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, 5 April 2021

First astronomy outings

 First astronomy outings

Funny old thing is life. Just as I was cursing my bad luck, a fortuitous stroke of good luck befell me. Regular blog readers will know I have ordered a telescope. I have taken up astronomy and the telescope will accompany us in Bryony our motorhome and onboard Arwen for some trips. You can read about the telescope and what I have been learning about amateur astronomy in previous blog posts or you can pop across to for more detailed posts.

Anyway, said telescope was due at the end of February. Then it got delayed to the end of March. Then “It’s possible that it is on one of the crates on that ship in the Suez Canal”. Now it is due at the end of April! I’m not holding my breath on this one. A shortage of raw materials, a lack of workers, a shortage of shipping crates and uncertainty in supplies and back orders apparently.

So, the fortuitous good luck? Whilst browsing Facebook ‘market place’ for something entirely different, I “accidently” came across a table top, 4” Newtonian Dobsonian, beginner’s telescope in good condition; hardly used in fact.

I promptly checked out the prices of new ones and discovered that you couldn’t get one new for love nor money anywhere in the UK at this moment in time. Every telescope stockist known to man this side of the English Channel is ‘out of stock – awaiting new orders’.

And here was this one, barely used and just under half the price of a new one. By the time I had contacted the seller it was too late. He had someone coming to see it that morning. So disappointing; but imagine my glee when three hours later the seller contacted me to say the buyer hadn’t turned up. “Would you like to buy it?” Would I like to buy it? Would I….never mind!

It turns out that he hadn’t used it once. The little plastic insulator tab was still in the battery compartment. Brand new - what a stroke of luck.

And so, I have been out on two sessions under the stars putting into practice what I have learned so far. Which turned out to be nowhere near as much as I thought I had!

Session one was a shambles. I couldn’t find the stars or nebulae I was looking for. I couldn’t get the finderscope to work properly and I hadn’t aligned it correctly. A misaligned red dot finderscope on a telescope is a devious creationist thing of Satan! Let’s just leave it there shall we!

I dropped eyepieces in the dark. I kept leaving my red light on my headtorch on full beam. I couldn’t use higher magnification eyepieces because I kept losing the star I was looking at; don’t get me started on how to use a Barlow lens!

I tried to align the smartphone holder, in the dark. That’s an hour of my life I won’t get back again!

So much easier to align the smartphone holder in daylight!

You have to be a contortionist to use the finderscope. It has a red dot which seems to migrate within the viewfinder on its own accord. If the telescope is elevated at an angle of greater than 45 degrees, you have to virtually lie on the floor to be able to sight up the finderscope. They advertise it as a table top telescope for beginners. Are these beginners fairy folk?  You’d have to be the size of a barbie or action man to sight up this scope. Or you would need a table which is five feet high!

And then, just as you focus on something interesting, it moves out of view. So, you have to chase after it, only you have to remember that the image is upside down and reversed so the way you think you need to move the tube assembly is actually wrong, it’s the ‘other’ direction!

Meanwhile, to actually look down the eyepiece requires back breaking bends and after a few minutes, you can’t physically straighten. Throw in extreme cold, biting winds, stumbling around in the dark, a completely useless set of planetarium apps because you chose the only spot in your locality which doesn’t have any form of smart phone signal and hey it’s a challenging night!

And yes, I adored every minute of it! I am well and truly hooked.

Of course, it doesn’t help if you are trying to learn two separate things simultaneously. There is astrophotography – taking photographs of night landscapes and night skies; and there is astronomy – learning about the night sky and using a telescope to view night sky objects. Trying to learn both at the same time is …… courageous, challenging, stimulating …………. stupid!

But hey, being stupid, can sometimes be really, really fun can’t it!



PS: the photo below is the result of my second night session and I have outlined the details below.

“Last night was my first proper astrophotography session. I am trying to get to grips with two things - learning basic astronomy using a Newtonian telescope and astrophotography - using a DSLR camera and lens without a star tracker. I'm starting from a base of no knowledge whatsoever, but ever the lifelong learner..............

This is my first ever astro-photograph of a nebula. I took 300 photos of the general vicinity of the nebula as follows 1.3 sec,  300 images,  F/2.8,  ISO 1600,  200mm FL

No calibration frames and no star tracker.

I used the software program DeepSkyStacker for the very first time and then loaded the image up into Affinity Photo which is also new to me. I have never used Photoshop or the learning curve has been steep to say the least.

This is my first effort. I will get better!

Messier 42, NGC 1976 - Great Orion Nebula - one of the brightest nebulae in the sky, one of the nearest star forming regions to our planet, Earth.  It is visible to the naked eye as a hazy patch surrounding the middle star of Orion's sword - Theta Orionis. The sword is just south of Orion's belt.

It is a diffuse emission nebula. If I were able to use a star tracker and longer exposure times, the nebula would appear redder and more violet-blue in colour. The greenish tint is caused by radiation from doubly ionized oxygen. It is 1350 light years away from us and is approximately 24 light years across in size. The youngest brightest stars within it are thought to be about 100,000 years old and emit large quantities of ionizing ultraviolet radiation, thus causing the nebula to glow by fluorescence.

