Monday, September 22, 2014

How the National Trust bust Herbie’s batteries

Kath and I are battery saving anoraks while we’re aboard Herbie.  Our current domestics have done very well, and I like to think it’s because we look after them, never letting the state of charge to get below 60% and getting it back up to 100 most days.  But now I fear I have delivered them a near fatal blow.  It all happened like this.

Last week we stayed on board for a couple of nights before going off on a weekend jolly with Rick and Marilyn doing a coach tour and hotel thingy exploring National Trust houses in Norfolk like the gorgeous Oxborough Hall snapped here by Kath.


It was fun watching the large shoals of rudd keeping their distance from this pike vainly trying to stalk them in the moat.


Before leaving the boat, I didn’t go through our normal shut down check list because we would be back on Monday evening. Well to cut a long story short, we left the batteries switched on and the fridge door open.  Doh!  I blame the National Trust.

When we got back on Monday evening there was an error light flashing on the Smartgauge and the batteries were down to 10 volts and the state of charge read as 0%.  “Eeh I am vexed” quoth I.  Well they weren’t the exact words but I’ll leave that to your imagination.  Well, I connected the shore line and switched on the mains charger and by the time we left for home on Tuesday morning I think they were back to 85% or so.  No doubt the solar panel will drag them back up to 100%, but I fear they may not hold their charge when we are out and about.  It’s a good job I suppose that we have had more than their guaranteed life out of them already.

This weekend all being well, we set off on our early autumn cruise to Oxford and back via Banbury Canal Day.  If the batteries are stuffed then we ought to know by the time we have spent a night in Braunston in which case I’ll have to flash the plastic in Midland Swindlers and get three new ones.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Elfin Safety the CRT way and how to treat a bad back

I’ve been on two training courses provided by CRT to teach us volunteers about Health and Safety and Basic Fire and Water Life Saving.  I know we all like to moan about the restrictions and delays and costs produced by compliance to H&S but if I’m honest the trainer made a pretty good case for it.  Our ancient canal environment is an accident waiting to happen and having seen some of the video nasties they showed us, and learned of the subsequent huge costs of accidents and draconian legal penalties, I have to admit it’s a bloody nuisance sometimes but you can’t ignore it.

I suppose that was the main substance of the course really.  There wasn’t a lot of practical stuff.  Looking after lifejackets and how to wear them properly, different kinds of fire extinguisher and what to use them for, handling throwing lines – all these were dealt with, but I also did them on the RYA helmsman course they put us through. I had been told we would get to use a fire extinguisher on a real fire, but apparently they don’t do that now. One thing I did enjoy was having a go at CPR resuscitation on a dummy.  No mouth to mouth these days, just compression and all that.  I would be a lot more confident to do it now.

As well as a few volunteers on the course there were also a few CRT lads, mostly in their twenties – the ones you see up and down the canal fixing stuff.  It was interesting to share with them.  They were larking around a bit and asking some daft questions, but underneath all that they were pretty serious about safety at work and a few of them could recall near misses.  I think the course worked on them too. 

As an aside a few of the lads remarked about the abuse they get from some boaters, although I pointed out that a lot of us boaters find the CRT workers pleasant and helpful.  I think most of them were working on the Regents and the Lee and Stort where there are a lot of boaters at war with officialdom.  I can’t see why these boaters should take it out on maintenance guys though.

A pity we didn’t do anything specific on safe manual lifting.  The other day I pulled a back muscle lifting a box of logs and it’s taking a while to settle down.  Now here’s a tip you might not know.  I mentioned my back to the doctor yesterday when I was in for a cholesterol medication review and a flu jab.  She said it was good practice to keep taking the pain killers for a muscular back problem.  A lot of people, including me, think that masking the pain might lead to bad movement and further injury, but she said that using pain killers relaxes the back and it heals better, without the associated stiffness caused by bracing the rest of the back against sudden movement.  I think she’s right, my back and shoulders have been very uncomfortable from me trying not to move too much.

