the needle under sail……. He sucks air through his teeth and takes a look all around. Then turning his focus to the ferries he works out which are landing on which shore; and which are looking ready to depart. The trick is to arrive just as two have landed and one is past the centre of the channel.
The fates shine kindly on the little boat and her inexperienced skipper. The breeze builds in the last 200m and at a steady, tide assisted 4 kts, Arwen hugs the port shoreline and nips behind a departing ferry, ensuring there is enough distance between her and the ferry rear so that the chains have sunk back down into their black watery oblivion once more.  It would be so embarrassing to catch the centreboard on a descending chain. Think of the paper work for ferry operator, QHM and her indoors.

Having cleared 100m upriver along the outer edge of the small craft moorings and past the exposed wreck of some long-forgotten pleasure boat, Skipper realises that he can breathe again and let out his ample stomach. A Murray Mint calms his nerves and he allows himself a fleeting congratulatory mental slap on the back. Another milestone on the way to being a dinghy cruiser has been achieved.
Of course, he did have a pair of oars on board but as he glances at them in their galvanised rowlocks, he realises with horror that they still remain tied on; blades still bungie corded to cleats on the rear cockpit sides; their position for when trailering the boat between places. He still has sooo much to learn, not least of which is make several checks before departing the launch ramp!

350M on the steering compass which sits astride the centreboard cap. A Silva compass. Its seal rotted away last year and the outer protective rim came away in Skipper’s hands when he picked it up whilst on a voyage to Fowey. But now it is back in position, repaired. Skipper is proud of that repair. The judicious use of white marine sealant and no one would know about the damage done. His sealing skills look quite professional!

The tiller is angled to starboard and Arwen edges out into the main channel to take advantage of the flooding 0.8 kt tidal stream; and to avoid the rather large blue hulled tanker firmly moored to yellow mooring dolphins and the concrete Yonderberry fuelling depot ahead. The new red burgee made by good friend Dave flutters over the starboard side, from its lofty position at the top of the mainsail yard.  Two of the tankers crew sit languishing on a lighter moored alongside the tanker hull and skipper muses on how incongruous it seems that one of the crew is smoking in front of a large sign that says ‘NO SMOKING’. Perhaps the crew member thinks it is ironic. Skipper wishes for a bit more wind, tidal flow and speed; just in case!
He thinks he read somewhere that the tanker is storing fuel for the Frigates because the concrete pier is crumbling and is badly in need of repair. The pier, part of the Thanckes fuelling complex, has served the naval dockyard opposite for almost 70 years. Built in the 1950’s the jetty is suffering severe accelerated saltwater corrosion and it needs upgrading and modernising. There has been an application to dredge the surrounding seabed and dump the dredging’s around Rame Head in Whitsand Bay but that has met with much local opposition. In the meantime, divers have fitted sacrificial anode systems to protect steel pylons and the mooring dolphins. It is amazing the irrelevant trivia that Skipper stores often incorrectly in his head!

As the sun shines and sparkles off the deep waters of the Tamar, the hot sailor surveys the dockyard opposite. Once the home of Trafalgar class subs and Type 45 destroyers, these have been now moved to Portsmouth and Faslane. In just under three centuries, 300 ships were built at this dockyard. The last HMS Scylla in 1971, decommissioned and sunk close inshore in Whitsand Bay to provide an artificial reef to protect the cliffs at Freathy and to develop a thriving dive boat trade within his fair ocean city.Now the north yard houses the frigate complex, three tall looming buildings with their dry docks and basins. The nuclear sub refit yard lies at the northern end, its 80-tonne cantilever crane missing from the skyline, having collapsed unexpectedly a year or two ago. Within the Weston Mill basin he spies one of the large amphibious assault ships. He cannot make out which it is. Bulwark? Albion? His binoculars are clearly focused. But sadly, his eyes aren’t any more. He makes a mental note to adjust the binoculars when he moors up at the Lynher entrance up ahead.  The launch ramps at HMS Tamar alongside are engulfed in a fug of thick smoke and noise! Landing craft are being started up or is it hovercraft? Difficult to see, moored barges are in the way. And, as always, holding station, slowly moving back and forth across the entrance, the reassuring presence of one of the large MOD Police boats.  

