Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Not that sort of Fender Rick

When I asked Rick to hang a fender over the side of the boat, this wasn't quite what I meant!

Rick has form when it comes to losing fenders, but I managed to rescue this one before it came to any harm.

Oh well, Rick and Marilyn are going home tomorrow after a few days helping us on our move southward, so we can have a return to sanity. Tonight we are at Berko, so you might say we have broken the back of the journey. It's literally down hill all the way now and things have gone pretty well really. No one has fallen in and we have all had a jolly time.

Tonight we will all be joined by the legend that is Rain Man for a celebratory meal at Wetherspoons (no expense spared with us as you can see).

I have been very remiss in not keeping a camera about my person, especially on Sunday afternoon when we saw a rare(ish) meteorlogical event in the form of several "fallstreak holes" in the cloud cover. This where a circular or elliptical hole forms in the cloud cover with brush like whisps of falling droplets descending from the hole. Its all to do with ice crystals - quite impressive, especially when you see three or four of them at the same time. Google them if you are interested.

Hmmm, what else can I report? Oh yes, we tried out the Three Locks Pub at Soulbury and we were pleasantly surprised. The food was better than average and you could buy three different ales in third of a pint glasses for ther price of a normal pint. Very useful when you are faced with a number of unfamiliar brews. I would definately go there again.


Friday, October 09, 2015

Back and forth

There might be some CRT boat checker somewhere with a headache today. He probably thinks he's losing the plot, because earlier in the week they will have spotted us moving southwards down the GU, then they will have seen us moored up in Great Linford for two days, still facing South, and today they would see us back up at Wolverton, still facing South. Perhaps they will think we reversed for an hour and a half this morning! all will be explained below.

Despite some inconsiderate person having moored in our favourite spot in Great Linford (how dare they?!), we had a pleasant berth for the last two nights almost opposite it and were compensated by this nice view out of the window.

Yesterday we caught the bus into the great metrollops of Milton Keynes to go and see Mr Holmes at the cinema. After years and years and years and years of never going to the cinema we have started this year to go most weeks, courtesy of the Odeon Silver Screen programme which puts on very good films each week for over 55s for three quid including coffee and biscuits! Not old films, just maybe two or three months after general release. I'm becoming quite a film buff. Mr Holmes was very good. Go and see it if you get the chance, or I suppose wait until it comes on telly in a year or two.

Returning to the boat last evening we discovered that Herbie must have had her pins pulled out by some careless boater going past too fast, and some kind person had banged them back in, and added a third one on the centre rope. Thanks whoever you are. One of the pins was hammered in so deep that it took me five minutes to dig it out this morning.

Actually it's not to fool the boat checkers that we have retraced our steps to get back to Wolverton. It's because I have to catch a train tomorrow to meet Rick at Long Buckby, when we will nip up to Leicester to visit the Space Centre along with the old boys of the engineering association from where we both used to work in 1970.

Did you know the boat checkers log us into their system even when they see us cruising along the canal? I didn't until I saw one doing it the other day. I suppose some people will complain that it's all a bit too Big Brother, but I don't mind if it helps to deal with the people who pretend to be continuous cruiser when they are not.


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Of cloudbursts, curries and Kiwis.

Herbie rests in Stoke Bruerne after a good soaking this morning. The crew are pretty damp too, at least they were before a change of clothes and a sit by the fire. Meanwhile a warming curried store cupboard random concoction (devised and executed by yours truly) of chicken, onions, peppers, apricots and tomatoes sits on the hob to warm our insides later.
- after which we will drag local resident Katherine over to the pub to celebrate / commiserate over the recent sale of her boat Leo to new owners and no doubt to hear her gloat over her team, New Zealand, still being in the rugby wold cup, whilst our lot are out on their ears.
I narrowly escaped a garotting today, during the sharp right hand bend just after the Spiderworks Paint dock where you go under the road bridge. Unexpectedly, a boat came the other way towing a butty on a long line. All three skippers held their nerve and nobody came to grief, but it could have been interesting if our timing had been slightly different.

The Tachomatic Revostat performed a little better today and held us nicely at our cruising speed of 1400 rpm. It still needs a tweak though to hold us steady at other speeds. Nevertheless it held steady for 32 minutes through Blisworth tunnel without adjustment - the only time it didn't rain of course, although it was chilly in there.

Our target for tomorrow is Great Linford where I hope we will find space to tie up.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Poetry in motion

Monday morning 9.30 am.

