Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Boat Safety Inspection

I knew the three fire extinguishers were OK and the fire blanket. I knew our wiring was in good order, and that the fuel pipes were correct and undamaged. The batteries were secured and covered according to regs. But the gas is another matter.

Without the kit the examiner uses you don't know if the system is gas tight. Last time, four years ago, it took me a number of attempts to get a gas tight seal where the gas bottle hose joins the main copper distribution pipe. I feared it would not be right this time too. If so I have little confidence in fixing it as I'm not good with compression joints, especially when you have to be a contortionist to reach them.

The examiner attaches a manometer to a test point under the sink. The gas bottle is turned on to fill the system with gas at pressure, then off to create a closed system. The pressure is adjusted to the test level by letting off a bit of gas from the cooker. Then we wait for what seems like an hour (actually 5 minutes) to see if the liquid in the manometer tube moves. If it does, we fail. She peers at it incredibly closely. I worry. She tells me not to, she is just short sighted. Suddenly the manometer liquid moves. Aaaagh. No, it's just the rocking of the boat as I move about. Eventually she declares "That's fine then" and I breath a sigh of relief.

A few more checks and a lot of form filling and we've passed. Yippee! Herbie is declared officially safe and I am £188 worse off. A lot of money for less than an hours work and a fancy certificate, but I'm happy to fork out and have peace of mind and no more test for another four years.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Herbie to move home !!

Yes, now it can be told. For some weeks now I have been working on a new set of CanalOmeters* to show cruising times around the East Midlands. All because next April Herbie will be moving a hundred miles North to a new base.

We leave our quiet base on the narrow, shallow,weedy Slough Arm, and if things go according plan we will take up residence on the narrow, shallow, weedy (but less so I hope) Leicester Arm of the GU. At Crick marina to be precise, where we have put a deposit on a mooring, to be confirmed in the new year.

For those not familiar with our waterways geography, we will be moving from A to B on this map.

As you can see this will give us a whole lot of new cruising waters within our reach. The Leicester ring, not much cruised but highly praised, shorter trips out to Cropredy or up the quiet Ashby canal, or perhaps down to Stratford upon Avon. I can't wait. For longer trips we will be within reach of Birmingham and the maze of West Midlands Canals, or even up to the four counties ring.

Being at Crick will have its challenges. Whether we turn right or left out of the marina, we will meet a longish tunnel fairly soon, and at either end of the Arm there is a flight of staircase locks to negotiate. As to the Leicester Arm itself, I have never cruised it but I'm told it is very quiet and very scenic. Saltysplash tells me it's his very favourite canal.

There are downsides of course. No easy trips to London. A two hour drive to the boat instead of the current 35 minutes. And parting from some of the good friends we have made at our current moorings. However we don't see this as a permanent move and we plan to return after two or three years.

*I'll put my new range of canalometers on the web soon for anyone to download. If you don't know what they are (shame on you) follow this link


A big week for Herbie. First solar power, tomorrow the Boat Safety inspection, and thirdly, an announcement! (later)

The solar panel is installed and working and looks pretty good. After the cables disappear into the mushroom vent the are not seen again until they approach the regulator. My questions and researches into cable safety suggest that my EVA sheathed cables do not contain plasticisers and are safe against polystyrene installation. To be sure I wrapped the relevant length in the polyethylene duct tape.

As to the frame, it works well, although I'm not so impressed with the magnets as they stick, but are still fairly easy to lift. I might get some stronger ones or I might stick them down with adhesive. On Carrie's advice I have also ordered a security cable fitted with a loud alarm which goes off if anyone tampers of tries to cut the cable.

Yesterday was overcast and rainy, but the panel was still feeding power into the batteries and the smartgauge showed around 13.5 volts all morning, so that's good. Once you have one of these panels it suddenly dawns on you what a great thing it is. You don't have to switch it on, or feed it, or maintain it or do anything. As I write this at home on Monday morning, the panel will be silently feeding power to the batteries and it will do this every day for years and years. Admittedly not a lot in short winter days, but when the boat is left alone the batteries will never lose charge. I like it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

cabling chemical conundrum

You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Herbie's galley looks a right mess at the moment as I have dismantled bit of ceiling, trunking and shelving to make a route for the solar panel cables. All was going fine until a thought crossed my mind.