There you are.  Don’t say I don’t teach you anything.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Training and sleuthing

I popped into Morrisons this morning for a loaf of bread and spotted their ad outside inviting you to ask advice from their “Fully Trained Fishmongers”.  Have you ever seen a sign that says “our partially trained staff”?  I haven’t.  All trained staff appear to be “fully” trained these days.  Well I am not yet fully trained as a CRT volunteer boat mover, but I will be another step on the way next week after I have attended the obligatory courses on Basic Fire Water Save A Life and Health & Safety Foundation.  Should be fun ‘cos I hear we get to discharge a real fire extinguisher at a real fire – something I have never done.  I suppose the life saving bit might be handy too.  I don’t mind doing these courses but I wish they wouldn’t start them at 8.30 am at Enfield Lock, sixty miles from my house.  About 45 of those miles will be round the M25 in the rush hour.  I’ve decided to go up the night before and camp.

In my other volunteering role as Towpath Ranger, my mate Alan and I donned our deerstalkers last week and went off tracking motorcyclists on the towpath.  These young oiks have been a nuisance for sometime in the Slough Arm and Cowley Peachey area.  Recently they got over the problem of a gate in the towpath by removing it and bunging it in the cut.  One of CRT’s ideas was to find out where these young whizz kids were getting on to the towpath so suitable barriers could be provided.  Well we soon discovered that was a non starter, because along the Slough Arm, the towpath is accessible from the surrounding waste land in loads of places.  There is a network of footpaths and byways all over the area as well as some disused metalled roads.  Absolutely ideal for bombing around on a motor bike as long as you don’t mind annoying the neighbouring properties and the boaters resident on the canal, and risking the lives of the walkers and joggers and cyclists on the towpath.  Some of the locals we interviewed on our rounds reported that there was a lot of motor bike activity in the area round the lakes which hide behind the bushes thereabouts.

Peering through the smoke of the Old Holborn from my briar pipe at the image beyond my sliver rimmed spyglass I spotted the fresh prints of the miscreants on the towpath



“Aha, an unlicenced Kawasaki kt250  Watson” I cried, “clearly ridden by a dyslexic youth of 16 or 17 years with a lisp and who dined earlier on a Kebab from Joe’s hot food van if I’m not mistaken.”  Then we remembered it was time for lunch and decided to call it a day and return to the scene of the crimes later.

On the way back to our carriage we spotted an interesting thing or two.  Firstly this.


A gang of yoofs clearing rushes from a flood relief channel.  I suppose they might have been volunteers, or they might be naughty boys and girls doing their bit to repay the community for their misdemeanours.

Then back on the GU mainline opposite Packet Boat Marina, this

former gate

Clearly a spot where CRT themselves have removed a former barrier.  In fact I think I remember it being there. It might be said they only have themselves to blame.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A listed building on the Slough Arm?

Adam is obviously a lot more observant than me. On only his second passage of the Slough Arm on Briar Rose he spotted the white obelisk on the towpath not far from the river Colne aqueduct.  I only noticed it for the first time this April when I was doing some ranger work.  I must have driven Herbie past it thirty or more times before that.


Adam’s Pearson’s guide informed him it was a coal tax marker.  “What is that?” I asked myself, then I asked Mr Google and his answer was interesting.  It seems that there are  Coal tax posts surviving today at over 200 points a 20mile radius from the old general post office in the city of London.  Erected in the late 1860s they mark the boundary where the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act was enforced.  A bit like the Congestion Charge areas in London today.  Apparently many of these posts are now registered as listed buildings.

Most of these posts are alongside roads and there are only three alongside canals and two more along the river Thames.  The canal and Thames ones are granite obelisks a bit more than a meter high, whereas those by roadsides are of cast iron.  Some bridges have iron plates or boxes as boundary markers markers and railways have tall posts. You may be able to make out in my picture the shield which is the badge of the Corporation of the City of London. You see this shield on lots of posts around the city itself.

City of London logo

The canal side ones to look out for are:

  • On the Slough Arm 75 metres east of the Colne Aqueduct
  • North bank of Grand Union Canal 500 m NE of Springwell Lock (I must have passed that one lots of times too.  Doh.
  • West side of Lee Navigation 120 m South of Kings Weir at end of Slipe Lane ( Must have passed that one five times!)

