Monday, June 18, 2018

Near disaster but all's well

You all remember our little Ronnie the Chorkie

Grace's dog I suppose you would call him, but he's a family pet anyway and a regular boat crew member. Well on Thursday last he got run over by a car. He was getting out of our car outside the house, saw a cat and gave chase across the road. The car's wheel went right over him. You can imagine our horror, but after two separate thorough vet examinations, one at the nearest vet within ten minutes of being hit, and a second examination next day by his regular vet, it looks like he got away with it!! He's been somewhat subdued for a few days and no doubt he's got bruises and an abrasion on his thigh, but yesterday he was quite perky and trotting about and wagging his tail. I'm not sure who was more traumatised, him or us.

We bumped into Maffi on Saturday. As we were baby sitting Grace over the weekend she requested a boat trip so we took Herbie down to Banbury which is where we saw Milly M and the man himself sporting an alarmingly neat haircut. He hopped on board for a trip down to the winding hole and back and was impressed by Grace's driving skills. For the first time she has this weekend been steering the boat into locks, both up and down and doing it really well. Not bad for a ten year old.

Next week we're cruising down to Oxford with our Peter, who although nearly four times Grace's age would freely admit to being less good at the tiller.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


First an apology.  I have just discovered that a number of comments that kind readers have put on my posts have not been finding their way through to me.  Blogger is supposed to be sending comments to me by email, so I know they are there, but I just discovered that in over forty cases over the last few months, the comments never got through to me in this way. So in a lot of cases I didn’t know they were there. So if you made a comment without a reply or response from me where needed, that’s the reason why.  Very sorry folks, I’ll try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Now what might be a useful tip to someone.  Like us you might have a Cobb barbecue on your boat, or perhaps at home.  I think Oakie has one at any rate.  We like to use their Cobblestones as fuel.  At a couple of quid a time, they are not cheap, but they do give a good heat very quickly and maintain the heat steadily for up to two hours.  As I may have written before, these Cobblestones (sort of compressed coir wheels) are real pigs to light.  I used to end up using half a box of matches to get one going.  Well folks, I have found the answer to the problem.  For my birthday last January I asked Kath to buy me a chef’s blowtorch so I could fool about making creme brulees or charring peppers and the like. Last week I used it to light the Cobb and hey presto, the Cobblestone was fully lit in seconds.  It was hot enough to start cooking in barely a couple of minutes.  These little blowtorches don’t cost a lot.  They might even be good for getting charcoal briquettes or whatever to light.  If I were you I’d get one.

I don’t know if it was the late spring and then all this warm weather or what, but our garden has exploded in the last couple of weeks. I’m going to have to buy a machete if this keeps up. I hesitate to complain when things are growing too well, but we’re in danger of being overwhelmed by greenery.  Anyone else with the same problem?  Maybe I should get a goat.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

A week not wasted

I may not have written a blog post for a week or more, but I have not, dear reader, been idle. Well, not all the time anyway.  We have been on Herbie trying to get her more spick and span.  When we arrived at Herbie in the marina a week ago we were pleased to see that the flags were out for us.  That’s yellow flag irises of course.  Moon daisies, dog roses and all sorts of other stuff was out too.  The marina surroundings are looking very lush and pretty.


Down our end of the marina, away from the car park and the office etc, we get all the wildlife, song birds especially, including, I am happy to report, skylarks twittering away up in the sky. Down in the water, apart from the ducks and swans there are some proper big carp that will come up and eat your scraps of bread if the ducks don’t get there first.  And, best of all, about an hour after sundown, we got spectacular displays of bats swooping low over the water at speeds that would put swallows to shame.  I’m no bat expert but I guess they are daubenton bats since they are supposed to feed over water and seem about the right size. The light reflected over the water surface gives you a better view than you would normally get of bats in flight, but they were much too fast to photograph.  Suffice it to say there were lots of them. Just look at this picture and fill in your imaginary bats.

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Just to finish off this wildlife section, here are a couple of  the little fellows that came to see us when we sat out in our deck chairs.


There are five cygnets in all, and like all swans they have little fear of us humans.

Despite weather varying from too misty to too hot to too breezy, I did manage to get a bit of painting done.  The section of Herbie’s roof where the roof box sits now has three fresh top coats and the box is at long long last installed.


I also managed to do the other roof areas that needed repainting, although I suspect that having done it in sections at different times some bit of it will need seeing to before very long, a bit like the Forth bridge.

Our wooden handrails need regular attention as the wood expands and contracts in the weather and the ropes drag over them etc.  I feel guilty when I let them get scruffy after all the hard work Marilyn put in on them when we did the big Herbie repaint.  This time they needed more than a touch up so on the port side I sanded almost all of the rail back to bare wood and filled a lot of the cracks and screw holes before putting on a thick undercoat and three gloss coats and now it looks like this.


The first of the top coats didn’t go too well, I painted it too late in the day and  an evening mist came down and gave it a frosted finish.  That’ll learn me.  Note to self:  Don’t paint outdoors after 2pm.  I hope the finished job will pass Marilyn's inspection next time she comes to visit. Hopefully her eyesight might not be what it was. The starboard side will have to wait until we can get that against the bank or the pontoon. 

