Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day 1 of the summer tour - an eventful start

At 9 am as planned we set off for the winding hole with Geoff on Lady Elgar in the lead. At 9 am and 30 seconds Geoff announced that his propellor was weeded up. Our bit of the Slough arm is like the sargasso sea at present - gin clear and full of fish but choked with blanket weed. My prop wasn't too good either but Herbie was making a bit of progress so we overtook Geoff while he visited his weedhatch and we set off for the winding hole.

At the next bridge we visited Herbie's weedhatch and removed the customary blue plastic bag and several handfuls of the weed before an otherwise uneventful trip to the winding hole to turn. When we were nearly back we came across Lady Elgar stationary. Apparently Geoff had given up after no less than 7 weedhatch events. Being kind souls we offered to tow him back to his moorings ( he had only travelled about 200 yards!).

Towing a big boat backwards isn't all that easy it seems, and at first I thought she would never move. With many engine revs and much black smoke she eventually budged with the help of of Geoff's boat pole and we inched back slowly to his spot. On reaching it we mercilessly cast him adrift and went on our way while he poled himself back to the bank.

After that it was plain sailing really. Out of the Slough Arm and into the clear water of the Grand Union on down to Tescos at Bulls Bridge where we did a big stock up of victuals for the trip. By now we were quite a bit later than planned so when we moved on to Hanwell we moored at the top of the locks and walked down to the Fox at the bottom lock so as to be in time for Sunday lunch.

We were too late! Except that Kath smiled at the waitress and they served us a nice Sunday roast even though it was half an hour after they are supposed to have stopped. Then, rather too full, we walked back to the boat and spent a hard hour and a half bringing her down through the six locks at Hanwell. Its a really nice setting for a flight of locks but they aren't half heavy. I was knackered by the time we moored up at the bottom.

After a rest we returned to the Fox where a lot of men were watching a football match on the telly. I couldn't hear the sound, but a team called Ger was playing a team called Spn. The men in the pub clearly didn't like Ger and wanted Spn to win which they did.

The Spn team seemd to be composed of racing drivers. I spotted Senna (I thought he was dead) and Alonso amongst them. They to spent most of the match nearly scoring goals. The Ger team seemed to be gymnasts as their tactic seemed to be to get into the other sides penalty area and then execute a foward roll. The referee (not a proper one because he had a blue shirt instead of the proper black one) seemed to like the forward rolls as he kept awarding yellow cards to Ger.

At the end, the Ger players seemed fed up, but the Spn team seemed pleased as they had been given a milk churn with ribbons on. Funny game, football.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ready for the off

Here we are on Herbie ready to set off tomorrow morning. The bankside gardens here at HighLine are very pretty at the moment and a strong perfume of honeysuckle pervades the pathway down alongside the boats. When we arrived this evening Lady Elgar was back moored against us after Geoff and Laura's three week journey round the Thames ring. After a debriefing of the juicy bits of news we retired to our respective boats for the night.

In the morning we'll move together down to the winding hole to turn the boats around and then we'll head off for our trip while LE nestles back into her proper slot which we have been occupying in her absence. We'll be happy to let LE go in front because the canal here is very weedy at the moment, so with a bit of luck she'll clear a path for us.

We're really looking forward to this trip not only because we need a break from family duties but also because we'll be breaking new ground (well water anyway). Stay tuned folks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tidal complexities

My brain hurts. Planning trips up and down the tidal Thames is not as easy at it might first appear. Doing a bit of homework seems to be something of a neccessity if you are any kind of tight schedule.

Normal lock opening hours where the canal meets the Thames at Brentford are between 8 am and 6pm, but only two hours either side of high tide. In practice that sometimes means only an hour and a half opening that day e.g if high tide is 7.30 am they're only open from 8 am to 9.30 and you wouldn't want to go out after about 8.30 to go upstream because you'd be running against the increasing outward tide strength. To make matters more complicated you have to look up the time for high tide at London Bridge, then add an hour for Brentford, then add another hour for Summer Time.

Going up stream next week we'll be OK as high tides are early afternoon, but coming back the following week we might have to make an early morning exit on to the tideway at Teddington. That also means we'll have to moor overnight at Teddington Lock (which might be nice anyway).

