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 23 December 2020

Making cushions for my Kentucky stick garden chairs

 I am in the middle of building a garden furniture set for my new bee and butterfly garden - my first lock down project. 

One chair has been made and the process and details can be found here:

Each chair needs two cushions - one big and one smaller. 

Using a sewing machine is a new learning experience for me but I've managed to work it out with a bit of help from the boss. 

I  measured out the fabric 49 cm square - two pieces. I cut them using pinking scissors so that the edges wouldn't fray. The trick, I soon discovered, is to pin the two squares together at all times. And the other trick is to sew the cushions inside out and then when finished turn them back out the right way. 

Four cushions requires a roll of fabric 1.5m wide by 2m long

Pinking shears at the ready and the use of a set square to get straight line 

The zip goes in first. The zip length was 36cm. I stitched it to one fabric square first and then separated the zip and stitched the other side to the other square before zipping the two pieces back together.  After that, I re-pinned the two squares back together before running them through the sewing machine. I put in a double line of stitching all the way around for additional strength. 

The end result

And so here is the first of the cushions. I think the fabric is very appropriate for garden cushions. 

Sunday 13 December 2020

Sea Shanties

 Someone I know on FaceBook, Corin Nelson-Smith has done an interesting post on Sea shanties which you can read here

Corin sails a Drascombe and has built an excellent galley box. You can find his YouTube channel here at

Saturday 5 December 2020

First impressions of the GoPro Hero 9

 The GoPro Hero 9

Over the years I have always been into outdoor adventure, travel, nature and building wooden canoes or boats of various sizes and types. I am, after all, a geographer and explorer at heart and recently with the time given to me on retirement, I’ve started writing articles for various outdoor journals and magazines (both print and online).

Like may outdoor enthusiasts, I invest carefully in my equipment and so it lasts years. My down sleeping bag was bought in 1982 and is still going strong today although the interior is tea stained after an encounter with a gerbil like rodent at Kibo hut on Mt Kilimanjaro. I’m still not sure who was more surprised, me finding a rodent in my sleeping bag, or the cute rodent finding me in his warm soft hiding place. Either way, I was in my bag drinking a cuppa after waking from a deep ‘post summit success’ sleep and was rather shocked to feel something crawling up the inside of my thermal long johns! In a rapid exiting of the mummy style sleeping bag, tea went everywhere. A slight tea stain still remains on the off-white cotton interior, a reminder of great times. I also possess a first generation Gortex bivvy bag and a small Trangia stove bought at the same time as this sleeping bag. They are collectively, my most treasured outdoor gear possessions (along with the ice axe from my first successful Mt Blanc summit expedition, a manky old climbing harness from the days when I didn’t suffer from vertigo and an old swiss army knife – which I literally never leave the house without).

Which neatly moves us on to GoPros’.

Who doesn't love n exciting parcel but all that wasted packaging!

Although more recent acquisitions, these too have become treasured possessions. My original Hero 2, still going strong, has been on many adventures and scrapes with me. The GoPro Hero 5 blacks’ have been in environments ranging from tropical rainforests to mountain summit glacier fields and from African deserts to wonderful coral reefs.  Nowadays, they are mainly put to work on Arwen or as ‘travel vlog’ recording cameras.  

However, there has been a recent addition to the camera bag. I’ve finally succumbed and bought a new GoPro camera; by-passing Hero 6, 7 and 8 and plumbing immediately for the latest edition, the GoPro Hero 9 Black.  It is early days, I am only just playing about with the buttons, menus, pre-sets etc but so far, I am impressed.  

Over the Christmas period, I will get out on the mountain bike over Dartmoor, use it onboard Arwen in Plymouth Sound and use it on our next trip/tour in Bryony, our new motorhome, to get a better feel for it and I will post my further findings as a post script on this blog.  My cameras are well looked after but they do get a hammering throughout the year, so the GoPro 9 will be put through its paces!

Firstly, price. I managed to get a bargain by opting for the GoPro Hero 9 Black package on offer from GoPro themselves. This was the camera, a year’s GoPro subscription service, a GoPro handle, battery and spare battery and 32Gb sim card along with some mounts including a magnetic one. Catching some last-minute heavy discounting on Cyber Monday, I added to the package the media mod pack and three other batteries and a two-battery charger unit. In total I saved just over £300 on the complete set of equipment. Finally, I managed to be in the right place at the right time. An hour later and all the deals were finished and gone, prices had returned to their normal retail level.

