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

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Can you see what it is yet - 2?

It is becoming a little clearer perhaps?

Every self respecting sea man of old had one

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Sometimes it is nice to just go paddling instead of sailing......but only occasionally

When at the back of a double kayak, you can sometimes get away with not paddling and letting the person in front do all the work.

That stupid idea lasted all of 10 seconds - the boss noticed!

A paddle around Thurlestone arch and bay was rather refreshing on one of the hottest days of the year followed by a good snorkel across the wave cut platform gullies 

Can you see what it is yet?

Next sewing project on its you work out what it will be?

Must have gadgets that double for travel and dinghy cruising

John Welsford got me thinking a few weeks ago after a comment he made to me on a Facebook post. It went something along the lines of ‘dinghy cruising is like land backpacking but on water and with a little extra space’

Interesting as we were having a discussion at the time about charging small electronics on a small boat. I was trying to argue the need for packing succinctly and lightweight. John was pointing out that Arwen could handle the weight of a small 12v system installed in a box in her hull!

If you want to follow that argument – see previous recent posts on charging small electronic devices in a small open boat during May _ July 2019

What John set me off thinking on – was ‘what equipment have I got which doubles up as dinghy cruising stuff and for use on travel, cycling, camping and trekking adventures?’

So here goes: some of the essentials I seem to use on all my adventures, irrespective of transport mode

Packing cubes – are such a simple thing but make life in a rucksack or waterproof duffle bag so much easier. Basically, a bag with a zip in which you put clothes – mine are organised in a simple fashion – one bag has one complete set of clothes in it – socks, underwear, shirt, trousers and fleece. I have two or three of those depending on length of trip. Another bag has two spare sets of socks, underwear and shirts. Another a spare fleece and set of trousers. Another holds toiletries and towels. Simple, efficient organisation – each in a dry bag within a larger dry-duffle or each in a dry bag stored in the under deck forward locker.

Cotton sleeping bag liner – used in some dodgy hotels in rural China and Tanzania; in rather humid Gambia and Costa Rica. I sometimes use it instead of my sleeping bag in warm weather on Arwen and then throw a lightweight fleece blanket over the top if there is a chill in the night. My 4-season down sleeping bag can be very hot and uncomfortable some August nights!

 Waterproof 30 lt dry sac rucksack from Lomo – inside it are various sized roll top dry bags. Used in downpours in Costa Rica – this day sac with its various dry sacs has gone many places with me and is frequently on Arwen – carrying camera gear and batteries – even my DJI drone. The rucksack folds down small and tucks out of the way. I can clip it in the rear cockpit or store it on the front thwart under the fore deck.

I rarely prompt products on my blog. However, occasionally I will make an exception to this, particularly when I find kit that is value for money. I have bought only Lomo dry bags for the last few years. Despite some rigorous testing conditions on the boat and whilst cycling, none have ever failed me. In fact, the front zip on the above rucksack suddenly split about two months ago and is now non functioning. The first failure of any piece of Lomo equipment I have. 

Cameras – my Sony HX 90, Canon 800D and GoPro’s travel in air and watertight plastic boxes inside dry sacs inside the Lomo rucksack. Triple layer protection against water ingress in event of capsize.

Canon 800D starter kit came with 18 - 55mm and 55 - 200mm beginner lens
I have posted before about taking photographs from boats and my camera gear and tips for photography from a boat can be found in this previous post.

I adore this lightweight compact camera - the only draw back is it wont take an external mic

Portable power banks and solar charge panels – see recent posts on small boat electronics but in essence I travel with a combination of big Blue 28W solar panel charger and then a combination of power banks depending on my needs – iMuto 20000mAh and/or Power Monkey Traveller Extreme (5v and 12v outputs). It is one of the most used gadgets I have – taken on all my travels. One bank charges all the batteries and mobile and android tablet during the night and I can often get two- or three-nights worth of charging from one power bank. The solar panel charger then charges up the power bank during the day sail or cycle ride.

My posts about using this can be found here

The Imuto 20,000 mAh - so far it has charged my mobile phone 7 times before I needed to recharge the pack itself

PowerMonkey Traveller expedition extreme - indestructible - love it!

