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, 18 January 2011

Just when I think I’ve got this standing lugsail yawl ‘thingy’ rig nailed.....................

Osbert comes out with some absolute pearls of wisdom on JW’s forum.....which sets me off realising I still have so much to learn.....and actually that is the point – it is fun learning. It can be frustrating as well – but that’s life! 
Anyway to summarise.......Mick was getting frustrated over using the Gunter rig (yep I can my first blogs! I'm still not clear if i have sprit boomed standing lug sail or a sprit boomed gunter rig) and so posed some questions to the JW forum members like....’would it be easier to sail with a standing lug rig’; to which we all chorused back along the lines of ...’hey don’t give up yet Mick ...because when you get the hang of it – it’s a brilliant rig this Gunter yawl type rig thing’ (which, as I hinted above, I still get very confused over despite several interventions by John...who has yet to realise he’s dealing with someone who, frankly, is thick (or maybe he has realised that but is being tactful). Anyway I digress in to pointless self reflection!

Owen Sinclair came to the rescue for Mick with some really pithy advice and observations along the lines of........
• "If there is enough breeze go out with just the jib and mizzen set, stow the main, and this will help you learn how to handle these sails and to learn to have their sheets to hand".

...and I thought .....that’s really good advice – how come I haven’t done that yet..............

• "go out without the mizzen (he does note that Navigator doesn’t sail quite as well without it will sail without it) which gives you confidence sailing just under main and jib"

....that’s another really good idea why haven’t I done this yet?

"find some experienced crew to come with you to handle jib sheets and/or let them take control and watch what they do"

....nobody wants to sail with me...........I wonder why........?

"use cam cleats not horn cleats; use different sizes and different colours for different sheets"

• "carry spare life jackets so you can persuade any knowledgeable passersby (who stop to marvel at Navigator........and they do) to go out with you"

(Note choose carefully – I did that at Salcombe......and he put me on a sandbar for a couple of hours.........nuff said!)

"arrange the sheets in such a way that main and jib are across your thigh as you sail or close to hand and make sure that the mizzen sheet is ready to hand at the transom"

And I thought........bloody hell – he’s a wise bird is that Owen (but then he has been sailing his navigator for over a decade I think)........if only I’d had the nouse to think of those things........doh....I’m so stupid I actually make Homer look intellectual!

'What's the difference between my brain and Homer's above...answer......nothing! Doh!

Then I read some more replies from other forum members and yep the learning/thinking curve accelerated upwards again......

Try bringing the mizzen sheet up over the stern, through a bulls eye alongside the mizzen mast back on the after edge of the deck, then to a cam type cleat with fairlead” says JW

.........and I think – ‘yep done that’ - mental pat on back.

Can I point out that the mizzen sheet should be accessible from both sides of the cockpit as when you are sailing toward the wind you need to ease the mizzen sheet before you turn away, the mizzen tends to hold her bow to wind and in certain conditions she just won’t turn unless that sheet is let out.” Follows up JW

Well ‘bugger me’ say I......cos in that one small pearl of wisdom.....JW has set off huge illuminated light bulbs above my head.............

...............why am I tacking and then leaving the jib back slightly to force me through the turn before releasing the jib sheet?
Because Arwen didn’t seem to be making a tack – she kept getting stalled!

And why is that Steve?

Because you complete moron – you don’t release the mizzen sheet when you tack and so it holds her pointing into the wind............DOH!

There‘s that Homer Simpson feeling again – stupid? You have no idea how much!

And so....just when I’m feeling completely inadequate...............Robin wades in with

“I found that a bulls eye mounted on the rudder head and a combination fair lead jam cleat mounted on the side of the tiller brings the mizzen sheet to hand at all times”

Of course it does.....what a simple, clever idea! Why didn’t I think of this? Doh!

Kevin B makes me feel better about myself......

I couldn't get the boat to tack all the way through and had to fall off and jibe around. It just didn't occur to me what was happening. That night I realized I had the mizzen sheeted in so tight it acted as a weather vane. I would swing the bow around and the boat just stopped dead to the wind....I guess that's why they call it a learning curve. Once I got the concept it was a piece of cake and actually a lot of fun to sail single handed.”

And so to Osbert, who is one of those truly reflective guys....who I’d love to meet in person because I’d learn so much...........sadly, I’d have nothing to contribute back other than giving him a warm fuzzy feel good feeling that in spending time with me he may have prevented some great seafaring catastrophe in south west England............

Osbert’s pearls of wisdom........

don’t use the tiller – use the sails to steer instead

• lash the rudder in centre and use sails to steer - helps you understand how sheeting affects the boat

• start doing it with jib and mizzen first

• use bungie to set the tiller so that it can still be used in an emergency

• have plenty of space, not too gusty

• start on a broad reach.....leave tiller and unsheet mizzen – ease the mizzen it catches less wind so boat pivots gently and steers away from wind; pull in mizzen sheet – catches more wind and bow turns into wind

....and I’m thinking......that’s such common sense, simple, clever advice.............................WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? It would have saved me so much pain and heartache and soul searching!

