Friday, December 28, 2007

Hire boats

Reader Ann mentions in her comment to my recent Taking Stock post, that as an annual holiday hire boater she feels she may be sneered at by true boaters who despise hire boats. Well Ann, it certainly ain't true here.

We had 8 hire holidays before we ever got a boat and I can truthfully say that the hirers we meet up and down the cut are generally a friendly and competent lot. Of the few pain-in-the-backside boaters we have met in the last two years, they have virtually all been boat owners. So you're welcome to share a lock with Herbie any time.

Moved to tears

Following his award of best Guest Crew Member - see a couple of posts back-, my old pal Rick has delivered his acceptance speech, which was so moving that felt that I reproduce it in full below.

I am so happy to be presented with this prestigious award. It is thoroughly deserved because of all the hard work that I have put in over the years.

But this is not just about me:

I would first of all like to thank my mother who brought me into this world, and taught me that nothing should be wasted – if you have twelve old cookers in the back yard then you can always make one good one from the parts.

I must also thank Mr Wheelwright, my woodwork teacher who taught me the important lesson that you should measure once and cut twice.

And then there is my daughter Vicky who toiled selflessly to find jobs for me in her house so that I could hone my handicraft skills.

And of course, there’s my wife Marylin who stuck by me through thick and thin and has accompanied me on many boat trips with only the slightest complaint.

There is also Peter John Alain del Strother who instilled in me my love of boats, mainly by capsizing his dinghy with me in it.

It is easy to have grand schemes, but not so easy to make every part of them work, so I must thank Martin Bryce for showing me the importance of atenttion to detail.
(Sob Sob)

I must mention two people who sadly I never met, but who had a great influence on my career. The first is James Brindley without whose pioneering work on canals none of this would be possible. The second is Mr Tab Qwerty whose brilliant invention of the keyboard made what it is today.
(Sob Sob Sob)

And last, but by no means least, my heartfelt thanks to Neil and Kath for persisting with me when all was going wrong; and most of all for pretending to enjoy having me on board Herbie when this was obviously not the case.
(Sob Sob Sob Sob)

I love you all.
(Floods of tears, rapturous applause, exit stage left)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Taking stock, and the million quid photo card

The end of the year approaches and I look at how we're doing, dear reader. You and me that is.

The stats log tells me I've had 3600 visits to the blog since I accidentally reset the counter, plus about 700 before it was reset plus and an estimated 350 before I started counting. So that's about 4750 visits in 22 months. Wow! Mind you the stats counter also tells me that a goodly proportion of visitors arrive cruelly misdirected by Google, whether they be trainee dentists researching into root canal fillings, or children researching films about clever Volkswagens.

Others arrive via links on other waterways blogs, most notably from Andrew Denny's brilliant Granny Buttons blog which exists largely to alert us all to good waterways related stuff on the web, although you can also marvel at his great night photography skills and empathise with his anguish over occasional mishaps such as his disastrous diesel leak which soaked the internal floor of his boat with the stuff. Top blog.

I started off this blog just to let friends have a look at pics of the boat, but having met a few people who actually claim to be regular readers (some of them total strangers!) I feel motivated to keep going. You of course are free to come and go as you wish. All I can say is I'll try to find interesting stuff to write about rather than just "got up, moved on a bit, stopped, went to bed".

In the coming year I hope to be able to report on the great Herbie roof repaint, trips up the Thames and some of its tributaries, and blissful days in warm sunshine. More pictures too of course. I just got a new 1 Gb XD card for my digital camera so I'll have no excuses not to take pictures. In the early to mid 1980's when I was in charge of a large IT project we bought a load of state of the art microcomputers. We could buy extra memory for them at £1,000 for a megabyte. That would make my XD card cost a million quid!! Actually it cost £17 a couple of weeks ago.


A Merry Christmas to both my readers. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Honoured guest

Its time for one of the most prestigious of the Herbie Awards, the Best Guest Crew Member.

This years award goes to someone who:

  • Is an avid reader of this blog
  • Endured several days cruising in torrential rain and kept smiling
  • Emptied our 200 gallon water tank by leaving a tap running
  • Retrieved the broken off drain nut screw from our gas heater
  • Cracked our old boat pole
  • Made us a smart new steerers seat
  • Drilled out the broken off screws from the water tank cover
  • Enjoyed a few good pints with us at a few good pubs
  • Generally made us laugh
  • Supplied and sponsored (along with the long suffering Mrs Bunnage) our new Herbie team strip
  • Provided his hosts with tea in bed in the morning

It is of course Mr Rick Bunnage (loud applause) . A smart certificate will be winging its way to Rick in the new year. Meanwhile here are a couple of photographs to complete his embarrassment.

