Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Monday 29 April 2019

Travelling around The Roseland area in Cornwall

Spent a week down in the caravan, cycling around the Truro area. Now clocked up nearly 600 miles on new electric mountain bike. Getting around 40 - 70 miles on one battery charge depending on what mode I am in, how many steep hills I encounter and how windy it is.

Must go back down to the Fal sometime this year for a week's sailing up the Fal and its estuaries and across to Helford. Can't quite decide whether to sail down via Fowey or Mevagissy or whether to trailer Arwen down.

Anyway, a few pictures from this week's adventures.

Watching surfers at Portreath

Falmouth and Mylor

St. Mawes and Mevagissy

In the meantime, hoping to make my first Dinghy Cruising Association rally this weekend, up to Calstock on the river Tamar but it is contingent on getting the caravan fixed. Sadly the Al-Ko ATC mechanism wouldn't work properly and whilst the caravan hitched to the tow bar correctly, the anti swerve and ATC control wouldn't engage. It was a 'gingerly' drive back home today and the van is booked in tomorrow for a health check and diagnostic. I suspect they will keep it for a few days and then we, hopefully, will collect it at the weekend. 

Meanwhile oar wood working continues. without a band saw it is slow going, even using the jigsaw. I am finding that hand cutting out the blanks with a Japanese pull saw is the surest method at the moment. I'm in no rush and it is nice to slowly rough shape something. I am sure people could get it done in a third of the time I will take but then I always have a 'unique' way of getting things done - if there is an easy way and a hard way......well you know which way I end up going !!

Friday 19 April 2019

Dinghy cruising in a Welsford navigator - oar making 5

When you don't have a band saw that cuts a straight line, oar making can be tricky. Having laminated three planks and cleaned up the epoxy dribbles, it was time to rough cut out the two oars. Starting by marking on the oar outlines, jigsaw, Japanese saw and handsaw were gathered and the plank laid out on two chairs.

wooden oar blanks

The jigsaw was tough going even with new blades and pendulum action and so most of the plank was cut using the carpenter's handsaw. Suffice to say, just cutting the plank in two took over an hour!

Now, its time to make a series of vertical little cuts up to the marked out lines before then returning the oars to the chair set up and vertically close trimming the oars to the marked lines. Thus will pass at least another day in cutting wood. After that, the side profiles will be marked on and the vertical cutting will start all over again.

Oh what I would give for a decent band saw!

Thursday 18 April 2019

Dinghy cruising a Welsford navigator - oar building 4

Clamps off. Epoxy set. drips knocked off and planed down.
Plans drawn onto top board.

Now ready for cutting out.

Making wooden oars for dinghy

Sunday 14 April 2019

Dinghy cruising and personal safety equipment to carry on your person

What safety equipment should solo dinghy cruisers carry on their person when sailing?

Recently ran into an old canoeing buddy from a very long time ago and we had a quick chat about the new PFD he had just bought. Apparently, the foam within his old one had lost some of its buoyancy each year – go figure! As he readied his new one, we chatted about the personal safety equipment he carried in it and why it was there and he briefly showed me a couple of articles on the web that had influenced his thinking about what equipment Sea Kayakers and small boat owners should carry on their person.   Just wish I could remember which ones he showed me but anyway back in the car on the way home, our conversation set me thinking – always a dangerous situation given my propensity to over think and complicate the simple!
  •        Has my PFD lost buoyancy so that it will no longer support my ample weight in the water?
  •       Do I carry so much personal safety equipment in the pockets of my PFD that I’d sink more in a MOB emergency? (had one or two comic nightmares about that scenario)
  •       Given the sailing I do, do I actually need to carry that gear at all?
  •       Carrying so much safety equipment in the pockets, have I made the PFD too bulky and a liability in event of a capsize? Will it make climbing back into Arwen difficult or snag on something during a capsize?

Let’s set some brief context.

