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 29 June 2020

Banishing the lock down blues

The first video vlog/diary of 2020 - part 1

And the track of Thursday's sailing adventure

Sunday 28 June 2020

Banishing the Lock down Blues 2

I have sailed Arwen for ten years now and never have I left it until June in any year to launch. This is the latest I've ever been getting out on the water. 

Every trip gets briefly summarised in my RYA National Sailing Scheme Log book - first issued to me in 2005 when I did my Level 1 RYA dinghy sailing certificate in Greece. I checked my records this morning. I have always completed at least one sail during January - April - always.

Wow! Coronavirus is certainly changing things. 

Thursday was a strange day - frustrating in many ways, but tempered in a good way by just being out on the water. 

I couldn't launch at Queens Ann Battery Marina. They haven't yet sorted out self launching and I fear they may decide not to.  Thus another first.....the first time I have never started a sailing trip in the Sound from QAB. A pity, I missed catching up with them and their personal family and yard news. 

Another first.....the first time I have ever had to launch from the other side of the Cattedown - on the public slipway at Mountbatten. It is a long, gradually sloping, wide ramp, found in front of the old WW2 Sunderland flying boat hangers - you will be putting two and two together now - and its free. Plymouth is well endowed with free public launch ramps. There are catches however. At Mountbatten, there are no pontoons and only one tying up post. You have to park the car some 100 yards away on the road or in the free public car park opposite the road and the ramp is cut across by the South West Coast Footpath. Single handed launching is difficult - you have to leave the boat for several minutes drifting about at the end of the ramp with the anchor dropped on the ramp. You might be able to beach it on the rocky-shingle-mud beach on the western side if the weather and tides are calm. 

Looking across the Cattedown towards Queen Anns Battery marina 
which is beyond the pontoon on the left hand side

And make sure everything is locked away - opportunist thieves can have a field day otherwise......and yes they do exist - even in the wonderful city of Plymouth. 

I managed to launch successfully on this unknown ramp after spending forty minutes at the top of it jogging my foggy brain into remembering where the various bits of string threaded. 

Beyond Arwen and Zebedee (our car.....the caravan is called 'Florence' by the way) 
you can see the large old WW2 Sunderland Flying boat aircraft hangers - now used for boat building and restoration work. 

OK, 'successfully' - is stretching it a bit!  I roped in 'her-indoors' who came over for an outing and to see a friend. She dutifully held the boat whilst I parked the car. Next time though, I have to do it on my own.....self-respect...and all that.  Can't be seen having 'the boss' holding my warps! 

I speedily drove car and trailer up the ramp, up the side road, out left onto the main road, two hundred yards up the road, around the roundabout and back down to near the turning back down to the ramp , where I found a parking space big enough for trailer and car on the road. Fastest I have ever attached two wheel clamps to a trailer!  I'm not afraid of 'SWMBO', but it pays not to irritate her!! She doesn't like to be kept waiting......unless of course it is she who is doing the 'keeping the waiting' bit............

I have been trying to reduce the time I spend using the outboard over last season. On Thursday however, I thought I would just quickly test it before sailing off a free mooring some 50 yards from the slipway.  The row to the mooring can was straight forward. I approached into the tide rather than the wind and we arrived safely enough - as in - there wasn't an undignified mad scramble with a mooring pole, lets put it that way. Always regard that as a bonus. 

Looking up river - the River Plym.......

Another first.....the first time that the outboard has refused to start since I serviced it myself during lock down. Every time I have started the outboard since the service, it has started on the second or third pull of the cord.  Every time this year!  On Thursday, it point blank refused to fire. 

Like a stroppy teenager who doesn't want to do any work, it phutt phutted a lot....and then died each time. (I should point out that never have I had a teenager die after phutt phutting a lot in my classroom - just for the record). 
I managed to avoid flooding the engine though. I suppose that was an achievement of sorts but over a period of twenty minutes - I tried to start that engine four times. Phutt, phutt, phutt.....die.   Top off the outboard.....try again........grey smoke tendrils out of the carburettor somewhere.....phutt, phutt.....died. I gave it a hard stare normally reserved for classroom miscreants....but clearly over three years of retirement, that particular superpower has faded. The outboard stared back resentfully!

Took out the spark plug. Cleaned the bottom of it; cleaned the spark plug cap. Sprayed that with WD40.....cleaned it out again. Reassembled - started on first pull of the cord. Go figure!

And so, instead of sailing off the mooring as intended, I decided to motor out into Jennycliffe Bay on the eastern side of Plymouth Sound. Give the engine its first good run since I serviced it and teach it a lesson about who is the real boss!  Across the day, I tested that engine five times and each time? It started first or second pull!

Sometimes things happen just because they do. Despite the best plans and preparation, the 'hassle' God's and Gremlins decide to be mischievous and undo what you have so carefully prepared. It is the only way I can explain away the rudder not working. It worked on the ramp during rigging time. 

