Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Tuesday 27 December 2022

‘Displease the ‘Wind Gods’ at your peril’

 This is a longer version of an article I wrote for the dinghy Cruising Journal of the Dinghy Cruising Association. if you are in to dinghy cruising and want to know more about the association and its excellent journal and library then you can find out more here at

“I like your boat. It’s very pretty”.

A 7-year-old girl peeks from between tall reeds at the side of the small beach stream. Her Mum grins at the bemused sailor who has just been caught off guard by her daughter’s candour.

“Do you like clams? We found them on the other beach. You can help Daddy open them and I could help cook them on your stove”.

Our sailor politely declines the clams as he’s about to have spaghetti and meatballs but the pair agree clams can be fiddly to open and that ‘boil in the bag’ meals seem so much easier. His inquisitive guest explores his little boat (“it’s very cosy”) and tells him that her boat is anchored some 200m away and “that beach BBQs are my most favourite thing ever”.  An hour later, our sailor has the beach to himself. And the clams? Well, local seagulls are dining ‘a la carte’ tonight on shellfish leftovers!

But wait, we’ve rushed ahead. Let’s rewind to the early morning at Queen Ann’s Battery Marina in Plymouth and a 0700 high spring tide. Our sailor enjoys early morning launches here as he normally has the slipway to himself. Occasionally, he shares it with cruising mullet, squawking seagulls and nosy swans and once, a few years back, a very large spiny legged crab and a grey seal. Today, two swans waddle comically across the slip, sliding on slippery bladderwrack to one side of it.  

His boat, a standing lug yawl, glides off her new trailer with two shoves, to sounds of odd rattles, rumbling rollers and his heavy breathing. Our sailor is getting older or perhaps, it’s just his boat is loaded with overnight cruising gear. He’ll go with this old excuse. A splash, a whoosh of escaping bubbles, she gently drifts back, painter neatly uncoiling from his hand. A well-behaved boat, a well-executed launch and he keeps his feet dry for a change too!  His inelegant scramble up onto the pontoon alongside is an unedifying spectacle, thankfully witnessed only by the two swans and the night watchman. 

His new trailer, left at the top of the slip, is a ‘modified’ stock one. ‘Arwen’s’ old trailer collapsed after 12 years of neglect when a wheel bearing and spindle broke mid journey home one trip.   Anyway, some discussions with ‘Admiral Trailers’, a few ‘tweaks’ after the first launch test and he ends up with a well-fitting, ‘shortened’ trailer with re-spaced, raised keel and hull rollers. Clever people they are at ‘Admiral Trailers’.

With no pressing appointments, family commitments or outstanding DIY jobs, our sailor is looking forward to finding a small, deserted beach, where he can watch over a hissing stove and bubbling one pot meal and later be lulled to sleep on his little boat by rhythmic hull lapping waves.

Rigging his boat alongside the pontoon cuts out all that clambering in and out of her when she’s on the slip. Each launch, an opportunity to check rigging, masts and woodwork for wear and tear. Today, added to the ‘maintenance jobs’ list is fraying threads on the jib leech, a corroding cringle on the mainsail clew. Next spring, he will revarnish the mast and coaming.

Forty minutes, ‘arrival to departing’ and that includes a catch-up chat with early morning yard crew. Today there is no rush. In fact, there is time for a leisurely breakfast! Our dinghy cruiser motors into Sutton Pool, nips around the back of the big tourist boat pontoons and ties up at a new floating ‘dinghy dock’ at the foot of the stone steps up to the ‘Arches’ where there are several coffee shops. Returning with coffee and bacon roll, he now sits on the pontoon side, feet dangling in the water, watching the ‘nautical’ world go by. ‘Arwen’ bobs lightly in the wash of a departing pilot boat, off to escort a small coastal tanker out of the Cattedown.

This area is steeped in history. The first Anglo-Saxon settlers sailed into the pool area and made their first settlement here on its shores. From the granite steps nearby, the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ set sail in 1620. The ‘Cattedown’, an area of foreshore at the lower end of the Plym estuary, is named after ‘Catherine of Aragon’. Travelling from Loredo in Spain to this little harbour in Plymouth to be married to Henry VIIIth, she arrived in 1501. The area she set down thus named, somewhat inappropriately our sailor feels, ‘Cattedown’. 

At a vacant buoy in the Cattedown, with hunger and thirst now sated, our seafarer stows fenders under side decks, recoils mooring warps and repositions drybags to improve trim. The mainsail halyard tying on point on the top yard is moved further forward, a loop of cord going around mast and halyards added to its lower end. It should stop the yard mysteriously swapping to the other side of the mast when he’s not looking! Adjustments to downhaul tackle to hopefully eliminate a throat to clew crease that has plagued him for so many years. Snotter attachment point on the mast is raised to a position halfway between the downhaul tack attachment and the bottom throat part of the top yard to help raise the aft end of the boom. Our sailor ruminates “on why haven’t I thought of all this before?”

‘Arwen’s’ ‘borrowed’ mooring is just south of Deadman’s Bay, the area between the western end of the QAB and Victoria Wharf pier. She’s just motored across some of the 80 known wrecks in the immediate vicinity. A notorious northern shore graveyard to hundreds of ships in the 1700 and 1800’s before the building of the big Plymouth Breakwater. Forty-eight ships wrecked in just one storm in 1824, so it is said. ‘Enterprising’ Plymothians welcomed their ‘Godsend’s’ every winter, a strandline frequently littered with wrecked ship debris, easy pickings! For the Admiralty, a major costly embarrassment as it was often their ships being wrecked!

Raised mainsail flutters, mizzen holds boat into the north easterly breeze; it’s time to depart this mooring under sail. Weaning himself off his outboard motor for routine manoeuvres, our sailor feels he’s judged tide and wind correctly and got the sequence of rudder and centreboard lowering, downhaul tensioning and jib unfurling, ordered in his head. He pings an ‘OK’ message from his PLB to his wife.

Painter slipped, ‘Arwen’ drifts back a metre or so, the ‘tight’ mizzen giving extra precious seconds when the boat stays head to wind. Gradually her bow edges downwind, mizzen gets eased a little and mainsail fills to starboard. ‘Does our sailor ‘finally’ know what he’s doing at long last?’ 

Downwind to the end of the Mountbatten breakwater, he gives a wide berth to the lone fisherman on the rocks who is pulling in a string of mackerel. The water ahead of him froths with a shoal chasing small fry to the surface. Our sailor is now smiling broadly. For the first time in many years there is no mainsail ‘crease’. The boom is higher, the sail a better bellied shape, the yard tight against the mast top, its foot staying forward of it, on the starboard side. Adjustments have worked. ‘Is this a good omen for the overnight trip ahead?’

