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

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Learning new things all the time - rigging a Welsford navigator

 Recently I wrote an article for the Dinghy Cruising Association about deviating from the plans of the designer when building a boat - especially when you were doing it for the first time - and knew bugger all about sailing or boat design in the first place!

The dangers of tinkering and using only a 'little' knowledge!

Anyway, everything works fine on Arwen - except for sail trimming. Regular readers of this blog will know I am hopeless at it, don't understand the dark art and NEVER get it right on Arwen. There is always a permanent crease from throat to clew that no other navigator sailors get. The top of the sail always seems slightly floppy as does the leech. 

One reason I am thinking is the mistake of following the advice of the sail-makers. Jeckells loved the sail plan but insisted that full sized battens would be a pain when coming to dropping and stowing the main sail and so shortened them. Being naive and unsure of myself I accepted their advice - hindsight and now knowing how brilliant John is as a was a silly mistake to make and displayed a lack of faith in John and his designs. 

I suspect I will have to bite the bullet over winter and have full sail battens inserted. Ah well - you live and learn. 

Over the last few days another navigator owner Tim Ingersoll has been most generous with his time and filmed two short videos of how he has rigged his navigator with the standing lug sail. He did it at my request as a great favour to me so I could see how someone else with the same rig had done theirs. 

Here are his two short videos. 

Now several things became crystal clear rather rapidly after watching these two videos.
  1. The difference those full length sail battens make and how easily they drop and furl - I have no idea what Jeckells were talking about - now!!
  2. Our snotter arrangements are similar but with differences - I use double blocks as the tackle - Tim uses a single and a double; I use 5 mm line - he looks as if he is using 4 mm. My snotter halyards 'sticks' - his doesn't!
  3. His reefing system is different - a braille elastic and hooks affair - which looks quicker and easier than my individual hemp ties! Mine may look slightly more aesthetically pleasing though - maybe - just a tad - if you are a traditionalist? 
  4.  Oh dear God - his under the deck arrangement is so much cleaner and simpler than mine - what was I thinking? Deck turning blocks - yes of course - not actual blocks - dur! And Jib and mainsail halyard cleats on the top of the deck or the actual mast sides - so much better. 
  5. Tim uses a single big block for his centreboard - whereas I use a triple and double block arrangement which takes up space - so I may ponder on that one further
  6. Tim's top yard is noticeably different - it appears thinner and more curved than mine - he lashes the main halyard on it and has a separate parrel loop arrangement at the forward bottom end of the yard to hold it close to the mast. He also has that yard on the port side of the mast, the same side as the sprit boom. Other sailors on inspecting Arwen have also commented that would be a better arrangement although John's plans clearly show sprit boom one side and top yard the other. I think I will stick with the plans - having learned a painful lesson on the sail battens. 
  7. Our down-haul arrangements are slightly different as well - Tim followed the plans!  Guess who didn't! Tim's blocks are above deck - mine are below deck. Everyone tells me to crank on more tension to get rid of the crease but I promise you that is impossible - the luff is as taut as it can get - there is no more tension to be applied!
And that seems to be basically the differences - which now leaves me things to consider regarding the main sail battens, the top yard and the luff tack down-haul arrangement along with the deck turning blocks. 

On a different note but still on the general kindness of people, Dave, a highly experienced boat builder and member of the Dinghy Cruising Association contacted me by email after watching a few of my recent videos. Dave is an extraordinary small boat sailor and everyone accepts he really knows his stuff. Essentially he thinks there might be an issue with the sprit boom itself and the snotter. he had a similar problem on a boat he built once with a similar standing lug sail arrangement and he solved it by simply altering the boom at the bottom to make it a boom like you would find on a gaff sail and he then rigged a vang attached to the boom. 

So, lots to think about.  I like the sprit boom and since Tim and many others have made it work really well for them and John planned it that way - I will stick with it a little longer I think and make some of the minor alterations that Tim has shown me and see if these work. If not, knocking up a cheap boom over the winter, as Dave suggests, wastes little and could be a solution. 

Thursday 20 August 2020

Porpoise off Plymouth Sound

 I love where I live - I am so lucky to have this close by.

A bit lengthy - in a rush? The porpoise appear about 11 minutes in.

Capsize lessons

 Rik recently capsized his pathfinder. He posts about the experience and subsequent alterations to his boat Vanessa here at

An essential read with some interesting lessons for us all. 

Friday 14 August 2020

Special days

 Minke whales, giant tuna and hordes of dolphins and porpoise off Plymouth Sound? Reports in the local paper?

