Saturday, July 29, 2006

An apology

I just discovered the bit in blogger where comments get sent!!! Apologies for those who have sent in the comments and suggestions I now see. I didn't know they were there! I'll get on with some replies.

PRANK finally gets its band cruise

Saturday dawned much fresher, but still hot and sunny so we were determined to make up for yesterday's non-cruise. Off we went northwards through Uxbridge and Denham and up to Harefield - and then back to Cowley. Rob had his first ever go at steering a narrowboat and was instantly competent! A legacy of his sailing holidays many years ago. Here he is taking us past Harefield marina

Uxbridge and Denham locks are an interesting contrast, Uxbridge being quite a shallow lock, and Denham, ten minutes away being the deepest on the GU canal at over 11 feet rise.

Cabin boy Jacob was with us for the ride and did a splendid job of Brasso-ing the ventilation mushrooms on the roof. Once again they sparkled.

Stopping for lunch we again had a short towpath band session and posed for the inevitable PRANK photograph (see an earlier entry for how our band PRANK gets its name) , courtesy of the cabin boy's camera skills.

Pete and Rob needed to get home so we need to multitask to get everything done. This meant boating and drinking up the remaining beer at the same time. Its a hard life!

After dropping them off at Cowley, we headed back down the Slough Arm to put Herbie to bed. The dragonflies were putting on impressive aerobatic displays. They look like biplanes whirling a looping about.

More weeds! We limped into the boatyard with the prop well weeded up. Delving into the weed hatch I unravelled from the prop a huge pile of weed, a mangled plastic bag, and a shredded shirt of some kind! Ah well, it only takes a couple minutes to do, and we'd had a good day.

Electrical problems and a towpath band session

Despite the noisy surroundings, we slept like logs outside Tescos. Next morning we were off to meet Pete and Rob that evening at Cowley. On this stretch we always meet the gravel barges. Here we head for the bushes because they don't give way to anyone!

Then we seemed to have a problem. The engine starter battery was obviously pretty low that morning and we only just got started. Watching the voltmeter as we travelled showed that the charging system was behaving erratically. At this rate we would in danger of being stranded when we needed to start the engine next time. Mooring up at Cowley I inspected the battery with a volt meter, a hydrometer and a general visual inspection. It all seemed OK, so I suspected it might be time to invoke our membership of River Canal Rescue to get a more technical appraisal. I phoned them up and they said a man would come out soon.

Well, he did come, but not for four hours. Meanwhile Pete and Rob arrived expecting to cruise off directly. The RCR guy was persistent in tracking the fault and eventually put the blame on the alternator controller. After a good deal or rewiring he routed the controller out of the system so I was back with a simpler, but he said, just as effective system. The charging did seem to be working better.

All this took two hours and by now it was too late to cruise off so we decided to stay put for the evening and after a plateful of pasta and chicken by Kath and sauce by Lloyd Grossman, we broke out our musical instruments and had a towpath band session. Do we really play better when we've had a few drinks, or does it just seem like it? I vote for the former.

A long reverse and a thunderstorm

A three day outing. Herbie seems to have survived the heat very well and despite the very hot conditions was quite cool inside when we arrived to load up. At the suggestion of Steve at the boatyard we reversed a couple of hundred yards up the narrow cut to the slipway to turn round. This saved us quite a while over going forwards the other way to the turning place. However, as boaters will know, manoeuvering a narrowboat in reverse is not easy, especially when the canal is severely weeded up! I stood on the boat clearing the weeds as we backed into them, and Kath stood on the bank attempting to steer the boat using ropes fore and aft. It wasn't very elegant or very quick, but we got there, and just managed to turn the boat round in the tight space.

Not all the plant life counts as weeds, the Slough Arm has lots of nice water lillies.

Anyway we made it, and set off out towards the main Grand Union line and southwards towards Tescos at Bulls Bridge. for supplies of food and drink to entertain our guests next day. The humidity was really building up and we could tell a thunderstorm was coming, and we were glad to arrive at Tescos and moor up to wait it out. We weren't to be disappointed because the thunderstorm arrived right on top of us. There was hardly any time between the flashes and the bangs. I think a narrowboat ought to be a safe place in a thunderstorm, being a metal box well earthed. A proper Faraday Cage I reckon, not that I'm volunteering to be struck in order to prove it!

The storm passed at dusk and we decided to stay put. Not the best spot in the world, directly outside Tescos lorry bay, and directly across the canal from a 24hr bus maintenance depot. There was plenty of noise, added to by the fact that we were only a couple of miles from the take off runway at Heathrow! Despite that, we had a very pleasant evening sitting in the cratch playing music and watching a surpising number of boats still travelling in the dark.

Night time outside Tescos

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A hot topic

I'm getting nervous about what it will be like when we get back out to Herbie tomorrow. It's been so hot here at home that our conservatory candles have melted, even though its almost always in shade. Look . . .

Herbie is basically a steel box, so it must be burning hot on top. I just hope the insulation is effective, and that my bottles and cans of beer haven't exploded!

Not only that - will the undredged Slough arm still have enough water for us to move, and will the weeds let us through? Well, there's only one way to find out. Watch this space.

Google maps has quite good satellite pics of the Slough arm. If you put in the post code SL0 9RG assuming you are Googling from UK, and switch on to satellite view, it will take you to our moorings. I don't think we were there when the photo was taken. Surprising how different it looks from the air. From the boat most of the surrounding industrial sites further along are hidden behind the trees, or over the cutting bank. I never realised all that stuff was there.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Electric shock.

