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

Thursday 30 April 2020

Excellent customer service from Tohatsu UK

I contacted Tohatsu UK to ask for their help. They got back to me within 24 hrs unlike the two local Tohatsu dealers who haven't bothered to reply to subsequent emails. The national Tohatsu team expressed their sorrow over the issue and surprise and shock that the dealer I bought the outboard from and the retailer and service engineer doing my services - hadn't picked it up before.

Only after I had drained the gear lube to replace it did I discover that the upper drain hole through which air and gear oil should escape......was blocked - see previous post about it!

They confirmed it is a factory fault from 2011. It seems the drive shaft bearing has been pressed onto the drive shaft incorrectly. Had the dealership who sold me the outboard picked it up, as they should have, the engine would have been replaced immediately under the warranty. The warranty lasted four years so up to 2015 - so my regular service engineer chandlers should hang their heads in shame - they have taken my money under false pretences!

This diagram which the national team supplied me shows the offending bearing.

Tohatsu stress that this was an issue on only a very few engines from this period - both two and four stroke. The UK team got in touch with Tohatsu Japan, who were very concerned about the issue of quality control and why it hadn't been picked up initially at the factory and then later by the dealers. 

They would like to see the unit for themselves so that they can assess how they can put things right and prevent it from happening ever again. I told them I had done my own service this year - engine oil, spark plug, greasing moving parts and draining gear lube. They seemed happy enough and un-alarmed about this.

I suspect that they will either send out a kit of gear components, free of charge, for me to fit; or they will ask me to send them the lower unit and they will replace that completely with a new one for me to just slot back into the upper unit. I hope it will be the latter solution.

I have to say I have been very impressed with the speed and care of service from Tohatsu UK and Tohatsu Japan.  Full marks so far. Amazing care and attention to detail.  I'm hoping we can resolve the situation in the next few days.

Despite popular belief, I rarely use my outboard - probably about 12 - 15 hrs max per year. Mainly used for leaving the Sutton harbour area and out into Jennycliffe Bay and the return journey at the end of the day. The longest continuous journey it has made is from Cargreen  on the river Tamar back to the Cattedown; and from the river Yealm back to the marina at Sutton harbour (around 7 - 10 miles max each time at less than half power).  Yes it is scratched around the shaft and the cowling. It looks a little worse for wear in places but on the whole I have looked after it well. It has been serviced for six years at least, never been dunked and nearly always washed down and flushed out after every trip. I nearly always drain the fuel and carb over winter as well. The only thing I needed to replace in all this time was the plastic integral fuel tank which developed several hairline cracks around the screw neck cap area.

All that remains of the service I am doing this month is to take out and clean the carb and check the fuel filters. Maybe I'll wait awhile until Tohatsu have sorted out what they want to do.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Replacing the impeller and gear lube in a Tohatsu four stroke 3.5 hp outboard engine

Those of a squeamish disposition - you may need a stiff drink towards the end. I refrained from showing the clips where the outboard was vertically upside down. 'Desperate times, desperate measures' and all that!

This is a steep learning curve! The Tohatsu dealer didn't get back to me in the end - a shame.

Take pity - remember this is my first time ever servicing an outboard engine!

Sunday 26 April 2020

The blocked gear lube hole

Well I'm no nearer to solving this. The Tohatsu dealer I contacted haven't come back to me. I have poked the blockage - it is metallic that's for sure. So, like I said in a couple of posts ago - it  looks like going with option three - drain the engine oil, empty the petrol tank, lie the engine on its 'none lay down' side and then tip up the shaft to sufficient an angle that I can dribble gear lube into the lower hole using a 20 ml syringe. irritating, but it should work - if I can do it in a way so that air bubbles rise up and disperse.  Then as Joel Bergen suggested in the comments on a previous post - don't go anywhere near it again for about five years!

Ho Hum!


Spent the morning in the garage doing the above. I managed to get around 80 ml into the gear chamber. The manual says around 180 ml.  I think that not all of the oil is draining out - I think because I can't release the vacuum through removing the top screw - there is residual oil left inside. Short of leaving it drain for several hours (because it literally just trickles out and then almost stops), I can't see what else I can do.

I had the outboard literally upside down, vertical, resting on a cushion. I syringed in 80 ml and then that chamber seemed full. I gently poked a WD-40 pipe in there to stir the oil and release air bubbles several times but that was all the oil I could get in. 