Well I had to go see for myself. We all know how the first trip went - see the post before last! This time I after un-forecast windless conditions, I arrived late to the show and so caught the tail end of it........

But ..........2 sunfish, a few jelly fish, several porpoise, a Minke whale, Exocet-like  diving gannets and a shoal of frenzied feeding blue tuna....and yes, porpoise do jump out of the water to catch tuna in mid-flight! And not another boat around me!

Didn't get photos but did get some video!! To be posted soon. 

But whilst you wait this kayaker was out earlier than me on the same day and this is what he/she saw.........I was half a day behind him.......


Dinghy Cruising Association Bulletin

 This is an excellent small boat magazine full of interesting articles, ranging from book and equipment reviews to rally reports, in-depth articles about a range of topics from historical research about small boats to voyage accounts, fitting out boats, anchoring techniques, sail configurations and much more beside. An encyclopedia of knowledge about dinghy cruising but also on occasions about old historic boat designs. 

I particularly enjoyed the articles on cruising the rivers Lynher and Tamar and getting to know your standing lug rig yawl in the most recent publications. Written by an idiot but reasonably entertaining I guess. At least he hasn't killed or endangered anyone.....yet 🙄😁

If you are into dinghy cruising I would heartily recommend joining the DCA whether you live in UK or not. The bulletin is excellent value for money......well I think so. 


Monday 10 August 2020

Getting back into your boat after a capsize

 An annual event, 'her indoors' accompanied me out on a day sail yesterday. Pleasant weather unlike last week - with light winds, F2 from NW around to SE and back again - so fickle! Sunny and a lovely temperature of 25C. 

Launched at QAB as normal (they are back open doing self launching once more), we drifted out on the outgoing tide (HT at 10.0am - allowing 'her indoors' time to wake up, have a civilised breakfast and get a latte before we departed the pontoon).

Unlike last week, everything went according to the plan - after we almost collided with the enormous steel hulled 'Pelican of London' - a tall training ship - that was coming through Sutton Harbour to negotiate the locks into the Marina (we were coming out of a narrow canal between moored boats and didn't see the tall masts of 'The Pelican' The accompanying pilot and harbour master launches escorting her - didn't see us - smiles and laughs all round but only after I executed an exceptionally fast and tight right angled turn with the outboard and tiller). 

The sails raised smoothly, once out in Jennycliffe Bay (now that I have put the cleat back towards the mast base below the fore-deck - I can 'sweat' the main sail halyard far more efficiently). The top yard still doesn't quite attain the top of the mast below the mast sheave and today I worked out why - I have left the old wooden block pieces on the mast that used to support the base of the bronze mast ring and so the loop of rope that runs around the mast and holds the yard tight against it - keeps catching on it - what a simple revelation that was. So, sometime this week those old blocks pieces will be removed and the holes filled in and sanded.

We made good progress in light winds across Plymouth Sound - reaching 3.7 kts - tide assisted of course. We headed for the eastern end of the breakwater, caught a lucky break on the winds which allowed a beam reach along its length westwards and into the centre of Cawsand Bay where we sailed between two sets of moored boats (each long, long line anchored in the lee of either the northern or southern shorelines), before dropping sails and gently motoring right inshore to drop the old hook for a lunch time picnic and swim. After lunch, we set sail out of the bay, eastwards along the outside of the breakwater and then turned north back through the eastern entrance, by which time the winds were almost due south again and so we ambled downwind all the way back to the Dunstone Buoy where we neatly pulled up rudder and centreboard, sheeted in the mizzen, turned head to wind and dropped sail. We later learned that the small blue hulled boat with white sails that was ahead and veered off towards 'The Bridges' and the mouth of the Tamar, was the partner of a friend we both know who we worked alongside in the city education service. And, apparently, he follows 'Arwen's Meanderings' - well go figure - a small world it is indeed. 

Which brings me neatly to the point of this post - an opportunity to try the 're-boarding loops' on Arwen. I shamelessly stole the idea from Howard Rice, Joel Bergen and Simon Baldwin on their Scamps and navigators. 

My loops, made of woven tape, tuck under the coaming cut outs and are securely tied to eye-bolts that run through the bulkheads either-side of midships. 

There is a boarding loop on both port and starboard sides. The idea is that after a capsize, I can reach over the coaming and pull one of them out. The loop hangs down in the water at a sufficient a length that I can get one foot onto the loop and then stand straight up on it. 

