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, 26 July 2021

Getting a new boat trailer

 I spent two hours this morning discussing a new trailer spec for Arwen with the owner of a local trailer manufacturer. 

Initially I think he was hoping for just a quick show of trailers and the components  - thirty minutes at most. 

I arrived with plans and photos and some issues to resolve. The engineer within my host eventually took over as we explored photos of my current set up and the boats hull measurements and configuration. All of a sudden we were in deep discussions about trailer types, trailer components and Arwen's unique hull design. Before we knew it, two hours had passed. 

He was a very, very patient man. A very knowledgeable, kind, tolerant gent. I was my normal dumb, overthinking self! At times I can really hate myself with frustration and loathing! 

He is a dinghy sailor himself. However, as a trailer maker, he had some conundrums regarding the best trailer set up to fit and support the hull correctly, given my driveway limitations. 

Conundrums to take into account:

  • if Arwen rests on keel rollers, her sides must clear the top of the mudguards - so what height do keel rollers have to be at; and what are the implications of this for launching and retrieval?

  • the new regulations for the coupling. Legally, the coupling on a boat trailer has to be 400mm off the road when horizontal. News to me and many others I suspect. Hence, technically all new boat trailers must look like this below.......and he doesn't understand how most boat trailer manufacturers are getting away with NOT doing this arrangement. Anyway, the conundrum...... will this lower frame bar clear the driveway i.e. not ground, as I reverse the boat trailer up onto the 14 degree angle driveway? Especially given the car will still be on the horizontally flat road!

  • will the T frame trailer design need different keel rollers to what are normally supplied - two fixed height wider ones around the centre-case area and then two narrower V shaped ones which are height adjustable at the bow and stern end?

  • to keep the bowsprit on - the winch/snubber post will need to be adjustable in movement along the central box section. With this in mind, how much boat overhang will there be at the aft end? 
  • with a T shaped trailer where there is a long central box section ending in a single aft end keel roller - how easy or hard will it be to line Arwen's bow up so it rides  on to that first roller and goes straight onto the remaining rollers further forward?

  • for side supports - rubber chocks rather than wobble rollers he feels, and these would need to be height adjustable and able to pivot. As to where to position them and in what orientation, that would be trial and error on the day Arwen first goes onto the trailer

We discussed lighting board attachments, the length of the lighting board support rods; how much overhang of the boat hull here would be in relation to the lighting board position (the legal maximum overhang is 100cm from the lighting board position. 

In summary then - a T frame trailer, taking a 500kg payload with a 750 kg coupling, unbraked. 5.4m in length with 10" wheels. Four keel rollers, two adjustable; support side chocks which pivot and are orientation and height adjustable. A winch and snubber post - adjustable along the box section.  A spare wheel/tyre combination. Plastic mudguards. Light weight trailer around 140kg maximum unladen. Tapered unsealed hub bearings - easier to annually maintain, he says. Maybe I just imagined the gentle, good natured, twinkly eyed hard 'Paddington bear' stare (he had seen the photos of my current trailer). Or maybe, it was me feeling guilty and silly because I know I have neglected trailer maintenance and so I'm now in this position because of my own stupidity.  The wheels on this new trailer will definitely be going in the water regularly and will get annual maintenance on the bearings and flushing and washing down after EVERY trip!

It will end up looking something akin to this one but with the adaptations mentioned above

It was about now that I was feeling stupid and not because my host was making me feel that way. Far from it. 
It's a normal feeling I get due to self realisation. I am no engineer. I'm no sailor either if we were really being honest. It struck me throughout the conversation that I was taking a huge amount on trust because I just didn't know enough about boat trailers. 

That the side chocks are better than the rollers? That a T frame would suit Arwen's hull shape? That the legal requirements regarding lighting board and coupling attachment arrangement are correct and essential to meet?  That tapered, unsealed bearings are the better option in the long run rather than sealed ones? That the boat would be easily guided onto that first roller during recovery?

I honestly don't know, but I am going on faith and trust. The gentleman clearly knew his stuff, he spotted problems quickly, he articulated solutions well, he was passionate and proud of his trailers. He kindly invested considerable time that he didn't have,  in me. He put up with my stupid questions. Its not my distrust of him, far from that. He was amazing - great customer service at initial enquiry point. Its the knowledge of myself - I'm a simpleton! Shallow, boring, unable to see complexities; blessed with a unique ability to overthink and over complex the simple! 

Anyway, just as we were coming to an end with the discussion; and at a point where I had just about got my head around things, my good natured host threw a spanner in the works. 

"Some Salcombe yawls have a road/combi launch trailer system" and he wondered whether this might be a better option.  (Salcombe yawls cropped up in conversation because the day before I'd been down Salcombe and had met some owners rigging them. All were on launch trailers made by this company; and all the sailors I met were very vocal in their praise of them). 

We discussed the road trailer design - far shorter in length with a rolling tube around the axle bar on which the launch trailer would 'roll across'; we discussed launch trailer design - it would need two keel rollers. We discussed how we could work out the balancing pivot point in Arwen when she was fully loaded with dinghy cruising gear and what the implications for this would be if she wasn't full of dinghy cruising gear.  How easy would it be to lift the launch trolley on and off its load retaining safety spigot at the front? What shape would the launch trolley side supports have to be? 