Battery charger and spare battery

The sound mod kit with external microphone

Anyway, here are the basic spec’s:

·        20 MP with 1/2.3 sensor

·        HyperSmooth 3.0 stabilisation and horizon levelling

·        1720mAh battery

·        2.27 inch rear screen with 1.4 inch front screen

·        10m water resistance

·        4K/60 fps and 5K/30 fps video recording

The pros I have identified so far:

·        Much longer battery life than my Hero 5’s – GoPro are estimating 100 minutes at 1080p resolution; much more than the 30 minutes I am getting on my Hero 5 batteries

·        Useful colour front display that shows either a preview or the actual settings of the video/photo function in use; makes vlogging and shot composition far easier – a real winner for me

·        Replaceable lens covering

·        Flip-out mount fingers at base which can be folded away to make hand holding the camera easier

·        Huge rear screen – much easier to see and use

·        Ability to create videoing pre-set menus regarding resolution, lens field of view, frame rate, stabilisation mode etc. allows you to personalise your Gopro.

·        5K/30 video capture and 20 MP sensor leading to high quality images. Although I haven’t tested this yet I should be able to crop in further during editing for precise framing. In the meantime, first impression is that exposures are well judged and colouring fairly accurate. Footage is detailed.

·        The new sensor size allows the grabbing of 14.7 MP stills from video footage – a resolution that is good enough for print as well as the internet

·        HyperSmooth 3.0 boost mode gives very smooth footage given it is a non-gimbaled camera; very impressive in Linear view when horizon levelling is switched on

·        Timewarp hyperlapses at several different speeds – a very impressive feature

·        Hindsight and Liveburst allow the shooting of video and photos before you even press the shutter button – I know its hard to get your head around that but it works! No more missed shots of jumping Atlantic Blue Tuna

·        The subscription that came with the bundle gives unlimited cloud storage, discounts in the GoPro store and total camera replacement if it gets damaged out on a shoot. You can also get trade in discounts on older gear for new

·        Larger mode and shutter buttons – much easier to operate

·        Audio sounds good and you can record audio RAW track as well

·        Schedule Capture means I can set up the shot, leave the camera outside, go to bed and not have to get up to capture the sun-rise next morning. Sounds a brilliant idea

The cons initially irritating me:

·        Pricey

·        Poor night time videoing image quality. Footage gets grainy  

·        Far larger camera size and heavier than previous GoPro’s – so can’t use old frames or waterproof housings

·         Lot’s of empty space around the rear screen

·        Can’t independently alter the brightness of each individual screen – they are linked

·        The rear screen interface speed feels laggy compared to the old Hero 5. There are so many setting choices that you need to be very careful with finger placement. I’m finding some gestures are ignored on occasions.

·        5K/30 requires use of HEVC codec and so far, I have only shot in 2.7K – so I need to check that my laptop and editing software can cope with these higher resolutions.

·        Different battery size to all other GoPro’s so extra expense again if you have older models

·        Doesn’t fit some of the older accessories as well because of the extra size e.g. my head and back straps, for example, require additional mount pieces for the Hero 9

·        HyperSmooth 3.0 crops in at 25% on the image

·        My camera seems to overheat. Others are reporting the same issue

Finally, GoPro if you ever happen across tis blog and read this post....'what's with the excessive packaging dudes?"

Sort it out GoPro - there is a climate change crisis you know - get with the sustainability programme please!

Friday 27 November 2020

How to build a Kentucky Stick Chair

 Part 2

If you haven't yet read part one - access it here at and it gives the links to the two websites I found most helpful and from which I got the dimensions for the chair.

This is my first attempt at a Kentucky Stick Chair and I am fairly pleased with it. There was odd bits of 'tear out' on the base of one or two of the holes I drilled - which had to be filled in with natural colour wood filler. probably because my drill bits were not sharp enough and because I didn't support the base of the piece being drilled sufficiently. 

When you have assembled all the pieces and sanded them smooth, then do a dry run construction to make sure everything is in order before you start staining. 

Assembly of all the pieces looks complicated but it isn't really. It just requires some systematic thinking, a slow pace and regular self checking. 

