Arwen's meanderings

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

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Returning home from the River Yealm in the John Welsford designed navigator 'Arwen'

Here is part two of my mini day sail over to the Yealm and back - enjoy.  Part one can be found in a previous post last week.


Saturday, 28 September 2019

outboard maintenance - switching out an integral fuel tank

Those who follow this blog will know recent tribulations with my outboard. A 2011 four stroke MFS 3.5B Tohatsu outboard, it developed a slow seeping leak of fuel from around the cap area when tilted upwards on its bracket.


Infuriatingly slow seepage but enough than a tank would empty over a four hour trip. It wasn't the loss of a litre of fuel that infuriated me rather than the pollution issues. I hadn't noticed it until the last trip so I can't honestly say how long it has been like that - not long I think.


You can see from the photos below where the problem is - initially I thought it was the tank cap seals had rotted away but evidently not!  Around the neck of the cap area are three hairline cracks.  Now what has caused these cracks is probably age. It could be I have unwittingly over-tightened the cap on occasion as well.


A new tank duly arrived - the company I got it from kindly took it out of a new outboard they had. They have another fuel tank on order from Japan and it is currently in transit - so they were reducing my wait by a few weeks, which was good customer service in my eyes.


Initial inspections showed that the swap out should be simple - three bolts hold the fuel tank and there is only one hose attached. And that is it. The tank is attached to a black plastic base.


Removing the fuel in the tank posed me some thinking. In the end I tipped the outboard up to as steep an angle as I could and drained the fuel into a kitchen jug.  I stuffed lots of paper towel under the fuel hose area where it attached to the tank and then slipped the clip down the pipe with pliers. The fuel pipe was wriggled off and the last remnants caught by the paper towel and absorbed.


The three screw bolts were removed and the tank was wriggled off gently and separated from its black base. One brass tube bush surrounding one of the screw nuts shot off into the lawn but I found it!

A few minutes were needed trying to work out what way the black base should be attached to the new tank - I was never that good at jigsaws or tessellations in maths! But we got there in the end.


Tank and black based assembled, it was easy to put in place and secure with the screw nuts. The tube went on easily and was re-secured with the clip. A quick wipe around with paper tool of the base of the engine compartment and all that was left was to put over the neck of the new tank the foam cushioning and then insert the new cap off the old tank. The outboard cover was put back on and that was it.



Back on the outboard dustbin full of water, the engine started first time and chugged away quite happily. After closing the fuel tap the engine continued for a little while longer and then ran out of fuel. The carb is now dry for winter.



Having gained some confidence on this simple task, I am considering draining and replacing the engine and gear oil over winter, along with changing the spark plug as well. 

Friday, 20 September 2019

a leaking outboard tank

Nope, it isn't the petrol cap. I discovered a hairline fracture crack on the neck of the tank, just below the screw thread area. It runs about 4cm around the neck on the 'up' side when the motor is tilted up in its locked position out of the water. After closer inspection, I then discovered another one above that!

I have for many, many years been into recycling and doing my best to avoid being part of the 'throw away and rapidly replace' culture. Dad, God bless him,  has always been an extremely talented make do and mend guy and some of that has rubbed off on me now I am retired. I am beginning to appreciate his jars of accumulated screws and nails, under the workbench boxes of scraps of wood and plastic, bundles of string and frankly lord knows what else. Dad has never yet failed to find something that answers the question...."Dad, you wouldn't by any chance have.........?" 
His shed is the TARDIS, despite how much junk Mum has him store in there!

Over the years I didn't do as much as I should have towards this 'make do and mend' philosophy - working 60 hr weeks in the teaching profession put paid to that and, interestingly, as an aside, the first long term survey/monitoring report ever into teaching workload hours in the UK has just been published today  - damning verdict - in 25 years despite successive promises from successive governments - nothing has changed on teacher work load. 35% of new teachers quit within five years of joining the profession; 25% are working 60 hrs plus; 50% work 50 hrs + per week. Excessive administration, marking etc takes 22 hrs per week minimum, 3/5 teachers have to work in their evenings just to stay afloat for the next day. We are offering £28,000 training bursaries to recruit enough geography teachers to meet a national shortage crisis - and that's just to geographers!