I have a tip to pass on.  Having left my best masking tape at home, I despatched Kath down to Wickes in Banbury to get “the best she could” and she came back with this stuff.


It’s made by the Duck tape people and I like it very much.  The photo is a bit misleading, it’s about 2cm wide, normal sort of masking tape width.  The outside in plastic and the sticky side seems to have some sort of fine webbing.  That’s the sticky side in the photo.  It sticks well, comes off well (no bleeds at all) and is not as stretchy as a lot of tapes.  I found it easy to apply it all along one side of the boat in one straight strip – something other tapes wouldn’t let me do as they tended to pull into a curve.  It’s not cheap, I think Kath paid about £8 but don’t quote me, but there is a lot of tape on the reel.  I shall be using it for similar jobs in future.

I suppose I should just add for the record that during the week I managed to get the aft deck cants painted as well.


The rest of the time I just loafed about tightening crews and stuff like that, but mostly watching paint dry.  Oh and I wrote another episode or two of my number two novel.  I will finish it this year.  I think. I still have no idea how it ends.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The tale of a piece of wood

This little history does finish up with something about Herbie, so bear with me.

Many many years ago when I was young and slim I had a friend called Paul who was moving out of his flat.  In this flat was an old pedal organ which he had rescued from a skip when a church or chapel was being demolished in Henley-on-Thames.  Not having room for it in his next place, Paul was getting rid of the organ, So I bought it off him for £4 plus some other bartered object I now forget.

It was a fine old instrument, made by the Bell Organ Co of Canada. I can’t find a photo of it, but it looked very similar to this one which I saw for sale on the net at one time.


The carcass was of the finest solid oak, some of it an inch and a half thick! It had fine panels and quite a lot of intricate carving.  Complete with it's ornate cast iron rimmed Patent Mouseproof Pedals, it was a joy to behold –maybe not in a modern Habitat furnished house, but it was a fine thing in itself.  Inside the organ however was a somewhat different story and it appeared to have been made out of clothes pegs, lollipop sticks and coat hanger wire!  It did however have several rows of tuned brass reeds, most of which were intact.  The webbing that attached the big plywood bellows to the Patent Mouseproof Pedals needed replacing in order to make it play, so I set about fixing it.  Luckily, the majority of the carcass was held together by gert big dome headed screws, so it was easy to pull to bits.  Once inside, I recall a great deal of head scratching, because it looked to me as if the things was built back to front.  All the air valves were on the wrong side. A quick phone call to Paul solved the problem. “That’s because it’s an American Organ, not a harmonium.  Harmoniums blow, American Organs suck!”  Not a lot of people know that. Well you learn something every day.

Well I got the thing working after a fashion and spent many a happy hour getting most of the stops to work and fixing dodgy keys. Despite not being a pianist I managed to learn a tiny bit of Bach and a passable rendition of the folk song “The Lark in the Clear Air”. However, modern central heating took its toll and over the years the innards started to fall to bits as the glue dried out and lost its stick.  Had I not has a busy career and three kids and a wife to keep me occupied I might have restored it, but I didn’t.  The time came when It had to make room for proper furniture in our living room.  I took the whole thing to bits, removed the two hundred and odd brass reeds (I still have them in a box, can’t bear to part with them) and took the rest of the crumbing mechanical  innards and the keyboard to the tip.  But that oak was just too good to throw away, so I had a brainwave.  We needed a bench seat in our conservatory so reassembling the carcass in a different order, I made this.


There it stood for many years, while the organ stop drawers long the bottom gradually got broken off by wayward feet, until the day came when we decided to take it to bits and install something more comfortable, but still I couldn’t bear to throw away that lovely oak and much of it stands in my shed as I write.

So why am I telling you all this?   Well I’ve found a use for a small bit of it.  On Herbie’s rear deck seats we keep a box for windlasses, stakes, mooring chains and the like.  In spite of several coats of varnish the plywood box lid has delaminated, so we need a new one.  Now do you remember a couple of posts back that picture of the lovely old sailing boat? That’s what inspired me to make a new lid out of some of the old oak.  If that boat can last a hundred years under lots of coats of varnish, then my hundred year old oak can do the same, and look good into the bargain.  So here is my new hundred year old box lid, cut to size, rubbed down and given four coats of exterior varnish – and I managed to include some of that lovely edging.


The photo makes it look bigger than it is. I purposely left a couple of small dings in it to show its age, but what a lovely old bit of wood eh?  That’s a bit of history that is.


PS while I’m doing stuff like this, our conservatory is slowly falling down.  I seem to have an issue with priorities Smile

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Art and (not much) alcohol in Cambridge - and a ghost B&B

No boats or canals this time, but you could visit Cambridge by boat, so that’s my excuse.  We left the paint on Herbie’s roof drying and drove there.

Well I left you with that picture of steel bars in my last post, so let’s take a few steps back to reveal what it is.