With both feet inside the loop, my legs then sort of stick out under the water away from the hull but also give me sufficient height that my midriff comes level with the side deck and by pushing against the loops I can 'tip' myself into the boat.  Well that is the theory. 

Tried using the mast step on the transom to get back in - but between the boomkin and the rudder there isn't a lot of space and so it proved energy sapping and time consuming. Apart from which, what impact would it have on the boat with me trying to come back in over the stern? 

Standing up on the boarding loop with legs extended out behind me in the water 

So, the short video below shows the re-boarding. Of course, there are considerable caveats.  The boat was at anchor, the seas were calm and I wasn't wearing a life jacket or PFD with bits hanging off it. 

But what did I learn in doing it? In no particular order, initial thoughts:

  1. the side deck was around 6 inches above my head when I was in the water - didn't expect that - though granted after a capsize, the hull will be full of water, swamped, and so settled much lower in the water
  2. that 6" above my head, plus the 8" side deck, plus the 2" high coaming rim - all combined to defeat me in reaching my arm down over the coaming to access the tape which is tucked behind a coaming cut-out - 'the boss' had to help out
  3. the way I store my oars on their rowlocks along the side deck outside of the coamings was also a pain - and the tape comes over the top of them - so when my weight is on the tape, the oars are pressed against the coaming edges. 
  4. in the water, the tape was around 6" too shallow - I needed that extra little bit of 'depth' to them. I could get my foot into the loop, but I had to be right on my back virtually to get my feet raised high enough in the water - trying to do that in a wavy sea - could be interesting!
  5. the actual standing up on the loops and pushing my extended legs out behind me under the water was surprisingly easy and so my mid riff did come level with the side deck and I practically tipped myself in an ungainly roll into the boat - that was quite easy. 
So, in summary, he big question is did they work - answer - YES! Do I need to make alterations - MAYBE. Could I do it with PFD on in rolly seas - MAYBE!

I think the issue hinges on how much lower the boat will be in the water swamped - if you said the boat was six inches lower in the water - then yes I could reach over, yes the tape would be lower below the waterline and so easier to get my feet into and yes I'd be able to do it. 

Huge amount of assumptions there - aren't there! 

Still smiling with lots to ponder on

Of course, I could be overthinking this. In a capsize, if Arwen is lying on her side, then it is likely I will be able to reach up and pull down the 're-boarding loops' and the knotted 12' long ropes which I would use to help me clamber up onto the centreboard, in order to right her. 

I have only ever capsized Arwen once, deliberately when she was first built and empty over at East Portlemouth - I think it is time to arrange with the marina a new capsize test with a few of the marina yardies on hand to help out. Full sails up, gear out - to see if the hatches are still watertight and to retest the boarding ropes and loops. 

'Merlin' - I wondered if it was a Falmouth Oyster boat?

Heading eastwards towards Bovisand

Homeward bound on a downwind run

Friday 7 August 2020

Sloppy seas and poor seamanship

I have to face up to the fact that I am nowhere near as good a sailor as I was mountaineer.
The evidence to support this assertion is overwhelming M'Lud and I beg the court's leave in allowing me to submit the following video evidence to the world wide web jury.

So M'Lud, without further ado, I cite the following failings in seamanship:
  • poor preliminary passage planning - in which I failed to spot the inherent dangers of SSE winds, shallowing sea floor and onshore winds.
  • the FIRST testing a of a 'simplified' reefing system in 'fresh' winds
  • diabolical reefing of the main sail
  • choosing the wrong sail plan configuration from the start - main and mizzen - oh I say M'Lud, the joys of hindsight eh?
  • a failure to trim all cordage within the boat to its correct lengths thereby causing instant tripping hazards and excess of 'string' within the boat
  • over-complicating, what was in essence, a simple system proposed by the boat's designer
  • running all halyards and cordage back to the aft cockpit area, instead of following the plans, which had most halyards securing at the base of the mast, the fore-deck, or along the sprit boom itself 
  • a complete memory loss when feeling nauseated (no excuse man - stiffen one's spin for heaven's sake - of course M'Lud, absolutely right, deserved admonishment, absolutely) so that I forgot to release the mizzen sheet just before tacking AND forgot how to get oneself out of irons by reversing the tiller and swinging the mizzen sail to windward
  • trying to tack a boat in a stiff breeze and small waves by tacking on the front of the wave rather than on its top!
  • being sick overboard to M'Lud, you are right sir, I didn't make that mistake a second time, I ensured I churled over the leeward side, the second time, Sir.
  • a complete lack of attention to detail, inevitably leading to a tack to clew crease, (Yes M'Lud, that is the same crease as in all 144 other videos. Yes M'Lud, I do feel the moncker you propose, 'bit of a slow learner and chump' would be aptly appropriate for me). Yes M'Lud, the sprit boom was poorly set, the braille in the reef sail was poorly executed, and yes M'Lud, your eyesight is excellent, you did correctly spot a five second clip of one of the reefs coming undone, Well done M'Lud, well done, most observant Sir. 
'A Bottle of gin and can of tonic' M'Lud, to cure sea sickness? An excellent suggestion M'Lud, thank you, yes Sir, I will take note of it. Is that to be taken before or after being sea sick M'Lud?

