Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and i am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's battery marina in the barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.
Arwen has a YouTube channel of her own. Search "plymouthwelshboy".

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I rarely post.....

about boats which are non John Welsford, but I came across this video and it is worth watching. Enjoy.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

the higher you go the more 'icy' it can get...........

The Riserva Naturale Macalube di Aragona proved elusive on the first attempt to find it. It remained stubbornly so on the second, third and fourth attempts and after an hour driving back and forth along the same stretch of road looking for the turning, we abandoned the idea. Sad really, for it contains one metre high mud volcanoes rising out of barren cracked mud flats. Caused by sedimentary volcanism, pressurized gases, such as methane cause soils and mud to liquefy sufficiently to cause mini volcanic like eruptions and the build-up of these cones and as a bees to the honey pot! I had to go!

Sadly, we found out from our lovely hostess, Antonella, that last year, one of them exploded unexpectedly killing two young boys and Antonella surmised that the Riserva may have been closed indefinitely. We only found one sign for it and suspect several had been removed as a consequence of this terribly sad and tragic disaster. 

So a change of plans was called for and on the recommendation of Antonella we headed for the historical hilltop town of Sant Angelo Muxaro, famed for its one hundred or so cliff face tombs dating from almost one thousand years BC. Many of the artefacts uncovered at probably one of Italy's most famous  archaeological sites have been scattered to museums across Italy and even The British Museum, which we were somewhat aghast to discover when visiting the town's own small but excellent little museum.  Anyway, I, as SWMBO has sternly pointed out several times over the course of this day, decided it would be fun to go there via the mountain route and the high mountain town of Casteltermini.

Well, on reflection, it was probably, in hindsight, a little "ambitious". The road just climbed and climbed and climbed. I mean who was to know Sicily had so many mountains in its interior? !!

It switch backed continuously into nowhere. Near vertical, precipitous slopes ran down to the roadside. Large boulders had collected behind small retaining walls, evidence of previous rock falls and landslides. Even in these remote mountains there was confirmation of rural practice; abandoned shepherds huts, small plots of vines or olive trees and the stubble of cereal crops. Vistas would open around the next hairpin bend to show hidden valleys cut off from the rest of civilisation.

And we climbed, never getting out of third gear and for substantial periods of time, never getting out of second. Gut wrenching vertical falls into valleys below on every outside bend. Thank God that we were heading west and so drove on the right against the hillsides. As we peaked over one Coll we were surprised to see hectares of solar panels. It seemed so incongruous that a modern human invention should reach such a splendidly remote place.

But then it went horribly wrong. 
After entering San Baglio into the satnav, said technology decided to go off route unbeknown to us. We religiously followed its directions along the tiny road, which narrowed and narrowed. Gradually weeds began to encroach further and further into the road. This was a road rarely driven along but the satnav kept insisting this was the way and who were we to argue!  

In places the road surface was so badly damaged that large potholes several inches deep fanned out across the road. Subsidence left huge ridges in the road ready to ground the unwary. These we negotiated in first gear at only 2mph. And yet still we carried on!

On the plus side the scenery was stunning! Tarmac gave way to gravel and gravel back to Tarmac. Several large potholes combining with severe subsidence had us pulling up and surveying the scene to work out how best to traverse across what was left of the road.

And then, after a long steep descent along a lane now only just over a car width wide, the road stopped. Literally, it stopped! Ahead , at the end of a forlorn strip of cracked tarmac were just trees and bushes. It was as if they had run out of Tarmac, money and persistence and decided that was as far as the road needed to go.

At this point satnav threw a hissy and informed us to go back one kilometre and take the gravel track on our right. We had travelled ten kilometres from Casteltermini and had reached the end of known civilisation on Sicily!

Of course, I was to blame. It was my satnav. I'd bought the map. I'd chosen the route. I had insisted we follow the satnav. It was clearly my fault.

My missus is not one to moan and groan, so when she told it me only twice, I knew I was in deep trouble. Worst still she needed the loo and 'would not suffer the indignity of bushes so I'd better get back to civilisation quickly!' I felt it would be a life threatening situation for me to point out we were stuck down a lane with no turning points in the middle of the wilderness and that we would have to reverse one kilometre back up a hill in a small one litre engined car! 
So instead I just did it. I'm brave......but not that brave!

If you have never reversed over deep potholes, in a narrow lane with a subsiding road with a steep inclination........don't bother! It isn't the fun its hyped up to be!!

