Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How fast (or slow) is a canal boat?

“How far can you get in a week on your boat?” That’s something I often find myself explaining to people who ask about our journeys.  In the past I have usually guessed that “In a week on the canal you can probably get as far as a car can in an hour.” Of course if it’s an out and back trip you have to half that.

Well I was lying in bed wondering (like you do) how accurate that advice was, so I thought I might as well check it out and do the numbers.  As you all know I’m quite partial to a few numbers.  So between Google maps, Canalplan and my own Canalculator (I’ve just written a new Python version using about half the lines of code of the old one –sweet!), I chose a few routes and came up with the following

Route                                              Time by car/road                        Time by canal boat            Ratio(canal/car)

Paddington to NIA Birmingham              2.25 hrs                                       79 hrs                              35

Oxford to Coventry                               1.1 hrs                                        40.5 hrs                            37 

Brentford to Braunston                         1.75 hrs                                       55 hrs                              31

Stratford to NIA Birmingham                 0.9 hrs                                         21 hrs                              23

Braunston to Aston turn                        0.9 hrs                                         29 hrs                              32

Well there you are.  Averaging those out and rounding up we see that a car gets there 32 times faster than a boat.  So a distance travelled by a car in an hour takes 32 hours on the canal.  That makes my original statement not far off given that we rarely cruise more than six days in seven and do between five and six hours a day. When we were young an energetic, we did the four counties ring in a week and according to Canalplan that’s 55.5 hours.

“Hmm how about fuel costs?” our boat uses about 1.4 litres per hour.  A car might typically average about 5 litres an hour. So from Paddington to Birmingham a car might use about 11.5 litres, a boat would use 56 litres. So car transport would appear to be about five times as efficient in that respect.  Less fun though.

Then I thought it might be fun to try out some less typical routes.  I thought that boats might fare better against cars in a city, so

Paddington to Camden                         19 min                                         45 min                              2.4

Wow, the boat looks a lot better.  How about up the Thames?

Teddington to Lechlade                        2.1 hrs                                         44 hrs                              21

showing that the river fares better than the canal.  And lastly, just to push the limits I compared our longest ever trip,

Iver(Slough) to Bedford                        1.2 hrs                                          103 hrs                             85

Here the boat is 85 times slower than the car, but that’s because of the route.  The car can get there pretty directly but the boat had to go via Northampton, Peterborough, across the fens to Denver then down through Ely etc.  It might be 85 times slower but for enjoyment I know which route I’d take.

Well that was fun.  Having done that and replaced a tap washer today I think I can take the rest of the day off don’t you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Looking back and forth

In an effort to avoid doing anything useful today, (something for which I am especially gifted), I devoted a couple of hours to reading through my historic blog posts.  As a result, I don't know whether to be impressed or depressed. Having a boat blog is a useful diary of what you have been up to, or more often these days, what you have not been up to. When I look back at 2010 when we did the mammoth Herbie repaint, did numerous engine jobs, built the cratch folding table, did the signwriting, swapped out the batteries, installed our first solar panel and controller and made the folding stand for it and blogged on most days, I realise that nine years later I don't have that much energy left.

Then I read that last year (2018) I made and painted a new roof box, completed the repaint of Herbie's roof and the handrails, installed another solar panel and replaced the controller and tilting stands and completed my second (admittedly not exactly a best seller) novel, and wrote myself a useful new Android Canalculator app, I don't feel so bad.  Then I feel bad again because so much more needs doing and I doubt I shall have the energy for it all.  Hey ho. We soldier on.  This year I might replace the battery in the clock.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Dodgy safety equipment found by CRT

The advice I always give to visitors on Herbie is “If you fall in the canal, stand up.”  Nine times out of ten your head will be above water, and on the South Oxford, your knees might be as well.  However, some canals are deep enough to submerge a human and lots of rivers are too, so what do you do if someone does go overboard?