A glance at his log book passage plan notes, he swings south, checking his steering compass on the aft end of the centreboard case. Based on the day’s Met Office forecast (Winds Easterlies 7 – 10 kts with gusts to 22 kts and 27C),  his plan is to run down the steeply wooded Jennycliffe Bay cliffs on the eastern side of an empty Plymouth Sound, exit through the eastern breakwater entrance and then sail past the breakwater to Cawsand Bay and a mid-morning coffee at Kingsand. Then across the outer Sound to the Great Mewstone, into Wembury Bay and over to the river Yealm. A perfect day cruise!

Inside the main channel that sweeps south in a huge curve, the invisible 0.6 kt tidal stream helps push our sailor past the local café on the hill and up towards Bovisand Fort. His soundscape? Gurgling water, occasional fluttering of mainsail and a rhythmic knocking of his centreboard against its case. A familiar ‘knocking’, but our sailor knows it needs sorting. He involuntarily shudders as he visualises what the inside panels of the centreboard case must look like. ‘Ugh!  

Bovisand Fort is rapidly abeam. Defending the eastern entrance of Plymouth Sound, its pier and stone steps once used by old navy ships to collect fresh water stores from a nearby reservoir, it’s been a gun battery, an outdoor activity base and now, ‘a redevelopment’, to luxury houses, visitor’s centre and cafes. Such a chequered history! “If only someone had turned it into much needed affordable local housing instead!” muses our sailor.

It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by stunning scenery, warm breezes, cloudless skies and rhythmic ‘sailing’ sounds. ‘Has this not happened to us all at some point?’ Alas, in such a stupor, our sailor misses tell-tale signs of shifting winds and fails to check his course sufficiently. North easterlies are about to become fickle, ‘teasing’ winds with ‘other ideas’ about his crafted passage plans! The ‘Wind Gods’ are bored and in need of some amusement! Veering south, they force him to beat to windward just as he approaches the eastern breakwater entrance. Too far west across the Sound and now on a ‘correctional’ course back eastwards towards the entrance, our sailor is too ‘close’ to the breakwater and pinching too close to the wind! Too lazy to tack back down closer to the Jennycliffe shore to gain a better exit line out of the Sound; too inexperienced to spot the dangers ahead. The ‘Wind Gods’ will demand a heavy price for such foolish, imprudent and naïve sailing behaviour.   

Our stubborn sailor finds himself pinching harder to maintain his ‘silly’ course which ‘may’ only just clear the outer rocks. Big ebbing spring tide, wind against tide, some ‘choppy’ water ahead and an outward end jumble of submerged breakwater rocks. ‘A recipe for disaster, is it not?’ This will be close. Scarily close! 

From his sitting helm position, our seafarer sees too late the bladderwrack rafting on the surface ahead or the barely submerged dark shapes of random granite blocks below on the corner. Ten feet. Six feet. Three feet! THREE feet!! Insanity! Starfish, limpets and periwinkles practically leap aboard. Way too close for comfort! Almost ‘in irons’ and being pushed sideways simultaneously? ‘What is he thinking? Such irresponsibility!’ Centreboard snatches on weed rafts; thick kelp traps his rudder. Hull speed slows, helming becomes less certain. ‘Serves him right, does it not?’

Quick ‘close reach’ around the corner; immediate emergency ‘short tacking’ to gain steerage way to clear a jumble of outer rip-rap rocks and the profusion of lobster pot buoys. “When did all these get laid?” A random thought quickly forgotten as our sailor helms through these hazardous threats. Tiller pushed away, sprit boom whooshes rapidly overhead. A tan mainsail, taut, full bellied. Some speed at last! Phew! 

Now only six metres off the breakwater front, some sea room is urgently required or ‘clumps of kelp’ on his rudder will be the least of his ‘towing baggage’ problems! Valued reader, give absolutely no sympathy to our sailor. Self-inflicted poor pilotage, smart-arsed indolence! No sympathy, for ‘is he not an irresponsible, foolish sailor?’

Disrespected, ‘Borrum and Aeolus’, keepers of the winds, punish our sailor, veering rapidly to the west where they fill and die without warning, funnelling and deflecting down the valleys and headlands in Cawsand Bay. Another upwind course then, along the southern side of the breakwater, complicated by a 1.2 knots ebb tidal stream at the western channel entrance. Some ‘leeway’ crabbing, or as our sailor might describe it “deliberately planned for ‘ferry-gliding’” ensues. It’s a rueful dinghy sailor who ponders the dark arts of inshore coastal navigation, but not for long. With jellyfish drifting below his hull, jumping mackerel and diving gannets ahead, and caught off guard by a semi deflated pink beach ball passing down his port side, our sailor’s mood lightens. Cloudless skies, sun sparkling ‘reflection’ shimmers dancing across the water surface like clouds of giant fireflies, he muses on how every day is a ‘learning day’ before pinging another ‘OK’ message and adding a scribbled note to his log.

Making 3.3 knots in a stiffening south westerly breeze, the snotter is eased for more belly in the sail and mainsheet gets hauled in a tad. A fraction more speed gained then but distance still lost as the ebb tide pushes his boat southwards, off course. The ‘unanticipated’ wind shadow by the old Coastguard Station forces him to a more northerly course towards Fort Picklecombe; welcomed sea room in which to heave-to. The last remnants of ‘streaming rudder kelp’ still need removing by hand.

Picklecombe, another ‘Palmerston’s Fort Folly’, now luxury flats with private moorings in a tiny, well protected harbour alongside. Our skipper represses his ‘secret urge’ to creep into the ‘private’ harbour for a quick nosey around. Another time perhaps.  

Foam slips along hull sides from small cresting waves ahead, mizzen and mainsail tweaked to increase weather helm a little. Our sailor instinctively leans weatherside just as the ‘teasing’ winds lessen and veer north westerly, forcing him to change course once more. Another windward tack, 30m out, parallel to the northerly sandstone cliffs of the Mount Edgecumbe shoreline! At least he avoided the choppy water over Queener’s Ledge.

Yet within minutes, the winds back again to the south. “How irritating can this be?” laments our flummoxed, somewhat ‘tested’, if not a little ‘irritated’, sailor? ‘Will he still make a mid-morning coffee stop at Kingsand?’

Observant reader, you will have already guessed that our dinghy cruiser has given insufficient thought to the implications of these shifting winds. ‘He’ll arrive on a lee shore with breaking waves, will he not?’  Good pilotage, that art of thinking ten or fifteen minutes ahead of your current position, is something he’s still mastering, so could we extend him just a little sympathy? ‘After all, have we all not made such elementary sailing mistakes ourselves at some time or another?’ 

