Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sunny morning, gloomy afternoon.

It was quite a surprise to emerge from a warm and cosy boat this morning to find frost on the handrails.

Despite that, it was a glorious morning and perfect for cruising and we set off early towards the exotic delights of Uxbridge. Just through the first bridge we spied George and Carol's leviathan vessel Stll Rockin'. We tooted our horn but either they were not in or they were still abed. Next time maybe.

We cruised just about as slowly as we could so as to get the batteries charged on what is after all only a short journey. The approaches to from the south Uxbridge could never be described as scenic, but in the sunshine it was lovely.

The afternoon in contrast, was pretty gloomy. Not meteorologically speaking though. We went to the cinema to see Suffragette. It's a very good film, well acted and all that, worth seeing, but don't go to see it to get cheered up. Those women sure had to suffer for their suffrage. Did you know that of the advanced Eurpoean nations, the U.K was one of the last to give women the vote? Shame on us.

Coming out of the cinema there was something to cheer me up. Yesterday as part of my Ranger duties, I sent in a report of a fallen tree blocking the towpath on the Slough Arm, and this afternoon I got a message back to say Fountains had been called out and had cleared it. Now I bask in the warm glow of self satisfaction.

While we've been moored here outside the Bottle and Glass, I've had one eye on the towpath to see how busy it gets here. It doesn't. We had earmarked it as a potential spot to run a Share the Space event, but I think I'll unrecommend it. I think tonight we might pop into the pub to sample their wares, being moored right outside it would seem rude not to. Also there's something especially pleasing about turning out of a pub and only having to walk ten yards to get home.

Oh one more thing. My book is now up to just over 30,000 words. A milestone! I have put poor Eric into a right old pickle. I just hope I can dig him out in the next 50,000 words.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

At last we're out!

Herbie rides again. Yesterday morning we slipped our moorings and set off on our first Herbie outing since November. Rotten weather and family stuff has enforced this disgraceful lack of boating and after Sunday's storms we wondered if we would be OK but the weather has been remarkably kind. Poor old Herbie is probably very glad to see us after all this time. Boats don't like being left alone.

We needed to do one or two jobs to get her going properly. Not the engine, which started first time, but most notably the loo fan which refused to spin when we switched it on. The volts were there, so I figured the fan and seized after being left in the cold and damp so long. I was beginning to think this was a non trivial problem, I really didn't fancy having to dismantle the fan housing after all the trouble we had in sealing it when we first got it. Eventually a squirt of WD40 into the exhaust did the trick and it fine now.

The next near disaster was when I nearly flooded the boat. I remembered to refit the shower mixer which we had removed in case of heavy frost, but I omitted to close its tap, so when I switched the water back on the shower came on at full bore. I didn't revisit the bathroom to check and by the time I realised that it was on about ten gallons of warm water was lying in the bath. A good job we don't have a shallow shower tray or it would have gone all over the floor.

The final issue is one I can't work out. The top of the coal stove is splattered with rust. Looking at the ceiling above there is no sign at all of leakage or damp. Maybe the cold metal of the stove itself creates condensation. It's a very very thin coat of rust, like a thin layer of dust, and most of it washed off, but why is is there. Now the stove is hot and I can't get at it to finish off the job and re black it so it looks a bit scruffy until I do.

It's very good to get back out. The dear old Slough arm is remarkable cruise le at the moment, although I notice the floating penny wort is already starting to encroach. This trip is a bit of business mixed with pleasure. Because we are on my ranger patch I'm monitoring the towpath as we go, sending in a report on a fallen tree on the Slough arm yesterday, and when we get to Uxbridge tomorrow I'm going to do a cyclist count and perhaps dish out a few Share the Space maplets.

Right now we're moored up opposite Packet Boat Marina. Up by the bridge is Elsdale II, the boat CRT uses to run day trips for school kids.

It's about as big a boat as the canal can take hereabouts. What is interesting about it is that since finding that GU website I told you about, I now know that the original Elsdale was the boat used at Bulls Bridge in the old days to give the children of working boatmen an education, so the name of the new boat is very appropriate.