None of this is really a big problem because you can request to lock through Brentford outside of normal opening hours, but we'd rather not.

We were also concerned about getting under Brentford High Street Bridge which has insufficient headroom at high tide. However I now understand it is only a problem at the height of the tide, and we'll be going out 2 hours before high tide, so that's OK.

Have you got all that? Forewarned is forearmed as they say.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seated in splendour

Long standing readers may recall the steerers seat that Rick made for me, and even longer ago, the stool I painted up (see July 2007). Anyway I have just finished repainting the steerers seat to match the stool and here it is.

The photo doesn't do justice to the gloss and colour of the paint, which is Japlac. Amazing stuff.

We will be using the seat next week if all goes according to plan. We'll be going down the canal to Brentford, up the Thames to Weybridge and down the Wey to Godalming. This will be our first time on the big river and we have to have extra safety measures in place especially for the tidal bit where we will have lifejackets and an anchor kindly lent by Geoff on Lady Elgar. We've also bought ouselves a pay-as-you-go broadband dongle for the laptop so we can keep the blog fed with pictures and words about the cruise..

Peter has just returned from a conference trip in the USA and hopes to join us for three days on the Wey, although quite where we will pick him up I can't work out yet. Most of the Wey is open countryside and Peter doesn't drive.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A recce on the Wey

Someday, maybe soon if conditions are right, Herbie may leave the safety of the canals and venture out onto the Thames and then down the Wey Navigation. We've been reading about the potential maelstrom you have to cross at the tail of the Thames weir just before you enter the cut into the Wey. With Kath being of a nervous disposition about such things, we drove out there today to have a look at it and to speak to the lock keeper.

Despite a lot of wind today, the Thames is calming down after a period of strong streams and the weirpool didn't look too bad, although I can see it would be scary if the river was up and all the sluices were open.

Finding Thames Lock at the beginning of the Wey on foot is not easy. There is a maze of cuts, backwaters and islands thereabouts. On the Thames it isn't that easy to spot either. After emerging from the Desborough cut you enter a pool with about five exits. A smallish green sign points the way to the Wey. Can you spot it?

The Wey lockie was very helpful and said you could always ring him to check the state of the weir. Most of the summer it's fine, but last year they lost a lot of business because of river conditions. He also said you can moor overnight just outside the lock and if you lock into the Wey first thing next day, you benefit most from the free first day's cruising.

As the navigation belongs to the National Trust you need a separate visitor licence for 3 or 7 days (plus the free first day). A 7 day one would cost us about £45 with our NT member discount. Not too bad compared with the two one day Thames licences we would need at about £29 each. We can reach the Wey easily in one day up the Thames, although the other thing we have to consider is tide times at Brentford as they only let you out onto the river as the tide is coming in.
We walked down to the next lock and it whetted our appetite for the trip. The navigation looks well kept and the surroundings are leafy and quite posh at that point. This is Thames Lock.The entrance to Weybridge town lock though looked distinctly awkward. You have to double back on yourself round a couple of posts and under a low bridge. You can just see it in the pic below. The entrance is through that black hole at the far right of the pool. You have to come at it almost along the wall should think as there are two posts in front of it.Should be fun.
Please note that through out this entry I have resisted the great temptation to use puns on the word "Wey". My forbearance should not go unrecognised. - (it's the wey I tell 'em)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some changes, and a mystery solved

I've had a little go at tidying up the blog. You'll notice I have added a "cast list", so I don't have to explain who people are each time I mention them, and some links. A lot of bloggers include links to virtually all other boat blogs, but I chose to list just a few that I read regularly. Kath may well add more later. If you want a complete list, then do what I do and visit Granny Buttons who is our favourite blogger site with something interesting every day and very complete lists of links.

Thanks to Adam (see comments on yesterday's entry) who pointed me to the details on yesterday's mystery boat Barka Dio. Not new as I thought but 70 years old and refurbished. A bargain at 25 grand if you don't mind being a bit eccentric and a bit too wide.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mystery boat

How about ths boat that has recently appeared at our boatyard. Not your run of the mill vessel is it?

