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

Sunday 30 June 2019

Dinghy cruising around Salcombe

Hopefully I may be able to get a couple of days overnighting up Salcombe creeks such as Southpool and Frogmore over the next week or so.

Tides are building up to springs with HT around 0630 onward for the week. Winds are from the NW or north around 12 kts although there are some nasty gusts around 20kts or so, which of course, will spill off the surrounding plateau slopes and whistle down the various valleys and creeks.

Anyway, batteries are being charged for cameras and drone and power packs have all been charged up over this last week. Galley boxes are packed. Mast fittings (after last week's disaster) checked and triple checked.

It just remains to pack sleeping gear, toiletries and clothes and get Arwen off the drive and onto the road when neighbours are out and not parked opposite the drive.

Arwen moored up on one of the visitor pontoons in the 'Bag' area of the Kingsbridge estuary on our last trip out there 

Friday 28 June 2019

Charging a VHF radio using portable power banks

Well, so far, things seem to be going well. If you have followed previous recent posts, I have been discussing the use of a solar panel charger and assorted power banks to charge on-board portable electronic devices such as tablet, mobile phone and various camera batteries.

The issue of using a 5v/2.4A output power bank to charge a 6V/0.6A VHF ICOM M-23 - troubled me but I think the issue has been resolved. I have been testing the 'MyVolts' 5V to 6V ripcord cable and so far on a limited test it seems to work. The radio is recharging, nothing is getting hot, nothing has gone puff in smoke.

I have yet to charge the radio from almost depleted. My radio has been left switched on for three days tuned to channel 14 Long-room in Plymouth and the battery icon still shows the three full bars!!

On Monday I am heading off to Salcombe for a couple of days with the hope of an overnighter either in Frogmore or Southpool creeks or up at Kingsbridge. During the trip the solar panel (Big Blue 28W) and the ripcord cable will get a fuller work out.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

The Queen Elizabeth Aircraft carrier in Plymouth Sound

Sneaked a quick sail today around Plymouth Sound. It coincided with a visit from HMS Queen Elizabeth, our biggest aircraft carrier which was moored south of the breakwater.

A 4.5m tide with HT at 11.45am and southerly winds around 6 kts making it a lazy sailing day.

Elsewhere, however, it was very busy. Helicopters circling the Queen Elizabeth, her police escorts and guards circling slowly. Royal Marines and Royal Navy teams  boarding vessels in training runs, from high speed pacific ribs and boats.

And then there was the meeting of the Cornish Shrimper Association - fifty boats making their way across to Cawsand for a raft up. I hope they didn't mind me joining them for a time.

We tacked back and forth across the sound on a broad reach; we close reached into Cawsand Bay. Flotsam drifted by on the outgoing tide. Sail and fishing boats came and went. Princess boats did high speed tests in Jennycliffe Bay.

Seagulls patiently waiting on mooring buoys

divers down in Jennycliffe Bay

And a tourist boat came to pay us a visit

A mast fitting gave way which dropped all of the sail into the boat rather rapidly. Scared me to death. Fortunately I was sat on the port side and the whole sail dropped into the starboard part of the boat just as I was doing a tack. A shackle pin had worked loose! To be truthful if it had hit me on the head I'm not sure I'd have remained conscious.

Ever dropped your mast in the middle of the sea to replace a shackle?  From disaster to re-hoisted sail in under ten minutes. Good job it was a light wind day. And have I ever told you how much I love my mizzen sail?

RFA task force vessels left harbour sounding their klaxons paying due respects to the anchored Queen Elizabeth. Coastal tankers arrived into the Cattedown on the top of the tide, heading for the wharves.

Arwen and I settled into a relaxed rhythm for the day. She sailed her self. I ate marmite and cheese sandwiches and generally lazed about admiring the views ad busy going ons of our Senior Service.

Occasionally I worked up enough energy to wave to passing shrimpers.