Monday, February 08, 2016

Either end of the liveaboard market

I don't know why I am a subscriber to The Week magazine.  It's full of adverts for investment banks, posh cars and heirloom quality wrist watches, so I am clearly not their intended demographic.  One of their regular features is a double page picture spread of "Best Properties on the Market", this week featuring "Fantastic London Pads" one of which is an apartment just over the river from the London Eye and costing £5.5 million.  Why am I telling you this?

Because one of the featured "Pads" this week is a 57ft "Dutch barge" (not a real one but an unremarkable modern interpretation - you'll have seen a few like it) moored at Imperial Wharf on the Thames.  The price? £395,000.  I think this may be the first time The Week has put a liveaboard boat (rather than a houseboat) on it's pages but I have a feeling it might not be the last.

If you can't afford that, how about this boat I spotted recently amongst the houseboats just down the canal from Bull's Bridge.

I fear the only reason that it has not sunk deeper is that it is already sitting on the bottom.   Should the unfortunate owner wish to place it on the market they may do better than they think if they follow my suggested wording:-

"Ideal opportunity for DiY enthusiast.  Sitting immediately adjacent to attractive pine wood, near to Airport, a historic waterway site, and convenient supermarket.  This charming narrowboat sits steady as a rock in all weathers.  Offers in the region of £100,000 (well, this is technically still London.)"

Friday, January 29, 2016

Why wasn't I told??

Why didn't somebody tell me about this wonderful web site THE GRAND JUNCTION CANAL compiled by Ian Petticrew and Wendy Austin?  It is absolutely brilliant and it's been there since October 2012 without me finding it until now.  I cannot think of a better web site dedicated to canal history.

I won't bother to describe it all, as you can look for yourself.  Suffice it to say that they have drawn together a shedload of fascinating guff about the canal. It'll be especially useful to us London Towpath Rangers 'cos we are planning guided walks along the canal pointing out this or that.  Now we'll have loads more to point out, especially in our patch from Uxbridge to Paddington and down to Brentford.  So if you want to know what Paddington basin looked like when it was first dug, or what the packet boat fare was from Uxbridge to London or how many aqueducts there really are on the Slough Arm  (more than the three most people think), this is where to look.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Is this a record?

Just because I did all the stuff to qualify as a volunteer helmsman for CRT, it doesn't mean the qualification stands in perpetuity.  Apparently I have to do at least 400 hours boating over a five year period otherwise I would have to go through a reassessment procedure.  So rather belatedly, they've issued me with one of these:

Its a smart little log book in which I have to record all the boating I do -   date, vessel details, waterway, hours, and (ominously) any "incidents".  Fortunately I am allowed to include hours I do aboard Herbie, so keeping the numbers up will be easy peasy.  Backdating my entries for a few months I already have 154 hours logged.

Changing the subject- I have at last returned to flinging my deathless prose  at the computer screen and filling up the virtual pages of my next blockbuster novel, working title Eric II.  I had suffered an extended period of writers block after getting poor Eric into a spot I couldn't see a way out of.  Time is a great healer and Eric is now moving again, so I'm up to 22746 words and counting.  I guess that's about a quarter of the book.  Quite how I will fill the other three quarters I have no idea, but I am having great fun researching one particular aspect which shall remain secret for now.  My target is to complete the book before complete senility sets in, so I'm in quite a hurry.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Double Glazing

I occasionally get requests for more details of Herbie's DiY secondary double glazing the latest request being from VallyP who of course I cannot refuse, so here goes . .

I claim no credit at all for this valuable and ingenious addition to our windows, it was all done by Herbie's previous owner Roy who was a dab hand at such things.

Basically what we have is a made to measure set of simple wooden frames over each of which is stretched flexible transparent PVC of the type use for tent windows.  Roy managed to stretch it very tightly so there are no wrinkles or ripples.  The material itself is very strong and durable.

I found a few old photos to show how they fit. First this one of the galley window where you can see the frame in situ.

As you can see the frame has a central vertical spar for strength. The whole thing is a tight push fit into the outside of the boats window frame, leaving an air gap of perhaps an inch and a half.  lets look more closely.

