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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

RYA course day one– surprises

The first day of two leading hopefully to an RYA inland helmsman certificate, and very enjoyable.  The first pleasant surprise was to discover that our instructor was the redoubtable Andrew Phasey, leader and organiser of most of the St Pancras Cruising Club convoys on the tidal Thames, including the Nb section of the Queens Diamond Jubillee extravaganza.  I know Andrew to be a good organiser and planner and a clear leader, so I could tell we were in for some “proper” training.

The morning was spent of safety stuff mainly – use of life jackets, fire extinguishers and the like and then some tying of basic knots which I am glad to say I already knew.  (Thanks Rick for teaching me the wind it round the bollard clove hitch).  Then some stuff about tunnels.  Then this afternoon we drove down to Brentford to do some real  boating, not on a tiller steered narrowboat, but on a hydraulic wheel steered work boat  Sampson!  Here she is, on the left of the picture


Ooh er, not at all what my finely honed boating skills are applicable to.  Here’s the back end


That wheel takes a bit of getting used to, as does the hydraulic drive to the steerable Archimedean screw which propels the boat.  Once you gat the knack it handles quite well, especially at slow or near stationary speeds.  At higher speeds it comes a something of a shock to find you can go from full speed ahead to full speed astern at the flick of a lever!  On Herbie, were it even possible, you might wreck the drive plate and even the gearbox.  The Beta engine in this boat is one you might find in loads of narrowboats, but in this case it sits up near the front of the cabin driving a hydraulic pump.  Normal cruising revs are 2000rpm upwards and we touched 3000 at times!!!

After a first go of tootling along the doing a couple of about turns and bringing the boat back in, we quickly moved on to the fancier manoeuvres such as driving the front of the boat gently into the bank and holding her steady there for a couple of minutes, first at right angles to the bank then 45 degrees right, then the same left.  After that we each took her up the canal towards the GSK building the reversed a couple of hundred yards back through the bridge and into the basin.  I’d like another go to do it better, but I think I did enough to get through.  I’ll find out tomorrow.

Oh and we did an emergency stop too, which actually takes nearly half a minute in this heavy boat, thus teaching us lessons about thinking ahead.

All great fun, made even better by the fact that one of the three trainees was Clive the CRT operative who actually runs this boat on a daily basis (and loves his job).  Even he was learning things he didn’t know.

More tomorrow including some tests on what we learned today.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Exciting times?

After recent days of domestic pottering- dead heading flowers in the garden and putting the first undercoat on the Buckby can (here it is as far as I’ve got. Ignore the colours, they may be different at the finish, although it’s already close to Herbie livery so may be not. . . ) can undercoa

I’ve also been trying to practice painting some canal roses but so far I’m rubbish at it.  Oakie did some brilliant ones a while back.

Where was I? Oh yes. I  have three rather more exciting days in prospect starting tomorrow. Sadly it also means getting out of bed rather earlier than I am accustomed to these days, as I have to be at Adelaide dock in Southall at 8am tomorrow for the first day of my RYA helmsman certificate training which is being provided by CRT to allow me to be a volunteer boat mover.  At last I might find out how I should have been operating a canal boat all this time.  I suspect I might get ticked off for some of my bad habits.  Some readers will no doubt have done such a course in the past, but for those who haven’t I’ll try to report on anything interesting that crops up.

The course is two days, so what is my third exciting day?  Well, it’s off topic, but I might as well report on that too.  On Thursday we’re going up to Stratford (upon Avon) to visit a guitar shop.  After buying Maffi’s old Squier Stratocaster a year ago I have been bitten by the solid electric guitar bug and now I want to get a rather posher one. (I’m sure Maffi won’t be offended that having really really enjoyed his cast off, I now want to move up the ladder a bit.)  I am a bit of an occasional sufferer from GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome), having bought quite a few in the past.  Some of my good friends are now enjoying ones that I have passed on.  Why all the way to Stratford?  My researches have led me there.  In my experience you want to be careful who you buy a guitar from.  Guitars need careful setting up to give of their best and a lot of shops are rubbish at it.  Of course I may well come away empty handed but I do have my eye on a nice G&L Tribute S500.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Come and see my disastrous etchings

