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".

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Dinghy cruising back from Fowey.......the return journey

and then there was the return.....................

White flecked water surged from midway under her hull to be deflected away in an outward 'V'; the grey waves delicately topped with lacy swirls that coalesced and receded in a silvery wake rolled beneath her flattened hull. Beneath these slate grey waves, centreboard and sharply pointed bow, cut through the surface layers, adding a musical sound track of hisses and gurgles to the embroidery above. The rhythmic rise and fall as hull lifted over waves and leather clad spars creaked and squealed against mast were the final percussion to her melodic symphony. Arwen was moving, a slight leeward tilt, her sails full, a steady 4.5 knots. 

Her rhythm and soundscape can induce a hypnotic tranquility, both a blessing and a curse. They can induce a sense of calm, peace and serenity into which the unwary can fall, soothed, carefree; a timeless period of relaxation and spiritual inner ease. Slumbering in tranquility lowers a sailors alertness to the real dangers, the rising winds, the unexpected gusts swooping down from unseen valleys hidden by headlands to slam into hull and sails like a giant unseen malevolent hand; the rocky outcrops marked by wasp like cardinal marks, their bells and horns unheeded by the stupefied. 

As early morning stretched towards midday, that lull was a real danger. Arwen sped along at a consistent 4.5 knots, powered by the steady NNW breezes. It was too easy to cleat the main-sheet, set the tiller tamer and trim the sails so that she sailed herself on a steady course; to lie back against the coaming, feet on the thwart opposite and survey out to far horizons where grey sky and sea meet; to ponder on the meaning of life and one's place in the great multiverse.

But on this day, her skipper was alert to these traps. He knew the coast, those swooping winds, the reversing deadly headland currents. And although he thought about reefing, he didn't; for the winds were steady and the gusts easy to spot as they scudded across wave tops darkening the sea and wrinkling its surface. And so he attentively trimmed sails, kept hand loosely on tiller and main-sheet and scanned the windward horizons. His eyes flickered a regular course - luff, leech telltales, course ahead, compass, windward horizon. His body astutely tuned itself to the changing motions of sea and wind. 

He never did master the sail trimming bit. He never does! The physics and mechanics of which string does what to which part of a sail confuse his brain. But he catches the gusts well, his compass course remained true and his pilotage ETA's along the coastal checkpoints were pretty much bang on.

On this day, he was happy to settle for that. 

Sail trimming? 
Well it looks like it will be a life long learning curve, one he will never quite seem to master! And, shock, horror,  he's pretty relaxed about that too!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Dinghy cruising down to Fowey: part two

within this video are blue box annotations and information cards
We are trying some new YouTube gizmos not used before.
Hope Arwen and I captured the mood on the day. Enjoy and if you have any comments, do let us know. We always welcome constructive feedback, sailing advice and help. 

Sailing to Fowey

At least this time I remembered to 'throw up' over the leeward rail. I learn't that 'bitter' lesson a couple of years ago in Wembury Bay! Never, never hurl over the windward rail!! But wait, I get ahead of myself. Perhaps, we should start at the beginning.

You take the days when you can after balancing family commitments. You also take the good weather days too. I read somewhere that gentleman sailors never go to windward. I really have no idea what it means but I took it to suggest 'avoid going into the wind if you can to stop bouncing'. And so two days arrived with weather and tide fates aligned. SSE winds with tidal flows going east and an outgoing tide on one day;  winds from NNE and tidal flows heading east for the bulk of the second day so a beam or close reach back. It wasn't what I would have liked (I'd have preferred a few days in Falmouth.....but time). 

So winds would be east..... on the first day. A downwind sail.  Northerly and a beam reach on day two. Well, in two days it could only be one place...............Fowey was calling. 
I like Fowey. It's atmospheric shops, wonderful valley scenery, quaintness. Of course I knew it would be packed but some coastal cruising was needed! Sometimes its just 'therapy' for the soul.

As I rarely cruise offshore I have to go through a process of passage planning re-familiarization. I use a checklist I created sometime ago. I complete tidal information on heights, times and streams; I mark charts with escape routes, danger marks etc and then eventually mark on waypoints, magnetic bearings etc. I make pilotage notes in my waterproof book including sketch maps and buoy details, call channels and other useful details. I plan ETA's and possible mooring, anchoring  and grounding sites. It takes time but I enjoy it. It helps me get my head around safety issues and alternative courses of action.
Tuesday dawned. Arwen was loaded, gear stowed in hatches, trim checked.  There is something liberating and soaring about setting sail in a small boat on a 'micro adventure'. The near empty horizon beckons, the blue skies with cirrus mares tails a good omen for the days ahead. Steaming ahead and escorting us out, our flagship HMS Bulwark and her escorts. It's going to be a good two days. I can feel it in my bones!