Here's a corner showing that the frame is really simple being mitred and stapled at the corners.  I can tell you is is pretty rigid though and has stood up to more than ten years of use without bother.  You can also see the swivel tab which holds the frame in at the corners. Couldn't be simpler could it?

The secret of course is the precision with which Roy made the frames.  They really are a close push fit with the slightly compressible pvc I suppose being squashed tight between the double glazing frame and the boat's normal window frame.  I doubt very much they are completely airtight, but they work well enough to virtually eliminate condensation between the frames as long as you take care to have it all very dry when you install them.  and of course the pvc facing the inside of the cabin doesn't get condensation either.

Here you see a third picture showing the top centre of the frame.  The fit is tighter than it looks.  each frame is marked with which window it fits and which way is up e.g Starboard No2 TOP

The little ribbon tag is needed to pull the frames out when we remove them after the winter.  That pvc needs a clean doesn't it?  We just wash it with soapy water now and again.  The stuff is pretty clear over all and as you can see from the top picture, the view out of the window is only very slightly compromised.

So there it is.  It really works even though there is no fancy carpentry.  There are frames for each of Herbie's seven windows. During the summer, we take them out and store them at home.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ice Breaking and an ice cold duvet

Today we took a gang of CRT volunteers out for a ride on widebeamer  Jena, with fellow volunteer Richard and me sharing the helming..  In Adelaide dock where Jena lives the ice was a centimeter thick which made it really hard to manoeuvre her about in the confined space at tick-over speed. It wasn't much better out on the main canal until we got to Bull's bridge where water began to clear of ice.  It's quite noticeable how the ice melts near to large buildings.

I learned how wide the canal is at Adelaide dock.  Assuming that Jean is 60ft long, we now know that the canal is 60ft and one inch wide.  Coming out of the dock in reverse, as we have done on previous occasions is not too bad, because at least the back of the boat steers, but today we had to come out forwards and couldn't really steer until we had already hit the other bank.

Anyway the sun shone and we had a pleasant run up to Cowley lock and back, warmed by Cup-a-Soup and various nibbles provided by Debbie the CRT volunteer co-ordinator who sadly couldn't join us for the run.  Arriving back at Adelaide dock bang on time we once again ploughed into the ice and then Jena's engine stopped quite suddenly.  No, not the ice, but something big on the prop.  Taking off the weed hatch lid, I saw a sight I had never before seen.  The level of the water in the weedhatch was higher by several inches than the water in the canal.  That could mean only one thing - a large object was completely blocking the weedhatch. It turned out to be a big white duvet wrapped around the prop so tightly that we couldn't shift it.  After half an hour with a boat hook and a knife we managed to clear half of it - enough to fill a black rubbish sack, and then we had to go home because the yard was closing for the night, so the poor guys at Adelaide will have to finish clearing it in the morning.. Sorry guys, that water is literally freezing cold.

I found out how the car that I reported on yesterday got into canal down the Slough Arm.  Apparently some oiks had nicked it and pursued by the constabulary had driven through a field to the canal where they hopped out and shoved the car into the water before scarpering.   What a pain in the backside these kids are.  I have rather more sympathy to the two people we saw sleeping rough by the canal today, huddled up in blankets on the hard ground .  Just imagine how cold they must be.  We have to report where we see them and someone from CRT will visit them with a social worker to see how they can be got in the warm and dry somewhere.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Slough arm mystery

Apparently there's a sunken car in the Slough arm, just at the end of where we are now moored.  I can't imagine how it got there unless it crashed through the parapet of the road bridge, which I doubt.  I may well get the full story tomorrow from the guys at CRT because I'm off down to Adelaide dock tomorrow to skipper Jena for a volunteers' floating day out, probably tootling up to Cowley and back.  We'd all better wrap up warm because Jena is only heated when attached to a land line.