‘Arwen’s’ near vertical stem and curved forefoot slice through grey-green waters, throwing up occasional diamonds of sparkling spray; her Welsh Ensign flutters proudly above her captain’s head. Our sailor plans to reach past the approaching beach to scope out good anchoring and landing points.  Alas, who was it who said “No plan survives first contact with reality”?

“Nooooo!”  His plaintive wail and sharp intake of breath suggest all is not well. ‘Unexpected’ wave covered lee shore beach; a string of yellow ‘swimming only’ marker buoys beyond which boats cannot anchor? New unforeseen problems are an inconvenient reminder then, that ‘the unexpected will always happen on any trip’.

What are his options now? Drop anchor just outside the swimming zone, pump up the toy dinghy tender he carries aboard and row in? In strengthening wind’s, unceremoniously dumped upside down by breaking waves in front of a busy pub? How embarrassing and, if lucky to survive such a landing, how would our seafarer affect a departure later on? ‘Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?’

A nearby fat yellow mooring buoy, marked ‘private no mooring’, tempts his ‘rebellious streak’. A quick sail past to assess location, reverse close reach course back with some questionable pinching of sails again. More by luck than skilled judgement, our sailor literally drifts alongside it. From a distance, it looks like he knows exactly what he’s doing. But of course, ‘we all know better, don’t we?’ 

A 20-minute lunch stop. Marmite and cheese sandwiches, tea and an apple. Marmite haters are discouraged from boarding, unless they bring ‘peace offerings’ - Florentines, Toblerone or Fox’s Ginger Cream biscuits!

Winds veering north once more bring large yachts to his now sheltered anchorage. Our dinghy cruiser scribbles notes in his log, pings another ‘OK’ message home but after a while, becomes disturbed by the clanking of chain in and out of anchor lockers, the rattling of wire shrouds against masts, an uncomfortable corkscrew bobbing motion and loud pop music. Liking solitude and comfortable anchorages, he slips his mooring once more. Time to leave to search out such luxuries elsewhere.

Lowering his outboard into the water, a quick ‘forceful’ slap of palm against forehead, reminds our sailor that this year, he’s weaning himself off mechanical propulsion. ‘So, how to get off a crowded mooring to open water in a stiff breeze with exposed rocks only eight metres away?’  Tiny gaps between boats, turning circles clearly ignored by many, but our sailor is contemplating sailing off a mooring once more. ‘Can he really sail out of this mooring? Why not row out instead?’  Clearly too much sun, not enough fluids, sunstroke and a sudden bout of rashness!  

The nearest yacht, 6m astern, is ridiculously too close in his opinion! Slackening mainsail sheets through the aft mounted block, sheeting the mizzen tight; a rare display of agility as our sailor jumps the centre thwart and dashes forward to mast base. Mainsail raised with alacrity; he sweats the last bit of tension into the halyard. Mooring buoy pulled amidships port side, painter slipped. Drift backwards, rudder lowered, tiller to starboard, mizzen sprit boom hand-hauled to port. ‘Has he got this right we hear you ask?’

Just reaching around the stern of the boat on his starboard quarter, a co-ordinated blur of movements sees our sailor shoot along its starboard side before he bears downwind through the next gap between boats. One tack and two gybes later (or was it two tacks and one gybe, never mind), he’s cleared boats, kayakers, SUP boarders, swimmers and rocky platforms. ‘An unorthodox departure with some wrong moves, say you?’ Probably, but he didn’t hit anything or kill anyone; a success then as far as our sailor is concerned.

Sailing the outer Sound proves exhilarating, despite fluky shifting winds. Self-doubts are blown away by strong north easterly 20 kt gusts and steady 13 kt winds. Shroud tell tales stream horizontally, leech one’s flutter in slightly ‘dirty’ air. Our lazy mariner is more interested in casual cruising than getting the most from his sails!  Is that such a sin and why is sail trimming such a dark art anyway?” he mutters to himself.  Another windward tack, bow lifting over white crests, spray very occasionally over the bow. 5.5 kts; 5.9 kts on his Garmin InReach Explorer. Racing along, assisted by the last of the easterly 0.5 kt tidal stream. Sat way out on the side deck with lots of tiller weather helm is such fun. Water spurting through the little gap between centreboard casing and top catches his eye. Something else for that maintenance list!  Perhaps too much weather-helm?” Caution creeps into our sailor’s consciousness! “Is it time to reef?” His bare legs extended, feet braced against the far thwart sides, ‘Arwen’s’ hull up and heeled.  Letting out the mainsheet during gusts, he eyes approaching waves and troughs with trepidation. Twice the side decks have been ‘sluiced’ with green-grey waters.

The rolling ‘corkscrewing’ swell in Wembury Bay proves ‘nausea’ inducing.  Ebb spring tide, north easterly winds, rapidly shallowing seabed, rolling swells from yesterday’s offshore storm! Our sailor’s stomach churns.  Reef now and he will be sea sick; all that wallowing in those troughs as he ties the reefing points. “Yuck!” He mentally castigates himself for not keeping a more weatherly eye on the weather and then laughs at his unintended pun.

Mizzen is eased; if only he knew how to twist his upper sail to spill more wind! Mainsail gets flattened; his boat heels less and slows. He shifts his ‘damp’ bottom back inboard. Much better. ‘Arwen’s’ firm bilges, planing flat bottom, small skeg and big beam all afford greater stability. She’s best sailed upright; a far more sensible, prudent, approach! “Dangling my bum over the edge of the side deck to keep her balanced whilst close hauled in steepening seas is bound to end in disaster!” reasons our sailor! Ah, the ‘heel’ reducing advantages of a rig that extends a lot horizontally across bowsprit, boat and boomkin, eh?

A centimetre or so of water sloshes the bilges and not for the first time, he wonders whether it’s worth installing raised bottom boards. He regrets not bringing his little portable electric bilge pump set up; no trim issues but its ‘irritating’ as his bare feet are cold. Good job all his gear is stowed under the side decks in double lined dry bags. It really is time to install a manual bilge pump in ‘Arwen’, “but where to install it so it is easily reached on all points of sail?” A new conundrum for a very ‘short armed’ sailor to ponder over later.

South of the Great Mewstone Island, a wind shadow area slows ‘Arwen’, giving our sailor ample time for a ‘close pass chat’ with three fishermen drifting in a small dory over the Mewstone shoals that extend a mile southwest of the island. Not much luck, it seems. Do they know the old local adage ‘When the winds are east, the fish bite least’? Admiring these boat men, our sailor muses on how they aren’t being sea sick in such rolly conditions.

Our seafarer suddenly chuckles out loud as he recalls the story of ‘Sam Wakeman’. It takes his mind off his impending nausea. About to be sent to Australia in the early 1800’s, Sam cleverly negotiated to live in exile with his family on the Mewstone, looking after the rabbits. Ever the entrepreneur, he earned money by offering boat trips to the island from the local Wembury beach, advertising his service by letter in a local South Devon magazine of the time.

