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

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. 

Sunday 15 November 2020

Bereft about 'Stanford's' in London


Surely it cannot be only me who feels bereft at the news that the London Store ‘Stanford’s’ may be forced to close its doors forever before 2020 ends. 

I know this has nothing to do with dinghy cruising but this news is akin to a sucker punch to the ribs for me, as I sit here surveying our travel wall and shelves. Here, hang hats from various countries, a Thai house for our house spirits to reside in, a seed pod from The Gambia, a tiny coke tin from Costa Rica. Photos adorn the stair well walls of our travels - our epic New Zealand Grand tour, the four weeks exploring Namibia, the five weeks self-driving Costa Rica. The Beijing underground railway travel passes hidden behind lava from Etna and some pumice from Vesuvius. From climbing Kilimanjaro and crossing the Serengeti to canoeing the River Gambia and horse back riding across the wild hills of the inland border regions between The Dominican Republic and Haiti, what links all these artefacts, photos, maps, journals and travel guides is one thing. That one thing they all have in common, they all started as an idea dreamed up from a visit to Stanford’s.

From the Caribbean to China and Thailand
Our journeys all start from inspiration gained at Stanford's Of London and Bristol 

Every map, every guide book, even the little journal I write my notes in now (a sweet A5 lined notebook with an antique Latin map of the world as its cover – one of eight others which grace my work desk – a record of our notes and ideas, dreams and aspirations spanning the last few decades) – all have come from Stanford’s.

The London Stanford’s has always been my go-to place when visiting our capital. When completing my part-time Master’s at the Institute of Education, no weekly visit to that place of academia was complete without me calling in at either the RGS map room, Foyles bookshop or Stanford’s.  I would run at 3.30pm when school finished (I could run quite fast in those days) the two miles to the railway station to catch the ‘earlier’ train up to Victoria. That train would give me a precious two hours before my evening course started, in which I could head for one of my three most favourite places in the city.

One of our many, many,  book shelves given over to maps, guides, travelogues and travel literature 

And is it only a year ago that I was sat on the floor at the Bristol branch with maps and guide books strewn around me – covering South America and the West Coast of the USA – maps of all types, scales and detail; obscure maps of national parks, travel writing books by American authors? Where I scribbled copious notes and ideas for two epic retirement travel tours covering Peru, Bolivia and Chile and then South Western USA? To be surrounded by shiny hardbacks, softbacks, maps of all sizes, scales, shapes and colours, racks of OS maps, shelves dedicated to the cycle trails across Europe or walking the Camino de Santiago (both still on the list of things to do before I reach sixty).

Where else can you sit for hours whilst other shop users step over or skirt around you, completely at ease with your domination of acres of floor space, each one greeting you with that knowing smile, twinkly eyes and quick wink. All complicit in your hogging of space, for they understand, they have been there, they ARE there – for that sense of awe, wonder, intrigue, inspiration, quest and sense of adventure.

Our planned seven week self-guided exploration of Peru, Bolivia and Chile put on hold by unrest in South America; our planned six week self drive exploration of south west USA, cancelled due to Covid; our planned seven week backpacking Interrail tour of Europe - on hold because of covid.
All these itineraries and plans, started out on the shop floors of Stanford's in London and Bristol 

Yes, sense of adventure. Stanford’s is my London bolt-hole, a place where I can dream, gain sanity, reflect on the changing world, gain perspective and plan, yes plan, those little adventures that have been so much part of our family lives. And yes, perhaps in recent years, a visit to Stanford’s has been an attempt to rekindle that adventurous spirit I had when I was in my twenties and that I feel I have now lost.

My, our, first steps to an adventure have always started at Stanford’s or with something purchased from Stanford’s. Not just maps and guide books, travel writing or notebooks but inflatable globes (to be left in schools in The Gambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Thailand). Or our collection of travel games – Scrabble, Bananagrams, The British Railway game, our travel chess and draughts boards – all from Stanford’s.