Co-incidentally I was down the Slough Arm only yesterday to check up on Herbie.  There is a thin layer of ice on the canal, but not around Herbie because we are moored inside another residential boat which keeps us warm.  You see, there is some benefit in an on -line breasted up mooring.  Now that winter seems finally to have arrived, I installed our temporary secondary double glazing and removed the shower mixer to prevent it freezing up, both very quick and simple jobs.  The domestic batteries are now at 100% thanks to the solar panel and the fact that I have switched off the loo fan. The Airhead loo remains odourless thank goodness.  All in all Herbie seems fine.  It's nice to be able to get to her in only half an hour from home I must say.

Constant rain and seasonal coughs and colds have kept us from cruising since November, but we're hoping to resume boating soon.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Answer to the science puzzle.

Just this once, I'll allow you to feel sorry for me, as I have been in bed with a nasty cold for the last 48 hours. Kath has been playing Florence Nightingale, so I am well looked after.

Anyhow, enough of my troubles, here's what I think caused the sudden leap in the temperature graph I described in my previous post. Well, when I say "I think" what I really mean is "what our Peter tells me" 'cos he is a professional scientist and I am not. When we took the gubbins out of the freezer, it immediately got covered in condensation, which briefly froze, the room being a lot more humid than the freezer. Now we all know that when water evaporates it cools things down (like when we perspire), well it does the opposite when it condenses and freezes, releasing latent heat, so our temperature sensor got a good dose of that heat when the water in the air condensed upon it. So that's the answer. Don't say I don't try to teach you anything. Full marks to Bill S who got it spot on. The rest of you, read and inwardly digest and you will become wiser people.

We're hoping next week to take Herbie out for a few days, maybe dowln to sunny Brentford if there is room down there, or at least to the rather wonderful Fox pub at Hanwell. I may well do a bit of towpath rangering while we are down there as it is on my official patch. I keep meaning to go to the musical useful at Brentford. I'm partial to a bit of mighty Wurlitzer. Has anyone been?


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Geek week - a scientific brain teaser

I've been having a geeky week. if you are a technophobe, I would look away now if I were you. Our son Peter is home for Christmas and the two of us have been having a loads of fun  playing with microcontrollers and electronic bits and pieces, doing daft things like making his simple little bluetooth powered temperature monitor and putting it in the freezer and plotting temperature graphs with data arriving on the PC.

We could knock up a version of this a couple of inches square if necessary. Using this sort of stuff it wouldn't be all that hard to build monitoring devices to keep an eye on Herbie while she is moored up and we are at home.  For instance we could monitor the state of the batteries and keep an eye on the temperature in the boat and get daily results on our mobile phones.  But here we come to catch 22.  Keeping the technology running on the boat would probably use up more battery power than we could afford to waste.  Although these things take very little power, when they are on for 24 hours a day for weeks on end, it adds up, especially keeping a dongle charged up to send phone messages or to keep a little web server charged up..  Of course in the summer the solar panel would easily take care of that, but in the short gloomy days of winter, I'm not so sure, and of course that is precisely the time of year when we might need the data from the boat.

Anyhow, just for fun, here's a little puzzle for you if you are scientifically inclined.  This is our graph of temperatures against time.

Don't worry too much about the detail.  It starts off at the left with a little kink where Peter handled the temperature sensor - ignore that. Then we put the device into the freezer and as you can see the temperature slowly dropped to about -20 deg C in a reasonably smooth curve.  Then, and this is the interesting bit, we took the gubbins out of the freezer and the temperature at first shot up much faster than it had fallen before resuming a more normal curve.  This seemed very strange until Peter worked out why.  Where did that sudden boost of heat come from?  Nothing to do with our handling, or where we put the gubbins really.  Peter realised what caused it, but can anyone out there think it through?  A clue - we could see the cause.  Answers next time.

We paid a quick visit to Herbie yesterday just to check that she was OK (she was) and that her batteries were not getting run down by the Airhead loo extractor fan.  We haven't had much daylight over the last month what with the days being so short and the skies being so gloomy, so I was wondering if the solar panel had been doing anything. Doing a quick sum based on the toilet fan requiring 60 milliamps and running 24 hours a day, it should have used up about 72 amp hours since we last ran the engine which is suppose is about 25% of our total battery capacity, so I was relieved when the old Smartgauge showed we had used only about 9%.  The solar panel was making about 0.2 amps at about mid day yesterday.  It would have been making more if we had it raised to the optimum angle, but with this stormy weather it wold probably blow away if we left it like that.  Anyhow as we hadn't "made a donation" into the loo for several weeks we felt it safe to turn off the fan now and let it get on with composting.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

And the Herbie Special Award for 2015 goes to . . .

