Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good day Bad day- we discover a gas trick and then have a crash.

We're spending a few days on Herbie in the marina, jut to get away from it all and before we leave to prepare her for the winter cold. This morning there was a knock on the roof and it was Trevor Whitling, our BSS examiner, back to test the gas after we had someone try to find and fix the leak which caused us to fail recently. Actually no particular leak could be found but all the fittings had been tightened up. Trevor fitted his electronic manometer to the test point, we filled the system with gas and then turned off at the bottle. The idea then is that the pressure should hold steady for five minutes. It didn't.

The problem is that the pressure drop was outside the allowed tolerance, but still very small. How the hell were we supposed to find where it might be leaking? Then Trevor had an idea. The boat had been warm and cosy when he arrived, but in going in and out to the gas locker he had left the front door open and the temperature had dropped quickly. We closed the door for a few minutes then tried again. The pressure held for six minutes and we passed! So the tiny pressure drop had been caused by the gas cooling and contracting in the pipework. Hooray, Herbie is now certificated safe for the next four years.

I would recommend Trevor to anyone who wants a survey or a BSS. He is likeable, very experienced, diligent and reasonable. Living as he does in Crick, he does a lot of pre purchase survey work at Braunston, ABNB and Whilton.

So that was our start to the day, so far, so good.

This afternoon we drove over to Milton Keynes to visit Kath's sister, then on to IKEA to get a few bits and bobs. We always seem to end up spending far more there than we planned. Not on furniture but on bits of this and that. Ooh look that's nice and only three quid. Ooh look that's useful and only four quid. By the time e get to the till it's "how the hell did we spend sixty quid?"

Anyway we set off in the murk back towards Crick and half way back on a roundabout on the A5 we had a coming together with a Stagcoach bus. I was a bit confused about which exit I needed on the roundabout, and making a dash for the required exit at the last minute we and the bus crossed paths. Nobody hurt, and the damage is resticted to a crumpled rear wheel arch on our car. I don't think the bus got more than a scratch. I'll phone our insurers in the morning. I suppose I ought to have the wheel checked for alignment too as it might have taken some of the blow. Even though we have no-claims protection I bet my premium goes up next year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The London visitor mooring nobody visits

Yesterday we did a CRT volunteer event at Uxbridge Rd visitor moorings in Southall.  If you’ve been that way, you’ll recognise it.




This is a problem site because although there is good towpath (only recently resurfaced)  and piling suitable for tying to, and it is handy for shops and pubs, the local population is fond of feeding the swans and geese here and this is the result:


The path is slimy with bird poo and not everyone is happy to walk amongst these large birds.  I dare say it is not healthy to do so either.  I counted 52 swans not including all the geese and whatnot.

This bin is mostly full of empty bags which were presumably used to bring along bird food, often rice apparently.


Here are the signs telling people not to do it!  However we were told that many people drive out here with their kids purposely to feed the birds. 


Consequently it is the visitor mooring that no-one moors at.

Yesterday we spend a few hours there interviewing passers by and local residents about how they regard the canal frontage.  Here is our leader Dick talking to a local.


The gentleman in the picture thought the area was safe enough to moor, but with all the mess, who would want to.  There were reports of yoofs loitering under the bridge in the evenings and we found an empty vodka bottle and loads of beer cans there. Apparently the police occasionally pay visits and people have been arrested for dealing in the past.

Such a pity that as useful mooring spot like this is spoilt.  It’s not far from the centre of Southall which has loads of interesting ethnic shops and the locals seem very friendly, as does the Hamborough tavern by the bridge (although it has no real ale).  With all the pressure on London moorings, it would be good if this spot could get sorted out.  Dick is on the case and has a meeting about it next week.  If it was down to me, I think I would consider moving the mooring signs back down the bank away from the bridge and installing some rings there.  It wouldn’t solve the problem of the birds but it might make it a more attractive spot for an overnight stop.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Here is the news for April 1891–canal worker killed by steam shovel.

I was doing a bit of family genealogy today using the absolutely wonderful village history site of Badsey, the village where I was brung up in Worcestershire.  During my researches I came across this little item referring to a young man whose remains lie only yards from those of my granny and grandad.  In fact I could even be a distant relative of this Richard Knight, because there are Knights in our family in the first half of the 19th century.  Anyway I thought you might be interested because it relates to a canal incident of sorts.  Here is the text


A steam navvy is another name for a mechanical shovel or digger, and in those days they were driven by steam and pictures show them having a large boiler at the back end. Click this link to see loads of excellent pictures of steam navvies working

It’s clear from the text that the employing company accepted no responsibility for this poor chaps death  “the men being supposed to look after themselves”.  It’s also interesting that a young man from the Vale of Evesham should have been working up on the Manchester Ship Canal.  Clearly the canals weren’t only dug by the Irish.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gabions on the South Oxford


Chugging up the S Oxford recently we had to manoeuvre past these fine fellows mucking about in the water.  You can see how deep the canal isn’t in these parts. The man in the water is only up to his ankles. I presume they are widening the towpath where the bank has been eroded away.  Anyway, they are using a technique I hadn’t seen on the canal bank before, which is installing gabions, i.e. cages of rocks.