My stretchy Mountain Equipment balaclava – yup – it goes everywhere – even hot climates if I intend getting up in early mornings, during the night or am tempted to do some mountain climbing. It acts as a beanie, balaclava and neck covering. Don’t go anywhere without it! Now 20 years old – it is still going strong – you get what you pay for – it cost a lot – its been worth it.

A first generation original Gortex bivvy bag – bought in the mid 1980’s I goes with me if I am off-road travelling in any country, on any camping or mountaineering trip and always on an overnight cruise on Arwen. Lightweight and small size it is an extra layer at night. I can camp on a beach without a tent, being inconspicuous. Brilliant piece of kit – love it.

A set of Helly Hansen base layer thermals – depending on the season but often go with me on Arwen and regularly in my expedition kit - it can get cold at night even in the tropics, the Med or stuck up a creek up the river Tamar in August.

My beloved small Trangia stove – if I am camping, cycle touring or dinghy cruising – this goes with me. How attached am I to it – when I climbed Kilimanjaro both times – it came with me! Lightweight, compact, with a small bottle of meth’s, this stove has never failed to work or cheer me up with its bright flame and hiss – even in the most desperate of situations! Sadly, it no longer looks as gleaming as the one below but you can see many videos of it in action on my associated YouTube channel -

My spork – well two of them in fact. A spork for the uninitiated is a spoon, fork and tiny knife in one. I use it for street food when travelling abroad, an eating utensil on camping and cruising trips. A tip - take two. An individual spork is next to useless - wait until you come to cut a pork chop with it!! Then you will understand!

Waterproof case for my mobile phone and a waterproof, submergeable plastic credit card holder  – both AquaPac – if I’m heading anywhere wet, monsoonal, near the coast, on a river – these goes with me. I always encase my phone when on Arwen. 

Quick dry micro fleece towels – normally I take two of these – one extra, extra large and one smaller – they dry quickly, pack down tight, weigh barely anything and double as sarongs, slings and lord knows what else over the years.

LuminAID solar powered inflatable light – I think it was Steve Early who put me onto this one a few years back – although I will have to check with him. Anyway, an inflatable, collapsible light giving LED light during the night with a built-in solar panel. Attach it to backpack, cycle panniers or thwart during the day in the sunshine. Simple and clever – amazing gadget which now goes with me on off-road trekking, travelling and camping trips.

SPOT PLB messenger – goes with me on every sailing trip; goes with me on any wilderness cycle, trekking or travelling trip – here and abroad. Can send simple ‘I’m OK’ messages back to designated mobile phones. Hit the red button and summons help, irrespective of wherever you are in the world. Relies on Satellites not internet or mobile networks.

Mine is the generation 2 version - I can send regular update messages to the Boss's mobile phone just telling her I am OK. The tracker function sends regular updates of position which she can follow on a laptop. All very useful if I happen to be out of mobile phone range or in a non mobile phone connectivity area. I can hit an SS button and it relays messages to an emergency centre which then alert UK emergency services that I need emergency help at a specific Lat/Long location. I am, in truth, also thinking of investing in another PLB which just immediately alerts emergency services. 

Swiss army knife and Gerber small multi-tool – go everywhere with me on any travels or dinghy trip – hidden away in hold luggage if travelling internationally – the Swiss army knife is of very high sentimental value – I’ve had it for over twenty years now.

Well there are some of my favourite items which cross all my adventures. I could add more and I am sure you have many of your own. What pieces of kit do you take on/across most of your outdoor adventures? Share them in the comment box below.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Making a canvas 'sail ties' storage bag

Sail ties? What to do with them after unfurling your sail?
In the past mine have been dropped somewhere in an 'out of the way' corner of the cockpit - a crumpled heap of tape, ready to trap the unsuspecting foot.

But now, they won't! Instead they will be quickly stored in a new, convenient 'sail ties storage bag' that will hang from the inside of the front starboard side coaming - within easy reach since I always unfurl my sails from the starboard side of the boat (don't ask me why - no idea).

30 cms long, 25 cms high 
two sides simply stitched together
1.5 hrs work whilst listening to afternoon Radio 4 programmes 

Having run out of waxed thread, probably a good thing, I am now planning a sea man's duffle bag and maybe a new wallet. In the meantime, I have no excuse for not tackling the three steep lawns and trimming back the hedges and woodland area. Rats!

Monday 19 August 2019

making a sailors rigging ditty bag

Finally version two is finished.