Yes, dear old Anthony Gormley is at it again, this time in kettles yard n Cambridge.  Those people in the background are real by the way.  His theme in this exhibition is objects built on the three axes, X,Y and Z if you’re familiar with that kind of thing.  In another room is a glass cube about three feet across containing 10x10x10 LEDs all very neatly soldered on a 3d grid of what look like thin brass wire.  No doubt he got his assistant to do all the donkey work.  Anyway, when you get up close and peer in, the effect is one of staring into infinity.


Some modern art I don’t like. I recall getting a bit annoyed at one or two exhibits in Tate Modern, for example an exact replica of a domestic radiator, or a square of red paint, but Gormley I do like.

Kettles Yard also has The House, oh and what a house it is.  The “creator” Jim Eade converted it from three old cottages in the 1960s and set about making it a home full of lovely simple things, all set out with immaculate care and precision to delight the eye.  If you like pebbles and paintings of fishing boats and traditional English chairs, you’re in for a treat.  Best of all you are encouraged to sit in the chairs and take in the light and the atmosphere. I’m tempted to say that of all the many houses we have visited over the years, this is my favourite.  I would move in tomorrow.  It’s light and airy and cosy all at the same time.  And the house and the exhibition are both free to enter and come and go as often as you like.

Earlier we had to drop in to Nova, an upmarket coffee bar I suppose you would call it, to see another art exhibition, this time displaying the work of the Cambridge Urban Sketchers Group, of which our son Peter is a member.  Peter, although a scientist and computer geek is getting quite arty in his old age and works in all sorts of media.  In the exhibition was Peter’s needle felt picture of knitters in  Cambridge pub.  Not for sale as he has promised it to Kath.  The sketchers draw/ paint/ etc from life, in situ, picking a different venue for each monthly meeting.  I suppose Peter sat there with his wool and felting needles and bashed away. I don’t know if he finished it off at home, I forgot to ask.


Sorry about the reflected white line across the middle.

Then, on to our real reason for going to Cambridge, our annual sortie to the Cambridge Beer Festival.  You probably won’t believe me when I say that in a total of ten hours at the festival (over two days), I drank three and a half pints in total.  Seven halves to be exact, one cider, two perrys and four beers.  It’s all about quality rather than quantity although I did eat two monster curries and some pork scratchings.

Well while I’m indulging in a post not about Herbie or canals (sorry), I might as well tell you about one more thing.  B&B’s in Cambridge are frighteningly expensive, so we searched for a cheap alternative to our usual.  What Kath found was a B&B with no-one there.  Really.  You book in on line and they email you a key code for the door locks.  You let yourself in, the room, with en-suite bathroom, is clean and comfortable but basic.  In the morning you go downstairs to the silent kitchen where you help yourself to cereal, toast and jam/marmalade, eggs if you want them, tea, orange juice etc.  Then you wash up your dishes and that’s it.  Over the two days and nights we didn’t see a soul except for a fleeting glimpse of another guest as she went out the door.  It saved us £60. It worked for us although I did miss my B&B treat of a Full English .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Breaking all the painting rules in an idyllic setting.

Yay, I’m back!  We’ve been boating without doing much boating, and boozing without much boozing.  I’d better explain.

Herbie’s roof underneath where the old roofbox lay, needed painting.  The box feet had wrought their terrible damage on the roof and patches of paint  had peeled off leaving scabby rust beneath.  I couldn’t put my shiny new box on top of that could I?  No way.

However, I’ve said before that the weather is never right for painting a boat and this time the problem was the warm sunshine.  After cruising down to Banbury to stock up at Morrisons with food to keep us going, we turned and headed back to this lovely spot below Slat Mill Lock and settled in for a the best part of three days.


I suppose that after the rain of the last two nights, a lot of that beautiful May blossom lies on the water like confetti, but we seemed to have hit it at its peak. The air was thick with the scent of it and I’ve never seen it so dense.


Lots of other wild flowers were out too including these Speedwell right next to the boat, again thicker than I had ever seen them.


Anyhow, I digress.  While the solar panels were busy knocking out lots of amps in the hot sun, I set to work with the electric sander powered from the inverter and soon had the rusty patches ready for a lick of Fertan rust converter, which on the already very warm roof set dry in about 20 seconds.  This didn’t augur well for the paint, but that was for the next day.  That evening we broke out the old barby and a nice bottle of plonk and watched the sun go down.


There was a huge hatch of insects on the water and clouds of millions of them swarmed over the canal.


Thankfully they didn’t seem to be of the biting sort, or if they were, they had their minds on other things.  It was Kath who first noticed that as they rose into the air they rapidly paired up, a larger one flying close behind and slightly below a smaller one.  They were all at it.  Then once the more skilled ones had manage to lock together they seemed to forget how to fly and spiralled back down towards the water. All very romantic.