Teachers in Finland, which consistently ranks the world top education tables - work 34 hrs per week with smaller class sizes and spend several hours a week training and updating their skills. Their professional and social status is highly regarded by their nation. Says it all really. I retired reluctantly as soon as I could after 35 years of this and lost a quarter of my pension in doing so for the rest of my life - it was I surmised, worth it to protect health and sanity - you don't get those years back - but I left with some regrets - I'd have liked to have carried on until I was sixty, under better circumstances. Don't get me wrong - teaching has been a joy and an utmost privilege but it came with costs to family life, health and personal sanity. But then I guess in our country that can be said of very many professions and our successive governments just don't get it - maybe the New Zealand approach of looking at what is important to people and investing more time and capital in those things to raise happiness is actually a good idea. I'm sure New Zealand readers will have views on this and as always comments in the box below are welcome.


Anyway, back to the outboard, sorry for the slight frustrating deviation.


 My initial thoughts have been - "how do I repair this fracture so it is no longer a problem?"

There are various options that have been supplied to me by various FaceBook forum members and I am grateful to all those, who as usual, came to my rescue generously with their time and comments. The 'burning cartoon' memes were perhaps less helpful although a salutary reminder of the dangers of getting this wrong!!

After emptying the tank of fuel (typically I had just filled it when I noticed the slow trickling seepage stain over the foam sponge ring around the cap area)


  1. flushing it out with water and letting it thoroughly dry, heat gun seal through plastic welding the offensive crack
  2. rough up the area with 80 girt sandpaper and clean it thoroughly with alcohol wipes before applying epoxy - JB weld or G/Flex seemed the popular suggestions 
  3. using self amalgamating rubber plumbers tape - a piece stretched to x 10 its original length wrapped tightly around itself several times, apparently seals anything!
  4. get a new fuel tank
And that was basically it.

Sourcing a new fuel tank has been frustrating. My local chandler which I have used to get most fittings for Arwen said they could get one and fit it. Apparently it would be complicated work needing an hour and so the cost of getting and fitting would be £130 - £140.

It is a four stroke Tohatsu short shaft MFS 3.5hp outboard. The tank I can get for £90 in UK - cheapest I can find thus far although that search continues because that strikes me as outrageous.  careful investigation shows that all the nonsense given me yesterday about how the carb will need moving etc is pure tosh. I'm no engineer but all I can see is one fuel pipe coming out of that tank. It sits on a frame above the engine parts secured by three bolts. I have restored from a complete breakdown a 1960's Vespa scooter - how hard can it be to replace a petrol tank?  Am I missing something?

OK, I admit I'm not sure about the consequences of taking off the fuel pipe - does it mean I get an airlock somewhere after fitting it back? 

I don't know about these things, but fortunately, I am a member of  several forums who have members who do. I have a Dad who is a talented engineer and turns his hands to all sorts of things and a brother in law who works on the very best aeronautical engines you can get. Someone will be able to help this idiot!

And so, some decisions - do I try the repair and see what happens - or do I just go for the straight replacement.......answers on a postcard....soon please.....via the comment box.......because I don't go sailing in my neck of the woods without having a motor hanging off the back. I'm just not that gooda a sailor!

Postscript - after a suggestion from John Welsford, I found a plastic welder who charges around £40 an hour. He thinks it can be done but isn't sure. I guess it is time to exercise some common sense and bite the bullet by purchasing a new tank. It is, after all, a safety issue. 

Postcript 2 - talk about a struggle to find a new fuel tank - most retailers say a 6 week wait whilst it comes from Japan - however, one retailer of outboards took pity - but at a cost - £81. Anyway, he took the tank out of a new four stroke and has sent it to me so I can be out sailing next week all being well. He has a spare already in transit, about two weeks out. I guess it was a kind offer and so the extra £12 has been worth it. His nearest competitor was charging £69 but a wait of 6 weeks. 

Monday, 16 September 2019

I was supposed to be heading for Salcombe but......best laid plans and all that

I was on the launch ramp at Salcombe. Steve, the Batson Creek boat yard manager had just been disturbed by me and bought across so I could pay the harbour dues. The intention was to have a three day sailing trip around the estuary, over-nighting somewhere at Kingsbridge and up Frogmore Creek where the last of the SW DCA rally cruise programme was taking place. We'd all moor on the pontoon and head for the pub Saturday night.

Well that was the plan but just as I was about to pay, her indoors suffered an eye injury which necessitated a trip to the local eye hospital, boat literally in tow...and that was the end of the sailing trip. Her indoors is OK and that is the main thing but it makes you suddenly realise how vital sight is and how much we all take it for granted.

