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

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


Grldtnt said...

If you have a yawl rigg and the wind is blowing strongly, you be lucky to get back to windward on Job & mizzen, at least if you are in a Dabber, best thing if you had the sea room is set the mizzen tight in ,weathercock the boat and ride it out.
Not all yawls will make to windward, but it should be possible to make to weather.

Unknown said...

deep breath as am about to fess up myself...

I too am a mountaineer and a dinghy sailer. I too have had 'epic' days in both activities. I have learned over the years a few useful tips:

If you get to the pub (or blog) to recount your 'epic' (either triumph or nightmare) then it has not been a bad day...

Retreating from the hill or the sea when it turns bad is never a wrong thing - don't beat yourself up - they will always be there another day to play with again.

Using all the tools in the toolbox that you have with you to keep you safe is perfectly fine - whether that be an outboard motor, GPS, ice axes - or a call for help.

Studying 3 or 4 different weather services / apps is useful as they can give different info - and then work off the one with the worst forecast before committing. Ive found the app called Windy helpful for sailing as gives all tge relevant info on wind strength, gusts etc etc and MWIS website good for mountains.

They say 'Fail to plan and you plan to fail'. I dont like the word fail as learning is never failure, but getting hurt is worth avoiding at all costs.

The occasional scare isnt a bad thing or failure as long as no-one is hurt - it keeps us grounded, keeps us learning and avoids dangerous complacency - its not failure. We are never bigger or in control of the elements that we are in.

I know these responses dont answer your technical questions about Jibs and mizzens and I'm sorry that I dont know the answer as have not sailed with a mizzen. I have jib and main only and would have had to choose between Jib only and reefed main only. I would possibly have tried heavily reefed main sailing only to try and maintain steerage and endeavour to sail as close to the wind as poss to reduce side wind force and ability to go head to wind if needed to stabilise - but I wasnt there in your situation and you made it back in one piece so you obviously did well :-)

I am desperately hoping this is useful info and hasnt come across as patronising as this is absolutely not intended. I have full respect for anyone that at least gives the adventure a try!

Fess up time. My kids and I had to call the lifeboat for help two nights ago. Having sailed 35km on Monday we found ourselves fighting as stronger than expected falling tide coming into our home channel in the Walton Backwaters. The journey out took 2 hours, the journey back took 4... We ran out of sailable water and became grounded on a mud bank in the dark. The RNLI and Coastguard were fantastic and happy that we'd called for help rather than tried something dangerous to self rescue. It took a day to clean the boat (12' Tideway) but we were all safe and able to tell the tale after. I didnt have an outboard... its now on the santa list!

Happy sailing, happy climbing. Hope to see you out there one day. Take care. Seb.

Dana said...

I don't have any advice for specifically what you should do sailing wise other than this: don't keep beating yourself up over it. No question is a stupid question and by asking and trying tonlearn for next time, you are doing exactly what you should be doing. Already, next time you will be calmer because you lived through this time. It seems it would help to practice sailing with various sails up or reefed in less severe winds to see how your boat reacts. Wear your PFD and lash your stuff down and go sailing!

Scott Souder said...

I obviously don't actually know you but,... I would wonder what your week has been like leading up to this day. Were you under a higher amount of stress than usual? The reason I say that is that it really wasn't too much of an uncommon situation. It made me think about how many people get into the silliest car accidents right near their house, coming in or out of a spot they have done 1000 times. The culprit is usually their mind was just not focused on exactly what they were doing and where they were at. Then complacency can also figure in or combine with it. It is a nerve racking thing when you almost go over to be sure. Don't ask how on earth I would know that. You have a remarkably well built boat. It is a remarkably good, and safe design that has made some notable passages in pretty tough conditions. You can and should have complete faith in your equipment. That is why I sort of looked to you. If your mind was a bit off, then combine that with some poor forecasting (hardly ever happens), the stress of the "near event"...hell yeah it was a rough day. The most important thing is to figure it out, then get right back in the saddle.

steve said...

firstly, can I thank all of you for your comments and advice. It is deeply appreciated and there is lots here to consider and take on board. thank you for taking the time to help me out.

I agree with everything all of you have said and within it are lessons. trust the boat is the first one - which I do. I've never doubted the design or my construction of Arwen (although I did over epoxy and did add odd bits and so made her heavier - dur!!).

next - more practice under different sail configurations is the very first priority - I haven't done enough reefing to make it comfortable - and so when caught out - I was tested and failed - serves me right! Having planned carefully and checked forecasts, odd weather does occasionally occur along our coast which isnt predicted.....however being ready to tackle such weather is paramount - lesson learned!!

thank you all of you for helping me out - deeply appreciated and lots to muse on over the next few weeks....thank you

Wade Tarzia said...