Below is a photograph of the two ditty bags side by side. The blue was MK 1 and the red MK2. I'm personally favouring MK 2. It is neater all round.  I think my ancestors would approve more of version MK 2.

Now neither bag is pristine. I cleaned that work bench several times and despite this, both bags ended up looking slightly grubby.......I prefer 'deliberately aged and distressed' as part of the authentication process!

I have written  in an earlier blog about how I went about making the bag including details of measurements and alterations I would make (have made) if I were to do it again.

Under the photo below, I have put a little more about the history of ditty bags that I have researched off various internet websites for those of you who are interested in such things.

It has been really nice getting feedback from some of you via FaceBook and the blog about your thoughts on the ditty bags. Thanks to those of you who took the trouble to point me in the direction of some YouTube material as well. Most appreciated. 

Both bags will be used on-board Arwen, as outlined in my first blog post on ditty bags.  In the meantime, rather enjoying my improving canvas work skills, I might turn my hand to making a one or two other items. Perhaps a canvas wash bag and a sailors canvas bag. of no practical use whatsoever on Arwen, but a new set of skills to learn and something fun to do once the autumn evenings draw in.  

On the workbench, waiting patiently, some blocks of Douglas fir, sheaves, brass pins, SS thimbles, hemp rope and waxed seizing twine.......making some stropped wooden blocks for Arwen - seems a worthwhile 'side' project to undertake in he next few weeks. 

Some history to Ditty Bags

I briefly outlined some of the history of the ditty bag in my first posts on making my first ditty bag but here are some further details from research gleaned off the web.  A good place to start is

an old ditty bag circa 1842 - 1862

Additional information is as follows:

There is considerable variance over the origins of the term 'ditty bag'. Possibilities include: 

Derived from the old Saxon word 'dite' meaning 'tidy'

From the old English word 'dittis' - a type of canvas material

There is a Scottish word 'dight' meaning 'to clean, repair or make good'

Old American naval sites suggest that the term originates from the word 'ditto bag'  because it contained two of everything e.g. two needles, two spools of thread, two get the idea. Anyway, over the years 'ditto' was dropped in favour of 'ditty'. 

The existence of the word can certainly be found in records dating back to the 18th century and Admiral Smyth in 1867 referred to the term in his 'Sailor's word book'. 

A ditty bag is a small, portable bag that kept tools , equipment and personal items. It went alongside a sailor's sea bag or sea chest and old sailors often referred to a ditty bag as 'me housewife' because it held all the essentials for the repair of clothing, personal belongings and everything on deck! it was kept close to hand, often slung from a hammock ring or a peg/hook next to the sailor's bunk in the forecastle. 

Very often, a ditty bag (and a sea bag) were the first items an apprentice sail-maker made. In making these items he would use the same stitching techniques when making and repairing sails. Seaming, making twine grommets and sewing eyelets were all important skills.  In fact, old timers would often insist that 'a proper sea bag' would have five flat seams with the bottom also being put in with a flat seam too. 

Although referred to as a ditty bag - I'm not sure this example is - I think this is a sailor's sea bag - an entirely different beastie in my opinion - but I am happy to be corrected - after all - what do I know? (Generally very little if truth be told). 

Given that sailors of old would often spend any down time sewing new clothes, patching up old ones and making decorative patterns to demonstrate self-expression, sewing was a critical sailor skill. 

Most ditty bags would contain the following items:

  • marlinspike
  • pricker
  • palm
  • seam rubber
  • sail hook
  • case with needles
  • wax blocks and/or horn full of grease
  • fids of assorted sizes
  • balls of twine
  • sewing mallet
  • and often, a fancy little serving board

There seems to be some agreement as to the dimensions of a ditty bag and these I shared in the first posts about my first effort. 

Saturday 17 August 2019

Sailors canvas riggers ditty bag

As promised, version two is on its way. Scroll down the previous page of blogs to find all the details about how to make one, or look it up in the month of August 2019 on the right hand menu.

I have made a number of slight alterations from the first one and I discussed these possibilities in the previous blog posts.

But for now, here is a progress report - straighter stitching, better grommets, nicer design.

Just have to install the plywood base and tack it all together with copper tacks.

the first effort - not bad but not good enough either

the image model for the second effort!

