Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Roof painting –be patient, work quickly

Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  Let me explain. 

The paint on a boat roof has a hard time, sun, rain, frost, lying snow, poles, planks, solar panels etc all take their toll.  I reckon the paint on the roof is lucky to last half as long as that on the cabin sides.  Herbie’s roof is no exception, suffering particularly where it comes into contact with roof “furniture”  Even a bag of coal left on the roof over the winter caused a lot of paint damage and resultant rusting because of the film of rain water that lingered under the bag.  Repairing and painting the whole roof in one go is nigh on impossible unless the boat can be taken indoors for a week, so I’ve been doing it in sections.  Learning more and more as I go.

I’ve talked to a few people who “mean to get round to doing their roof one of these days, but it all seems a bit daunting”.  I also spoke to someone who was quoted £1000 for having it done professionally. So for the record and in case it helps or inspires anyone to have a go, here is how I’ve been doing it. 

I suppose the first thing to say is that just patching over little bits of damage is only a stop gap at best.  New paint never matches the old. In an ideal world you would take the whole roof back to bare metal and start again, but I don’t think you can do that out of doors unless you have loads of time and fantastically lucky weather. The better way is to repair/ make good  damaged patches and then repaint a whole section of the roof at one go.  Then it’ll look OK.  Two years ago(?) I repaired and repainted a 20cm wide strip along either side of the roof  to fix a lot of small scars and wotnot  caused by boat hooks, gangplank, autumn leaves etc.  You can just make it out in the second photo below. Then last autumn I repaired the section where the coal bag had lain.  I wish now I had done that better because the repaint still bears the unevenness caused by pitting in the rust.  Then a couple of months ago I had a go at the central section of the roof, around the stove chimney, where there was a fair bit of corrosion.  That time I used filler to even the surface and got a much better finish.

So now I move on to a ten foot section towards the rear of the roof which includes where the solar panel has lain.  The magnetic feet of my fancy titling panel frame are the main culprits here.  Ordinary magnets rust like crazy and attack the roof at the same time.  A lesson learned!

This is the point where I should show you a photo of the damage, but stupidly I forgot to take one.  Sorry folks I’ll do that next time when I attack similar damage under the feet of the roof box.  By the way, another big lesson is revealing itself here.  The best way to keep your roof in good nick is not to store anything on it!

So, to the process.  This is where the patience comes in.  Even if you are repairing and repainting a tiny area, you need several days to do it, because of paint drying times.  Yes you can claim to be working whilst spending twenty three hours a day watching paint dry. That means at least four consecutive days with suitable weather, no rain (especially in the mornings), not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not too dusty.  Flippin’ ‘eck!  Does that exist? Well last weekend it looked promising so I had a go.

If you already know how to suck eggs, you can either stop here or read on and tell me what I’m doing wrongSmile

Day one. Sand off the rusty patches, feathering them out as best you can so as to help with a smooth finish later. Your patches will now be twice the size of the original damaged area. I used a nice little palm sander, only thirteen quid from Wickes, and ideal for this job. While you’re at it lightly sand over the whole area to be repainted, I expect you’ll find little nicks in the paint here and there.  Treat them just the same as the bigger patches.The sanding also helps get rid of any accumulated grime etc. on the “sound” paint. Wash it all off with clean water and over the exposed metal patches  brush a coat of Fertan rust converter, which is easy to apply and is happy in the wet.  Total time taken, about a couple minutes per patch.  No more than an hour for the whole day’s work.

Day two.  Areas of rust converted by the Fertan will have turned black. Wash off them off, lightly sand the patches again and when the roof has dried, mix up some filler.  I used Isopon which sets really fast so you have to mix smallish bits at a time. Smooth the filler over the pitted area and beyond the edges of the exposed area.  Each patch will now be three times the area of the original damage!  You can sand the Isopon after only an hour drying out.  It sands very easily.  You should end up with a smooth surface right across the patch, extending it still further to blend in with the roof surface.  Sand harder at the edges to feather out. At this point I brought out the little hand held Dyson and sucked up what dust I could before washing the whole area off again. If the weather is right, the roof dries in minutes. (If it steams, stop right there, it’s too hot to paint). When dry, brush on some good metal primer, again extending beyond the prepared patch and feathering out as best you can. That’s all you can do today, most paints need sixteen hours between coats. Again only about an hours work.

Day three.  This depends a bit on how many days you can spare in total.  Another coat of primer would be good.  I didn’t have that much time, so after sanding down and washing yet again, it was on with a coat of some high build undercoat.  By now the patches over smallish areas of damage seem enormous.  Here I do have a couple of photos.

roof1 (1 of 1)

roof2 (1 of 1)

Some of those smaller patches cover an area where the damage was only a few millimetres across.  Yet again, less than an hours work today.

Day four. Another undercoat would be a very good idea, but I didn’t have any days leftNow you might say just leave it for another time then, but undercoats and primers are pretty porous and it’s not a great idea to leave them exposed to the weather for long for the damp will get in. So I pressed on. Out comes the old sander again – last chance to get a smooth surface before the top coats. Feathering out still further.  It can seem a bit daft slapping on all that paint then sanding half it it back off, but that’s what you have to do.  Then, a final light sanding over the whole area to get it clean and smooth, a quick vacuum if you have one, and a good rinse with clean water.  When that is dry, a final wash with a white spirit soaked rag to remove any grease and you’re ready for the top coat. Getting it all really clean is vital. Work so far today, about an half hour. 

Now the first top coat of, in my case, raddle paint.  Four inch brush, well stirred paint and work as fast as you can to keep a wet edge, working the paint in then quickly laying off the paint side to side right across the roof. I was cursing the met office because half way down we got a short light shower of rain. I stopped and waited for an hour.  It dried off and looked ok.  Better to start off against a touch dry edge than a half dry sticky one.  That ten foot section took about twenty minutes. Here and there the paint “grinned” a bit (showed through). Ignore that and keep going, never go back over sticky paint, the second coat will sort out all that.

So that’s where I stopped because we had to go home.  That single top coat will hold out the weather till I resume sometime soon, but I will have to sand and wash again first.

So that’s four days to do less than five hours work.  Each time I chose to do the work mid morning, after any dew has gone and leaving plenty of drying time before the evening damp descends, and  hopefully before any sun makes the roof too hot to work on.

On the other hand, also this weekend I went from this:

frontb4 (1 of 1)

to this:

frontafter (1 of 1)

in about five minutes.  Yes I just screwed on the front panel I had painted indoors at home.  I think it has worked out OK.  Herbie looks instantly smarter.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Finished paint plus a hidden gem on the Avon

Here’s my finished (all bar a coat of varnish) cratch mullion.  True to form the masking tape had bled here and there because of the grain of the wood, but nothing a tiny dab of white with an artists brush wouldn’t cover.  I’ll fix it to the boat next time we’re there, then you’ll be able to recognise us when you see us coming.

boardfinal (1 of 1)


Now then, this hidden gem.  Yesterday we went to Offenham (near Evesham) on the Avon to join in my big bruvver’s 80th birthday bash.  Little did we know he had arranged a treat for a group of us in between lunch and the afternoon festivities he took us for a walk down his road, Boat Lane, which as you might guess leads to the river.  Only about a hundred and fifty yards from his house he led us into the little Boat Lane (micro) Brewery where the proprietors were ready to welcome us with a tasting session and a tour.  Well what a cracker it is!  The owner/brewer is a a true artist with the recipes and the brewing process is meticulously carried out to produce some quite outstanding and interesting beers.  I suppose these days you would refer to their stuff as Craft beers. On sampling one of two draft beers on offer  I was pleased that I was right when I suggested it was made with cascade hops.  Anything made with cascade is invariably delicious to me, even if it is an American hop. Due to issues of scale, they sell chiefly in bottles at the moment, but they do have a small amount of draft beer too.  They are already selling all they can make and over the next year or two the scale is bound to grow.  As well as superb bitters and stouts, they do a range of really nice beers and stouts with added fruit flavours,  - oranges, mango, raspberry, ooh I can’t remember the rest but all really good (hic). We came away with a few bottles of the Offenham Orange.