We discussed the advantages of this type of trailer - shorter in length, the wheels would never go in the water. The launch trolley would roll over a rotating bar on the axle - it could be easily winched on. I could launch and retrieve Arwen in very shallow water on very shallow ramps. The launch trolley just has to be lifted and pushed and gravity apparently does the rest. It is still attached to the free spooling winch and the steel launch trailer sinks! So it won't suddenly disappear off somewhere at the end of the ramp. Recovery - send the launch trolley into the water, float Arwen over the top, pull her bow into the V shaped snubber at the front. Secure her to the trolley and winch the whole oat and trolley back onto the road trailer. designed in such a way that as the front of the launch trolley reaches the front part of the winch post on the road trailer, it slowly descends and the spigot engages with the hole!

He made it sound so easy.  It sounded perfect, especially as I slide into my 60's. 

The disadvantages - getting the weight distribution in Arwen correct each time so that she was just slightly aft heavy when on the trailer system. My ability to lift the launch trailer off/onto its retaining spigot without killing my back. 
Then there would be a huge boat overhang, possibly 1.6m from the trailer wheels. 

And there the conversation came to a sudden stop as we both realised that the sloping driveway could now become the potential issue that stopped us going for this trailer type. As I reversed the trailer up onto the driveway slope....would there be a risk of the bottom of the transom hull area grounding on the driveway because of such a long overhang. And, the lighting board would now become an issue as well. The length of supporting rod for the board would be so long that the board would just continually bounce around when under way. So, the only option would be to hang the lighting board off the back of the boat instead. 

Which, apparently, is illegal!

And, is exactly what I have been doing the last ten years! 
I have been followed by Police cars, but never been stopped. If they did stop me, chances are they would be more concerned about the state of the trailer, the state of tyres and wheel rims, the security of the boat on the trailer itself. As long as the lighting board was working and the lights and number plate were clearly visible, it probably wouldn't be an issue to them. 

It definitely would be though if I ever wanted to take Arwen abroad! 

So there we have it. I thoroughly enjoyed the two hours and learned heaps. My host, probably less so. I suspect he was glad to see the back of me although he did admit that it was an engineering issue he occasionally liked to grapple with. He was full of patience, integrity, thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit. 

Later that afternoon, I emailed him with some measurements and angles regarding the road, path and driveway angles. 

As it stands at the moment, we are trying to work out the maths involved in finding out whether the combi road trailer boat overhang will be an issue on the driveway. We also need to check that the coupling arrangement with the lower box section doesn't ground when the car is on the road and the trailer about to go up the driveway slope. 

The slightest doubt and we have both agreed that we will opt for the safer bet - the T frame. That can be adjusted in all sorts of ways. The combi trailer system has no adjustment potential. Get that wrong and it would be a useless trailer for me and I won't be getting my money back as every combi trailer design is semi bespoke to the boat it will carry! 

Phew, it is really brain taxing stuff, this new trailer choosing malarkey! And if I get it wrong....... the Missus has made it clear.....something about 'nuts nailed to my forehead'? I didn't stay around long enough to hear and 'take in fully', the implied 'promised sanctions'!


Matt’s Navigator said...

Hi Steve, sounds like a very helpful chap. I am too new at all of this to offer much help. My trailer and Navigator, Cher Maria, has now been launched and recovered six times now so hardly a pro. What I have learned is that Cher Maria straighteners up very well when pulling her up that first roller on the winch. The only problem I have encountered is the rear trailer rollers lift her hull off the keel rollers due to the wide flat mid section of her hull. Once past she lowers onto the keel rollers again and sits snugly on the centre side roller pairs. The drawbar height is a new on to me and I will keenly research tomorrow, I don’t think the tow ball on my car is 400mm from the ground. It seams to me that trailers are designed for even width and shape hulls or very long overhangs.

Andrew Johnstone said...


Interesting thoughts on 'the ail crease'. I know we have chatted about this before on FB. It seems that no amount of tinkering (moving downhaul position, changing the spar positions, tightening the thing-bob etc) has actually solved this.

I wonder (and am expecting possible brick-batting here) if the issue is not simply that the sail maker just did not do a very good job of cutting & stitching the sail to the plans you would have supplied? Given that you have fiddled exhaustively - perhaps this is the only logical answer that has remained unexamined...??


steve said...

Hi Matt - yep the tow coupling is a new one on me and I'm about to go do some reserach on it because his is the only trailers I have ever seen it on. Like you on my current trailer the boat on retrieval comes up onto the first keel roller and then up over the wobble rollers but they seem to have shifted position over the years and sit awkwardly across the chines hence the chipping paint.

When will you get mast and sails sorted?

steve said...

Hi Andrew. The crease remains a mystery but Tim Ingersoll has cracked it. He has some YouTube videos which I am studying intently. I must either have my set up wrong, or the loss of the full length battens in the upper sail has been a great mistake that needs rectifying.

There is plenty of luff downhaul tension. The yard is pulled up against the mast at the top. I could adjust the main halyard tie on point n the yard to make it slightly more aft heavy that it is at the moment. That might help.

Adjusting the sprit boom remains a constant mystery to me and there in lies some issues I suspect as well.