Next morning I was up relatively early to get back to the roof before it got to hot.  After washing off the Fertan, out came the Isopon filler, which I have discovered is the best way to smooth out and level off the indentations where we have rubbed back to the metal. Some people express concern or disapproval about using filler, but Phil Speight says it’s OK so that’s more than good enough for me. If you’ve use Isopon, you’ll know that you have to work fast once you have mixed in the hardener.  Well this day fast wasn’t fast enough!  I had to work like flippin’ greased lightening, only mixing enough filler at a time to last three or four minutes before it set hard. I lost count of how many batches I did. You can normally sand down this filler after an hour, but I reckon fifteen minutes might have been enough.  Anyhow it sanded down to a lovely smooth finish, and after vacuuming the dust of the roof and giving it a wash with white spirit.  I was ready with the primer/undercoat.  The idea is not just to paint over the patches but the whole width of the roof for a section long enough to cover all the repairs. As well as the big spots under the boat feet, there were numerous small blemishes that had emerged over the eight years since that bit of the roof was painted. Mostly damage from poles, the gangplank and the like.

The aforementioned Mr Speight was now whispering in my ear that it was now far too hot for painting, and it was, so I pressed on and did it anyway because I’ll never get the flippin’ job done otherwise.  “Keep a wet edge” is the mantra.  Well with a roof that's too hot to kneel on (I suspect hot enough to fry an egg), I had to stand on the gunnel and paint as fast as I could.  Having broken one rule I now broke another.  On a roof you are supposed to lay off the paint with brush strokes across the roof.  Well from the gunnel I couldn’t reach that so I opted for a longitudinal approach, painting like a mad man with a nice four inch brush. Luckily the paint was very good stuff and went on thickly but flowed well. Whilst I was fast enough to stop the paint dragging, by the time I got to each subsequent pass the previous one was beginning to dry so a pleasing striped effect was beginning to emerge.  Never mind, it was only undercoat. Once half way across the roof I  had to brave the canal side gunnel to reach the other side, so not only was I splashing the paint on like a maniac, I was hanging on to the hand rail with the non brushing hand.  I would think any observers on passing boats found it all rather amusing.

By now I was getting paint all over my hands, so once finished I washed it all off with white spirit and now I smelled so much of the stuff I was scared to step into the sun for fear of spontaneously combusting!  I retired to the shade and did a couple of crosswords.  That evening another barby in this lovely spot.  Despite us using the sander and charging our plethora of phones, ipads, Dyson vacuum etc and running the fridge in the very hot weather, we ended the day with the batteries fuller than we started.  Solar rules OK.

I know a second undercoat should have been the job next day, but we had to get back to the marina and then shoot off to Cambridge (more of which in the next post). As this is only the roof under the rood box and I only had one day left so I opted to put on a top coat of raddle.  This I did after we arrived back at our berth in Cropredy.  The roof was warming fast so using a kneeling pad I climbed up and raddled away , this time using a proper transverse lay off.  I suppose the area I had to paint was about nine feet by six, and it took about half an hour.  Here and there the paint was grinning a tiny bit (undercoat showing through), but that’s what the next coat is for and you cant go back over drying paint.  No, really you can’t.  Anyhow it looks not too bad now.  Rather than put the new roof box in place we stowed it inside the boat before leaving for Cambridge (in the car of course). I’ll apply at least one more top coat next time I go back to Herbie.

If you plan to patch up a scabby boat roof, please do not follow my example. Take more time and choose cooler weather.  I only did it this way to get the job done in the time I had available.  No doubt it won’t last as long as it would have if painted in better conditions with more primer and undercoat.  It’s a risk I consciously took. Had this been the sides of the cabin, I would absolutely definitely never do it like this.  Roofs I regard as a bit more expendable and the finish required, especially in raddle which is matt(ish), is not so critical.  Nevertheless it looks OK, and with another coat or two and under the box, it’ll hold for a good while.

Here’s a little puzzle for next time.  Any idea what this steel structure is?


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Extremes of Norfolk.

I read somewhere that sailing is like long periods of boredom interspersed with short instances of abject terror.  Well i take the point. We’re just back from our annual Norfolk Broads sailing weekend and it was a bit like that. On Sunday, after dodging the stream of plastic cruisers as big as ocean liners crewed by hirers who had no idea how to anticipate the movement of a tacking sailing boat  and then several overloaded launches full of drunken oiks, we ground to a halt on Horning taking about an hour to do a couple of hundred yards in absolute flat calm.  (I have a soft spot for Horning, recalling one trip forty odd years ago when we overloaded a dinghy with inebriated comrades returning after a night in the Ferry Inn and sank it.  We all lived to tell the tale I’m happy to report.)

Next day the wind was 18mph gusting to 30 odd as we tore down the river Bure at a rate that would put jet skiers to shame.  Some thing of a white knuckle ride I can tell you.  The boat yard from which we had hired the boats did offer to come out and tow us back, such was the force of the wind, but we were made of sterner (or stupider depending the way you look at it) stuff.  Anyhow by some miracle we arrived back unscathed, which was just as well for the boats we had hired were much too beautiful to scratch or dent, or worse still, sink.

Here’s one of them.  Take a good look and guess how old it is.




