Thursday, April 11, 2019

I have to tell you I’ve lost something significant, but I don’t want it back.  More of that later.  Meanwhile last weekend we took Herbie out on a cruise.  ‘Hang on’, I hear you say,’aren’t you supposed to be grounded pending treatment for your angina?’  Well yes I am but we threw caution to the wind and cruised all the way to this spot:

Cropredy lock.  It took us all of five minutes to get there from our berth at the marina and it was worth it because we’d arranged to rendezvous with the Moomins (aka Simon and Ann on Nb Melaleuca), so we spent a couple of jolly evenings eating and drinking and talking about batteries and toilets, like you do.  Melaleuca now has lithium batteries and a fiendishly clever battery control system devised and installed by Simon.  I wouldn’t know where to start – Simon’s brain works on a higher plane than mine.  Nevertheless now that the days are longer, Herbie’s solar panels are earning their keep and our conventional batteries held up well, losing only 15% over 48 hours of fridge, lights etc. If there is anyone out there who doesn’t have solar yet –get on with it. It’s a no brainer.  Interestingly, I did a quick survey of boats in our marina and I reckon that less than a quarter of them have solar panels.  I think that’s because lots of them never go anywhere. They just sit there plugged into the mains and quietly get eaten away by galvanic corrosion. 

I’ve now got a date (8 May) for my medical ‘procedure’ which I hope will include fitting a stent or two.  According to Oakie I’ll feel like a new man.  Kath say’s she’s felt like a new man for ages.

The thing I have lost as of today (see para one)  is a stone in weight since all this heart thing started a few weeks back! Hooray.  You may congratulate me. No faddy diets, just portion control and cutting out fats, sugars and alcohol (I allow myself a drinky once a week – well twice last weekend ‘cos we were dining with the Moomins).  Now I need to lose another stone- stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Here we are aboard Herbie and going nowhere.  I'm grounded.  You know when people get told 'You're under investigation - don't leave town.'  That's me that is.

No I'm not a criminal suspect, I'm awaiting an angiogram appointment because of a sudden bout of chest pains a couple of weeks back, so I'm not supposed to be out of easy reach of an ambulance - just in case.  I shouldn't be all that surprised, my dear old dad was an angina sufferer at my age, so I guess I'm a chip off the old block.  Strange though that it should come upon me so suddenly, although it isn't going away. No more English breakfasts at Wetherspoons (even though they were a rare treat).

Out here on the South Oxford most of the canal is away from roads and the phone signals are pretty poor too, so we won't be going anywhere until I get sorted.  Luckily our spot in the marina is very pleasant, so we can still spend time aboard, which is what we are doing now.

One good thing is that my closer attention to (my already reasonably healthy) diet has already knocked half a stone off my weight.  What's more, I have been forbidden strenuous exercise (although I have been to our regular exercise class a couple of times, taking it steady) for the time being, so I'm on light duties only  Every cloud has a silver lining:-)

Hopefully I might get a stent or something to put me back to normal.  Fingers crossed.

Anyone offering me medical advice or anything other than the mildest sympathy will be shot.

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.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A nice ice breaker break.

Our few days moored up in Banbury passed without incident, that is if you discount the fact that we just missed coming third in the reindeer quiz – no small achievement  bearing in mind that we were only two against about ten teams of six or more.  Our trip back to Cropredy was a lot more interesting and enjoyable then the rather cold and damp trip down with the sun in our eyes. This time Herbie transformed into an ice breaker!

It was a very cold bright morning, although the sun behind us kept our backs warm and we were glad not to have the bright light in our eyes and the dreaded sun reflections on the water.  Once we got out of Banbury and given our customary wave to Dink and Malc (regular boaters down there will know who we mean), the ice started.

It was mostly about 4 or 5 mm thick and here and there a bit thicker, so we were crunching along leaving a clear path in our wake.