Charge your champagne flutes folks and stand by to toast a special person. We've been honouring good people with our Herbie Special Awards for quite a few years now, originally for being a valued crew member then later for selfless acts of Fortitude, Hospitality, and wotnot.  Sometimes these are awarded because of our admiration, and sometimes for our gratitude, like when we gave it to the gang of pals who helped us paint Herbie.

This years winner certainly deserves my gratitude.  Although I have no proof I also strongly suspect that a number of other boat bloggers feel the same.  "Why bloggers?", you may ask.  Let me start at the beginning.  

It being very nearly ten years since I embarked on this malarkey, I've been looking back at the stats that Mr Google kindly supplies about the blog and its visitors. This tells me that this is the 1400th time I have sat at a keyboard  (or a tablet) wondering what to write. After all, why do I do it?  It started off a s a sort of diary, but now it is a way of communicating ideas and information I suppose, and sometimes it's just a bit of fun, trying to amuse or entertain a few people.

What keeps me, and probably other bloggers, going is knowing that people out there read this stuff and like it.  We can look atthe stats for reassurance(179 people dropped in to have a look yesterday, half of them probably searching for Herbie the Volkswagen on Google), but what inspires me a lot more is when kind people take the time and trouble to comment on what I have written.  It also makes me feel incredibly guilty that I don't often do the same. The stats tell me that this blog has collected 2682 comments over the ten years, everyone precious.  

Now we come to the crunch.  One lovely person has contributed no less than 561 of those comments - a staggering number you'll agree. I know because I have just counted them, and each and every time those comments have been warm, friendly and supportive.  It means so much.  I'm sure this same person does a similar service to other bloggers out there as I can't imagine that I have been singled out.  So it is with deep gratitude and affection that we give this years Herbie Special Award to someone we have never actually met.  

She is a boater, a writer (about boats among other things), a blogger, and we like to think, a good friend over the water(in the Netherlands).  She is

Val Poore

(aka Vallypee
aka VallyP)
See her blog here

Thank you so much Val, on behalf of all of those you so generously (and frequently) support with your kind comments.

Huge round of applause as the bloggers rise to their feet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One last look back beforewe present the Big Award

I am so looking forward to Herbie's Special Award tomorrow as it goes to a deserving winner who has given me a lot of pleasure, and it will give me a lot of pleasure to bestow our (admittedly valueless) award on this lovely person. However until then, please indulge me by letting me reprise an old blog post which gave not only me a lot of fun in writing it, but judging by the comments I got at the time, some others enjoyed it too.

I wrote this one in July 2010. Looking back on it now, I think it still holds true.
Judging a boat and its owner by the roof

Can you tell a boater by his roof, or the inside of his boat from the outside.? I reckon you often can. Let's look at some types - well outrageous stereotypes really.

1. The working boat roof.

It will of course have a short roof, behind a large hold, and the roof layout is non negotiable . Stern rope coiled on the rear hatch cover, mop stick raised (I estimate at 27 degrees) at the handle end to rest on the decorated water can (don't call it a Buckby can because it might not be and you will risk looking foolish), then just a pigeon box and of course a tall narrow engine exhaust chimney with brass rings and a chain. Nothing else.

We all know what's inside this boat. A traditional boatman's cabin with roses and castles and crochet and all that, and a big (sometimes huge) engine in the engine 'ole (note no H's allowed here.) If the engine does more than 200 rpm it can't be right. As for the boater, we can even have a good guess at his attire. Corduroy trousers, collarless shirt, maybe a red neckerchief and a trilby or a cap. Strangely this is the only type of boater that may not want to talk about toilets or batteries much.

