Sunday, April 26, 2015

What has run more than Paula Radcliffe?

Flippin’ Dulux Weathershield paint – that’s what!

According to my blog archives, it was May 2011 when I made and painted Herbie’s current roof box.  At that time I posted an article comparing the performance of the five different paints I used.  You can read it here if you’re interested – if you are doing any of this type of painting you might well find it useful.  Here’s one of the pictures so you get the , er, picture.


The cream colour is the Dulux Weathershield and it easily came out bottom in my comparative paint test at that time.  I found that it didn’t cover well, and being so thin (yes I did give it a good stir) it ran all over the place.

Now four years later the old box needs a bit of a refurb, so I have it at home for repainting.    Here is the work in progress


It’s a slow process using all those colours bordering each other.  Lots of masking up and having to wait before one colour is dry before you can put masking tape on it to do the next colour.   At two coats per colour, that’s ten days in theory but the pesky Weathershield is adding to that. Read on.

The first thing I noticed was that in spite of being called Weathershield, the Dulux had worn the least well of the five paints and had flaked off or worn away in several places.  “Well you won’t be using that again” I hear you say.  Sadly, being a miserly old git, I couldn’t bring myself to waste nearly a tin full of the stuff I had left over from last time, so foolishly I had another go with it.  I have to tell you, it is even worse than I remember.  Especially bad was the propensity to bleed under the (best quality) masking tape. Not only does it retain all its faults from last time, but now I notice it takes ages to harden off too, so I have to wait an extra day before I can put masking tape on it so do the next colour.  Grrrr!

Maybe if Dulux stood over me they might point out that I wasn’t using it right.  Well all I can say is the other paints get the same treatment and do a lot better.  Maybe if that sheepdog of theirs hadn’t got his hair all over his eyes he could see properly to make some better paint.

Interestingly the paints which had survived the best over the four years were the proper coach paints i.e. the dark grey Craftmaster and the red Hempel, so as well as being the easiest to paint with, they last longer too.  Well you get what you pay for I guess – they are considerably more expensive.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Driving a CRT Engineer into the bushes

Today was my first “proper job” driving boats for CRT and now I know a tiny bit about how canals are inspected.  The (volunteer) job was to drive the little CRT boat “Griffin”  - here she is -


griffinfrom Packet Boat Marina to Slough Basin and back stopping hither and thither while Chief Engineer for London Region Mikk Bradley and his trusty mate Steve the local lengthsman hopped on and off to poke at bridges and embankments.  It was the annual engineer’s inspection of the Slough Arm.

To be frank, it didn’t start too well, that is to say the boat didn’t. This was the third CRT workboat I have operated and they are all completely different from one another.   How was I supposed to know you had to press a button that looks just like a horn button while you turn the ignition key?  In the end we had to use the last resort – read the manual.  Griffin has a little Lister engine that produces a satisfying “pop pop pop” once you get going.  Inside the boat it is best described as cramped.

griffin below

Next job was to get out of the marina.  The cunning(?) previous user had parked it in a corner, requiring me to back out in a confined space.  This wasn’t all that tested my boating skills. A lot of what Mikk and Steve needed to look at was on the canal’s off side, requiring me to manoeuvre into the Arm’s notorious shallow and overgrown margins so they could hop off and disappear into the bushes hunting for this and that.  It was fun.  At every winding hole I was required to do a loop the loop to check it was deep enough and free from obstacles.  Miraculously they all were.  Another time I had to hover the boat one foot from the offside of a bridge hole while Mikk poked a long stick into the water to feel the submerged brickwork.

Mikk is a nice chap and allowed me to gently harangue him about GU locks that have to be left empty (you know the ones) and the fact that I think they dredged the wrong end of the Slough Arm.

What did I learn? That the cutting embankment on the towpath side is too steep in places and tending to move.  The worst bit is just by where the bridge had to be taken down a couple of years back. Although serious if it collapsed, any repair would cost megabucks, so they are just keeping an eye on it for now.  A lot of trees and undergrowth have been felled to give a better view of the problem.  I think the roots have been left in place to help hold the bank up.