Sails raised just beyond Mountbatten breakwater, they filled rapidly in the force 3 breeze and she surges forward, helped by the outgoing spring tide. Gurgling white water run down her sides, her bow digs into small waves and eagerly Arwen points her bowsprit south west towards the Draystone Buoy and Penlee Point. Departing at 1030 and several sunfish later, we make Rame Head at 1130. 
As we cross the headland race, small dolphins briefly accompany us, before they become bored and head off to find bigger, more animated playfellows. 

With visibility good, I plot half hourly chart updates, more for experience and practice than real need. Four miles away the shoreline slips by; Freathy cliff huts, Tregantle Fort, the coastal villages of Downderry and Portwrinkle, a row of visual checkpoints on which I can take bearings. 

Sailing downwind takes immense concentration. Big waves roll in from behind lifting Arwen's transom and then rolling beneath her to suddenly lift her bow as well. Broaching in the deeper troughs is a real risk. Of greater difficulty is the corkscrewing motion. It insidiously sneaks up on you. My stomach gave me my first warning. Try food I thought. A sandwich and a cuppa. Maybe the constant bending down to fix plots and update log notes on the chart strapped to the starboard centre thwart was to blame. Maybe that perpetual corkscrewing motion but I was soooo sick off Polperro. On the bright side, I was ill off the lee side for a change. A lesson learned!

After that the passage was wonderful. I feel better; Arwen still rolls, surfs and corkscrews but I cope. Sunfish, a shark fin sighting and so many diving gannets keep me focused. At one point the sea positively boils with mackerel and fry hunted from below and driven upwards to the wheeling gannets. They circle above us, rather 'hitchcock' like, plunging like missiles into the surface waters to return with sand eel and small fish. The natural world is pretty brutal if you are one of the tiddlers.
Our bearing of 272 held. Our drift, minimal as far as I could work out. 

Out on the ocean horizon there is minimal boat traffic. Ahead only lobster pot buoys to avoid. easily spotted, they have large danbuoy posts with tattered plastic bag flags. Udder Rock cardinal mark passes a kilometre away on our starboard side. Gammon Head is clearly visible. The White House on the cliff should soon appear giving warning of the approaching Fowey harbour entrance. 

We pass the Castle around 1530. Five hours and around 24nm. And that included a twenty minute stop for you know what!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A quick offshore sail

managed to snatch two unexpected days so heading to Fowey and overnighting there before heading back tomorrow. Passage planning done. All being well should be F3/4 from SSE today and the tomorrow it should be F4/5 NNW. Tides are springs with HT around 1000 this morning at Devonport.
Will post updates tonight and tomorrow as I go.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

the sad news that Ken Duxbury has passed away.......

Sadly, at the age of 92, Ken Duxbury has passed away. With his wife B, he sailed a drascombe from Greece back to the Uk. The Lugworm Chronicles is the book I am reading now. An obituary can be found at the above website address

Ragusa Ilba........

High on a narrow limestone hill surrounded by deep river gorges, the older part of Ragusa is a maze of cobbled streets and honey coloured limestone buildings adorned with balconies, statues and shutters. It is very old and rightly a world UNESCO heritage site. The square in front of the cathedral slopes steeply upwards towards the cathedral steps. Narrow alleyways twist and turn linked by narrow steep flights of steps up and down the hill slopes. Around every corner are stunning views across terracotta tile roof tops and roof terraces.

Streets come alive in lower Ragusa around the main cathedral piazza from seven in evening. Children play in the street, football, Italian style.....ignoring tourists, lots of yelling, gesticulating, dives onto the floor and good natured argument. Teenage girls and boys chat each other up with much laughter and many smiles, mobile phones glued to their hands. It is fascinating to watch teenage courtship rituals ongoing whilst each furtively look at their mobile phones, frequently......they call it romance. I think I am getting old!

As the sun sets and the streets are bathed in warm lamplight, more people come out. They sit on street chairs, on pavements, below fountains. Animated chatter and lots and lots of laughter, Italians have such a zest for life. Heads bowed towards each other, intent eye contact, smiles, shrugs of shoulders, waving of arms. Glasses tinkle at pavement ristorante.
Italians, of course, dress with flair and style. They make the simplest clothes look so chic. Evenings are a fashion parade as well as a social gathering with family.  In the meantime, a wizened, grey haired, stooped elderly grandfather sits on a public bench, his young granddaughters at his feet as he tells them stories. They are transfixed for he is a good story teller. His hand lovingly pats the head of one and then fingers brush lightly the cheek of another and he is rewarded with beaming smiles. They clearly dote on him.

Family life at sunset, shared on the streets of Ragusa.