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

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Winter maintenance projects on a wooden dinghy

 An update then from a couple of days ago - which you can read about here -

Shock, horror and mortification - I knocked a piece of the coaming 
and it fell away to reveal some wet rot

Listening to both John Welsford and Howard Rice - I opted for the safe approach and used both a utility knife and a multitool saw to remove the damp timber. As John predicted, the damp went further down and across that initial glances would have suggested. As more timber got cut away, my idea of just filling with layers of thickened epoxy slowly disappeared.  On a bright note, I'm far more skilled with a multitool than I realised 😁. the coaming is only 8mm thick and I was having to remove 4mm thickness from it! 

Fortunately, a rummage around the old scrap timber box found a piece of ply just about the right size, shape and thickness required. It also flexed in the right direction as well.  I sanded out the cut away areas and made sure that the edges were trimmed straight and sharp. Then by trial and error, I shaped the wood to fit, using my beloved Japanese handsaw to cut away tiny slivers until the shape as just about right. I did a three test fits using the clamps to make sure all was secure and correctly butted together. There was a 3mm gap at one end, the bottom edge had a 1.5mm gap and the other end had a 2mm gap as well. Not bad I guess.  

My final task before gluing up was to sort out the gluing areas. Preparation is always the key and I laid down layers of duct tape and masking tape around the area to be bonded together to catch an excess dribbles. In my experience there are ALWAYS dribbles!  

It has been many years since I last used epoxy resin and I was almost sure I had forgotten the basics but I worried unnecessarily. I warmed it up in the kitchen for an hour or so and then used syringes to measure out the five to one ratio of mix. Wetting out the 'hole' making sure enough epoxy stayed on after some had soaked into the grain, I then thickened the mixture slightly to coat the back of the wood insert piece (and its edges). 

I eased the wood insert into place and slowly applied the top corner clamps followed by the bottom ones. The key is to have enough pressure to hold but no so much as to squeeze out the epoxy. I then went around the three joins and made sure that any gaps were filled with really thickened epoxy. 

The temperature today is 11 - 12C and I am worried it will be a little cold. I know it will cure at 5C but just take ages. Because I am having to work outside on the driveway alongside a public pavement, it is difficult to rig heat lamps of any form. So this is 'wing and prayer' stuff really. 

With a bit of luck, sometime tomorrow afternoon it should have sufficiently cured that clamps can be removed and some basic tidying up and sanding done.  I suspect I will have to do some fairing work on Saturday to blend everything in. After that, three coats aluminium paint, three of pre-kote and three international Toplac. This is the paint system across Arwen's entire hull interior and exterior and it has lasted thirteen years thus far with only minor touch ups needed in a few places. 

In the meantime, most of the surrounding tape has been peeled off leaving nice clean fill lines. So far, so good. I've surprised myself. But lets not count chickens and all that quite yet! 

I then turned attention to the oars - sanding back the ends of the blades ready for some epoxy work in to the splits. This time I will also fibre glass the ends of the blades as well to protect them a little more. That is Saturday's job. Someone on FaceBook suggested that I use a hoover to suck the epoxy through the splits - nice idea - will give that a go. I mean what could possibly go wrong with me, epoxy and a hoover? 😅

There is some damp in the very end tips and 
so they are in the back room warming up and drying out overnight 

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

RYA dinghy Trails for SW England

 You can find these here

Two in my local patch - one for Plymouth Sound and one for South Sands Salcombe.  Nice idea, well written and well laid out. 

The Plymouth Sound one is a nice day trip but choose your weather carefully if you are off to Bovisand. Westerlies can cause a few waves into that little beach. Be aware of some hidden rocks on the beaches of Kingsand and Cawsand.  I'm not sure I would try to haul out on Jennycliffe beach either given all the rocks and gullies just off that beach (perhaps a lighter, shallower draft dinghy might be able to do it in fairness but I would certainly keep a sharp eye out on the approach in). Similarly, going through 'the bridges' from the north on an incoming tide can be an 'interesting' experience against mid tide flows. 

Go on - ask me how I know all this!!!! Some 'hard' learning experiences! 