One thing I learned during the tour was how HMRC calculates the alcohol duty the brewer needs to pay.  I imagined that they came round with the old hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the beer.  That would of course indicate the alcoholic strength but not of course measure the quantity being made.  What in fact they do is require the malt sellers to record how much malt ( and presumably other sugar producing grains) is supplied to the brewer then apply a calculation to estimate how much alcohol that would make.  Simple really.

Boat lane brewery is open to the public on most days and if you moor your boat at the Bridge Inn (where perversely there is no bridge, but an old chain ferry) on the Avon it’s only a couple of minutes walk.  Highly recommended. You can find them on facebook where a number of customers rave about their wares.

While you’re in Offenham take a stroll down the main street past the thatched cottages and marvel at the village maypole, which at 64 feet is the tallest in England.  It is painted nearly as nicely as Herbie’s new cratch front.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Banbury Canal Day revived

The formerly cancelled Banbury Canal Day has been un-cancelled.  A planned building extension across the canal was supposed to be started by now, but for some reason or other it hasn’t, so as former attendees, we got a letter from Banbury Council saying they were reinstating the canal day to take place on October 1st and inviting us to apply for a place.  Well Banbury is practically Herbie’s home town at the moment so, if we’re spared, we’ll probably put in an appearance.

Meanwhile, my cratch front panel is progressing.  Two days ago –all masked up over the white base so that the white borders will reveal later:

boardw (1 of 1)

Today after two coats of the greys:

boardg (1 of 1)


The grey paint didn’t want to sit well on top of the white gloss despite rubbing down first but I managed to persuade it in the end although at the expense of an ultra smooth finish.  I doubt the brush marks will show at normal viewing distance.  As you can see, any precision is in the masking and not in the painting.  Tomorrow morning one more coat of the greys and then the big reveal when I pull off the masking tape.  I am mentally prepared for the inevitable bits of bleeding under the tape as long as there’s not too much of it. hopefully a little dab of white here and there will make good.  Then I think a couple of coats of clear varnish will finish the job.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Disappearing water

The schools have broken up and now it seems to want to rain.  Aah well, it does that.  The July CRT Reservoir Watch figures show quite a variation in the change in water holdings for the canals. Over June The Oxford dropped 16.8%, GU North dropped a somewhat alarming 26% while the GU South dropped 11%.  How do you work that one out?  At least holdings are still somewhat above 2010/11 levels when we were all worried about being left high and dry.

Last week we had an interesting episode at Grant’s Lock, that’s the first one south of Banbury, where the overspill weir pours under the lock cottage floor.  I had the lock empty ready for Kath to bring Herbie in when a lady appeared asking if we would kindly let some water down because the pound below, which includes Twyford Wharf, was very low.  No surprise there, I thought, it’s always really shallow down there (don’t go near the sides or you’ll be aground in no time).  So, anyway we had a bit of fun bringing Herbie into the lock with the top paddles open for a few minutes.  I think Kath enjoyed driving her in hard against the current and I suppose we donated a few thousand gallons to the pound below.

It turned out the the lady was one of the owners of Twyford Wharf where they have a little hire fleet.  She was convinced that there must be a groundwater leak in that pound although she couldn’t find where it might be.  Certainly round the corner south of the wharf, the canal sits on a high towpath side embankment above the Cherwell, so there’s plenty of chance for gravity to take away any leakage.  Actually Grant’s lock is fourteen inches less deep than King’s Sutton (Tarver’s) lock which is the next one below so that according to my calculations that would account for a fifty gallon loss each time a boat passes through, but, if I recall rightly the overspill weir at Grant’s lock was flowing so that would make up fifty gallons in no time.  I think the lady is right, the water is escaping somewhere.

Meanwhile I wonder if this recent spell of unsettled weather will make much difference to the reservoirs.  I doubt it somehow.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cratch front designs

Phew, despite frequent rain showers, I've repainted Herbie's cratch front over ten times today. All in a search to find a design Kath likes. If you don't believe me, take a look at some of them.

cratchc   cratchb  cratchd

Alright, I admit it, I wasn't using paint on the cratch, I was using Paint on the computer. Useful though because my original design idea which looked good on paper, didn't look at all right on the boat. One thing I learned is that the designs look better if they don't extend through the full height of the “mullion” board.

Of course the Met Office (never the same since they left Bracknell where I could keep an eye on them) have supplied us with weather unsuitable for painting all this summer – either too hot or too windy or showery. So my solution is to make a new “veneer” board to pint at home and then screw over the somewhat weatherbeaten one on the boat.

For the designs, I have been using colours that are already in use on Herbie, the two greys from the cabin sides, the red from the cants and the white lining from the bow flashes. Also you will see that I was keen to reflect the red diamond on the bow flashes. Our final choice is this one:

cratcha

The board is cut, primer-ed and undercoated twice and once that last coat is dry I'm ready to start on the real fun, the marking out and painting. That'll take several days because of the different colours and abutting edges and multiple coats of paint, although only probably twenty minutes at each session. I'd never have got it done out in the open.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Learned Treatise on Dogs on (Canal) Boats Part II

When I said in my last post, part 2 “tomorrow”, I meant that in the Donald trump sense.  Don’t worry, it’s gonna be great.

I feel I have adequately demonstrated my credentials as a world authority on DogsonBoats, but as further proof of what I said last time, I have located a photo of our Sheltie Jaz attempting to walk the gunnel of a hire boat.

Photograph (10)

As you can see, she is having second thoughts.  I don’t recall if she tried to turn and then fell in the canal, but probably.  I shall not be recommending Shelties as ideal DogsonBoats.

And so to the meat of my thesis, popular breeds and their owners.  Let us start with the ubiquitous Staffordshire Bull Terrier. 

Staffies are acquired, mostly by single men of socio economic groups D and E, in the mistaken belief that it will increase their macho credentials, and in the eyes of the non cognoscenti, this may work.   It is true that they could probably bite a windlass in half, or crunch through a mooring chain, but unlike their nasty cousin the American Pit Bull, you are far more likely to be licked by one than bitten by one.  So they sit on the rear deck, quietly watching the world go by, generally doing as little as possible and putting on weight. Their owners quickly learn that despite their often terrifying appearance, they are soft, sweet natured and afectionate.  This is the ideal dog for the low energy boater.  It is pointless throwing a Staffie a ball or a stick, because it will demolish the missile with a single bite on reaching it so there’ll be zilch to bring back.  As to feeding, they eat anything.  If you run out of biscuits, they might be perfectly happy with half a dozen nuts and bolts.

Now to the other end of the energy scale.  The Border Collie – living proof that genius is close to madness.  These brilliant dogs can operate see saws, run through mazes, drive sheep through a gate and into a pen, and could probably solve third order differential equations if they could hold a pencil.  On the downside however they all seem to suffer from ADHD and have to be doing something all the time.  This is the reason that Border Collie owners are either superbly fit or completely knackered.  In truth ColliesonBoats prefer to be ColliesontheTowpath.  If only they could be trained to go ahead and set the next lock, they’d be perfect.

Now we come to a dog with supernatural powers.  The Greyhound.  These come in two types, the normal, and the retired racer.  Both types have a common skill, which is hypnotism.  In the verbal sense, Greyhounds don’t have a lot to say. They slink about in complete silence, find your favourite chair and lie in it. A big racer can easily occupy a three seater sofa on his own. However they have acquired to power to instruct their owners through their eyes with subliminal messages such as “You will adopt another three retired racers as company for me”, or “I refuse to pee here, please take me to my favourite spot fourteen miles away or my bladder will burst and you’ll have yet another expensive vets bill.”  The dogs’ powers of hypnosis ensure complete and utter dedication and devotion to their every need. What these dogs are operating is a secret cult like the Moonies or something. Perhaps their ought to be a treatment centre somewhere to cure owners who have escaped.  