Well it might have looked as good as new but it is 90 odd years old. The woodwork in these things is something to behold. No veneer in ‘ere.  I suppose it might be like Trigger’s broom that’s had 5 new heads and four new handles, but I’m pretty sure the hull and much of the other stuff was original.  Anyway, it was immaculately turned out and equipped and sailed very nicely.  Boats like this are called half deckers on the Broads and they were originally built for racing.  They’re 22 feet long so plenty big enough for four or even five people.

When it comes to skippering a sailing boat I am pretty slow in coming forward as my imagination of what might go wrong is a lot stronger than my ability at the helm, so a lot of the time I volunteer as ballast or if pressed, take over the jib sheets and do as I am told.  I know my place.

Overnight we (nine of us) stayed in a little complex of holiday cottages a short walk from the river Ant where we could keep the boats overnight and it was all very jolly as we are all old old friends going back well over forty years (except for the second generation who aren’t that old yet.) We wined and dined and had our annual quiz and a good time was had by all.

I like the Broads, but I’ll be happy enough to get back where boats don’t usually capsize.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


What a good weekend for boating it was over the bank holiday.  Except It was a bit too hot perhaps, and our Peter (our intended crew / lock wheeler) had taken a fall and hurt his wrist, and Grants lock (the first below Banbury on our intended route) was shut for a repair and our car was not working. So we stayed at home where we had to keep Peter amused, and baby sit Grace for two nights when her Mum was working very late, and we had to look after Ronnie the dog and Biscuit the mouse.  The joys of family life eh?

It was a busted alternator on the car.  First the battery warning light kept coming on, then as I was driving it to the garage the instrument panel lit up like a Christmas tree, ABS warning, brake warning, power steering failure, the lot.  You don’t realise how much power steering helps until it stops working.  Still alternators do fail sometimes and it’s an easy fix, or it would be if the car designers had left room to get at it.  In the end the garage undid the engine mounts and jacked the engine up until there was space to get the alternator out.  It makes you eternally grateful for how simple and spacious most boat engine bays are.

The roof box is finished and ready to ship back out to Herbie.  Here you see the final touches, first the TV aerial pole mount, shown from underneath so you can see the little rectangular bracket that supports the end of the pole. 


Then Kath kindly modelled the box with it’s cover attached.  Note that the bungee chords stretch over the dark grey paint so they are less visible and don’t spoil the pattern.  Amazingly I did think of that before I started painting!  This time I threaded dowels along the edge seams to help hold the fabric out straight. That scruffy old board leaning on the wall is one of the box floor boards which are straight off the old box.  It is stiffened with battens on the side you can’t see here.  Note the pleasing yellow and brown patches on what we laughingly like to call our lawn.  It takes a lot of hard neglect to get an effect like that in the lushness of early spring.


This coming weekend is our annual Norfolk Broads sailing fiasco.  This time we have boats from a different boatyard so we’ll probably make even more of a hash of it than usual.  For the first time we will not have the drama of passing through Potter Heigham bridge which will be a relief at least. We’ll have to find some other way of getting in a fearful tangle and collapsing with exhaustion and blind panic as the tide sweeps us towards the miniscule hole in the ancient stone work.  No doubt opportunities will present themselves elsewhere.  There has been talk of going up the river Ant where the wind comes and goes at random strength and direction and the river is too narrow to do much tacking.  Masochists R Us.

Monday, April 30, 2018

One swallow does not a summer make

Cruising below Bourton lock on Saturday we were treated to an aerial display by a gang of swallows swooping and skimming around us like jets round an aircraft carrier.  What with them and the cowslips along the banks and the hawthorne bushes all budded up ready to burst out the May blossom, you might expect it to have felt like spring.  Well if you’re reading this in the UK, you’ll know that it flippin’ well didn’t.  The only reason that we were out on Herbie was that we were baby sitting Grace for the weekend and her entertainment of choice was to go boating.  We didn’t feel so keen looking at the weather forecast and we did warn her that it would be cold and wet and that she would need to be out on the back of the boat etc. but she was adamant. So that’s what we did, and I have to say she was a real trooper.

Grace is only ten years old but she’s turning into a right good boater. She did her bit at every lock and did 90% of the helming too, even turning us nicely at the awkward Tramway winding hole below Banbury.  All I did was stand beside her offering the occasional word of advice or encouragement.  Hopefully when Kath and I get too old and frail to do all this stuff, Grace might be able to take us out for a trip. 

Some of the lock paddles down there are pretty heavy and stiff, but she wouldn’t give in, adopting a technique of hopping back and forth across the balance beam to get a good pull on the windlass.

           IMG_1829[5654]             IMG_1831[5653]

I did my bit of course


As we were returning after turning the boat a kind man on a boat whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, but it was something about a Wren, enquired after our roof box – he was obviously a blog reader.  Well there are still tiny bits to do. One thing we are thinking of is stiffening the edges of the canvass cover with a dowel to keep the edge straight.  It has tended to pucker up in the past, allowing rain puddles to collect on the canvass.  My expeditions to Wickes /Toolstation for bits and pieces are a bit restricted at the moment as our car has developed an electrical fault.  It goes in for (I hope) a fix tomorrow.