There are approximately 700 stars in various stages of formation within this nebula.

Rubbish photo but what marvels of the multiverse there are to see if we take the time to look up occasionally”. 

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Every garden should have...

 A little log store. This one is built out of scrap wood I had lying around in the garage. It accompanies the new fire pit....which contains volcanic pumice ash from Etna of all places.....

We don't have outdoor fires very often but with a cleared patio area and the old BBQ and patio heater sent to the recycling tip.....we are altering the evening ambience...πŸ˜„

I just made/built this as I went along........and it shows πŸ˜„

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Should recreational sailors pay for the disposal of their expired pyrotechnic flares?

 Now, this little news clip on page 10 of ‘Sailing Today’ caught my eye. “You pay for flare disposal” says government.

Apparently, the DOT wants leisure sailors to pay for flare disposal and it has put this proposal out to consultation which ends on 15th March. The department is proposing a ‘polluter pays’ principle. It says in the consultation document:

“The industry should have in place effective mechanisms and processes that facilitate the safe management, containment, storage and disposal of such items……and for which they are usually obliged to pay”

“It is perhaps not unreasonable, therefore, to encourage the recreational boating sector to adopt a similar approach in disposing of its own waste products”, the consultation says.  

I’m not sure how I feel about this proposal so I’d welcome other peoples’ comments in the comment box below so that I can gain a range of perspectives to help me reach an informed opinion.  


I used to take my expired flares to Brixham coastguard before it closed. Then Force Four chandlery took them when I bought a new set from them.  However, the coastguard scheme operating at 17 stations ended in December 2021 apparently, because their contract with an ordnance disposal contract came to an end. Hence the consultation now.  There are, so it seems, 360,000 flares in circulation throughout UK maritime waters, within any one three-year period!


So, why does this interest me?

Well, I carry flares onboard Arwen. Two red handheld, two orange smoke handhelds, a floating orange smoke. One white handheld.  I have no idea whether that is what I should be carrying – it came as a sort of inshore coastal waters pack deal.  I know that for recreational vessels up to 13.7m in length, there are no statutory requirements of safety equipment other than those required under SOLAS V. For recreational boats over 13.7m in length I think they have to carry a minimum of four red pyrotechnic flares (but I still need to check this fact so bear with me).

In truth, I’ve never been comfortable with pyrotechnics. I have used some whilst mountain rescue training many, many years ago. I’ve never used any in a boat. I found them unpredictable to say the least; but that could be due to my unfamiliarity with using them.

It strikes me that they are now an antiquated method of distress alerting. After all modern technology seems to provide safer, more reliable alternatives to pyrotechnics. There is EPIRB, PLB, VHF DSC, AIS for a start – some of that I carry on Arwen (smartphone AIS plotter, PLB (with SAR tracking, various navigation apps)). I have a handheld VHF but it does have the obvious limitations regarding range, line of sight etc. As a general rule, I very rarely travel more than four miles off shore when sailing the south Devon and Cornwall coastlines, so do I need ot carry pyrotechnic flares at all?

Most of this techie stuff is affordable and seemingly far safer to use than rolling about in a sinking boat trying to light a flare which then lasts a few seconds (orange smokes excepted). But then, in fairness, I have never had to use any of the technology in a distress situation whilst at sea, so maybe I don’t know enough about this to make any valid points! And if all else fails, an orange floating smoke in an emergency will be very welcome, thank you very much.

On the other hand, I only carry a limited number of orange smokes and these could be used up pretty quickly without any guaranteed success in an emergency situation.  The red flares will burn for no more than 15s max I suspect. There is no guarantee that anyone will see them and then go on to alert the emergency services. In fact, the RYA lists a whole number of problems with using pyrotechnics, not least of which is their limited three-year serviceable life and the disposal of them afterwards.

As I said before, I know that the regulations are clear that I don’t need to carry any pyrotechnics whatsoever on my boat given its size. Recreational boaters below 24m in length (that’s their boat, not themselves) are free to choose what means of distress alerting and location they wish to carry according to the RYA summary of the guidance. But they also say…… “The RYA strongly recommends that recreational craft carry both a means of distress alerting and a means of indicating location should Search and Rescue (SAR) services be required”. I’m sure my VHF, smart phone and PLB cover this.


And so, to my main issue with this consultation: electronic visual distress signals (EVDS). Known to some as laser flares, they are handheld non pyrotechnic devices which work out cheaper, safer, easier to use and easier to dispose of than traditional pyrotechnic flares. However, they are not currently recognised as an international distress signal in COLREG Annex IV. So, they cannot be considered a means of initiating distress but can be used for visual location once a distress alert has been sent (MCA recognition in Marine Information Note 542M+F).  

Now I know I am not a brilliant, experienced sailor; I know my experiences are limited to basically messing about in a small boat on inshore coastal and estuary waters. But, surely, it is time for the MCA to recognise that small boats in particular shouldn’t be carrying dangerous pyrotechnics and that there is a wealth of other better technology for distress alerting out there and this includes making EVDS part of that solution.