The reason vets have expensive Range Rovers and nice houses is principally due to the retired racing Greyhound, which like all finely tuned racers is prone to injury.  This is especially true of the creature’s skin, which appears to be about one micron thick, so that a brush against a dralon sofa will produce a wound needing medical attention. These are of course supremely athletic dogs capable of running along the entire grand union canal in about three minutes.  The only sound they make is the sonic boom as they pass. Despite this they are fascinatingly reluctant to step over a six inch gap between boat and bank and so need lifting across.  So we come to their boating owners.  Those of “normal” greyhounds tend to be single people who enjoy the quiet telepathic bond with their dog.  Those owners of ex racing greyhounds are almost always couples with a good joint income to cover the vet’s bills. Generally speaking their sacrifice and generosity (even to humans) knows no bounds. What else could you say of a lady who willingly stood on a boat for a whole day in the cold pouring rain in a soaking Womble costume to publicise a Greyhound charity? The most impressive special skill of owners of racers is that of recognising one greyhound from another.  To the rest of us they all look identical.  Having cruised on a narrowboat through the Thames barrier with five of these animals, all I can say is that I was glad they all had colour coded collars. So to keep a Greyhound on a boat, you need to prefer non verbal communication, not have a favourite seat of your own (or fool the dog into thinking it’s a different one), and never look into its eyes or you will be lost.

Finally a dog which will follow you around like a, um, well, like a little dog I suppose.  It is the ever popular Jack Russell Terrier.  These come in a range of colours and sizes and temperaments.  The good ones are sweet and gentle and the not so good ones will display a savagery worthy of a beast ten times their size. On the deck of your boat, a bucket of soapy water and a scrubbing  wouldn’t go amiss, because the JRT does like to roll in the leavings of other dogs and, worse, of foxes.  A good JRT, being of small stature is happy on a boat, is a good guard dog and will get on well with your friends and not mess up their boats.  They live for ages and the running costs are low.  Being so portable they can, and will, go everywhere with you.  JRT owners are a very mixed bunch, singles, couples, rich, poor, high energy, low energy.  Could this be the ideal DogonaBoat?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Learned Treatise on Dogs on Boats

There follows below, a Learned Treatise on Dogs on (Canal) Boats and Their Owners, and as the author of said Treatise I shall commence by describing my credentials as an expert on the subject.

Our first DogonaBoat was Treacle, our dear little Jack Russell Terrier who we had not long after we got married about forty years ago. Treacle was small even by Jack Russell standards and had little of the bravery supposedly attributed to the breed. She once attempted a confrontation with one of our Guinea Pigs and came off much the worse. Rick and Marilyn invited us for a day out aboard Nb Amos, a converted Ice Breaker kindly lent by a friend of theirs. We travelled from Blisworth and went a long way down the Northampton Arm before turning and going back. Treacle wasn't at all sure about the boat and was keen to join us on the bank while we worked down the many locks. At one of the locks the crew of us and our various children elected to reboard the boat to get to the next lock, which, knowing the flight, couldn't have been very far. Unfortunately we forgot to tell Treacle who was left stranded on the bank, so we called to her, intending that she should follow along the towpath. After a moment's thought she remembered her obedience training and decided she ought to follow us, so against all her instincts she plunged into the water and struck out after the disappearing boat. Her little dogy paddle swimming style was admirable and before long she caught us up and was scooped aboard, never to go near water again.

Our second DogonaBoat was ten years later. Jaz was our gentle and clever Sheltie who had an inbuilt dislike of water. Well with all that long hair I suppose she would. We hired a boat from Weltonfield and cruised down through Braunston and the Oxford canal, getting about as far as Enslow. I don't remember if we had a day without heavy rain, but I think not. Having a bedraggled Sheltie on a carpeted boat is not something I'd recommend, not that she was particularly bedraggled by the rain, more by frequent accidental plunges into the canal as she attempted to herd the ducks. She was a sheepdog after all. She fell off the deck, the roof, AND the gunnel (yes she was stupid enough to attempt that). Her first plunge actually took place before we had actually set off from the hire base, as we were loading our gear onto the boat. But her most spectacular plunge was off the footway across the bottom lock gates at I think maybe Cropredy. She decided to follow me across, then half way thought better of it and attempted to do an about turn. There being insufficient room of course she dived several feet into the canal below. Well she survived to tell the tale and on the return journey she did do something to impress us all. Coming back through Fenny Tunnel (which boaters will know is no longer a tunnel at all but a narrow cutting), we were so close to the bank that she assumed we we about to disembark so she jumped ashore. The boat and its crew continued on, leaving her stranded. Would she do a Treacle? Not Jaz. She thought for a minute then raced along the bank ahead of us and waited at the next bridge. Clever or what?

Moving on many years I won't dwell on the SomebodyelsesDogonsomebodyelsesBoat, except to say that we have survived a number of Thames Tideway thrillers in the company of a large number of large Greyhounds aboard Nb IndigoDream. I think I'm right in recalling there being five of them on board on the trip to Gravesend. More on Greyhounds later.

So we come right up to date with our dog sitting trip this week with Ronnie, our Claire's Chihuahua/ Yorkie cross. Rarely has a DogonaBoat attracted so much attention. I have completely lost count of the number of people who have come up to admire him. Despite never having been near a canal before, he has not fallen or jumped in once, although he has had many opportunities. If I walk between locks he follows me dutifully like a, um, er well like a little dog. Returning to the boat after a walk, once he sees it, he runs ahead to our boat and sits at the rear, waiting to be lifted aboard. What a sweetie. Kath won't want to give him back.

So you can see I am practically a world authority on dogs on boats and I await the call from the people who nominate the judges at Crufts. And so on to my Leaned Treatise on Dogs on(canal) Boats and their Owners, where I shall analyse the most popular breeds and the types of people who own them. However, looking back at the amount I have already written and being aware of the short attention span of readers these days, I'll save that for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Animal magnetism.



As the sunset falls over our peaceful mooring tonight at Kirtlington quarry, I ponder why I have suddenly become attractive to young women. Way back in the last century I seem to recall having my moments, but things have slowed down a bit over the last thirty years. Today however I have been approached by three or four attractive young ladies, and it was the same yesterday. Of course they all made the excuse that they were coming to stroke and admire little puppy Ronnie, but I think it's my animal magnetism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Slow going

Having cruised down to Oxford in three days, we're now aiming to take seven days to get back. After two very short days we find ourselves at the Jolly Boatman at Thrupp. Luckily the old solar panel is helping out with the battery charging with the engine only running for an hour or so per day.

Our novice crew member Ronnie is taking to boating like a dog to water.


Although he's not too sure about his life jacket.



Sadly he appears not to have the strength to carry a windlass, but you can't have everything can you?

Now we have to look out for dog friendly pubs. I'm pretty sure the Jolly B is ok as I recall Maffi taking Molly in there. Ronnie appeared to approve of Annie's Tea Rooms, as do we.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Here we are - with a new guest crew member and a posh extra for Herbie

I suppose you might be wondering where we are. (At our age we keep wondering that too.) Well we're down amid the dreaming spires mingling with the tourists. At least half the population of Oxford appears to be American if you go by the accents you hear as people walk by. Apart from the normal reasons for visiting the city, we had an extra two. The first was to attend a pre arranged collogue (look it up) with Bones and the Moomins to attempt a re-enactment of the splendid jointly prepared meal we had aboard Nb Melaleuca a couple of years back. It's always dangerous to try to recreate such a memorable evening, but with certain essential changes we managed it splendidly. The changes were that we ate al fresco, having a barbecue in the little park at Aristotle lane. I won't bore you with the menu but it was suitably sumptuous and a jolly time was had by all and a box of cider is now empty.

Part of the reason for the jollity was the inclusion of our special guest (the other reason we came down to Oxford). Meet our new temporary crew member Ronnie.



Ronnie is our daughter Claire's dog, half Yorkie and half Chihuahua and we have him on board for a week while Claire and family take a holiday in Portugal. He's quite a character and loved by all but I don't suppose he'll be much use at lock wheeling.