Four miles long, 25 tidal berths, 5 basins across 2.5 km squared. Two thousand, five hundred employees; supporting 400 local firms and contributing 10% of the local economy. Still the main frigate and vanguard Sub refitting base. With HMS Rayleigh on the western shore and the HQ of Flag Officer Sea Training for the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Home to the assault ships Albion and Bulwark, most of the Hydrographic fleet, seven type 23 frigates and the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector. Containing four scheduled monuments, thirty listed buildings and one original slipway still having its 200-hundred-year-old roof still above it, the naval Dockyards at Devonport are part of the fabric of this fair ocean city and Skipper, like most Plymothians is rather proud of this Royal Navy heritage.

Just under two hours after departing the northern shore of Drakes Island, Arwen arrives on station at the mouth of the Lynher. It is time for a stop, a break and so her skipper selects his favourite yellow outer mooring buoy. Just on the southern outskirts of many small craft trots, it gives him ‘wiggle room’.  With 300m to go, he plans his approach; sailing upwind and mid channel past the buoy to get a good look around. Options rattle around in his head. He rarely sails onto a mooring can. He could motor. Nope defeats the object of the trip. He could sail from downwind, dropping mizzen and mainsail and coming in under jib but tidal flow has to be considered. It is building and even under just jib, chances are he will race by and find himself in the mooring trots.  Best approach is to come from river, facing into wind and tide. He prepares mooring pole, unclipped from starboard side deck and releases the long painter that runs down the outside starboard sheer plank. With luck, he can bring the mooring can along his starboard side; if he misses he has plenty of open water to starboard into which he can drift and start again. 

Grabbing the mainsheet, he eases it and tiller to such a point that the mainsail and sprit boom gybe gently over his head and releasing them both, he guides Arwen onto a close reach. The jib roller halyard is pulled and jib obediently furls. With mainsheet in his hand he pulls and eases the sail and gently moves into the flow and wind. His boats speed slows significantly; the bow starts to drop away up river; he risks pinching a little against the wind. At the last moment he eases the mizzen and the buoy comes alongside. Not as close as he would like. There is a mad scramble with mooring pole; he manages to hook on and in a turn of speed and agility not often seen, painter is securely through the buoy eye and tied off on the forward bow samson post. Tripping over the centre thwart, he raises centreboard, releases rudder so it flips up and drops mainsail into an untidy hanging heap between its lazy jacks.

An inelegant, flustered arrival; yet again. The sailor dreams of a mooring buoy arriving alongside midships, on the correct side, with his small boat obediently stopped in the water. With mainsail, centreboard and rudder stowed calmly and correctly. With chins unbruised from an encounter with the thwart seat edges. With no gouges taken out of rub rails.
It has, of course, yet to happen that way. Despite his best efforts and practice, there is far too much to remember; too many lines to sort; too many variables of wind and tide. He is content to accept that he has arrived and hooked on without damaging any of the expensive boats moored in the trots immediately to the north.

It is time for a cheese and marmite bap, a cuppa and a breather before checking the pilotage for the next leg up the Lynher.  

Monday, 13 August 2018

Dinghy cruising: Episode 8: sailing the Tamar from Halton to Cotehele and stopping off to see the sailing barge 'Shamrock'




This is the penultimate video in the series. The last epsiode, 'Overnight at Calstock' will be published next week. Thanks for sticking with us and all the positive comments about the new series and video/vlog look. 

Over the next few months, look out for a new YouTube channel introductory trailer and all being well, a series in which I sail over to Kingsbridge from Plymouth. I'm also hoping to do a video about building Arwen a new pair of oars during the winter months. 