Make small adjustments to try and keep a steady course..........!

• Cleat off mizzen play with jib sheet – do similar things

Osbert concludes.........

Doing this you'll learn how the boat balances, and the effect of the sails. You'll find yourself instinctively moving the sails to make course corrections - which is a good thing as using the rudder too much is like applying a brake!"

"Don't try this in poor conditions or in crowded waters!"

So....on my first outing this year...forget about MOB drills and coming alongside........lets sort out the basics of sail handling first..........Boys......thanks for the homework!

And you know what.....I’m really looking forward to this...because learning is fun; I now know what I have to do to improve......I can see where I’ve been making mistakes......and ladies and gentlemen...this is why forums like JWbuilders (and others)....are so incredibly important and valued by people like me.......the Homers of this world.......DOH!

Thanks seriously - thanks........You have just enabled me to jump the quality of my sailing in leaps and bounds in next few months....I really can't wait to get started.


Monday, 17 January 2011

a new blog

John has decided to try blogging for himself - brilliant - you can access it here
Go have a look at the boat that John has!

Well done John.  He has also said in his JWbuilders forum, that over next few weeks he will try and update a blog on the UK backyard boat builders blog forum about 'sailing the navigator' - that forum can be accessed here and is great news for all UK builders of John's designs. (I'm really looking forward to his tips - I need all the help I can get). The UK forum is accessed here

The logo of this very good UK forum on John's designs: its rather snazzy I think - Like it.

I have to confess I have only just come across this UK based forum...and I can't quite remember how I got to find it in the first place........but it is good and illuminating. I feel slightly ashamed that it first opened in October 2008 and its taken me two years to suddenly come across it - sorry guys! There are some talented UK builders here and you can actually purchase John's plans from the site as well. Mike, the moderator and producer of the forum says
"Whether you are simply daydreaming about building your first boat (we all start that way, don't we?), are part way through building one and need some help or guidance, or already have a backyard built boat or two on the water, all are welcome here. And all may take away from the site whatever information they may wish to glean from it."

There are some really good building blogs and some excellent photograph albums and it really does encourage all UK builders, primarily but not exclusively of John's designs. Now there are two excellent sources of help and advice about building and sailing John's designs and I will regularly access them both; hopefully make some small contribution that their members will hopefully find useful; and occasionally report back on this blog how I have taken their tips/advice and tried it out in Arwen

My thanks to Mike and John for all their hard work and efforts.....when you are new to building and sailing - its guys like this giving up their time and advice freely which help you to learn fast and well.


Sunday, 16 January 2011

a useful piece of kit.........

Last summer, whilst completing my Salcombe voyage (55nm in two days with an overnight camp), my mobile phone battery gave out – which actually had serious consequences in one sense. I was unable to keep my wife regularly informed of my progress and given it was my first major solo voyage – she was, naturally worried. Fortunately I also carried a SPOT personal locator beacon and so she was able to keep track of my progress along the coast using the SPOT update map page. Annoyingly my iPod also ran out of juice as well.

Anyway, this Christmas, she excelled herself, bless her. She bought me a ‘powermonkey explorer’. (That’s not to say she hasn’t in previous years – but this year...she did more homework above and beyond the call of duty). Now this bit of kit is quite impressive and so far has done everything PowerTraveller boasts it can do. I’ve tested it here at home in good old southwest England and also in the high alpine mountain resort of Sestriere in Italy over the last few weeks and here are my initial impressions. I’ll give further updates when I get back out on the water.

My PowerMonkey portable lithium ion battery with its solar slave

Basically the ‘Power Monkey Explorer Solar Charger’ is a portable device that charges your electronic devices while on the go. It comes with a "solar slave", a detachable solar panel that can be used to recharge the power monkey's internal lithium battery. Also in the case are a number of other really useful items including a retractable usb plug, a multitude of various iPod, phone and PDA heads. You just select the one you need – push it onto the powermonkey jack and then plug the lot into your device and hey presto it’s being charged. So far, one complete charge of the powermonkey has charged two mobile phones and one iPod fully and I still had three bars of power left on its LCD display. You can buy extra heads for various other devices from ‘powertraveller’ so that you can use the power monkey to charge one device whilst using the power solar slave to charge another. The pack also contains 4 different international plug chargers (the one for Europe worked fine and re-charged the powermonkey in 4 hrs. There is also an AC and usb adaptor.

And just LOOK at what it comes with............

The battery unit itself has covers for both input and output jacks and is made of a tough rubberized outer case. It has an LCD display which shows charging and amount of battery life. The solar slave is rubberized and encased so panels aren’t damaged. There is no sticky transparent film to peel off as in other solar slaves (well I haven’t found one on mind – let’s put it that way). They say it is water resistant – it was certainly snow resistant in the Alps. I haven’t yet tested it on the boat. It certainly won’t take immersion and this may prove a major disadvantage – I’ll let you know how I get around this bit. Anyway, the whole lot comes in a Velcro bag inside a zipped wallet case (size of 6/7 CD cases) and this contains all the heads, powermonkey solar slave etc – self contained and very portable.