At our BBQ we had a flying visit from Alex who some of you will know as a maker of classy (and very sturdy) boat chimneys, so we asked about replacing ours which is falling to bits. To cut a long story short Alex bowled up this morning carrying one which proved to be a perfect fit so the deal was done and Herbie's roof looks instantly a lot smarter. His chimneys cost about double the tin ones you buy in the chandleries but are about five times as good. The steel is thick and the finish is powder coated and baked on. The old chimney was indeed on its last legs because as Alex twisted it to free it from the collar, the chimney disintegrated in his hands!

The old one, ready for the tip:



and the new one made by Alex:



The canal is looking spiffing at the moment, well, when the sun shines anyway. The yellow flag irises and the may flowers and the elder blossoms have all gone, to be replaced with lush sprays of Rosebay Willowherb, Meadowsweet, white Convolvulus and Purple Loosestrife. It all looks like a lovely cottage garden, miles and miles of it. I know, I know, I really must take some photos.

The other thing growing with abandon is the flippin' weeping Willows which hang in big green curtains over the canal so you can't see where you're going or if your're about to collide with a boat coming the other way. As you come into Oxford you hit loads of them. Something ought to be done . . .

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Something hidden but worth seeing on the Oxford Canal.

Here's a find you might not know about. It's one of those things right next to the canal, but you never know it's there until someone tips you off like someone did to us.

First, a bit of background, so bear with me.

The little old river Cherwell has been known to flood a bit around Banbury. In fact, a bit more than a bit. In 1998 even Banbury railway station had to be closed because of floods. That year, flood damage amounted to 12m pounds. When they had bad floods again in 2007, the town and the EA decided enough was enough and 14m quid was spent on developing and constructing a Flood Alleviation Scheme. A major piece of this was the creation of a large floodwater holding area in fields to the north of the town by building a retaining dam 2850 metres (that's over a mile and three quarters) long and up to 4.5m (nearly 15 feet) high.

Not only is this worth looking at, it's right next to the canal, and you can use it to walk through to the retail park next to the motorway where comfortably off shoppers can visit M&S or the less wealthy can go into Primark or Poundland or the less healthy can eat at MacDonalds.(healthy menu options are available).

So how do you see all this from the canal? Well you start at the motorway bridge just north of Hardwick lock (that's the last one before Banbury if you are coming from the North). There's plenty of room to tie up on the straight stretch down to the lock. Walk back through the bridge and you'll find this gate.



See it there on the left of the picture. Walk through the gate and you'll be looking at a bit of the dam.




Climb up onto the dam to see the vista beyond, where all the flood water will be held. There are a couple of socking great concrete sluices which I suppose are there to control the release of the water at the appropriate time.


If you fancy a bit of retail therapy, it's less than a ten minute walk from here. With your back to the canal, turn to your right and walk along the dam and across a second sluice to join a path going under the motorway.



As you can see, M&S and the rest are just the other side.

There is a good write up of the flood alleviation scheme with maps and pictures available as a pdf. Google the scheme (other search engines are available) and look for the entry from WaterProjectsOnline.com.

What worries me is how they will manage post Brexit when we can't get any little Dutch boys to stick their fingers in the dam if it leaks.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Exceeding my authority – guilty!

In two hours at Denham deep lock yesterday afternoon three of us Towpath Rangers encountered approx 120 pedestrians and 55.  cyclists many of them went away clutching our little free canal maplets cyclists with tips on towpath etiquette.  I think it does more good for general canal PR than changing behaviour, but it feels like a nice thing to do.  The pedestrians in general are keen to chat and ask questions.  A good few of them popped into the adjacent Fran’s Tea Garden for a cuppa or an ice cream cos it was baking hot. 

frans (1 of 1)

For those of you who don’t know the spot, that’s the River Colne which flows under the canal adjacent to the lock.  The house is the former lock cottage.

The metal beams on the lock gates were barely touchable in the heat. I didn’t count the boats passing through but there were about seven or eight in the two hours, and an alarming number of them were clueless about how to work a lock.  Now I’m not a CRT trained lock keeper and although I was wearing CRT kit I had no life jacket so I assume that I was breaking rules if I assisted.  But if a couple of clueless lads were doing it all wrong, not knowing one end of a windlass from another, what would you do? There is a plastic cruiser waiting to go up  in the empty lock and the lads  open just the top gate paddles.  They seemed unaware of the ground paddles.   This is the deepest lock on the Grand Union. Quite apart from the fact that the lock would take an hour to fill that way, the boat was at risk from the wash from the gate paddles. I couldn’t resist. I helped “unofficially”, patiently showing them what to do in what order.  It wasn’t just the one clueless boat by the way, there were two or three more.  Goodness knows where they all came from.

I may well have averted a safety incident in this way, but no doubt because I was in uniform and not an authorised volunteer lockie, I had exceeded my brief and put CRT at risk of blame if anything went wrong.

Hey ho.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Boats aground, canal overflows.

It looks like we might be heading for an “interesting period” canal water wise.  The latest Reservoir Watch figures from CRT show levels being OKish for May but in their comments they are clearly fearing things will worsen if this warm weather keeps up.

“We are advising local operational staff on the optimum feed quantities to ensure efficient use of the water available and maximising use of back pumps (where they are installed) to recirculate water used by locks, in case the generally dry weather continues through the summer.
The Trust has carefully prepared contingency plans in place to manage if the situation worsens, and to ensure effective and timely communication to boaters and waterway businesses.”

Last week on the Oxford, it was really strange. People heading south as we were heading back north kept warning us of the low pound below Cropredy – boats aground etc.  The bottom is always too near the top along there at the best of times. Then at Kings Sutton (Tarvers) lock we see this.

tarvers (40 of 50)

Water pouring over the top of the gate.  I suppose CRT had let some more water in overnight.  But, two locks further up it was still pretty low .  I don’t quite get that, I thought they let the water in further up the hill.  I wonder how many times a day these locks are used in high season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was twenty five or more.  That’s a lot of water when there’s been no rain.  I look forward to next month’s Reservoir figures with interest.

I’m off to Denham lock this afternoon to do a spot of rangering, handing out maplets and cycling advice to towpath users.  It’ll be busy up there today.  See you soon if I don’t melt.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Peace and quiet


Here we are at Somerton meadows, which is about as peaceful and pastoral setting as you could imagine. Well it would be if it weren't for the tractors hay making in the fields behind us and the pilot practising his airplane skills in the sky above us and the cows mooing and munching


and the trains on the nearby railway line. One of them this morning was a steam train with vintage coaches. At least the helicopter sitting in the field across the Cherwell is at rest.

Still, it is lovely here on a summer's afternoon. Mustn't grumble. It is a beautiful meadow.

Last night we tied up at another peaceful spot just below Allen's lock at Upper Heyford. Lovely. Out with the deck chairs, feet up. Aaah. Rest.

Then round the corner came a boat needing to go up the lock. And another and another, and another, and another and another. Six boats all within the space of fifteen minutes. So of course they were queuing down the canal, jumping on and off their boats, asking who was next, "were we waiting to go up?" etc. Most of the were from the hire base at Lower Heyford, all wanting to get away at the same time, so this was their first lock since boarding the boats fifteen minutes ago, so most of them didn't know what the procedure was. Luckily the boatyard had sent up a man to help them through. It was all quite jolly really, but the poor boaters at the back of the queue had to wait about an hour. I fear they were going to be late for their reserved table at the pub in Aynho.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bones, more bones and turf without grass.

Phew, what a busy few days we've had. We arrived in Oxford on Thursday, mooring up at 'Arry Stottle's bridge where the good ships Milly M and Bones were already tied up. So that was Thursday evening sorted out, cleverly avoiding all the election kerfuffle by joining Bones and Maffi for a long chinwag and too much red wine. Jolly nice it was too.

Next morning we cruised on down to Jericho where there was plenty of space to tie up (more than could be said for 24 hours later when it was full up. Note to self and others:Try to arrive in Oxford before the weekend, and early ish in the day. Do that and you should get moored up with no problem.)

Then it was on with the walking shoes and a long march to and round the Natural History Museum where we saw a lot more bones. Rather older than Nb Bones or Mort Bones or Maffi 's old bones.



Then of course through the back to the Pitt Rivers museum which despite having very few bones is still excellent and highly eccentric.