I hadn’t realised before that gabions were built on site. They had big flat sheets of the wire mesh and were cutting and bending it to make the cages which were then interlinked using helical thingys a bit like spiral notebook binding.  Once made up and places in the water they shovelled the rocks in and capped them off with more wire.  The finished thing looked like this.


If you look closely you can see the spiral binders.

What happens next I’m not sure.  Might they try to turf over the top?  Or perhaps plant other waterside vegetation that will grow through the rocks.  If anyone else has passed by since we were there ( I see my photo is dated 10 October), I would be interested to know.

I had a quick read up on gabions on Wikipedia and it reckons they might last about 50 years before the wire rusts through.  Maybe by then they will be consolidated by mud and vegetation.


PS I notice that it’ll soon be time for the Annual Herbie Awards, you’d better pop down to Sketchleys with that tuxedo.

Friday, November 07, 2014


It’s Jacob’s 17th birthday soon.  He used to look up to me, now I look up to him.  Not long after we bought Herbie he looked like this (performing his cabin boy duties)


Now look at him!!


Where did that time go?

I’m having another period where my book is free, from Sunday 9th Nov until the 13th which is all they allow.  Some people have I think had problems with putting it on an ipad.  This is how you do it.  Use the ipad’s browser to go to Amazon and find the book, just search for Herbie Neil as author.  Grab your free copy and it will ask you where you want to download to, then say Ipad (or iphone I suppose) or Android if that’s what you have.  If you have the free kindle reader on your tablet then that’s where it will arrive.  If by some miracle you haven’t heard about my book, follow the link on the top right of this blog page.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Visit Napton–if you’re spared

Like a lot of boaters, we’ve passed through Napton on the Hill quite a few times without actually visiting the village.  Most of us think of it like this, (a picture I took in April 2011), in fact if you look at Sue's No Problem blog today she has taken a picture from nearly the same spot.


I have to admit that when it comes to Napton we mainly think of the Folly pub by the canal. Last week though we actually strolled up to the village centre so Kath could catch a bus, and what a pleasant surprise it was.  There are some lovely old houses, a nice village green area and a good little village store which also doubles as a coffee bar.  If you are of a religious bent you might also take advantage of the quaint Napton Christadelphian Meeting Room, which has meetings on Sunday but apparently only as long as God is happy about it, or I suppose if you’re spared.


I didn’t know anything about Christadelphians but a quick scan of Wikipedia tells me that there are only sixty thousand of them on the planet.  Now Napton has a population of just under a thousand, which is roughly 0.000014% of the world’s population.  Let’s assume that they get about 10 people at the meeting. That’s 0.0016% of the Christadelphians.  If I have my sums right that means if you live in Napton you are a roughly a thousand times more likely than average to be a Christadelphian!!!  Aren’t stats wonderful?

Anyway, do pop up to the village next time you pass.  You won’t be disappointed.  It’s lovely.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gas gas gas–steam steam steam.

Herbie has an ickle tiny gas leak somewhere.  Not much but enough to fail the BSS which was carried out by Trevor Whitling yesterday.  Nevertheless I was reasonably pleased for two reasons. One, that he confirmed that all the electrics,  fuel lines, safety equipment and gas appliances and heating and ventilation were of a good safe standard, and two, that the one fault he did find i.e. the drop in gas pressure under test, was something that only an expert with the proper equipment will be able to find, so I am absolved from having to attempt it personally. (Hooray)  He has given us the name of a good Gas Safe registered man locally and will liaise with him after the man has found and fixed the leak to pop back to confirm the readings and sign us off.  That’s the benefit to us of using Trevor as he lives in Crick.  So another quick dip into Herbie’s so called sinking fund and we should be done for another four years.  Despite the fact that Trevor had to fail us, he carried out a much better inspection than we have had previously and explains well what he is looking for and I would recommend him unreservedly.  Nice bloke too.