These are the advantages I’ve found so far:

• The battery pack comes precharged with about a 60% charge. I used this charge to charge up 2 mobiles and an iPod and still had charge left over

• It’s rugged design

• A long battery life

• All those adapter tips for many devices and the fact that you can purchase many more quite cheaply

• The multiple charging options (including international adapters)

• A solar panel that can be used independently of battery pack

• portability

Can be attached to rucksacs or around booms with velcro straps
Also comes in a yellow colour which might be a bit better for finding around the boat!!


• Unbelievably, powermonkey won't charge a device while the powermonkey itself is being charged; which means you can't plug it into your phone/iPod and then connect it to the charger to charge them both overnight.

• Charging using the solar panels takes a long time! The manual states that it will take 6 hours to charge the battery by one third. So far I’ve managed to charge it just over 50% in 5 hrs brilliant sunshine in the high Alps. In cloudy old south west England – I suspect that it will take a whole day to charge it a third!

• Remember to switch off the LED when charging from the solar slave – or all that charge will be wasted powering the LCD – it’s true, believe me – I forgot! A red light means its charging from the sun!

• The owner’s manual states that it should take about 3.5 hours to charge a completely drained battery pack using the ac adapter – I did it in about 4 hrs; it’s 6 hours using the USB cable – I haven’t tried that yet. Basically, it’s a long charging time using the solar panel
So far, I am pleased with it. Going back to my Salcombe trip – the powermonkey would have re-charged my mobile three or four times – which I think is pretty impressive. I don’t know how many times it would charge a power hungry iphone – but someone somewhere on the internet will have a view on that. The solar slave hung off my rucksack in the Alps and charged the monkey well far, so good. In addition – it charges my wife’s Samsung camera – as I discovered the other day. I’ll report more when I’ve had it in the boat for a bit. In the meantime – HUGE brownie points to my wife (whose other Christmas pressie to me was a Gerber multi-tool!)


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

a declared interest....but........still highly recommended

I’ve just received my copy of Robert Ditterch’s book

Something about navigator’. The rear cover has this to say

A fascinating story of a charming boat ‘something about navigator’ explores the development, building and sailing of one of john Welsford’s most loved designs. The navigator has become an incredibly popular boat with over 600 plan sets sold at last count. Robert Ditterich uses a narrative style to pin down the charm at the root of this popularity, while also extensively illustrating the processes involved in building one, fitting it put and using it. The navigator ‘in the wild’ is represented by illustrated essays from experienced navigator sailors and builders. The romance of small open boat sailing, and the freedom felt, even just in dreaming about one, will make this book appealing to owners or aspiring owner/builders of many wooden boats available today’

I’ve never reviewed a book and I’ve only just started reading this one. So what follow are my basic first impressions. In addition, I must declare that there is a contribution from me in it – so in one sense I may be biased....but I have tried to be objective in my first thoughts despite this.

The pictures below I've taken from the internet and I'm hoping that those involved won't mind me using them here - some appear in the book; and I wasn't able to contact everyone please forgive me guys.
So, to basics first. It is available from although Robert has it available from another site as well. I’d encourage readers to go to 
for the further details and reviews. The ISBN number is 9781456403737 and the publisher is
I have the colour version. It’s well bound with a glossy cover and a good comfortable size for holding; 244 pages long and font size is excellent, particularly for bods like me who suffer from failing sight and can’t read in dim light. It’s why I always hog window seats in cafes and on planes and trains!

The amazing 'Yuko' built by Barrett Faneuf, out sailing her at the Port Townsend festival
Copyright Barrett Faneuf
Barrett has been inspirational to all Navigator builders - her step by step build detailed on Flick'r is frankly awesome!

Anyway, back to the book – there are 8 chapters. Robert starts with some thoughts about small boats, before looking at the navigator itself. The following chapter looks behind the mind of the person who created the design i.e. one Mr John Welsford. I’m looking forward to this chapter – John has always struck me as a talented and thoughtful designer who genuinely likes interacting with his customers. He encourages all to enjoy their boats and he has been instrumental in my successes with Arwen. Being at the end of email and always available on his forum has been so reassuring and never once have I ever felt stupid – I’ve asked him plenty of stupid questions but I’ve never been made to feel stupid!

Kevin Brennan and his navigator 'Slip Jig'
(Copyright Steve Early, 'Log of Spartina' and Kevin Brennan)
Kevin's boat is a lesson in master craftsmanship - see his links to his 'fitting out' videos on Youtube in the side menu on right of this blog

A lovely chapter then asks experienced navigator owners to share some of their magical moments - Richard Schmidt’s article about ‘Bootstrap and a camp cruising trip in the ‘sounds’ is inspiring, educational and a cracking read. So too are the adventures of Martin Wellby and his family in ‘Windlass’ on a Marlborough sounds camp cruising trip.

