Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Waterways Protests

You may well have seen reports of the many Save Our Waterways protests that happened over the weekend. We were unable to get out to our nearest one because of Jacob's birthday celebrations, but we were with them in spirit. In case you missed it, its all about the government cutting the grant to British Waterways because DEFRA has been fined £millions by the EC over mishandling of farmer's subsidies. Boaters are afraid that all the good work restoring and maintaining canals in recent years will be undone. We know this only too well, living as we do near the Basigstoke canal which was reopened after many years of volunteer activity (doing all the digging, lock repair etc.), and is now closed off and already slipping back into disrepair because of underfunding. If you want to see the benefit to ordinary folks of waterways development, just look at the transformation of Birmingham's Gas Street area. What was a slum is now a thriving night spot, and bringing in loads of tourist income.

If are sympathetic to the cause you can easily help by signing the electronic petition at the 10 Downing Street website http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/SaveOurWaterways/. You can find our more, at the camapign website www.savourwaterways.org.uk

Nuff said

Friday, November 24, 2006

A reminder of a sticky adventure

This is a picture of Olive, a converted Humber Keel that resides at Cowley on the Grand Union. We pass her every time we go North from our base. A good number of years ago I had the chance of a trip on her, and an interesting trip it was!

Olive is the floating home of a friend (Dave 1) of a friend (Dave 2), and she was due to have her bottom scraped, inspected and blacked. Being such a big boat, it was decided that the best way to get her out of the water was to take down onto the Thames to Isleworth, where she could be floated onto supports which would be exposed at low tide. So that was the plan.

I was recruited, with Dave2 to help through the Locks on the way to the Thames, and invited to do a turn on the tiller on the way. Everything about Olive is huge. To operate the tiller, which was about 8ft long, you couldn't just stand still and move it with your arm, you had to walk side to side across the deck! Getting under bridges was a matter of ducking down low. Dave1 was a bit concerned about the low bridge on the tidal stretch at Brenford, and we knew we had to wait until the tide was right to get through.

All went well until we arrived at our first lock (Norwood top lock on the GU, where we went through on Herbie a few days ago). getting in to the lock was fine, although Olive was about 14ft1 in wide and the lock was only a smidge wider. The water was duly drawn off and Olive descended gracefully to the lower level. Gates open and off we go, - except that we didn't! The lock sides obviously narrowed at some point and Olive was stuck. We tried full power to push her through. No deal.

Dave 1 was getting anxious at this point. His home was jammed in a lock.

We decided to refill the lock, back Olive out at the top, and think what to do next. The problem was that this did no good as Olive was still stuck. A quick phone call to BW was made and an operative appeared shortly. "I know Olive has been through this lock a few years back", he said,"but I think the lock sides have bowed in a bit since. We'll open all the paddles and try and flush her through." So the bottom gates were opened, all the sluices were opened, and a tremendous force of water surged through the lock. Still no joy. Olive was well and truly jammed.

"We'll have to pull her back out at the top" said Mr BW, "I'll go and get a work boat and pull her out. There's one moored just up the way." In only a few minutes he was back on a little blue tug thingy and a big rope. The rope was tied fast to Olive and with a tremendous splashing and churning, the little tug with its big engine strained at the rope. Tighter and tighter it went, until with a loud crack the rope gave way. Had the rope hit any of us at that point it might have killed us, such was the speed at which it flew.

By now we had gathered quite a few onlookers, it being a sunny weekend day. Various suggestions were made, such as taking an angle grinder to the lock wall, or applying a layer of grease to it. Dave 1 was not amused. This was his home we were talking about.

An hour passed, with various attempts at this and that, and a queue of boats was forming, waiting to use the lock. Things were looking desperate. Suddenly, someone said, "I can see her moving", and sure enough, for no explicable reason Olive seemed to have freed herself! Dave 1 was decisive. "Right, "he said, "we're going back home. We'll never get through all these locks. I'll have to have the bottom done somewhere else." Out of the lock we backed, Olive was turned and we set off back towards Cowley, which Dave1 not a happy bunny.