After an eight o’clock start, we got back at about one o’clock, so that’s five hours on my pilot’s licence I suppose.

griffin at hly

PS (for Simon)  I passed Nb Tortoise looking very smart with it’s nice shiny blacking.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Another reason dredging is expensive

We arrived by car at Crick late last night only to find the access road to our part of the marina closed.  We found out why when we awoke this morning.

Had we driven in, we certainly wouldn’t have got back out until this little lot had moved away.



They were craning out the boats used by Land and Water for the dredging operations recently carried out down our stretch of the Leicester Arm.  They have been entertaining us with their dredging and bank reinforcing operations for a while now and of course these big flat barges and the dredger itself were widebeam boats- too wide to get through the locks at either end of the arm.  I don’t fancy meeting one in Crick tunnel either come to think of it.  Notice that on the lower photo, they have two boats stacked on one lorry!

Lifting and transporting big boats, as we boaters know, is not a cheap operation.  There’s probably quite a few licence fees spent right there.

We were only at the marina overnight, en route home from a family do in St Neots.  I wanted to collect Herbie’s roof box which is need of a bit of TLC at home.  The odd repair and a lick of paint should restore it to its former glory.  One bit of the plywood edge had started to delaminate, so as I write it is pumped full of waterproof glue and clamped up.  Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t.  The repainting wont be quick ‘cos it has a diamond pattern in red, white, cream and blue with a grey border.  I’m a masochist.

The fore and aft decks I painted last week are looking OK now.

cant  bow

At least when you finish a painting job you get some feeling of satisfaction.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Triumph and Glory for Moomins (plus) and 8 Great Truths about boat painting

Not only did we not come last in yesterday’s quiz at the Wheatsheaf in Crick, but we actually got on the podium!!!  Yes, us Herbies joined forces with the Moomins (aka Simon and Ann(e?) of Nb Melaleuca and the redoubtable Rick of Long Buckby and came third in the quiz under the joint team name of Moomins.  Utilising such obscure knowledge as Bugatti being the French motor manufacturer taken over by Volkswagen, and actually recognising a photo of Christopher Trace who did Blue Peter when it was in Black and White we managed to win back our entry fee.  A Triumph,  although Rick is still grumbling about the quiz master’s idea of which of Newton’s laws of motion is which.

During the last few days I have been up to my elbows in paint, restoring Herbie to some semblance of respectability by refreshing the paint on the fore and aft cants and decks, the gas locker lid, the starboard handrail, and the starboard gunnel and then derusting and repainting an area of the roof where the ash pole had been lying and quietly eating into the paint.

There’s always more to do of course, but it was a worthwhile start to the season.  During the process I was reminded of a few Great Truths about boat painting.

1. there are only about two days a year when the weather is suitable for boat painting and the day you choose is never one of them.

2. painting out of doors is a real pain because of all the dust and insects and spats of unexpected rain.

3. a gust of wind can blow paint off the bristles of a brush

4. horizontal surfaces need painting far more often than vertical ones.

5. red paint looks nice but it covers less well than any other colour

6. good masking tape is dear but worth it.

7. Always have a rag and some white spirit handy to clear up accidental smudges in the wrong place.  I used so much I am now classified as Highly Flammable.

8. Brush Mate boxes are the best invention ever. You can keep a brush for every colour you need ready to use and never have to wash them out. Only an idiot wouldn’t use one once they had tried it.

I took advice I remember from Phil Speight which is when painting over a repair (eg a rusty patch, suitably Fertan-ed and primered) mask out a largish neat edged area around the repair and paint that.  I did a six inch wide strip along the edge of the roof capturing all the various rust spot repairs and painted that.  It looks so much better than lots of little paint patches and is quick to do.

Now I’m back at home and marvelling at how much the garden has grown in a week.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Flippin' Met Office!

Ever since they left Bracknell where I could keep an eye on them, and scarpered off down to Exeter, the weather has messed me about. Bracknell isn't too pleased either. Now they have a road called Weather Way and a pub called the Weather a Vane and nobody knows why.