Blimey it's gloomy here at Norton junction this morning. I sit here awaiting Kath's arrival at lunchtime and my mind turns to the prospect of the afternoon's entertainment as we resume our journey in the general direction of Antarctica, or more precisely, Slough. A little poem forms in my mind as I only just stop myself from putting a spoonful of instant coffee into the kettle. Must concentrate.

Going down Buckby locks in the rain

Going down Buckby locks in the rain

It's a pain

It does my brain


When it's rain


Going down Buckby locks in the rain

My own brilliance humbles me.


Adam, who has good form in solving my riddles, correctly deduced that the Tachomatic Revostat is indeed a device to stop Herbie's morse control lever from slipping back. Halfie got it too, but as it was his second attempt and he was three minutes behind, Adam takes the biscuit.

Sadly, the beautifully crafted stainless steel that Rick used to make the TR seems insufficiently robust to exert the pressure required to apply the necessary friction between the lever and it's mount. I have reinstalled it for a second trial, but I fear that we may have to revert to the previous solution, suggested ages ago by Oakie, of installing a rubber O ring. That is not perfect, but is fairly effective. Better anyway than my previous effort, which was to hand a weight ( a mooring chain actually) from the lever knob.


Sunday, October 04, 2015

Solo Flight

Kath didn't make it back to Herbie yesterday, too busy being a grandma, so I set off as a single hander in order to keep us moving. The only obstacle would be Watford locks, which have a good supply of volunteer lock keepers, so I expected they would help me down the flight.

it was a long wait at the top of the locks, about an hour and three quarters I think, and the lockies were busy, so when I got into the actual staircase bit, they left me to get on with it. So there was I hopping on and off the boat and red-before-white paddling and all that, all on my tod. Actually I enjoyed it and it was easier than I thought. Thankfully a kind couple of boaters waiting to come up, worked me through the last two single locks and then I was away.


Herbie purred along the canal with the mark 1 Tachomatic Revostat not exactly living up to expectations. I think I may have compressed it beyond its elastic limit. I have rebent it and reinstalled it for further trials. No one has correctly guessed what it is yet. I'll give you a clue - it's there to ensure steady progress.

Today Herbie has another rest day just before Norton Junction. I don't fancy Buckby Locks on my own. In fact I don't fancy them anyway. They are not my favourites.


It's very pleasant here. The solar panel, in dappled shade is managing about 2.6 amps and there is the occasional passing boat to look at. And of course, should I need it, there is a pub just around the corner.


Friday, October 02, 2015

The Tachomatic Revostat

Rick made us a present for Herbie. We will be testing it out on our trip south which starts tomorrow.

Here it is:

Beautifully hand crafted by the master himself. I fitted it yesterday. Can anyone guess what it is for? The only person who might guess it correctly is Oakie I reckon.


Herbie sits in glorious sunshine out on the canal just outside Crick marina while I wait for Kath to come back tomorrow after taking the car home, when no doubt it'll start raining. Then it's off down south for the winter. When we get there our first port of call will be Rembrandt gardens where we have booked a week's mooring. Then it'll be off back to Iver and our winter mooring ar High Line Yachting.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

A trip to remember–not necessarily fondly


Poor old work boat Enfield lay, as she has for a long long time, just south of Bow Locks on the Limehouse cut.  Unused and unloved, she was in dire need of a makeover and CRT finally took pity on her and decided she ought to be brought back to life.  They booked her in for a refurb at Uxbridge Boat Centre.  Fellow volunteer Richard and I were to nurse her along the 28 mile trip from Bow Locks to Uxbridge starting on Tuesday.  She was in a pretty poor state when we found her, miscellaneous junk everywhere inside and outside, and with a noticeable list to starboard. 

The cabin floor was under water for half the way across, and none of the electrical fittings worked, not even the bilge pump, and the floor of the toolshed section was rotten in places.  Most of this I suppose was because the boat had lain unused for so long. No wonder they were sending her for a refit.



Mercifully the engine eventually started and the high pitched wine of the hydraulics turned the archimedean screw prop as we set off up the canal, snaking left and right as we tried to accustom ourselves to the wheel steering, also hydraulic.  Enfield’s engine is right up at the front of the hull, which in turn is overhung by three of four feet of foredeck, so the boat seems front heavy as it steers and overswings to an alarming degree until you get used to it.  The other problem is that from the steering position, you can’t see the front of the boat, so you have to guess (usually wrongly) where it might be.  Later we discovered that she manoeuvres wonderfully well in a tight space and turns right round in her own length.