It was now getting very late and when we arrived back at Cowley it was pitch dark. Amazingly we managed to turn Olive and squeeze her into her moorings (which only have inches to spare at either end) by torchlight.

Well, that's the story. Olive's bottom today looks like it has had its clean up, probably in the dry dock at Uxbridge. Dave2 was pleased to see her when we passed her on Herbie last week. Whether she'll ever see the Thames again is anybody's guess.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Five more days afloat

Despite the short days and variable temperatures, the canals are looking lovely at the moment with all their autumn colours. last Friday and Saturday we entertained old friends David and Helen aboard Herbie. On Friday the weather was appalling! Very heavy rain and strong winds too. I got soaked just taking the boat 100 yards up to the boathouse to load up. Needless to say we didn't go far that day, just 2 miles to get out of the Slough arm and 10 more minutes up the Grand Union to a sheltered mooring near Cowley lock. Luckily, Saturday was really sunny and pleasant and we managed to get up to Harefield marina and back before dark.

David showed his skill at the tiller (he is an experienced sailor), executing an immaculate turn into the narrow entrance of the Slough arm on our return. Here he is taking us down towards Uxbridge below Denham lock, the deepest on the GU.

The colours of the hedgerow are stunning in places. Just look at the variety of shades in this short stretch of bank on the Slough Arm.

Having returned our guests to their car, we had just enough time to get Herbie down to the winding hole and back so we would be facing the right way next morning. It was a race against the rapidly failing light. At the winding hole we did our best ever turn, straight round in one go like a handbrake turn. We needed our tunnel light on when we got back to our mooring, but we made it.

Next morning our regular crew mate Pete Higson joined us for a cruise where we planned to break new ground. Up until now we hadn't gone further south on the GU than Bulls Bridge at Hayes. This time we were to go all the way down to Brentford, close to where the canal joins the Thames. Once again our range was constrained by available daylight, so that night we got as far as the Fox pub below the eight lock Hanwell flight. This is an attractive flight of locks, most being less than a hundred yards from the next. They're quite deep too, so by the time you get to the bottom, you've come down quite a hill. Part way down is the famous Three Bridges where the railway, the canal, and the road all cross at the same point (the canal being over the rail and under the road). Vey difficult to get a good photo, but here we are on the canal crossing the railway, with the road immediately above us. I'm not sure what went over the disused bridge you can also see.

The Fox is to be recommended, being just a few yards from the canal, and service as good a pint of Timothy Taylors as you'll get anywhere.

Next morning we carried on down to Brentford, and were all surprised by the countryside feel of it all. Only in the last half mile does London reveal itself with the mighty GlaxoSmithKlein building (the one at the end of the M4) looming over the tree tops.

Eventually we see it from the other side as we approach the basin at Brentford gauging lock. (Pete at the helm here).

The basin would be a good spot to stay for a few days in London - mooring is free for 14 days.

We only stayed a couple of hours. Enough to walk down to Syon Park and to the Thames at Isleworth where the speed of the tidal current looked somewhat alarming to us narrowboaters. We plan to take Herbie through there next year. I guess we'll do it at a gentler stage of the tide.

That evening we returned tpo the Fox for a meal, but they don't do food on Mondays so we walked on to the Viaduct, a splendid Fuller's pub nearby. The influx or Polish workers seems to have at least one beneficial effect here as the waitress (who was excellent) was Polish and there were Polish dishes on the menu. We had Bigos, a Polish hunter's stew containing sausages and pork and cabbage, and it was just the job on a cold night. The beer, being Fullers, was of course pretty good too.

Next day we had to get back to base, and took Herbie up the Hanwell flight in double quick time. The locks were all set in our favour, presumably because the last boat to use them was us on the way down two days earlier. The canal was of course full of leaves at this time of year, and sometimes the water in the locks looked like a thick leaf soup!

Before turning down the Slough arm for home we detoured into Uxbridge to fill up with diesel. At Denham Yatch Basin their it was 45p a litre as against 60p at our boat yard. So as we needed a hundred litres that saved us 15 quid!