They might of course be wearing a lifejacket, but very few of us bother on the canal.  We do wear ours on big rivers.  Alternatively, some boats carry a life ring.  We’ve got an old one, but the only time I tried to use it, it landed some way from the person in the water and anyway it could give you quite a bang on the head if it hit you, so life rings are not ideal.  What we carry now is a throwing line, which is a length of buoyant rope stuffed into a little pouch.  You hold one end of the rope and throw the pouch  which unravels the rope as is travels to the person in the water and then you haul them to safety.  If you don’t have one I recommend you to get one.  I learned how to  use these when I did my RYA Helmsman training as a CRT volunteer, and I think they’re a good thing.  Throwing them accurately is surprisingly easy and they cheap and are compact enough to keep to hand when you are steering.  Every now and then I have a little practice with ours just to keep my hand in.  On one occasion I even used it to measure the width of the canal to see if we could turn!

So far, so good, but last week CRT issued a warning to volunteers after a throwing line broke in half while hauling someone in.  On inspecting the rope it was found to be made up from shorter lengths of line joined together by glue or plastic welding of some kind.  Other samples from the same (imported) batch were found to be equally faulty.  When I get back to Herbie, I’m going to check mine over although I think it’s sound, but I thought letting other people know wouldn’t be  bad idea.  I can’t afford to lose any blog readers can I?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mucky Talk

Yesterday we toddled along to a talk and discussion about composting loos.  As any boater knows, discussing toilets is what we do best, well that and batteries I suppose, so we all had a jolly time.  Those who find talking about such matters repulsive might be best advised not to read this page any further.  Suffice it to say that some talk of the effect of different diets came close to the ”too much information” threshold.

The event was organised and led by Kate Saffin, who some of you will know and attracted about a dozen people, most of whom were thinking about going into loo composting, so having had our Airhead toilet for nearly four years, we were contributing as much as learning.  Kate started off controversially by saying that composting loos by themselves do not make compost, they store the “donations” and perhaps start off the composting, which then continues when you bin or bag the stuff later.  In essence she is right, but certainly with our Airhead in the summer, the contents come out very dry and composty when we do the emptying.  We tend to bag it then and often take it home let it  finish off in a corner of the garden.

Kate showed us that making your own composting loo is a realistic aim and there are suppliers of bits and pieces to help you in this endeavour.  Such a loo could range from something not much more than a bucket with a lid to a fancy built in affair, looking quite posh.  One thing nearly all of them have in common is some means of separating the collection of solids and liquids and ingenious diverters have been invented to enable this.  I dare say that many in the shiny boat brigade would eschew some of the more heath Robinson solutions involving funnels and devices reminiscent of hospital bed pans.  Also stirrers made out of dog lead anchors raised the odd eyebrow.

One of the main differences between designs is that of airflow.  Whilst many simpler devices merely keep a lid on the contents,.  This seems to be Kate’s preferred option. Alternatively, devices like our Airhead use a fan to draw air from the bin and pipe it to the outside of the boat.  This, it seems to us, has a number of advantages.  Firstly, It has a drying effect, thus producing a much more pleasant product at emptying time, often looking quite like peat.  According to Kate you can get an amount of condensation in the sealed type.  Also the fan produces a gentle negative air pressure in the bin, so that even with the trap door open, nasty niffs do not escape into the bathroom.  For us, these two factors are what we like about the Airhead, which admittedly is at the top end of the price bracket, now costing nigh on a thousand pounds.  What I can say is that we wouldn’t go back to cassette toilets if we could at all avoid it.  For those who might imagine that dealing with composting loos is unpleasant, we would say that it is nowhere near as unpleasant as emptying cassettes, not to mention far, far less frequent, and of course requires no chemical additives.

The final point that seems to be agreed on is that it takes a while to learn about how your loo works best, in terms of adding extra materials such as coir fibre or sawdust or whatever, and how much to use and whether to dampen it etc.  Kath has now got it to a fine art. After recommendations by others, we’re about to try out wooden cat litter pellets, although we have been pleased with broken up blocks of coir fibre from pet stores.

I think I’d better stop now before I spoil your dinner.  Come back soon for a safety warning I learned about earlier this week.