I don't know anything about is except it has a steel hull and inside it seems to be open plan. It looks well built and is obviously pretty new. I wouldn't want one but I quite like it.

With those big windows it looks like it would make a good day boat for short trips, but on the canals it has a big problem. I'm told it is seven feet six inches wide. That means it is too wide to pass through locks on the midlands canals and too wide to share wide locks on the others. the hull lines look a bit low for a river boat. I wonder who designed it and for what purpose. Does anyone out there recognise it?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Safe return

Herbie returned unscathed from being borrowed by Claire and family over the weekend. Sadly they were unable to stop at Camden market because all of the mooring spaces were full. Bound to happen sometimes I suppose. They cruised back as far as Greenford where we swap boat and car and Kath and I brought the boat home the rest of the way.

I had told Jacob to keep an eye on how the boat was performing and how the adults were driving and by all accounts he did just that. Give him another couple of years and he'll be a good boatman.

On Sunday night we took the opportunity to try out a mooring stop we had often liked the look of - the park near Southall. The bankside grass was a bit long (nearly 6ft in places!), but there was a gap where we could get in and out of the side hatch, and we had a BBQ on the bank. It was a pity we had no beef because there was a nice patch of horseradish right next to where Kath sat.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Herbie goes off without us

As I write, Herbie nestles in Paddington basin with Claire and family on board, while we dog sit at home. We accompanied them up the Slough Arm then jumped off as they turned into the Grand Union and waved them off with our fingers crossed. Here they go . .

I had a nervous day but apparently they had a good time, arrived unscathed and moored up safely, so I can breath again. I can report that the dog is fine too (although he has chewed up one of Jacob's cricket balls).

A pint or three with Saltysplash

Last night we drove(in the car) over to Goring to meet up with Geoff (aka Saltysplash) and Laura who were cruising Lady Elgar up the Thames. Just for a drink and a chat on their round trip from Iver to Iver via Brentford, Oxford and Braunston. As we drove past Pangbourne we spotted them ploughing against the current and I remarked that their speed was probably 2 miles an hour and as ours was over 40mph it would take them 20 times as long to reach Goring as it did us from that point. So we did it in about ten minutes and it took them about 90.

When they did arrive I was able to direct them to a safe mooring spot out of the considerable current and we all retired to the local pub for a pint (well some pints actually) and had a splendid evening.

While we were waiting by the lock earlier, I picked up a leaflet encouraging boaters to moor two abreast when it is crowded. On canals this is quite normal but apparently on the Thames it is not part of the culture. The glass fibre cruiser folk are indeed a different bunch from us narrowboaters.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Clamp fixed - now a test of my nerve

Pete has fixed the weedhatch clamp -what a star he is. It'll now do up one handed which will stop me overtightening. You can see from the picture how my previous force has bent the main beam!

Having the boat operational now means I have a test of nerve. Tomorrow we are lending out the boat for the first time. Only to our daughter Claire and family and only for 36 hours. They can drive OK, and they won't be doing any locks, but its all the other stuff I worry about, like looking after the stern gland, the weedhatch, the engine etc. Kath is more worried about baby Grace falling in the water. She seems to love the boat but she is getting ever more active and likes to explore everything.

They'll be OK I'm sure. They will be going up to Camden, then staying overnight at Paddington, then next day we will meet them at Kensal Green and swap over car and boat.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sound advice from BW

Still catching up with interesting pics from our London trip. How about this boat load of party goers entering the Maida Hill tunnel near Little Venice.

The BW sign top left advises not to pass other boats in the tunnel. Fat chance!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Is this a record?

Canada geese are well known for being successful breeders and good parents, but I've never seen so many goslings in one clutch as we did at Kensal Green recently. I counted 23!

This stretch of canal seems to have more than its fair share of unexpected creatures. I've mentioned before the terrapins which live nearby, and this time I got a good shot of one of the wild green parakeets which seem abundant locally. Just the thing to have sat on your shoulder when you're at the tiller.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Plastic bags and how to sink a boat

People with boats can skip most of this because they know the problem only too well. I thought my other reader might find it interesting.