Sometime this week Arwen will get a detailed once over, every nook and cranny, every fixture and fitting scrutinised and then next week we head off to Salcombe for a few days sailing and overnight camping.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Charging a VHF radio from a power bank

If you have been following blog posts during June 2019, you will know I am trying to power all my portable devices on Board Arwen from a series of portable power banks thus doing away the need to install a 12v system on the boat.

My ICOM M23 VHF handheld radio was a problem - the wall charger  provides an output of 6v 0.6A. My power bank provides 5v 2.4A.  It is clearly under-powered.

After some head scratching and research, a company 'MyVolts' may have provided a solution and I am about to test it out as the cables have finally arrived.

This ripcord cable will convert 5v to 6v and hopefully solve the charging issue.  It came with a dc barrel jack conversion kit as well. 

The company's website can be found here

Next week I am hoping to get out on the water for a couple of days and I will post back how I get on charging the radio overnight

Monday 17 June 2019

Wooden oar making for a sailing dinghy 6

So, worrying about other things I sought respite in turning square loom oars into octagonal oar looms only to later discover at the end that I had actually shaved octagonal the area that had to remain square edged for the upper loom counterweights.

In addition, I had forgotten even after initially checking the plans twenty minutes earlier - that the loom taped from 46mm down to 38mm in diameter. Mine is now an octagonal 40mm diameter along the length!

I don't think people fully appreciate how much energy and effort goes into maintaining the high levels of incompetency and moronship that I achieve daily. In fact I have often felt people have just not sufficiently celebrated these particular talents of mine.

After all it takes a really unique ability to be really bloody stupid at everything!

I'm now going to find a quiet corner to cry in after which I guess I will go down the DIY store buy some strip pine and stick back on the edges I spent the afternoon taking off!

If only God had had the foresight to provide me with a brain..................................................................

Friday 14 June 2019

First impressions of the Big Blue 5v 28W solar panel charger

Regular readers of this blog will know I am aiming to charge all electrical devices on Arwen in a sustainable manner using a combination of power banks and a portable solar panel charger. Previous posts on charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising can be found by accessing the menu on the right - June 2019.

The charger I bought was the Big Blue 5V 28W solar charger – which came top in many online review sites. 

It helped that the price had fallen by £20 in a flash sale on Amazon as well – so I managed to get it for around £40. Right time, right place – it rarely happens for me.

I have tried the panel once so far and was impressed. In partially cloudy conditions it charged the phone up 15% in just under an hour – supplying an average v amperage throughout that time. I have nothing to compare this with but I felt it was fast and efficient. Accompanying literature suggests it has an amazing 21% to 23.5% solar efficiency.

POSTSCRIPT  update - today in fairly sunny conditions it charged the phone up 50% in just under an hour and three quarters. 

It comes with two USB out-ports but based on this initial test in partially cloudy conditions, I’m thinking it is probably best to use one port at a time rather than two simultaneously – so that you get maximum charging efficiency to a device. I know it contains a chip which assures a stable charge rate.

The Big Blue comes with an auto restart and charge interruption recovery function (so if a cloud passes over the sun, or if the sun angle changes to cause a temporary shadow on the panels - it starts recharging when the sun reappears) and a very cool integrated digital ammeter. Hence, I know what amperage was being produced.

The pack seems durable – a Cordura outer rucksack like material which should stand up to abrasion forces and it comes with four small carabineer hooks and a USB micro cable. You will need other cables for digital cameras and GoPros etc – but the panel will charge most of these devices. The carabineers hook to four eyelets so that it can be hung in various positions off rucksacks etc. There is a pocket for the device you are charging but in many reviews, it seems that your device could overheat in the pocket in the full sun and therefore the best option was to get a longer USB cable and keep the charging device in the shade in a bag.

The actual panels themselves are Sunpower panels and these seem to be generally regarded as the best.

Overall this seems to be a simple, uncomplicated charger and I’m already liking it just from initial tests. It will lie across my saddle bags, across one of Arwen’s thwarts or dangle from my 30 Lt day sack. It also comes with a two year warranty as well.