Martin Wellby and 'Windlass'
Copyright Martin Wellby

For sheer exotic daydreaming – the master himself, Dave Perillo shares his Fijian adventures in ‘Magret H’. Owen Sinclair in ‘Tusk’ shares some short ‘cameo’ moments of sailing in various locations around New Zealand – informative, insightful – full of tips for new navigator owners – his adventures and experiences make it easier for new builders to understand what this boat is capable of. Kevin Brennan’s contribution on actually building a navigator is a must read for all potential navigator builders. Kevin has built ‘Slip jig’ which frankly in my eyes is perfection personified – see his YouTube tours of ‘Slip jig’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Chapter 7 on building the hull outlines various techniques and this is an outstanding chapter – oh I wish I’d had this available to me when I started the build. The book is worth getting for just this chapter alone and it is made all the more significant by the quality of the numerous step by step photographs and explanations. Any builder of wooden boats would learn something new from this writing. Quality and precision engineering, flair and artistry are superlatives that don’t do justice to the photos which are used in this chapter supplied by , what in my eyes, are the master builders, namely Barrett Faneuf, Robert Ditterich himself, and Wilfred Vermien (go to his blog at; complimented by the superb photography of Dave Johnstone.

The last chapter details useful resources, blogs and website addresses for prospective navigator builders.

You only spend a few minutes with this book in hand to realise it is a quality publication – simple, eloquent, insightful, informative, imaginative and written by a craftsman, who appreciates simplicity, style and thoughtful design; and who is reflective in what he does. No jargon, no over-complexity, no over-simplification.......It's just right.......I love it. Contributions from well known navigator builders who demonstrate craftsmanship, consummate sailing skills, a sense of fun and adventure and a flair for ’making you want to build one and get out there’ just adds to this book. This is a book written by a boat builder/sailor for boat builder/sailors and it should be on everyone’s shelf. For novices like me – it’s a Godsend

Well done Robert and thank you


Tuesday, 11 January 2011

racking my brain..trying to remember

...where did I see on UK TV a programme about boats that had a good opening sequence showing the River Tamar and Plymouth Sound and then had a section on the river Fowey?

And then I remembered - how could I forget Dara, Griff and Rory, three of our most loved comedians here in UK - trying to go along the south west coast in a variety of boats.........

  It was the third programme they have done. The first, they rowed down the Thames; in the second they sailed Griff's boat Undina along the south coast from Thames to Southampton. 

Griff's boat 'Undina' - which I think he has now sold
featured in the TV series Three men and another boat, originally broadcast on the BBC I think

Part three finds them trying to get to the Scillies off Land's End!

Part one, two and three of this third programme are found at these websites below  - get yourself a coffee, take the phone off the hook; send the kids and wife out for a pizza in a foreign country.......kick off your shoes and relax and laugh. The rest of the programmes can be accessed at YouTube......but in the meantime - here is where I will be sailing come Easter through to September 2011


Sunday, 9 January 2011

........still overly ambitious.....?

I may not, as I feared, have learned from my sailing exploits last August! Having sailed 25nm to Salcombe and been violently seasick in the process, I’m now thinking of sailing 25nm in the opposite direction to Fowey!
Fowey is found on the Southern Cornish coast about 25 nm west of Plymouth. It is a lovely coastal town with Polruan on the opposite bank. Other towns and villages are found along either bank – Golant, Bodinnick, Lerryn and Penpol. The river continues up to the historic town of Lostwithiel.

Copyright Ordnance Survey

I think the river is tidal as far as there and I guess Arwen could navigate it under the right tidal conditions – she only needs about 12 inches of water under her to float with centreboard up. The upper reaches of the river beyond Wiseman's Reach are tidal and, apart from the meandering stream, dry at low water. After that the River Fowey goes much further up into Cornwall and out onto Bodmin Moor.

Fowey town quay: Copyright Graham Pound

So in my head is a possible expedition – sail westwards to Looe or Polperro. Then continue the journey into Fowey, and if tidal conditions are right sail up the Fowey to Lostwithiel – overnight again. The return trip would be sailing back and stopping off in whichever port (Polperro or Looe) I didn’t stop off in on the way out! The idea is in its infancy – it’s just a small flicker of synaptic neurons in the inner most reaches of my brain.......and there are very few of I need to give it some more thought...over a LONG period of time. Dad could come with me and if it is too much for him – my wife could collect him – Looe is 40 minutes way by car from us. She won’t drive the car with the trailer attached, which I can understand – but that could have been an alternative – just sail down there one way and not worry about a return trip. Take the boat out at Fowey and drive back home.

Aerial of Fowey: Google earth

Our winds are prevailing south westerlies so I guess it would be best done on a nice offshore northerly – that way it would be a beam reach all the way......but life is never that kind is it? I’m still mentally scarred from my return journey from Salcombe when I spent a whole day beating into the face of strong south westerlies back to Plymouth!
You have to be careful at Fowey. It is comparatively narrow (compared to Plymouth – Tamar and Plym) and there are some big china clay ships that use the upper port area. They have a deep draught and have to keep to the middle of the channel......from the charts I have glimpsed, there seem to be small craft channels either side of the main one. It can’t be easy piloting one of the large clay ships – visibility from the bridge in such confined waters would, I suspect, be limited for’ard. Stopping a china clay ship doing three knots would also be an issue.