Rightly or wrongly, I feel pressured into having old pyrotechnics onboard even though I have other better distress alerting technologies available to me. I know it’s a self-imposed pressure born out of paranoia and a healthy self-preservation, major risk adverse instinct. But I wonder if there is a need for the government to come really clean about what recreational boaters need to carry in terms of distress alerting equipment – the RYA and RNLI have useful information on it. Is it time for research on the effectiveness of EVDS to be published and their inclusion into COLREGs be made, if it hasn’t been done so yet? Surely the common sense, sustainable approach is to try and reduce the number of old-style pyrotechnic flares being used in the first place. Then there wouldn’t be a disposal problem and the need for another cost added to boating! Should the government, MCA and other regulatory bodies now include EVDS’s? Would they be useful as a distress signal during daylight if all other distress alert technologies you had, had failed?

As regular readers of this blog know, I am oft to comment how simplistic my views often are and how generally naive I am about marine issues. I sense I am being rather naΓ―ve now, so fire away, give me your thoughts in the comment box below. Educate me towards a more enlightened perspective on this issue and consultation because at the moment the sceptic within me says the government has just found another money-making venture whilst my more ‘trusting’ soul says its right we should pay – it’s the sustainable fair way of resolving the problem and why should the MCA cover our costs?  

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Arwen gets a spring clean

 I got out in Arwen four times during 2020. That is our worst sailing year together. The reasons are obvious - a number of lock downs, but even so!

My first trip was 24th June and we did a five hour sail around Plymouth Sound in ESE to SE winds at a steady 10 knots with gusts up to 18kts. It was a 4.8m outgoing tide.

The second trip was 1st August. six hours sailing in F3/4 winds with gusts to F5. We went out to Draystone Buoy and Rame Head and it was very rolly. I remember that trip - I was seasick. I fell on a hatch badly and hurt my knee. The reefing system broke.  

We went out again on the 8th and then the 13th August as well. The first trip I was accompanied by Mag, her annual boat trip. Over to Cawsands, cup of coffee, sail back along the outer breakwater. Light winds, cloudless skies, 24C.  

On the last trip I was seeking out the porpoise, the tuna shoals and Minke whales. Found all except the whales. Could hear them but couldn't see them. Got some great views of diving gannets and two sunfish, so that was a good bonus. Nice SSW breeze, very light. Apparently I went up to three miles past the breakwater on the way to the Eddystone lighthouse.

Well, with the PM announcing his road map I hope to do more sailing this year than last. Admittedly there are some trip away in the motorhome that interfere with sailing plans but I should get a huge chunk of the summer. I should be able to go out on the water again from March 8th. 

And towards that aim, Arwen came off the drive for the first time since August. She was as you can see from the video, in a bit of a state. However, four hours later and she was clean, well clean-ish, with some areas for maintenance identified and her interior lockers tidied up. 

It was good to get back on board her even if it was just dream sailing along our road! 

A talk by John Welsford to the Dinghy Cruising Association

 John did an outstanding talk to the Dinghy Cruising Association at their AGM in February. You can find it for free here on the DCA website. Enjoy, great thinking and small boat building philosophy.

If you are into dinghy cruising and haven't yet heard about the Dinghy cruising Association, take a good luck around their website and go download one of the free copies of their much regarded Dinghy Cruising Journal. 

Sunday, 28 February 2021

RYA dinghy trails

 A new initiative from the RYA and you can also enter a competition to have your own dinghy trail published

A really good idea from the RYA and well done to all those who helped develop this idea. 

Friday, 26 February 2021

A fascination with tidal river dinghy cruising

 I have always been fascinated with rivers. It comes of being a geographer I suspect. River geomorphology (and Hydrology) was one of my ‘A’ Level teaching specialisms and as a child I spent many a happy day pootling around local streams catching and releasing all manner of river organisms and small fish.

Rivers often reflect the character of the countryside through which they flow and influence greatly peoples’ daily lives along their riverbanks. They can even influence the design of the vessels that trade along their waterways; and so it is with the Tamar where many of the local boats took on a character and form best suited transporting the river’s agricultural and mining resources.

Catching up with the barge Lynher a couple of years ago 
just to the east of Drakes Island in Plymouth Sound 

Rising far away in the bogs of Eastcott Moor, near Morwenstow, two miles from the Bristol Channel coast, the Tamar is one of those geological freaks of nature that I have written about before, for it flowed southwards instead of the short journey north. Now it forms the administrative border between Devon and Cornwall for almost its entire length.  Not having its source on Dartmoor, the Tamar is less subject to the sudden run-off surges of storm water; it’s a geographical oddity that has had an important bearing on its history and use as a trading waterway.

On a mooring at Henn Point where the Lynher and Tamar join.
Photo taken by a friend's husband who works on the MOD Police boats 

The Tamar and her navigable tributaries have played over a 1000-year role in the local agrarian and industrial economy and communities. The rough, hilly but very fertile terrain on both sides of the river have been worked for tin, from the times of Edward 1st. Ancient footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the landscape leading down to the river’s shores, the only outlet for much of the resources gained from this area over the intervening centuries.