Clever little set of very useful resources. I might try out the Brownsea Island one next year with Arwen.  Well done to the RYA and all those who contributed to the series. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Winter maintenance projects

 I am hoping to go sailing tomorrow. I am just watching the forecast. Not so much the winds but the rain. Our "10% chance of rain" today turned out to be constant, persistent mizzle and drizzle. That horrible penetrating stuff that all mountaineers detest. It isn't torrential. You can almost deal with that. It is the mizzle stuff - the fine drizzle that just permeates everything, irrespective of however waterproof things are supposed to be. Today has been awful with it; that and fog of all things. 

Anyway, as I was preparing to reload Arwen with all her gear, I accidently knocked against her coaming with one of the oars and to my horror, a piece just fell away. Quick examination and I discovered delamination and some wet rot.

Its about a 7cm long section although I expect that further investigation will show 
it to be around 11 cm log and four centimetres deep to deck top

This is the first time in over twelve years of Arwen being left under a tarp on the driveway in all weathers, that I have ever discovered wet rot on her and I am shocked and somewhat embarrassed. I dont know how I missed it. I always religiously inspect her for damage every time I pack her away at the slipway after a sailing session. I'm quick to touch up scratches and dings with three layers of paint. Now, admittedly,  last year I only went out sailing four times in her due to the pandemic lockdowns and then because we were travelling away during the summertime on many occasions. But even so! 

The other bit of damage occurred when I removed a deck eye 
as part of my 'inspection' of the damp damage

No excuses. I missed a hairline crack on the coaming top and am paying the price for my lack of diligence.  

I also got another surprise. Between August and now, one of the oar blades has developed a crack. Now they were already on the winter maintenance list - a strip down and re-varnish, but I am surprised how quickly it has happened. They were a donation to me and are around 12" too short in length to be effective. 

These need a sand down and further inspection but the split is obvious along a former glue line.

I did build a new set of longer length oars but discovered when first using them that I was going to have to adjust the oarlock positions and seated rowing position to use them more effectively, hence I carry these older ones for now. A temporary solution. (One of my ambitions for 2022 is to actually learn how to scull). 

So, to the repairs. 

My initial thoughts with the coaming was that I would have to cut out the effected area and then laminate in a new piece of ply coaming. Now I always think it is a good thing to know well your limitations. So, I immediately went to the JW forum and Howard Rice rode to my rescue. Not the first time he's done that for me, bless him. A generous soul. 

The oar blade is simple  - pry the split apart very gently to ensure the wood is dry. Then mix some epoxy and use a kids little paint brush to get it into the gaps to wet the sides. Mix a little thickened epoxy and squeeze that into the gap before clamping the blade together. Remove any excess squeezed out and when hardened sand lightly. 

Howard also suggested I glass the oar blades with 6 oz glass, or at the very least do the blade tips and then perhaps paint the blades a complimentary colour. I could use the rustic red - which is the colour of her sheer plank. 

As for the coaming section - Howard's recommended advice, endorsed by others, seems to be:

  • use a sharp blade to enlarge the soft area and area where paint is coming off until I reach dry, solid wood. less taken off is better i.e. stop as soon as solid wood is reached
  • dry the area with a lamp or heat source - SWMBO has a very nice hairdryer - although I suspect standing there with it for an hour or two is impractical - so lamp it is 
  • mix up some unthickened epoxy and wet out the dry wood
  • mix remaining mixture with wood flour to thicken and use plastic squeegee to spread it evenly over the surface - fairing it in with the surrounding surface. I suspect I will have to build it up in layers, allowing each one to dry out first.
  • once the required depth has been done and faired in, block and sandpaper gently to fair all surfaces. i could use West epoxy fairing compound mix - I have some left on one of the shelves - for that final top layer
  • After it is dry - it will be painting - three coats aluminium flake paint, three of pre-kote and then three of international Toplac gloss coat. Up until now this combination of nine coats has been pretty much bomb proof on Arwen. even on high roller wear areas of her hull, I have never been through the alu flake layers. 
Over the next couple of weeks, I will look for any other hairline fractures and gently fill them with mixed epoxy before sanding and painting them over. 