My PFD is a ‘Palm Kaikoura Expedition’ which I have now had for around 6 years or so. It has, fortunately, rarely been in the water and only tested with me inside it once! The PFD can be can be seen in most of my YouTube videos.  Hard wearing, a snug comfortable fit, easily adjusted with plenty of pockets for bits and pieces and tough zips, it has an anti-ride waist belt and I’ve attached a crotch strap as an additional safety feature. Fleece lined hand warmer pockets (luxury indeed), strong D ring clips for attaching various items, lots of tapes for clip on attachments and plenty of reflective patches all round. It comes highly recommended by a number of sea kayakers' and river canoeists I know. I love mine and my only gripe is the smaller zips keep salting up from spray and then bind. One has finally broken and at some stage I need to take it out and replace it.

My other PFD was a thoughtful Christmas present this year – one new Crewsaver comfy fit life jacket, auto inflate, with safety harness D ring attachment loops. Her indoors says that whilst I am very well insured and she stands to gain a large sum of money in the event of my demise, I am for the moment, worth keeping around and therefore an auto-inflate life jacket is a good investment. Knowing I’m absent minded and clumsy, she worries that Arwen’s boom might hit me on the head during an accidental gybe or I drop the top yard uncontrollably, whilst sailing the coast and I go overboard unconscious. She dreams – sorry thinks – of everything – bless her!

Most of my sailing is around Plymouth Sound, along the inshore coast between Dartmouth and Falmouth and up the tidal rivers in-between and I tend to solo sail with no other boats in attendance, up to three miles or so offshore.  On most trips to Salcombe or Fowey (about 23 miles or so in length) I normally see a boat or two along most parts of my passage.  Along this coast there are lifeboat stations – Salcombe, Plymouth, Looe and Fowey and whilst I passage plan to never get into trouble so I have to call them out, I guess in a worst-case scenario, when I do, they are about 20 – 30 minutes away from that first call to coastguard. Worst case scenario, in my mind, for me, is to go overboard and become separated from Arwen or to be unable to right her after a capsize.  
On calm-ish days when winds are below 10 knots, I wear the PFD. Within the Sound and up tidal rivers, I always wear the PFD. Sailing an extended inshore coastal passage to Salcombe or Fowey for example, I wear the PFD in light winds but 10 knots + or if there are any potential large gusts, then the life jacket. Random thinking, I know, but those tend to be the habits I have developed. More often than not, I clip myself onto a harness attached to jack lines when doing an extended coastal passage, irrespective of weather conditions. And yes, I know, there is huge debate about whether I should or not – pros and con’s abound on the use or otherwise of harnesses when dinghy cruising.

So now with suitable context set, back to the questions:

Has my PFD lost buoyancy?  Only one way to find out and that is to pop down to a local marina and test it.   

Do I carry so much personal safety equipment in the pockets of my PFD that I’d sink in a MOB emergency? (had one or two comic nightmares about that scenario)
Given the sailing I do, do I actually need to carry that gear at all?  

From a few years ago - since then I carry different stuff and it is arranged as outlined below

Listed below, the equipment I normally carry routinely in my PFD -
·        Floating waterproof ICOM handheld VHF – either clipped to one of the tether straps on PFD front or in RHS large pocket with aerial poking out between double zip – either way attached with security lanyard as well. (Note - not the one shown in the picture above which now resides in a grab bag). 
·        Mobile phone in water proof pouch which tucks down inside the front of the PFD when worn – another lanyard attaches it to shoulder strap.
·        SPOT PLB Messenger – clipped and lanyard to front of jacket tether strap – left hand side
·        Laser signal strobe light attached to left hand shoulder strap
·        In LHS large pocket
o   folding safety knife on one metre long lanyard tied onto internal pocket D ring
o   Plastic whistle on bungee lanyard
o   Waterproof plastic pouch containing money credit card, emergency contact numbers and driver’s licence and car key – tied to other D ring
·        In RHS pocket, apart from VHF
o   Signal mirror and spare whistle
·        Small front RHS pocket - small 30mg sunblock and lip salve stick, foil wrapped energy bar
·        Small front LHS pocket - waterproof handheld GPS unit
·        Attached to right hand shoulder strap, a locking carabineer so I can clip in the grab bag (my grab bag should float free of Arwen in a capsize if I didn’t have time to grab it when going overboard – contents of grab bag are outlined at end of this blog post).