We had to shoot off home immediately after the inspection because today we had an appointment on the Watercress Line steam railway in Hampshire.  Readers may recall me mourning the sad death of our very good friend Pete last year.  Pete was a keen volunteer in the railway carriage works at the line and today we remembered that by taking a trip on the line and at Ropley where he worked, his son Matt rode the footplate of the working locomotive Lord Nelson and shovelled the remainder of Pete’s ashes into the fire box as we prepared to pull away from the station.  Pete would have been tickled pink at the thought.

If you like steam trains, the Watercress line is a good one to visit as you can get up close and personal to some fine working locomotives and there is lots to see at the workshops.  The ride from Alresford to Alton and back is attractive too.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Colonic Irrigation saves the day!!

Jim at Calcutt Boats fixed our diesel leaks yesterday and now we have a shiny new lift pump. It amazes me how a piece of automotive machinery like that only costs 23 quid. I bet if it were a part for a modern car it would be several times the price.

What Jim failed to do though was to find the source of the water leaking into the engine bay bilge. He spent a long time spreadeagled across the engine and peering round the back of the calorifier but to no avail. I was a bit despondent when we finished and it being late in the day we moored up just above Calcutt top lock. Overnight I worried at the problem, fearful that if it were say a coolant leak which suddenly got worse we could suffer a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Well this morning I decided that it need another look at and as we were still only yards from Calcutt Boats, I reported back and asked for further investigation.

Jim, still smiling and ever patient, returned to the task and spent another goodness knows how long squeezed between a running engine and the side of the boat. He tightened a couple of hose clips without much hope as it all seemed dry round there. Then he leaned over and gave the calorifier's pressure release valve a knock with a spanner and shouted "aaargh" as a jet of hot water shot up his bum which happened to be poised over the valve's overflow pipe end. Then it all became clear and explained why the swim inner wall near that point had had streaks of wet like condensation on it. The PRV had been sticking open a bit and spitting water onto the wall and dripping into the bilges. A new PRV (£12) was drawn from the stores and fitted. There was now a lot of water in the bilge as the calrofier had emptied itself in the process of removing the old valve. Jim brought out Calcutt's trusty mega bilge hoover and we were soon dry.

By now it was nearly noon and we needed to get as close to Crick as possible before dark because we have to be there for the BSS inspection on Thursday.

Kath had the car at Calcutt having rescued it from Cropredy yesterday, so she now had to run it back to Crick then get two buses back to Braunston to join me when I managed to get Herbie there. Kath shot off to Crick while I took Herbie down to Wigrams Turn and then left towards Braunston. Our good fortune continued in remarkable fashion as when I drew Herbie under Butcher's Bridge in Braunston two hours later, Kath was just walking down the path from the bus. Pefect timing. Braunston locks were kind to us and we reached Norton junction comfortably before dark which is where we are now. With some trepidation I lifted the deck board to peer in the engine bay fearing I might see a few more pints of water in the bilge and another load of spilled diesel under the engine, but I'm very happy to say there was practically none. Hooray!

Cause for a celebratory pint or two in the New Inn tonight don't you think?

Jim worked for us an hour and a half yesterday and probably over two hours this morning much of which was trying to find the source of leaks. We had a new lift pump and a new pressure relief valve. Total cost just over £150. I don't think that's a lot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Where we are and why.

Here we sit at Calcutt while the redoubtable Jim stops bits of our engine from leaking diesel and hopefully finds the source of the water collecting on the floor around the calorifier.

We're on our way back to Crick following our short stay at Cropredy marina while we popped home breaking our sojourn up the Oxford canal. As you know, the last couple of days have been windy which is not ideal for crossing the South Oxford summit, but we managed it unscathed. This time we had Jacob and his girlfriend (yes he is growing up) Faith as crew. In order to give them a treat you understand, we have eaten out each night. Is it just me or are pub meal portions getting bigger. Three nights in a row I have been unable to finish my meal! I come from a generation where an empty plate at the end of a meal was essential, otherwise you would be accused of waste. The biggest meal of all was the chicken and ham pie with cheesy mash and veg at teh Wharf at Fenny Compton. It was really delicious, but the pie in particular was humungous, aboutsix inchs square and and inch and a half thick.

Napton locks are closed for quite a while from next week for new gates on a few locks and a mega repair to the lock approach side on lock 10. Already a small army of men and machines are assembling in readiness and brand new gates are lying on the lock sides ready for fitting. They're having an open day a week into the work where anyone can coma along and see the work from inside the empty lock. Well worth a visit of you are in the area.