Today I put a lovely coat of gleaming red paint on Herbie's starboard handrail and barely a couple of hours later it rained. Not just nice clean rain, but droplets loaded with fine sand. So now my beautiful paintwork is all spotty. I blame the Daily Express. They promised a heatwave and now I have spotty paint.

Ah well it ought to have another top coat anyway so I'll do that in the morning. But be warned, if it rains sand again I'm going down to Exeter to punch somebody in the nose.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Herbie on Mars?

Herbie is looking a bit like a Mars lander today, which is to say it is covered in red dust. I've been rubbing down the red paint on the starboard handrail.

There are a number of benefits of Herbie's unusual wooden handrails* but paintwork maintenance isn't one of them. They seem to need rubbing down and repainting at least once every two years. I did the port side rail a little while back but the starboard side was worse. Anyway I have now rubbed and scraped off all the flaking areas and refilled the screw holes and tomorrow I can reprime it. Hopefully by the weekend it'll be finished and I can start looking at other areas that need touching up.

This evening we went to the quiz at the Wheatsheaf in Crick. Good quiz, good beer and only a fiver for a decent meal. As there were only the two of us against teams of mostly six, we were pleased not to come last especially as one of the rounds was recognising rock bands from the names of their members. Had they been sixties bands I would have been OK but anything after 1980 I have trouble with. Still we were pleased to spot One Direction due to our little Grace being a fan and all. I got Coldplay too but missed out on U2 as they gave the members' real names rather than their stage names.

Over in the canal just a few yard from Herbie we were surprised to see the dredgers still working there. This time they seem to be scooping up small amounts of mud and depositing them back in the water against the bank. Further along I see a lighter full of those coir matting sausages so I'm guessing it's all part of a bank reinforcement exercise.


* They never get too hot or too cold to handle.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

CRT Docklands office - and are we getting anywhere with cyclists?

Yesterday I went to a volunteer meeting at the CRT Docklands Office.  I’d not been there before. The building itself is pretty unremarkable, just a typical modern office block, but the view out of the window is such that if I were working there I'd never get anything done.

The office sits at the entrance to the massive South Dock on the Isle of Dogs  - that’s just the entrance lock in the centre of the picture.  We used it during the Queen’s diamond jubillee extravaganza when 40 narrowboats barely half filled the lock.



and the office  windows look out across the Thames to the O2 arena and down river so you can the the river traffic which is busy in this area.


Interestingly the boat nearer the camera appears to be pushing its barge from alongside.  It was going at a fair old lick.

Luckily we were able to concentrate on the business on hand (more of which in a future post) because it was an evening meeting and it soon got dark.

Anyway enough of all that.  What did I learn at the meeting that I can tell you about?

I've posted before about our Share the Space events where we attempt to stop cyclists to educate them about the dangers if going too fast on the towpath and I’ve told you about about the posters we have been sticking on bridges etc.  Like this

pedest    and this  tyfsd

All this has only been in London up until now but a nationwide campaign on the same basis is due soon.

The question is "does it work?" Well I have been pretty sceptical, but last night a couple of the volunteers who work in the congested areas of the capital reported that they have definitely noticed an improvement in cyclist behaviour  in recent months, especially in respect of slowing down and alerting pedestrians as they pass. The feeling is that this us more due to the poster campaigns than the events.   There are a posters at every bridge, access point and pinch point, so people can’t miss them.  I’ve put up a fair few myself.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens when it goes national.

The towpath events have slowly transformed into general  ‘meet the towpath users’ events and have been useful in highlighting problems with rubbish, swans, and yoofs to name but a few.  We’ll be doing more of them because they want to use the London area to demonstrate them to CRT staff and volunteers from other regions as the campaign spreads.

PS Did you know that CRT makes good money from film crews who want to use the canal or towpath as a film location? Over £120,000 in the last year or so.

I’ll have rather more to tell you in a little while when a new ranger structure is launched.

PPS  I spotted this on my walk to the office yesterday


??????? captions invited.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A disappointment and a thief caught in the act.

Oh well, you’d better ignore my previous post ‘cos I just got a mail saying that the boat we were going to be using on Wednesday (Griffin) has its engine out in bits on the bench, so my first proper CRT boat moving job has been postponed.