Task one

Assemble the various pieces as above. Now I used 12mm sisal instead of wire rods. I taped over the cut ends with electrical tape for a depth of around 5 cm which made them easier to insert into and pull through the drilled holes.  You need a flat area to do this, either a large work bench or a clean floor with an old duvet on it to protect the untreated wood. 

The two diagrams below show the initial assembly steps in a slightly different way. Don't worry about how long the sisal ends are, you will trim and whip these at the very end of the final assembly. Just make sure that you cut the sisal to a length that leaves around 10" at each end (as you will need to give things a very firm pull to tighten and bunch sticks up at the end). 

Firstly take the above pieces of wood and link them onto the sisal through the top holes - these are the ones which are 1 1/2 inches down from the top of  each wood piece. 

Secondly attach the 'couplers'. These are the very short pieces. Align the top holes of the couplers with the lower holes of the seat pieces and thread through some more sisal. Remember to leave plenty of spare at each end. 

Task two: 

Now it is time to assemble the back of the seat, arranging the pieces as in the diagram above. Again, make sure you leave plenty of 'spare end'. 

The next task is less complicated than it actually looks .  Lift the back of the seat section you have just done above and lay it over the seat section you did earlier. Make sure you align it all correctly - use the short coupler positions to help you.  The photo below the diagram will help you visualise it better. 

Having done this - now comes the harder part - putting the couplers into the correct spaces and making sure all the holes line up. I found the easiest way was to actually do one coupler at a time, threading it onto the sisal and then pushing the sisal through the next piece of wood and onto the next coupler. Just go methodically and slowly. 

You should end up with something that looks like this. Four pieces of sisal threaded through and everything nice and loose. 

Task three: 

Now comes the 'energetic' bit. You are going to be pulling the sisal and pushing the various wooden pieces together to get the basic structure and shape of the chair. 

Firstly, I loosely knotted the left hand side of the top line of sisal in an overhand knot - tied tight up against the hole in the outer most piece of wood. I then lifted the chair upright by simply grabbing each end of the top line of sisal at the top of the upper chair back. The weight of the chair lightly resting on its legs started to pull the sticks together in the direction of the knot on the left hand side and when they were all tightly snugged up, I tied off the other end in a similar overhand knot. Try not to let any slack appear between the sticks when you are doing this. 

As you can see below, the chair started to take shape. 

The second bit was to then do the same procedure with the next line of sisal down and then the next and so on. On each occasion you are aiming for snug but not overtight between the various wooden pieces and overhand knots each end that are actually very snug up against the outer pieces of wood. 

Now remember, resist the temptation to trim any of the sisal at this stage UNLESS you are going for the untreated, bare wood look, in which case you can trim your sisal rope ends. 

Task four: 

As I indicated above, task four depends very much on whether you want to leave the chair as smooth, untreated bare wood or not. If you do, then it is time to trim the sisal ends. this is a matter of personal choice as to how long a 'tag' you leave after the overhand knot. I left around 3.5 inches. What is of critial importance is how you finish the sisal rope end. You could just tape them. Or you could finish them in a proper seamanship rope end whipping, which is what I opted to do. 

I could have used sail twine for this - the white sail thread that comes on spools of various thicknesses. I found the white too harsh against the warm oaty colour of the sisal rope and so opted for light brown waxed thread instead. The  whipping thus blended in better. 

This website here shows how I finished the rope ends.  

I'm used to doing whippings on ends of fraying mooring warps and so I found it easy. If you are unfamiliar with the technique, practise a few times on an offcut of sisal until you get it right. Use a knitting needle to prise open the strand of sisal so that you can thread the whipping twine through more easily. Sailors would use a fid! 

Task four alternative: 

You may want to stain your chair like I did. It will necessitate taking the chair apart again.  I used Ronseal exterior stain - antique pine - 10 year guarantee and I gave the wood three coats, allowing 24 hrs between each coat and making sure I rubbed down each piece very lightly with 120 grit sand paper before applying the next coat. penetration and colour depth proved excellent. However, I did get a few runs which were hard to get rid of. I think this may be due to the way I hung the wood on wire. the staining bit was the least successful part of the whole adventure as far as I am concerned and I need to rethink how I go about it for next time. 

The chair tightened up and about to be unfolded

Such a great feeling to see all your hard work emerging into a proper chair shape

The chair in its folded storage position

The least successful bit of the project as far as I am concerned, getting the stain done properly

Three coats later a deep rich colour but you can see some annoying blobs and dribble runs 

In the warmth of the living room, the trimming and whipping of sisal rope ends begins. 