Narrowboaters don't need Tesco to tell them people use too many plastic bags. If you look in my 20 Answers post below you'll see these bags are one of my pet hates. People discard them, the wind picks them up and when they land on water they sink slowly, waiting for an unsuspecting propellor to pass, then they leap forth and wrap themselves 20 times round the propellor shaft.

You wouldn't think a plastic bag could do much to slow down a boat with a 40 horsepower engine but you'd be surprised. The engine strains, the boat loses speed and the tiller starts to shake. The only solution is to visit the propellor and remove the offending bag. Most narrowboats have a weedhatch which is basically a hole in the bottom of the boat through which you can reach the propellor.

Now a hole in the bottom of a boat, as you all know, is not generally a good idea, but his one is special. It sits at the bottom of a sealed box whose top is above the waterline, so you can take the lid off and reach down into the water without flooding the boat. So far so good, but when the propellor is turning at speed it can fling umpteen gallons per second out of the top of the box and fill the engine compartment with water. Of you are lucky, you only drown the engine. If you are unlucky you sink the boat.

Herbie's weedhatch lid is held on by a substantial steel clamp which at the moment is not to be trusted. That's why this picture of it is taken on our stairs at home rather than on the boat where it should be. My over zealous tightening of same has stripped the thread on the tightening screw so I can't tighten it properly and until it is fixed we ain't going nowhere.

Call in weedhatchcoverclamprepairman!! Well, my friend Pete who has the tools and the skills to sort it. Hopefully this time next week we'll be safe to move again. In the meantime I've replaced the sealing gasket between the box and the lid, so in future I won't need to overdo the tightening of the lid.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Going nowhere, getting somewhere

Over the weekend we have been on Herbie doing jobs and also relaxing. Apart from a short trip down to the winding hole to turn the boat round, we've stayed still, but our moorings are a very pleasant spot so who neeeds to move all the time?

Geoff and Laura on our adjacent boat Lady Elgar set off on a three or four (my memory is useless) week cruise on Saturday, so for that time we have the priveledge of having Herbie against the bank instead of against Lady E. Quite a treat for us.

I did bits of painting and an oil change, and Kath started on a crochet window decoration which will eventuall spell ot HERBIE (so far she's up to R). We also came to a final-ish design for our revised sofa bed. Researching into foam upholstery reveals quite a range of possibilities such as cushions with two layers of different densities and even varying thickness from one side to the other. Armed with all this gen we now have a plan and have found a place in Bristol that can probably do the biz for us. The result will be a more comfortable seat that will be less effort to convert to a guest bed at night. - (and yes Rick, it will also keep your head off the wall).

On Saturday night we were invited to join a barbecue party by Ian and Lydia on the boat in front of us. Also attending were a number of other residential boaters from up and down the bank nearby. An interesting group, some of which live aboard but never move their boats so they have a different perspective from us. Nevertheless as always happens with boaters, the conversation eventually came round to toilets! Most surprising though was a long and erudite conversation on real ale with a French lady who is really enjoying her CAMRA membership. There's hope yet for entente cordiale, especially as she has the same favourite beers as we do.

On Sunday I replaced the gasket on the weedhatch cover - of which more in a future post. Meanwhile Kath struck up a conversation with a couple who had come to look at boats for sale, and as they were full of questions we invited them aboard. "Ah," they said "this is exactly the sort of boat we would like". Flattery will get you everywhere, but Herbie is not for sale!
A productive weekend all in all, and sociable too.
Meanwhile here's a picture of us a week ago, moored in centralish London at Kensal Green. Nice innit?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Twenty Answers

It seems that lots of narrowboat bloggers are following ace blogger Andrew Denny's invitation to play the Twenty Answers game (to the standard questions asked of waterways "celebs" in Canal Boat Magazine.) I have spent most of my adult life agonizing about which 8 discs to take to a desert island, but this is a bit easier, so here goes.

1. What's your favourite waterway?
I like all the ones I've been on but perhaps the Staff and Worcester might win for variety and charm.