I did make the pub the following night and it was a lovely evening - great food great company and great chat, as always.

So, yesterday, I sneaked off for a sail to the Yealm and possible overnight. With winds from the WNW around force 2/3, obliging tides (outgoing until 1430 and morning high tide at around 8.00am) and plenty of sunshine, conditions were perfect.


So, I am still trying to work out how I returned early with a damaged rudder, a chunk out of the centreboard and the skeg brass rubbing strip hanging off. 


The day had started well with my usual launch at QAB marina. I know there are free places to launch like Mountbatten but as I have said before - you can't always find parking on the road over there and you have to leave your boat drifting around the foot of the ramp whilst you go park the car a few hundred metres away. Directly on the SW coastal footpath I'm not convinced I'd come back to find everything in the boat!

Queen Ann's Battery on the other hand, always have parking; have a good ramp with pontoon and plenty of rigging space. The staff are knowledgeable, skilled and good humoured. Over the years they have become friends and I've taught some of their children to boot. Great cafes and other facilities too.

Anyway, with plenty of tide at the slip, it allowed me time to sort out cameras, warm up the outboard and do last minute checks. Which was good because I discovered I had managed to twist the lazy jacks which would have prevented the top yard from reaching the mast top. Glad I spotted that one before departure. I also discovered that the petrol cap seals on the outboard integral tank have failed. With outboard tipped upwards and locked, a small dribble of fuel emanates from the cap area - highly irritating. A new cap assembly is required as I can't work out whether it is gasket or air vent 'O' ring - or both!


With the possibility of doing an overnight in the Yealm, I was unable to offer the Spanish gentleman who stopped by a trip. He did ask if he could come for a sail. Stopping over in Plymouth for a few days after delivering a yacht from Spain, he was clicking his heels. Back home in southern Spain he was a boat builder and was greatly impressed with the design of Arwen. He thought she was well equipped and well travelled but clearly needed some TLC - it was a fair assessment and I felt bad not being able to offer him a day sail. He knew his stuff, asked pertinent questions and shared his plans for building a small gig for children in a sailing club. I felt sorry for not being able to offer him a trip  and I did point him in the direction of a good coastal walk which involved a trip across to Cawsand on the little ferry and then another trip on another small foot ferry back across the Tamar and along the front of Plymouth Sound.  I don't know whether he went off and did it but it is a journey well worth doing with fantastic views across the breakwater and the sound.

Easing out into Sutton Pool and then into the Cattedown, I chasing a fleet of at least a 100 toppers past Mountbatten Breakwater. I was surprised to see how crowded the Sound was. A national Topper meeting, at least another 20 big 30 footers - a local sailing club.  I raise sails just off the eastern side of Drakes Island and focused on just making a safe passage through them all towards the breakwater in a series of tacks and reaches across the sound.


A final beam reach bought me rapidly to the breakwater fort. The outgoing tide was taking with it flotsam from a major port area; plastic bottles of various sizes, mis-shapen pieces of wood, rafts of seaweed. Wind shifts around to the NNW allowed me to close haul westwards and out past the splendid western breakwater lighthouse where I encountered an old wooden motorboat, the 'Kingfisher'.  Bright varnished timber frames and a fetching light green hull, the skipper had practically parked his boat right up against the outer rocks at the base of the lighthouse and was just getting ready to drip a line into the tidal race around the end. Bass fishing I suspect. We exchanged waves and greetings and I left him astern and headed south west for the Knap buoy.


The sun shone, the sea was glass, the winds died completely and Arwen and I lolled. That stomach churning loll that induces nausea. Floppy sails, the upper leech flagging, I resorted to the new oars.
These are definitely a tad heavier than the old ones. A foot longer, it became clear that the seating position is no longer right. I need to be at least 8 inches further forward on the centrecase since I just sit on a cushion on the centre-case top, this is going to be difficult. Sitting further along it meant my feet were no longer reaching the floor - after all I am, as my son reminds me frequently, "a short arse"! So, I guess I will need to move the rowlock blocks back astern a few inches. However, I will check with John (Welsford) first. His wisdom is needed. He will have encountered this problem many times before.