Having temporarily satisfied Grace’s boating desires we are now negotiating with Peter, our youngest son, over a break with him next weekend, so we might be out cruising again.  He is not nearly such a good helmsman as Grace, but you can’t be good at everything and he is amazing at lots of things.  I don’t know where he gets it from, I can’t be good at anything much.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Roofbox–the final solution

The final design problem solved!  Rummaging in my odds and ends box I found a bag of these


I can’t remember when I bought them or what job I used them on, but I seem to have hung on to a couple of dozen spare ones.  For scale, they have a six mm thread in the round end.  You screw them into a pre drilled hole with a hex key. (Sorry to insult the intelligence of DiYers, but some reader may not be familiar).Well, just the job for my roofbox ridge pole.  I sunk them into the ends of the pole like this. That’s a 28mm dia pole.


In my bits and bobs were some nice 6mm screws with wide domed heads and some washers, and hey presto:


Job’s a good ‘un as they say.  Rigid, but quickly.removable. I didn’t even have to splash out a couple of quid on a broom handle because my old ridge pole, although marginally too short for the old design, is fine for this one.

Kath has reinforced the sewing on the cover, and it fits (phew!), so apart from a few little cosmetic jobs ( e.g. screwing on some bungee cord buttons, ooh and mustn’t forget the tv aerial bracket)) we’re done and dusted.  The  floor board’s from the old box are a loose fit, but that’s fine, they’ll let any water out.

I got a gentle reminder (thanks) from Marilyin McD to slap three coats of paint on those bare wooden leg tops.  Little does she know I have already sneakily applied three coats of yacht varnish, which is better for that job and won’t be seen from the outside.

Is it straight out to Herbie to install the box then?.  “Would that it were” as a certain TV presenter might have said.  First I have to repaint the boat roof where the old box stood.  Not a quick job because inevitably the box feet took their toll on the paint.  When will it ever end?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Roof Box - cunning features to finish off.

Nearly there.  Now I’m down to the finishing touches.  First the end gables which hold up the canvas cover in a pitched roof style to run off the rain.  What is cunning about these is that they can be quickly removed for passage under very low bridges. Such bridges don’t come along very often, but I can think of two or three where we’ve had to lower stuff.  You certainly don’t want to have to lift off the whole box.


The board just slides in behind those metal brackets which I fashioned from a length of aluminium angle from Wickes.  This is an improved system since my last box when the end gables just rested there on the corner leg tops.  The ridge pole sat in little cups screwed to the gable, which was all very well when the cover was stretched over, but it fell to bits every time the cover was removed to get at the contents of the box.  This time the gables will stay put.

That just leaves the ridge pole.  The old one is just too short so I needed to source a new one.  This is where my parsimony comes in.  A length of suitably thick dowel from Wickes would have cost an outrageous £14.59, but over the road at Toolstation I can get a 5ft wooden broom handle of the same diameter for £1.91.  Or I could if they were in stock.  They’ll have some more tomorrow.  I might be rubbish at carpentry but I’m a master at sourcing.  I now need a cunning plan for supporting the ends of the ridge pole. Something that will let it lift out easily, but not fall out easily.  I feel a test rig coming on.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Roofbox part 8–now the come-uppance for my incompetence.

I told you I was no good at woodwork.  Now that the roof box is nearing completion I can see the mistakes I made.  It may astonish you to find that my box is less than perfect.  It doesn’t surprise me, just like any software I write, it doesn’t have faults, I prefer to call them features. Read on below to learn how to include the same features yourself so your work can look home made like mine. No-one could possibly think mine was professionally made. What would be the point of that?  First though, lets look at where I’m at.  Here is the box minus its floor and the “gable ends” (more of which later).


The picture shows the box turned upside down.  Just like an insect, it now has six feet.  Here’s a close up of one of the feet the right way up.


Such exquisite joinery.  I put one piece of wood against another with a dob of glue, then drive in a screw. This time I used Gorilla glue, I figured that if it’ll glue gorillas together it must be strong. So what you see here is a corner of the box, where the grey leg is glued and screwed (from the outside) to the cream side planks, and there’s end of the (new design)  rail which will support the loose laid floor boards. At least i hope it will.  Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can.  I doubt very much if it is mega strong, but it only has to sit there rather than being hoiked about and stressed.  The feet are cut off at a cunning angle to allow for the curve / slope of the boat roof.

So what incompetencies can you learn from me?

1. Buying wood.  I get mine from Wickes, which I dare say is no worse than anywhere else.  I know by now that wood is never flat and straight.  It might be when they cut and plane it, but wood of this quality is not stable.  if you’re as useless as me, you’ll grab a pack off the shelf and find out how bad it is when you get home.  That’s why the plank at one of the box ends is charmingly dished so that it doesn’t lie flat against the leg, thus weakening the corner.  i had to resort to making little wooden wedges to fill the gaps.  Smart people take a good look at the wood in the shop and sort through to find the good bits. Bah!  Boring.