We were making quite a racket, I would think you could hear us some way off.  I wasn’t too concerned about scraping off Herbie’s blacking as were due to be re-blacked this year anyhow, but in the event I think it stayed intact.  As to the locks, you'll be horrified to know that despite the ice I still managed to jump across the open bottom gates rather than walk round! Elf and safety would have a fit.

Patches of ice came and went and it was hard to work out why some places had frozen over and some not.  Some shady places were clear, some sunny spots were frozen.  My bet is on shallow water and lack of cover being responsible for most of the ice.  Anywhere where there was a bit of a ripple on the water was clear.  All in all though I suppose we were breaking ice for about half of the five miles.  Mercifully, the marina was totally unfrozen when we got back although the sun in my eyes when we turned made me make a right pig’s ear of getting back against our pontoon.  That’s my excuse anyway.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Are we mad?

Just as the weather turns bitterly cold, we're off out on Herbie. Last night we got ice and snow, and today it's even colder. Jumping across the lock gates was a bit scary, but I'm here (snug and warm in the Reindeer for the quiz) to tell the tale.

A couple of nights ago we went to a live screening of Bill Shakespeare's Tragedy of Richard The Second, in which the ruler of England was beset by stupidly bickering lords who couldn't agree on how the country should be run. Meanwhile.the king was distracted by issues in Ireland. Eventually he of course was deposed. Nothing like that could ever happen nowadays of course

Monday, January 07, 2019

Clearing up.

Here’s a bit about us not boating. We were planning to go out on Herbie this week, but we decided to enjoy a few days peace at home now that the family have departed back to their own places after messing ours up.  The house is wonderfully quiet and now we can walk across the floor without tripping over wires. People who know our Peter won’t be surprised at this picture of him spreading his toys all over our front room. I did offer him desk space upstairs but he prefers to get under our feet.  Bless!


It’s like this every time he comes home.  He’s the only person I know who buys a new electric guitar (just out of the picture) and instead of playing it, plugs it into an oscilloscope (which he just happens to have with him!)  and starts messing about creating distortion circuits.  No, he doesn’t work in electronics, he just likes toys. We’ll be getting resistors out of the carpet and microchips down the side of the sofa for weeks I expect.

Still, there was an upside. In tidying up after he went back home to Cambridge I found a missing piece of my camera tripod, so I was able to set it up in the garden by our bird feeders which are getting lots of visitors at the moment.  It’s so dark lately that I’ve had to resort to using the flash.  I thought it might scare the birds off but they seem to get used to it, and using flash gives an opportunity to take high speed images like this one of a blue tit.


I’m triggering the camera remotely from inside the house.  Shots worth keeping are running at about one percent.

I’m in a constant battle with the squirrels who try to pinch the peanuts.  The peanut feeder hangs on a longish wire from our lime tree. The thieves hang upside down from a twig, reach down to the feeder with their front paws and lift it up so that they can gnaw at the nuts.  I extended the wire today and after a few failed attempts the squirrel skulked of in disgust. Hah!

Another thing that likes to eat upside down is a nuthatch that has been showing up recently.  I’m still trying to get a good picture of him /her.  Here’s the best I’ve managed so far.


Now the Christmas decorations are down and the Christmas tree has been chopped up for disposal, and once we have overwhelmed our local recycling centre with bottles, cardboard, bits of tree and holly and ivy, we hope to get out to Herbie in a few days, especially as the threatened Beast from the East mark II doesn’t seem to be showing up.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Herbie Awards – New Year Honours

A change in tradition!  Having wantonly missed the Christmas Deadline to finish the Herbie Awards, I have decided to cover up my sloppy work by introducing The Herbie New Year Honours list. What fun!  I could award the Order of the Herbie Empire (OHE), or how about the CHE – Commander of the Herbie Empire (no, I think that’s Kath, or should she get Companion of Honour?).  I think I ought to eschew awarding the title of Member of the Herbie Empire, people might think I was staging a hostile takeover.  How about the Order of the Bath?  Hmm , that would sound like I was frowning on a person’s personal hygiene.  I know.  Got it! The Herbie Order of the Canal Knights.  HOCK. And I know just the people to award it to.

