By Steve Parke - Plymouth, England - UK

Have you ever embarked on a journey, which at the time, seemed a good idea.....but later proved to be somewhat ‘over-ambitious’? Ever felt out of control and on a very steep, well frankly vertical, learning trajectory? Ever done it and actually had fun at the same time? Yes? Well I can really sympathise...honestly!

I’m the proud owner of a John Welsford designed ‘navigator’ called Arwen. I built her over 2 years with the help of my children, father and father-in-law and she was launched in August 2007. Having never sailed before – it seemed prudent to take myself off on a RYA Dinghy Sailing course where I gained levels 1 and 2 and some basic skills. You spotted the flaw – who in their sane mind builds a boat BEFORE they learn to sail....doh! Anyway, since then Arwen and I have been out and about within the confines of her home waters ‘Plymouth Sound’ in Devon, South-west England. Having come from a background of no boat building or carpentry skills whatsoever, I’m secretly quite proud of Arwen...but I suspect that is more down to John’s fabulous design skills than my woodworking ones. You just can’t help but build an elegant looking boat.....everything is so well thought out.

Arwen, launched for the first time! Main sails not yet rigged up!

Anyway, since her launch, it has been a very steep learning curve. Arwen is a yawl with a standing lugsail main. You can find further details on John’s site at :

Learning to sail in a laser and a laser stratos in the non tidal waters of southern Greece...never really prepared me for the vagaries of three sails in tidal waters with a 5m tidal range and constantly changing prevailing south westerly winds..........but I think we are finally getting there. I cannot profess to fully understand sail dynamics....but through experience and help from the team on John’s ‘JW yahoo forum group’ jwbuilders......I think I’m beginning to get to grips with a few things. Certainly, in the last few months, our average speed has risen from 3 to 4.8 kts, if that is any measure to go by. Below is a short video of one of Arwen’s first outings.....ignore the poorly set sails.....I was just learning to sail a somewhat traditional rig!

You can find more videos of Arwen and a blog detailing some of our voyages together (and details about future planned ones too) at

Arwen, beached at East Portlemouth in the Kingsbridge estuary, South Hams in Devon.
Since this photograph, the furler has been attached directly to the bowsprit; the jib sheets have been reduced to single ones and all ropes have been trimmed to correct size.

So...things I have learned over the last year or so?

Well, you need eyes in the back of your head – you’ve got to watch that mizzen. Up to 10 knots wind, I sheet the mizzen in hard so that it sets up slight weather helm on the tiller (more on that later). Between 10 – 15 knots of wind, I ease the mizzen a little, along with the main; over 15 knots...well I’ve had several gusts like that hit me and I ease everything! If it were to continue like that John and other forum members have told me to reef the main. (I’ve practiced that a couple of times, need to do it more and have altered the reefing arrangement to a slab reefing style to make it easier). Alternatively, I could drop to jib and mizzen only – which is one of the great features of the yawl design isn’t it – versatility of sail arrangement. I’ve also learned by experience (a very windy day in Cawsand Bay!) that tiller pressure is the clue to whether the boat is over pressed and needs sail reduction...which I didn’t water rushing along the side deck was an interesting experience.....actually I underplay that was terrifying.......and exhilarating in a ‘masochistic’ way. Whilst on the subject of weather helm – if the tiller pulls hard I ease the mizzen; if it seems over-light, I sheet the mizzen in. Boy that mizzen is useful but needs controlling!

Arwen, back on the slip after a recent sail around Plymouth Breakwater and out to Penlee Point.

With regard to sail trim, I am still slightly confused because I keep getting conflicting advice! When I’m using all three sails, a friend tells me to trim the jib first, then the main, aiming to get all telltales streaming aft. Then I trim the mizzen to get a few degrees of weather helm (there’s that phrase again). Meanwhile an old salty dog type in Salcombe told me last year that in winds up to 12 knots I should sheet the mizzen first, then the main and finally the jib. Apparently the mizzen sets the sheeting angle for the other sails and the pointing angle for the Oh yes!

I did learn when sailing in the company of a friend and his boat that we (Arwen and me) should sail for speed not angle of closeness to the wind. A good tip, because Arwen is a sprit boomed boat and she doesn’t seem to point up as close to the wind as my friend’s boat does. Now, with fairness to all navigator owners, that could be due to my amateur efforts so let’s hold off on that ‘judgement’ for a bit longer.

I then went through a phase of not being able to get the lugsail fully up against the mast top. Sail trim was a big no-no for me. John came to the rescue (again; and again; and again; and again!). Moving the halyard on the upper yard further forward, tying parrel beads at the same point as the halyard and moving the yard’s lower end don past the mast...eliminated some real nasty sail creases and raised the foot of the sail above my head...wonderful! Moving the sprit boom attachment point down the mast tightened the luff and eased the leech; raising it up the mast tightened the leech and eased the luff. Altering tension on the tack downhaul also helped eliminate sail creases. Joy of joys, now my ignorance of sail trimming wasn’t on full display for all experienced sailors to see. No more humiliation. Of course, I’d like to say that I can remember all that but I can’t. My head hurts just trying I wrote it all down in simple annotated sketches and laminated them. The laminated memory aide gets stored permanently in one of the central thwart lockers! It’s been pulled out several times!

What a sad admission!

Steve Parke

Steve's Arwen's meanderings blog is at:

Plans for Navigator are available at Duckworks.


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