1. Steering us across the Ouse Aqueduct (May)

2. Demonstrating the new steerers seat (October)

3. Helping with the washing up! (is there no end to his talents?) (January)

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Poor old Herbie sits unused and unvisited lately. We've been too busy with getting ready for Christmas and the weather hasn't been good for boating with all the ice on the water. Narrowboats will push through thin ice, but often at the expense of the blacking at the water line.

I'm really glad I changed the engine anti freeze recently, but I'm always a bit nervous about the domestic water pipes even though I turned off the main cock and opened the taps before we left last time. Realistically though, the pipes (which are plastic and can expand a bit) are all inside the boat's insulation layer and are also at least a foot below the water line so I reckon the likelihood of them freezing is not high. Let's hope I don't have to eat my words in a future post!

A trip out in Herbie with friends is planned in a couple of weeks time. Sadly we won't be able to cruise down to the Fox at Hanwell (an ideal short overnight trip) because the locks are closed for repairs.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Best shop near the canal

Time for another Herbie Award for 2007. Best shop near the canal, i.e. within a couple of minutes stroll. What makes an award winner here? Well, chain stores won't win it that's for sure. I'm looking for shops with a bit of character, with great personal service, and that you can't find just anywhere. Shops that sell the things others don't bother with. The contenders for this year are:

1. The lockside shop at Denham Deep Lock on the GU. Hidden at the back of the lock cottage where you can not only get an ice cream, but also lovely home made jams and chutneys.

2. Tradline Fenders at Braunston. They sell every kind of rope, shackle, cleat, pulley etc etc you can think of. They'll splice eyes on ropes while you wait and dispense all kinds of advice. We got good service and a bargain set of centre ropes. I feare thoug that they are not fully eligible because we went there by car, not on Herbie.

3. The ironmongers (I've forgotten their name) in Fenny Stratford. Not only have they got everything you can think of in ther hardware line, but they are really helpful and jolly with it. "Mops, have I got mops? I've got more mops than you can shake a stick at. What do you want 12oz head or 8oz head? Shall I fit a handle on for you? . . . " Screws, nuts bolts, taps, dies, the lot, and all come singly, no having to buy pre-packs. If you want one 6mm stainless screw, you can have one - for a few pence.

4. Uxbridge Boat Services -chandlery - because you can moor outside and they seem to have three sorts of everything

5. Camden market - hundreds of shops really, but all individual, amazing stuff, and very friendly. You can moor up 50 yards away.

And the winner is . . . .roll of drums . . . .

The ironmongers. An old fashioned shop with good old fashioned service. Not many of 'em left!

When I can remember their name, I'll post it here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Most Coveted Boat

Its time to decide upon and announce the Herbie Award for the Most Coveted Boat seen this year. A hard one this.
What do we covet in a nice boat?

Lots of home comforts like microwaves and dishwashers? - NO
Poshness?- NO
Bare bones traditionality? - not really -our boat carries people, not coal.
Fancy paintwork? NO, not if overdone

Smart paintwork -YES _ like grey with black trim best of all.
Comfortable accommodation - YES
A nice sounding engine -YES
Character - YES YES
Good lines - low profile, nice shaped bow

So what have we seen that fits the bill?

Albion Mills - a 47ft(?) tug that moors at Cowroast. I think it has a Gardner engine (chug chug). Grey and black, lovely lines. Living space a bit confined I suppose

The Old Bovine, belonging to our friends Ray and Leon - looks traddy but isn't. Immaculate paintwork. Smart and cosy within.

Saul, a tug style boat built I think by WE Davies. We moored next to her in September. Black and grey, chug chug engine, lovely lines, spacious accommodation (if you don’t mind a double bed squeezed under the big (enough to be a patio) foredeck.

Farnworth - a Liverpool short boat I think. Wide beam. Gaily, but smartly painted. Moored at Rickmansworth. Has had a very 20th century conversion to a liveboard so wouldn't delight a taditionalist. If wanted to live aboard but not move much it would do me.

Sadly, we don't have photos of all of them. If we see them next year I'll rectify that.
And the winner is . . . Saul (in spite of the faux rivets!). If it were for sale, and I could afford it, that's the boat for me.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Carpathia sails again

No, not the RMS Carpathia that rescued 705 survivors from the Titanic, but this very unusual narrowboat built by John White. She has been hanging around our boatyard for some time , and at the weekend we met her new owner and he showed us over the boat.