“If any genticeman what likes a wark, he can wark to shoar at Wembury Beach, if they holds up there white pockethanchecuffs as a signal, an I’le cum off and fetch them on me bote to the island for two pence appeasement”.

Unluckily, Sam’s other ‘entrepreneurial endeavour’, smuggling, got him caught by a local excise man and so he was evicted from the island after only a few years!

“The ‘Slimers’! Oh, dear God, where are they?”  Our seafarer’s heart pretty much stops. He’s forgotten the ‘Slimers’, two drying out rocky outcrops east of the island. Insufficient attention to pilotage matters, too much reminiscing on old island stories! Urgently, he points ‘Arwen’s’ bow south east to gain some reassuring sea room. The ‘Slimers’ pass by 10m off his port beam. Phew! Too close!

‘Self-preservation’ senses kicking in, our seafarer checks his chart secured to the starboard centre thwart and mentally recomputes his course to the ‘Yealm’ entrance. His brain now whirring, he tries to predict what wind and tidal conditions will be as he closes on the narrow river entrance and its dangerous bar.  Much better; he’s thinking ‘pilotage’ once more, is he not?’. A quick perusal then of the annotated, hand drawn sketch maps and hazards in his little yellow log book.  

Navigation sorted, our sailor clears up the rat’s nest of ‘string’ accumulating in his aft cockpit area, deftly sorting the different sheets and halyards into their appropriate homemade halyard bags hanging off the rear of the centre thwart. “Aft transom deck mounted mainsheets leave so much loose rope lying around” he muses.  Much better! So embarrassing and potentially disastrous, tripping over tangled ropes just as one arrives over one’s chosen anchoring spot! Another thing for the list ‘trim all sheets to their correct length’.

An hour or so past slack water, our small cruising dinghy passes 5m clear of ‘Mouthstone’ ledge at the river entrance and proceeds upriver, bar side of the red channel marker buoys, leaving the main channel clear for the bigger boats. Saves them having to hug the rocky starboard side with its delicate eelgrass beds. Cellars beach lies ahead; small, inaccessible, with a hard sand bottom and a pebbly, boulder strewn beach backed by 30’ high cliffs. Assorted rowing boats, yacht tenders and small motorboats are anchored just off it. Kayakers and SUP paddlers too, just to complicate things a little. Our tired sailor can’t see an obvious anchoring spot close inshore from this distance so prudence suggests dropping mainsail now and sailing in under jib and mizzen only. He retrieves his large canoe paddle off the foredeck. It might be needed up ahead. There’s no room to row!

Seven boat lengths to go, our sailor furls his jib. Five boat lengths to go, the barely filled mizzen carries him into a small gap between three motorboats of various sizes. He throws tiller around sharply, sheets mizzen in tightly at the very last moment and ‘Arwen’ stalls head to wind. Jumping forward quickly, anchor is retrieved from its tray on the cockpit floor and hand over handed into the sea on the starboard side; chain rattling over wooden gunwale. ‘Has he stopped? Has he predicted his turning circle accurately? Is 5m distance a wee bit too close to those northern cliff and rock ledges? So much for him to calculate and appraise!

He stands at the starboard shroud, 10mm anchor rode taut in his hand, waiting patiently, closely watching his chosen transit.  A 10lb Danforth with 5m of chain should do the job! Five minutes pass, all seems well. More scope released; rode secured around stem post with hitches. When other boats have left, he’ll dry out on this chosen spot tonight. Through crystal-clear waters below, a clean sandy bottom, no worrying boulders or pea gravel and in the lee of the cliffs, protected from northerly winds. Perfect!

Bilge water is sponged out, the boat tidied. Our sailor doesn’t jump out immediately. Last year, in this same spot, in what he thought was only a couple of feet depth, he jumped overboard straight into an ‘invisible’ hole dug by an over enthusiastic daddy for his young children, earlier that day. A ‘shocking’ surprise to our sailor when the water went over the top of his head. Think ‘Vicar of Dibley’ and that ‘jump in the puddle’ scene! ‘There esteemed reader, you have the picture already’. All in front of fifty or so beach bathers! What a jolly laughing jape that was! Our sailor involuntarily hunches down, reducing his body height; a mental ‘hiding’ reaction to the horrors of last year’s arrival!

Secluded, fairly inaccessible, sheltered from northerly and easterly winds, Cellars beach is a favourite overnight destination for our sailor. Not so good of course in westerlies or when an ebb tide can cause lumpy conditions across the bar, pushing waves onto the beach. Its name, by the way, is derived from the old 1800’s fishermen’s beach cellars where they stored their nets and catches at that time. These, sadly, are now long gone. 

Well cherished reader, our day has almost ended. Early evening has rushed by, the tide is almost high. Over the course of twilight, our sailor let out more scope and his little boat drifted backwards into the beach with minimal sideways swing. You will be pleased to know that he clambered overboard earlier into knee deep water, so no nasty surprises this time. A grapnel anchor buried between three big boulders on the beach and another mooring line tied to a convenient washed-up tree trunk. ‘Arwen’ isn’t drifting sideways tonight. Job done!

Most day trippers are gone, one or two rib dinghy tenders remain. The sun is setting and our tired sailor predicts it will be directly westward of his cooking position on the beach in an hour’s time. He ambles the strandline, something he loves to do often. “What strange objects will be washed up tonight?” He never knows what he will find, always so much to see, new things to learn. Tonight, a razor shell, a shoe, some fishing line with lead weight attached, a mermaid’s purse, assorted shells, some small pieces of driftwood which he can use in future winter artwork projects. Not enough driftwood for a small beach fire though and no highly prized, worn smooth, sea glass. He rescues a small stranded jellyfish, returning it to deeper water. 

On the top of the tide, he places a fender under his boat’s hull as she comes to rest in the last foot of water; it will ensure a good night’s sleep in a horizontal position for a change. Onboard, he unpacks his white tarp, retrieves the boom crutch from under the side deck and sets up the boom tent, working methodically from bow to mizzen, stopping just amidship. Tonight’s forecast is warm, dry and clear skies. On such nights in secluded bays with no prying eyes, our amateur astronomer likes to sleep out under the stars. Sleeping platform assembled in the aft cockpit well, down sleeping and Gortex bivvy bags laid out. Galley box carried up the beach to an area which has particularly comfortable boulders to sit on.

Gently lapping waves, the tiny rumbles of gravel caught in the undertow of a retreating tide. ‘Hypnotic, soothing, restful, is it not?’  Our sailor deliberates on Jacques Cousteau’s observation that “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”. “How true” he thinks. Little shrimp lice jump upwards as he disturbs the sand around him, the flies on the clumps of seaweed stay away. This rarely happens! Mosquitos, gnats and midges, normally see our sailor as a walking ‘all you can eat buffet’, often leaving him covered in huge red, itchy bite bumps.

