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

Saturday 29 January 2022

A very, very grey day out on the Sound

 Two thermal tops - one long sleeve, the other short sleeved. One fleece pullover; one gilet and one fleece lined windproof  jacket. Rohan walking trousers underneath Musto sallies. Thick waterproof sealskinz socks and dinghy wellies. A fleece lined thermal beanie.

And I still felt COLD!!

These 'working back up to overnighting' cruises continue despite the cold but I reckon I'm getting a real old wussie! Add that to the list that includes the dodgy prostate, the collapsing oesophagus and the waning memory........ 😂

Sunday 23 January 2022

Any day on the water is better than decorating

 The footpath down to the sloping driveway is slippy, the neighbouring tall unkempt garden lawn grass covered with brilliant white frost that forcibly droops the couch grass blades under its weight. My breath condenses in the cold still air. Despite the sun peeking above the eastern most horizon and casting its pink-orange tendrils of warm light across the local hill, the birds stay hidden, reluctant to emerge and start their dawn chorus.  To be honest, its bitterly cold! The start of one of those 'crisp' sunny but cold, high pressure January days. 

The car windscreen heaters roar into action and slowly, circles of clear screen appear. Quicker than all that scraping! Meanwhile, the boat tarpaulin, stiffened by the frost, 'crackles' as I pull it off. Sleeves dampened by the drips flowing off it as the frost begins to melt leave me chilled. The new trailer is narrower and the tarp rope tie offs go further under the boat hull meaning I have to get down on my knees to undo the hitches. The cold drip that finds it way past my collar and down the back of my neck is shockingly unexpected! And now I've got wet knees too. 

Good job I packed the boat yesterday. Poor Arwen has been under the tarp for five months now  and part of the winter storage routine is to empty all her contents into the garage. She has some grubby puddles in the bilges; leaves blown up under the tarp have gathered on her cockpit sole. There are small faint patches of black mould on thwarts and coaming, easily wiped off with a cloth.  Forlorn and neglected, poor thing. But now, her rudder, boomkin and tiller lie along her side thwart. Fuel for the outboard is safely strapped to her port hull side. Safety equipment is in the starboard centre thwart locker. Warps are coiled and hung neatly up front. The anchor is in its floor box, with nicely flaked warp, all secured. The car boot has boxes full of clothing and the spare trailer tyre. 

Last September Arwen got a new trailer. The previous one, fourteen years old, gave up the ghost last trip out. The axle stubs almost collapsed and the hub bearings exploded on the way home from the marina. The last two miles home were at 4mph, sounding like a rumbling tank that has lost one of its tracks. There were no warning clues. The wheels didn't wobble and on the way out there were no 'grating' sounds but there we go. No excuses! Serves me right. During all the chaos of 2021 I forgot to check and re-grease the bearings. Salt water eh? The silent deadly assassin for wheel hub bearings! 

But not the only assassin to attack Arwen over the winter though. 

Sssssh, don't bandy this about, but I found some wet rot! I know, its surprising, shameful, shocking! I hang my head in humiliation, how could I let this happen to poor Arwen?  A hairline crack on the coaming edge where the tarp rested. I missed it and so water slowly seeped down that crack all last year. When I accidently knocked the affected area in October, a piece broke off. 

I was devastated, genuinely horrified. Evidence of my neglect of my boat. A failure of seamanship and routine maintenance checks. I remember hurriedly glancing around to ensure that there had been no witnesses to my shame. I had to surreptitiously get expert advice on how to do the repair and, fortunately for me,  Howard Rice and John Welsford rode to the rescue. Using a multitool and their instructions, I managed to remove the affected area without having to cut through the whole coaming thickness. A 4mm thick piece of bendy marine ply was cut to shape and epoxied back in. Two hours work.  The following day after clamp removal, sanding and painting the undercoat, you couldn't see where the repair had been done. 

Now, as I try to find where the repair is, I realise I 'm quite proud of this bit of woodworking.  Lets face it, being candidly honest now, I'm not exactly renowned for my wood working or general DIY skills. There is not a single shelf or picture which hangs straight or level in our house! And, if you ever visit us, avoid sitting in the garden chairs I built. I can't really guarantee your well-being in those. 