Never mind, instead have a butchers at the action on my bird feeders in our garden over the last couple of days.  I’ve been playing with a remote shutter release on the camera.

Hello my starlings!


How cute is this? (long tailed tit)

long tailed tit

and his cousin the blue tit trying to look fierce


and lastly our resident garden thief, caught in the act this very afternoon.


I can find no way of stopping the little blighter pinching the birds nuts.

Early start

I've just been given my first proper CRT boat moving job since passing my assessments, and it could hardly be better suited for me.  That's because I'll be taking a senior waterway engineer on an inspection trip up and down the Slough arm, Herbie's former home.

It should be interesting to see what the inspection consists of. I'll let you know.

The downside is that I have to be at Adelaide dock on Southall at 7.15 am on Wednesday. I'll need to be up before six!!

Then when we get back I have to make my way all the way to the CRT docklands office near Canary Wharf for a towpath ranger meeting at 6pm.   Obergruppenfuhrer Dick has promised pizza so at least i'll get fed. By the time I get home I will have put in 16 hours work and travel for CRT in one day. All good fun though.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A logging gadget that works.

I’ve just got round to trying out one of my Christmas presents thanks to our local council cutting up a damaged ornamental cherry tree down our road. I purloined a few logs and set about cutting them into lengths using something called Timber Teeth.

timber teeth

As you can probably see from the picture, it consists of a couple of steel jaws that grip nicely in a Workmate.  They don’t look all that substantial, but they are in fact pretty strong and the teeth really do hold the log still using a small amount of left hand pressure to hold the log down while you saw with the right. (Of course left handers could do it just as well the other way round.)  And of course it’s easy to adjust the spacing of the two jaws to accommodate the length of the log by just sliding them apart.  I suppose you could use a strap to hold the log down on the jaws if you needed to but I found that hand pressure was enough for the teeth to bite into the log and stop it rolling or twisting.  
The jaws themselves don’t seem to wobble in use which was a concern I had before trying them. Everything sits nice and solidly while you saw. If you have a workmate, they are a simple and easily stored solution to making a good saw horse.

We spotted them on the web and bought them from here for just under £20 inc delivery. It sounds rather a lot for a couple of bits of bent steel, but in terms of how they perform, they’re worth it.

On another topic, good reviews of my book continue to trickle in. I'm now up to twenty if you include the two on Amazon's US site.  Average score stays at 4.6 stars out of 5.   Tomorrow I'm using up my last free Kindle day this quarter, so if you want a freebie, click here, read the reviews and grab your copy.  Friday only.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who lives on this boat?

thames boat

I don’t know what to think about this boat we saw on the Thames in Reading yesterday. Well three boats actually, but it’s the big one at the back I’m referring to.  I think I like it.  I wonder how weatherproof it is.  It makes a change from the posh tupperware boats often seen on the Thames at any rate.

thames boat

An enlarged section of the somewhat blurry photo, taken at some distance with my phone, makes it look like a painting don’t you think?  Anyhow, it looks like the person who lives aboard might be something of a character. An arty type maybe.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Poetry in Motion

Just before we left for home the other day, we stood on our grassy knoll at Crick to watch the dredging operation in the canal alongside the marina.  Dredging is not the most glamorous occupation I can think of but the rhythm this guy had adopted was hypnotic.  Take a scoop of mud from the centre of the canal and drop it in the lighter,

dredge1 then take the next scoop to the right and drop that, then one more further right near the bank and drop that, then swivel left and use the shovel to nudge the lighter a few feet to the rear and scoop in front of that. Then use the shovel on the canal bed to shove the dredger back in line with the lighter and start all over again.  Like clockwork. The shovel never stopped moving and they were making rapid progress along the canal. It seemed like they filled the lighter every few minutes.


Meanwhile a little tug was taking the last full lighter down the canal to where the waiting shovel would scoop it out and spread the mud and silt over the farm field. 


I suppose that a deal has been done with the landowner to dump it there.  I know they have to test the mud to make sure it is not toxic, so it must be OK.  It is very rural along that canal so I’m not surprised it’s safe.

So next time you cruise along that section, your boat might go a little bit quicker.