To be avoided: they won't stop for Arwen and me that's for sure! Copyright: Ian Cunliffe

I’ve done some preliminary research. The harbour patrol operates a listening watch on VHF channel 12. There is normally 0.6m above chart datum at all times and the spring tidal range is around 5.0m and the neap around 2.0m. Maximum speed within the harbour is 6 knots.

'Sailing into Fowey Harbour': Copyright David Stowell

Entrance to Fowey lies between St Catherine’s castle on the west and Punches Cross rock on the eastern side. I think a northerly course into the harbour is the done thing. The waypoint for entry is at Cannis Rock Buoy at 50 18’. 38N 04, 39’.95W. There is a day mark on Gribbin Head 1.25 miles south-west of the entrance. It consists of a red-and-white tower 25.6 m high constructed on a base 71 m above sea level. Cannis rocks dry out at 4.3m are 2.5 cables SE of Gribbin Head. Since I will be approaching from the east – I also need to keep an eye out for Udder Rock; 3 miles east of the entrance, 5 cables offshore – it dries out at 0.6m. It’s marked by a buoy. One nm ENE of this point is Larrick rock (which is 1.5 cables off Nealand Point). There are a number of visitors’ moorings and several floating visitors’ pontoons. Shelter is good and you can enter in most weathers although I suspect that strong onshore winds from SSW and an ebbing tide will give some interesting wind over tide chop! South west winds will also make the more seaward moorings uncomfortable I should think. Pont Pill looks a nice place to creek crawl; Ready Money Bay looks like a nice lunchtime anchorage as well.

Ready Money bay: Copyright Chris Downer

Pont Pill with the tide out: Copyright Phil Halling

......and with the tide in....looks kinda interesting creek crawling doesn't it?

More about Fowey can be found at whilst there is a nice little website about the old Fowey river boats at

“Fowey is the harbour of harbours. It ought to be a kingdom of its own. In Fowey all is courtesy, and good reason for the chance sailing man. For your provision, or your transport, or your mooring, you pay no more than you should, and whatever you may need in gear is to be had at once. In Fowey there is security from all winds, good holding and, best of all, an air in which all other places may be forgotten”

                                            Hillaire Belloc in ‘The Cruise of the ‘Nona’ in 1925

I am assuming that the same still applies today and will do so in August when I attempt this long distance passage!  Of course Fowey is also famous for Daphne du Maurier who lived at Bodinnick across the river.

Here is a short film of a rather nice boat making its way up Fowey River!

On the way down from Plymouth, the voyage will pass a few places of interest. Firstly Rame Head – with some nasty overfalls to be avoided. It is a lovely peninsula with some fantastic Cliff side walks. There is a national Coast watch station on its highest point. You can read more about a fantastic organisation here at .

Queen Anne's Battery across to Looe via Rame Head

Looking back eastwards across Whitesand Bay to Rame head and beyond it Plymouth Sound :Copyright Scarglift's

 Around Rame Head we come to the wreck of HMS Scylla, 1.4nm NW of the headland; deliberately sunk to form an offshore reef to protect the friable cliffs of Whitesand Bay, she has become a major diver attraction and a whole diving tourism industry has been resurrected at Plymouth which is really good for our local economy, as well as improving the reef biodiversity of the area.

We’ll need to keep out cross Whitesand Bay – it is a nasty lee shore area and not the place to be trying to land a dinghy – the bay is famous for its surfing beaches and biggish waves especially on southerlies.

There are some escape bolt holes – Polperro is one. The harbour dries out but the inlet is an excellent anchorage in offshore winds. You have to remember to avoid Polca Rock (1nm) east; and also the shoals 2.5 cables off Downed Point. Shelter in Polperro should be pretty good. You have to remember that you need to moor fore and aft in such narrow confines however!

Aerial of Polperro: GoogleEarth

Polperro inner harbour Copyright Stan Tomschey

Polperro Copyright Ordnance Survey

There is a nice video of Polperro here, for those who are interested.

The other place that I could call in on is of course Looe....but that will be the subject of another blog next week.


Friday, 7 January 2011

dreaming about the better weather.......future plans for 2011

I’ve also begun to think about some big voyages for 2011. One I have reported on before. I think at Easter I am going to attempt a sail up the River Tamar as far as Calstock. It is surprising how far up is tidal!

Calstock Viaduct Copyright Transport of delight

I did a blog entry about going up the Lynher and this is still on the agenda (go to )

It’s a lovely cruise up the Tamar, past the dockyard, and then turning west into the Lynher. However, the Calstock cruise carries on under the old Brunel bridge by Saltash and then up past the village of Cargreen.

OS map of Calstock: Copyright Ordnance Survey

 On the eastern bank we pass Weir quay boat yard before turning into the meander. Then it’s up to Cotehele Quay. Cotehele is an old Tudor house with many stories and legends, tapestries, arms and armour, old oak furniture and formally planted terraces and a Valley Garden, which includes a medieval stewpond and dovecote. More importantly, Cotehele Quay is the home of the restored Tamar sailing barge Shamrock.