With wheel clamp and concrete block chocks removed (she resides on a steeply sloping driveway), I ease Arwen down the slope and onto the road.  Lighting board support rods are inserted into their slots, the board added and lighting checked. Phew, all is working. A quick walk around to check ratchet straps and rope ties holding mast, yard and booms in place. All seems safe and secure. Outboard in the car (remembered to close the air vent this time...couldn't get the petrol smell out of the car for weeks after that last disaster); and a final mental run through of checklists. 

Have I got everything for the day sail? Of course I have. I packed it all carefully yesterday. This is the first sail I have done since August 2021. I am soooo excited! Light winds F2/3, easterlies. Low tide at 0830. High tide at 1430, 4.5m high tide. Sunshine all day and no rain!  

I confess I should have a passage plan but I don't! I know, what a rebel! Seriously! With fairness I have left some details with the boss. 

"All day within Plymouth Sound breakwater; possibly into Cawsand Bay and up the river Plym as far as Laira Bridge. Possible foray into the Tamar but no further than the Torpoint Ferry. Will ping you Garmin Inreach 'OK' message every hour as normal. Off the water at 1400 and will txt to confirm this"

Seriously, no plans. Just happy to sail up and down the sound between the breakwater and the Hoe. Easterlies will make a beach stop in Cawsand uncomfortable, so perhaps anchor stop in the lee of Jennycliffe? Could sneak a cafe coffee stop over at the Barbican or Mountbatten? Must remind myself how to heave to or reef sails! Could do some sailing up to a mooring buoy. Always need practice doing that since I almost always make a complete mess of it every time I do it! 

Twenty minutes later and I'm hidden away in Queen Ann's Battery marina; down a little alley between the tall yachts on their winter blocks and pit props. I'm out of the way. I'm not sure how long it will take to re-rig Arwen.  I start by ensuring the topping lift come jack stays are reattached to the mast head blocks and down around the base of the sprit boom. It takes me a few minutes to work out what goes where but eventually the mast is raised and slotted into its position and the shrouds untangled and lashed to the chain stays.  Only then do I discover that the jack stays have managed to somehow cross over each other and so the sail wont be raising fully. Shrouds are unlashed, mast lowered and blocks  and lazy jacks sorted out. With the mast now raised and the lazy jacks as they should be, the jib is unfolded. The furler is still attached and the red furling line hangs down in a hank. I stare at the bowsprit end. Now I know I put a new shackle on the jib furler attachment point yesterday. But it isn't there now. I am mystified! How does a shackle disappear in less that 24 hours? 

Rummaging around in the spares kit does not give me a shackle of sufficient width or pin diameter to fit the furler base. Curses and cusses! Under my breath of course! I madly scramble back into the boat and start checking blocks and their shackles, eventually removing and replacing the one from a mainsheet block. This shackle will fit. Mental note to self, get a suitable replacement, or two, next time I'm at the chandlers.  

Problem solved but its taken ten minutes to sort out. A further ten minutes goes getting the jib furler working properly as well. What a devilish dark art is sorting out how much line needs to go onto the furler drum in order to make the jib furl and unfurl correctly! 

It normally takes 30 minutes to rig and launch Arwen. Frankly, that isn't going to happen this morning! I've forgotten everything. How to bring the sprit boom line control line, main sail halyard and topping lift back to the rear cockpit? Several fumbles and rethreading of lines. How to unsort and arrange the luff tension downhaul tackle and sheet? A few minutes wasted there resorting lines, blocks and cleats. Which halyard goes over which? I CAN'T REMEMBER! 

To make matters worse, I've forgotten to put the halyard bag in the rear cockpit. Now its just a mess of 'tangled string' everywhere! It just won't do. Not seaman like at all. Shambolic! I mentally let a few welsh epithets fly through my brain. The banging on the boat next to me ceases and a grinning head raises itself above the coaming. Damn, I must have cursed out loud! Whoops! Now I'm feeling slightly flustered and somewhat embarrassed! 

On goes the outboard, the rudder and the boomkin. The tiller is inserted and my take on the tiller tamer sorted out. Time for the mizzen mast. 


It's still hanging in the rafters of the garage with the mizzen sail attached. "Oh God, when you handed out brains to everyone, why did you miss me out?"

The boomkin is retrieved and put back in the car! I hope no one is looking! 

By the time I have wiped Arwen out, sorted the lockers, retrieved the camera gear, food and clothing for the day, another 30 minutes has gone by. Normal rig and launch time 30-35 minutes. This morning? A very embarrassing 90 minutes! 'Gosh doesn't time fly when you are having fun!' Huh!