The upper reaches up to Weir Head
Copyright: Admiralty Charts

From Weirhead, just below Gunnislake down to Devils point at Plymouth, the river is tidal and navigable. The 14th century salmon weir at Weir Head prevents further passage up river although records show that prior to the weir’s construction, the Vikings sailed much further upriver to attack the village of Lydford. For much of its history, two ports dominated the river’s commercial life, Morwellham on the Devon banks in the upper river reaches and Saltash, just above the entrance to the tributary river, the Lynher.


Morwellham’s growth was rapid. Mentioned as a quay in 1240 and part of the Manor of Morwell, rich alluvial tin deposits in this area supplied most of Europe, leading to the establishment of a Benedictine Abbey and the growth of the stannary town of Tavistock.  Vessels plied up and down the river to Morwellham Quay, where in its heyday in the 19th century, it could accommodate vessels of some 300 tonnes burthen. At this time, extensive deposits of copper and arsenic were discovered and mining flourished in the surrounding hillsides. Sadly, it was a short lived mining boom, over by the end of the century.

Morwellham Quay today 
Copyright: Morwellham Quay Museum

 Saltash was already far more prominent some 200 years before Morwellham. In 1069 it was held by Reginald de Valletort for William the Conquereror and Saltash borough gained jurisdiction over the rivers Tamar and Lynher from her ‘Seigneurs,’ who in 1270 were recorded as maintaining a ferry at Saltash. By 1337 the Burgesses of Saltash were paying the Black Prince £10 per year for a ferry across Saltash Passage.

Those Burgesses new a thing or two about turning a profit.  Sand dredged from the Tamar off Saltash was always much in demand and the burgesses levied 12d annually on every barge carrying sand; the same fee was levied on every boat carrying a fishing net as well.  However, by 1616, the Duke of Cornwall grew wise to the profits that were being made and so took action to recover the royalties owed him. By the reign of George IV, Saltash burgesses were paying an annual rent of £18 to the Duchy, along with 100 oysters to the King’s local auditor.

Within the ancient charters rewritten over time, the boundaries of the Tamar remained clearly defined. The Tamar’s waters, attached to the borough of Saltash, ran seaward to an imaginary line drawn across Plymouth Sound from Penlee Point on the west to the Shagstone on the East; thence to Prince Rock and Liara, to Old Man’s Beard in the Tavy and to Ogle (Okel) tor rock above Calstock in the Tamar. They ran from Guddenbeak Point on the St German’s or Lynher river to Crumble Tor rock in the Lynher and included all the intervening bays, creeks and places as far as high-water mark.

The clever Saltash Burgesses hadn’t missed a trick. Saltash was due one schilling from every vessel dropping anchor in the Port of Plymouth in the area defined above; the fees to be collected as they passed Drakes Island at the narrow entrance to the estuary.


Copyright Admiralty charts
One of this years trips will be to go up beyond Calstock - either in Arwen or in Angharad, my Stickleback Canoe. the aim to explore the hidden quays, marshlands and abandoned brickworks of the tidal upper Tamar 

A good description of Victorian life on the Tamar can be gleaned from the writing of Mr G P Hearder in his ‘Guide to the Tamar’. In 1841, he engaged two watermen to row him the length of the Tamar in a single day and he recorded what he saw on his trip. Saltash beaches were full of ships and ship-building yards; the women of the town out on the sands raking up cockles. ‘The absence of clothing on their nether regions is a grotesque appearance’ wrote Hearder.

Above Cargreen, he witnessed men in anchored boats using rakes three feet long to separate the oysters from their gravelly beds, whilst further upriver near Weir Quay, he watched a huge chimney belching enormous volumes of smoke from the furnaces below it.  An extensive silver and lead refining plant was once established there and Hearder wrote that his ears were assaulted by the noise of water wheels and the creaking of engines that drained the mines. At the quayside, he witnessed three brigs and assorted barges offloading limestone, coal and other commodities for the surrounding countryside before loading back up with metalliferous ores.

Today, the smelting/mine office is a bungalow, the quayside a small boatyard and the surrounding hillsides are disfigured by huge spoil heaps and desolate decaying mine buildings.  An industrial archaeologist’s paradise and playground, Hearder’s description of a thriving busy shipping lane and industrial landscape has all but disappeared. The water borne folk who once battled daily with erratic tides, merciless currents, fickle winds and thick squelching mud have long gone.

The boat yards and quaysides that lined the road downriver from Calstock. Somewhere along here was the famous Goss boat yard as well. 
Copyright; Calstock archives 

It comes as a surprise that records show that in the 1850’s, a greater number of vessels carrying a higher tonnage of cargoes were being handled along the Tamar than on the Mersey and into the Port of Liverpool. But this was, to all intents and purposes, a short-lived boom. Stealthy, unannounced globalisation was already rearing its head. Alluvial tin from Malaya, copper from America, Australia and South Africa; all could be mined more cheaply, more quickly and in greater quantities. The shallow limited deposits of the Tamar valley were doomed to be left in the ground; only recovered by a very short-lived revival in trade, when demand for sand, bricks and other building materials for the extensions to the Devonport Dockyard soared in 1896. By 1907, when the Keynham extension to the dockyards were open, this trade to cased to exist.

