Wednesday, August 14, 2019

It's a breeze

I have sympathy with those unlucky folk who had to bear the rough weather at the Fairport Cropredy music festival.  Thursday was warm and sunny, but thereafter it got windier and windier.  Of course that meant that the sound of the music was conveniently blown towards Herbie safely nestled in the marina, so we could hear it all pretty clearly.  As they say, 'It's an ill wind . . . '  Actually, much as I am  a big music fan, I didn't hear much to get me excited this year.  Each to his own I suppose.

Herbie's new batteries went in ok, but I really ought to do something about the dog's breakfast of cables in the battery box - cables of the wrong length, connections for the solar panels, the inverter, the charger, the Smartgauge all jumbled up. Yuk.  I'll put it on the job list.   The next big job is blacking, but Andy at the marina is doing that at the beginning of September.

Our Morco is burning with a yellow flame so I've booked Clive, the local maintenance man to service it. 'Burners probably blocked by insects' he said.  A common occurrence apparently.

What with the batteries, the blacking and the Morco service, the old Herbie 'sinking fund' is taking a bit of a battering at the moment.  Everything seems to come at once.  Today I spend over 200 quid on car tyres, and the car tax is due.  It's a good job I got a royalty payout on my book this week - all 33p of it :-)

In a couple of weeks an old pal, Phil and friends are borrowing Herbie for  few days, so we've given her a good spring (well ok, summer) clean.  I hope Herbie behaves herself,.  I'll probably be nervous until they're safely back.  Should you spot the boat in last week in August, don't shout out 'Hello Neil/Kath', cos it won't be us.

Our youngest, Peter, is moving into his new flat over the next few days so we'll be up in Cambridge slapping the old emulsion on the walls before his furniture arrives. to clutter up the place.   Deep joy.  Please pray for a sunny September when we plan a longish cruise to recover from our travails.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Perfect timing by battery manufacturers

You might think that in all the recent hot weather, Herbie would be overflowing with solar energy, but sod's law being what it is, that ain't strictly true.

Problem one: Solar panels lose efficiency when they get very hot.  At least I ensured a couple of inches air gap under ours.  I can't think how people get on with those that are stuck to the roof.  You could have fried an egg on Herbie's roof last week.

Problem two:  In very hot weather, the fridge has to work extra hard, and as the fridge is the main consumer of electricity on our boat I imagine is might have been using at least double the amount of juice during last week's hot spell.

Problem three: Sod's law bites again.  From our Smartgauge readings It looks like our domestic batteries are on their way out, and as bad luck would have it they are just out of their four year warranty.  Clever design or what? No doubt we could continue with them for a bit, and no doubt only one of the three is beginning to fail, but you really need to have all three changed at once or the old ones drag the new one down.  Our previous Numax ones lasted five years, so these I bought from the (ex) Canal Shop at Hillmorton haven't been so good.  These days you can get batteries with a five year warranty.  I found some 135 amp hour ones that would fit in the tight space we have.  They're taller than ones we've had previously, but we have the headroom so I fancy getting those.  Of course they cost a bit more but the extra capacity and the longer life  (600 cycles) would pay off I reckon.  According to the blurb, you can take 70% out of them without harm, but I wouldn't.  I never like to take out more than we can comfortably put back in in a few hours cruise.  In case anyone is interested, here's a link to the ones I'm looking at.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Here we are at Belchers Bridge near Aynho with our bellies full of posh nosh from the Great Western Arms where the food and service was as top notch as usual and the beer not bad either.  It's a good job we can't afford to eat like that every day or we'd be even more portly that we already are.

Belchers bridge looks nothing like this.

which is a sketch I forgot to add to the post when we were in Iffley.  People who know the area might recognise it.  Kath and Peter are always sketching or painting something so it inspires me to have a go.

Today we stopped for an all too brief chinwag with Bones as we came through Heyford. I don't know where she gets her energy from, always doing two jobs at once and thinking about another.  I might have been like it her age I suppose, but it's too long ago to remember.