Can you give details about how you played mizzen and jib? My yawl is an outrigger canoe, and sometimes I have had to choreograph the mizzen to get around (i.e.. let it go to let the mainsail push through irons, then harden up as it passes through). I am sure you did something like this, but what was the timing of each? The difference with my experience may be that I had no jib up, so your jib-and-jigger mode may have had too much forward COE (jib) to come up no matter what you did with the mizzen?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have nearly ten years experience sailing a Drasxombe Longboat on Rutland water in most wind conditions every week through Sailability . Even though I am disabled it doesn’t stop me going out when all our other boats stay onshore.
I have devised a simple solution to your problem. Use a spare Mizzen sail as a main sail. Just use the uphaul Halliard to hoist the new main sail/ Tisail or storm sail as it should be called. Lace it to the mast and use a down haul to tension the sail about the same distance up as the boom .
I use the main sheet straight to the clew of the sail without a boom. It works really well and you can point nearly as high as using a main sail.
If this is still overpowered . Put one or two turns on the jib furler and wrap the Mizzen around the mast once to give one furl.
The worst wind we went out onto the lake was 30 knots. Our boat sailed great without my problems.
Can demo it if you like any Thursday
Regards Geoff

Rob Blackburn said...

Well as a fellow yawl owner who hates capsizes...

First sign of trouble, tap out your pipe over the side...drop the main. Straight away preferably into lazy jacks. Immediately you have a balanced rig with centre of effort lower. If you have water ballast. Start that process.

Ease the jib and mizzen and head off away from danger eg 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.

Otherwise I would be surprised if a Welsford boat could not sail to weather at about 55-60 deg off the wind and get you to another position. It is usually the items at the edge of the water that get you as we all know.

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.

Otherwise anchor.

My experiences in similar conditions in Tasmania have all ended well if you get the main down early. If she won't carry jib and mizzen it is then defined as a motor boat. IMHO. BTW in my 20's I lived in Plymouth and windsurfed around the Sound.. Great memories. Particularly the pubs at the Barbican. Rob

steve said...

everyone thanks for all the tips
seb - glad you made it back ok - puts my little misadventure into perspective - takes great courage to call out RNLI but is always the right thing to do - if you think you need them, odds are you need them, if that makes sense.

Thanks for the offers of advice and reassurance and tips - greatly appreciated everyone. thanks for taking the time out of busy days to help out.

Scott L said...

If u slack the jib and haul in ur mizzen she would come around a little easier. Once u pass the dead on of the wind u might be able to back ur jib to assist in coming around. Just think of ur centerboard or skeg as a pivot point.

richard said...

I sail a navigator called Bootstrap in the Cook Strait, close to Wellington, New Zealand. She is Yawl rigged. Over the years I have learnt a number of hard lessons.

1) All my knock overs have occurred just after tacking and when movin very slowly. (The last one was while John Welfsford was watching!) You sheet the sails in and the boat starts turning to leaward, rolls over and water rushes in. Freeing the main doesn't help, only by releasing the jib will she come back. I have looked for the center-board a few times, but never had to jump for it. The problem is that as the boat is moving slowly through the water, the centerboard has stalled and the jib turns into a spinnaker. The spinnaker pulls the bow downwind (due to the stalled centerboard), the main starts filling, then stalls, and over she goes. The solution is to make sure you have speed before cleeting the job and cranking in the main.

2) The mizzen can make the situation worse if it is not rigged correctly. Like any sail the mast must bend to allow the top of the sail to spill. Initially I had the snotter attached too high up the mast so that when a gust hit the foot of the sail became fuller, tighten the leach, making everything worse. I fixed that by moving the snotter down the mast so that the top of the leach falls way correctly. ( this is a bit like easing off the kicking strap to fee up the top of the sail)

3) Learning to sail under Jib and Jigger takes time. As you have so much less power, it easy to end up stuck on one tack. Or even worse, stuck head to wind going backwards. However, with a bit of practice it is a lovely safe rig - I love using it! (and you can make ground to windward - even against a chopp)

4) I spent a pleasant day sailing against another Navigator in about 20+Kts. I had a reef in and only lost out going downwind - but found it much easier to sail.
The sail need to be set up correctly when reefed. It's very important that the gaff is at the correct angle when the reef is in.

5) Simplest way to reef is to drop the main into the boat, sort out the mess and then raise it again. (I should practice what I preach - I have to stand upright (due to lazy jacks) and then get onto the foredeck to host!)

6) The Honda at the back is the best safety device you have - don't be ashamed to use it.

Regards Richard

steve said...

Thanks Richard - i know Bootstrap - I have several photos of her in my big scrap book that I collated when I was building Arwen - pictures I could refer to when unsure.

Your tips are really helpful and will be much read along with everyone elses' from over the last week or two whilst I am away on holiday.

like you, having fitted lazy jacks, I have to stand upright in the boat but can then sit down to host the sail back up from the safety of the aft cockpit section.