One of the old brick works high in the upper reaches of the Tamar beyond Calstock

Monday, 22 February 2021

My first ever astrophotography effort

 It is hard work and a very steep learning curve, this astrophotography malarkey. 

Still, here is my very first effort a waxing gibbous moon, taken a bit early in the evening.

Camera details were: 

  • ISO 100
  • F/9
  • 1/125 
  • 200mm lens
  • manual focus
  • RAW
Post editing was in Affinity Photo which I was using for the very first time. I have never used Photoshop or Lightroom so all this is new to me.

As I said....steep learning curve.....but immense fun 😁

Friday, 19 February 2021

Exploring the industrial archaeology of the river Tamar

 Exploring the industrial archaeology of the river Tamar

I have over the years made many voyages up the river Tamar and also the Lynher. However, more often than not, I have sailed up both rivers as far as I can and in doing so, I have passed by many nooks and crannies’ that are worthy of fuller exploration.

I had two articles recently published in the Dinghy Cruising Journal outlining one such three-day trip back in 2019 and you can access those articles here, if you are interested:

I also wrote another article for another magazine on what I had learned as a novice sailor about dinghy cruising up tidal rivers, an article aimed at beginners like me:

If you prefer visual, then my playlist of Tamar and Lynher cruises can be found here:

Use the 'search' box on the right hand menu to find other posts about the Tamar and the Lynher - use the terms 'Tamar' and 'Lynher'. 

So, with all that material available to encourage you to bring your boat down this way for a cruise, why do any more about sailing the Tamar?

Well, it’s the valleys unique industrial archaeology. The Tamar valley and its associated tributaries are an UNESCO World Heritage site. Everything from brick works to arsenic mines and much more besides. And during a conversation up at Cotehele, with some local filmmakers about something else entirely, I suddenly realised I had been missing opportunities when voyaging the area to really explore this hidden and/or long forgotten history.

The Bealeswood Brickworks
Copyright: Tamar Valley Industrial archaeology website

If you believe in co-incidences, then you will like this one. A week after this conversation, a blog and vlog subscriber got in touch with me as well to offer me an old copy of a book about the maritime culture of the Tamar Valley. I could have it, if I promised to go and explore the salt marsh areas opposite Cargreen.

We have been so used to learning about the maritime history associated with the river Tamar, about boats like ‘Shamrock’ and the people who sailed her or some of the famous boatyards such as that of ‘Goss’ up at Calstock, that as Ian D Merry put it in his lovely Maritime Monograph and Report ‘The shipping and trade of the river Tamar’ (Part 1 – No. 46, 1980)

 “much information was also being uncovered not only about the barges and other sailing craft using the river……..but above all about the river’s influence on the pattern of life and shipping along its banks.”

“..the close interweaving of land and shipping activities in the lives of the population along its tidal reaches had a significance and interest setting them apart from other south England riverside communities”.

I’m now part way through this lovely book/pamphlet and I have to say it is a fascinating read and its helping crystallise some ideas in my head.

The 'Garlandstone' tied up at Morwellham Quay
Copyright: The Morwellham Museum

The Tamar with its variable winds and tides, mudflats and fringing marshlands, is a rich, complex river system where through history, a mariner’s world and that of local farmers often combined. Many farmers were part time bargemen or active shareholders in the barges that took their produce down river to market. Often farmers had their own little boats to go off in search of sand or seaweed for manure on their fields and many farms had their own little quaysides. Some even acted as ferry points across the river from Devon to Cornwall and back again. Whatever the case, as Merry observed “the possession of a boat and the skill to use it was as essential to the Tamar Valley farmer as knowing where his best field lay for the growing of wheat”.

It is these little quays that attract my interest. I’ve managed to ground myself on the ancient remains of one of them already; trapping Arwen’s rudder between some old Cornish boulders and rotting timber baulks that edged an original old stone quay, on the way up to Treluggan. A sharp lesson  learned about always keeping your eye out for navigation hazards and not closing too close with a river shoreline!  

Then, I haven't been up the Tavy yet to Bere Ferrers and Lopwell Dam; I haven't explored Millbrook and I still fancy seeing how far I can get up the rivers Polbathic and Tiddy. Then there are the  Kingsmill, Wivelscombe and Forder Lakes as well. 

With its steep valley sides, frequent reedy river margins and lack of roads down to the water’s edge, there was always gong to be a close relationship between farmer and sailor in the Tamar Valley.  The river was always the easiest way of getting into and out of the area. And then of course, there was the 19th C discovery of metalliferous mines. As Merry says, the Tamar valley, already a notable Middle Ages centre for lead and silver mining, became a major centre of copper and arsenic production as well. And from that point on, local sailing transport dominated the river right up to the end of WW2.