Cloth cut to size - seams and fold lines marked on - accurately and folds done and creased

Pocket material cut and marked out to size, correctly folded seams

top seams stitched correctly, holes cut, correctly
and grommets stitched more accurately and neatly

Going for a toggle and loop handle affair

More updates and pictures to follow - hope to finish it in the next few days 

Saturday 10 August 2019

How to make a sailors traditional canvas ditty bag

What I was aiming for was something like a cross between  this…….

and this......

But what I got was this…………

Not a straight stitch line in sight – despite careful measurement and pencil lines.

Despite taking my time and checking everything at least three times.

Despite un-stitching and starting again……..

HOW, I ask myself?
I mean, really, HOW?
It just doesn’t make sense! How can I get everything I make so wrong?

Our brains are amazing, wonderful things. 100 billion neurons gathering and transmitting electro-chemical signals along myelin sheathed axons to synapse nodal points where neuron dendrites intertwine so that these signals can be shared with muscles and nerves in hands and eyes. Individual neurons firing signals across a vast network.

So, HOW?
I mean seriously, HOW?
How can I not co-ordinate the simplest of measurements or construction tasks? How does every straight line I ever draw in life, turn out sinuously curved?

For reference, here are the plans I worked from. 
I am, sadly, unable to locate a source for the diagram I found on the internet

I have no evidence to support this, but I have always like to think that heredity, biological inheritance, call it what you will, has passed down through family DNA from one generation to the next, a series of familial traits. That my siblings and I have this overwhelming need to either live near the sea, (minutes away from it by foot or car) or to escape to the coast whenever they can, is one such trait. The sea calls us constantly, the sense of wilderness adventure and exploration strong in all of us. After all, great Grandfathers and great, great grandfathers were seafarers, dockside watermen and boat pilots, chief stewards and sailing masters for wealthy sailing Victorian entrepreneurs’, dockside importers and exporters and of course, engineers and hill farmers. All practical, highly skilled and knowledgeable men.

In the twisted tangle of neuron networks within the deepest recesses of my brain, all is clearly not well. The electrochemical messages flitting between neurons that should carry these heredity genetic codes of marlinspike work, seamanship, simple design, precision measurement and proud craftsmanship are failing.

And failing badly.

Despite their best electrically charged efforts, my little neurons regularly heave a collective sigh and give metaphorical shrugs and eye rolls of their dendritic shoulders.
Craftsmanship just isn’t going to happen. Ever!

Perfection, even mere satisfactory ‘slight imperfection’, in measurement, construction and seamanship is clearly beyond the capability of this latest descendent. Synapses across my cortex resignedly conclude that it will be another long generational wait before someone picks up and displays the ability to use the skills of design, form, function and coordination of hands and eyes to produce something of beautiful, ornate perfection. Heredity has not passed on these skills from father to son. Only time will tell whether there had been a generational gap and hope will reignite in the only grandson. It doesn’t look good though, his enduring reply to any question about making something, ‘Dad, do these hands look suitable for manual labour?” Academic researchers - eh?

In the meantime, digressive thoughts aside - back to producing an old-fashioned ditty bag.

I have always wanted to make a sail riggers little ditty tool bag. This desire comes from several factors but two in particular drive it.

Firstly, I have never been one for toolboxes. I have no idea why, given my father has a very impressive collection of them dating back through his career as an engineer, to when he started out as an Apprentice Fitter.  I have always selected what I tools need, carrying them in my hands and the pockets of my work apron to the job being done on Arwen and then returning them to their respective wall rack back in the garage. No toolbox desire for me.

But, as I have grown older, the number of trips between garage and boat 10’ away on the drive have increased.

 Annoying at first, it elicited mild cursing under the breath – but now it has morphed in to an inevitable ‘regular’ forgetfulness that permeates all aspects of my domestic and former working life.
Pushed to self-honest reflection, I would have to admit that one of the reasons for early retirement was the inability to retain so much new syllabus knowledge in my head. So many curricula content changes, so many variations to working practices. Always one to embrace change and development across my career, age is finally catching up with me. A teacher with extensive ‘memory’ notes in hand because he cannot remember, recall or just plain forgets the core ideas he wishes to share and explore - is never inspiring for teenagers is it?

And so, retreating from this digression, a ditty bag seems a perfect solution to this problem of tool forgetfulness. The tools I use regularly on Arwen, stored in one bag, ready to go. A perfect solution.