Kath reminds me that I said on the blog that I would report back after going on my boat electrics course at Reading. Well I turned up but the electric shock was that it was cancelled so I had to go ohm again. Another guy from Woking had also shown up - I guess you could say he was in the same boat :-). The college, sorry, University, said they had been ringing round to tell people, but they hadn't spoken to me or my answerphone, or the guy from Woking. I had to write to them last week to remind them I hadn't had an apology or a refund yet. An email came back apologising and apparently I should get repaid next week. Any way thats the current situation. I would have put up some resistance but I don't think it would have caused a potential difference. It has however 'ampered my chances of understanding the electrics.

Don't assume Tony Brooks is at fault. Its the college, sorry University, not him. Apparently not enough takers for the course.

Shopping, camping, and plans for a musical cruise

Where can you buy (in one shop) a 5 litre tin of bitumen paint for £8-65 to touch up your boat blacking, a local hand made pork pie, a bottle of good beer for a quid (or a choice of real ciders), a kitchen baster (£1) for sucking oil out of the drip tray under the engine, and then get 6p off a litre of diesel? Before you cast off and steer your boat in that direction I'd better add that it's a long way from a navigable waterway :-( In fact its Harry Tuffins supermarket in Craven Arms Shropshire. A real Aladdin's cave. When you come round into the next aisle, you never know if it'll be plums, chicken feed or water pistols on the shelf! We love it.

We've just been camping at our favourite camping and walking site at Little Stretton, a brilliant shady spot in this hot weather, right next to a cooling stream, and with spectacular scenery in almost every direction you could walk.

The trek to the shops in nearby Church Stretton is a bit arduous though as you can see here.

Church Stretton

Back on Herbie later this week, assuming there is enough water in the Slough Arm for us to move! We're having an overnighter with our occasional band "PRANK" (Pete, Rob And Neil & Kath - geddit?). Taking our instruments (bouzouki - Pete, bodhran - Rob, mandola, guitar and Scottish smallpipes - Neil and hammered dulcimer - Kath. If things go normally, we'll play a few tunes / songs and then have a beer break and then forget to start playing again. Must remember to take the camera so I can prove it happened.

I'm also keen to fix up my new roof box ends that I have made so as to give the box a pitched roof, and to display my freshly painted mop, boat hook and broom in Herbie colours. If I'm not careful, the roof will end up looking smart (not till I've de-rusted and repainted though.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Camping in a gale

When we bought Herbie, we decided not to give up our summer camping breaks at some of our favourite spots. One of these is the Warren at Folkestone where we have just spent the weekend in our trusty Dandy camper (now in its eleventh year and good for another twenty). The warren camp site is right above the beach and is surrounded by really abundant plant and animal life. What's more on a clear night you can see firework displays in France!

Our Dandy at Scotlands Farm near home.

Despite the hot weather, the nights were really windy and on Saturday night we had the strongest gale we have camped in for many a year. Although our position was very sheltered a nearby tent had poles broken and we could hear people hammering in guy line pegs well into the night. However it didn't come anywhere near our experience in the Towersey festival hurricane in (was it?) 1986. The morning after that we were one of only a dozen tents standing out of a couple of hundred!

I hope it was more sheltered where Herbie is moored!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

1. Nearly stranded 2. A Close Shave

Last weekend Herbie came close to being stuck. On Sunday we decided to make the most of the hot spell and take the boat out for a couple of days. The short length of canal at High Line yachting where we are moored is now so weedy and shallow that we almost gave up trying to get through. The propeller was getting weeded up in a few seconds and there is so little water under the boat that she hardly is able to move. At one point Kath even resorted to taking to the bank with a rope and acting like the traditional tow horse! In the end we forced a passage and were on our way. Its really only a 50 yard stretch where the problem lies. The trouble is its exactly where we moor!

After cruise down to Tescos at Bulls Bridge for supplies, we headed North through 3 locks and finished up at Denham in a peaceful spot. Lots of wildfowl chicks are now around, many of them growing fast. Here are some cygnets that came to see us. Strange that one of them is white - I thought they didn't go white till next spring.

Now look at the canal in the picture. How wide would you say it was? Well I can tell you its 50 foot and half an inch. I fancied we might just turn Herbie there to save going up to the next official winding hole (turning place). Herbie is 50 ft long and when we were half way round the front was touching the far bank and the back was half an inch from the concrete edge! We would have made a convenient footbridge across the canal! So we got round by the skin of our teeth, much to the amazement of some other boaters nearby. I never seem to remember the camera at such times, maybe we'll do it again soon and get a picture!

This weekend its the boat electrics course at Reading. Maybe I'll be able to make sense of this

or this

We live in hope!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pestered by exotic birds!

You'd think on overnight stops in the countryside you might get woken up by cockerels, but with me its peacocks! There are a couple at our favourite stop at Blackjacks lock on the Grand Union, and some more near Seabrooks locks where we moored for the night. Then went I went up to Nottingham for the boat maintenance course recently I camped overnight, and lo and behold, more of the b*&%#y things. Then, last week we camped at a farm near Newport Pagnell, and sure enough at five in the morning - more peacocks! I'm beginning to think they're following me.

More interestingly at this last place, they also had ostriches. Now they have a noise of their own. The male blows out his neck, rather like a bullfrog, and emits a wierd booming roar. When I approached him (there was a fence between us) he did an amazing dance, weaving his neck back and forth behind his outstretched wings. Not only that his legs and bill turned a blood red. I kept my distance!

Today we're off for a short trip on the boat to take advantage of the fine weather, then at the weekend I'm going to do the other half of the boat maintenance courses. This time the electrics. Lats week I tried to map out the wiring on the boat, but "under the bonnet " its phenomenally complex. All I can hope for I think is to understand what each gubbins does, and how to diagnose which bit is failing if there's a fault.