Next morning for a change we visited a couple more museums starting with the truly excellent Museum of the History of Science where a very entertaining guide pointed out lots of stuff we would have otherwise missed. He also told us the story of the nasty Mr Ashmole who tricked the nice Mr and Mrs Tradascanth (of Tradascanthia fame) out of their lifetime collection. Anybody that likes instruments (not the musical type) exquisitely made of brass would love this place. (Note to Rick: a couple of clocks you need to see.) I can't imagine anybody not wanting one of the lovely little pocket sundials, of which they have a large number. Well, I do anyway. We should have also seen a blackboard still covered in calculations scribbled by Einstein, but it had gone off to be cleaned or something. I seriously hope not wiped anyway.

Peter had emailed his Cambridge pals to get recommendations of good pubs to try in Oxford. I'm not sure he has any pals in Oxford, nevertheless they came up with the goods and directed us to the Turf Tavern, which despite it's name has three gardens but no grass. Previously unknown to us, this is apparently a very famous pub, having been frequented by Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Bill Clinton among others. Sadly none of them were there at the time although hundreds of other people were. It is claimed that this is the place where Bill Clinton did not inhale. Anyhow we liked it a lot and drank some very nice apple and pear cider.

Then on to the Ashmolean museum having been told by the guide at the other place what a complete RAT Ashmole was! By now we were getting a bit over museumed, so we went on to another place recommended by Peter's pals which was George and Davis Ice Cream cafe. Once again the pals had turned up trumps and it was small, out of the way and full of delicious things. Probably some of the best made ice cream I have ever had.

Having been worn to a frazzle escorting Peter around we then forced him onto the X5 bus back to Cambridge and Kath and I crawled back to the boat exhausted having both doubled our daily steps targets.

So here we are tonight back at Thrupp, recuperating after doing all those flippin' lift bridges you have to do to escape from Oxford.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

In the eye of the storm

"Come on you scurvy shipmates," the captain cried, "we've got to get the good ship Herbie into harbour at Heyford before the tide turns."

"She'll never make it cap'n," shouted the first mate into the gale, "she'll go down with all hands in Somerton meadows. We'll never steer her through them lift bridge holes in this wind."

"Out of my way, ye lily livered scum," snarled the skipper. "Grab that bit of fender rope and lash me to the tiller."

Then winding up the mighty BMX 1.8 diesel motor to a terrifying 1400 revs, he swung the boat out of the safety of Aynho wharf and into the raging typhoon. On the canal bank frantic groups of boaters were trying to stop their boats from flying away as the propellers on their wind turbines reached take off velocity.

Once out in open water, the boat creaked and groaned as her decks and rigging threatened to buckle under the strain. From below decks came the anguished cries of the pressed men as great barrels of lime juice and salt pork broke free from their ties, and slid across the decks crushing everyone and everything in their path. Wooden cages that held the pigs and chickens burst open freeing their contents in a cacophony of grunts, squeals and squawks.

"Man the bilge pumps ye scurvy swine, " shouted the captain against the roar of the wind, "she's taking on too much water. Tighten the stern gland bosun, or we'll all be sleeping in Davy Jones ' locker tonight.

Then, over the shrieking of the storm came the sound of a great Bell, ringing again and again.

The captain opened one eye and glanced at his time piece. Crikey, eight o'clock already. He sat up and peered out of the window. "Blimey it looks a bit windy. I think we'll stay put today. " he said, turning to the first mate, "your turn to make tea. I've just had the strangest dream.

36 HOURS later, Herbie rests in Thrupp before the planned assault on Oxford tomorrow.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

New paint old paint



On the left, a bit of Herbie's roof I repainted this week, on the right, the old surface. Amazing how the rain water beads up on the new paint.

Tonight we pause once again in Banbury having collected Peter off the train. We thought we ought to introduce him to the delights of the Reindeer, but it was closed for a staff meeting! Never heard of a pub doing that before. Anyhow it turned out to be a good thing because we took someone's advice to try the White Horse which turns out to be a very nice pub with equally nice beer, although we only had the one pint each! I fear we shall have to return on another occasion. I recommend it.

Today has been a day of fierce competition between me and Kath to see which of us will put the first scratch on Herbie's newly repainted port side tunnel. Miraculously it survived unscathed. No doubt I will break my duck tomorrow. Perhaps we can persuade Peter to do it for us. He generally has a talent for such things. Despite not being the most practically gifted person, Peter is a very handy person to have around as it saves us looking up stuff on Wikipedia. This evening he gave us chapter and verse on various versions of the Old Testament as recognised by various religious groups (although he is not remotely religious) and later, on the principles of neural networking, something he has been playing around with at work. One day I will ask him about something about which he knows nothing, but so far I haven't been able to come up with such a question.

He did relate on more fun fact. When we were at the Cambridge beer festival recently, we were able to download and utilise phone apps listing the festival beers and their properties. The apps also showed you in real time how much of each beer remained available. According to Peter, the web server which lay at the centre of this system was a little Rasberry Pi no bigger than a fag packet. In my early computing days it would have needed an IBM mainframe in a big air conditioned room. Well actually it wouldn't because the www hadn't been invented. Blimey I'm getting old. Only this evening I was remembering that things like Tv sets and sofas were priced in guineas.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Thoughts and observations

Thoughts

Most of my life is wasted on useless thinking. For instance, I couldn't begin to count the hours and the sleepless nights I've expended in trying to decide which eight records to take to Desert Island Discs. It worries me still.

Lately though, other things have been on my mind

a)How come Theresa May has appropriated Peter Crouch's arms and legs? Has nobody else noticed? Is his limbless torso concealed in the cellar at number ten, waiting till she gets the boot and he can get his arms and legs back?

b)Why doesn't somebody punch Donald Trump on the nose (although M. Macron had a good go at breaking his fingers - good on yer monsieur) and how come people still refer to him as leader of the free world, when it is clearly (thank goodness) Angela Merkel?

c)More to the point, why did I think it was a good idea to paint a patch of Herbie's roof the other day when it was hot enough to fry an egg? (I kind of got away with it but the result is less than perfect.)

Observations

a) Water levels.
Last week we tootled up and down a bit of the Oxford and the water levels were up and down like yo yos. Down at Twyford Wharf, Herbie and two other boats all ran aground at the same time. It was quite comical. Then today the water outside Cropredy Marina is as high as I have ever seen it. We can only assume the CRT are releasing more water from the reservoirs. Don't they know it's supposed to rain a lot next week? Doesn't anybody listen to Thomasz Schaffernaker? (I probaly mis-spelt that, sorry Tom) Anyhow, all they need to do is to ask me if I'm taking the boat out for a couple of weeks and as the answer is yes, it's bound to rain.

b) The young uns are taking over
Last week the crew was Grandkids Grace and Jacob. Grace might only be 9 but she's turning into a really good helmsman, even negotiating the Oxford's notoriously narrow lift bridge holes with hardly a comment from me. It's good to know that when I'm old and incompetent (nearly there), she can take over the helm. Her helming is a bit better than Kath's selfie taking, but here we are anyhow.



Now we just need to buid up Grace's muscles for the stiff gate paddles down this way. She'd better hurry up before mine wither away.

Next week our son Peter takes her place on board as we endure the rain all the way down to Oxford. He's not nearly so good on the helm but then he's only about 38 and his mind is on higher things.

c)Politics
As we're away on the boat on June 8th I have already cast my postal vote. Once again my constituency has failed to attract the participation of the official Monster Raving Looney party. I am bereft.

Ours is a safe seat for the party I will never vote for. Nevertheless there's always the chance that UKIP will lose their deposit so all may not be lost.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Water level info – a great new site for river levels

It looks like we’re in a wettish spell weather wise, but of course we needed it after the dry April.  I took a look at the CRT Reservoir site and as expected, the reservoirs took quite a hit last month, what with the dry weather and the start of the boating season.  Down south the typical drop in levels was around 10% over the month, which isn’t too serious but not an ideal start to the season. Further north, on the Leeds and Liverpool, levels fell by 18% and the poor old Lancaster went down by 24% although some of that was due to a draw down for engineering works.  The report says that “We are advising local operational staff on the optimum feed quantities to ensure efficient use of the water available and maximising use of back pumps (where they are installed) to recirculate water used by locks, in case the recent dry weather continues through the late spring and into the summer.”