As is the way, one industry attracts another, the good old geographical ‘multiplier effect’. Agriculture and mining led to shipbuilding; the need for quaysides led to quarrying. A demand for local housing generated by all these industries led to local brickmaking.  With primitive quays and rocky, sloping hards, local boats had to be rugged and thus Tamar barges were massively timbered boats. By the 19th C two types of boat for the Tamar were being built – the Tamar barges – heavy and stout and capable of coastal voyages; and then lighter boats for ’inside the river’ work.


The old Goss's boatyard up at Calstock
Copyright: The Morwellham Museum

With all this in mind, an idea has begun to take shape. An exploration series of mini voyages; piloting Arwen up the many muddy creeks and tidal inlets to find the hidden brickworks, the crumbling farm quaysides, the old arsenic mines and the ancient limekilns. Journeys, pushing through small creeks in fringing reedbeds and up the tiny streams into the old ‘Lakes’.

Arwen’s centreboard is going to bounce on the sandbanks; her rudder may get stuck in the mud. I’m going to miscalculate and find myself ‘high and dry’ until the next tide. I will have to learn to work the spring tides effectively. I’d better sort out the rowing position, because there is going to be a fair amount of that. I may even need to fashion some form of ‘punt pole’.  I need to learn how to tow ‘Angharad’ my tiny ‘Stickleback’ canoe behind Arwen.

But, the glimpses of reed wildlife, the ruins of Victorian industrial archaeology, opportunities for some stunning landscape astrophotography with the milky way behind old chimney stacks; and meeting people who still rely on the river for their economic survival. What great experiences these will be. What a set of mini voyages. All those sailing skills to be learned and mastered.


Arwen, on a recent voyage up the Tamar and the Lynher
Tied up at 'The Treluggan Boatyard' pontoon

Over the next few weeks, I will study the maps, the charts and old photographs, to work out an itinerary of places to visit by boat, canoe and on foot. I’ll share these plans as they unfold. To be sure, it isn’t going to be a one-year project. My initial guess is this will take a couple of sailing seasons at least and my first inclination is to head up river to Calstock and from there right up to Morwellham quay. From there, I will then slowly work down the river in sections.  It may be over ambitious; I may give up part way through because I tire of it and there are, let’s face it, other places to sail and adventures to be had (I’m still working on my ‘grand voyage’ one sailing season – a complete voyage from Penzance back around to Topsham, up the river Exe – stopping off at various places and sailing up some river systems like the Fal and the Fowey).

Time will tell. But right now, this Tamar project has caught my interest and its worth pursuing a little further.


Boats up at Calstock in the 19th C
copyright: Calstock Parish Council 

Some interesting pictures of the old quayside of New Port on the upper Tamar can be found here:

Monday, 15 February 2021

Astronomy up the creeks

 I am awaiting my new telescope. A new hobby I'm taking up. It will travel with me when we go motorhoming in Bryony

But, and I know it sounds stupid, but what if it could accompany me upriver....the Arwen

There are some lovely spots with minimal light pollution and some big open skies; some framed with stupendous viaducts; others with mill houses. There are some little marsh creeks, where there is sufficient hard ground or a hidden crumbling quayside where I could stand a tripod mounted scope securely. Certainly plenty of good spots for some landscape astrophotography at the very least.  

Anyway, to this end, here are some posts I've written about my tentative footsteps into the world of astronomy. I will post blogs at a later date about my tentative steps into the world of marine landscape astrophotography when I have got my head around it. For now, most of my reading time is focused on getting to grips with the night sky constellations, lists of deep space objects and working out how to use a computerized GOTO mount system. 

I also rashly signed up to some OU courses on astronomy as well! 

You can find my first blogs about beginning with a telescope here at

In the meantime, aside of reading 'Turn Left at Orion', I have also been reading a fascinating book about the history of the Tamar valley. It's made me think a deeper exploration of my local river system is required. I normally sail straight up the rivers to their headwaters, bypassing lots of interesting places.

So this year when lock down is lifted I intend exploring the marshes, lakes, creeks, tributaries, nooks and crannies of the river Tamar. Along the way I will stop off  and take time to explore the history of this extraordinary place. 

More in future posts but you can access videos of my recent cruises up the Tamar and Lynher here 

Start with this short appetiser πŸ˜‰πŸ˜ Here's to getting back out of lock down and back onto the water. Fair winds everyone. 

Saturday, 13 February 2021

A talk by John Welsford

 I have just had the privilege of listening to John do a zoom talk to the Dinghy Cruising Association. It was about boat design and John took us through the steps and considerations he goes through when designing his boats.

It was a extraordinary talk and just showed what a greater thinker and designer he is. From the comments it was clearly very well received. 

I love the navigator design. I just wish I could do justice to the design and sail Arwen better.

 I think the talk was recorded and it will be available at some stage, probably on the DCA website.

If you are interested in boat design or John's designs, this is a talk worth listening to. 

When lock down is lifted, I will get back in Arwen and endeavour to sail her better this year. It's understanding sail trimming that lets me down each time.  The navigator is an excellent boat, if only her skipper could do better πŸ™„

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

The joy of Astronomy - is it a hobby that can be done from a dinghy cruising boat?