Does all this fit onto the new life jacket?  Of course not. The moment it inflates – this lot would impede the bladder and I’d sink! After some experimentation, I have found a way of clipping the radio to the waist belt out of the way of the inflated bladder and likewise with the PLB. The rest of the items I put into a specifically designed life jacket waist belt accessories bag – who knew such a thing existed – and it sits around the back of the waist belt out of the way of the inflation bladders. I have tried it and it I can sit comfortably with it just located under my armpit area.

Which now brings me back to the sixty-four billion-dollar questions. Am I carrying too much? Do I need to carry any of this at all?  I genuinely have no idea and I guess it’s down to personal choice and what makes you feel safe. Hand held VHF radio effectiveness is limited by height and so I’d likely have a range of 2 miles tops when in the water – so I’d be reliant on other boats being in the vicinity.  Mobile phone coverage might be better if I’m not under steep cliffs – 18 miles perhaps even if in the water. The PLB will work wherever I am – it has an emergency flip up button. Of course, I have to be conscious to work all three of these things! Signal mirror for daylight; strobe light for failing light or night time rescue. GPS for mayday message location details to coastguard – if of course I hadn’t lost my reading glasses during the MOB or capsize. Suns screen and lip salve – well I could just keep those in a ditty bag but they don’t way much or take up huge space and its just convenient having them in a pocket.  Cash and keys obvious really – if Arwen is lost and I am rescued – I need to retrieve the car etc.

      Carrying so much safety equipment in the pockets, have I made the PFD too bulky and a liability in event of a capsize? Will it make climbing back into Arwen difficult? Will it snag on something during a capsize?  

      Not sure. Some YouTube viewers have commented on the bulkiness of the PFD. I have righting lines and re-entry loops attached to Arwen along with a transom footstep. Whilst swimming last year in the PFD I found re-boarding Arwen at anchor fairly easy. But and it is a big but, the PFD was practically empty, the conditions calm and Arwen still and unmoving.  Could things get snagged? When I think of this factor  I am reminded of poor Emily Gardner, who at 14 yrs old, tragically drowned because she got her poorly fitted PFD caught on a cleat of a powerboat during a capsize.  I wear my PFD snug fit – tensioning straps, waist belt and anti-ride up belt all correctly tightened. Potential snag areas are the radio and the strobe light if I wear them on the shoulder straps or PFD front panels. Possibly the crotch strap as well. These could hook up on a cleat I guess but in truth I  just don’t know in reality.
So, there we have it. I know that some boaters who I have met out on the water or at the ramp or pontoon have commented on my PFD. The Plymouth lifeboat crew in the main seemed OK with what I carried and how it was arranged when I bumped into them one day the year before last at a launch site. They thought I and Arwen were well equipped and wished me a good day’s sailing and were off.  Others have commented the PFD is too bulky for them and they prefer slim fitting ones – fair enough.  A few joked about my increased sinking potential.

At the end of the day I guess it is down to personal choice and whatever floats your boat. If you have any thoughts on the matter, as always, let me know in the comment box below. Informed discussion and observations welcomed, I love learning new things and hearing the wisdom of sailors. Take care now and enjoy your trips out on the water.  