In the spring, when we get a good spell of dry warmish weather, I'm wondering if I could design some temporary, simple, poly tarp tunnel affair out of water piping, wooden timber joists and cheap tarp - just to put over Arwen when I have painted her. It would allow air flow through but keep off the dust, leaves and moisture. 

Wish I knew someone local who has a large covered, empty space available for a fortnight! In the meantime, here is an example of the power of FaceBook for something good.... 

My thanks to Howard and Ben and all the others who contributed similar tips. Much appreciated, and of course, I will post any repair details here. 

After finding these maintenance issues, I then inspected the spars and mast and all seems fine with these. I took the opportunity to adjust the lacing of the sail to the top yard. Several people last year, including a sail maker at Jeckells,  observed that a possible cause of the diagonal crease I get from the bottom of the top yard to the clew on the sprit boom might be due to too much tension in the top lacing to the top yard. So I loosened it and readjusted its position on the yard. I also moved the tie on ring on the top yard a little so that it falls 35% of the way back up the yard. Hopefully this will help as well. 

Its all checked and ready to load back into Arwen 

Over the last few years I have carried two anchors even on day sails. One is an 8lb Danforth with four metres of chain. The other is a donated hefty Bruce weighing 15lbs with five metres of chain. Overkill I suspect. This latter anchor is a nightmare to stow aboard Arwen. I keep it in a tray on the floor forward of the centre thwart - it is strapped in and held in place but I keep tripping over it and/or grazing my chins on the damn thing. 

This donated grapnel anchor (10 lbs) may prove useful as the occasional 'stern anchor' when camp cruising and I will return my danforth to the main anchor for a temporary trial this coming season. Thus far, it has never let me down, even in strong tidal flow areas.  I know a grapnel should never be used as the main anchor but for picnic stops or stern line - it should prove useful. 

Normally I stow the danforth in a tray on the floor on the cockpit floor forward of the centre thwart on the port side. The warp end is run outside of the shroud plates and through a bow cleat before being tied off on the samson post (is that the right term - it doesn't feel right - but I can't remember what the correct term is - poor old memory worsens more rapidly by the month but hey ho there we go). 

I know that many navigator owners store their anchor and warp in the well on the starboard side. That is the same side that my outboard is mounted (on the stern) so I have often wondered whether I would cause a trim problem by doing this - hence its port storage site.  More things to ponder! 

Now big decision, should I be brave and go out tomorrow in what will be light-ish winds, foggy murk and lots of persistent drizzle OR should I be sensible and go to the chandlers to get some new epoxy supplies and start thinking about these repairs? 

OR, I could just go and launch and retrieve Arwen a few times until I get used to the new trailer (which I haven't dipped in the sea yet) and then go to the chandler afterwards! 

Thank you to all those who gave advice - deeply appreciated as always. If you have any further thoughts, please do drop me a comment below. In the meantime, I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in what I know are, for many of you, difficult and trying circumstances. Please stay safe and well. 


Friday, 3 December 2021

Do I winterize my outboard or hang on a little longer?

 I am hoping to get out on Arwen after a prolonged absence due to trailer woes. The weather isnt co-operating though. It was this time last year that i emptied her for the winter months and winterized my outboard engine. I have done some videos about servicing my outboard before and these can be found below. Read the comments that go with the videos as there are some additional useful tips. 

part one

When I put the outboard away for winter last year, I started by flushing the cooling system one more time by placing the lower unit in a dustbin of water and switching the engine on. I always do this after every trip anyway but i just wanted to be doubly sure.  I then remove and keep the outboard vertical on its stand to ensure that all water has drained out. 

part two

Last year because I did a service during the first lockdown I didn't bother to drain and replace the oil as I had already done this. However, if you have warmed up the engine, after doing the water drain down, now would be the time to drain the oil and change it, whilst it is warm (not hot!) and more fluid. Again, the videos show how to do this. 

part three

Similarly, I would for winterization, also drain off the lower unit oil reservoir and replace it but I've already done it as part of the lock down service.  At the same time, remove the prop and lubricate shaft spindles. You could at this point remove the lower unit and change the water impellor. It needs doing every two to three years depending on your use of the outboard. One of my videos shows how to do this. 