Obviously the raised cabin / wheelhouse is the novel feature. It has two single "dinettes" that convert into bunks, and of course a steering wheel and control panel so the steerer can keep warm and dry in all weathers. It also has a conventional tiller on the rear deck. Down below it is er, cosy. A small sitting area, a normalish galley and bathroom and a fixed double bed at the front. No front doors. Considering her length at 42 feet (I think), she makes good use of space. She has no heating stove but radiators warmed by an Eberspacher diesel heater.

She has taken a while to sell, because I would think most narrowboaters prefer something more conventional. Her new owner will be living aboard and continuously cruising. He admitted to us that he has never been through a canal lock!! Quite how he will manage solo I can't imagine. The learning curve is going to be pretty steep to say the least. Well, I wish him luck.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The wind howls like a banshee ghost but inside we are warm as toast

Just back from a pleasant break aboard Herbie, although we went nowhere. Didn't even untie her from the mooring. The first two days we each had a medical appointment nearby and the last two days the weather was spectacularly awful. On Sunday there was the customary fishing match on the opposite bank and the poor anglers were battling with heavy downpours and tremendous gusts of wind. Their umbrellas were up and down like yo-yos. Give them their due though, they stuck it out until the final whistle.

Herbie keeps lovely and warm with the wood stove on, especially when, for the winter, we install the secondary double glazing made by Roy, her previous owner. Each window has a close fitting interior frame "glazed" with strong transparent plastic. They are made so precisely that each is a push fit into its window, and held in place by little retaining tabs. The biggest benefit is the virtual elimination of condensation along with the inevitable reduction in heat loss.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A lesson in boat handling

I'm useless at steering Herbie in reverse. So much so that we take her 25 minutes each way to the nearest winding hole and back to turn her round rather than back up 200 yards to do it at the boatyard slipway.

Ever since I first went to Portsmouth 40 years ago, I've been astounded by how the big ships can manoeuvre. I know they have bow thrusters and all sorts, but it still amazes me. At the weekend we saw this huge cross channel ferry spin on the spot and back up to her berth without any assistance from tugs. Probably all from a tiny joystick on the bridge control panel. ou can see the slick of smooth water where it has spun.Incidentally this ship carries 700 cars and can get them all off and take on 700 more and be ready to leave again in ninety minutes! It takes us that long to load a few bags on to Herbie and turn her round!
However this banana boat , ("day-oh, day-oh" I hear you sing) . . . took three tugs to do a similar manoeuvre. Slippy things bananas. I notice it is registered in Monrovia, not noted I think for its bananas. Presumably a flag of convenience so they can get round some maritime rule or other.

Visiting an old lady

Herbie rests on her moorings waiting for next weekend when we move aboard for a few days and a short trip out. Meanwhile, we've been using up the last of our season ticket to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. What a great place. Yesterday we did tours of HMS Warrior, HMS Victory (again) and the harbour - by boat.

HMS Warrior built in 1860 is an amazing ship. The first iron clad steam powered (and with sails too) battleship. In its day it was completely revolutionary and so advanced that nothing else dare come near it. Twice as fast as other ships, much bigger, lots more cannons including breech loaders firing explosive shells, and strongly armoured against cannonball attack. She never fired a shot in anger, never needed to, as she was such a deterrent. Now she has been restored so well that she looks virtually new, at a cost (to wealthy donors) of £8m and taking 8 years.

If you like boats, you couldn't fail to like Warrior. Everything about her is stunning. The vast stretches of teak deck planking (from recycled factory floors!),

the ships wheel taking up to sixteen men to hold her steady in rough seas, the endless banks of heavy cannon,

the posh paintwork. Best of all is her restored condition, which is immaculate. Just look at this ceremonial cannon.

While the stars of the show at the dockyard are obviously the Victory and the Mary Rose, Warrior is every bit as impressive, although I admit that the sense of history you get aboard the Victory is un-matchable.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Best eat - dead heat

Controversy reigns in our household. We can't agree on the best pub meal this year - see nominations a couple of posts ago. We even had a late nomination! So the joint winners are:

Pork spare ribs at the Anglers Retreat Marsworth - a veritable mountain of the meatiest ribs you ever saw (they must have a good butcher) often with a spicy tang. A stack of serviettes and a big bowl of lemon water comes with it and you need 'em. Accompanied of course by the Angler's regular local brew - Sidepocket for a Toad, from Tring Brewery.

Bavette beef steaks with tarragon butter and real chips at the Fox, Hanwell. Washed down with Herbie award winning best pint - Timothy Taylors Landlord.

Real British pub grub at its finest.