Foot notes:
I have a grab bag on board Arwen -  yellow, waterproof roll down with shoulder strap. Arwen’s name and an emergency contact number in waterproof ink on the front. It resides on the front thwart top, just under the foredeck, held by bungee over the top of it. It is easy to pull free. In the event of a capsize where I can’t right the boat God forbid, I can pull it free.  What’s in it?
·         - Orange bivvy bag and space blanket
·         - Spare VHF, handheld GPS unit and batteries for both
·         - Bottles of water and emergency high energy snack bars
·         - Lip salve and sun cream
·         - Spray hood, spare sunglasses, whistle
·         - Torch and spare batteries
·         - Orange floating smoke can
·         - Sealed fire-starting kit (I have no idea why – but if washed into some inaccessible cove that has         driftwood, I can start a fire!)
·         - Small first aid kit for cuts

Saturday 13 April 2019

Dinghy cruising a John Welsford navigator, oar building part 4


Trying to find somewhere to hide the receipts from 'Her Indoors'!

The smell and crumpling sound of that lightly oiled brown paper.....a joy to my ears.
And there is a spare blade as well.  

Look at the teeth on this bad boy - awesome! 

New Jigsaw with extra new blades and the Japanese pull saw should see off most eventualities on this oar building adventure 

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Dinghy cruising a John Welsford navigator - oar building update 3

Slightly colder - around 11C today but impatience set in. Lets hope everything cures OK.

So, using west epoxy 105 resin with 205 fast hardener.  Using the 1Kg of resin pack and mini pumps 301.  Basic rules about epoxy bonding as I understand them are below. It is many years since I have used the stuff so I had to do a little reading around.

First I prepared the wood by marking it out in 40cm sections and then rough sanding it with 80 grit paper and then a wire brush to rough up the surface. the marking out in sections helped me remember which bits had been sanded and not. It is soft Douglas Fir and so a good surface was established for the epoxy to bond to.

Then came the epoxy mixing in a plastic pot. I checked the rules once more on the can sides and leaflet. Because I am paranoid and wood and epoxy are costly!

  1. you can use it between 4C - 28C
  2. mix it in small batches and get it into a tray quickly so the heat dissipates rapidly and the open working time stays longer.  
  3. Mix thoroughly so that all the resin and hardener are truly mixed together.
  4. Wet out both planks to be bonded with a very thin layer first. Working at around 7C, I  had an open working time of around 20 minutes or so. I used a foam mini roller to spread put the epoxy in thin layers on both planks

         4. I then mixed another batch and added 403 microfibres to thicken the mixture. 
         5. This was then spread across one plank only and the two planks were then joined.
         6.  I then did steps 1 - 5 again with the two plank faces and added the final plank. 

          7.  I had already prepared the clamps and had opened them to the correct gap. They were
               added at 8 - 10" intervals both sides. I didn't bother to use plywood pads below as much
               of the wood where they attach will be cut off when I come to shape the oars. The trick is
               to clamp them with sufficient pressure without squeezing out all the epoxy. Easier said than

             8. I cleared up and removed runs down the sides after a few hours when it became rubbery.
             9. I'm now leaving the boards for around four days so they can fully cure. 

Further tips:

How I wished I had put down plastic sheet under the boards and along the garage floor. Dribbling epoxy went everywhere and its the devils own job to clear up. 

I should have used a couple of clamps over the width of the boards to stop them initially sliding about - would have made life easier. 

Next thing to build is a plywood jig for marking out the octagonal's on the oars when they have been cut to size in plan and elevation dimensions. 

Monday 8 April 2019

Building oars for a John Welsford navigator Part 2

The cardboard templates didn't work very well as outlined in part one. When I taped them together and then put them down on the plank I wasn't convinced that the loom shaft had straightened up accurately.
So I ditched the card templates and then drew out everything on the top plank. This proved fiddly but we got there in the end.

Of course that was wasted effort and I learned a valuable lesson that I had forgotten. One that I taught my GCSE examination groups every single year from whenever.

The lesson?
Make sure you read everything in the question and the associated resource booklet BEFORE you start answering the question!

If I read the instruction manual fully BEFORE marking out the plank - I would have read the bit about where I'd end up cutting off the marked out side when I cut the plank in elevation view.
The reason for making a plywood template is so that you can keep using it because you will need to draw out the plan view of the oars two or three times during the cutting process. Well dur!