So, yet another first....for the first time in ten years (other than the time when I jammed the rudder between two rocks during a temporary 'accidental' grounding on a muddy beach where I was attacked by two geese - another story for another time) - anyway, I digress - another first - the rudder suddenly not working. 

The up-haul worked a treat but the down-haul jammed from the start and the rudder refused to be pulled down. I had to lean over the stern and push it down by hand. Now, Arwen has a rear stern deck and a high transom and a mizzen mast - so it is no easy feat getting the rudder pushed down fully by hand.  Throughout the whole trip, the rudder down-haul just refused to function. At the end of the trip, back on the ramp, I inspected it thoroughly and could find nothing wrong. But that rudder just doesn't want to be hauled down by the down-haul. Another job for the garage work bench next week then I guess. Keeps me busy, keeps me out of my Dad would say. 

And finally, the last of the 'firsts'..........on my approach back into Jennycliffe Bay, having reached across towards the Cornish side of the Sound, the wind had risen a little and I decided to deploy the jib. The furler started to rotate, the sail began to unfurl part way and then the furler spilled off all its line into a right birds nest!  Now given I had checked it worked on the ramp, this is another thing I cannot account idea. Those 'hassle' God's and Gremlins again! I was left without a jib for the rest of the day and I had to drop the whole jib down into the boat to stop it from flogging unnecessarily. 

A man, who even during gremlin adversity, can still smile..........

Which was when I discovered something else. 

I confess, I am so embarrassed to admit this. I cannot believe I have never spotted the error. Ten years and not once have I noticed the bleeding obvious! 
The jib halyard is too short to drop the jib into the boat! I actually had to let it drop out of the mast sheave up-top so that I could bring the jib right tight down along the fore-deck and back into the boat to be secured.  

Now, obviously, in hindsight, I could have just furled the jib loosely and tied it up with a few sail ties.......but that would have been too easy and I am a thick sailor who likes to complicate the hell out of the simple..........and given I was sailing in some gusty weather at the time and the jib was flogging everywhere, I just dropped the lot. I didn't like the idea of heaving to and standing on the fore-deck to do it at that particular time. Well that's 'my excuse' I am sticking rigidly to by the way! 

Oh, and to add to the general confusion, the first time I hauled up the mainsail, it jammed as well. One of the battens, for the FIRST time ever, popped out of its sleeve as the sail was going  up, and caught on one of the lazy jacks. Thus the sail wouldn't haul up fully. Took me six minutes to work out that one, bobbing around in the middle of Jennycliffe Bay! 

I'd been out on the water for an hour! It was time to anchor in the lee of the cliffs at Jennycliffe. I was going to sail all the way into the lee of the cliffs, douse sail swiftly, use mizzen to go head to wind, drop anchor in one smooth motion and generally show off to all the big yachties anchored there, having their 'brunches' on their stern rail mounted BBQ's. 

However, discretion is the better part of valour and all I sailed in to a point, dropped sail and rowed in, slotting between two big yachts. Now, during lock down, I'd tied in some thin leather strips at two metre intervals on my anchor warp.  Thus, I worked out that water depth was 7m and I was able to pay out sufficient scope to enable me to swing gently around into the wind, without interfering or intruding on the other boats either side. 

at that point, I remembered the joys of a mizzen. Sheeted tightly in, Arwen lay head to wind. Rudder and centreboard up, she behaved impeccably, irrespective of the outgoing tide. 

And so an hour of spinning, flicking a lure between the boats and over the rocks inshore. Some reading (Bill Bryson - sooooo funny) and a bit of a tidy up. Some pondering about the rudder and furler whilst munching marmite and cheese sarnies.....of course......goes without saying.......a culinary masterpiece, frankly.

And then three more pleasant hours reaching backwards and forwards across the Sound from the Devon to the Cornish side and back again, all under main and mizzen. I even rediscovered old skills I'd forgotten from my Dinghy sailing courses (push/push-pull/pull)...........I went into irons twice!

At the end of the day, I sailed downwind and then motored the last bit back to the ramp. I had spent a little time trying to work out during the day how I was going to leave the boat on the ramp during the last of a falling tide and so I leapt into action. 

I don't know how others do it but I deployed my bungee anchor buddy - about five boat lengths out. I drifted onto the ramp, took a long line from the starboard stern cleat up to a conveniently exposed rock on the side of the ramp and hid the warp down below the ramp level at the side.  Arwen dutifully got pulled back off the ramp and out five boat lengths. By the time I had got the trailer back down, the tide had dropped further and she was about a boat and a half length off the ramp. I freed up the stern rope and bought it into the boat, I hauled off and retrieved the anchor buddy and paddled the boat back until I was in knee deep water.  leaving her on the ramp, I quickly moved the trailer down into the water and retrieved her. Just in time. The trailer wheels were about two feet away from the end of the ramp!

And so some questions from the day..........

1. Heaving to.......jib backed, tiller to leeward, main let out.....but what about centreboard? Up or left down?  I've done it both ways - but what is the correct way? Do let me know......because....I'm genuinely not sure and I can't remember what the RYA taught me all those years ago. 