People who read the many boater’s blogs may not realise the effort that goes into writing them. It’s not just typing up a few notes.  Photos have to be selected and edited (not to mention taking them in the first place), headlines have to be invented, facts sometimes have to be checked, interesting themes have to be chosen and of course prose has to be authored.  Anyone who keeps a regular blog going has to put in the hours.  So this year The Herbie Academy salutes all those dedicated folk who keep us amused and informed about the goings on up and down the cut.  Accordingly, taking out my sword I ask them to kneel before Herbie as I tap them on the shoulder and award the

Herbie Order of the Canal Knights


All the Boating Bloggers

Thanks to you all. You keep Kath quiet for many a happy hourSmile

Monday, December 31, 2018

Herbie Awards– one last category before a Special New Award

Yes folks, the annual extravaganza of the Herbie Awards nears its climax as we have one final item before a special new award on New Years Day.   For this penultimate award I’d like the Academy to consider the Best Visitor Attraction near the Waterway.

Although sticking to the tradition of limiting entries to places we have been to this year, I am cheating a bit by including a place we visited which is near a waterway but, we didn’t actually go there by boat.  However it was so good that I couldn’t leave it out.  So our first nominee is

Kettles Yard in Cambridge.

Park your boat as far into the city as you can get and walk on past Jesus weir to Magdalene Street bridge then uphill for a minute and you’re there.  Cambridge has lots to see of course, but for me, Kettles Yard, or at least The House takes the biscuit.  I’ve been to visitor houses all over the place, but none delighted me like the house at Kettles Yard. The former home of art and design enthusiast Jim Eade, it has a wonderful calming atmosphere, Lovely light and space,  lots of lovely pictures – many of boats and ships, some proper comfortable chairs of classic design (yes, you can sit on the them), amusing little things like the transparent light switches and some quirky collections of pebbles and the like.

A quiet corner.


I would move in tomorrow if they’d let me.  And it’s free!

Kelmscott Manor – upper Thames

We tied Herbie to the river bank and wandered the couple of hundred yards to the house where William Morris and some of his gang lived for many years.

Inside looking out.   William Morris could have seen Herbie if he waited. You can just see her on the river.


If you like Morris’s wallpaper and all that Arts and Crafts stuff, this is the place to go. A bit of a shrine to the A&C movement I suppose.  There are lots of rooms to see and lots of nice things in the rooms.  Doing the tour, you get a good sense of how they lived and what they might have been like.  It’s all quite intimate.  The gardens are lovely too.  A film they show you before you go in reveals the dreadful state of the building’s construction and you wonder how it didn’t collapse by the time Morris left it.  he might have been good with his hands but his DiY interests obviously took a back seat.  Well worth a visit, and the pub in the village is a nice one. I’m giving them a one off special award for Most Innovative Pub Seat.


Abbey ruins – Reading

If you tie up at the excellent Chestnut Walk visitor moorings by the jail in Reading, you’d be daft not to have a wander round the abbey ruins which are adjacent.  Whilst it’s only a collection of crumbling walls, the information boards tell a fascinating story and reveal the huge importance this abbey once had.  Henry III must have liked it because spent several weeks a year there.  Henry VIII was clearly not so keen , hence the ruinous state of the buildings.  On a summer’s evening it’s a lovely calming place to sit and ponder.

Well they’re all worth visit, but the one that I most t to go back to and the winner of the

Best Visitor Attraction near the Waterway


Kettles Yard

And so dear readers, we only have one award left, and it’s a new one.  Come back tomorrow and see what it is.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Herbie Awards resume– mmm , Best Pint

Happy Boxing Day. I’ve been working on the assumption that you have been too busy to read the Herbie blog in the last couple of days.  Well, I’ve been to busy to write it anyhow, Sorry about that.