On our return to Casteltermini, satnav stopped sulking again and took us the correct way for the next thirty kilometres. It was uphill again, of course, lots of switch backs and lots of silence from the passenger seat. Stunning scenery was not working its charm. When San Angelo Muxaro hove into view, I didn't need the air conditioning. It became decidedly icy in the car.

Oh dear Lord!
That small town clung to a vertical 300m high cliff. If you leaned out of your window, that would have been it. You had to crane your neck and lean right forward to see its upper most part out of the front windscreen. And the road up? I have no idea how they built it or carved it out of that rock face. Switch back after switchback up we went. And as we climbed, the temperature in the car became decidedly frosty.....and it wasn't the air conditioning!

In reality it was much less worse than it first looked. Slow but steady won the day. The rewards at the top were, of course, immense. A stunning little town square and tremendous views across much of Sicily's interior; a small but amazingly interesting archaeological museum exhibiting the pottery found from the tombs below in the rock face. And, I am very relived to say, a toilet in the museum. Phew! 

You can visit the tombs in the cliff  side but we decided against it. We had pushed our luck all morning and frankly we yearned for flat land and the sea. Coming from me, an ex-mountaineer, well it sort of gives an idea of the state we were in. Had we approached from the south then we would have spent much of the day exploring the tombs. There is a cliff walk linking many.  The tombs are built in a mixture of gypsum and limestone. It is classic karst scenery. The artefacts recovered range from stunning gold bowls and rings to amphorae, basins, jewellery and nails and axe heads. All dating from around 1000BC down to 400BC.....the time of the Cretans! King Minos. Its Greek myth, legend and history. What's not to like or enjoy. Approach from the south if you go. The rewards are great!

We spent the late afternoon and evening after our mountain ordeal in Siculiana Marina, a pretty little Marina village with some great sandy beaches. We found a beach front ristorante and dined on salmon filled ravioli. Quite delicious. We even found a stretch of golden sandy beach to ourselves. We sat back against the promenade wall, read books, paddled across the reef in front and went for a swim in the reef gullys that were lined with sand. The water was gin clear and shone aqua marine, Mediterranean turquoise green, as it should. A breeze lowered the temperature to a lovely 29C. Little Miss Frosty thawed, bless her and it was wonderful! And yes, we finished the day having another doorstep picnic back at our agriturismo lodgings. All's well that ends well. Phew, for a few times today it had been touch and go!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Sicilian evenings......

"Last night we picnicked on the top step of our small apartment. It is a farm house block of four apartments but the building is only two stories high. There are eleven steps up to our solid green metal door. A black wrought iron set of railings stop us plunging to the gravel below. Beneath the little washing line we'd strung across two corners of the upper railings with our hand washed laundry pegged out to dry,  we sat and tore apart  country Cobb bread, munched and slurped our way through juicy fresh pears and my missus demonstrated that she hadn't lost the ways of her youth. She can still slug down red wine straight from the bottle neck! "

Thursday, 22 September 2016

silly little travel ambitions..............

I am a huge fan of UNESCO. I know the great work they do around the world and for many, many years, wherever we have traveled in the world as a family, UNESCO sites have been on the itinerary, which might I guess go some way to explaining why my children ended up reading history and conservation at university!

It has been a silly little personal ambition, I know, to visit the site that inspired the UNESCO logo - those Doric temple columns.    Today, glimpsing the inspiring columns towering on the cliff top through the branches of an 800 year old olive tree planted in early medieval times, it was everything I had hoped for.

The columns stood proudly above the plains on the edge of the golden sandstone bluff, the ancient rocky layers a mixture of browns, yellows and oranges in the early morning sun. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, these worn and faded sculpted columns would have glistened blindingly in the sun, their outer layers covered in white marble and alabaster. Approaching invading armies from the seas would have seen these temples on their high cliff line across the fertile coastal plains and quaked, for these divine palaces of worship and meeting would have been majestic, flaunting their builders wealth, engineering skills and strong relationships with their deities.  
Across the plains below, the city inhabitants would toil in the sun, tilling the soil, tending the olive trees, cutting the wheat and pruning vines. Children would have played in the citrus groves and tended the goats and sheep. 

The Concordia Temple, is in the Valle del Tempi, south of the city of Agrigento. It is the inspiration for the UNESCO logo and  it stands proudly on the top of a three kilometre long sandstone cliff line along with two other magnificent temple ruins.  

 Starting at the top with the temple of Juno, we walked down the slight incline along the stone paved road admiring the ancient city walls of former Akragas. 