I always change the spark plug once a year, normally when I am wintering it. 

part four

With regard to fuel, I have never drained the fuel tank over winter but I am told I should do. I do run the engine and then switch off the fuel tap so that the carb runs dry. This means no fuel is left in the carb bowl or carb or fuel lines. This year I may well look at and change the inline fuel filter. I didnt do it last year which was remiss of me. 

I always check the steering and tilt assemblies, greasing lubrication points and check for any signs of corrosion on the wires, link points or throttle assembly. 

Last but not least I clean the exterior and spray metal parts with WD-40. Inside the engine case I spray that with a water repellant as well and it is mentioned in one of the videos. 

Given how few times I have been out this year, I think I will not bother with a winter service this time. The oil wil be fine. The grease is still good. I will give it an interior and exterior spray though. 

With regard to previous posts about my outboard engine, servicing it and building an outboard stand for it, just enter the word 'outboard' in the search bar on the blog. 

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Winter cruising up around Cotehele Quays

 Had the opportunity to pop up to Cotehele with my parents last week to see the annual Christmas garland in the main hall. 

This year they have gone for a minimalist look and it works well 

At the end of the day, I always think Cotehele is still my most favourite National Trust property

Loving the mosaic art work this year
Be nice if I could get sharper photos with my smartphone but today my handshaking seems slightly worse. Ho Hum. 

Took the opportunity to pop down to the quay as well. Thinking ahead to some winter cruising up the Tamar. 

Surprised to find the Tamar Barge Lynher stored up here under wraps for winter
You can find a video of her out on the sound here:

Meanwhile 'Shamrock' remains under wraps but all the exterior awning over her has been removed. I am assuming they have finished restoration work on her. 

I have often tied up at the quays at the top of a spring tide on my way up or down to Calstock but I have never dried out at Cotehele. This was a great opportunity to see what I might dry out on, if I were to contact the NT and ask if they would mind me doing so one night. 

From above, it seems that the three quays have an area of flat mud at the top of a sloping mud bank, just wide enough for Arwen to be tied alongside. 

The steps area where I normally tie up are out of action. Fencing has been put across the steps in several places thus making access to the quaysides difficult. 

Of course, the moment you stand sideways on - it becomes a little clearer. Those slopes are quite steep and the area of flat mud at the top of the slopes, not as wide as one thinks 

The plants continue to thrive in the limekilns 

I have some plans for some winter cruising around the Tamar and its various tributaries, particularly to some old quaysides that might provide some really good dark sky areas for stargazing and astrophotography. 

Friday, 26 November 2021

Should I be worried?

 SWMBO: "Now you have a new trailer you ought to take Arwen out"

Me: "I will in the next few weeks. I've missed sailing"

SWMBO: "You ought to Take Arwen out this weekend. It would be a good blog post 'Arwen goes out in storm Arwen'. You are well insured so I won't be worried".

😨 !

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Trailer modifications all done by Admiralty Trailers of Honiton

 A 'well done' shout out to Admiralty Trailers. We always knew getting Arwen to fit on her new trailer would be by trial and error. She's a 'beamy' lady to say the least. 

This morning, on arrival and after brief initial discussions,  I was dispatched to a local cafe for an hour .... The Aviator at Dunkerswell aerodrome ..... coffee, a bacon roll, a chat with a small plane pilot and some banter with first time skydiving jumpers on their coffee break. A very pleasant, good-humoured and informative hour. I learned loads. 

On my return the team had fitted three spacer bars to lift the frame higher up on its axle. Now there is plenty of hull clearance over the mudguards.  They also moved the wheel axle forward to give better balance and nose hitch weight. They adjusted the support bunks to a better position under a junction point where three internal thwart bulkheads meet and I got some tips on how to tie Arwen down better and more securely as well, so that she wouldn't move forward or sideways under extreme braking conditions. A winter project will be to make some side deck support blocks which are slightly higher that the coaming and the full width of the side deck. The ratchet straps will go on these rather than across the coaming. 

The drive back was quite illuminating. No rattles, less swinging (although that was very marginal anyway); the trailer is a single beam one so it does flex slightly more than the old one. In the rear view mirror the bow looks as if it is permanently shaking very slightly but its only the beam flexing a little.