Making outdoor fabric cushion and head rest are the next projects 

Looks quite at home in a very soggy and dreary bee garden

So what were the costs of this project? 

£30 bought me enough timber to make two chairs
£15 bought me sufficient 1/2" diameter sisal with some spare 
£15 for the tin of stain which will do around four chairs and a table

So each chair, roughly, has cost me around £30 max. 

I'm currently in the middle of doing chair two. I have to work out a design and then construct a small coffee table. I couldn't find any plans on line for this. I still have the sets of cushions and head rests to make. These will be done over Christmas. 

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Building a Kentucky Stick Chair

How do you keep busy during a lock down?

During the BIG lock down in spring, I cut and constructed 35 wooden garden steps with gravel infills, made a small garden pond and landscaped a nature log area and wild flower bee garden. 

In this second lock down, I have been less ambitious. I am building two Kentucky Stick Chairs and a small matching coffee table. 

This furniture set will grace the bark landscaped seating area of our bee and wild flower garden area, half way up the steep back garden. Its on the terrace adjacent to the small wildlife pond. 

Lets be frank. It isn't an overly challenging woodworking project, but it is an IMMENSELY enjoyable one. 

 I first saw a pair of Kentucky Stick Chairs just after the first lock down was lifted. We had escaped for a coffee and newspaper read to Ullacombe Farm, just outside of Bovey Tracey. It is a delightful place with a farm shop selling local produce and a very nice cafĂ© with outdoor seating area.  You can find out more about it at .

Most Kentucky Stick Chairs are wired together but I rather liked the "pulled together with strong sisal rope" approach.  Rather like this one below:

When you research 'Kentucky Stick Chairs' on the internet, a huge number of sites pop up. People are even selling plans on Etsy. However, there are plenty of free plan websites out there and the ones I went with were  and

Below is the cutting list and timber dimensions. 

It will not come as any surprise that obtaining the right sized timber during a lock down is almost impossible. I don't have a planer/thicknesser and I wasn't able to (for various reasons) arrange the garage in such a way that I could rip material using my table saw. 

The final timber I ended up with was 46mm x 34mm - so 1 mm out! Close enough I guessed! 

Task One:

The timber arrived in 3m or 2.4m lengths and the first thing I did was router over the four side corners along the length of each blank to round them off. 

Task Two: 

I then followed the above table and worked out how to cut all the pieces from the minimal number of lengths. After some scribbling on various bits of paper, a cutting plan was drawn up and each wood length was marked up. As I measured out each component, I lightly wrote on each piece what letter it was from the table above.  Using set square to draw square cut lines across both width and depth, a Japanese pull saw was then utilised to get the thinnest and most accurate cut possible. 

Task Three: 

Accurately positioning the various drill holes on each piece of work is critical to the success of this project. Get them out of alignment and the sisal (or steel threaded rod if you opt for this) won't go through the various pieces accurately.  The measurements are on the diagram below

I started off by using a drill press and jig but actually found it kept taking time to set it up, so defeating the object! After drilling the fourth hole, I opted for doing them by hand, clamping each piece of wood in my bench vice, supported by a wooden block below. This block was important, not only supporting the wooden blank but also preventing splintering as the drill cut through. 

Task Four: 
Sanding - lots of sanding. My little sander blew a fit literally. A big bang and blue flash, a tingle up my arm and the circuit breakers kicked in across the garage plugs. The little Bosch sander, ten years old and used on much of Arwen at one time or another, was no more! 
Its a good job I live less than a mile away from a Screwfix! 80 grit followed by 120 grit and then finally a quick rub down with 240 grit, I re-sanded the rounded over edges and then the ends of each piece to take off the sharp corner edges.  I may have been over enthusiastic about the sanding! 

Task Five: 
Each piece was carefully rubbed down with white spirit to clear away any remaining sanding dust and left to dry for 24 hrs. 

At this point, I decided a dry run fit was required. No I don't know why either but I sort of justified it with the thinking that if I had mis-drilled one of the holes and things didn't go together, better to know now than later after everything has been stained. 

I'll go into more detail about how to do this in the next post but suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised. I think it is the first time that anything has actually turned out straight lined and without any inaccuracies built in due to my poor mathematical ability. Wonders will never cease.