Today I refrained from using our new ratchet windlass on the top paddles at Somerton deep lock, even my old 'unbreakable' standard windlass felt like it was going to break.  I can honestly say that these are the stiffest paddles I have ever operated.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that some folk couldn't turn them at all.  I came close to giving up. Come on CRT, sort 'em out please.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Herbie in the heat

Aah, the peace of the countryside, well except for the railway 20 yards behind the hedge and the combine harvester roaring away on the other bank and the fact that we appear to be directly beneath the flight path from somewhere to somewhere else. My crew skulks in the bushes to avoid the sun while I sit patiently waiting to be struck by lightning or at least to have a stricken tree fall on us. We are out of the burning sun, but the air is thick and heavy and the breeze is like that from a fan heater.  Actually the coolest place is inside Herbie. Even though she is basically a tin box, her insulation keeps her remarkably cool.

We were heading for Heyford today but gave up in the heat with only a mile or so to go.  A sort of Captain Scott in reverse.

Our jolly up and down the Thames was lovely.  After a night on the canal down the Hythe bridge arm we collected our Peter and tootled down to Abingdon, dodging the rowers who, because they do it backwards, are a constant hazard until you get past Iffley.  Not only can they not see you, they creep up fast behind you so you don't see them.  I think the EA should loan out wing mirrors with their visitor licences.

Abingdon, as you all know, is lovely, and we tied up below the bridge and shambled over to the Nag's Head where we ate expensive Fish and Chips on the island.  The view is what you pay for.  Next night we went back to Iffley on the 'first night free' lock moorings and ate out again, this time at the Isis Farmhouse.  I can see while some of my faithful readers have mixed feelings about it.  It is a bit gloomy inside, but the beer is very good and the watermelon, olive and feta salad I ate in the garden was perfect for a hot day.

We returned to the canal via the beautiful Port meadow where the river is full of paddling cows, horses and dogs, and up the rather scruffier Dukes Cut, pressing on in the heat to The Jolly Boatman moorings at Thrupp where we found a shady spot and self catered (sorry Jolly).  En route we met Maffi and Molly hiding Dracula like from the daylight below a lock.  Kindly we allowed him to help us through the lock, we're all heart. All was fine in the evening apart from a wasp stinging me in the finger, right on a bony bit.  Today it itches like mad, but I expect I'll live.

If we survive the seemingly inevitable electric storms tonight we are treating ourselves to posh nosh at the Great Western tomorrow. Virtue has its own reward.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

At least the EA is confused as well.

Well the EA might know what their mooring rules are for the Thames, but their lock keepers don't seem so sure.  Here's what I learned today,

Had we moored on the other side of Kings lock, it would have cost us £5 instead of £7.50, except that the £7.50 should have been a tenner as Herbie is longer than 40ft.  The lockie says he assumes all narrowboats are 40ft bless him.

The field with the abbey(?) ruin by Godstow lock is not EA and has separate charges but first night is free.

East street moorings are overseen by the lockie at Osney lock and first night is free.There are no signs telling you that. Next 2 nights are £5 each then please bugger off. You can come back and start again after one night away.  When asked about Iffley lock he didn't know.

There is a pukka sign at Iffley lock (hooray) saying first night free, then 2 nights at £5 and £25 a night thereafter.

Tonight we moor a couple of hundred yards above Iffley where I assume it is free until someone tells us otherwise.


Here's our new windlass, acquired at great expense

was it worth it?  Yeah I think so.  It works well and is hardly heavier than our regular ones.  Here's a picture comparing them for size.

My only reservation is that as the handle is rivetted on rather than just a bend, that makes a potential weak point. I feared for it on the top paddles at Somerton deep, but as they are the stiffest paddles I've ever had the misfortune to wind and the windlass survived, it scraped through the ultimate test.  Using the ratchet is a breeze and makes the job a lot easier on difficult paddles.

Now onto bridge names.  Sorry Sue, you were wide of the mark on dentist (230 -geddit?) and Luxembourg (208, surely you're old enough to remember that!). 76 is of course Trombone.  I'm no better, Jim has me foxed on "cowboy time" -see comment on previous post.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Confused of Oxford

Well here we are at Kings Lock on the Thames at Oxford and it is wet wet wet. No complaining though because the rest of the week has been sunny and they say next week will be too.

Trying to find out what has happened to Thames visitor mooring charges is near impossible. The web site of the company that ran them last year is still up despite their contract being lost six months ago, but Environment Agency have put nothing on their own site. The lockie at Eynsham said that EA moorings were free for the first night but there is nothing in writing. Here at Kings Lock the sign just says there is a mooring charge, but not what the charge is. It says talk to the lock keeper, but there hasn't been one at the lock all day. The sign gives you a phone number for enquiries so I tried that, but the man there had no idea either and referred me to the non existent lock keeper. Grrr.