Well it looks like bad weather might come to the rescue, but what then for those of us who have to negotiate rivers.  Of course, most boaters know about how to check on the Thames (http://riverconditions.environment-agency.gov.uk/) , but what about the smaller  rivers . Where do we check on them before setting out? Down on the jolly old Oxford we have to join the cheery little Cherwell on a couple of stretches, above Aynho, and between Enslow and Thrupp.  We are not supposed to continue if the level on the indicator boards go into the red.  Little rivers like this can go up and down like yo-yos.  Others like the Stort, the Soar and the notorious Nene spring to mind. 

So today is asked Mr Google for help and lo and behold he came up with the goods, pointing me to a site called

www.riverlevels.uk

Apologies if you already knew about this site, but I didn’t, and it is exactly what we want. It appears to be quite a new site, and they say it is still under development, but already it looks great.  Bear in mind though that it is primarily designed to indicate river levels from a flood warning point of view rather than a navigation one.

It seems to have precise monitoring levels for all the English navigable rivers I could think of and it looks like they may be updated at least  daily.  I’m sure they wont mind me showing you a couple of screen shots as I now find myself plugging their site:

levels2

levels1

You’ll notice from the top one that it might also be handy for those times when you want to buy a Porsche, I’m fresh out of them myself as it happens.  Anyhow I think it’s a brilliant site and I’ll certainly be consulting it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Posh Broads and an exploding rocket

I’m alive!!  Yes I’ve survived another year of the dreaded Norfolk Sailing Weekend.  I only got whacked on the head once by the boom and no-one fell in or got stranded on a mud bank this year.  Amazing.

The winner of the Bowsprit Award for the helmsman inflicting most damage on his boat was Rick.  The citation reads: “For not looking up and noticing the overhanging tree and so demolishing the mast top burgee(little pennant that indicates wind direction)”.  Admittedly a minor offence, but somebody has to take the trophy home.  Well done Rick.

This year we were forced to try a new base since our usual holiday let at Thurne is due for demolition, so we relocated to some very nice barn conversion cottages near Ludham on the river Ant.  Consequently, we were able to explore waters that we hadn’t seen for many a long year.  Probably not since our famous week aboard the Wherry Albion in 1973 where I fell backwards into Salhouse broad in  spectacular fashion just as a big pleasure boat full of tourists with cameras was passing.  It says something for the longevity of friendships that five of us sailing this weekend were on that trip 44 years ago.

Passing through Horning, I realised that I had forgotten that this is the posh end of the Broads.  The riverside houses are large and expensive looking, many of them thatched

horning (1 of 1)

Some have expensive looking statuary like this magnificent looking wooden horse and foal

horning horse (1 of 1)

All this is a far cry from the humble little chalets that adorn the banks of the Thurne up at Potter Heigham.  I can just imagine the conversation between residents of each at a party.  “Oh, you have a riverside property too.  Where is it?” - “Potter Heigham” – “Oh,” sniff, “how, um, quaint.”

We managed to sail all the way to Salhouse to revisit the scene of my historic backflip and moored up for lunch on Salhouse island where our boats lay empty like the Mary Celeste while everyone paid a visit to admire the bushes (or something like that).  Here you see the very tree that won the award for Rick.

salhouse (1 of 1)

Probably the best bit of the weekend was the launch of the vinegar and baking soda Coke bottle rocket launched by Frank, who should stop smelling of vinegar after a month or two after his first attempt sprayed all over him before he could retire to a safe distance.  It might be 44 years on but we’re still big kids at heart.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Impending doom?

Tomorrow we set off for our annual group sailing fracas on the Norfolk B Roads Broads.  Once again we have checked our wills and made our confessions before setting off for this terrifying annual ritual.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew anything about sailing, but even then zig zagging in a little sailing boat down rivers full of drunken holiday makers who only picked up their huge plastic megacruiser that morning doesn’t seem to get any easier.  Some of these cruisers are approximately the size of an aircraft carrier. Generally I refrain from taking the helm unless we find ourselves in some quiet backwater, preferring to rub my cold wet hands raw with heaving on the jib sheet whist trying not to be tipped overboard.  On the plus side we will be spending the weekend with old and dear friends (most of whom are more skilled than I at sailing), so if we perish, we’ll all go together.

As usual we will be attempting not to be the winner of the Bowsprit Trophy, awarded to the person who inflicts the most damage on his boat.  I myself am a proud past holder of this prestigious award after a sudden gust of wind whipped our barque into the side of a passing cruiser some years back.  I don’t think the boatyard realised the bowsprit was two inches shorter when we returned the boat so unusually, we kept our deposit that year.

On Saturday night we shall all share a meal cooked by the drawer of the short straw and undertake the customary quiz where each person donates ten questions.  In recent years I have provided the music round, playing intros, middle eights, classical snippets etc from a music player.  Having run out of ideas for this, I have instead this year recorded sound snippets of well known people laughing.  I don’t think it’s too difficult, but the questions do tend to be easier when you know the answers.  We’ll see. One of our party is from Yorkshire, so no doubt it will be lost on him.

(Two dour Yorkshire men converse in the pub. 

“Didst thee see that comedian feller on t’telly last night?”,

“Aye”

“What didst thee think on ‘im.”

“Alright, – - - if you like laughing.”)

Well that’s it.  On the assumption that I survive (about 50/50 I should think), I’ll see you next time.

Toodle pip.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Plenty happening where nothing ever happens



Look at this. Can you tell where I ran out of wax polish? Of course you can. It's quite striking isn't it? That's Craftmaster for ya.

We're back in Banbury having had a very good trip down to Heyford and back. We all know it's been cold this week, but during most of our cruising it's been sunny and the countryside is looking gorgeous. Funny how we set off, just the two of of us, and ended up having quite a social time. On Wednesday we caught the train from Heyford into Oxford to see Julius Caesar. Turns out we were 2050 years or so too late of course, but there was the Bill Spokeshave play about him being broadcast to the Odeon, so we satisfied ourselves with that. Typical Spokeshave play, dead bodies all over the stage at the end and I get distracted by wondering how they get all the bloody costumes washed and ironed before the next performance.

Earlier, while we were strolling among the dreaming spires a text came in from dear old / (young actually)Mort Bones simply saying "I spy a Herbie". Well we had left the boat just up the path from her famous barque. Sadly we were out cavorting until very late, so we agreed to meet up aboard Herbie for a breakfast cuppa at 8am next morning. Even at that early hour she arrived bearing cake. What a star! We do like Bones.

Sadly, we had to depart all too soon because Rick and Marilyn had arrived to crew us back to Banbury and we needed to get there in time to plan an assault on the Reindeer Inn quiz that night. Next time Bones we'll plan a proper do.

We did alright at the quiz, but not good enough to get in the prizes. Frustratingly, the quizmeister admitted that he had planned the music round to be on 50s and 60s stuff. We would have cleaned up! But he changed his mind that day and played 90s
Indie tracks instead. Bad oh. We managed to recognise Blur, Oasis and Pulp between us which might be more than you can expect of old farts like us, but anyway it wasn't enough.

Then today came a knock on the boat and auld acquaintances from home Bob and Fran off Nb Song and Dance appeared out of the blue and so we all had tea. So our quiet "just us two" cruise had turned out to be a lovely week meeting friends. Good innit?

Tonight I embarrassed myself by tripping over a kerb outside Tesco Express and falling flat on my face on the pavement. There was a loud bang as the big bag of Kettle crisps I had just bought burst under my prodigious weight. I'm comforted to tell you that several kind young folk emerged to help this poor old bugger to his feet. I suspect that they thought I might have had one too many sherberts, but I assure you that I had not. I just tripped. Honest. The crisps were still edible but somewhat crushed.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Packing

At last we've managed to sneak off to Herbie for a week while nobody at home was looking. Well amost nobody. Of course that Mr Schafernacker on the telly must have spotted us because the weather is due to turn cold on his instructions.