Oh yes, and the second reason?

Well if you have ever worked on a boat that resides on a steeply sloping driveway, you will feel empathy for this problem. That fearsome clunk, clink, clickety click, as a tiny nut or shackle pin rolls off the sloping thwart down into the deepest bilge board recess. That screwdriver you reach for, no longer there because it has slide beneath your feet into that space below where mast and sails lie across the cockpit.
Ah, the joys of maintaining a wooden boat on a steep driveway, the pain of ‘avoidable expended energy’, as you contort body into confined spaces to retrieve a tool or fitting – dear reader you cannot understand that pain and frustration, unless of course, you’ve been there!

In researching a little about ditty bags I came across Hervey Garrett Smith. In his excellent little book ‘The marlinspike sailor’, he notes that

“Knowledge of marlinspike seamanship is what distinguishes a true sea man from the man who merely ventures out on the water at infrequent intervals

Since I merely venture out in Arwen at infrequent intervals, it is clear that I need to develop my marlinspike seamanship to become a true seaman!

“No one should become a skipper, or should aspire to that distinction, who has not mastered knots, palm and needle work………and the few required knots, hitches and bends should be so well known that they can be tied blindfolded or in the dark. The rank of able seaman must be earned”.

Well clearly, I have some work to do!

Ditty bags were possibly the most distinctive, idiosyncratic item that any sailor owned. From storing pipe and tobacco to clothing or tools for sail making or even scrimshaw, ditty bags became examples of a sailor’s ability to sew, decorate canvas and produce fine marlinspike rope work. Canvas and wood, the odd copper tack or two, they had carefully crafted grommets and spliced hemp handles. Soft bottomed so that they wouldn’t scar deck or hull sides, they were a companion to the sailors’ sea chest, the ditty bag hanging on a hook by his hammock.

Most ditty bags had similar dimensions.  15 – 20 cm in diameter, 30 – 38 cm deep, generally with a round bottom wood insert and four to eight eye holes around the top – marked by hand stitched grommets, into which were worked the legs of the spliced lanyards. Often these lanyards were elaborate works of art in their own right, dependent on the skill and fancy of the sailor concerned, an opportunity to display knot making – a Matthew Walker’s knot, a plaited or crowned sennit or two. The sailors initial stitched in coloured twine to show ownership.

A brief summary of one of the kinds of stitching method I used on my ditty bag 

The other stitching tool used, other than needle and sailors palm was the speedy stitcher sewing awl 

Knowing my inability to replicate anything well from a plan, I was aiming for a simple bag, as my first attempt!

My ditty bag will contain various tools on the outside in deep pockets – pliers, sharp knife, screw drivers, a small hacksaw, fid’s, pencils, a small clamp and cutters. Inside, sail needles, sail twine spools, a sailmakers leather palm, a ball of waxed cotton thread, speedy stitcher, awl, a spare shackle or two, some thimbles and a reel of electrical tape.  Spare bolts and screws of assorted sizes, some wooden bungs, a few plywood patches and a tube of underwater epoxy putty may be added. The tools and bits and pieces to cover most minor maintenance eventualities on Arwen.  

It is fair to say, my first effort would gain a ‘good effort but further practice needed’ on any report card and so I feel once again, the metaphorical shrugging of my heredity neurons within my deepest cortex recesses….’maybe next time’.

But, on the bright side, skills have been trialled – sewing flat diagonal stitching, creating a nesting ring grommet, tying my first running turk’s head knot.

Baby steps, baby steps! Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I have every intention of making a second ditty bag, the same as this one, only better, with some modifications – ideas learned through this first experience!!

Below, I have laid out the basics of how I constructed this first effort, along with some suggested modifications. If I have failed to explain in sufficient detail how to do something, internet searching will reveal an explanation, and please forgive my omissions.