A seagull tosses strand line weed aside, foraging for shrimps, crabs and any snacks left behind by humans. Stern anchor warps rhythmically rise and fall, caught in the small wavelets lapping the beach; their ‘captured’ fronds of drying seagrass dancing and waving a merry little jig.  A couple amble across to admire his little boat and its boom tent. Both ‘Thames Barge’ artists, they are intrigued by her ‘delightful character’.  “What boat is she?” “What does ‘Arwen’ mean?” “How does the sleeping platform work?” “Do you ever get a comfortable night’s sleep?” “You actually built her? Oh well done, how exciting”. Our sailor admires artists and is particularly intrigued by the work being done by the couple.  

As our sailor anticipated earlier, the sunset is indeed glorious. The upper sky glows a deep blue whilst the lower half is a deep orange blush overpainted with pink and purple tinged wispy clouds. The sun? A brilliant ‘tangerine’ coloured disc falling behind Wembury Point. His stove rattles, steam rises from the galley box, a bright orange flame flickers skywards as the kettle is lifted out. A tang of meths fills the air. Tired but content; at his feet, a ‘boil in the bag’ meal, a fruit pudding, hot chocolate in a cup, some ginger cream biscuits. A meal fit for a king... well a pauper king perhaps. Just peeking over his galley box rim, his boat bobs on a dazzling, shimmering, golden, gossamer threaded cloak of sunset reflections. The air is warm, breezes gone; smartphone charges off a portable ‘Big Blue’ solar panel catching the last rays of the day. He wonders, if he gets away early tomorrow, whether he might fit in a quick sail up the river before the ebb tide makes it difficult. He dreamily watches the waves kiss the sandy shoreline, retreat and then return once more to steal another caress.

I like your boat. It’s very pretty. Would you like some of our clams?”

For those interested in sailing Plymouth Sound, the RYA have published an excellent dinghy cruising trail guide at  written by Peter Guilliatt.

Friday 9 September 2022

The disappearing sail crease part two

 And here is part two as promised last week....

Tuesday 6 September 2022

The disappearing sail crease

 Yes, you read that right. The sail crease is no more. I's amazing isn't it.....

Enjoy part one..........

Friday 26 August 2022

astrophotography from boats

 Well not from the boats, I mean that would be impossible wouldn't it, all that bobbing about!

However, on those nights beached in remote spots where there are dark skies up the river Tamar, well that is a different scenario isn't it.

I have been saving for some time and finally I have bought a good astrophotography travel rig comprising

  • zenithstar 61ii with field flattener - for both visual and imaging work
  • samyang 135mm F/2 lens
  • skywatcher star adventurer 2i wifi pro star tracker 
It will all team up with my canon 800d dslr and my Benro mach 3 carbon fibre tripod. 

Astrophotography is new to me. It is a huge steep learning curve. I am getting to grips with the tracker and the image taking. The actual post processing is a dark art which I continue to grapple with and I feel I am making little progress in that area. 

Still, the kit packs down well into one storage box inside two dry bags (one inside the other) and on days when the weather gives gentle breezes and good spring tides, I feel some trips up river for stargazing coming on. I will keep you posted. 
The new telescope

the night sky above my garden in a semi rural - suburban area

my first planet image - Jupiter and three of her moons

the sky above my nearest beach

Thursday 4 August 2022

Episode three

 Enjoy. Links to episode one and two on video in first few minutes

Thursday 28 July 2022

Dinghy cruising overnighter to cellars beach on the yealm - episode two

 hope you enjoy it

Lessons learned?

  1. move the halyard tie on point on the yard further up so it is about a third of the way along - hopefully this will allow the sail to pull right up to the mast
  2. move the sprit boom intersection point on the mast far higher
  3. make sure I remember to tie on the parrel beads at the tack - around the mast
  4. crank on the downhaul tension - this may need an upgrade in the block and tackle used 😂
  5. add a parrel bead loop at the bottom of the yard where the throat is to hold it securely against the mast - not so tight that the sail cannot be lowered effectively though 
Out tomorrow with those changes , so it should be interesting to see what happens.

A write up of the latest overnighter to cellars beach will appear on the blog in the net few weeks - watch this space as they say 

Friday 22 July 2022

Cellars beach on the river Yealm

 Here is episode one of a trilogy about an overnight trip to and from Cellars Beach just inside the mouth of the river Yealm on the south Devon coast.

Monday 18 July 2022

Cellars beach on the river yealm

 A little teaser of a forthcoming set of videos about a recent trip. Enjoy

Wednesday 13 July 2022

dinghy cruising on Plymouth Sound - in a Welsford navigator - part three

 here is part three about our little day cruise potter a few weeks ago around Plymouth Sound, when, after living down this way for over thirty years, I finally set foot on Drakes Island for the very first time.

Parts one and two can be found in previous posts during June/July 2022 or on my YouTube channel at

Thursday 7 July 2022

dinghy cruising - a Welsford navigator pottering on Plymouth Sound - part 2

 Here is the part two video of our day pottering around Plymouth Sound and landing on Drakes Island for the first time ever. Part one can be found in a previous post.

Friday 1 July 2022

The Dinghy Cruising Association new photography, videography and art work competition

 You may be aware that the British Dinghy Cruising Association has created a competition to go alongside ones for the best technical article and best cruising log in its journal. This new competition centres on photography, videography and artwork with monetary prizes in the form of Amazon vouchers. 

DCA website: 

An article I wrote for the DCA journal about the competition is published instead as a PDF download on their website and can be found in my previous blog post. At the end of that post, I promised that I would also post answers to two further questions, which being very specific about photography, probably weren’t appropriate for inclusion into the journal or on the DCA website

These two questions were:

               What equipment can I use to get a ‘pleasing’ dinghy cruising related photograph?

               What basic photographic skills would I need to develop in order to obtain this photo?

If you have read the article/first blog post and are now feeling inspired but left wondering whether or not you have the right camera gear (you do by the way), then perhaps this section below will help you further.  


What equipment can I use to get a ‘good’ and suitable dinghy cruising related photograph?

Simple answer – any practically any camera you have as a good photo comes from the skill and knowledge of photography employed, not necessarily the actual camera used. In saying this however, there are some things to consider and I discuss these in the context of my own camera equipment.  Let’s start by looking at what camera equipment I carry on Arwen (figure 1).

Figure 1: what photographic equipment do I carry on Arwen?