We had Rick with us for a couple of days earlier in the week and we were musing over potential names for canal bridges based on their numbers. How about 
Luxembourg bridge or Trombone bridge or Dentist bridge? I can think of a few more. How about you? Can you translate the three above?


A nice (but somewhat damp and bedraggled) EA lady just appeared and relieved us of £7.50 for mooring here.  According to her, first night is free except where it isn't, i.e. here.  Apparently at East Street, first night is free.  If you then go somewhere else the next night and then back another day later, you are on first night again. Simples. 

Good 'ere innit?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Solutions to old age

I don't know which is getting stiffer faster these days, lock paddle gear or my back.  Most likely the one is the cause of the other I suppose. Anyhow I seem more often to strain what muscle I've got left when winding up some of the stiffer paddles  down our way.  So after consulting with my co-pilot we've agreed to splash out what seems a lorra lorra dosh on one of those Gowindlass ratchet windlasses.  They seem a good bit smaller and lighter than the other one on the market (a bit less expensive too).  The clinching argument is that we're not getting any younger so if it works it'll become more essential as time goes on. Ours is in the post and assuming it gets here in time we'll test it when we to get a bit of boating in next week so I'll let you know how well it works.  If it saves me from pulled muscles it'll be worth it.

Following on from my recent posts about gate hopping (which most of my brave readers seem to do despite CRT's advice to the contrary) I'm going to try an experiment to see if I can avoid the need.  The idea is to have a length of rope with a biggish fixed loop on one end which you drop over the free end of a lock gate before you push or kick  it open from the other gate.  Then you open the gate your side and the boat comes in or out, you shut your gate, then pull the far one shut with the rope.  I'm a bit surprised I've never seen anyone do it.  Perhaps because it doesn't work.  Anyway I'm going to give it a shot and see how I get on.  I'll probably strain my back and you can all have a laugh.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Battle Royal at Cropredy

Saturday News from the Civil War

A further report from our war correspondent Herbie Neil who is stationed close to  the front lines:

“All is calm at the moment after the heat and chaos of this afternoon’s fighting when the noise and
smoke of the battle was intense (unlike the respective Armies’ followers who were in tents). 
The parliamentarians with their backs to the river Cherwell endured a cavalry attack by the Royalists
swooping out of the woods below Williamscot before responding with thunderous volleys of musket fire
and charges by the pikemen who had no idea of where they were going in all that musket smoke. 
It was difficult to see through the murk but I fear that a number of soldiers may actually have melted
in the heat. Certainly a good few of them appeared to fall down “dead” at the first opportunity.
Smart move.

In general a good time was had by all, but there was much suffering in the thirty degree heat. 
In the rehydration station (aka The Red Lion) after the cease fire, many were regretting the authenticity
of their heavy woollen jackets and trousers and big boots.  There was much perspiration. Fortunately, the
lower ranks were able to take much comfort from the fact that their more meagre costumes caused a
lot less distress than the fancy topcoats and sashes worn by the officer class.  I believe the fashionable term
is schadenfreude. Surprisingly perhaps, none sought the cooling comfort of a dip in the canal, which was
a pity because they might have been usefully employed in searching for my assistant’s iphone which fell in yesterday.

Rumour has it that the cease fire is only temporary and that further fighting will break out on sunday
afternoon when your correspondent will be taking refuge by escorting a young family up the locks and back
to escape the fighting.

Back to you in the studio

Friday, June 28, 2019

News from the war zone

... and now over to our civil war correspondent Herbie Neil at the battle front.

"Yes, here we are very close to the front line where tensions are running high in preparation for the mother of all battles at Cropredy Bridge.  Earlier today we undertook the perilous ten minute journey from Cropredy marina to our bunker  in the sunken cutting between the two canal bridges.  Peering over parapet we can see the tents of the army supporters and hear their cries as they surge into the Brasenose Arms to fortify their spirits for the battle ahead.  The medical units are bracing themselves for an influx of bedraggled troops in the morning seeking help for their self inflicted hangovers.

"We are reliably informed by the army commanders that the first attacks will take place in early afternoon on Saturday.  Rumours abound however that the action may be somewhat overdue because although June 29th is the right date, the real first wave of attacks in the battle of Cropredy Bridge happened a little while ago.  375 years ago to be exact.  It is not clear who the opponents are because they all appear to be members of the Sealed Knot so in effect they are fighting their own people.  I suppose that's the essence of civil war really.