So here goes……………

The materials
·        Old duck cotton material salvaged from an old 1950’s scout bell tent – a whitish cream colour and in good condition.  The diagram further up  gives size dimensions and was the nearest thing I had to a plan
·        Not on the plan and therefore self-worked out (hear those neurons sighing?) – blue thinner canvas for the pockets – I’ll give measurements further down – although there was a little trial and error
·        Half inch three strand hemp rope – I used around a metre and a half of it for handles, opening outside grommet and, when untwisted, for making small grommets for handle holes in the canvas
·        Around a metre and a half of 6mm three strand hemp rope for making running turk’s head knots
·        A 6.5 inch diameter piece of 9mm thick plywood, for the base
·        Several metres of waxed sail twine
·        Around 50 cm of 1 cm wide, 4mm thick, leather strip for the base
·        20 or so 10 mm long copper tacks
·        Some evo-stick contact cement  - I cheated!! Just a tiny, tiny bit

The tools
·        Sharp utility knife
·        Tape measure
·        Steel one metre ruler
·        Steel set square (40 cm long sides)
·        Small hammer
·        Pointed nose pliers
·        Sail stitching needles – various sizes
·        Speedy stitcher
·        Swiss army penknife
·        Awl
·        Pencil
·        Small Fid
·        Electrical tape
·        Bandsaw and sander
·        Heavy duty scissors

The steps
1.       Layout your canvas on a clean flat surface. If it has creases, go iron them out – no seriously – go iron them out. Learn from my mistakes!!  A crease will affect your precise cutting – trust me! Come back and add the measurement pencil lines, marking the positions of grommet holes, folds and seams in pencil or dressmakers white chalk. Tripe check the accuracy of your measurements off the plan below. Cut the cloth accordingly, ONLY after you have checked your measurements for a fourth time!

2.       Now pre-crease along all the fold lines – I used a rounded wooden piece of dowel to help put in firm creases. And this is where I did the only cheat, something no traditional sailor would have done – after checking the fold lines were correct – I stuck down some of the folds with dabs of evo-stick – to retain them for easier stitching along later. Sorry! (Of course, I tested the glue on an off-cut beforehand to ensure it didn’t stain or affect the cloth in any way – never forget people - do your stain test!)

3.       Now looking at each of the folds that would need stitching – I visualised where the stitch seams would go and drew in pencil guidelines to stitch along – hopefully thereby ensuring straight stitch lines in the final outcome. If you are a perfectionist, you can even mark on the needle hole positions at fixed intervals. I wish I had done that – I did the stitch line positions but not the stitch hole intervals. Learn from my mistakes!!

4.       I started by turning down the top of bag entrance folds and hand stitching them in place using the stitching pattern in the illustration below. I then did the same to the bottom fold and side fold seams. (In retrospect, next time - I think I would leave the side seams unstitched – i.e. not folded back on themselves and stitched. The reason for this is that when it came to the stage of stitching the cloth into a tube – at the joining seam I was trying to put a needle through what amounted to four layers of canvas – and it was hard going).

5. There were no instructions with this plan I found and so it has been trial and error. Having done the above I put the canvas aside and decided what size handles I wanted. Having made this decision, I then made four simple thin rope grommets – I went for the ‘wound style’ in which I wound twine around the grommets and secured it with a hitch or two – thus hiding the hemp rope inside an outer covering of waxed twine and basically making a ‘waxed twine ring’. (Later I stitched these in place using the same method – so that the little rope grommet essentially had two outer coverings of wound wax twine – see stage 7 below). (In retrospect – I wish I had gone for a far better handle design – see step 11 below for further details)

6.       Before marking on the position of the holes for the rope handles, I decided to stitch in place first the outer hemp rope grommet that strengthens the neck of the ditty bag. Here I was lazy and rushed things. I didn’t make a proper rope grommet. Instead I cut the length of rope to the length of the cloth when laid flat and then stitched it in place so that the two ends would meet and butt against each other when the sides were finally joined together. On the positive side – I did ensure that the stitching was hidden within the rope. (In retrospect, next time – I’ll be far more professional and actually make a proper rope grommet where the ends are correctly spliced together. Then I will add it after the canvas has been stitched into a tube).

7.       After stitching in place the outer rope strengthener above, I made the holes where the handles would go in the top folded lip of the bag. Measuring out equal spacing for their location, I used awl to make initial hole, penknife scissors to cut the holes and a fid to help widen them to the correct diameter. I’m sure there must be an easier way of doing it – but I couldn’t find one on-line. I suspect a dress maker will have a pretty good idea on how to do it better. Each grommet was placed over its hole and stitched in place. I used the simple wound stitching – so that the grommet was covered and attached. (In retrospect – next time I will go for a neater, more seaman like alternative – the hitched grommet, as shown in the picture below. Instead of winding the twine around the grommet, it is put around the rope with a series of individual little hitches. A tip – when you have cut the holes where the handles will go, mark an outer circle in pencil a few millimetres away from the hole edge. This will form the stitch insertion line guide – leading to a better finished product than my feeble first attempts – remember – learn from my mistakes!).