On the Thames they are at

  • On S bank of River Thames 730 m E of Sunbury Lock, opposite W end of Sunbury Court Island
  • On S shore of River Thames, W of mouth of Darent

Should you wish to look out for roadside ones if you live down that way, you can find the list here.

There you are then. Don’t say I never tell you anything.

Monday, September 01, 2014

More roses and a name


Well here it is.  I thought I’d have a lot of trouble with the name, but Kath suggested I try lower case and so I had a bash on a practice board and found it quite easy.  I suppose it didn’t take any more than five or six minutes when I did it for real on the can.

The bottom row of roses on the other hand were a pig.  I couldn’t seem to get the colours or the paint consistency right, particularly the latter.  It’s a good job you can’t see the finished job too close ‘cos it doesn’t bear close scrutiny.  I think it’ll look OK on the boat though.  Now I understand I have to varnish over the decoration and I’m reading up on varnishes.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Painting the Buckby can - when is enough enough?

I found a bit more time to put the second lot of roses on the Buckby can, so now it’s looking like this

stage 2

I suppose we ought to add Herbie’s name round the middle, but I was very unsure how well I could do it and what it would look like.  Then Kath had a good idea.  “Why not practice on a bit of clear plastic film then stick it on the can to see what it looks like?”.  So I did, using very simple block characters and it looked like this.

name trial

Ignore the red masking tape.  Hmm, needs more practice but it might be a runner.  Then the next question is, should I go on and paint more flowers on the rest of the can, or leave it like it is?  The traddy thing to do would be to cover the whole thing in decoration, but we quite like it as it is.  Maybe I should get some more plastic film and try out a row of roses along the lower grey band.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

London Towpath Progress

At the July meeting of the Volunteer London towpath rangers we gave poor old Dick Vincent, our CRT leader a bit of a hard time, grumbling about lack of progress on a number of things on the towpath that needed fixing. Well yesterday we had our August meeting and I'm glad to say things are looking up a little bit.

Firstly rubbish bin collections. We have been complaining for a while that every time we come across a bin, it's full to overflowing and there is often a load more rubbish lying round the bin. National contractors Fountains are paid to empty these bins, and in London they are supposed to do them very regularly. Suspicions were that they were failing to maintain the schedule. Now we hear that our evidence prompted CRT to withdraw payments from the contractors until the collections were done properly and hey presto all of a sudden the bins are getting emptied more regularly and now when you find one it has space in it for your crisp packet.

We're also making progress on moves to require canal side businesses to keep their advertising A boards clear of the foot /cycle way in order to prevent accidental collisions. Once we get the rules set up, boards will have to be authorised and comply with positioning requirements or else be removed. On a more difficult front we're working on ideas to keep illegal motorcyclists off the towpath - a particular problem in the Cowley / Slough Arm area. Next week were having an on site look at the possibilities for suitable barriers.

More news I picked up at the meeting.

There is a lot less floating rubbish in the Regent's Canal lately thanks to Richard one of our volunteers and the London Boaters Group who have acquired a small boat which patrols the area regularly scooping up the rubbish.

Some people who have been living in tents on the towpath in the St Pancras area have been the subject of a long effort to get them relocated. CRT have done a lot to help them find alternative accommodation but the alternatives found have been refused by the campers. As a last resort CRT went to court this week and secured an order to remove them and prevent them from returning. Things like this are going to keep happening as long as Uncle Boris and co continue to tolerate the housing catastrophe in London. Property prices and rents are way beyond anything normal people can contemplate. No wonder the canal is filling up with live aboard boats. All this is not good for people wanting to visit the capital by boat, but CRT's recent rethink on mooring might work to help visiting boats and passers through. They are identifying a number of short stay sites and seem to be resolved to enforce the maximum stay times at these spots. We'll have to see how it works. One good sign is that yesterday there were five or six empty spaces in Paddington basin!

On the way home from the meeting I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard which included a letter from a lady whose deaf husband was regularly terrified by careless cyclists speeding along the towpath on the Regents Canal. We still have much to do.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Biting the bullet

You can only practice so many times before you attempt something for real so this afternoon I bit the bullet and put the first roses on my buckby can.

The first step puts on the base coats and it looks like this

can 1

then after half an hour seemingly without breathing and with trembling hands I ended up with this


Could be better but these roses are usually best seen from a distance so I guess they’ll do.  I now have to go through the agony all over again on the other side of the spout.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Is this a record?

