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
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!
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 do...so water rushing along the side deck was an
interesting experience.....actually I underplay that point....it
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 boat.......um........confused? 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 to....so 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!