So, having wasted nearly three hours, I have now drawn and cut out the plans on some thin plywood. And I have now read through the manual three times from cover to cover!
Sometimes I scare myself at how stupid I really am!

In the meantime clamps have been lightly oiled and opened ready and new oar holders have been cut. These can be screwed to the work bench to hold the oars when planing them down.
Hopefully tomorrow the temperature will be around 11C and with the fan heater on in the garage the temperature should rise a little higher and I can then epoxy bond the planks together.

Beats cutting the grass and strimming the upper woodland slopes. 

Friday 5 April 2019

Building oars for a John Welsford navigator Part One

And so it begins. My last project before the sailing season starts is to build a pair of oars for my John Welsford navigator Arwen.

Arwen's current oars are only 7'6" long and so rowing her is an exercise in patience

After consulting JW about appropriate oar lengths for a navigator, I managed to obtain some plans for a 9'6" pair of oars. Then it was time to search down some appropriate timber which proved far harder to obtain than I realised. I needed three planks 19mm x 184mm x 3150mm, either pine, spruce, ash or Douglas fir.

Wow, timber is pricey. After getting lots of quotes from practically every timber yard and sawmill in south west England, along with visiting local reclamation yards as well, I eventually went to an old friend from long ago, John Moody, in Modbury. He supplied lots of the original timber when Arwen was built nine years ago and he happened to also give me the best price quote for planed wood. I could get it cheaper rough sawn but sadly not knowing anyone with a thicknesser or planer, and not having these things myself, I needed someone to cut and plane it to correct dimensions.

The plans are Chesapeake Light Craft ones and duly arrived last week from Fyne boats in Cumbria, here in the UK.  A detailed manual with measurements and instructions, and for me, very helpfully, photographs. West epoxy was bought locally and I just need to get some 406 filler.

My bandsaw has almost finally given up the ghost - I got it third hand and it has provided sterling service. A quick consultation with John and I decided that I would invest in a new jigsaw rather than bandsaw. There is still life in the old bandsaw but not enough to accurately cut very long planks. John suggested it would be manageable with a jigsaw. Time will tell. A trip to Screwfix and discussion with some carpenter friends I know on local building sites and I came away from Screwfix with a MacAllistar 600W wee-beastie which had lots of recommendations and reviews.

So now I just need to get a spokeshave or a drawknife. Amazing how I have not yet managed to acquire such useful woodworking tools, but  there we go. So some internet research is needed over next few nights.  Block planes, rasps, sharpening stones - all present.

It has been an interesting three hours in the garage this afternoon. I started by creating thick cardboard template patterns - thinking this would be the best way forward, but surprisingly, it didn't work that well. I didn't really think it through properly but joining up the various bits of card to form the long loom didn't quite go right. So, having wasted forty minutes, I started again by turning over the plank and then marked out all the stations again. One complete oar marked out, I then discovered I didn't quite have enough room to fit the loom of the other oar alongside!

!&*%+£"^%* - a few mild curses and having just wasted another fifty minutes, I started again on a second plank and this time managed to fit both oars alongside each other. Just! A jigsaw blade separates the neighbouring looms!

I always find fruit and nut chocolate and copious amounts of hot tea help in such 'lofting out' circumstances. Having failed my maths O Level five times, I have always been mathematically challenged!

Now I have to wait for the temperature to rise before starting the epoxying of the three planks together.  West Epoxy, so the instructions say, requires a temp higher that 15C - my cold garage is around 7C and even with a heater on it will barely get to 15C.  I have to be careful using heater, flood lights etc in the garage as it is below the main house - so I tend to work in it in a state of paranoia.

So, for now, I will read the manual several times, sharpen the tools, sort out the garage so that I can cut the long planks more easily and assemble clamps and little plywood clamp pads.

If any one reading this has any suggestions for a good finish for a pair of oars, let me know via the comment box below. Thanks