Arwen was never designed to be rowed long distances. I managed around 400m and then decided to just wait. Fortune shone on me, the winds built and soon Arwen and I were plodding along at 3.8 - 4.8 knots. The breakwater fell astern and the Great Mewstone hove into view.  The big yachts from the Sound were out ahead of me, huge spinnakers being released in the light winds. Now on a course between a reach and a run, we wallowed along and crossed Wembury bay in good time.  Keeping a careful eye on the boom, for there were one or two sudden sail shifts in vicious gybes, I admired the stunning cliff side scenery and the villages of Heybrook Bay and Wembury on the rolling hillsides.


I'd already spied from afar that Cellars beach which is just at the end of the first straight channel bit into the Yealm was crowded with many moored boats off the beach and immediately behind the bar. Entrance to the River Yealm is very tricky and I was going in on low tide when the bar was almost exposed, the entrance channel very narrow and the left handed bend stacked with moored boats. The yellow cans on the bar were tilted over, barely enough water beneath them to keep them afloat.

Discretion is the better part of valour. I dropped sails just off the mouth entrance and slowly motored in. It was nice to see all the sail boats ahead of me chose the same option. I hugged the starboard shoreline without veering into the protected eel grass beds (sea horses breeding area) and slipped between the moored motor cruisers and big yachts. Around the next bend, I trundled up through the moorings into the sheltered harbour area (somewhat crowded)  before turning around and pootling back out where I picked up the last empty mooring can I could find.


Mooring up gave me time to sort camera batteries, take a few photos, have a bite to eat and some fluids. I watched the departure of a lovely old 40' wooden sail boat and the unravelling consternation on board as they discovered that in slipping their mooring they had run over the one of the boat rafted up with them. It all ended well, the mooring buoy and rope slid along the hull bottom and popped up from under the transom. No damage done other than to pride of the crew!

SUP boarders passed by making good progress into the stiffening headwind, a seating and kneeling position being favoured over the normal standing one. Yacht shrouds began to rattle a little and with no moorings available in the inner river area and no chance of anchoring out at Cellars beach, I decided to head for home.

A wise decision, winds had shifted to WNW, straight into the mouth of the Yealm. I motored out through the bends avoiding the swimmers off  the boats.

Once clear of the channel entrance, I raised sails and immediately something went wrong. The top yard just wouldn't go fully up the mast stopping a foot short each try. I adjusted topping lift, lazy jacks and down haul to no effect. I altered the boom snotter to no avail. I freed all ropes out of halyard bags - nothing. Try as I might, that sail stopped a foot short of the normal mast position.  For the afternoon return sail, the mainsail had a large diagonal crease and the top part of the sail failed to fill fully. The top part of the leech just kept caving in and spilling wind.  Amazingly frustrating given it was a stiff beat back to the Great Mewstone in increasing wind strength and an increasingly lumpy sea.

From the mouth of the Yealm to the Mewstone took an hour and a half - a distance of no more than two miles maximum. On a starboard tack we went faster. On the port tack it was dismal.


I headed out to sea and just kept going on the starboard tack until I was sure I could make the turn to starboard which would put us onto a port tack that would clear the island. It was very touch and go, testing to say the least for a fair weather sailor like me, but we made it and once past the south of the island I was able to turn onto a port reach down past the Heybrook Bay, Rennie Rocks and Shagstone into the eastern entrance of the Sound.


But not before an unusual encounter in the middle of Wembury Bay, well away from sore line, island or rocky outcrops marked on the charts and navionics app on my phone.  Right in the middle of the bay I hit something, well I glanced over something and kept going. A large thud and that was it. I didn't see anything astern and I lost little forward momentum but the damage had been done, although I didn't discover it until the end when I took the boat back out of the water on the ramp.


I couldn't get the rudder off. It just wouldn't lift off. No amount of wriggling would persuade it. I tied it to the outboard bracket in the up position for the journey home.  I heard something tinny under the hull and discovered that the brass strip along the skeg had been virtually ripped off, hanging by only a couple of screws. It had trapped a fair bit of seaweed between secure end and skeg as well.  Whilst investigating that, I noticed a large dent in the leading edge of the centreboard as well.

I still remain baffled as to what I hit.  this morning was spent jacking  up the trailer and repairing the damage. I had to unscrew the pintles and gudgeons from the rudder to remove it and then the brackets just lifted off. Bizarre. Put the rudder stock back in and it jammed again. Eventually, some work with a hammer and moving an eye on the rudder to a new position and the it worked once more.  An hour's work.