2. Head to wind........rudder down, sails flap over the centre line - but what do I do with the centreboard? Arwen tends to drift backwards when head to wind - but should the centreboard be up or down?  I can't remember - sometime I raise it, sometimes not - but what is the correct way? 

3. How do you leave a boat on the end of a ramp in a falling tide - if you have to go off and retrieve a trailer some six minutes away? 

I feel I should know these answers.....but I caught myself doing each heave to and head to wind manoeuvre a couple of times during the day and each time I did it differently to the time previously. It was only when downwind sailing back into the Cattedown that that revelation dawned on me and then, as is par for the course with me, I instantly confused myself! 

Ho hum!

Thursday 25 June 2020

Banishing the lock down blues

Finally, for only the second time this year.......

Tuesday 23 June 2020

getting ready

Well - it appears we can now do overnight trips. Lock down to be lifted from July 4th which allows camping on board.

I have held off going sailing for the simple reason that the local marina I use has not been allowing self launching to take place - even though it is open. Extremely frustrating to say the least but I sort of understand under the circumstances. However, with the lifting of lock down I am hoping they will review that situation for later on this week.

Otherwise, for the first time ever, I will have to use a public slipway in my home area. And that makes me nervous - after all I am the genuine paranoid dinghy cruiser!

I have a choice of two really  - the first, in a car park and fairly steep with a tight right angled dog leg towards the bottom. Enclosed between car park wall and a building surround high decking on metal pillars is sheltered. But, alas, there is nowhere whatsoever to tie up your boat. So you grab the anchor and drop it on the ramp whilst you go park the car. The car park at the top of the ramp is smallish and getting a double space for car and trailer in a spot where you can make turns and get the rig down the ramp at the end of the day is tricky. In addition, you then have to pay by card for everything now and that means downloading an app - which often doesn't work - I speak from experience of it! The ramp exits immediately into the Sutton harbour area immediately south of the large pontoons where the pilot and tourist boats tie up. Its a busy traffic area. No time to warm up an outboard - row out into the busy waterway, raise sails and hope!

The alternative site across the Cattedown entrance from it, is a wide smooth ramp. The south west coastal footpath runs alongside it. Its a popular walking area. Here the car and trailer have to be driven up the ramp, along a side road and back onto the main road for either parking on the road, if available, or for putting in a public car park opposite, subject to spaces being available there. The ramp is shared by the water-sports centre as well.  Again, there is nowhere to tie the boat up to. You have to launch the boat, guide it onto a small rocky beach, dump the anchor on the shingle/rock and then get the car parked asap. Car parking is free. You can't leave valuables in the boat - the area is too open and insecure with high volume of passers by; you need to lock your outboard onto the transom bracket. Once pushed off - you are out immediately into the current. It is a short row to some mooring cans, most of which will be vacant at this time of year. I could then warm up and sort the outboard engine, or depending on wind etc - raise sails and sail off the mooring.   I guess I could try and push the boat out a little and go for a straight raising sail - there is sufficient room to give it a try, depending on wind direction.

In either scenario - I will be launching half an hour before the top of the tide - and that adds a little frisson of excitement in itself - since I will be rowing over the ramps themselves and on the second ramp, trying to avoid being swept onto the rocks either side of it!

Anyway, problems to solve over the next few days.

Meanwhile, like so many other dinghy cruisers in the UK, I can now plan some over-nighters. I am thinking of the following trips in the coming months:

Old favourites: 

  • overnight up at Redshank Point beach on the Lynher; or up to Treluggan or St Germans - this time exploring the waters up beyond these normal overnight stopping points - some real creek crawling
  • up to Calstock again, but similarly, pushing on beyond the old port town up towards Morwhellam Quay area
New-ish areas:

  • sail across to the mouth of the Avon, enter the river and sail up as far as Aveton Gifford. 
  • sailing a little further along the coast over to Hope Cove
Longer voyages: 

I am thinking seriously about two longer voyages over the summer - each about 10 days or so.

  • firstly, down to Falmouth, via Fowey (and passage up to Lostwithiel) and then sailing the Fal tributaries and the Helford river  - taking the boat out at Falmouth. 
  • secondly, going eastwards - sailing over to Salcombe and overnighting up Frogmore Creek, before sailing around to Dartmouth and overnighting up at Totnes - I would then either sail on to Brixham or Torquay and take Arwen out there; or I would do the return journey back to Plymouth from Totnes, possibly stopping off and overnighting up the Avon again. 
In the meantime, this week - on a 4.9m outgoing tide with low tide mid afternoon-ish, I guess what I am looking to achieve is 

  • a sail across to Rame Head and a lunch stop at Cawsand beach
  • some sailing practice up to mooring buoys
  • reacquainting myself with the basics - heaving to, anchoring etc. 
  • reacquainting myself with sail trimming and setting Arwen up so she helms herself
  • taking photographs of the camera equipment I use aboard Arwen for a series of magazine articles 
I'm really looking forward to it all.