Shamrock, an old Tamar Barge: Copyright Darren Galpin

There is a lovely video news report about sailing on Shamrock at

The wonderful steep wooded valley of the upper Tamar
Get a map: Ordnance Survey

The Tamar valley is an area of outstanding national beauty and is stunning. I suspect it will take a couple of days and some river bank camping – sounds great doesn’t it? I can tie up between the reeds in the upper reaches, lie back and read a book, listening to the gentle lapping of water and the hiss of boiling water on my beloved trangia stove.....oh yes – I’m almost there now. All it needs to make it extra special is ‘me old Dad’ camping with me. He’d love it!

This link will take you to a BBC film about a boat trip on the Tamar at Calstock. Enjoy!


Thursday, 6 January 2011

a happy man

Just found a clip of the latest navigator to be launched - am still trying to ascertain details of who, where and when but for all those snow-bound, winter-bound or gale-bound...........enjoy! This is a graceful, lovely looking specimen!


and if it doesn't load properly then  you can go to this link here

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

a remarkable little ship........

Joshua Slocum was born in the ‘fair land of Nova Scotia, a maritime province, where there is a ridge called North Mountain, overlooking the Bay of Fundy on one side and the fertile Annapolis Valley on the other'.

The Bay of Fundy Nova Scotia

He described the people of this coastline as hardy, strong, robust and predisposed to working in shipping commerce. Both sides of his family were sailors. His father was....’the sort of man who, if wrecked on a desolate island, would find his way home, if he had a jack-knife and could find a tree’ (My dad, bless him, is the kind of man , who if a steam train broke down, could fix it with elastic bands and a Swiss army knife! – I sort of know the type!)

I loved reading chapter one. Slocum has an endearing writing style – straight talking and reflective. He’s not prone to boasting and makes many an understatement about things which frankly are extraordinary. You can read the full chapter 1 text here at this site for free ( )

I met an old acquaintance, a whaling captain, who said “come to Fairhaven and I’ll give you a ship. But” he added “she wants some repairs”..........The next day I landed at Fairhaven......and found that my friend had something of a joke on me.....for the ship proved to be a very antiquated sloop called “Spray”, which the neighbors declared had been built in year 1”

Felling a stout oak tree and ignoring the gossip and concerns of neighbors (“will it pay?”), Slocum employed a local farmer to haul the timbers and he rigged a steam box and a pot for a boiler. He steamed the timbers for ribs until they were supple and then bent over a log where they were secured until set. When he fitted the new stem it was pronounced “fit to smash ice”. It should have been – built from the finest pasture oak; the stem went on to split a coral reef in two at the Keeling Islands without receiving a blemish upon it!

Spray’s’ planks were Georgia pine an inch and a half thick. The bulwarks were built of white oak stanchions fourteen inches high and covered with seven-eighth- inch white pine. The deck comprised of one and a half inch by three inch white pine spiked to beams, six by six inches, of yellow or Georgia pine, placed three feet apart.

Grave fears were entertained by some at this point that I should fail. I gave myself some thought to the advisability of employing a professional caulker. The very first blow struck on the cotton with the calking iron, I thought was right, many others thought wrong. “It’ll crawl” carried many a person, as they watched me drive white cotton into the seams. ...........I drove a thread of oakum on top of the cotton, as from the first I had intended to do. The cotton never crawled!"

When finished the ‘Spray’s’ dimensions were 36 feet nine inches long overall, 14 feet 2 inches wide and four feet 2 inches deep in the hold. Her tonnage was 9 tons net and 12 tons gross. The cost of his new vessel? $553.62 for materials and thirteen months of his own time!

Sorry I couldn't find a source for this photograph: from Goggle images

I’ve read mixed reviews of ‘Spray’s’ seaworthiness. Some have argued that she was stable under most circumstances but being so shallow drafted would easily capsize if heeled beyond a relatively shallow angle. Yet, with so many copies having been built and replica voyages made – there have been no recorded incidents of a ‘Spray’ having been lost at sea. Some have worried that her internal ballast may well shift. In his book "Captain Joshua Slocum", Joshua's son Victor Slocum stated that "the ballast was concrete cement, stanchioned down securely to ensure it against shifting should the vessel be hove on her beam-ends. There was no outside ballast whatever. The Spray could have been self-righting if hove on her beam-ends, a fact that was proven, since, by an experiment on an exact duplicate of the original boat and ballasted just like her. The test boat was hove down with mast flat to the water and when released righted herself." Slocum, himself, did not seem unduly worried.....

"I have given in the plans of the Spray the dimensions of such a ship as I should call seaworthy in all conditions of weather and on all seas."

 "I may some day see reason to modify the model of the dear old Spray, but out of my limited experience I strongly recommend her wholesome lines over those of pleasure-fliers for safety."