"Meanwhile the village is swarming with historians arguing about what really went on and who won.  Who was it who said that in times of war, truth is the first casualty?  I understand there may be doubts about the rumour that the Royalist cavaliers are to be led by Lord Boris of Henley and the Parliamentarian roundheads by Sir Jeremy of the Hunt.  All may be revealed tomorrow as I don my flak jacket and enter the field of battle, notebook and camera in hand.  Pullitzer prize here I come.

Stay tuned."

P.S. The first casualty of the skirmish has already occured.  A communications blackout has been imposed on my assistant Herbie Kath who dropped her iphone in the canal.  Those of a scientific bent may be interested to know that iphones appear not to be magnetic as prolonged dipping of our Sea Searcher magnet failed to locate the device.  There's never a frogman when you need one is there?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Fenders up or down?

We just got the quote for having our boat blacked and at first sight it's um, eye watering.  Why so? Well this time we asked for them to rub down and repaint the gunnels in black gloss.  For many years now I've been touching up the inevitable battle scars on the gunnels, but it's time to get back to square one with a deep rub down all over and some decent layers of anti rust primer and top coat,  hence the extra cost.

Did I say inevitable battle scars?   You might say we shouldn't hit anything if we were good drivers, but I reckon we're as good at steering into locks as anyone else. Lets face it, boats have rubbing strakes and fenders for a reason. Boats have to come alongside brick and concrete walls, metal piling which is often buckled and jagged etc etc.  Contact at some point is inevitable.

 "Well that's what fenders are for," I hear you say. 

No, not that sort of fender you idiot.

Well for good or ill, we choose not to deploy fenders of any type while the boat is moving.  Plenty of boats have the reverse policy in order to protect their precious blacking and gunnel paint, but I've seen no end of them get stuck in narrow locks in the process.  Somerton deep lock is a favourite for this.  I wouldn't like to count how many hours I've lost at this lock because of people with stuck fenders, and in other places down the canal where a bit of a fallen branch gets under or behind the lock gate so it won't fully open.

So normally our fenders only get deployed when we are tying up for the night.  Maybe there's a half way house and we should drop the fenders over before we come in to moor.  That might save a few scratches.  Or should we have them down most of the time and only take them up before entering a narrow lock?  I would value your opinions.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Future Banbury canalscape

I came across this youtube video showing how the canal area in Banbury will look after they complete the regeneration they are supposed to be starting sometime soon.  It includes a sort of fly-through along the canal, CGI I suppose.  The canal and towpath look unchanged.

I think I'm right in saying that the towpath itself belongs to CRT so hopefully we'll still be able to moor in the centre.  The video certainly shows boats moored along there.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Wet paint

"Oooh that paint has beaded up nicely in the rain," I might have said, but I flippin' well didn't.  besides the paintwork being wet in the rain, it was wet paint!  The next meteorologist I see, I'm gonna bust him in the nose. "Less than ten percent chance of rain" said the forecast for that day, and then only light rain.  So as the gas locker lid and the cants were in need of a fresh coat of the old Hempel Bordeaux Red, I got out the kit and sanded and masked and slapped on a  quick coat of gloss.  Job done I retired to my folding chair on the towpath verge and set to The Week crossword feeling pretty pleased with myself (albeit not with my efforts at the crossword)..

When the first tiny spots of rain arrived I wasn't too concerned, then Kath remarked that it was looking very black over Will's mum's and disappeared inside.  That was when the heavens opened.  Not just a light shower but a full blown downpour all over my fresh paint, barely an hour after I brushed it on.  Then to cap it all, it stopped raining, but replaced that with hail!  Anybody looking for happy bunnies aboard Herbie would have been sadly disappointed.  After the rain stopped, the water beads stayed put of course, but I couldn't wipe 'em off because the paint was still really gooey.  So I just had to grin and bear it and tried to get used to the idea of a Hammerite finish on the paint.  What really happened was that when it did finally dry a day later it wasn't too bad - more of a silk lustre finish than gloss.  Hey ho.

We were moored below the Claydon lock flight at the time, planning to have a bankside BBQ - well that never happened of course, but we had a nice relaxing weekend.  On the upside, all this rain will have put another couple of inches on the reservoir levels.  The reservoir figures are out any day.  They might make encouraging reading although they are about a month in arrears.