Days when we move out to the boat are always the same.

0800hrs. I lie in bed and wish I had got stuff to take ready yesterday.

0900hrs. Large piles of this and that accumulate in the hallway ready to load into the car. I look at it and doubt we'll ever get it all in.

1000hrs. I am amazed. It's all in the car and the boot isn't even full. Easy peasy. I feel good.

1005hrs. Kath reminds me of all the stuff we have to take from the fridge and appears down the stairs carrying bags of embroidery stuff, a laptop computer, and a lot of clothes on hangers. I remember we still haven't packed shoes, what seems like 50 different types of charging leads for all our gubbinses , our coats and raincoats, and two boxes of firewood. It'll never go in. I feel bad.

1015 hrs. I wedge the final item into the car's boot, sadly having to leave behind an Oxo cube we had no space for.

1030 hrs. We're on the road. Five miles from home, Kath says, "I know what we've forgotten." I turn the radio up and keep going.

1900 hrs. So here we are on Herbie. All is unpacked and stowed away. Kath is reheating the remnants of yesterday's spag bol. "What happened to that Oxo cube?" I turn up the radio and pretend to study a Nicholson's guide.

Tomorrow we head south first to Banbury, then next day to where the phone signal and the Internet and TV reception are a distant memory. They'll never catch us there. Never mind, we still have a box set of Broadchurch series 2 to watch.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Herbie’s unique gun deck revealed

You may know that you can look up a register of all the licensed boats on our inland waterways.  The list currently resides on Canalplan if you haven’t noticed it before.  All kinds interesting things can be seen there, some of them very surprising.  Who would have thought that there would be 32 boats called Hakuna Matata but only two steel narrowboats called Herbie! There’s a Herbie II and a Herbie III and a number of GRP Cruiser Herbies including a Herbie IX.  “Oi up”, I hear you say,” the title of this post says Herbie is unique, and there are two of ‘em”.  Ah, but read on for the literally incredible difference in our boat.  Yep, I do mean LITERALLY incredible.  Note this is NOT written on April 1st, it is genuine.  If you don’t believe me look it up for yourself.

Looking into the detailed record of our boat in the listing, I confirm things I spot every year on our licence application, but cannot change.  In Herbie’s dimensions section we see the following:

“Length : 15.24 metres ( 50 feet ) - Beam : 2.08 metres ( 6 feet 10 inches )”  so far, so good, but wait, –

Draft : 5.48 metres ( 18 feet )”.!!!

Blimey, no wonder we run aground now and then.  I thought we had plenty of headroom inside, but the bilges must be enough for an extra couple of decks below.  Maybe that’s where the cannons ought to go and then we could have the powder magazine in the Orlop deck like on HMS Victory.

Reading on we come to the details of the propulsion unit and it says:

“Power of 999 HP”!!

Crumbs! I reckon we should get an uprated gearbox and a bigger prop. With 18ft draft we could have a huge one then we could go water skiing down the canal.

How these figures got there I can’t imagine, although it could be that the 999 HP is a default for “not known”.  I know we are supposed to be living in a post truth society, but this takes the biscuit.

Talking (admittedly obliquely) of fakes, you might be interested in a true wildlife story.  A while back I wrote that I am woken most mornings by the call of a red kite over our house.  We’re quite used to him or her now, but we still look up when we hear his cry, because like me,  he’s a handsome devil.  Well the other day I heard it and when I looked up he was nowhere to be seen.  What’s more, it wasn’t the time of day he normally patrols over us.  Then I heard the cry again from our neighbour’s roof and I looked up to see an imposter.  Would you believe it the flippin’ starlings have learned to imitate the call of the kite!

Is nothing sacred?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Locking time calibration

Trying to find an average time taken to  through a canal lock is a daft thing to do, so of course I had a go at it last week. It’s akin to asking how long is a piece of string.  Nevertheless, on our trip down to Banbury and back, we did have a go at it and I don’t think I would have predicted the results.  On Canalplan (genuflect genuflect), Nick suggests a default time of 12 minutes to pass through an individual lock.  I had been thinking that that might have been a trifle optimistic, taking into account that half the time the locks will not be set in your favour when you arrive.  Well it turns out that the Herbie crew,( i.e. Kath and myself, a well oiled machine, often well oiled by closing time too but that’s another story) can do a bit better than Nick suggests, given a lock with no other boats to wait for.

We measured the time from when the crew steps off the boat to work the lock until the time when he or she gets back on board and we continue cruising.    Bear in mind a couple of things.  a) These were narrow Oxford canal locks with double bottom gates and b) the steerer assists by working the offside paddles when the boat is at the top of the lock and c)we try not to walk right round the lock to open both bottom gates but shove one of them open by standing on one and giving the other a hefty back heel, it works.  Often I’m happy to step across the gap between and open and a closed gate, but Kath understandably doesn’t try it. So, in summary we’re reasonably slick at it.  Anyhow here’s how it went.

Downhill, lock in our favour on arrival               6 minutes

Uphill, lock in our favour                                  6 minutes

Downhill, lock set against us                          10 minutes

Uphill, lock set against us                                8 minutes

Downhill, one boat in front +I waiting below,   15 minutes

Not exactly a scientific study, the sample was way too small, but over all it actually was a lot quicker than I would have guessed.  I imagine if we tried it in the school holidays on this popular canal, we’d be happy to average 15 minutes.   So the answer is, it all depends.  It might be six minutes, it might be an hour.  I think that outside peak times I might go for an average of ten minutes.  Let’s suppose then that we do ten locks in a day (they don’t come thick and fast down the Oxford), the difference between Nick’s 12 mins and our 10 mins would only make a difference of 20 mins all day, and we might easily waste that chatting or messing about before we start.  Proof if proof were needed that boating is not an exact science.  Does that make Canalplan or my CanalOmeters redundant?  No, not really.  Having some idea of how far you can expect to get in a day, or a week is really useful, especially when in unfamiliar territory.

One other thing. We also worked out our average cruising speed.  I would have estimated 2.5 mph or less, given that in places there were long lines of moored boats to crawl past.  In fact it turned out to be 2.8mph.  I think that’s a figure we’ll stick to on this canal.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A gongoozler's point of view

Working through Banbury lock today, I had a pleasant chat with a young lady with a Geordie accent. "There's still time to come across the top gate." I said, "I wont be opening it until the water is level". She looked incredulously into the lock as the water poured through and said, "You've got to wait until the water is level?? That'll take hours." It was only after she had gone off into the shops, that I realised that she probably thought that the paddles had to be open until the water in the pound above the lock would fall to the level of that in the lock. Well she would have been right then wouldn't she? That would take hours! I like conversations like that.

Another thing she said, looking above the lock to where Kath was holdng Herbie mid canal was "How did you get off the boat when it was in the middle of the water?" I resisted the temptation to say I jumped or swam. I just said that I had stepped off. She looked impressed.

Last night we had another go at the quiz in the Reindeer and this time we failed to win the booby prize bag of sweets for coming last, in fact we were doing really well until the inevitable music round. Perhaps I should mug upon the works of ACDC and Ed Sheeran and some other bands I can't now recall the name of.

Our short excursion this time has been lovely now that the weather has improved. The hedgerows up here are still in springtime arrears compared with down home below the M4, but lots of celandines and violets are out.

I've been noting our times between bridges and going through locks in an effort to calibrate my canalometers better, and the early results look interesting in so far as they have surprised me. How long do you think it takes to pass through a narrow lock, from stepping off the boat to getting back on? Obviously it all depends on whether the lock is set in your favour or against, and whether there are other boats about. We had a mixture of all that, but in all cases I was surprised. I'll posts some results when I've had a better look through my scribbled notes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Herbie Neil leads post Brexit export drive

The UK economy has swollen by an additional 1.25 US Dollars in export earnings this month. Philip Hammond must be relieved and its all down to me. Yes, someone in the United States has been reading my book! I didn't know it had been translated into American. It's all very exciting.*

In these days of streaming and all that, people can "borrow" a book from the Kindle library and it counts how many pages they read and I get paid accordingly. I get to see a monthly graph, so I see that on March 10th someone in the US read all 344 "Kindle normalized pages". I don't think it was Donald Trump, because he or she got to the end and I used quite a few long words. Someone else appears to have read it all over three days in February. Add that to my actual book sales over the period (zero) and that's two people who have actually finished the book this year. I'm thrilled. That's exceeded my expectations by two.