Sorry the old blog has been a bit moribund lately.  I have been busy with the general “stuff” of life.  However I have been doing a little bit to make Herbie more presentable.  Our old “Buckby” cans ( I know, I know, probably not Buckby) are suffering the ravages of the weather and big flakes of paint are falling off here and there.  In an effort to preserve the goodish bits I brought one home and am restoring it by rubbing down and repainting just the bottom half of it. Being galvanised it needed an etching primer, but the old thin of that in my shed rattled rather than sloshed when I shook it so I went in search of more.  I came across a spray can version in Halfords so I thought I’d give that a go.  Less paint for the same money, but I don’t need much anyway.  You don’t want to breath in this stuff when you are spraying.  My lungs are not in need of acid etching.


image of U-POL Acid #8 Etch Primer

For the fun of it I also painted the bare metal with vinegar first which is an old trick.  It did put a dull finish on the zinc so I guess it did something.  Then of course I masked off the bits I wanted to preserve, and unknown to me that was where my real problems began.  Here is the can still masked up after being sprayed with primer.


The I took the masking tape off to reveal this.


Oh well, I’ve learned two things

a) the paint was a lot flakier than I thought so it wouldn’t have lasted long anyway so I’m better off repainting the whole can, and

b) now I know a good way to remover the old paint without rubbing and sanding.  I’ll just use masking tape and it’ll leave a better, unscratched finish .

Hey ho.  I guess the can was never properly primed in the first place.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Braunston Rally - chaotic and wet but fun plus a WOW!

Imagine getting a few dozen really big lorries, then splitting them into two groups either end of a narrow alley then getting them to change ends all at the same time. That's Braunston rally that is, except it's boats not lorries. The chaos is truly wonderful.

Sometimes the squeezes are tightish as you can see.

This pictures are of the Sunday parade. Saturday was the same but very very much wetter. It is now Monday and Saturday's pair of jeans are still wet. The idea was for Kath and me to play merry tunes aboard Chertsey as sarah steerd us expertly through the mayhem. That is in fact what happened on Sunday, but on Saturday we elected not to ruin our instruments in the deluge so we just sat on the deck and got soaked.

You have to admire Jim and Sarah. Who else would make a brief pause during the parade to take on board a ton of coal from Jules Fuels. Forty bags in about three minutes.

That'll hopefully help Chersey to get under the bridges down to Stratford later this week.

Braunston Rally is a sociable occasion and we met up with Bones (Bones), Adam and Adrian (Briar Rose), Simon and Anne aka The Moomins (Melaleuca) and Jams and Amy (Willow) none of which came by boat, and then some of our new found friends from the Historic Narrow Boat Club.

Sarah gave us a short lecture on how to recognise a Woolwich from a Northwich and I am now bursting with erudition about rivet patterns, tunnel bands and handrails. I can't wait to show off to someone.

Besides all the boating we got in a bit of culture by going to the Daystar theatre play (excellent) and the Mikron show (very excellent). At the latter the small audience was joined by Timothy West and Prunella Scales who both obviously enjoyed the show although I suspect it might have been dauntingg for the actors seeing them in the second row.

WOW! in the time I have been writing this post, we have been sitting here at Calcutt Boats while their mechanic has removed a chunk of Herbie's injection pump, stripped it down and replaced O rings and replaced it. Our leak is now fixed and it's only 10.40am! He didn't start until about half past nine. The last mechanic who looked at it said it might take an hour or two to get the injection pump off then it would have to be sent away etc etc. We probably saved a couple of hundred quid or possibly more by bringing it here. Must stop now and go and flash the plastic.




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Knackered in Braunston

Hi. Long time no see.  Long time no internet.  The canals hereabouts aren't very web connectable, Braunston especially.  However here I am some 100 feet at a guess above the canal in the centre of Braunston village.  I am having a rest on a public bench because having climbed up the steep hill to the butchers, Kath suddenly remembered she had forgotten to bring her purse, so muggins had to walk all the way down and back up again to get it.