2. The Feng Shui roof

This long minimalist roof will have merely it's fixed furniture of mushroom vents, a neat rack bearing poles and gangplank and perhaps a pigeon box and then just two rather expensive ropes trailing from the centre stud to the rear.

Inside, all will be spacious and calm. Either light oak or ash. Gentle curves will describe outlines of the granite worktops and sage green dralon will cover the comfortable seating. There will be a wine rack. Miscellaneous belongings of any type will not be seen. Near the rear entrance will be a large instrument panel with LED displays and winking lights. Below this will be a cupboard with lots of bottles of brasso, boat shampoo and all types of polish. The boat will probably have gas central heating, but if there is a stove, it will be diesel fired, for there is nowhere to keep firewood.

The owners, a recently retired couple will almost certainly wear smart fleeces, or if wet, Berghaus waterproofs. They will be pleasant but reserved. On muddy days they may choose not to cruise. A gambler might do well to bet on the boat being built by Braidbar boats.

3. The Garden roof

This has two sub groups

a) the Britain in Bloom roof - a long row of large pots of petunias.

b) the Bob Flowerdew roof - miscellaneous tubs, boxes and growbags festooned with tomatoes, courgettes, and the like. ( I was going to call this the Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall roof, but to be fair, that would have to have pigs and chickens).

Inside the boat will be homely and probably cottagey and in the case of b) probably a bit untidy. The owners of a) and b) are likely to be quite different from each other. a) being fairly conventional folk of at least middle age, and b) in their thirties and much more Bohemian and very possibly vegetarian. They will be happy. At locks and landing places they will get their ropes tangled.

4. The Eco warrior roof

This roof functions primarily as a power station. Older installations will be crowned by a wind generator on a pole. The guy ropes for the pole will prevent any sensible use of centre ropes for boat handling, but this is not important for owner of the boat will almost certainly live aboard and not move much. He or she will not have a television because the noise caused by vibrations of the pole will render the TV inaudible. He or she will either be young and go out a lot, or old and deaf.

Later Eco installations will of course have solar panels on the roof. The more the merrier. The annual mileage travelled by the boat will be inversely proportional to the square footage of solar panel. The owner will have no fear of electrical gubbins and will spend all of his spare time on the internet or in attempting failed DIY projects.

Both types will of course have a roof area dedicated to stacks of logs for firewood.

Eco warriors are , or like to think they are, good at DIY. The inside of their boat will have lots of wire and pliers and a stack of bits of plywood.

5. The Steptoe roof

This is very common on the Southern Grand Union. This roof looks like a local waste amenity only not so tidy. The majority of the objects placed there are either broken or rotten and are piled so deep that there is not the remotest chance that those on the bottom can be retrieved. There will be many spent leisure batteries. Interesting gems of bric a brac, a marble statue or a rare item of militaria nestle among the rubbish, waiting for Antiques Roadshow the make the owner rich.

Rich is the last thing this boater will be. Little does he know he is sitting on a fortune in scrap lead from all the old batteries. Any money he does have is spent on feeding his six Staffordshire Bull Terriers. As the boat will not have a functioning engine, it will never move from its towpath position, so the owner will have claimed a nice piece of ground alongside the towpath where he will light fires and sit through the long evenings with his fellow moorers. He will be friendly to all who pass and call out merrily to passing boats in language that no one can understand. The inside of the boat will be exactly like the roof, only damper.

6. The family roof

This roof will have separate areas. One for sunbathing, one for bicycles and wheelbarrows, one for vegetables (see Garden roof) and one for firewood. Inside the boat will be homely and a touch spartan but will have books and jigsaws. The crew will be large and they will travel the waterways like romanies of old. The children will be home educated and fit, able and intelligent but have no GCSE's. They will posses the rare attribute of being able to entertain themselves without electronic aids. When they grow up they will be entrepreneurs.

As for Herbie's roof, like most others it is a mixture of the above. A compromise between the needs of rope handling and storage, and soon I hope, solar panel. That's what started all this roof stuff off. How can I fit in a solar panel, a roof box (for coal, camping chairs etc), a gangplank and boat poles, Buckby cans and a flower pot in a tidy enough way to allow for good rope handling?