With my Boat Safety inspection due next week I was thinking through the safety requirements and recalled that you are not allowed to lay electrical cables in contact with polystyrene insulation. This is because when PVC (commonly used as cable insulation) comes into contact with polystyrene, a chemical reaction causes the PVC to degrade and can melt away. Something to do with plasticisers in the PVC.

Well the route from the hole in the roof where the cables enter, to the side trunking, is all against polystyrene if the cables go above the ceiling lining. Now it gets technical, because I looked up the spec of the solar cables and they are not PVC but EVA, a more rubbery material. So is this still a problem? Well so far I don't know. If anybody out there does know then I'd be glad to find out.

What I might do is wrap the cables in duct tape, which according to 3M is polyethylene and I think this is safe in this context.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The most essential "optional" extra on a narrowboat

Last Friday I enjoyed a short boat ride as first mate on nb Humbug, Herbie's next door neighbour. I really like Humbug. She is a 60 foot (stretched) Springer and belongs to Glynn who lives aboard . For those who don't know, Springers are the 2CV of the waterways. Low cost, flimsy, quirky, suprisingly long lived, and with bags of charm. Also like 2CVs they are no longer in production.

Whilst she (Glynn that is) has performed many DIY wonders in making Humbug into a bright, cosy and comfortable home her confidence ends at the point that she gets hold of the tiller and she has yet to do a solo trip. Humbug needed turning round so I accompanied Glynn up to the winding hole and back and talked her through the turning manoeuvre. Before we started though, there was a job to do, which was to clear the prop of weed and plastic bags from her last (aborted) trip. And here was the one thing about this Springer that I really don't like. Really really don't like. It is the weedhatch.

Humbug has a trad stern with a reasonably large counter, but there is no trap door in it to reach the weedhatch. That has to be done from inside the boat by lying in a "Superman in flight" posture on a board above the engine, then stretching your arms forward as far as you can reach to undo the clamps and lift the heavy hatch assembly out. This would be no mean feat for superman let alone me or Glynn. Then of course you still have to reach in and clear the prop then put the whole thing back together again. It is the main reason why Glynn is reluctant to take Humbug out cruising, and she has my sympathy. Of course she could get someone to cut her a weedhatch access door, and that would be my first job if the boat were mine.

When we were shopping for a boat I saw a few with this problem, and dismissed them right away. A proper easy-to-get-at weedhatch is THE essential optional extra for me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cracked it

No, not the panel glass. I have solved the problem of stiffening the hinged solar panel legs. A simple latch like this over the hinge.

The frame seems reasonably rigid now. And the finished job all ready to be placed on the boat roof soon:-

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Milliband drives me to drink and I am suspected of planning to murder the Pope

Off topic.

Last Thursday night. I drive all the way from Bracknell into Westminster. Jock takes the train all the way from the Essex coast into Westminster. Ross takes the train all the way from Cambridgeshire into Westminster. We three meet up outside the HQ of the London Scottish Regiment in Horseferry road and attempt an entrance. Usually if we shout "Lowland and Border Pipers" into the intercom we are allowed in, for this is where we meet most months to get together and play our wee pipes. Just a few of us, because we smallpipers are a rare breed in the South.

A man with a TV camera on his shoulder says "You won't get in there tonight" and before we can ask why, from behind my left shoulder David Milliband, THE David Milliband brushes past me, walks up the steps and is immediately admitted. "Question Time" explains the cameraman. "In here tonight. We've got the whole building."

Jock is not a happy bunny. "But we've come all this way. Taken us hours to get here. We always come here. Every month". "Not tonight you don't" says the man.