Progress was desperately slow.  At something over 2000 revs we were doing about one mile an hour, not least because we seemed to be carrying half a ton of pennywort wrapped around the front of the hull. Stooping before Old Ford  electric lock on the Lee navigation we poked and scraped at the pennywort to clear the hull (this is about a quarter of what we pulled off the hull).


We phoned in to CRT to say that this trip was going to take rather longer than we had all estimated. In fact at least three days instead of two.  “Well, see how far you can get today and then let us know.” they said.

We pressed on through Duckett’s cut


and onto the Regents canal where we got held up for ages by a couple of guys taking two ramshackle boats up through the first lock.  They got one of the boats stuck under the lip of the rear lock gate and had to let a lot of water out and start again. By now we were already about three hours behind schedule, having started an hour late for one reason and another.  Enfield seemed to pick up speed marginally and for a short while we must have been approaching a mile and three quarters an hour, then at Actons lock I think, there was a real downpour just as Richard was doing the lock gates.  I was beginning to think that this trip was rather less fun than I had anticipated.  The canal was covered in duckweed in most places, but that stuff never seems to impede progress, especially for boat with archimedean props.

City Road lock, once we reached it, did its usual trick of reopening the gate you have just shut as soon as you walk away from it and I had to enlist the help of a passing walker to hold it shut while I ran up the other end to let water in.  Then of course came Islington tunnel.  By now the evening gloom was beginning to settle.  We had found a loose tunnel light inside the boat and plugged it into a socket on the roof.  Earlier in the day when we tested it, it worked, but now at the crucial moment, it didn’t.

Creeping into the darkness, the only light we had was the little LED torch which is a feature of my mobile phone.  It was surprisingly bright, but we still ricocheted back and forth off the tunnel walls as we struggled with the wayward steering. Emerging from the tunnel it was clear that we would have to find somewhere to tie up pretty soon as darkness was descending.  Not an easy task in London of course.  Richard knew of a CRT workboat mooring on the offside below St Pancras lock so we headed for that at our one and a bit miles an hour. Sadly, rounding the last corner and peering through the gloom we could see that there was already a work boat in that spot.  There was however a space under the bushes just behind the other boat so we headed for that, tying up to a tree trunk.  That was OK, except now we had to find our way through the bushes and up and down muddy banks in almost pitch dark to find a footpath out the to lock, from where we walked to the underground station to get a tube to Richard’s house in Highgate where we spent the night.  I can’t remember when I felt quite so knackered.

Next morning the sun was shining as we set off back towards the boat.  We were chatting about how far we might get, maybe out Ealing way somewhere.  Arriving at St Pancras lock the other work boat was already in the lock and a largeish gang of workers were loading her up with hoses and a generator, loads of unspecified clobber and a diving kit and air cylinders.  We unlocked Enfield, started her engine and waited patiently.  Half an hour went by and we went up to enquire how much longer they were going to take.  About another ten minutes as it turned out.  Once they were gone, Richard went up to turn the lock while I untied Enfield and pulled out into the canal.  The lock gates opened and I was feeling pleased with myself as I steered neatly into the lock chamber.  Suddenly Richard shouted “Stop, you’re losing hydraulic fluid.”  Sure enough I looked back to see a cloud of milky fluid around the prop.  Further investigation showed that one of the hydraulic pipes had sprung a leak.  No doubt because it was old and the rubber had perished. Well, that was it.  Enfield was going nowhere.

We hauled the boat back to the mooring (only a few yards),  tied her up and phoned in to base, leaving a message saying something to the effect of “Your boat is bust, we can do no more and we ’re going home”.  And that’s what we did.

Later in the day we learned that they had given up hope that Enfield could get to Uxbridge under her own steam and they were sending out a tug to tow her there.  With hindsight, maybe that should have been the plan all along as she was in such poor condition.  I wouldn’t mind betting that when they pull her out of the water, the baseplate will be fouled up with all manner of muck. That would go towards accounting for her lack of speed. 

Anyway, I’m no sure I would want to repeat the experience, but I daresay I’ll remember it for some time to come.  Maybe we’ll get to drive Enfield again once she is repaired. That should be, er, interesting.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Enfield moves to Uxbridge

I don’t generally volunteer for any CRT activity east of Little Venice, but I seem to have capitulated this time.  A work boat called Enfield sits in not very good shape at or near Bow Locks and they want it moved to Uxbridge Boat Centre to receive a bit of TLC, or more than a bit I suspect.  So my volunteering comrade Richard and I will be doing the trip on Tuesday and Wednesday.  According to CanalPlan, it should take eleven and three quarter hours at the default settings of 3.25 mph and 15 mins per lock.