Providing Jim gets finished this afternoon we will be heading back via Braunston to get to Crick in time for our BSS inspection on Thursday. Trevor Whitling is doing it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

BSS time

Yes the old anno domini has caught up with Herbie again and we’re due for the four yearly Safety Inspection.  Reading through the latest edition of the BSS manual I don’t think we have too much to worry about, but you never know what a keen inspector might find.  Time to spend a bit of money on the old gal.  Never mind, Herbie’s “sinking fund” has a bit put by for such things.  The fund is due for a bit of use in any case because now the fuel lift pump is leaking.  That’s a simple enough job and even a new pump is only £22 or so.  We also seem to be collecting water in the engine bay bilges (not the oily bit) and it took me ages to realise that it wasn’t coming from the stern gland, but from somewhere in the calorifier plumbing.  The calorifier isn’t the easiest thing to get to, being in a corner of the engine bay. I really can’t be bothered with contortionist acts these days, I’ll get a man to fix it.

Six people have paid good money (99p each or the dollar or euro equivalent) for my book this month!!  I feel quite buoyed up.  I also got another good reader review (thanks Chris) which is worth more to me than any meagre royalties.  I’ve at last got round to doing a page about the book which you can see from the blog.  See the link under pages on the right hand side of the blog screen.  In it you will find a synopsis (otherwise know as publisher’s blurb), an unexpurgated copy of all the reviews the book has received and a little bit about how I came to write the book.  Plus of course a link for anyone wishing to get a copy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How CRT does health checks

Well I went for my CRT volunteer medical exam the other day and I was impressed. The tests are carried out by a hired in contractor, Working on Wellbeing Ltd. and I suppose are the sort of health MoT you might have to pay quite a bit for on the open market.

I suppose that these are the standard tests that all CRT manual staff undergo. Here's what they do.

Mine was at Adelaide dock in Southall. It wasn't hard to find the man when I arrived, the specially equipped test van was in the yard.

After the usual form filling and questions about the last time I saw a doctor and any serious known conditions etc. we set to work on the tests. First of course was to weigh and measure. No surprise to find I need to lose weight (either that or gain height)!

Next pulse and blood pressure which found me to be OK ish. Had I remembered to take my prescribed beta blocker that morning and not had a stressful journey in I would probably have been quite good.

Next a blood sample for cholesterol and blood sugars. This goes into a little hand held machine that prints out a result in seconds. My results were in the DESIRABLE category. Not often I get called desirable!

After that the computer calculated my cardiovascular risk which put me as moderate. Apparently if I were in a queue of 100 similarly aged men waiting for their heart attack I would be 85th, so that' s not so bad.

Then came the fun bits. First the lung function where you play blowing through what looks like the cardboard tube from a loo roll. A machine measures your lung capacity and what force you can exhale at. After crunching the numbers it tells me that I have the lungs of a man two years younger than me. Sorry mate, I thought they were mine.

Then into a booth for the hearing tests. Listening for beeps at a range of volumes and frequencies. A bit of a joke because someone just outside the van was operating some heavy machinery making all kinds of whirring noises. However, the results when I saw them were a close match to those I got when I had tests at our local audiometry clinic a few years ago. I have high frequency loss in one ear. If you want to whisper sweet nothings to me, then you'd better do it on my right hand side. Because of that, the computer automatically printed out a letter which I could take to my GP if I wanted. The letter showed the frequency graphs. No need for me 'cos I already had that looked at.

Eye tests next. Not like you get at spec savers because here they are only interested in what you can see with your glasses on. I had to peer into a machine and read tiny writing. Far vision, near vision and the standard Ishihara colour blindness test. All acceptable for me. With my glasses off I'm as blind as a bat.

At the end you get a full printed report with all the detailed facts and figures and explanations of what they mean. Eleven pages in all. A copy is sent to CRT. The man said he could see no reason why they shouldn't take advantage of my body, if you see what I mean.

It took about an hour all told. Is this OTT for a volunteer? Maybe not. If they are using old codgers like me to climb about on boats and locks then I guess they ought to check us out. Anyway, personally I was more than happy to have the kind of checkup I might normally have to pay for. Another perk of being a volunteer.

Now I await the call for an actual bot moving duty, probably at first alongside regular CRT staff. I think they are going to use us to help with putting work boats in place for the upcoming winter stoppage work.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Another volunteer hurdle to jump

Congrats and many thanks to Chris who sent a link to my Cropredy rubbish post to CRT ands got a response saying they would do something about it.  Why didn’t I think of that instead of just complaining to you readers?

After my RYA helmsman training and the Health and Safety and life saving stuff, I thought I had jumped through all the hoops in becoming a CRT volunteer boat mover, but no, it goes on.  Tomorrow morning I have to attend Adelaide dock for a medical examination which is to last about an hour! Blimey, I wish I could get that long with my GP. What could be next I wonder?  A battery of psychometric tests? An outward bound course?  An audition?  Will they want to see my O level certificates? I’ll let you know.