What are the cons? Well it is a bit big and bulky – not massively so – just over the weight of an Ipad I guess. On the kitchen scales it is weighing in at 22 ounces. Of course, this is a trade off as the larger the panel the more efficient it is but the heavier it will be. It isn’t fully waterproof (to IPX4) but is splash proof which is fine.

Charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising using portable power banks

Previous posts on charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising can be found by accessing the menu on the right - June 2019.

My new iMuto Tarus X4 20,000 mAh power bank and separate Big Blue 28W solar panel charger duly arrived in the post this morning.  I am trying to develop a portable electronics device charging system that can be used across all my outdoor activities including dinghy cruising. Regular readers will know I am also trying to avoid installing a 12v system in Arwen. The issue of charging the VHF from a power bank may have been solved by a company called ‘MyVolts’ and I will share the outcome of the experiment in a future post.

In this blog I briefly summarize first impressions of the iMuto power bank. It is on the table alongside me and over the last forty minutes it has dropped 5% in its power storage but taken my android phone up from 63% charge up to 94% charge. Bottom line it seems fast and powerful!

Other initial impressions – compact and rugged construction. Aesthetically pleasing design with rounded corners, the pack is hand size and about an inch thick. However, I suspect some would say it is form over function and rather dull looking. It came with a bag and USB cable. The digital display showing what % of power is left is so much better that other power banks which indicate power level left through the number of flashing blue lights. You know precisely what power you have left. The accompanying data sheet says the iMuto will charge an iPad mini 2 times, or a galaxy S8 4 times and apparently a MacBook 1 time. My phone charge, if I use Navionics charts on it will last around 7 hrs. It is an old phone! So theoretically I should get several days sailing charges from this power bank.

One of the other reasons I bought it was the fact that it has a ‘smart’ protection system that will identify the charging requirements of the device it is plugged into and then intelligently adapt the level of current supplied to a safe and speedy level. So, no over-charging, over voltage or short circuiting!

The charging input is 5v/2.1A micro USB connection. It came with 85% charge and the booklet says it will take 10 hrs to charge and you can do it off a laptop or normal compatible wall phone charger.  The two out-ports are rated at 2.1A and 1A.

How durable it is only time will tell. It feels solid and well-constructed.

Negatives as such – well only one I can initially spot and that is it is a slightly heavier beastie that I expected – around 460 gms – so a tad bulky. It is certainly thick – around an inch. However, given I do little trekking nowadays where weight would be an issue – I’m OK with this. But don’t expect this to slip in the back pocket of your jeans.

Oh, and one more thing – it comes with a little inbuilt LED torch. Useful in a tent or under the tarp on Arwen.  I will update this post after a few months of testing it.

Thursday 13 June 2019

Making wooden oars for a dinghy 5

It continues. Oar one has been rough shaped and just needs some finishing with spoke shave. Oar two is being cut out of its blank. No machines have been used or harmed in the making of these oars. The Japanese pullsaw, spoke shave and Stanley block plane are holding up well.  I have been enjoying myself taking this slow approach to oar making.

I still have to track down leather for the loom protectors. I will be fibre glassing blade tips. The blades will be painted as will the counterweights at the inner ends. The looms will be varnished.

Following the plans......................

Tracing around the self made  patterns

hand cutting the blanks

saving the sawdust - I have no idea why though - some deep psychosis here 

Oar one almost complete 

Just needs some final spoke shave work 


Monday 10 June 2019

The wonderful NHS - it is worth fighting for

With the furore over Trump and the USA 'buying' the NHS - I got to experience the best of it once again recently. Two days after an emergency Doctor's appointment I was in hospital getting exploratory tests done. Biopsy results will be back in under three weeks. It is a nervous wait.

On the day, my surgical team treated 40 patients that day. During all the time I was there what impressed me most was the dignity, compassion, kindness, interest and good natured banter shared with the patients. Nurses who barely had time to get a tea break themselves but who managed to rustle up a tea, coffee or hot chocolate with custard creams for each of their patients that day. Nurses who between doing med obs, cleaning beds and equipment, moving patients on beds between treatment and recovery bays - had time to sit with those who were nervous, those who were in pain and those who just wanted to talk.   A ward where banter and humour echoed off the walls despite the fact that they were overstretched and undermanned.