Sorry M'Lud, I assure you no flippancy was mean't!

'What have I learned from this sorry debacle of poor seamanship' M'Lud? 'Lessons for next time?'

  • 'stick to mountaineering, expeditions and adventure travel and don't go near boats?' Wise advice M'Lud, wise advice, most learned Sir, most learned. 
  • 'Write to the boat's designer to apologise for my sheer incompetency in sailing his well designed boat?' Consider it done M'Lud, consider it done - to be fair I apologise to him in my prayers daily M'Lud
  • I'd better check next time the implications of tides, tidal streams, sea floor depth and wind direction and strength before passage planning a route
  • better to sail under jib and main, jib and mizzen and just main - 'think more carefully about an appropriate sail configuration for the route and conditions one sails in' - yes M'Lud - wise words, wise words
  • learn to sail without using my rudder by remembering that the jib forward of the centreboard will help me turn away from the wind; the mizzen aft of the board will help me turn into the wind; and don't push the tiller right over, as, most correct sir, most correct, it will act 'like a bloody big brake'
  • 'try backing the main sail occasionally' - well M'Lud, that is a new one on me, but I'll give it a go M'Lud - always keen to learn new skills
  • yes M'Lud, I had forgotten that if I had only reached up over my head, grabbed the mizzen sprit boom and pushed it to leeward, the mizzen sail would have gone to windward and helped turn the bow of the boat through the wind and onto its new tack. 'Memory problems?' - er yes M'Lud - I am well known for my absent minded forgetfulness - 'in one ear and out the other with nothing in-between to absorb anything?' - yes M'Lud - a fair description, most kind sir, most kind. 
  • 'And tidy up the bloody boat man - have some pride!'  Of course M'Lud - the first thing I do this weekend M'Lud. 

Still on the positive side.............

I like my new Garmin InReach Explore. 

I'll do a complete post on it at a later date when it has been extensively tested but on four long walks, three long bike rides and one disastrous sailing day - it has proved accurate and fun to use. The controls are simple enough to use one handed. The menu screen shows up in bright sunlight; the trip odometer seems accurate as does the compass. The tracking can be set at various intervals and is remarkably accurate. The 'I'm OK' ping messages got through to the boss about 10 seconds after I sent them - far better than my old SPOT device which took up to thirty minutes! The interface between InReach and the mobile phone app works well via bluetooth and doesn't seem to empty the phone battery too quickly. 

The downloaded maps are not that good - it will never replace the OS maps app I have on my mobile. Garmin maps are very basic but are accurate when compared to the OS map onscreen. Out at sea, there is no detail on the Garmin map, but it did place Arwen on every occasion, exactly at the correct point, in relation to near land mass and features, as the navionics app showed. 

So, is it better than the SPOT - yes in terms of accuracy and speed and other basic features like trip logging details etc; also in terms of the number of messages that can be pre-set up and used (although remember there is a subscription charge for each track - currently 10p per track point recorded an sent. As a basic GPS and compass it is better than my handheld garmin etrex. Its a back up if I lose my mobile phone navionics app - for any reason. You can set waypoints in it back at home via a laptop and then sync it to the InReach - I haven't done this yet. 

It also acts as an emergency PLB and the rescue services can send you text message updates about what is happening rescue wise - whilst you are waiting. You can also text them if circumstances allow. You can also cancel an accidental activation of the SOS button as well. 

Where it does come into its own is the two way texting that can be done in areas where there is no mobile signal. We did find one such area down near Porthcothan in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago whilst walking and I was able to send and receive texts via the InReach with the boss. Obvious there was a charge for each text sent both ways - but it was reassuring to know that either she or I could get in contact with each other when stuck up a creek or on some tor with no mobile coverage. Which happens more frequently than I care to admit!!

In a few weeks time, I will give a more detailed review but thus far  I like it - but then I am a bit geeky about my gadgets!!