So, next week, the last episode in this series. In the meantime, hope you enjoy this one. Drop me a comment in the box below or in the comment box on my YouTube channel. All constructive advice and comment welcome.

Take care now and happy sailing. 

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Dinghy cruising: Entering the Hamoaze, on the river Tamar


One hundred and thirty-six square feet of tan coloured canvas, the little boat’s sails fill with the SSE breezes and slowly cross her cockpit as her skipper tacks to enter the narrow Hamoaze. Mainsail and mizzen filled, the backed jib is released, whipping across to the sounds of halyards rattling their blocks on the wide side decks. Her sharp, vertical stem bites deep into the slight wind against tide chop side and she ploughs forward, her sharply curved forefoot and flared lower bow parting the grey, jade green tinged, wavelets with ease.  The annoying knocking from the centreboard, even when raised, a reminder that its fit in its case is best termed ‘loose’.

14’ 6” long, with 5’ 10” beam, this little boat is loaded with camping gear for her four-day cruise upriver. 9’ oars lie along coaming and side deck, resting in galvanised rowlocks and overhanging her transom. A pine paddle lashed down to port foredeck; within her hull, airtight waterproof bags lay low along hull side for stability and ‘extra’ buoyancy.  

To the unknowledgeable observer, she makes a pretty sight, a handsome boat, white hulled with a burgundy sheer plank, stark against the woodland and grassy slopes of Mt. Edgecumbe Country Park on the western shore that be Cornwall. To the well-informed, standing at Devils Point on the eastern shore that be Devon, she is ‘Arwen’, a John Welsford designed ‘navigator’, a familiar sight on the coastal and estuarine waters around Plymouth Sound. And no, her skipper still hasn’t managed to eliminate that throat to clew crease that makes her so instantly recognisable.


Said skipper sheets in mainsail and mizzen, spilling a little wind on their downwind run. It reduces the ‘plunge and bounce motion’ as they pass through the entrance chop. He frets about how untidy the cockpit interior looks. With her under deck locker and smaller ‘sealed’ lockers in all thwarts, side, centre and stern, his little boat has plenty of storage and buoyancy space; and yet, she always seems crammed. A reflection of his habitually disorganised personality. Observers standing high enough on the shores would see bucket and boom crutch, two white fenders and two mooring warps of 10m and 15m length adorning the starboard forward cockpit side. Opposite on the port side, two more fenders, more mooring warps, spare fuel cans and the home-made galley box. Everything ‘excessively’ lashed to the hull with bungee and cord. It echoes the skippers semi-permanent paranoiac state in which he lives his life.


 Floor space immediately aft of the front thwart side lockers and either side of the centre-case, occupied by anchors; a small kedge anchor with chain and 100’ of warp on port side. This ‘picnic stop’ Danforth anchor with attached anchor buddy bungee is for pulling his little boat off the beach and into deeper water during those beachside al fresco stops. On starboard floor, stored in another plastic blue tray, secured tightly by bungee cords and webbing straps, lies the ‘beast’ – a Bruce anchor, way too big for what he needs, but it was free and adds ballast. It has yet to drag even in fiercest currents, its weight and bulk reassure this amateur sailor who has yet to develop that strong understanding of sea, boat, weather and equipment that more experienced sailors have after spending countless decades on boats along their coasts. A late arrival to this sailing past-time, this skipper will learn with time what can and cannot be dispensed with. An experienced mountaineer, he knows he would only carry 30lbs maximum for a four-night camp, so he muses on why there so much ‘stuff’ in his boat? What were the words of the Dinghy Cruising Association journal editor Keith Muscott now ringing in his head? ‘dinghy cruising is just backpacking but on water’.


Skipper and boat ease their way up channel towards the Cremyll red port can marker, hugging inshore, conscious of their proximity to jagged rocky fingers protruding from the Cornish coastline. Here the outgoing ebb is less powerful but still not to be underestimated. And, the waters here run deep!