I don’t suppose for one minute we will keep up those speeds for the first half of the trip, but day two might make up the difference.  That day we should have less moored boats to pass and only one lock to slow us down and the canal is wide and deep out west.  Richard has kindly offered me a bed for the night at his house in London on Tuesday so we can get an early start on Wednesday  I took the trouble today to knock up one of my CanalOmeters for the trip.  The first one in colour as a matter of fact.


Pretty huh?  It’s been so long since I made one that it took me ages to work out how to format the Excel pie chart that it is based on. I really should take notes.  For those unfamiliar with my CanalOmeters, the inner disc shows hours taken and the outer ring, various places along the canal. Turning the top of the inner ring to any point lets you read off the hours to any other point. Anyhow, there it is, no doubt only approximately accurate given the conditions in London.  I’ll try and do a blog during the trip, which I suspect may be eventful.

On Monday evening we have a CRT Lead Ranger’s meeting in Kings Cross to hear about a new Ranger plan for London.  The Rangers in my area are finding their voice lately and I am bound to speak up on their behalf if the plan doesn’t make sense in what our CRT leader calls The Wild West.  Should be fun.  Being a Lead Ranger seems to involve a hell of a lot of emailing.  It’s like being back at work!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hanwell High Spot

Any boater who has passed through Hanwell locks is likely to have met the Hanwell high spot.  Well that’s what the CRT guys at Adelaide dock call it.  We have certainly encountered it on more than one occasion. It’s the underwater reef of silt and tree branches and all that stuff hat the river Brent dumps into the canal when the fast flowing little river suddenly meets the comparatively still waters of the Grand Union.  When I was at Adelaide the other day they were planning to fence off the high spot with stakes and tape to warn off boats following a number of recent groundings. 

Around once a year they dredge out that particular spot and I think that might be due shortly, so hopefully, it’ll be better for a while.  The Brent doesn’t seem to like us boaters.  After dumping all its silt and submerged junk at Hanwell it then goes on to leave all its floating rubbish just down the way at Osterley lock.  That gets a regular clearout by CRT, but it only take a good rainstorm to replenish the huge raft of logs, pallets, footballs, coke cans, plastic bottles and goodness knows what else the Brent collects on its way from Barnet to join the Thames at Brentford.  I can’t recall a half mile stretch of canal anywhere on the system that’s as mucky as that short stretch.

I asked about the number of overstaying residential boats that moor just near the foot of the locks outside our beloved Fox Inn, and was told that action to get them to move on was escalating.  A number of notices had been served and overstay charges of £25 a day would be added to the fee when those boats’ licences were renewed.  we understand that people living on boats have to moor somewhere but not for extended periods on visitor moorings.

We hope to take Herbie down to Brentford sometime over the winter, so I hope CRT manages to sort all these things before we get there.

The good ship Jena now sits back at Adelaide dock having a few final bits and pieces fitted.  We took it there from Packet Boat marina yesterday.  I was particularly pleased and not a little surprised that I managed to reverse Jena out of the marina and turn her to face the GU junction without touching any part of the shore.  I was even more surprised that I managed to do it with an audience.  That’s not the way it usually goes is it?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What a whopper–Jena goes to Slough


Blinking in the daylight, CRT wide beamer Jena emerges from the paint shop at Adelaide Dock.  Using the money earned from her being used for a very brief location shot in Tom Cruise’s last Mission Impossible movie, she has had a face lift inside and out.  The external paintwork was almost entirely done by volunteers, who took her right back to bare metal, before applying the seven coats of Craftmaster paints that now protect her cabin.  I don’t know what you think of the colours.  They certainly wouldn’t have been my choice, but they do match the colours being used in lots of CRT literature and posters.

Here she is on the inside




Originally built as a floating office for use at Little Venice, she now has a more mobile future attending events for Education, Hospitality, Publicity and the like.

Not small is she?  “How do you fancy taking her down the Slough Arm for the canal festival?” they said, and fellow volunteer Richard and I accepted the challenge.  As you all know the Slough Arm is narrow and still very shallow in places and often weedy. Thankfully CRT had been down the arm clearing the pennywort for us.  They filled three sizeable work boat holds piled high with the stuff.

Squeezing Jena through the  bridges on the GU wasn’t too bad and she handles surprisingly well for a big ‘un.  The narrow right angled turn into the Slough Arm was er, interesting, but we did it without touching the sides.  The biggest challenge was at High Line Yachting at Iver, where the three abreast boats for sale back up right to the Mansion Lane bridge.  Much to our surprise, we sort of wriggled her through with about half an inch to spare.  Of course we were well aware that being newly painted, any scratches would be unavoidably down to us, so no pressure there then!!