Actually it is quite gratifying that people who start the book generally finish it, so I must have done something right, especially as they read it so quickly. The book must be a page turner obviously.

Those eagerly awaiting the sequel probably ought to find another book to read in the meantime. I'm still struggling with the plot.

Any ideas what I could spend a dollar twenty five on?

*PS This is definitely not fake news!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stranded but enjoying it.

Well, we're here on Herbie but we ain't going nowhere, or to be grammatically correct, we are going nowhere. The idea was to tootle down to Banbury, but when I climbed out of the boat this morning the wind nearly knocked me over. Had we set off for Banbury, the wind would have been hard on our starboard beam nearly all the way, straight across the open fields. Not wishing to get pinned against some unfortunate liveaboard, we decided to stay put. That's fine, it's cosy and comfy here and still a break from home.

Now here's a tip for you. I found out that the lovely people at Midland Chandlers(MC) will give you a fiver each (25%) off fire extinguishers if you hand over your old ones. We drove over to Braunston on Sunday to do just that. I've been meaning to replace them for ages as they are 15 years old and if you shake them, the powder doesn't move. I had assumed that MC sent them back for refilling  or something, hence the discount, but apparently not. They actually have to pay a small charge for their disposal, so the fiver off is just a discount to encourage you to have them safely got rid off. Ain't that nice? So if you want to set fire to Herbie, now would be a good time, 'cos the extinguishers ought to work.

As we were in Braunston we thought it would be rude not to patronise the Gongoozlers Rest cafe boat, so Sunday lunch was a whopping gert bacon and egg doorstep with scallop potatoes. Lovely.

Our stay on Herbie is not wasted. Kath cleared out all the long out of date jars and tins of this and that from the galley cupboards and I replaced the water filter element and, um, not a lot else. I also note that we have a bottle of Jim Beam that needs finishing up, so that's on my to do list.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Musings

Setting my music player the other day to a random shuffle of old stuff, I found myself listening to Simon and Garfunkels “Old Friends”, containing the lines ”Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly.  How terribly strange to be seventy”.  Hah! That doesn’t seem to be how it turned out for me.  This week I’ve been taking garden prunings to the tip, sweeping chimneys, sawing logs, going to the cinema, writing a computer program, improvising minor pentatonic blues solos at a ukulele session and playing bagpipes with a couple of lady friends who play concertinas. I’m looking forward to the park bench if and when I reach eighty.

It looks like the weather might  turn wet and windy over the weekend, so of course we’ll be out on Herbie for a bit. We should have gone earlier, yesterday was sublime.  I was on the boat however, up to my neck in soot and ashes clearing out the stove and sweeping the chimney, which requires the removal of the fire bricks and the inner roof plate of the stove. Funny how I can never remember how it goes back in.  I hope I’ve done it right.  I was pleased to see that the hand made bracket that Rick made to secure the blanking plate at the back of the stove was in fine fettle, unlike the original one which cracked.  Cheers Rick.

Driving up to Cropredy it was interesting to see that more  blackthorn blossom is out at the bottom of the M40 than it is further up. I’ve heard it said that spring marches north at the speed of a walking man, so maybe more will be out on the Oxford next week,  What was out at Cropredy though, was a skylark in the field next to the marina, letting rip with it’s  twittering high up in the air.  Tryng to attract a mate no doubt.  No good twittering at me mate, I’m already spoken for.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Weedy thoughts

fishandanchor (1 of 1)

When I were a lad, for several years I spent virtually the entire summer standing in the middle of this picture. It’s the ford across the river Avon by the Fish and Anchor pub at Offenham.  Nowadays there’s a lock cut a few yards to the left of this photo, but there was no navigation in those days although as far as I recall, boats had been invented.  As you can see, the river is shallow at this point, even below the ford it’s only a couple of feet deep.  The oxygenating effect of the ford brought the fish into the foamy area and I was there trying, and mostly failing, to catch a few.  We would take off our shoes and socks and roll up our trouser legs and wade out across the ford,  slipping and sliding on the cobble stones which were covered in silk weed.  How we never fell in, I’ll never know.  The silk weed was very comforting once you got to stand still, rather like standing barefoot on a sheepskin rug.  The weed itself held an abundance of tiny larvae and wotnot which of course the fish would like to eat. We would drag our bare fish hooks through the weed to pick up a bit of it, then cast it into the foamy race below.  The current is pretty swift there and in a few seconds our fishing floats would be thirty yards downstream as we squinted our eyes to see them.  As I said, I never caught much but I didn’t care. It was a lovely place to be.  In the eddy between the ford and the tree to the left of the picture, gangs of marauding perch used to swoop on the shoals of minnows that huddled there, and once I saw a creamy white pike (albino??) about three feet long, just lazily hanging about in the shallows. It was like a ghost.

Jump forward fifty years and I think it’s the same type of weed that tries to grow on edge of the boat’s baseplate like a little whispy beard.  At Bulbourne on the GU I’ve watched the carp grazing along the side of the boats, presumably more interested in the larvae than the weed itself, and of course ducks do the same don’t they?

I used to lie in bed aboard Herbie in the early morning and hear what I thought was scampering on the roof.  For a long time i assumed this was the pitter patter of rodent feet as they scavenged for a bite to eat.  Only in the last year or so have I realised that it isn’t that at all.  It’s the ducks pecking along the water line picking off the weed, I suppose that makes it some sort of symbiosis.  They get fed and the boat gets cleaned.  Down the old Slough Arm, the boats at High Line Yachting suffer badly from the weed, they have beards worthy of ZZ Top, most of them, and thinking about it I don’t recall seeing many ducks down there.  Maybe I should suggest that they import a few.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Insurance small print - you ought to read this.

Yesterday I actually got round to thumbing through the small print in our boat insurance policy. (Euromarine Insurance Sailplan policy)  How many of us rarely do that? Well, it’s worth it because I came across a paragraph that took me by surprise.  Under General Policy Exclusions it has the usual stuff about War, Sonic bangs, Cyber attack(!!), Riots, Pestilence (OK not pestilence) etc. Then under “Non standard uses of your craft” it says:

Unless it is noted in your schedule you are not insured if you use your craft:

Hiring  . . blah blah

single handed if your craft is more than 10 metres in length unless endorsement 25 is shown in your schedule

blah blah

Blimey!  I’m not a regular single hander, but I do now and again move Herbie solo for half  a day or so. So for the last ten years I have been periodically unwittingly  uninsured!  I would have thought that there was more of a chance of an accident when single handed, so I thought I ought to do something about it.

I rang up the insurers and explained the problem and to my relief they added the appropriate endorsement to my schedule at no extra charge and with absolutely no fuss.  So the message is, do look at the small print and if you find a problem ring up your insurer. If they’re anything like EIS you’ll find them helpful. I have occasionally looked for cheaper quotes but EIS always wins.

Changing the subject. There seem to be a number of dates which can be said to be the start of spring.  Although I generally go with the equinox, it is getting a bit spring like round our way.  Lots of crocuses, snowdrops and daffs on the road verges and bird action in the hedgerows. In my scruffy garden I’ve got hellebores and primroses as well as a big clematis in full flower as it grows up the huge holly hedge that keeps us from seeing our deceased neighbours. (We back on to a churchyard).

Fountains, the firm who do the hedge and verge maintenance for CRT are forbidden to do any regular hedge work over the nesting period so they’re probably sitting in their huts drinking tea and sharpening their chainsaws for a bit. It’s odd how bird species come and go.  We never see a sparrow or a thrush now, but every morning we get woken by a red kite mewing as it patrols over our house.  Thirty years ago we would have had to go to mid Wales to see one, now we just go into the garden and look up.  One day I’m going to put out some food to tempt it to land in the garden and see if I can grab a good photo.

Toodle pip.