8.       Preparation of the main bag area is now completed. Thus, attention turned to the outer pockets and here I made it up as I went along. Using some blue lighter weight canvas I had left over from a halyard bag making project a couple of years ago, I marked it up in a similar fashion to the main bag. Fold and stitch lines were marked on in correct positions. I made sure that the top entrance lip would have a double fold thickness for stiffened strength, the bottom of the bag, a similar strengthening fold. These were glued and stitched in place along guide lines (not that you could tell from the disastrous wonky stitch lines on the finished article – there goes that metaphorical neuron shrug again). I then decided what width I wanted each pocket to be and marked on pencil lines as a guide for the vertical stitching that would be required. Happy with the measurements I then stitched by hand or with the speedy stitcher the blue canvas pockets to the main bag whilst it still lay flat on the workbench top. (In retrospect – next time I will stitch the bottom of the pockets to the bottom of the actual main body of the ditty bag – not like I did in the picture – where I left a 1.5” gap between the pocket bottom and bag base – I have no idea what possessed me to do that – it meant that the bottom part of the bag collapses slightly when tools are put in the pockets – doing it the alternative way mentioned above – will lead to stronger pockets and less bag collapse).

9.       Now it was time to take the canvas and turn it into a cylinder. I made sure that one side overlapped the other edge by around an inch and then I marked on an outer stitch guide line around 3mm from each of the seam edges. I stitched down both edges to ensure the bag was secure using that diagonal stitch shown in a diagram above. I couldn’t find an easy way of doing this stitching. I tried turning the bag inside out – it didn’t make any difference – I still ended up with one hand inside the bag pulling the needle through and pushing it back out again. It was fiddly!

10.       With the finished cylindrical tube now finished, I test fitted the sanded plywood base. It was a snug fit.

11.       Next came the attachment of the bag base and I turned the cylinder bag inside out to make it easier. Having pre-folded the outer rim of the canvas base, making sure it was firmly creased, I proceeded to stitch the base fold and the bag fold together using both speedy stitcher and hand sewing stitches. Then it was just a matter of turning the bag back on itself so the outer side was indeed on the out side and then re-inserting the wooden base. Hey presto – the base fitted neatly into the area where the two folds had been stitched together.

12.       The bag base was secured to the plywood with small copper tacks at 1” intervals into the side of the plywood edge, making sure that I kept the bag base really tight against the plywood base at all times. Once secured with the tacks, the leather strips were added, their bottom edge lining up with the bottom edge of the bag. Again, copper tacks at 1” intervals were used to secure these in place. 

13.       To all intents and purposes the canvas work on the bag was now complete – leaving only the rope handles to work on. And hear, another personality trait emerged – Keen to finish the bag I took short cuts and rushed the finishing touches – and on completion – immediately regretted it. I cut two pieces of three-ply hemp rope – half inch diameter – each around 18 inches in length. I whipped all four ends – pretty professionally – whipping rope ends is something I have finally mastered. I then threaded each end through its respective grommet hole and secured it on the inside with a overhand knot. When the loop handles were installed – I seized the tops of the handles together to form a small loop through which a stainless-steel carabiner could pass. Having tied a running turk’s head knot over my fingers, I transferred this onto the rope handles. This knot slides up and down thus helping close or open the neck of the ditty bag. (In retrospect – what I should have done – was displayed more pride and craftsmanship – I should have actually spliced each handle around its individual grommet hole and then whipped the splice with waxed twine – a far more professional finish – lesson learnt! And, whilst I think about it – I think I would go for just a single handle, not the double. I envisage the handle being two parts which can be secured by a toggle and loop affair at the top – perhaps I need to think this bit through further though)

And so, there is the story of my first ditty bag and attempt at learning some marlinspike seamanship. Call it a work in progress!

I have every intention of doing this again, making the modifications I have outlined. Hopefully within the next few months. I will post the results of the second attempt here as a postscript to this post. Maybe next time! After all practice makes perfect!

Anyway, I feel the need to try and sooth the restless synaptic shrugs from my heredity ancestral DNA!!