 This had already led to a discussion earlier about where to store the two anchors, their chains and rode when going to and from the slipway. A bit of a fiddle but the anchor trays will now go amidships either side of the centre-case and then on arrival at the slip I will move them forward and strap them in their normal place. It will take just a few minutes. 

We couldn't find an appropriate place to bolt on the spare tyre and apart from which we all had mixed views on whether the spare wheel should go on the trailer or not. They are easily stolen unless locked on with a bike lock; if put horizontally they collect rainwater and the rims start rusting etc. I'm opting to just carry it in the car boot. 


So, all being well, back on the water from the end of next week. And, an added bonus, practically all of the hull is now accessible for sanding and painting touch ups.  

My thanks to the Admiralty Trailer team and Tony in particular. Well done guys. Much appreciated. 

 Before shots - you can see that the gap between hull and mudguard was marginal to say the least. When you started to push Arwen along the trailer, the beam midships hull area just scrapped the top of the mudguards. 

After shots - the spacer bars under the spine and the outer frames. This gives around 4.5cm clearance above the mudguards now and the boat slides along without scraping the very top of them. The bunks were moved further outwards as well. 

Again, its trial and error and we will see how we get on this this new arrangement. is the gap big enough? Only at the slipway next week will we finally know. 

At the end of the day, I have got a good quality trailer for the budget I could afford. Yes, it will require practice at getting her onto that first roller and lined up during retrieval but if I take my time and chose my slipways and tidal conditions wisely, I should manage reasonably OK. 

The whole process from discovering my stupidity over neglecting my trailer during the last year and a half of various lockdowns, through to trying to understand what trailers I could get for the budget I had, through to understanding the various in's and outs of hull configuration and trailer design have been a steep learning curve. Regular readers of this blog and viewers of my YouTube vlogs will know that my understanding of anything mechanical or engineering' technical; or anything to do with boats frankly, is 'limited'.  Ask me to solve a problem relating to such matters and we could be there for sometime given my unique ability to overthink and overcomplicate the simplistic 😀

However, on this occasion we got there in the end. My deep thanks to Tony and the Admiral Trailers team, to various blog readers and to some members of the Dinghy Cruising Association forum for contacting me privately to give me tips, advice and encouragement. Your discretion in sparing my blushes and showing up my complete lack of nous and knowledge is deeply appreciated. You all know who you are - thank you. 

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

CAD plans for John Welsford boats

 Good news - if you want to build one of John's boats - you can now get the CAD plans. Working with Joel Bergen, the plans are available for purchase and download. Go to Joel's site at

for all the details and some examples that can be downloaded. 

Absolutely brilliant news and well done to Joel and John. 

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Final trailer adaptations

 The final trailer adjustments have been made before we head the 60 miles up the road to the trailer manufacturer to have the new spacer bars fitted. 

Both me and the trailer team have agonised over the best way to do this and we concluded that fitting spacer bars and adjusting the trailer bunks and rollers to fit Arwen's unusual bottom shape would be best.

The issue is that sat on her keel rollers, Arwen only clears the top of the mudguards by around a centimetre. So under the advice of the trailer team, I have been cutting up closed cell foam camping mat into layers and duct taping them to the top of the mudguards. This is to prevent them scrapping the hull. 

adjusting the support bunks one more time using the car jack

I will then drive up 'slowly' later this week and we will fit the axle spacer bars and do the final adjustments. 

I'm just hoping the tape will hold things in place when we go up the A38!!

That means that from the end of the week I can start sailing again. I have several winter overnight trips planned locally; some of them will be specifically to do star gazing from some dark sky beach areas. 

As always I will post here my trip logs, photos and vlogs. 

It will be good to get back out on the water again. I've missed it. 

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Whilst waiting for the boat trailer to be sorted

 Well, sometimes you have to give new things a try ....... 😄

..... and welcome back Orion. 
First effort this season .... still much to learn. Not so much with capturing images but the post processing of them. 

Looking forward to some winter overnight sailing trips up the rivers to some little dark sky beaches I know where I can dry out and have a go at some more landscape and celestial astrophotography.