We three look at each other in despair. Nobody thought to let us know. Now here we are in London with armfuls of pipes and books and nowhere to play. We wander off in search of a park bench. Soon we come across a nice empty square in front of Westminster Cathedral, but it's all fenced off and there are security guards. They eye us suspiciously, for we are three dodgy looking characters carrying strange long wooden cases. Aah. I realise they think we might be here to murder the pope tomorrow. We slink off over the road and stumble into a busy pub where by some miracle we find a nice table in a corner and get some beers in.

A nice young lady asks what's in our cases and we tell her. "Ooh, play us something then." Ross obliges with a couple of tunes, but his smallpipes are no match for the music on the pub PA. Jock senses an opportunity and pulls out his big border pipes. They'll hear them alright. The lady asks the barman to turn off the jukebox for a minute while we all play a couple of tunes from the borders. Apparently they don't like border music in Victoria pubs, as the jukebox came back on pretty sharpish.

The lady gives each of us a kiss on the cheek and we drink up and go home.

Not yer normal Thursday night.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Solar progress

Lots to tell you. Where shall I start? How meeting David Milliband forced me to play bagpipes in a pub. I'll save that one for a day or two. How I stole yet another boat ride this week. Maybe next time. Why I'm dismantling Herbie's ceiling. Later perhaps.

Solar panel mounting frame progress. Yes, we'll go with that. And here it is.

You have to imagine the panel. Here the aft facing edge of it is represented by the upper aluminium strip. So we see it as we would looking forward from the rear deck. First we see it lying flat on the roof. Note the magnetic feet, which will give the lower part of the frame enough clearance at the centre to allow for the curvature of the boat roof.

Now we see the frame raised to angle the panel towards port

and then towards starboard.

All without unscrewing or disconnecting anything. I am not however fully confident that the hinges won't fold under stress from wind etc. so I will probably also make a simple rigid prop to make sure the raised panel doesn't fall.

The panel itself took ages to come. I bought it from Midsummer Energy who handed it over to an "overnight" courier, Fastway (. . Hmmph!) a week ago on Thursday and they failed miserably to deliver, day after day. Phone calls to Fastway from me and from Midsummer resulted in them just telling us porkies about it being on the van today etc. Eventually it arrived a week late, so I'm afraid I gave the poor delivery driver a right ear bashing, only to find out that he was from Parcel Force and they had only had the package overnight. It seems that Fastway had got such problems that under pressure from us they had got Parcel Force to take it from them and do the delivery instead.

Ah well it's here now and it looks smashing. The nice people at Midsummer gave me extra length cables to my measurements for no extra cost.

And so to dismantling Herbie's ceiling. As you might have guessed this is to do with feeding the solar panel cables through to the controller which will sit just inside the rear doors of the boat. To save drilling holes in the roof, the cables will come inside via a mushroom vent shown here with its grille cover removed. Ideally I would just poke the wires through the gap between the ceiling and the roof metal, but as you can see it's packed solid with insulation.

Very close by, is a joint between ceiling panels covered with a hardwood strip. I'm hoping to unscrew the edge of one panel and prise it down just enough to poke the wires in and run them to the edge of the ceiling where they can run along the existing lighting trunking, here show dismantled. However I very much fear this will not be as simple as it sounds as the ceiling stuff is very stiff.

Watch this space.

David Milliband? Next time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back in gadget design mode

Once again I need to tailor make something for Herbie, so I present to you (drum roll) . . .

A rough model of how to mount a tilting frame for the solar panel.

Optimum angles vary according to time of year, but generally speaking you get more power if you tilt the panel toward the south at an angle of between 40 and 60 degrees to the horizontal. About 48 degrees is a good average.

I haven't thought it all through yet but this rough paper model shows how a simple arrangement would work. The beauty of this idea is that it allows the frame to be tilted to the right or to the left according to which way the boat is facing. Of course if the boat is facing north south it won't help at all, except perhaps to face the early morning or late evening sun in summer.

The little hinged legs will be made out of aluminium strip from Wickes, simply rivetted at the joints like this.
This seems to make a nice stiff hinge (sorry for the blur, probably my hands trembling with excitement!).