As standard:

·        GoPro Hero 9 on long selfie pole (plus spare batteries and various mounts etc)

·        Two GoPro Hero 5’s and assorted mounts/fittings (plus spare batteries etc)

·        Sony HX-90 compact digital optical zoom camera (plus spare batteries) in waterproof pouch and dry bag

·        Spare micro-SD memory cards which can fit any of the cameras) – minimum 64Gb class 10

·        Camera cleaning kit – cloth, lens spray, puffer brush)

·        Clamp mounts for GoPro

·        Mini Gorillapod tripod for compact zoom

·        One portable power bank

·        Either a Camera rucksack or a camera strap bag – On a small boat, you may find a rucksack too bulky, so a shoulder bag is better. On shore, I keep the latter securely on me by slinging the strap over my left shoulder and across my chest front so that the bag lies on my right hip as I am right-handed. Everything is then secure and easily accessible. Contents are in small waterproof drybags which are labelled on the outside. In the boat, I have it all in a small photographic rucksack, inside a large drybag.

·        Lens wipes – I use them rather than the bottom of my fleece (We have all done it!)


·        DSLR Canon 800D plus 18 – 55mm F/4.0 and 55 – 250mm F/4.5 zoom lenses (spare batteries)

·        Lightweight full-sized tripod

·        Spare lens caps

·        UV filters on lenses - protects them from scratches, salt and spray

·        Circular polarising filters for both lenses – great for sunny days - eliminates unwanted glare off the water, saturates colours and increases the contrast between the different elements in a shot

·         Lens hood prevents light flaring on lens and protects camera against accidental knocks.

Very occasionally – for astrophotography

·        Above camera plus Samyang 135 mm F/2 lens

·        Skywatcher Star Adventurer 2i pro star tracker

·        Benro carbon fibre full tripod – you can get very cheap second hand tripods off Facebook marketplace etc  - a tripod allows you to use telephoto lenses in low light on a DSLR  - stability without camera shake when you need wider apertures and longer shutter speeds but no flash.

·        Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet

·        If you are taking photos at golden hour from land – get a remote shutter release cable as well to avoid any camera shake when taking a photo.

My compact zoom camera (a Sony HX90 – also a great vlogging camera by the way) and GoPro Hero 9 (for those exciting spray over the coaming/raining moments, when a small waterproof camera is needed or for getting those good close-up shots of crew in action) are the two main cameras I carry regularly onboard. My smartphone, a middle of the road one with ok-ish images (but not ones that could be enlarged for printing off) lives in an aqua-pouch when onboard so effectively eliminating its function as a camera.  Occasionally in relatively sheltered inland waters like the River Tamar, I take my bigger DSLR although I rarely use it when actually sailing. One handed DSLR camera photography is something I’m unlikely to master any time soon.

A recent ‘digital camera beginners’ course’ enabled me to ‘get off auto’ and ‘engage with ‘manual’’ on both my compact and DSLR cameras. My Canon 800d DSLR with various kit lenses gives me the most choice, control and quality over images. DSLRs (and mirrorless cameras) give very high-quality images, are bigger and easier to hold, have larger rear touch screens and relatively quick autofocus.  Great onshore, or if you are in a boat not helming or crewing; impossible to use well if you are ‘active’ in the dinghy. If it isn’t a weatherproof one, they aren’t great with saltwater spray!  Mainly used when I have finished sailing and am moored or dried out, the DSLR accompanies me on shore explorations and is my astrophotography kit for night time. I can choose aperture, shutter speed, ISO and control depth of field and focus. Tack sharp background or bokeh blurred? This kit gives me those options.

An alternative to the DSLR is a ‘bridge’ camera. It is mid-way between a point and shoot compact and a DSLR. It has a tripod thread, a flash shoe and control over exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO (light sensitivity). Visit the ‘Lone kayaker’ website at     to see one used well. All of Rupert’s images taken from his kayak are on a bridge camera which he stores inside a dry bag!

Figure 2 gives some reviews of bridge and DSLR cameras on the market today. If you chose a bridge camera or DSLR – find one which has a dial or buttons to manually control exposure, ISO, aperture etc. Trying to access a menu on a screen with wet fingers is a disaster waiting to happen!  Avoid digital zoom as any image done this way will lose sharpness and stores little information for later post processing. You want optical zoom!

Figure 2: reviews of DSLRs and bridge cameras (I take no responsibility for the quality of the reviews)

Best entry level DSLRs 2022

and slightly more generally

bridge cameras

The Sony HX-90 digital/optical zoom compact gives me great picture quality, a x 30 optical zoom lens, a flip up backscreen and inbuilt flash. Small and lightweight, it almost does what my DSLR can do. Most sailing days I’m happy to get this out of its waterproof storage bag to take photographs at its widest lens opening and I can use it one handed. I can shoot in RAW mode (better for post editing, enlarged prints and magazines) and I avoid ‘digital’ zoom which degrades the image quality. Bobbing about on waves and trying to do telephoto zoom shoots with it are just never going to happen, so I use it on its widest focal length and best quality settings; enabling me to then crop the image in post editing without losing image quality. Of course, it’s now dated, overtaken by action cameras and waterproof smartphones and newer compact cameras, but it still does the job and I’m sentimentally attached to it as it was a gift given to me when I retired.

Those who know me well know I am an action cam – GoPro aficionado! There are many good action cameras available now and my previous articles on vlogging in the DCA journal and also posts on this blog give a good overview of these. Personally, I only use GoPro or DJI Action for photographs and I favour action cams with a front screen that shows me what I’m photographing when using for selfies (it’s also a vlogging advantage).  My various GoPro’s have been bomb-proof over the decade I have been using them. There are plenty of YouTube videos about settings for your GoPro camera and figure 3 shows what photo settings I have for my Hero 9. Remember on any camera or advanced smartphone, RAW format gives you best quality images and plenty of options for creative post editing.  Magazine editors prefer RAW as well! 

Figure 3: my GoPro photo settings for Hero 9  Note -  it has a fixed aperture of F/2.8

Photo – linear, Superphoto, timer 3s, zoom 1.0x, WB – auto, sharpness – low, colour – GoPro

Night photo – wide, shutter – 30s, RAW, TIMER – 3S, ZOOM 1.0X, wb – 5000K, ISO min – 800, ISO max – 1600, sharpness – low, colour – flat

Burst mode – wide, burst rate – auto, output – standard, timer – off, zoom – 1.0x, WB – auto, ISO min – 100, ISO max – 3200, sharpness – high, colour – GoPro

Use self timer – if you want to be in a shot. Touch zoom slider can bring a closer view of the action. 

My GoPro excels at those really big landscape shots (choose linear mode) and those onboard boat close ups. Avoid super wide settings (distorted fish eye results with curved horizons) and don’t use them for distant shots – they were never designed for telephoto images. You just won’t be able to crop in effectively during post production editing!