So its definitely half full, that's for sure. I'm going to assume there is more oil in there and that the whole chamber must now be near 3/4's full. Assumptions, are of course, dangerous things but I literally cannot get any more oil into that chamber. The only other options are to drill through the upper screw hole blockage and hope nothing drops into the gears; remove the lower unit once more, take off the pump housing and access the gear chamber that way; or take off the prop and the prop shaft seal and fill the chamber that way - neither of these are prospects I am particularly enamoured with. 

Saturday 25 April 2020

garden update

20 steps now done.  And a much missed visitor returns.....five weeks away somewhere...the doe...just rocks up with no apology, no hello, no excuses..........glad to have her back though

"Peanuts, sunflower seeds?"

He who gets there first..............

Sunset 1

The upper slope of the garden covered with wild garlic

Sunset 2 this week

the first of a couple of visits this week

20" rebar holds them in place - the sides are bolted to the step below
Ground membrane and 3" of gravel

Awkward bends in the flight

Leeks, onions, cabbage, peas and purple sprouting broccoli

Evening light

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Garden update

Five steps done today. At this rate its going to take six days.

after reclaiming the old steps

new ones start to take shape 

Each step is bespoke and bedded in carefully.  Rebar holds the step in place and the front side parts are screwed to the step in front of them.  There is 4 inches of gravel on each step on top of a weed membrane and the height of each step is around 6 or 7 inches.

20 3.8m long 200 x 50mm planks were carried up 15 steps from the road to the back garden 

Cut to size 650mm long - the ends sealed and drying in the sun

We will plant either side of the steps with bulbs and various spreading plants which will flower for next year.

I'm sort of making it up as I go but so far, touch wood, it seems to be working.

In the meantime the squirrels have been keeping me company while I work

Cabbages, spring onions, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli all planted out under the tunnel

Monday 20 April 2020

While I wait for a Tohatsu dealer to get back to me.......

Whilst I wait for one of the local Tohatsu dealers to get back to me about what is blocking the upper gear lube drain hole on my outboard, I have been busy in the garden.

I am, I know, a very lucky man. My garden is around 70m long and albeit very steep, it is cultivated in the lower half and left as a wild woodland in the upper part.

I garden for wildlife. It is their garden too. Deer, toads, frogs, field mice, voles, a stoat, slow worm a plenty. Many, many squirrels. Two owls, several magpies, pigeons, jays and a woodpecker on occasions.  Lots of small birds from robins to wagtails of all things. Dragonflies and bugs of all types and sizes.

In the past there have been grass snakes, hedgehogs, foxes, swarms of bees and a rather nasty encounter with an underground wasps nest that put me in the minor injuries unit for a few hours whilst kind nurses threw every ounce of their sympathy and great care at me. I got stung 57 times, and yes, they counted every sting!  In the next few weeks, some natural wicker beehives are arriving for the upper wood and I have to start building their base platforms soon.

More pressing is the huge amount of timber arriving tomorrow which has to be carried from the front of the house, up thirty steps to the back garden, where it has to then be cut to length.  Yes, I had this stupid idea of replacing the garden steps (all thirty of them) that go from the lower garden to the upper one.

I built them 25 years ago and the wood lasted well. But over the last few years, various steps have started to rot and it was time for the lot to be replaced. this time round we are adding gravel steps within a box frame. The last week has been re-cutting the steps ready for the new ones.

A tonne of gravel arrives on Wednesday in one of those big bulk bags which get craned off the lorry and onto our front lawn. then we carry it up the thirty steps in buckets. That is going to be one long job!

Never one to do things in halves, I also had the bright idea of landscaping an upper terrace, building new composters, moving a large wood log pile and landscaping a smaller side slope into a set of terraces which will house new compost bins and storage area for pots etc.

In the meantime, the upper wooded area has a carpet of buttercups, bluebells and wild garlic. The smell is wonderful. Once this terrace above is levelled, weed matting will go down and a wooden frame border will go around it. Another tonne of gravel will be carried from the road, up sixty, yes sixty steps, and raked out over the mating. Then some new wooden frame boxes will be constructed and a butterfly/insect garden planted within them. Add a seat, a hammock in the treeline and another composter bin and it will be a lovely area with stunning views up the garden and out over the valley below. 

I am very privileged and lucky at this time of great national strife and difficulty to have such a wonderful open space full of wildlife.

Friday 17 April 2020

What if it isn't a sheared bolt?

"Are you sure it is a sheared bolt?" said wise old Dad, the retired engineer and civil servant. 
"What do you mean?" says suddenly intrigued son 😲

"Well, could it be something else that isn't a sheared bolt?" says a thoughtful Dad. In his eighties and a mind still as sharp as a pin when it comes to anything engineering wise. 