The old Stanford's in Covent Garden - my bolt hole and refuge from the chaos of the world around me

And what a place the London Stanford’s is. Over 160 years of history from when it was first established by Edward Stanford in 1853. The roll call of adventurers who have used the place as their first port of call for planning an adventure – Amy Johnson, David Livingston, Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Florence Nightingale, Ranulph Fiennes, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Levinson Woods. How many of these have been my exploration heroes, how many of their books have I read and pored over down through the years? To walk in their steps, to reach for maps off shelves where they once stood?  

A sense of history that saw the first shop through two world wars, where its founders became royal cartographers to queens and kings, where Argentinian diplomats bought up all the stock of maps of the Falkland’s months before that war started, forcing the British Army to become reliant on captured enemy maps during the conflict. Where Michael Palin started his travel career and ‘Around the World in 80 days’ – that shot of him starting the journey from leaving Stanford’s.

Stanford’s has been, is, a much-loved vital part of our travel landscape, the world’s biggest map retailer, an organisation that prides itself on the depth and range of its stock. If you can’t find the map you want at Stanford’s then the reason is simple – it was never published in the first place!

Stanford's 1901

2020 has decimated the travel industry. As Covid 19 has spread, practically uncontrolled in many parts of the world, travel has been all but impossible. The world has become paralysed but like many of our businesses, taxes, rent, wages have not. Footfall and income to the London store has dropped away to barely anything and the shop faces the real threat of closure before the end of the year. This joyful, tranquil retreat in the chaos of London, where adventures are dreamed of or planned will be lost forever and I cannot believe that I am the only outdoor enthusiast and armchair explorer who will deeply regret its demise.

There is a life line. Stanford’s has been given it by the Mayor of London’s ‘Pay It Forward Crowdfunder Initiative’ – a project to help stricken businesses across the city. Donations from £5 will get the donor a reward from the shop should its target of £120,000 by Spring 2021 be reached, when Stanford’s hope that the travel industry will be up once again and people travelling once more.

I cannot help every single business facing the prospect of closure. I will do all that I can to help local businesses on my local high street throughout the impact time of this pandemic. I buy books online from small book businesses, I shun the Amazon’s of this world.

And, I will definitely donate to the Crowdfunder to save the London Stanford’s. I may only visit it once very couple of years, but there has never ever been a time when I have visited London when I have not ended up sat on its floor surrounded by maps and travelogues, guide books and journals, dreaming of adventures and explorations to come.

It is, and always will be, my place of refuge from the chaos of life, my source of inspiration, curiosity and wanderlust – a place where I see the detail of our amazing planet, where I plan new adventures to witness changing life and nature across our varied continents, where I can plan to meet old friends and create journeys to make new ones.

Moved just around the corner - the new (above) and the old (below) Stanford's of Covent Garden, London

When I started this post, I apologised for it having little to do with dinghy cruising. But, I have come to realise that actually it does. For dinghy cruisers are small boat adventurers. 'Adventure' doesn't have to be found only on epic journeys to far flung places. It is found in our backyards, our national parks, our countryside, our rivers and coastlines and yes, even our cities too. If you are a true adventurer blessed with an exploratory, inquisitive, adventurous nature, then please donate if you can.

Williamson and me
The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro 1991
Guide books and maps.....from Stanford's of London! 

Friday 13 November 2020

Living close to a magical coastline

 I am lucky. I am a short car ride or bike ride way from a beautiful coastline. It's majesty and raw power are best seen during the autumn months when the sun is lower in the sky, the winds are stronger and the autumnal colours give a richness to the seascape. 

If during lock down I cannot sail this stretch of coastline, then I may as well walk it. 

Looking out towards the tombolo that is Burgh Island with its art deco hotel

No Surfers this morning but kite surfers are making the most of the empty waters on Bantham beach.

Looking westwards beyond Burgh Island. Between the two headlands on the horizon lies Plymouth Sound

The red sand beaches at Thurlestone

When it starts to get gusty! 

Looking eastwards towards the headland of Bolt Tail and the little villages of Outer and Inner Hope Cove

Looking northwards up across the lower stretch of the river Avon. 

Looking back towards the entrance to the river Avon