What I have yet to work out is how exactly to attach the base frame to the vertical screws rising from the roof magnets (see earlier post). If the base fame were aluminium angle strip that might work. The problem might be stopping the rivets from catching on the side of the frame as the frame is raised.

My engineering pals (hint hint) may have elegant ideas.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scary magnets

My magnets to secure the solar panel came today, accompanied by one of the scariest health warnings I've ever seen!! The four page leaflet includes all sorts of danger warnings, including detailed description of what can happen to your fingers if trapped between two big neodymium magnets. Only hydraulic cramps can pull them apart.

My magnets however are relatively safe, being ferrite and having a pull of 18kg each. That should be enough for four of them to secure a solar panel on a steel roof. Neodymium magnets of the same size would have a pull of 6okg each. Try pulling them off the roof. As for the next size up, they pull 155 kgs! These are seriously dangerous objects and have to be kept at least 500mm apart. They will sever your fingers, stop your watch and your pacemaker, wipe your credit cards etc from some distance.

I will have to use stainless steel screws(relatively non magnetic) to attach them to the panel and I suppose I may need non magnetic screwdriver/ spanners too in order to fit locking nuts. Hmmm.

I can see that I will need to be very careful in putting them in position on the boat roof. Apparently the idea is to put a plastic or nylon spacer in between the magnet and the steel surface and then slide it out when in position. I think I'll make a wooden handle to lower the magnet down on its screw.

Meanwhile I await the man delivering the solar panel.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Tale of Three Stadiums

I refuse to call them Stadia. Ugghh.

When Rick and Marilyn borrowed Herbie recently I asked them for some pictures as blog fodder, a amongst their collection were these three.

The first is easy enough to recognise, the arch of Wembley stadium as seen from Ealing or thereabouts on the Paddington Arm

The second is newer, but already featuring in a few blogs - the new Olympic Stadium at Stratford as seen from the Lee Navigation.

But what's this third object, also seen somewhere near Ealing?

Rick seems to think its a relic of the old Wembley stadium, probably a floodlight column. There is a huge pile of the stuff there. Quite why they have left it there I can't imagine. It ought to be being recycled, even just for scrap steel if nothing else. Just leaving it to rot is a crime.

PS I just ordered my new solar panel and some magnets to attach it with. Exciting times ahead.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Trouble at Hanwell -am I a Jonah?

Who's this approaching the bottom of the Hanwell flight? A poor photo, so you may not be able to make them out.

How about this one taken ten minutes later?

Aaawh, I knew you'd recognise him. It's John a.k.a. Halfie. At this point he has his head down the weedhatch, taking a saw to a log that is firmly embedded itself into the propellor of his boat. Not a lucky man with props is Halfie. Read his blog for details of problems that make a mere log jam seem somewhat trivial.

Always one to try to meet fellow bloggers I popped out to Hanwell yesterday to help them up the lock flight.

Perhaps I shouldn't have, because the log was only the start of the problems. Am I a Jonah?

Someone near the top of the flight had partially drained the pound in order to get at a welding job below the normal water line, and the consequence was that there was insufficent water to fill the short pounds between the lower five locks. So at each lock we had to send someone further up to let more water down so that the boats had something to float on.

John and Jan on Willow were sharing locks with nb Lotus. It' s good job the Lotus crew were of a cheerful disposition, because they were suffering firstly from running aground in the lock (!!!) and then from having a big piece of folded roofing felt jammed round their prop. How they kept smiling I don't know, but they did.

All's well that ends well and we finally got to the top, although John's schedule was out by a couple of hours or more. I left them to complete their run to Northolt and walked back down the flight to the car and then home.

Thanks to John and Jan for the ride, and the tea, coffee and sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Start 'em young

Grace's first driving lesson!! Well we let her hold the tiller for a few moments today while we took Herbie down to the winding hole and back so as to have her facing the right way. That's all the cruising we'll be doing for a bit.

The old Slough arm was looking well in the sunshine. We saw what seemed like a million fish in the clear water and although the water lillies are beginning to die off the general vegetation is still lush.