When Joshua sailed the ‘Spray’ on that first circumnavigation – she was a different boat to the one he first discovered propped up in the pasture. He added 12 inches to her original freeboard amidships (eighteen inches forward and fourteen inches aft). Increasing her sheer would make her a better deep water boat he thought.
Our young yachtsmen, pleasuring in the "lilies of the sea," very naturally will not think favourably of my craft. They have a right to their opinion, while I stick to mine. They will take exceptions to her short ends, the advantage of these being most apparent in a heavy sea”.

Some things about the Spray's deck might be fashioned differently without materially affecting the vessel. I know of no good reason why for a party-boat a cabin trunk might not be built amidships instead of far aft, like the one on her, which leaves a very narrow space between the wheel and the line of the companionway. Some even say that I might have improved the shape of her stern. I do not know about that. The water leaves her run sharp after bearing her to the last inch, and no suction is formed by undue cutaway”.

Slocum did away with things such as overhanging fantails, popular on cruising boats at that time. He argued that fantails should be avoided at all costs on any boat that was going to “cross the Gulf Stream in a nor'easter, and offshore”.

Originally ‘Spray’ was sloop rigged on her voyage from Boston through to the straits of Magellan. The stormy seas encountered there forced Joshua to change the rig to that of a yawl since it reduced the size of the heavy mainsail and improved her steering qualities into the wind.

When the wind was aft the jigger was not in use; invariably it was then furled. With her boom broad off and with the wind two points on the quarter the Spray sailed her truest course. It never took long to find the amount of helm, or angle of rudder, required to hold her on her course, and when that was found I lashed the wheel with it at that angle. The mainsail then drove her, and the main-jib, with its sheet boused fiat amidships or a little to one side or the other, added greatly to the steadying power. Then if the wind was even strong or squally I would sometimes set a flying-jib also, on a pole rigged out on the bowsprit, with the sheets hauled flat amidships, which was a safe thing to do, even in a gale of wind. A stout downhaul on the gaff was a necessity, because without it the mainsail might not have come down when I wished to lower it in a breeze. The amount of helm required varied according to the amount of wind and its direction. These points are quickly gathered from practice”.

All the sails were hoisted by hand; the halyards were rove through ordinary ships' blocks with common patent rollers. The sheets were all belayed aft.

The windlass used was in the shape of a winch, or crab. There were three anchors, weighing forty pounds, one hundred pounds, and one hundred and eighty pounds respectively. The ballast, concrete cement, was stanchioned down securely. There was no iron or lead or other weight on the keel.

But see the run the Spray made from Thursday Island to the Keeling Cocos Islands, twenty-seven hundred miles distant, in twenty-three days, with no one at the helm in that time, save for about one hour, from land to land. No other ship in the history of the world ever performed, under similar circumstances, the feat on so long and continuous a voyage. It was, however, a delightful midsummer sail. No one can know the pleasure of sailing free over the great oceans save those who have had the experience.

 I may some day see reason to modify the model of the dear old Spray, but out of my limited experience I strongly recommend her wholesome lines over those of pleasure-fliers for safety. Practice in a craft such as the Spray will teach young sailors and fit them for the more important vessels. I myself learned more seamanship, I think, on the Spray than on any other ship I ever sailed, and as for patience, the greatest of all the virtues, even while sailing through the reaches of the Strait of Magellan, between the bluff mainland and dismal Fuego, where through intricate sailing I was obliged to steer, I learned to sit by the wheel, content to make ten miles a day beating against the tide, and when a month at that was all lost, I could find some old tune to hum while I worked the route all over again, beating as before. Nor did thirty hours at the wheel, in storm, overtax my human endurance, and to clap a hand to an oar and pull into or out of port in a calm was no strange experience for the crew of the Spray. The days passed happily with me wherever my ship sailed.”

To face the elements is, to be sure, no light matter when the sea is in its grandest mood. You must then know the sea, and know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed over. “

I’ll keep that in mind when I plan my next extended voyage in Arwen – probably a run from Plymouth down to Fowey and back...but more on that idea in a future blog!


Monday, 3 January 2011

a remarkable voyage and author.........

“Hail and sleet in the fierce squalls cut my flesh till the blood trickled over my face; but what of that? It was daylight, and the sloop was in the midst of the Milky Way of the sea, which is northwest of Cape Horn, and it was the white breakers of a huge sea over sunken rocks which had threatened to engulf her through the night.” — Joshua Slocum

How can you not be enthralled by a book written by a man who can write phrases like that above?

My brother, who lives in New Zealand, gave me ‘Sailing around the world’ by Captain Joshua Slocum as a Christmas present (thanks Bro – inspirational choice)…and so far I haven’t been able to put it down. I even stopped skiing for an hour each morning for a hot chocolate break whilst on a New Year holiday in the Italian Alps so that I could carry on reading …..and nothing stops skiing!!!

Matthew Parris said this about Slocum’s famous book…….