Hello, it’s me again.  This might be the longest gap in these Herbie blog posts since I started in 2006!  Well, I’ve been busy and to prove it here are some photos of what I’ve been up to over the summer break.

We went from the Pontcysyllte aqueduct to the Slough arm in three days! Alright, not by boat, but we did it.  While we were in Shropshire camping we took Jacob and Grace out to Llangollen to see the sights.  When we got to the aqueduct Kath and Jacob got a fit of the jitters and declined to walk across so I walked over with Grace who seems to have no fear of such tremendous heights.  in fact she enjoyed it.


By car it’s only a few minutes to the Chirk aqueduct so we did that one too.


That was on the Thursday.  On the Sunday we were back home and knowing that Adam was bringing Briar Rose to High Line yachting on the dear old Slough Arm we hitched a ride from West Drayton to help down the arm if the weed proved too much.  Actually there was next to none, save for some encroachment of floating pennywort here and there. Stupidly I took no photos to prove it.

Back at home I have not been entirely idle.  Progress on the Buckby Can painting is slow but there is some.  Here is where we’re at.


You can see I am practicing painting traditional canal roses.  They’re coming along but I don’t feel ready to assault the can with them yet.   On the canal skills front, I’m also trying to get skilled at rope splicing with the help of a very good iPad app called Grog Knots, highly recommended, it shows animations of all types of knots and stuff and also has very good notes on applications and pros and cons of different knots.  In particular it shows eye splices from a different point of view than all others I have seen.  Here are a couple of my attempts. I need to get better but they sure are strong enough.


My rather basic woodworking skills could always do with improvement but I have managed this summer to make a shallow wooden box to hold our cruising tackle – windlasses and mooring gear, so they are ready to hand. The box also has the benefit of raising Herbie’s deck seats to a better sitting height.  Stupidly I have also forgotten to take a picture of it but it now rests aboard Herbie and seems to work. I’ll take a picture next time we’re aboard.

Still at home I have been relearning how to play guitar. After forty years of honing my acoustic guitar skills it seems that there is a whole lot of new stuff to learn when you go electric, so I am deep into practicing pentatonic blues scales and the like as well as a very undertaking a revealing scrutiny of how Jimi Hendrix played what he did.  It soon becomes obvious that he had done his musical homework.

More camping last week and off we went towing our trusty Dandy camper, seen here through the awning at night. Ours is now eighteen years old, and this miracle of British ingenuity is till going very strong and keeps us comfortable and warm and dry in any weather.


Here’s where we went


This is the view from the Dandy door.  We were at the Warren just round the corner from Folkestone at the foot of the white cliffs.  Folkestone town has little to commend it but the campsite is great and the little beach below is quiet and good for swimming and stuff.  We still managed to fit in a sort of canal fix because not far away is the Royal Military Canal which winds around Romney Marsh.  It was dug to prevent a successful landing by Napoleon and the half a million (yes he did have that many) soldiers in his gang.  If it came to the crunch the plan was to flood Romney marsh to bog Boney down.  Here is the canal seen from the rather splendid Port Lympne wild animal park.


That’s sea at the top.

The animal park is especially good for watching Gorillas like this one doing an imitation of me in contemplative mood.  Despite the fact that this one happens to be sitting by a fence, they do have acres of room to wander about and lots of stuff to play with.


The likeness is quite striking.

So you see we have not been doing much boating but we have been enjoying the summer and still have lots lined up over the coming month. In late September and early October we’re planning a longish Herbie expedition taking in the Banbury canal day.  I might get that can finished by then.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Watching Paint Dry

It's a hard life. Here I am at Crick in the sunshine with nothing to do but sit and listen to Test Match Special while waiting for paint to dry so I can put on another coat (of paint that is, it's too warm to be wearing coats).

Herbie's hardwood handrails are a boon when it's very hot or cold, saving much burning of freezing of hands, but they do seem to need painting every couple of years, so here I am pacing up and down like a pregnant father waiting for the sun and wind to do their bit before I can slap on the next lot of paint. I put on the first top coat before breakfast this morning!