 How many of us, dried out on a beach, have stuck our head out from under the boom tent, to look upwards at the myriad of stars and celestial bodies above our head to marvel at the vastness of the universe around us?

Copyright: SAGA website

'The Boss' and I have been fortunate enough over the years to have seen some amazing night skies both here in the UK and abroad and we would be hard pressed to choose which location was the most spectacular. How do you compare the deep inky black skies above a small Finnish ski resort, coloured by the faint reds and greens of shimmering northern lights against the extraordinary big sky vistas of the Namib desert where billions of twinkling stars appeared like photons of light escaping through pin prick holes in the smooth black velvet fabric of space? 

Copyright: Artofsafari Website

From looking skywards from the garden of our rainforest lodge in Costa Rica, searching for visible star clusters, glowing nebulae and shooting stars, (accompanied by the nocturnal sound track of frogs and howler monkeys) to looking at Saturn, Jupiter and various nebulae through 10”, 12” and 16” Newtonian Dobsonian Reflector telescopes with local Gran Canaria island astronomers, we have often searched out the beauty that is found within the celestial sphere above us.

For yes, our skies above are a celestial sphere and it can take a little time to get your head around this concept.

Imagine that the interior of a model globe has been painted black. Suspended freely at the centre of the interior is a green tennis ball representing the planet Earth.  The black inside surface of the globe around the tennis ball has been divided into random jigsaw shaped pieces – each piece having one of the 88 constellations painted on it. If we were on the tennis ball looking up – we would see a ‘domed’ night sky above us with constellations. This is the celestial sphere!

Surrounding each constellation in our real celestial sphere above us, the other pin pricks of light you see are deep space objects associated with that particular constellation. They are possibly millions of light years beyond the constellation or thousands of light years in front of it, but because, from our visual viewpoint on Earth, they seem to be in its vicinity, they are associated with that particular constellation.  

Mind blowing isn’t it  - a dome shaped celestial heaven above us - but what stunning beauty it is.

Copyright: Devon Life and Lee Pengelly

So, why am I sharing this astronomical information with you on a blog purporting to be about dinghy cruising?

As a child I wanted to be a naturalist, an explorer and an astronomer. I ended up being a geography teacher and a traveller but that fascination with the heavens has never left me.

Now with retirement and more leisure time, I am returning to an interest that started long ago, when I did my first solo night under canvas as a 9-year-old in the Llanberis Pass in Snowdonia. I spent most of that night with my head out of the tent, staring up at the skies above. How many stars were out there? How did space form? How far could I go before I reached the edge? What was beyond space? Who out there, was watching me, watching them, watching me? Why did stars shoot across the sky?

Simple curiosity - it has never left me – and I hope it never will.

Copyright: Wilderness Motorhomes 

And so I am wondering, is it possible to safely secure a telescope in your dinghy, so that it remains in a waterproof cocoon until needed? Is it possible to land on a beach and stop a couple of nights to do some deep sky stargazing? 

I'm thinking of all those places tucked away up my local rivers where there is minimal light pollution - up at Treluggan on the river Lynher or at Cotehele on the Tamar? 

What fantastic opportunities are there for some real stargazing and astronomical curiosity?

I don't know whether its possible or not; whether it is worth risking such delicate equipment; whether it would be better to take astronomical binoculars and tripod rather than a telescope. But I think it is worth considering and investigating further.  

I am also thinking about travelling in our new motorhome with a telescope as well. Of course, the perfect combination would be towing Arwen behind the motorhome but that is a step too far for 'SWMBO' at this moment in time πŸ˜„

Since I am completely new to this field of science and hobby, I thought it might be useful to start at the very beginning, tracing my journey from researching about and buying a telescope right through to using it for the first time when on tour with Bryony and then possibly in Arwen.

So, over the next few months, a regular series of posts about ‘astronomy whilst on motorhome tour’ (and potentially 'sheltered water dinghy cruising') will appear on this blog and/or my associated motorhoming blog which can be found at  where you can enter the word 'astronomy' in the search bar to get all related posts. 

So, as a way of introducing astronomy, I reflect on why it might be such a fun thing to do, whether it be from your back garden, local park, a campsite somewhere in the UK or Europe, or from a sheltered tidal inlet up a river system.

Firstly, I want to put the case that astronomy is often about finding and celebrating the stupendous beauty in the celestial skies above our heads.

But, think how much more we would see and appreciate with an amateur telescope? Invisible deep space objects suddenly become visible and whilst an amateur telescope will never give us Hubble style images, our first sighting of the colourful Orion nebula or of Saturn’s rings, on our own telescope, will surely still leave us awe struck. 


And who could not be fascinated by the extreme dangers that lurk in our neighbourhood of space? Immense supernova explosions, stars a million times hotter than our own sun, black holes that crush entire areas of the universe.  Then there are comets racing across the heavens at hundreds of miles per second and tiny meteorites and rocks impacting our own moon; or what about the intense, inconceivable cold temperatures and vacuum of space, that ISS astronauts encounter on every spacewalk they do?  Without our protective magnetic shield, how much of our rich biodiversity would survive the extreme radiation?  Yes, space is hostile, extreme and challenging and for some of us that is fascinating in itself. A tremendous demonstration of power surrounding us, that largely goes unnoticed.

