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

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 😄

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? 

Tuesday 5 January 2021

Kentucky Stick chairs and national lock downs

 Well it was inevitable really.

I was bound to finish the Kentucky stick chairs and cushions on the day that a new national lock down was suddenly announced, with no chance to get out and visit the local timber yard. 😀

So I'm out of 'projects' to do over what will be at least eight weeks. I am off to raid the 'odds and sods' bin to see what I can turn up and then, off down to the local beach area around two miles away, to scavenge what flotsam driftwood I can find. I am very lucky to live an hours walk away from a small tidal inlet beach. It isn't the cleanest, safest or best viewing beach but it does provide plenty of driftwood due to its orientation at the end of an estuary. 

Three projects come to mind 

- some shelf units for our motorhome to go in the bathroom wardrobe at the top 

- a small coffee table to go with the Kentucky stick chairs (although initial searches online have turned up no free plans whatsoever, so I may have to wing it and design something........and we all know how that option on various things has turned out in the past 😟

- a driftwood fish, porpoise, bass, sea horse or some such marine creature; an attempt to tap into any lurking artistic side of me (not holding out much hope there given my abysmal drawing efforts) or perhaps some pebble sculptures. I found these on a brief internet search and can say categorically now I won't be attaining these high standards. 

Fortunately I am also signed up to an online website design course as well. 

Arwen sits forlornly on the drive. Last year I managed only five trips out in her.  I have had to cancel one planned new year eve's overnight trip due to local restrictions and now a planned trip along the coast to Salcombe, for next week, falls by the wayside as well. I will not be able to get out on the water until March if the Port Authority implements the same monitoring and restrictions it did in the last major lockdown last March and April. 

so, adding to the list 

- maintenance opportunities on Arwen

- extensive trailer maintenance programme 

- and possibly, a boat tent - if I can get suitable material at a reasonable cost; and/or a cover to slip along the furled sail on the boom so that if it is wet, there are no drips coming into the boat under the cockpit tent

I am very fortunate. Retired with an intelligent, warm, funny,  wonderful wife who makes me laugh every day; a lovely house with a massive garden, a variety of wildlife and with stunning views from the front window; plenty of local walks and bike rides to keep us both fit and sane on our doorstep. 

I am very pro this lock down. Here in the UK the virus is now completely out of control, particularly the new variant. We have over 50,000 new cases each day and sadly, our death toll is once more rising rapidly. A failure frankly, by government, on many fronts, not least on our supposedly 'world beating' track and trace system; and frankly, also the stupid behaviour of a whole swathe of people who failed to use common sense or follow social distancing rules in the lead up to Christmas -  but this isn't the time to recriminate. 

It is now the time to stay, home, protect the NHS and save lives. 

I am thankful that my colleagues still working in schools won't be going back into very dangerous situations with minimal PPE, having to administer covid tests on all their students - such a stupid, impossible demand anyway. There just wasn't sufficient people available to do this and as for the idea of asking students to administer their own tests? Well with no disrespect to our nation's teenagers - have you ever watched them trying to stick a worksheet into an exercise book? I rest my case! 

I am glad the government has come to its senses and cancelled examinations and moved to teacher assessment. I feel sorry for all those pupils and students who will miss school and their social networks and particularly for those examination groups with the uncertainty this now causes for them and the possible impact it may have on university applications. Having taught for thirty six years, I really do know how much that one will hurt them all. I am hopeful that schools can bring in vulnerable and at risk students and those of key workers and perhaps there is a case to bring in disadvantaged children so that catch up programmes can be implemented. 

And, I definitely understand the impact facing all parents today, unsure about work, trying to work from home and juggling online home learning with, in some cases, minimal technology available. The prospects of rising heating, food, utilities and technology bills for many will be overwhelming. 

As for those who live in inner cities - in flats and apartments, bed-sits and small houses with no garden's, my thoughts are with them all. I cannot possibly begin to understand how tough that will be on these people and families. 

Our hopes now lie in the roll out of the vaccine and on our wonderful NHS staff and other key and front line staff whether they be in the public sector or in our care homes; in our supermarkets and shops  keeping our food supplies rolling and on the shelves or across our road network delivering goods and keeping our technology and utilities operating. 

We are ahead of the curve on vaccinations compared to the rest of Europe. However, the promised 2 million vaccinations a week seems an impossible hurdle to achieve; a promise from a government which has overpromised so much and underdelivered on just about everything thus far. The shortage of glass vials and only having one national vial filling entre will compound this further. 