Now, finally ready to reverse the boat down to the slipway for launching, another problem crops up. Unnoticed by me but clearly noticed by everyone else within the vicinity, a large low loader with a huge fishing boat on it has arrived. So absorbed in what I was doing, I missed it reversing back into the yard. 

I know! HOW? How do you miss a 40' long low loader less than 10 metres away from you? 

It has blocked me in. The marina's mobile slings crane is being manoeuvred into position for lifting the boat off the low loader and into its new position on blocks in the yard. They still have some of the refit to complete apparently. It will be another 25 minutes before they can free up a gap for me to get to the slipway! 

"This is not the plan! I should have been in the water an hour ago and by the time I get in the water, climate change will have caused another 1.5m rise in sea level worldwide!!!!"

A windswept, sea hardened inshore boat fisherman stares at me, barely able to contain his good natured mirth. "Aaah bad luck, poor timing know what they say though....tide and time.......". 

 His voice fades, the unfinished sentence whisked away on the breeze. It must have been the maniacal look on my face! 

Eventually, I'm able to launch Arwen off her new trailer for the first time and I get some new surprises. Despite her being fitted onto the trailer by the trailer manufacturing team, Arwen just doesn't want to move. Its an incoming tide. The trailer wheels are practically submerged. Water is dangerously close to the car exhaust pipe. I rock her. I bounce her. I push like crazy. Nothing! Nada! Running into a brick wall and all that! 

I pull the trailer out of the water and crouch down for an inspection. Nothing untoward. Centreboard not fallen down. Everything as it should be. 

Options? A - I could tie a rope to the trailer and then to the hitch and uncouple the trailer and allow it to roll down in a controlled fashion so that it is more submerged. She should float off then. Seems like a pain though! B - What if I could push her back a metre on the trailer before launching her? Would that work? Her stern would then get into the water quicker? Would that help float her off? 

I opt for plan B and to my surprise it works. Now I was warned that switching from side rollers to bunks would make launching slightly harder and the trailer would need to be further in, but I hadn't given thought to the proximity of the exhaust to the water level!  

"I wonder if there is a way to reduce the friction of the hull on those small rubber bunk supports? Grease the rollers, furniture polish on the keel roller rubbers? 

Is it possible that too much weight is still on the bunks rather than the keel rollers? Are the bunks too far back so that much of her girth has to cross them during a launch? Could I move them forward a tad more? 

Would putting old carpet on them work better?:  

Ho hum! More questions than answers but for now I am relieved she is in the water. But its taken another 20 minutes to sort! 

As I turn Arwen around to face up the marina exit canal and draw her towards the pontoon, I breathe in deeply and try to chill. "Its supposed to be fun idiot, chillax!" ('chillax', oh how many times have I had teenagers telling me to 'chillax sir' when I've remonstrated with them over their tardiness in meeting assignment deadlines!)

I run the trailer up to its storage place at the top of the slip and drive the car out of the marina yard and around into the marina car park. calling in at the office to pay the launch fee reunites me with the office team. Haven't seen them for several months so we quickly catch up on family gossip and Christmas experiences. 

Back at the slipway, the water is remarkably clear. Little fish fry dart away from my shadow seeking the cover of the pontoon.  The outboard engine coughs into life after its long hibernation in the garage on the third pull and settles down to its reassuring rumble. I tidy up 'the stringy birds nest' in the cockpit, set up the GoPro cameras and check my life jacket, handheld VHF and smartphone. I ping an update text to the boss. "Ready to depart. Don't ask!" 

Sailing directly out of the marina canal is always tricky. I tried it once or twice. Not for the faint hearted or inexperienced sailor to be honest. Only about 5 or so metres wide it opens directly into Sutton Pool just south of the lock gates in to Sutton harbour. Opposite is the terminal pontoon for the pilot boats, tourist boats and water taxis. Yachts and fishing boats often come through the lock gates. It is a busy area and the main marina entrance is only a few metres away to the south as well. Unless skippered well, boats trying to sail out of there often try the patience of other skippers going about their daily jobs. Hence I use the outboard for this short section. I need to learn how to scull over the stern....I know! 

Today, I motor the 100m or so to a vacant buoy in the Cattedown, turning into the tide and coming to a complete stop alongside a yellow can. Hand walking the can down the starboard side, I loop the painter through and bring it inboard to a stem post. We are secure. Easy peasy! 

Time to breathe again. I sort out camera positions once more, get a feel for wind and tide and move a few things around to improve trim and balance. 