From the time humans started to walk on our planet, the heavens above have intrigued us. How much human endeavour and curiosity has been expended over the centuries on trying to better understand the stars?

From thinking the earth was the centre of the universe with all objects revolving around us to now proposing the existence of multi-universes, astronomers have slowly extended our thinking and scientific understanding. We are, as far as we know, one star with one life supporting accompanying planet in just one solar system and one galaxy amongst countless billions of others.

Hay Tor
Copyright: Matt Stansfield

Astronomy has extended our knowledge in physics, maths, philosophy, chemistry, biology. Through astronomy we have realised our place within the universe and learned more about how we came to be and how we are inextricably linked to it; for yes, we are all made of stardust, every atom within our body made from the elements that came from space.

When we look to the stars through our telescopes, we are not looking at that star or galaxy as it is now. We are seeing it as it was hundreds, thousands or even millions of light years ago, when photons of light left it and started travelling in our direction. Thus, the heavens give us a sense of time and insights into our own history.

Copyright: SAGA

Our story, our relationship with space – who we are, how we got here, how our planet formed and evolved – has been celebrated down the ages. The myths associated with constellation patterns or how stars guided our first explorations across great oceans and land masses; how they helped denote the start and end of our farming timescales or contributed to our language and culture. Or even more recently, the history of our exploration of space – the race to put a man in space, to orbit our planet, to land and walk on the moon. Here, now, at the start of the 21st century, we have sent probes to neighbouring planets and passing comets, building on those sent out in the 20th century, which have now cleared our very own solar system; still transmitting data from deep space.


On the back of such human endeavours comes the key realisation that the destiny and future of humankind still lies inextricably linked with space. As Elgon Musk and others start to commercialise space travel and exploration, new jobs, new discoveries, new scientific thinking and new branches of engineering evolve to influence every aspect of our daily lives. Our navigation around the planet, the billions of communications we send daily, all dependent upon our understanding of space.

Perhaps, sooner than we might anticipate, many of us will witness people walk on Mars, build a moon base colony and possibly even leave our own solar system on humanity’s very first ‘Star Trek’ into our own galaxy on board large rocket ships.   

Mar's rover 'Curiosity': copyright NASA

Of course, there is also a really important link between astronomy and sailing which I have only briefly touched on above - namely using the stars for navigation. Sailors were not professional or amateur astronomers as such, but they spent considerable time down through the ages, observing the night skies above to work out longitude fixes using solar, star and planet declinations. Sextants used to measure the angle between two objects such as the horizon and a known celestial object such as a star, the sun or planet.  navigators watching the constellations to mark their position; the ancient Minoans leaving records of how they used the stars to navigate. 

Now, with all this in mind, who wouldn’t really want to take a telescope with them, to explore the celestial heavens above whilst on their cruises up sheltered riverways?

In my next post on astronomy, I explore what kind of telescopes are available for beginners and what kind of things you might want to consider if you are thinking of taking up amateur astronomy. 

You can access this and subsequent posts on astronomy here at

Remember, I am at the very start of my own journey of discovery, so when I write, it is from the perspective of a true beginner with no knowledge of the field. Where I can though, I will pass on useful websites and article references for those who want to delve deeper.

References for images and research:

Monday, 18 January 2021

The new astronomy....sorry.......... coffee table

 To accompany the garden chairs, we need a folding coffee table. Having just invested in a new telescope, which will be used on the terrace in the upper garden area, the furniture will forthwith become known as the 'astronomy' furniture. Hence it isn't a coffee table - its an astronomy table. 

I may even smuggle it onto Bryony our motorhome!

The two Kentucky stick chairs
You can find details about how to build them at 

Putting in the cross struts on the coffee table top

Sanding done on the top - time to sand all edges and the base

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Lucky to live where I do

 A few photos from my daily national lock down bike ride circuit

Looking southwards out over Bovisand Beach - often sheltered from Easterlies

Looking west towards Rame head peninsula, out over the eastern arm of he breakwater

Caffeine fix.....sssh.........I'm banned from caffeine! 

Looking across an empty Plymouth Sound towards Cawsand Bay and SE Cornwall

Looking north west over Drakes Island to the entrance of the River Tamar. Plymouth Hoe is to the right in the distance, Rame Head and Cawsand are to the left hand side on the horizon

Chancing one's luck down on Mountbatten Breakwater at high tide

The end of  Mountbatten Breakwater - the white tower recognisable to all local boat people 

The hidden nooks and crannies around Turnchapel on the southern shore of the River Plym

The public landing steps at Turnchapel 

The entrance to Hooe Lake on the eastern flank of the River Plym in the Turnchapel/Oreston area

Down at Oreston, further up the Plym 

Saltram Country Park - overlooking the tidal flats area and looking down the Plym towards the Cattedown

All the photographs were taken in superview on my new GoPro Hero 9. Not bad for an action camera are they?