2. What's your least favourite?
Don't have one really, but musn't cop out, so at a push maybe the Lee Navigation between Enfield and Clapton because it looks uncared for

3. Who would be your ideal cruising companion?
George Bush, so I could push him in :-) Actually, best is Kath plus a friend or two

4. What was the last (waterways?) book you read?
The Water Road by Paul Gogarty which I liked because I recognised the bits of canal I knew and got a good mental image of the bits I didn't know. My favourite is Idle Women

5. What's your best time of day to be on the canals?

6. What most irritates you on the waterways?
Plastic bags, whingers, and people who overstay on visitor moorings. Principally the latter at a pinch.

7. When would you most liked to have lived?
Now is fine.

8. When was the last time you fell in?
Well, I jumped, or rather dived in last year to help out our grandson Jacob who had fallen in. The only time I have fallen in was off the Norfolk Wherry "Albion" in 1973 just as a huge tour boat full of people with cameras passed.

9. What did you want to be when you were 12?
I can't remember. Probably a scientist

10. If I didn't have narrowboating I'd...
Go camping

11. Narrowboaters are...
Nearly all extremely friendly and helpful

12. After a days cruising I most look forward to...
A G&T if its warm weather, or a visit to the pub if it's cold.

13. The Waterways need...
Continual TLC

14. If you met Jonathan Shaw (Waterways Minister) on the towpath what would you say to him?
Get government to recognise waterways as an asset not a liability.

15. Windows or portholes?
Windows for practicality, portholes for looks. Nice as portholes look, you need light and a view when you are inside.

16. Pump out or cassette? Cassette - cheap, easy and effective

17. Rivers or canals? Hard to choose, but canals have the edge for mooring, all weather cruising and connectivity

18. Where will you be when you're 70?
Still here I hope

19. What do you think is your greatest achievement in life?
Remaining optimistic

20. What would your superpower be?
To get rid of superpowers

Andrew has a link to everyone else's answers on his Granny Buttons site

Phew, now back to worrying about those 8 discs. For my luxury on the desert island I'd like Ray Mears please.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A difficult stop

After leaving the Black Horse on Monday morning we cruised up to Uxbridge for the night so that we could refuel and restock at Uxbridge Boat Centre on Tuesday morning before returning to base.

It was pouring with rain next morning and as we arrived at the boat centre we had to park up against a couple of old wrecks between us and the diesel pump. They were in such poor condition that we couldn't even rope up to them for fear of pulling bits off! Kath had to stay on Herbie in the pouring rain while clinging on to the old wreck while I climbed over it to get to the bank and the shop. I'm sure UBC loses customers because of this difficulty of getting near the diesel pump.

We wanted particularly to go they because we had an £80 credit note for unused paint we returned after doing the roof job in March. Red diesel is now 80p a litre and we needed 107 litres to fill up. We also wanted a new bottle of gas but I refused to clamber across slippy wet wrecks carrying a 13kg bottle so I got them to do it (which they did with a smile).

An hour or so later we were back at our base near Iver and snugly tucked up against Lady Elgar. Next week LE is off on a cruise so we'll enjoy a couple of weeks moored against the bank - a good time to get a couple of jobs done without hanging over the water.

The remainder of the trip

Let me see, where did I last leave you. Ah yes, waiting for Claire & Joe and the kids. Well, they came and we had a good trip up to Camden market and back with Joe at the helm (with L plates). Grace (now 9 months old) seemed to enjoy it.

After we dropped them back at Paddington we cruised on to Kensal Green for the night. These are lovely moorings, quiet and green. Rick and Marilyn were still with us and we had dinner on the canal bank before a competitive game of scrabble.

On Sunday morning we did ourselves a tour of Kensal Green cemetary guided by a chapter from a book of London Walks. With the written guidance of Lucinda Lambton we found the graves of Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, WH Smith , IK Brunel, princes, inventors, Blondin the famous tightrope walker, and all sorts of others, many with amazingly lavish tombs. Most poignant of all was the tiny grave of the baby daughter of Winston Churchill in a secluded corner. Just a couple of minutes walk from the moorings a visit here is a must.

R&M left for home and Kath and I cruised on to the Black Horse at Greenford where we moored outside and cleaned up the boat before more friends arrived. This time they weren't passengers on Herbie but joining us for a meal at the pub to remember our dear friend Alison who died aged 54 just five years ago.