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, 16 September 2019

I was supposed to be heading for Salcombe 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. 

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