“Yes, Slocum’s journey was ‘epic’ but it was also eccentric, unlikely and his unsurpassable action elegiac. Modern sailors accomplish almost routinely what Slocum undertook, inspired with a lonely courage, a sense of humour and a sense of wonder, which gives new meaning to the term ‘freelance’. The unaffected and quirky intimacy with which he writes will never be matched. You cannot do what he did any more.”

Matthew Parris, Author, Times Journalist and political commentator

I’m not sure whether I entirely agree with Matthew’s comments above – I’m a big fan of Jessica Watson and for a 16 year old to do what she did – rates pretty highly in my book.

I like better Arthur Ransome’s comment……"boys who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once…..”

I’ll make comments about what I read as I progress but for now here is an introduction to anyone who doesn’t know much about Captain Joshua Slocum.

Captain Slocum was the first man to sail around the world solo. A Massachusetts skipper, at 51 yrs old, on April 24th 1895, he left Boston in Spray a 37 foot sloop of 9 tonnes. Three years later in June 1898, he dropped anchor in Newport, Rhode Island. He’d cruised 46,000 miles entirely by sail and entirely alone.

Captain Joshua Slocum and 'Spray'; source: rogersandall

Sailing around the world’ was first published serially in The Century illustrated monthly magazine from September 1899 to march 1900. The book was published in March 1900. It was a generous sized volume bound in blue cloth and embellished with drawings by Tom Fogarty and George Varian. The first print run was 5000 copies and a second printing followed of 2500. Since then there have been 16 other printings. Not bad for an author barely known in the literary world. Yet 'Sailing Alone Around the World' could be judged one of the immortal books. He was the FIRST to sail around the world solo. Whilst many have gone on to achieve that feat…….Joshua Slocum was the first…….and with none of the technology others have been able to use subsequently.

Born in Nova Scotia, in 1844, he was one of 11 children. His mother was daughter of a lighthouse keeper; his father, amongst many things, was a maker of fishermen’s boots. His father did not prosper and Joshua ran away frequently to sea. At 14 he was a ship’s cook; and when his mother died, Joshua left home for good as an ordinary seaman. With no formal education after 10 yrs old, his entire life was spent at sea. He taught himself through the library he carried with him as a ship’s master, and later on the Spray. In fact on the Spray, in calm weather he would lash the helm and spend his time thus

“I sat and read my books, mended my clothes, or cooked my meals and ate them in peace. I had already found that it was not good to be alone, and so I made companionship with what there was around me, sometimes with the universe and sometimes with my own insignificant self; but my books were always my friends, let fail all else.”

Joshua sailed 13 years out of San Francisco to the far east; where he married Virginia in 1871…a lady who was to accompany him on all voyages until she died in 1884 (she must have been an extraordinary woman herself….she sadly died aged 35….and his sons report that Joshua was never the same after her death). In 1882, Joshua bought shares in a ship, the Northern Light which he also commanded.

“I had a right to be proud of her for at that time, in the 1880’s, she was the finest American sailing vessel afloat.”

Two years later having sold his interest in the Northern Light, Slocum bought the 'Aquidneck' and with his children and his new wife, Henrietta, he set out to trade freight along the South American coastline. Unfortunately, in December 1887, the bark became stranded on a sandbar and was wrecked. Slocum paid off the crew, salvaged what he could and went to work on a 35 foot canoe, half Cape Ann dory, half sampan and junk rigged – she was, of course, the ‘Liberdade'. What’s more remarkable, is that Captain Slocum with his young wife and family, then sailed this boat to Washington DC – a journey of five thousand miles!

 a 3D generated image of what 'spray' looked like:  Copyright Turbosquid

With steam ships beginning to dominate the sea trade routes, this was to be Slocum’s last command. And so, he turned to being an author with his first book…’the voyage of the Liberdade’. It was printed at his own expense in Boston in 1900 and got little noticed and made little money for him. With a family to feed and clothe, Slocum went to work fitting out whalers. Where upon in 1892, he ran into an old whaling captain acquaintance who encouraged him to come to Fairhaven when he’d be given a ship once more to command. The rest is history as they say, for Slocum found in a field an old oyster boat ‘spray’ propped up on the banks of the Acushnet river. Over thirteen months he rebuilt her plank by plank…and finally embarked upon his greatest voyage – a circumnavigation of the world. There was no engine; no self steering or radio. He lacked GPS, sponsors and he departed with only $2 in cash……and a $1.50 tin clock for a chronometer!

While most sailors now go west to east, taking advantage of the prevailing winds, Joshua Slocum sailed east to west — the hard way round Cape Horn. He was master seaman – a person to could read the weather, deploy sea anchors, know when to lie or run before heavy weather and balance his boat so that she would sail for days with little attention to the helm.

I guess there is much I can aspire to when sailing in Arwen…….!

There are some short stories by Slocum available on the web. This site will take you to a summary of the different ships sailed by Slocum throughout his career. Go to

There is a lovely file you can down load about Slocum’s voyage– it’s been put into Google earth. There is a video that explains the idea behind the project - go to this link at
The file talked about can be downloaded from

This link takes you to a song and video about Slocum’s circumnavigation

Enjoy and Happy New Year to you all