Well that set me off thinking. After all, as I normally do, I just assumed it was a sheared bolt. 

"But why would such a bolt shear in the first place and wouldn't it be the wrong bolt in there anyway?" 

After all the depth of the hole from the surface to that metal bit is 8mm and the actual Tohatsu part - the proper screw plug is actually 8mm in depth, so its end must be just touching that metal bit when it is screwed in tight.  

I found the parts catalogue for my four stroke Tohatsu 3.5hp B outboard online last night. It doesn't give the actual dimensions of the proper screw plug but it did give a very useful exploded parts diagram. 

And this got me thinking!
"What if it wasn't a sheared off bolt?" 😮

I'd owe an apology to my outboard servicing people for a start.
Oh no I wouldn't.
After all they must have discovered the same problem and didn't tell me about it. 😬
"Unless, between the service and now - something in the outboard gear area has slipped and is blocking the oil hole and so preventing air or oil from escaping through it?" 

Or, maybe it could be something extraordinary but possible! It could be that when the outboard was made - the hole boring and threading process wasn't fully completed for some absurd reason and so this is flash or part of the casing wall that hasn't been holed.

"But then , surely someone, somewhere would have quality controlled this outboard and spotted the issue?"

"You know what I'd do son" says wise old Dad, "I'd ring up the people you bought the engine from and ask their engineer if he has ever come across this before or has any ideas on how to resolve the problem?" 😀

The screw plug that goes into the offending hole
Totally inaccessible from this position, so I would have to remove the pump housing and then start removing other layers. And, frankly, I'd rather not do that!

So this morning I emailed them and they said they would get back to me in a couple of days with some thoughts, bless them. In the meantime, regular readers of the blog posted some fantastic comments and morale boosting thinking on my previous post and I am really grateful to Steve, Stu, Max, Tanzer and Alden.

While I am waiting for some divine inspiration, I have also, along with the guys above, been giving some thought as to how to get enough oil into the gear casing.

One possibility is to take off the prop and shaft - that is lie the shaft horizontally, undo the two bolts, break the seal and lift the prop shaft assembly out. Then pour in 6 fl ozs of gear oil, replace the seal and put the prop assembly back in.  😰

As tempting as it is to take off those two nuts and remove the prop assembly.......I really don't like the exploded diagram above and you can bet your life something will go wrong!

Option two - and this really pains me - and you will see why when I publish my part two video next week - I could take off the lower section again and lift off the pump housing and pull out the gear selector rod and pour in the oil down that hole. 😨

Option three, and here my thanks goes to Stu and Tanzer for this - I could drain out the engine oil and tip the outboard on its end and then take out the lower gear oil drain screw and with a syringe, put in 6ozs of gear lube over a period of time, allowing it to settle and for air bubbles to rise to top and escape. By taking the engine oil out, it won't go everywhere in the engine or leak out and I won't need to replace the spark plug.

Well that's the theory!!

Of course, I have no idea which of the three options is best and there is no escaping the fact that it doesn't resolve the problem of the blocked upper oil drain hole!

If anyone else has any more suggestions to add to those of the guys above, on the causes of that blocked hole and my next steps - I would really, really welcome them about now! 😟

"Of course son, you could just pay for it to be serviced annually and avoid the hassle. But where would the fun in that be?"

In the meantime, if you didn't catch part one of me learning to service my own outboard, and having fun, 😵    here it is.


As I often do, I went to the FaceBook forums as well. Thank you to all those who got back to me. the main ideas are

1. it is a sheared bolt so I need to drill a small hole and get a bolt extractor into it, flush loads of WD40 down the hole and then slowly extract the sheared bolt

2. drill a tiny hole to see how thick the blocking material is. Keep a hoover on it to suck up the drill swarf and then if it the drill goes through - I have an air hole and so I should be able to squeeze oil into the lower chamber via the lower oil drain hole.

3. there are some old cruising forums which talk about similar problems with 3.5hp Mariner, Mercury and Nissan engines - in almost all cases a bearing or a seal had melted, slipped, whatever and so blocked the hole. None of the forums suggested any more answers to the ones above other than disassemble the gear unit and replace the bearings or seals!

Ho Hum - fun times ahead. Some would say - "just learn to sail better and not take an outboard with you". 

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Servicing my outboard and getting very angry

I am angry.....and that is rare. I'm normally a pretty laid back kind of guy but today I'm cross.
The people who serviced my outboard last year cheated me as I have been discovering during my self-servicing of my outboard.
What has made me incensed is that when I came to replace the gear oil I couldn't get any oil to flow out of the top hole. But wait I'm rushing ahead..............