Once moored up at the show the good people of Slough (not all of them of course) popped in to take a look and to chat to Sam Thomas, London Director of Operations for CRT and to ask all the usual questions about canals and boating. 



Because I was in uniform, I got knobbled a few times too.  “When does a boat become a barge?” asked one elderly gent.  Answers on a post card please.

The sun shone and the people at the show had some stuff to look at beside the fifteen or so ( a record?) boats that attended.  Birds of prey, stationary engines (my favourite), arena displays and what not, and free rides on model steam vehicles.  How about this little cracker?


Even he drinks van was a joy to behold.


I think big chief Richard Parry was due to attend at some time over the weekend.  I hope he liked the show, although I expect he had his ear bent about some of the obstacles that still make the arm not the easiest of cruises.

On Monday we have to take Jena back to Adelaide dock, and I fear that the weather may not be so kind to us.  Just cross your fingers that we don’t scratch her if the wind carries us away.

Monday, September 07, 2015

All set for Slough

As I write, CRT are doing more weed cutting down on the Slough Arm and Wood Hall & Heward are removing a burnt out and sunken GRP cruiser down there and down at Adelaide dock, CRTs wide beam events boat Jena is having her windows replaced after her paint job.  Why all the activity?  Because at the coming weekend it’s the Slough Canal Festival .  Yes the famous samosas provided by the expert locals will be cooking, the ferrets will be racing, the falcons will be flying and the stationary steam engines will be chugging and with a bit of luck there’ll be a fairground organ for me to covet.

I just looked back at my old photos and realised we haven’t attended the festival since 2009!  Grace was a tiny tot.


and Herbie was in her old blue livery:



It’s not a big festival, but I always liked it, and if the weather is kind, a lot of the locals turn out to learn more about their canal. 

Herbie won’t get there this year, but I will. Along with a couple of other volunteers, I’ll be taking wide beam Jena down there to fly the CRT flag and I’m hoping we might recruit another volunteer to help out with towpath rangering down the arm.  Then after the festival we have to return Jena to (I think) Little Venice.  Give us a wave if you’re down that way.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The best laid plans . .

Nice to start off with a Shakespearean quote for the heading as we went last night to see a live broadcast of Othello at the cinema.  These live theatre broadcasts are good and we can recommend them.  Anyway, back to the plot. 

Sod’s Law strikes again. And again. Yes a double whammy this week.  First our over winter mooring plans.  Just like two years ago we are leaving Crick* at the end of September to migrate south for the winter along with the Icelandic redwings, although to be fair I don’t suppose a lot of the redwings will be heading for Slough.  The idea was to take up a mooring at High Line Yachting on the Slough Arm for the winter, from where we will make sorties into Paddington for our winter breaks.  Having fixed all that up, we now learn that from early January until mid March, our sorties will not be possible because the canal at Hayes will be closed while they do brickwork repairs on an aqueduct I never even knew was there. Doh!

There is a glimmer of hope however, because High Line also have a base at Northolt on the Paddington Arm so we have asked if it might be possible to transfer there.

Speaking of the dear old Slough Arm brings us to whammy number two.  The end of next week is the Slough Canal Festival.  A jolly affair to which we have been two or three times. A couple of weeks ago the folks at CRT contacted me to see if I was available to move their widebeam Jena from Adelaide dock to Slough for the festival (on the assumption that the refurb of Jena is completed by then.  Aah, I hear you say, Jena won’t be ready.  Well don’t jump to conclusions ‘cos that’s not the problem. To see the real problem follow this link to Nb Freespirit’s blog and scroll down to Irene’s twelfth photo on her Wednesday’s post.  Yes, the dreaded pennywort has gone berserk down the arm.  Getting a widebeamer down there is quite bad enough without having to plough through that lot.  I have alerted CRT and hope they can send someone down there to clear the weed or I fear attendance at the festival will suffer.

* Not only are we leaving Crick for the winter, we won’t be returning next spring, opting instead to transfer to Cropredy marina for a year. Much as we love Crick, and we do, we fancy a break from endless trips through Braunston et al.  Being based at Cropredy, we can perhaps get in a few trips on the Thames, and enjoy short outings to Banbury/ Aynho /Thrupp etc. and we’ll be no further from the likes of Wigram’s turn for other routes.  Cropredy marina is of course run by the same folks as Crick, so arranging to transfer is simple.  That’s the theory at any rate, but as we can see from the above, the best laid plans . . .