Then the short dash for home before dark. On the way we got caught in a hailstorm and it got very very cold standing out at the tiller.

All in all an excellent trip, and we were impressed enough with the Brentford strech to add it to our pleasure cruising repertoire.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

We're certified!

Herbie was retested today by the Boat Safety Examiner and we passed:-). Not without some difficulty I might add. The inspector's manometer kept showing a very slight gas leak, so I had to keep clambering in and out of the very cramped gas locker with a pair of spanners to tighten up the various connections. I was afraid of overtightening, which you can easily do with compression fittings. It took nearly an hour of tightening and testing until she was happy. Anyway we're certified safe now for four more years. All in all it cost £193 for the inspection, retest, certificate and report, and £30 or so for new hose, regulator and compression fittings etc. A good job its not an annual exercise.

Today I did my first trip from home to the boat by public transport (plus a 30 minute walk). It actually takes over ten minutes to (briskly) walk the length of the line of boats at our moorings. I think there are about 70 or 80 boats in all, mostly breasted up in pairs.

Buses are really cheap on this trip. I can get a green line coach from Bracknell to Langley (an hour's ride) for only £2 if I go after 11am. In January, when I turn 60, it'll be free! Getting older has some benefits.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A riveting picture

I couldn't resist taking this photo yesterday when I was at the boatyard. What a fantastic patchwork hull. More interesting than a lot of the new boats with faux" rivets. It's just had the epoxy treatment - very expensive - about two grand I think.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A disappointment, some fireworks, and a recovery.

Curses. I got a phone call to say I still had a small gas leak on the boat when they retested following my fitting of a new regulator and hose. The test pressure was falling over a 5 minute test. So I turned to good old Google for help. Of course it showed I could buy a gas leak tester for 30 quid, but I didn't fancy spending that. Would I be able to fix it anyway if I found it? Then I found out that a fine spray of soapy water on the joints should show up leaks as bubbles. So that was the plan for Sunday.

Saturday night was fireworks, and we went to a free (charity collection) display in Bracknell at the dry ski slope. A good opportunity to try out my new(ish) camera in difficult lighting conditions. I like this shot - it shows skiers holding flares approaching the audience.

I also tried out the camera's video facility and I was amazed by how good it was, including the sound. Sadly, Blogger doesn't support videos, and it takes a lot of bandwidth anyway, so I can't show them to you.

On Sunday it was back out to Herbie to attempt to find and fix the gas leak. The soap solution worked a treat and I immediately found the leak where the pipe union screws into the new regulator. A couple more tweaks of the spanners and it stopped. Now I feel a bit daft that I didn't check it in this way when I put the new regulator on. Oh well, we live and learn.

I also had a go over the boats charging system with the my multimeter. The voltmeters on the dash show different readings for the starter battery charging and the domestic batteries. When the engine is running, they should be the same as they are connected via a relay. I suspected a faulty relay, but the meter showed it to be OK. Anyway I now know the cause. The voltmeters on the dash are giving false readings! One is reading over one volt lower than it ought. So what looks like a faulty charging system isn't.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

An Inspector Calls . . .

Boat Safety inspection this morning and Herbie almost passed. Electrics good, fuel lines / engine good, extinguishers etc good, gas appliances good. However the regulator on the gas bottle was knackered and letting too much pressure through, and the gas hose was out of date (I should have spotted that). Pressure testing also showed a slight gas leak, but I suspect that was the old regulator connection, which looked a bit dodgy. Anyway, I got straight to it and I've already replaced the reg and the hose with shiny new ones and await a recheck of the pressure in order to get the magic safety certificate. I just hope I've done the new connections up tightly enough.

Doing up the "fixed" end of the hose was fun, I had to squat down right inside the gas locker (along with 2 large gas bottles) to get at the connection. That was OK until I tried to get out again and realised I was stuck. Actually I was laughing at the stupidity of it all. Eventually I wriggled free and I'm here to tell the tale!

I general I was pleased, as the inspector said the boat was very professionally fitted out and in good nick.

Today was also the first frost of the season, although our moorings and the canal looked a picture in the autumn sunshine.