The complete loss of confidence by this country in its government is  astounding but not surprising. The most recent polls show that if there was an election tomorrow, the government would lose its 80 seat majority and the PM would actually lose his own seat. Confidence in him is at a record all time low.  

With children, nieces and nephews and sisters all being front line NHS, teaching and key workers, I worry about them all. With so many friends in nursing, police, social care and education, I worry about them as well. They are all remarkable people and once more, as a nation, we are asking them to do the almost impossible; which they will do yet again with professionalism, kindness, decency and integrity. 

When all this has cleared, when we return to the new normality, I sincerely hope our nation does not forget the debt it owes our key workers - our shop and supermarket staff, our delivery drivers, our care workers, our farmers and pickers, our public service staff in all areas of health, social care, education, law enforcement, accident and rescue and armed services. Some of my friends and colleagues working in these areas are some of the lowest paid in our society and this has to change. 

This pandemic has taught us who the nation really relies on in a time of great crisis. It is time we rewarded them appropriately with proper pay, status and professional development opportunities. It is ridiculous that so many of our key workers suffer from 'in-work' poverty and have to rely on food banks, in what is still the nation's sixth most wealthiest economy. The average care worker earns less than the minimum national wage and has practically zero professional development opportunities. And yet, we charge them with one of the most important tasks in any nation - the continuing care, enrichment and development of our elderly citizens.

Let 2021 be the year that as a nation we come to our senses. We stop over paying our politicians. We stop the stupidity of pay in the premier league. We stop CEO's of companies earning such stupid bonuses when their employees are on minimum wages. We stop the curse of in work poverty. We eliminate the need for food banks. An we stop the silly talk about there being more people in jobs than ever before. It isn't jobs we should be providing - it is careers! People want to know that whatever employment they do there is a sensible level of pay, sensible career options, respect for that particular field of employment - from both the public and employers. This needs a complete mindset change. 

Here is an idea - why don't we take all the government planned investing in infrastructure (other than for housing and green renewable energy developments) and invest it in social capital instead. No more new roads, bridges and railway lines for five years - more housing, more teachers, more doctors, more nurses, more better paid care workers; investment in community projects, community enrichment programmes. Putting people and social capital right at the very heart of any investment project for the next decade; building our national resilience for the next pandemic. Lets devolve more powers to the regions and ensure that central government is forced in law to listen and consult with them more formally and frequently. And lets make sure we get to grips with the issues of climate change - lets make COP21 count for something when it takes place in Glasgow later this year. And finally lets diversify our economy so that we are more resilient to such future events. 

Of course, I am naïve. I know I am. It is wishful thinking on my part, but I just wish we could learn from 2020 and make the changes for the benefit of all parts of our society. That we have the courage to break with old political dogma and ways of doing things and we creatively use and build on the opportunities that have been given to us. 

As I said, I'm very naïve. 

Friday 1 January 2021

Happy New Year

 Well glad to see the back of 2020. My plans for being out up the Tamar tonight and tomorrow night took a tumble as well as we were placed into tier three and so no overnights anywhere. I have had mixed reports that the MOD/marine Police are/are not enforcing that with boats on the Tamar - so basically I have no idea there! 

So, I guess it is time to do some maintenance on Arwen and also start thinking about building a new boom tent. I was going to buy a shed load of material to do the job until my wonderful wife had an inspirational idea. we have a caravan cover which we have never used. It has been boxed up in the basement. Never yet seen the light of day. So, later on today I will investigate what material it is. There is the possibility that I will get out of it a boom tent, a boat cover, two covers for my new garden chairs and a new cover for the existing garden furniture. 

Just have to hope that 'her-indoorses' sewing machine can cope with it. 

Meanwhile January 1st brings us iced roads. Where we live has two steep-ish short hills at each end of the road. neighbours have been out gritting the road from the grit bins strategically placed along the road but conditions are still treacherous. We may be stuck in a couple of day as we are on the northern facing slope of the valley and with steep garden slopes and woodland behind us, the winter sun can barely rise high enough to get into the garden! 

Anyway, I wish you all a happy new year and sincerely hope that 2021 brings you better fortunes and joy all round. 

Meanwhile off to feed the squirrels (again) and rescue the local small bird life. The little pond needs de-icing. And then, I have thirty house steps to de-ice - oh joy! 😄