We've had a good time getting here, accompanied by NbChertsey expertly piloted by Sarah who kindly managed to avoid crushing little old Herbie while we shared Braunston locks.  I think I might have an alcohol free day or two now to recover from the previous two nights boozing.

I would have shown you a before and after photo of Herbie's polished cabin sides, but sadly I can't make photo's work today. Suffice it to say I have been putting in a bit of the old elbow grease.

Ooh I nearly forgot to mention the big event of the week.  Chertsey Jim has given me/Herbie a klaxon. Not just any old klaxon, but a genuine Klaxon klaxon.  It needs a little bit of rubbing down and a lick of paint, but it works a treat and sounds great. I fear I might become an annoyance along the canal now.

We're staying put now until Sunday, so we can enjoy the historic boats at the weekend.  We are due to provide a live musical accompaniment to Chertsey's engine during the parades so look out for us if you are there.  I wonder if I can work a Klaxon part into any of our tunes!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Lovely weather for boating and here we are stuck at home.  I’m having to resort to gardening!!  If this keeps up the garden will be in danger of looking half respectable.  Never mind, we’re back on board later next week.  I expect it will be raining by then.

BTW I have written the first word of my next book, but I’m keeping it secret apart from a few trusted friends.  I now have ten good reviews of Jobs for the Boys and in response to a few people being unable to decipher the cover design, I have drafted a new one.  What do you think? Any comments gratefully received.


jftb cover jpeg

Saturday, June 07, 2014

A better Mr Fixit?


In February I posted this picture of  a bit of Herbie’s engine, where the throttle linkage goes into the injection pump.

injection pump leak

We have a diesel leak there. Broken or worn seal I suppose.  Anyway, at the time I said that the “engineers” at our then moorings took one look at it and reached for their crucifixes muttering about injection pump repairs being one of the dark arts.  They could remove the whole pump (might take them some hours they said) and send it away for repair, then of course take some hours to replace it when it was fixed.  At their prices I conservatively estimated a bill of about £350+. I politely declined their offer and resolved to have a word with Calcutt boats when we got Herbie back up to the midlands.  The engine came from Calcutt and I know from past experience that they know what they are doing .

Well, at the Crick show I had a word with Jim from Calcutt and described the problem.  “Does the pump need to come off?” I asked.  He said he doubted it, this problem is normally fixed in situ. He’s done a few of them. If all goes well it could all be fixed in a couple of hours.  Should cost less than £100 inc parts. Is he being overly optimistic?  Well he has previously removed Herbies engine, swapped out the camshaft, and reinstalled the engine in a day, so who am I to doubt him?  Of course the problem might be more serious and require more work, but still I rather he does it than some of the so called marine engineers out there.  We’re booked in to have it done on the Monday after the Braunston rally weekend because that’s when we’ll be in the area.

Talking about Mr Fixits, here is a picture of our son Peter’s elbow, which another Mr Fixit declined to fix yesterday, but for a very good reason.


The pen marks on his arm were intended to inform the surgeon which elbow to put two screws and a plate into.  Peter took a fall last week and cracked his elbow radial head. Ouch! He was booked in for the op yesterday but at the last minute the registrar had second thoughts. On re-examining the x ray they could see that the bone was crushed rather than split and the damage was granular, so putting in screws might make matters worse.  The surgeon agreed and as the injury was healing up reasonably well, they elected to let nature get on with it.  Now he is home with us for a week.  He and I have plans to play with electronics and meccano to make some useless but amusing toy or other.

Oh one last thing.  Thanks to those who have been kind enough to send in reviews of my book to amazon. I now have seven reviews, three at five stars and four at four stars.  I’m delighted that the most common comment is that it is an enjoyable read.  The ever helpful Val Poore tells me that if I get up to ten reviews I can register on another site that recommends books to it’s subscribers, so if anyone else out there has read the book and can find a minute to send in a very short review I’d be forever grateful.  If you haven’t read the book, what are you waiting for?   Go read the reviews and invest a trifling 99 pence to get your own copy at