The brass strip took an hour to take off, reshape, and then re-screw back onto a bedding compound.
The centreboard has a dent but no other damage. It seems to lift as it should. I do maintenance on the centreboard every couple of years so I may lift it out over this winter and make cosmetic repairs. 

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Atlantic Eco out of Puerto Colon, Tenerife

I rarely do reviews but if you like whale watching and want skilled  boat handling and informed commentary from a qualified biologist then this may be for you. You'll need to visit Tenerife though.
The organisation is AtlanticEco out of Puerto Colon. Max size of party on board is ten people. Fast rib with 2 x 250 Hp outboards on back and the opportunity to use a hydrophone to hear whales as well.

As an ex school  'education for sustainable development' adviser, I am ways on the lookout for organisations with strong sustainability principles. Well this organisation make it clear from the start -  no chasing and no going immediately alongside cetaceans. They will stay 50m away and will drift. If whales and dolphins then chose to come alongside then fair enough. But definitely no chasing.


They will also stop to collect every turtle, briefly, to survey it's health, de-louse it and then release it. If the turtle is ill or injured, it will be brought aboard, looked after and then taken to a rehabilitation centre and later released on the north coast.


Our first three hour trip saw plenty of short fin pilot whales - very exciting. The passion of Antonio, the on board biologist was evident from the start and his enthusiasm and outstanding knowledge made the trip special.  Informative discussion, lots of questions answered. Exceptional boat handling on display by Capt' Jericho. The huge number of five star reviews on Trip Advisor were clearly not wrong.


In fact we so enjoyed the trip, we immediately booked a repeat trip for the following day and in all our travels across the years, we have never done that before.
This second trip proved even more special. Short fin pilot whales, bottle-nose dolphins and a stray hammerhead shark, lots of shearwaters and the occasional flying fish as well. This time the boat was full - twenty somethings from across Europe. Intelligent, good humoured conversation, excellent questioning, a desire to learn, informed discussions about sustainability practises. An excellent trip.
It ends with a quick snorkel in a secluded bay and a final discussion about what we have seen. Antonio gives his email and contact details to everyone with the promise that wherever they are in the world and whenever, people can contact him with any questions about cetaceans.


In an area where there are so many unregistered boats offering whale watching and where the majority of trips are unscrupulous offering booze, snorkel and up close encounters based on chasing cetaceans, EcoAtlantic stand out like a shining beacon of hope.

It was refreshing and joyous to hear their plans for the future and about the impact they are already having with the local government councils on the island. They have a long, long way to go, by their own admission, but small steps. 'From little acorns, big oak trees will grow'.


And so, I would recommend AtlanticEco without reservation and regular readers of this blog will know that I rarely, rarely ever do that.

After the trip, on the two mile walk back to the hotel, it made me think about how we treat cetacean visitors in our own inshore waters. In Plymouth, I have always been impressed that tour boats and small ferries tend to follow a voluntary code, staying a good 30m or so away from creatures but I am pretty sure not all yachts and boats follow that rule.


When I completed a recent RYA day skipper course, the course leader did discuss our responsibilities towards cetaceans, although it wasn't part of the syllabus. It was his personal interest and he generated much useful discussion. he said he knew of a couple of other sailing schools who were doing something similar.


For me, as global warming warms our waters, and after having a resident pod of harbour porpoise throughout the last winter, it occurs to me that all RYA courses perhaps need to add a compulsory short section educating skippers about how to approach and interact with visiting cetaceans in our waters. Most people exercise common sense. Well at least I like to think so but I could be naive about this.

For me personally, when interacting with cetaceans, sunfish, turtles etc in our waters, I try to do the following:


  • stay around 40m away from them
  • try to stay alongside rather than in front or behind them - in this way cetaceans can see me and I don't cause them surprise by suddenly appearing
  • not chase them them in anyway
  • drift and slow if they come by choice to visit me - switching off outboard if safe to do so - or putting it in neutral
  • not touch them if they are that close
  • make a note in my log of time of sighting and location, any details about encounter, distinguishing features on creatures etc
I am sure there are other things I can do to not stress them. If you have any views, thoughts or comments, drop me a line in the comment box below 


In the meantime, Antonio and Jericho - both trips were outstanding and we learned a huge amount. Thank you for such a great experience. Gracias Amigos