The painting is easy, but the masking of the boat side is a bit of a pain, although the Craftmaster plastic tape we use is brilliant once it's on, peeling of easily and leaving a sharp edge (fingers crossed I don't have to eat my words tomorrow. Here you might be able to see the tape and you can also see one of the scarf joints in the wooden rail

One bit of paint that never dries, and I do mean never, is that on the paintbrush when I hang it in the Brushmate box. I have written about these in the past but these boxes are brilliant. No washing of brushes or steeping in white spirit overnight, just hang it in the box and next morning grab the brush and carry on with the bristles still wet with paint.

There's a brush in that box that's had wet paint on it for well over a year.

Lastly, I can show you a bit of dry paint. It's our Claxon aka the harrooga, given to us by Jim and Sarah and now cleaned up and respendent in Herbie livery.

PS. for TMS fans. I'm staggered that Aggers just announced that he thought that kippers could be caught in the wild. Tuffers put him right.

PPS If you think you don't like cricket, listen to TMS anyway for the best conversation show on the air.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Seeing red on the Slough arm.

Herbie’s cants and handrails are painted in Blakes / Hempel Bordeaux Red. I like it, bright but not garish.  I’ve been prepping the handrails for repainting and popped into Wharf House at Braunston for some pink undercoat.  When I mentioned what the top coat was to be, the lady there remarked that the rotten people at Hempel had discontinued the colour.  The rats.  Luckily I still have a fair bit lefti n old tins but it won’t last forever so I cast my mind around for anyone who might still have stock of the stuff.  Aah yes, High Line Yachting down the dear old Sluff Arm. They use to sell it and they don’t turn over too much paint stock so they might still have a tin or two. 

Well on Saturday we happened to be in Windsor, so it was a short detour over to HLY at Iver, and sure enough they had two tins of Bordeaux Red which I snapped up.  While we were chatting to John Bolsom, obergruppenfuhrer of HLY I enquired what the weed situation was down the arm.  “Don’t get me started,” he started, and proceeded to explain that they were weed free down their bit and all the way on into Sluff ‘cos CRT had dredged the canal down that end.  “ But that’s not the end that needed dredging” quoth I.  “Exactly” quoth he, “I’ve been telling them that but they don’t listen.”

John is indeed right to be upset, and so am I.  True the arm needed dredging all the way along, but as funds were only available to do half of it, why did they dredge the bit where no one goes, worse still, the bit that no-one can reach because they have to pass first through the undredged bit.  I despair.  According to John, the cost of the operation was nigh on a million smackers (I can’t verify that) partly because all the spoil (probably hazardous waste) had to be carted by lorry up to Peterborough for disposal.  I fear the end of the arm which joins the Grand Onion is probably still heavily infested with floating pennywort. It was last time I looked.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

RYA helmsman cert day 2

Well, it seems I dunnit! Subject to receiving my bit of paper in the post, I have been certified.  Day 2 of the course was fun.  We spent an hour or so on rescue stuff and enjoyed playing with throwing lines and all that palaver.  It convinced me it would be a good idea to practice every now and then, as I didn’t get it right every time.  Then we took the good ship Samson up to Clitheroe lock and practiced dropping crew off at the lock steps, then entering the lock and going up, then picking up crew, turning round and doing the same going back down.  Here’s one of the others taking the boat up the lock, we each had to do it so the whole rigmarole was done three times.

samson lock 1

I was beginning to get the hang of this peculiar craft by the end. It’s perhaps not as quick to respond as a tiller steered boat, but the level of control is good, especially in reverse.

One of the big differences of course is the propulsion screw, seen here hoisted up and turned through 90 degrees. (I fear that pink bit at the top is a bit of my finger.)

samson screw

The free end of the screw when in the water faces away from the back of the boat and the whole thing swivels left and right to effect steering, so no rudder required.  Although this one has a plastic back stuck in the little gap behind the screw, it does affect the steering. The screw itself very rarely gets fouled they tell me.

I liked Samson very much.  A good floating workshop and it even had a cosy little space for tea / lunch breaks or to shelter from storms.

samson cabin

And there’s a flushing loo too!  I’m really glad to have had the chance to do the RYA course on such a different boat.