I had everything laid out - gear lube; tube to screw to gear lube bottle; new gaskets for the oil drain screws. Tools were at the ready - big flat tipped screw driver, rags and paper towel, a jug for oil to drain into.

I'd emailed a chandler twice when ordering the engine oil, gear lube, gaskets and the gear lube tube, asking them to make sure that I had ordered the correct stuff for my model outboard. The assured me they had sent everything I needed.

So mistake number one - I assumed that everything sent to me was correct. So I set about draining the gear oil. Imagine my surprise to discover that the tube ordered wouldn't screw into the hole. I discovered this AFTER I'd cut the pointy nozzle off the tube and screwed the tube on. Guess what -  the tube has a 10mm thread at the top. The Tohatsu hole was 8mm. No wonder the tube wouldn't screw in. In the small print on the back of the pack, in font said Tohatsu engines would need an additional piece - an 8mm thread screw in piece!

Second surprise - having adapted the tube - I just could not get any oil in that bottom hole. It should have been easy to squeeze it in until it flowed out of the top hole - but nothing. The oil just would not go in.

Imagine my surprise when I inspected the top hole. There, about 6mm in - the hole was blocked by the end of a sheared bolt.

So, lets get this clear, the people who said to me last year that they had changed the gear oil - didn't tell me they had sheared off a bolt and they didn't tell me they hadn't bothered to let me know that; and they didn't bother to try and fix the error they had made.

I am furious frankly! And sheepish because you would think I'd have noticed that straight away. But as usual, I rushed things. I unscrewed the bottom drain screw, watched the oil trickle out and then set about the top screw. When the dribble didn't speed up - I sensed something was wrong.

Cut a long story short. 5 fluid oz of dark brown oil drained out of the bottom hole. I had to do the unthinkable and practically tip the outboard up on its head (not quite but nearly) to dribble in 5 fluid oz of new oil.  I've worked out it was about 5 oz - there was 8oz in the tube and in the tray underneath was about 2 oz of spillage and I soaked up another oz with a rag.

And yes, I know, putting the outboard in that position should never, never happen.

I refitted bolt screws with new gaskets, although the top screw is pointless because there is a sheared bolt half way down it anyway! Put the engine up the correct way and then left it for an hour. The engine oil in the glass measuring window returned to normal levels.

I tried starting the outboard and there was nothing. It refused to start. I removed the spark plug, cleaned it, sprayed the HT lead with WD40. Spark plug put back in and the engine started on the first pull.  The gear lever engaged and the engine ran in gear for about 20 minutes with no problem that I could hear, sense, feel or smell.

I know that not enough oil in the gears could be disastrous but I'm hoping that enough went in.

In the meantime, when the chandler opens after lock down we will be having words although I doubt if I will get anywhere with them. They will say 'prove it was us'. I'll argue that since they have serviced my engine from the start and I have the receipts to prove it - it must be them. I'm not holding my breath on this one - such dishonesty!

I learnt a lot of bitter lessons today - the most important of which are a) don't assume anything  and b) read the instructions before you use anything new ....oh...and don't blindly trust that people have done the job they said they did!

Friday 10 April 2020

Dinghy cruising a Welsford 'navigator' by getting her ready for the lifting of the lock down

Enjoying the glorious Easter sunshine, I decided to do some final tidying up on Arwen in preparation for the time when the coronavirus lock down is lifted.

The jib has had some new sheets attached and has been refitted. Messing around, I realised that I may have been rigging things in the wrong order. Out of habit I always do the shrouds first and I think this is wrong.

Today, I rigged the Jib first and tensioned that by sweating the halyard. It pulled the mast forward - amazing how much flex there is in that upper mast! The result was a very taut fore-stay!

I fitted new bungee cord straps behind which I can stow waterproof bags against the hull under the side decks. A couple of deck loops were added to the coamings to better store spare warps.

Her decks were swabbed and polished; although, to be frank, Arwen needs a repaint.

Sunshine, blue skies, peace and quiet. It feels weird.

The new bungee cord  to hold back roll top bags, buckets, fenders etc
The white homemade canvas bag is for sail ties.
The blue tray holds a large anchor and rode

Looking untidy at the moment but I did offload lots of spare un-needed rope

Saggy fore-stay; a serious affliction I am told

From some time ago - last September I think 
Arwen sports her new burgee made by my good friend Dave

My last voyage, a circumnavigation of Plymouth Sound.
Here I am heading towards Jennycliffe Bay on the eastern side of Plymouth Sound

I hope all of you are well and safe. Look after yourselves, loved ones and neighbours. Please, all of you take care.