He feels the weight of history upon his shoulders, for he sails waters once plied by Sir Francis Chichester, as he bought his own boat down from Mashfords yard at Cremyll after her fitting out. Or Anne Davidson setting sail from the same yard in her four tonner ‘Felicity Ann’, the first lady to do a single handed transatlantic crossing. For two centuries at least, HM ships have sailed to and from the naval dockyard up at Devonport with families and friends gathering to wave them off or welcome them home from Devils Point on the eastern shore opposite. Even Nelson himself came through these straits at one time.


Across the waters, his gaze falls on the Devil’s Point peninsula with its stunning southerly and westerly views across the Tamar entrance towards Mt Edgecumbe and out across Drakes Island and Plymouth Sound with its magnificent breakwater, to the distant Eddystone lighthouse on the far horizon. To its north the famous Royal William yard, a former RN victualling yard. Nelson definitely alighted the admiral’s steps at this place.  What must this place have been like when the cannon from its abandoned 1530’s blockhouse rang out to warn ships, a relict of Henry VIII’s coastal defences? How the skies of early 1940’s must have lit up above as the costal artillery search lights light up skies and seas in search of enemy planes and E boats, crews dashing from barracks to load the 6lb guns. Now only the gun and search light platforms remain.

And the Royal William Yard, once an immense hive of activity and skill? What would Architect Sir John Rennie make of the award winning, multimillion pound conversion of bakeries, armouries and cooperages to luxury apartments, restaurants and galleries? The skipper thinks he’d be pleased. Urban Splash, design architects and winners of multiple conservation and restoration awards for their work here. Grade 1 listed buildings sensitively converted in a £60 million refit. A cultural centre for this fair ocean city.

The little boat with her reflective skipper surges forward in a sudden gust; he eases mizzen and mainsail a little to take advantage of the increased breeze. A steady 3 kts against the last of the 0.2 kt southerly ebb flow.  310M on the compass, 0.1 nm to the Cremyll can.  A quick glance to little yellow notebook with its pilotage notes and sketch maps; all is well; course is as it should be. He loves it when a plan actually works.


Little boat and skipper continue to skirt the rocks as the Cremyll gun battery at Mt Edgecumbe looms alongside. Tourists wave from the top of the semi-circular, forbidding, grey walled battery of seven guns. He waves back. Cameras click and whirr. Do the visitors know the battery was built as part of the inner sea defences in the 1860’s to protect the Royal William Victualling Yard and Navy dockyard at Devonport? Today, they rest, appreciating the stupendous views out over Drakes Island and the distant Plymouth Sound but few of these visitors might ever know that they stand on a Victorian fort that stands on a blockhouse dating from the 1540’s; which in turn, was occupied by royalist forces during our English Civil war. Perhaps, they may be aware of its more modern usage during WW2 when it was ‘reactivated’ as a guard room to protect the anti-submarine booms at the mouth of Hamoaze.

As skipper keeps a wary eye on the slow progress of the small Cremyll passenger ferry leaving its slipway ahead, he notices the flotsam of an immense ria ebb tide drifting by on its journey to the wider oceans.  Twigs and driftwood, seaweed, plastic bottles, frayed blue three strand rope, a small white fender. It saddens him to see such detritus and the damage it causes the marine environment but then he is distracted from his gloomy thought train, for beneath it all, in the warmer surface waters drift the translucent, circular pale forms of jellyfish. An entire colony of jellyfish, their shimmering canopies adorned with four brownish circular outlines. No control on their direction, these delicate beings drift on the outgoing currents, destinations unknown. Oystercatchers skim the waves off the starboard bow as they shoot across towards Millbrook lake mudflats to grab a last meal before the flood tides cover their larder once more. A mackerel jumps high off his starboard aft quarter, its sides glistening in the sun. Yes, the sun is on his back, the breezes are fair, the scenery isgrand, the sense of history immense. Ahead the dockyards of Devonport, the mudflat lakes of Millbrook and St John’s with their wading birds.

It’s going to be a magnificent four-day cruise.