2. Precision. Why not be like me and measure to the nearest millimetre before casually sawing somewhere near the line?  It makes it so much more fun trying to make the corners of the box meet, especially when your right angles are anywhere between 86 and 94 degrees.  The charming little gaps so produced in the joints are ideal as homes for spiders and the like  (doing my bit for the environment. I might designate the box as organic.)  and the rain can get in to keep the wood from drying out.

I am however, very proud to say that i did remember to measure my car boot before I glued the box together, and the assembled box will fit in for taking the box up to Herbie. At least I think it will.

Well we’re near the end of this project.  Just the gable ends and the ridge pole for the cover to complete.  I have cunning plans /new designs for both items so stay tuned.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Magical History Tour

Here, demonstrated by my lovely assistant Rick, is a boat battery. A bit bigger than yours and mine eh? What if I told you that this week we were on a boat powered by 300 tons of these batteries? Yes I did check that figure, 300 tons! Then what if i told you that the boat could recharge the all the batteries from its diesel engines in two or three hours? Then what if I told you that at maximum speed the batteries would only power the boat for about half an hour, or at canal speeds, 3 or 4 knots, the batteries might last a day and a half? Have you guessed what boat this is? Answer towards the end of this post.

Here's another picture of Rick at the same site.

Can you see him? If you follow the right hand white line on the floor and enlarge the photo, he's there with his arms outstretched. This is half the floor of the upstairs part of a shed. Some shed huh? All made from timber using construction methods used in building timber ships in the early nineteenth century. Well it would be, because this is where wooden warships were built and fitted out. Downstairs is now crammed full of all sorts of old machinery including some made by the firm that Rick and I used to work for when we first met in the dark ages.

Then, on the same site, we took a look at this machine in operation.

This is in the longest brick built building in Europe, and the machine is making something nearly a quarter of a mile long. Rope. An amazing thing to watch. Here's looking down the building. We never ot to see the other end - too far away.  The workers use a bike to go up and down.

They made two such lengths together in about fifteen minutes. The machinery and method are unchanged since Victorian times.

If you think all this, and a lot more, is worth seeing, take yourself down to Chatham Historic Dockyard,

where you can see how they built ships like HMS Victory, as well as 20th Century Naval ships and fitted them out. It's a vast site with beautifully kept buildings and  it's a totally brilliant museum with so much to see, including HM Submarine Ocelot, which is of course where all those batteries belong. You get a full bow to stern tour of Ocelot, and if you do, you'll never again complain about lack of space on a narrowboat!

The whole site is immaculately set out and truly fascinating. (You'll gather I quite liked it!) For me, one of the special bits was to stand in the mould loft where they showed us how the shapes of the hull of Victory were laid out, but unless you don't like boats or rope, or beautiful buildings, or history, or Victorian engineering, you'll find something to enjoy.

PS. We also visited Winston Churchill's house, William Morris's house and the National Trust's most daring and expensive(and amazing) house restoration, Ightam Mote, while we were at it. Every one a gem. Four days well spent.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Roofbox part 7 - Man versus paint

Make no mistake, paint is out to get you. All week the weather has been pretty cold, making the paint slow to dry. So on Saturday I came to the final colour, the Hempel(formerly Blakes) Bordeaux Red.  This is good quality coach paint and as you might expect, free flowing even if it does cover fairly well.  So Saturday, out comes the sun, warming up our conservatory so that the paint turns the consistency of semi skimmed milk ready to seep beneath even the best of masking takes on a wooden surface.  That’s the problem you see, the better paint flows, the more it seeps.  You can’t win against the flippin’ stuff.

Undaunted I pressed on.  One coat Saturday and one Sunday.  Nervously I pull off the masking to reveal this.


Baaah! Similar damage on all four planks.  Well I had sort of expected it. Sometimes the red had bled over the white as you see above , and sometimes it was on the cream.

I take a deep breath and get out the tiny artists brush.  Best get on with the touching up rather than weep and wail. 

Now this goes to show why it’s worth keeping your cool and soldiering on. In well under an hour I had got all four planks looking like this.



That’ll do nicely. It just demonstrates that no matter how incompetent you are and no matter how inconsiderate your paint can be, you can get an acceptable result, so don’t let my tales of troubles put you off.

That just leaves the probable debacle of the assembly of the box next weekend.  Hopefully the paint will have hardened off quite a bit by then.

Just after I had finished, we had a visitor in the garden.  I suppose he or she  might have looked at my painting efforts before giving his /her opinion thus:


Sorry for the poor photo quality, it was taken through two sets of double glazing and their associated reflections.

I leave that corner of the garden as a wildlife area, so perhaps I should be pleased, but I had never envisaged it as a fox latrine!

Friday, April 13, 2018

How not to make a roofbox–part 6 disaster narrowly averted

The next time I see an Old English Sheepdog I’m going to bust him on the nose.  That flippin’ Dulux paint (barely the consistency of single cream) weedled its way under my masking tape in n places, (where n is a large positive integer).  You expect a bit of bleed here and there, but not that much. “Never mind,” I thought to myself,”take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for your tears.” (a few brownie points are available for anyone who can tell me who wrote those lines).