Now, I am going to be slightly vague here because I have to confess, I have never owned a decent smartphone. SWMBO draws the line at expensive smartphones. Mine is a lower middle end smartphone, non-waterproof, but which does reasonable images. Great for social media but not much else. It gets used mainly for navigation and texts and that’s it. Great for wide angle images, upmarket smartphones now do great telephoto shots as well but the risks of dropping it overboard? Getting it wet? I’m not that brave given the higher costs of the better equipped phones.  If you are braver than me, then your high-end smartphone should do portrait and landscape mode, render good flash and allow a fair degree of manual control over exposure and some settings like aperture. Some will blur the background whilst keeping the subject of the image pin sharp. Several even allow you to ‘magic away’ distractions in your photos. And of course, they are great for spontaneous use; after all, we carry our smartphones with us everywhere.

Figure 4 gives some websites that review waterproof compact digital cameras and smart phones

Figure 4: reviews of waterproof digital compact cameras, digital zoom cameras and waterproof smartphones  (I take no responsibility for the quality of the reviews)

Best waterproof digital cameras:


Best budget compact digital zoom cameras:


Waterproof smart phones;

If you have an existing compact, bridge or DSLR camera here are some quick tips to help maximise the image quality in your photo. Firstly, more pixels do not necessarily mean better quality pictures. It is sensor size which is important. The more information your sensor holds, the bigger you can enlarge a photo when printing it off. Secondly, if you are buying a new camera, get a reputable make – Canon, Nikon, Sony etc. Thirdly, APS-C on DSLRs means it is a crop sensor but it will do absolutely fine. Full sensor size DSLRs are very expensive!

Fourthly, no surprise here but salt water smears lenses lens and rusts metal fittings! Some DSLRs are not weatherproof. Those that are tend to be very expensive. Protect your DSLR by getting a giant zip lock freezer bag, cutting a hole for the lens to poke through, sealing the camera in the bag and securing the bag opening over the lens with a thin stretchy elastic band. Well, that’s how I do it.  For your compact, if it isn’t a waterproof one, you can buy water proof pouch bag specifically designed for optical zoom lens compacts. Make sure you get one that can accommodate your compact on its full optical zoom lens stretch – go on – ask me how I know that’s important!!  Invest in a good brand if you buy an aqua pouch for your compact or smartphone. Cheaper versions leak – go on, ask me how I know – again!!! Put two little bags of desiccant into any bag that holds a camera or smartphone – they absorb any moisture trapped in the bag. 


Ok, so at this point we have briefly discussed basic photographic equipment considerations. Now a public service health warninggo no further unless you want to learn how to get off ‘Auto’ mode and into ‘Manual’ mode on your camera, smartphone or action cam. The last bit of this blog post finishes by examining some very simple, basic, beginner principles about shooting photographs. This is just for those who like me dream of getting off ‘auto’ camera mode just once in their lives!

Our final question:  

What basic photographic skills would I need to develop in order to obtain that ‘good’ photo?

If you haven’t done so yet, I would strongly urge that you read the article in the DCA journal or the first blog post about the competition and what makes a ‘good’ boat photograph. By doing this, the following will then make better sense! The article looks at what makes a good photo and discusses aspects to do with composition.


Some pre trip thinking about camera settings is very important. If you want the best possible quality photographs for inclusion in a magazine or to enlarge as prints of 8” x 10” or above, shoot and save images in RAW format but expect some post editing in a photo editing software program afterwards to get the best out of the image. RAW format images give you the most information and detail.

If you want photos for a personal album, a blog or an ‘Instagram’ post, JPEG’s are perfectly fine and take up less room on your memory card; just dial in the highest quality JPEG setting your camera can do. My DSLR, GoPro and compact camera can shoot both simultaneously. My smartphone shoots JPEGs only.  Newer smartphones can shoot in both JPEG and RAW. Quick warning reiteration – RAW images never look as good on your rear-view screen as JPEGs do – but after post processing – oh my do they pop then. Always, always select the best/highest quality megapixel resolution/ image size setting your camera can do. It will need a bigger memory card but will be worth it. Magazine editors by the way, will love you for that choice!

And talking of these worthy individuals, resist any temptation to digitally auto enhance any images you take for magazines. Let the editors and their team do it as they know what they are looking for and what will best fit their page layouts.

Your camera on auto setting will give you good pictures straight away as it selects the optimal exposure, shutter, aperture and ISO speeds. Don’t be afraid to use auto mode at sea. In lower light or where you are suffering camera shake, select TV (shutter) mode as it allows you to choose the shutter speed. The camera will then automatically select the most appropriate ISO and aperture settings to get you a correct exposure at that shutter speed. However, I like to exert greater control and thought over exposure and focus in an effort to really boost image quality and detail, and so I have been familiarizing myself with manual, shutter and aperture modes on my cameras. It is not within the scope of this article to give detailed advice about camera settings but getting off ‘auto’ is fun and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials explaining how to adjust shutter and ISO speed, aperture and exposure compensation. Look up ‘The exposure triangle’.

On some compact zoom cameras and most DSLRs, either via a dial or through a menu set up, you can select from M (manual), AV (aperture), TV (shutter) or P (auto) modes. By now, you are beginning to realise that there are three things to consider in getting a well exposed photo: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. So, let’s look at each of these a little more closely, through the context of this ‘Exposure triangle’.

Shutter speed is how long your shutter remains open and is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds e.g. 1/60th, 1/500th. Fast shutter speeds freeze action e.g. water splashes and spray over the deck and let in little light; also good to use if using long telephoto lenses or shooting fast moving boats. Long shutter speeds (shutter is open longer) allow more light onto the sensor.  Turn on the camera’s image-stabilization system and you can shoot at slower shutter speeds (1/15, 1/8, or 1/4 of a second) to keep the boat in focus while blurring the water. The latter technique is easier toward sunrise and sunset, when light levels are lower.

Changing the ISO (sensor sensitivity) will capture more or less light. The higher the number you choose, the more light it captures, but at a cost. The higher the ISO, the ‘grainier’ the picture will become!  To capture images of boats sailing, set your ISO speed to between 100 – 400. For example, on bright sunny days choose a low ISO around 100 because you have plenty of available light. On an overcast day, you might set it to 400. Remember, don’t go higher though as this will lead to a ‘grainy’ picture and that is something you want to avoid. High ISO speeds do however, allow faster shutter speeds. (See shutter speed above).

Your choice of aperture (how wide open your lens diaphragm is to let light through) determines how much of your shot is in focus. A wide aperture, (the smallest ‘f-stop’ number) allows a fast shutter speed and more light through, thus reducing motion blur. It ‘freezes’ any action and gives a shallow depth of field (only the subject is in focus, the rest of the image may be blurry). Increasing the aperture (a higher F number) brings in more motion blur, less light but more depth of field so the background comes into focus more.  In low light, use a wide aperture (a small F stop number) and a slow shutter speed but remember you will need to use a tripod or prop your phone/camera on something to hold it steady to avoid shake blur. I would also set a shutter timer delay (on most phones and cameras) so that when you press the shutter button, the camera delays taking the photo for a few seconds so that any camera shake settles down before the image is taken.