To the north across the rising hill slopes towards where modern Agrigento is today, was where the ancient city grew. Roads, houses, shops, bars and bakeries; workshops, forges and more; all south facing to make the most of the Mediterranean sun and breezes.

Within the walls of this once great city can still be found the carved large semi-circular indentations, each with a deeply carved base......the necropoli. Tradition had it that the dead were buried in these tombs within the city walls. I've seen something similar in Roman Pompeii.   Seeing one mid-twenties Italian guy climbing into one to show off to his girlfriend was I feel taking matters a little too far and for a few minutes ruined my sense of history that was developing but it soon recovered.

To wander among the scattered fallen columns and blocks from the temple of Hercules was to wonder about the ancient building techniques, craftsmen and slaves working to create buildings that have withstood the test of time. And yes, it was hot, another searing 36C with scant shade, especially on the lower site. But it was worth it and if clever, you dart between the shadows of walls, bushes and olive trees. In fact I am quite taken aback at how much temperature difference there is between out in the sun and under the shade of a densely branched olive tree. It is substantial!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

I wonder if......a remote refuelling system for an internal outboard tank.......

this idea is worth considering? Occasionally, if I have used the outboard to get out from the marina and then done some motoring to be somewhere more quickly due to time constraints, I have had to refuel by hanging off the back of Arwen and using a funnel and a metal 1.5lt fuel bottle for a camping stove. Not ideal in terms of safety or environmentally; so I wonder if this is worth considering? Is it safe? Worth the effort for such an infrequent occurrence on Arwen? Will it take up too much aft cockpit space to make it worthwhile? Some more to ponder as I try to heal the fractured elbow so that I can get back to some autumn sailing!

Sicilian beaches..................

Diary extracts................

"Scala del Turchi. Bright white marl cliffs worn smooth by the sea".

"They gave me ample opportunities for another favoured pastime....people watching. But clearly I'm getting old. Surrounded by bronzed, lithe, lean and fit twenty and thirty something's, taking selfies of themselves lying sunbathing in dips in the marl beds, I realized that as a fifty four old, overweight Welsh bloke with sagging stomach, I was clearly out of place. Maybe it was my deep brown arms, lower legs and face and the brilliant white, never seen the sun in centuries upper torso that drew the stares. The British abroad, you can spot them at five hundred paces!!  At least, in my defence, I wasn't sporting the lobster pink burnt to a crisp look that so many of my countrymen sport nowadays abroad. I do have some shred of dignity left!"

"The sea was warm; you could paddle across the marl beds as they ran outwards into the sea. Between them were deep clear gullies, warmed by the sun, reaching the temperature of a hot bath. Small fish darted between the beds of sea grass and that was pretty much it. Any marine life had the common sense to stay clear. The small beach that ran along the cliff base was heaving".

"I have always admired how Italians do the beach. Minimalist towel, one beach umbrella, a small cool bag and a beach bag, four pairs of different sunglasses per person, mobile phones, goes without saying and that is it. Literally that's it.  The British? Chairs, windbreaks, beach tents, buckets, spades, boules, cricket sets, wet suits, kitchen sink, the use of a hire van to transport everything including Granny and Granddad.

It is an amazing contrast in styles.

Trevone beach in Cornwall will never quite seem the same again. The best thing I saw today, a man walked into the sea, filled a shiny metallic red spray bottle and returned to his girlfriend under their umbrella and then proceeded to slowly spray her body with cool sea water every two minutes for an hour whilst she tanned herself. I Lie not!

That is truly impressive dedication. British lads, you haven't a chance boys!" 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Over complicating the simple.....

is a life long trait of mine and I have done it with Arwen's reefing system. I installed a jiffy slab reef system.....why? I don't know why! Because I over thought it. Because I have this ability to complicate the simple!

So this system is disappearing as soon as my elbow fracture heals.

The new system? As it should have been in the first place

  • Lower the mainsail
  • Loosen the snotter
  • Attach second line to tack to secure it and move the downhaul tackle up to the first reef point cringle on the luff edge of the mainsail
  • Take the aft end of spirt boom, detach the clew of mainsail
  • Move boom up to first reef pint cringle on the leech and reattach boom
  • Haul up main halyard slightly and tighten snotter
  • Tighten up downhaul at tack
So simple isn't it!
I would have been positively dangerous if God had given me a brain. Fortunately for humankind, he missed me out on the intelligence stakes and so I remain an idiot! 
 my thanks to JW who patiently confirmed I had worked out the correct procedure!