Where professionalism underpinned everything they did that day, from the welcome and paper work to explaining to each patient what was going to happen and why; patiently answering questions, carefully listening, acting on patient's wishes and finally ensuring that each patient understood the findings and implications of their examinations and what the next steps should be. It didn't matter your background, wealth or ethnicity - you all got treated the same - fairly, with dignity, kindness and respect and all for free.

Which brings me back to the USA possibly wanting a slice of the NHS in any future BREXIT trade negotiations.

May hell freeze over before that happens. 

We should never, under any circumstances, expect to see a USA insurance based healthcare system here in the UK. None of the NHS services should be privatised if truth be known. If we want to fund the NHS, if we want it to grow, provide the most advanced medicine and treatemts and avoid the unfairness of a postcode lottery for treatment and drugs provision then we need to fund it. Maybe, we do need to add a penny or two to basic income tax to fund it - and yes, that may need means testing in some way so that it is fair to all earners; perhaps it should be a penny or two on national insurance for all - perhaps instead of empty promises, our prospective Prime Minster candidates should explain truthfully how they intend to protect, fund and improve the NHS so that such inequalities between postcodes do not exist.

Somethings are precious and worth fighting for - the NHS is one of those things. For that matter, so is social care provision!

charging your small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising

Whilst waiting for the new 24W Big Blue solar panel to arrive, I am now turning attention to investigating whether I can establish a connection between my Powermonkey traveller and my ICOM M23.

The Big Blue 28W solar charger 

A 1.7mm x 4mm male barrel jack into the radio charge point

The 12v outport on the PowerMonkey Traveller uses a 1.7mm x 5.5mm male barrel jack. The power bank gives out 5v 700mA or DC 12v 0.8A. It is a 10,000 mAh capacity. It is quite old now and there are better integrated solar charger/power banks out there now. But, as always, I get sentimentally attached to pieces of equipment that have served me well and accompanied me on my travels. This power bank is one such piece.

The other power bank I use is an iMuto 20000mAh with two 5v/2.4A USB ports.

The VHF radio is charged by a 1.7mm x 4mm male barrel jack - the wall charger giving out 6v 0.6A. It has a 3.7v Li-ion battery 1500mAh.

I could just buy a spare radio battery - around £20 and charge both up before I leave home. Each battery will last around 10 hrs. So three days sailing possibly and then I could use my spare radio which takes AA batteries for the remainder of any trip - but that would chomp through batteries and I am trying to be sustainable here.

I am trying to avoid installing a 12v system in Arwen - instead spending money on items that will be used across a range of activities from climbing and camping trips to cycle  and canoe touring.  I have elaborated on these principles in previous recent posts.

I am no electrician but I am assuming that a USB cable with a male barrel jack on the end running from either power bank to the radio isn't going to charge it - power bank out put is 5v/2.4A and the radio input from its wall charger is 6v 0.6A.

So I need something to increase the 5v to 6v I am assuming.  I have been looking at something such as this

This item is a 5v USB to 6v 1.05A converter with centre positive polarity (what is that?)
I have contacted the seller 'MyVolts' who are based in Dublin - asking for their help and advice as to whether this connecting cable will link the power banks and radio correctly and I await their answer.

I know the simplest solution is to put in a 12v system in my spare galley box with appropriate usb and cigarette sockets and possibly an inverter/converter affair. However, it is one more thing in Arwen and something that I cannot then use across my other outdoor activities.

But I'm not powering a bilge pump or a GPS/chartplotter. All I need to recharge are GoPro and camera batteries, my mobile phone, a tablet and the VHF radio. All except the latter also go with me when trekking, canoeing, camping, cycle touring and climbing. The Big Blue 28w solar charger recharges tablet, phone, batteries and power banks. It won't power charge the VHF.

I cannot be, surely, the only dinghy cruiser who doesn't want to install a 12v system but does want a flexible, sustainable approach to charging small electronic devices?

I will let you know what MyVolts come back with and what solution I find in my next post.