If you want that ‘looking along the length of the boat’ shot to be in focus from foreground to background then you need a big depth of field so select aperture priority mode on the control dial and set aperture to between f16 - F22. The bigger the f/number, the bigger the depth of field. The camera will automatically set shutter speed and ISO appropriate for the day’s conditions. If I wanted just the boat’s foreground in focus but the background blurred (called bokeh), I need a small depth of field, so apertures of f8 or below.  A good general shooting setting for reasonable depth of detail across your image is f8 - f16.

You can read more about the exposure triangle here at:

Diagram 1 – the exposure triangle. This diagram shows the simple relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO and what impacts altering each has on depth of field, grain and sharpness.

For a good video explanation try this one from PhotoPills

And for smart phone camera users, this may help as well:

Remember, it sounds complicated but once you have your head around the basics, it becomes easier to understand. If you want to move onto manual – practise onshore before trying it for the first time from a boat!

Some quick tips about other settings, mainly on DSLR cameras. If you are using a DSLR camera to take a photograph of a boat, from another boat, keep lens auto focus and image stabilization switched on. If you want to keep the moving boat permanently in focus switch your camera autofocus mode from ‘One shot’ (or AF-S) to ‘Servo’ (or AF-C) and this will allow you to half press your shutter button to continually focus on the approaching boat until you are ready to take the shot.

I set white balance to auto when saving RAW images as I can alter them in most post editing software programs and if truth be known, trying to remember to manually set up my camera for the correct white balance every time I take a shot is beyond my limited brain capacity. My friend, saves in JPEG’s, and chooses a white balance option mode from his camera menu, suited to the conditions on the day - bright sunlight or cloudy skies.  Remember out on the water, the sky, water, sails and hull may be over bright so familiarize yourself with how to alter your exposure compensation if using a DSLR. When your camera’s light meter reads ‘0’, then exposure is correct. +1 means the image is over exposed (too bright) by one stop. Conversely, -1 on the meter tells you that your image is under exposed (too dark) by one stop.

If you have worn polarising sunglasses at the seaside, you know that glare disappears, and in clear water, you can see the sandy bottom, the seaweed and scuttling crabs with startling clarity. A polarizing filter on my DSLR lens achieves the same thing, reducing glare, removing unwanted reflections and intensifying the blues and greens in the scene. It also makes white fluffy clouds really pop in bright blue skies. Be aware that the filter will often reduce the light entering the lens and so if shooting in aperture priority mode, your camera will slow shutter speed slightly to compensate for this. To ensure I get that ‘freeze the water’ shot, I have to remember to raise the ISO setting a little higher.


Oh, and one more thing, I turn off any date, time or GPS location stamps that might imprint on the final image. An irritating way to spoil a perfect shot!


When you have got the images, it is time to take them back and process them. If you are doing them for inclusion in a printed magazine, definitely talk to the editor before processing your images. They may just want you to send them the RAW file so that they can make editorial decisions about processing, cropping etc. If you are wanting to print it and frame it, try not to amend the image too much. Don’t over process it!  Less is more! Do just enough to keep yourself happy. Focus on subtle iterative adjustments to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrancy and saturation (depending on the post editing program you use – I use Affinity photo). Use Youtube tutorials to get better at the post processing skills.

If using a DSLR or a GoPro you will do most of this editing once home. With a smartphone, there are many apps which will allow you to do it there and then. Editing and posting on the move – amazing!


What about using a drone camera? You haven’t mentioned that yet Steve! Um, possibly with good reason! On My drone I have some control over exposure, aperture and shutter speed settings or I can just go auto! You’d better be a really good drone pilot before venturing it out over water or taking off and landing on a boat! Know exactly how long your batteries last and leave spare battery time for possible tricky landings. Disable the ‘return to home’, ‘collision avoidance’ and ‘distance limitation’ settings. On a moving boat, you won’t still be where you took off, even if you are anchored! You may need to grab it by hand on landing! So, wear protective gloves! Learn to watch the screen not the drone and have an observer watching the drone position. Take into account wave and wind conditions. Good drone shots include looking vertically down on the boat, centred over the mast. Try not to over expose your image. If you have polarising filers to fit the drone camera, use them. Set exposure settings to the boat not the surrounding sea. Great location shots are when the boat is anchored in a stunning bay in the evening and you can fly the drone lower to catch the boat against the backdrop of a cliff and/or beach.

And finally, (well done by the way on making it this far), lets finish with a few more useful tips.  Ready to take a photo of Arwen and armed with correctly set equipment and shot lists (see previous post), I do try to ensure she is tidy and clean and looking her best (tip 1). So many of the photos my friend took of my boat last year were rejected because I’d forgotten to take in fenders on the starboard side or allowed strands of reefing line and snotter control halyards to dangle across my face. Worst was my display of poor seamanship skills, through a sail with a huge clew to throat crease. So, no baggy sails, no loose lines, no cluttered cockpits and no dragging fenders; just a tidy, clean, boat displaying a good turn of speed, full sails and water flowing serenely along its hull. If only!

My planned ‘shots’ list for the day serves as a memory aide but I won’t stick rigidly to it. I will develop situational awareness (tip 2) from the start by sitting back a while before shooting and taking a look around the sailing area I’m passing through. If I’m crew in another boat shooting other peoples’ boats, I’m looking for those unusual shooting angles as the boats sail around me.  I try to anticipate what boat and helmsperson might do on different reaches and tacks and also look for those unscripted interactions between helmsperson and boat which show their sheer joy in sailing their own boat. Some images of crew intently engaged in ‘action’ such as raising a sail, commencing a tack or furling a jib capture ‘movement’ that conveys the sense of a boat being ‘under way’. My previous post gives further ideas.

And lastly, a plea about safety (tip 3). Even in an anchored boat, it’s one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat. Keep your camera on a short neck strap so, if need be, you can quickly let it go to use two hands for safety. Try to shoot from a seated position so there is less chance of slipping or being a MOB casualty and wear appropriate grippy footwear, deck shoes or yacht boots.  With suitable clothing and sunscreen for the day easy to hand, always wear your life jacket or PFD as well.

I hope across the two blog posts you now have all that you need to help you go out there and get some really good photographs of your dinghy and of those belonging to other dinghy cruisers. Don’t be shy, if you think they are ‘good’ shots, then enter them for the Dinghy Cruising Association photography competition. Details on the DCA website, given at the start of this blog post.

Good luck now, fair winds and see you out on the water.