The offending leaks were largely onto the dark grey gloss, so out came my tiniest artists brush and the tin of grey paint.  Cursing that mop top dog, I spent ages trying to steady my shaking hands as I touched up all the mini splodges and runs of cream paint. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass out, what with holding my breath most of the time. Then, just as I was about to finish the last plank I got demob happy and lost concentration. Dipping my brush in the grey paint I forgot to wipe off the excess paint and drawing the brush out of the can, ran a huge run of dark grey paint all over two yellow and white triangles. “Oh woe is me” I cried (or something which means the same but is somewhat less printable).  Fortunately, being and old hand at painting mistakes, I knew what to do and quickly soaking a kitchen towel in white spirit I managed to wipe off the grey before it took hold. Phew!

So now the planks look like this:


a closer look:


All that’s left to do is the painting of the red diamonds in between the grey ones and to seal the bottom edge of each plank, which for no good reason I have so far neglected to do.  In the words of my unfavourite American President, “It’s gonna be great”.

With luck I might have finished the painting by Sunday, then the dreaded assembly of the box will have to wait a few days.  We’re off with Rick and Marilyn to darkest Kent on a mini break of our own devising.  More about that when we get there.  There may well be some boaty stuff.

Today i am mostly listening to Bix Beiderbeck an artist of whom I know little, but recommended to me by my friend Stephen and also by Ry Cooder who played some of his tunes on his “Jazz” album.  It is very easy to like ( and I am known for being a bit picky over these things). If you have access to a streaming service give him a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How not to make a roof box– too much paint and not enough concentration.

It is possible I might have acquired a bit too much white paint.  I think all the white bits are now done and dusted and here’s what’s left in the tin.


Well the rest will come in handy should I ever decide to paint the whole house (or possibly the street) at home.  This is Wickes Liquid Gloss.  I can’t remember when and why I bought it but I must have been in an optimistic mood. I’m happy to report that it is possibly the nicest paint to use of the lot. It goes on well and , for white paint, covers well.  Anyway when you’re doing a job with all these paints, you need to use what you have or else spend a fortune.

My enemy at this point is concentration, or rather the lack of it. How easy it is, dear reader, to mask the wrong side of a line.  I know because I have done it twice.  I did spot it in time however so I didn’t paint in the wrong place. Such is my general bewilderment over what I’m supposed to be doing that I have taken to putting dabs of masking tape on areas I’m not supposed to paint.  Like this. 


The dabs are on bits that will later be cream.  This is the masking for the white triangles which alternate with cream between the larger red and grey diamonds.  It all gets a bit frustrating at this stage.  A few minutes masking, a few minutes painting then a 24 hour wait for the paint to dry before you can move on to the next bit.

This idea of using a layer of white gloss is all very well, but after I’d done it I realised I’d covered up all my marking out, so I had to do it all again.  However after the four planks and the double marking I now have all the dimensions in my head, no doubt crowding out more useful information like which side of a line to mask.

Looking closely at the planks, I see one has quite a bow across it’s face, so I’m not looking forward to finding out how well it will  (or more probably will not) fit against the corner post.  That’s the beauty of all this painting before building, you get the excitement of not knowing if you had wasted your time.

Today’s cliff hanger: The dreaded Dulux cream on top of white gloss next.  That’s bound to go well I keep telling myself.

Monday, April 09, 2018

How not to make a roof box part 4– sloppy precision

People have looked at my previous roof boxes and commented on the precision of the painting. Little do they know that my painting is very sloppy, it’s the masking that has to be done carefully.  here’s the proof:

Careful Masking



Slapdash Painting


See what I mean?  A chimpanzee could have slapped that white on.  It took quite a while to do the masking and no time at all to do the painting.  I’m using good low tack Craftmaster plastic masking tape which I trim carefully with a craft knife at places like the diamond points. The Craftmaster tape nearly always comes off cleanly which is why I like it. Now I juts have to hope that I don’t get much bleed under the tape.  A little bit of bleed is inevitable in some places because of the grain of the wood, but I’ll touch that up at the end with an artist’s brush.

As you can see I’ve decided to use white as a base topcoat underneath what will be the white, red and cream paints, but, I hope understandably, I’ve painted the grey border and diamonds directly onto the grey undercoat.  After two cost of grey topcoat the grey is actually finished now – hooray. Only three more colours to go.  I reckon that’ll take about another week though, to allow drying between coats. Not quick is it?  However it rarely takes me more than an hour each day –often mush less.

At the weekend we snuck out to Herbie and cruised all the way from Cropredy Marina to Cropredy Lock – less than ten minutes!  That was because we had arranged to meet up with the Moomins who were passing through on Nb Melaleuca. We all spend a jolly evening together and shared a meal, me doing a pasta dish and Simon making a crumble for pud.  next morning they went on their way south and we turned back to the marina then home.  Time well spent. And – our solar panels once again made more electricity than we used.  Very rewarding.

Must stop now, I’m off to do some more painting.