And there is time to consider sailing off the mooring. There are no other boats moored; all out of the water, I have open expanses to try a skill I don't do often enough. I run options through my head. If I had my mizzen, I'd have done what I've done before - whether its the right way I have no idea - but its worked before; "slip the painter, raise the mizzen, downhaul the rudder, head downwind to clear the buoy and unfurl the jib". With easterlies I could make the turn south at the end of the Mountbatten breakwater and head off in to the sound for more open water before raising the mainsail. 

Rats! No mizzen! OK - option B - "Do it under jib alone. Is there sufficient breeze? Can I make that turn?"

I mentally chastise myself. So often I just head away on a trip and don't spend enough time on the basics; too quick to fire up the motor. Mental note to self "2022 the year I regularly re-acquaint myself with the basics - reefing, sailing on and off a mooring; sailing off anchor; sailing onto and off a pontoon"

Or I could......"No perish the thought, daft idea"

I go with option C the daft idea. Nothing ventured nothing gained or learned. Facing into the tide but with the lightest of breezes coming from behind - there's the clue to my madcap idea - the lightest of winds  - I pull up the topping lift a little to raise the sprit boom with its furled main sail and loosen the mainsheet so that there is plenty of slack should the sail suddenly blow out against one of the shrouds.  Sail ties are removed and placed in their little cockpit coaming canvas bag (last year's lockdown project). Rudder up, centreboard up  - "check". Forgot the painter. Slip the painter! 

Arwen eases backwards very slowly. At the mast foot I loosen the downhaul considerably; enough slack so that the foot of the sail will just flap. I haul away, the sail rises, its lower part somewhat scandalised. It's upper leech falls away, flapping idly. 

Nothing happens. No wild swinging around the mooring. No sudden sailing off. I insert the main halyard into its cam cleat in the rear cockpit.  The rudder is hauled down, the centreboard dropped a little. The topping lift is released and the boom drops slightly. Tension on the downhaul to tighten the luff and the main sail suddenly fills and blows out slowly to starboard. 

We are moving. Moving under control. The yellow can drops astern. I have no idea whether I have done the right thing here but it works. I'm damn sure if there had been any more breeze then things would have gone differently! 

The yellow harbour taxi crossing my path comes astern of me and I get a friendly wave from its skipper.  A motorboat out of Sutton Marina passes on my starboard side, courteously giving me plenty of space. He slows to reduce his wake, a kind gesture. There wasn't much and Arwen would have bounced over it with no problem, but his thoughtfulness is appreciated non the less. 

And then the breeze dies completely. Nothing. I'm slowly going backwards with the incoming tide. And I'm drifting landwards. 

I don't get far with rowing. Inevitably I crank up the old engine. Ho hum! 

There are no fishermen at the end of the breakwater today so I cut a little closer to the rip rap at its end as I slowly motor outwards into Jennycliffe Bay where sail raising goes slightly better than the first time. 

There is barely any breeze. I'm on a broad reach, of sorts. My soundscape is one of idly flapping sails, halyards listlessly rattling their blocks, water gurgling down the hull sides.  And a rumbling noise. "What is that noise?" A deep, low, barely audible, gurgling rhythmic rumble. 

Of course, the outboard is still down and its the prop being turned over by our gentle forward progress. Its a sound I haven't heard for so long! 

Today, I haven't quite got the main sail right. It hasn't fallen correctly to the port side of the sprit boom and so there is the slightest of twists in a small lower section where the downhaul tackle joins the luff base. On the plus side, the dreaded diagonal crease from top forward yard to clew is gone. Wow! It is just not there. I have no idea what I've done but I am thrilled to see its missing. 

Perhaps the rest of today's sailing might just go a little better than the rigging bit did. The wide open expanses of Plymouth Sound lie before me, empty of any other ailing vessels. The sun is shining, the sea is calm, the breezes light. The main sail flutters slowly to life, the orange shroud tell-tales lift and flicker and the jib sheets rattle through their side deck blocks as the jib fills to starboard. 

It's going to be a good day! 

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Full sized templates for John Welsford boats

 He is a good man, is that Joel Bergen.

Full sized templates for various JW boats

Meanwhile having gained some brownie points for decorating the front lounge, Arwen is packed ready for a day sail. 

Hopefully tomorrow....freezing cold, light winds but sunshine.

I think I've forgotten what that looks like 😄