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 30 January 2024

How to sail a yawl

 This video is delightful....not just for it's information but also it's tone, composition and setting


Friday 19 January 2024

Navigation in small open sailing boats

 I thought I'd pose the question on  a facebook forum where I am one of the admins

"How do people go about their navigation in a small open sailing boat?"

It provoked some interesting comments - not so much about the skills as what they use.

The majority of people seem to employ/carry the following:

  • Navionics app on smart phone (very popular)
  • Paper charts (less popular)
  • Chart plotter (fewer)
  • Some form of Garmin with either maps or charts
  • Tidal stream atlas and tide tables 
  • Handheld VHF radio
  • Depth sounder (odd one or two)
  • Binoculars
  • Handheld compass of some type 
  • AIS app on smartphone
  • OS maps app or paper map of area being cruised
  • Cruising guide
  • Breton Plotter and compass dividers (odd person or two)
People were less forthcoming about HOW they did their navigation but I deduced a couple of things from the comments. Firstly, in small cruising dinghies, a lot of people seem very dependent on electronic apps - smartphone based in the main. Quite a few would plot a position on a chart every hour or so as a back up. Many employed google earth/streetview/community photos to do their pre-passage planning. 

Secondly, it seems sensible to call it 'pilotage' rather than 'navigation'. I pondered this distinction for a while and I think it comes down to this - in a cruising dinghy you are rarely out of sight of land. Even when I cruise inshore I'm no more than three miles off shore at the most. Several times I was questioned about my carrying OS maps as well as charts and this surprised me. To be truthful, I often find the OS maps more useful than the charts for position finding. Mind you - OS maps don't show depths or pilotage buoys etc and that is of course invaluable. 

So, how do I do my small boat pilotage? I don't know this is the right way - but it is a way that works for me - although I'd love to hear anyone else's approach 

Pre trip - depending on where I am heading obviously, or how familiar I am with the waters, a combination of 
  • tides check
  • weather check - wind speed and direction, sea state, wave direction, air temp
  • tidal stream check and calculations - tidal streams/directions/drift for duration of voyage, gates and tidal range heights  
  • potential route plan ideas - Google Earth searches, streetview and community photos
  • waypoints entered into navionics and Garmin InReach
  • note buoys and lights on passage route
  • note all potential hazards on passage - marked on chart
  • check entry/exit requirements any harbours/ports calling in at  along with sailing advice
  • plan escape routes and potential escape anchorages
  • lights and annotated pilotage sketch maps if new area in little waterproof notebook
  • written passage plan summary - waypoints or markers, compass bearings marked on paper chart and/or in little notebook on the annotated sketch maps. 
  • contact details for various harbour masters etc 
On the day
  • weather information check against proposed passage plan - is it still feasible? 
  • passage plan copy left with someone along with ETA's etc
  • final check navionics and InReach waypoints 
  • InReach tracking page activated and test track messages sent to Wife and Daughter 
In the boat on the day
  • Check route progress on Navionics and/or chart and/or OS map
  • Enter a brief course, speed, estimated position note in log book every 30 mins
  • Plot a fixed point with time at position once an hour on paper chart
  • Ping an "OK" message every hour which goes from Garmin INReach to daughter and/or wife - it notes exact position and time and so gives them a regular update of my progress
  • weather apps check every three hours or so
What navigation skills do I use regularly and what do I rarely do? 
Regular use in boat
  • rules of road
  • lighting and buoys knowledge
  • basic chart and OS map interpretation
  • Compass bearings
  • plotting my position using a breton plotter viahree point fixes
  • measuring distances 
  • basic tidal stream interpretation 
  • transits
What I do very rarely 
  • tidal height calculations - if I ground, I ground - I'll float off at some stage 
  • estimated position plotting 
  • course to steer plotting/calculations
  • GPS plotting webs on my charts 

I did complete an RYA Day Skipper course about five years ago. It was really good and very informative. But, I've never mastered being able to do estimated positions on a chart in a 14 dinghy a mile off shore - without feeling sick; very sick! 

So, I haven't yet got majorly lost. I haven't hit anything! I have arrived later than expected on several occasions but through the Garmin INreach tracking mode and regular pinging of pre-messages - I can keep my wife and daughter update and they can see my progress on a  tracking map. I have grounded a few times - but up some of the rivers with their shifting sandbanks that is probably inevitable.  I've avoided most hazards thus far and have yet to seek shelter in an emergency anchorage. But that maybe because I rarely sail in weather conditions which might make that necessary - and that I guess is another discussion point for another time! 

Monday 15 January 2024

The Small Traditional Sailing boat Facebook forum

 I am, very lucky to be one of the admins for this facebook group which has over 12,000 members.  It is a lovely group with positive, cheery, people who contribute all sorts of things related to small sailing boats. Artwork, photography, video shorts, saturdayisdetailday, nautical book day, sharing details about their nautical adventures and voyages. There is a huge amount to dip into. The group members are a very talented, friendly and knowledgeable bunch and I have been learning loads since I joined. 

Why not pop across when you have  moment to look through the facebook group posts - search the photos and be inspired by art, extraordinary craftsmanship and the sheer variety of STSB's.  The files section has some PDF's on boat photography, trailer maintenance tips, how to create a tool ditty bag and the group thoughts about what the word 'traditional' means in the context of small sailing boats. 

Promise you - you wont regret it. Time well spent. 

Facebook group 'Small Traditional Sailing Boats'. 

Arwen, lying at anchor off Redshanks beach, up the river Lynher in Cornwall

P.S.  The STSB group - is a broad church - so we have people owning all sorts of small sail boats from Welsford designed navigators like mine to Ilur's and Drascombes 😀

Sunday 14 January 2024

The Witch Head nebula

 Proud of this one - difficult target - a reflection nebula. So no filters used to bring out the details.


Canon 800D, Samyang 135mm at F/2.8, Skywatcher Star Adventurer 2i Pro, carbon fibre tripod, William optics wedge, Celestron power tank, dew band heater

Photo - 400 x 30" ISO 800  F/2.8; 25 darks, bias and flat calibration frames 

Processing: SIRIL, Starnet++ and Affinity Photo

Saturday 13 January 2024

Fixing a jamming keel roller

 The last few times Arwen has jammed on her trailer at launch and I have had to resort to roping her down part of the slipway to get the trailer deep enough that she just floats off. 

It took me time but finally I discovered the issue - two things - one a badly positioned keel roller (which jammed against the aft end of the centreboard casing) and secondly, the brass skeg band had come adrift and was digging into the roller on occasions. 

And so I jacked up Arwen and put her on blocks along the trailer keel support - moved the roller along so it sat under the centreboard casing in a better position.

Hopefully this will work. A good job I did it though as I have discovered some rot in the skeg and some touch up painting on the hull bottom that needs doing. That winter maintenance list is growing again!