(Even before the current Awards are complete,I already have a contender for next year’s Best Gadget.  In my Christmas stocking I got a little USB endoscope, not for poking into bodily orifices but for peering into spaces where the eye cannot reach.  There a quite a few such spaces on Herbie – in the engine bay, in the electrics cupboard, up by the water tanks stopcock, behind the built in radio – the list goes on.  This little camera, complete with LED lights to illuminate the subject, plugs into a phone or tablet or laptop – anything with USB and has a nice long cable to reach awkward places.  All I can say up to now is that the camera works. I’ll report back after I’ve used it in anger.)

Back to the script, and now for the Award which excites one or two of my regular readers.  Where did we get this year’s Best Pint of Beer and what was it?

Well this year I’m going to split the Award into two. Draught Beer bought in a pub or bar, and because we spend so much time out of reach of such places, beer bought in cans or bottles. 

Draught Beer

Ooh this is a dodgy one, because beers come in a range of styles and I know some of  Herbie’s friends like them dark or malty, but these days Kath and I like ‘em light and hoppy, especially with all the fragrant New World hops that brewers are adopting. Travelling mainly up and down the Oxford canal we see a lot of Hook Norton beers and we can’t complain about them, but they don’t win any prizes this year.  Had they reintroduced the Summer Haze (??) they did a couple of years ago, that might have been a different story.  My mouth waters at the thought of it.

Having said that we like light hoppy beers, I should add that quite a few top breweries now produce them, usually called  blah blah Gold or Golden Blah Blah and I’m sad to say that a number of them needn’t have bothered.  It ain’t the light malts and the golden colour that matters it’s the hops.So  if you’ve tried a Golden Ale and didn’t like it, try another because when you find a good one it’s a revelation. So what wowed us this year?  Well one stood out above all the rest and I think we knew it was a winner straight away when we supped it at The Three Pigeons.  It comes from the excellent Purity Brewery in Warwickshire and it is simply named:

Purity Pure Gold

(as served at the Three Pigeons in Banbury)

You don’t make a beer like this without a lot of effort– just look at the contents:

“Brewed with English Maris Otter, Caragold, Caramalt and Wheat malts, plus Pilgrim, Styrian and Hereford Goldings, Styrian Bobek and Citra hops. “

4 different malts and five different hops! Balancing that lot must have taken a lot of tasting.  It could have gone horribly wrong, but they got it bang on.  No wonder it’s the winner of nine awards (well ten nowSmile).

Bottled / Canned beer

There are some Real Ales (with yeast and unpasteurised) in bottles, but a number of modern so-called Craft Beers don’t qualify as Real Ales but are nevertheless amazingly good.  When we’re enjoying an evening on some remote towpath or in a riverside meadow, that’s what we might turn to. (I ought to stress that we do have booze free days).  It’s strange that what makes a good draught beer doesn’t often translate into a good bottled beer.  Often the name might be the same, but the recipe (particulalry the alcohol content) is different.

Anyhow, this year we have fallen back on two favourites, both in American IPA styles but from old established British Brewers.  The first is Adnam’s Ghost Ship, possibly the most fragrant of all bottled beers and not too strong.  The second is Marston’s Shipyard Ale which is stronger tasting and more alcoholic, but still wonderfully hoppy.  You can get both of these beers on draught too, but the Adnams is better in the bottle.  The Shipyard is sold at Wetherspoons as (I think) a Nitrokeg (gassed with Nitrogen rather than the souring  CO2) and that works well.  If you don’t think you like beer, try a bottle or can of Ghost Ship, you might be very pleasantly surprised. Sniff it and drink it like a wine.

It’s a very close call. I convened a hasty meeting of the Academy and after some debate we decided we couldn’t decide so it’s a

dead heat!!


Marston’s Shipyard and Adnam’s Ghost Ship

So here endeth today’s lesson.  Come back next time as we near  the climax of this year’s awards.