Our next award category is Most Coveted Boat Seen - stay tuned

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Cormorant-rant

We don't bat an eyelid at seeing a cormorant on the cut these days. We've even seen them in Paddington basin. But did you know that this bird, a protected species, has increased its population so much that in large areas of East Anglia it has had a disastrous effect on the ecosystem of the rivers and waterways. Apparently they have devoured so many fish, that the once ubiquitous roach can scarcely be found in that part of the country. The other predators, pike, perch, herons don't get a look in because the cormorant is such an efficient and hungry fish catcher.

I'm told that the RSPB is oblivious to requests to take steps to limit the spread of the cormorant. I suppose they like to watch birds (as I do) but can't be bothered about the rest of the ecosystem. Well, all I can say is I'm not impressed!

Nominations for Best Pub Meal

What makes a good pub meal? Well in my view the criteria are

Real food - actually prepared on the premises
Fresh produce - especially vegetables where appropriate
Served hot - its surprising how often food is served just warm, a sign of microwaving sometimes
Flavour of course
A fair price
Good service

We're not after gastronomy here, just real good food. One more thing, we're talking only of pubs on or very near the canal, and of meals we have eaten this year.

So Herbie's shortlist for 2007 is:

1. Any selection from the Thai restaurant at the Cowroast Inn, at Cowroast - brilliant service, real tasty food and good portions
2. Pies and Sunday roasts at the Anglers Retreat, Marsworth - real home cooking and usually with at least seven different vegetables and proper gravy
3. Steak with tarragon butter at the Fox, Hanwell - just about perfect. An unusual cut of steak I can't recall the name of.
4. Stilton Cheeseburgers at The Paper Mill, Apsley - real home made stuff, meaty and powerful

Not haute quisine is it? After a day's boating you want feeding up with nourishing and tasty food. Believe me all the above are very good indeed.

A special mention goes to the Viaduct at Hanwell, not included because they are 10 minutes walk from the canal, but their Bigos - a Polish hunter's stew - is delicious.

They all deserve to win in their own way, but only one gets the prize. Watch this space while I have a think and consult the crew.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Leaves leaves and more leaves

Everytime I go out to see Herbie I have to sweep a load of leaves off the decks and roof. Oak, mostly at the moment. The canal seems full of them too. They seem to get sucked on to the propeller and ruin its efficiency so you have to put it in reverse every so often to clear the leaves away and suddenly the boat goes a lot better.

Anyway, looking at the trees next to our mooring we've hardly started. Tons more yet to fall.

Nevertheless, the canal looks pretty in autumn and I love the light and even the smoke from the boat chimneys.
This autumn I've started using the tonneau cover that came with the boat. (That's the sinking sun you can see over the top of lady Elgar's cratch.) It keeps the leaves and rain off the rear deck. Last year I used to keep the pram hood up. It makes a good barrier against the cold getting in the back door overnight though. Even in the snow we kept warm. Kath hates it as we tend to leave it folded on the roof as we cruise - not very boaty. The tonneau can be taken off in a jiffy and easily folds into a locker.

Lucky for once

You know how simple jobs often turn out to be right pigs because something won't quite fit or quite reach. Well yesterday I had the opposite experience really. When I ordered my new domestic batteries I forgot to remember that batteries come right or left handed, that is to say the positive terminal can be at one side or the other.

As it happens, they gave me two right handed and one left handed without me noticing. When I came to fit them on the boat, that's just what I needed. I can't get them all in in a nice straight line so they have to be at right angles to each other. The connecting leads have very little slack, so had the batteries been the other way round things would have been very hard. Anyway they weren't and it wasn't. Job's a good 'un.

Then to add to the good luck, just as I was unloading the old batteries into a wheel barrow, not relishing the long push back to the car, Steve from the boatyard came by in his little tractor and trailer and said "I'll get rid of them for you if you want" Nice guy Steve.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More power to Herbie's elbow

OK, I admit it. Herbie doesn't have an elbow, unless some bright spark tells me a part of the hull is called an elbow. I know the internal bracing has knees. Anyway, enough of that and on to the power bit.

Yesterday I bought three new domestic power batteries, so today I'm going to replace the old ones which are knackered. These days I never do anything technical without seeking advice on internet forums, so I researched batteries. You can buy carbon fibre ones, gel batteries etc etc and prices for a typical capacity vary from £60 odd to £200 plus per battery. Interestingly the advice from trusted sources is that unless you can ALWAYS recharge batteries to 100% soon after use, the dear ones will not last much longer than the cheap ones, so long as you keep the cheap ones pretty well recharged and never let them fall below 50% when discharging. With my trusty Fluke multimeter I can monitor that easily so I got cheap ones. Well, when I say cheap, £210 for three 110amp hr batteries.

So today we're off out in the freezing cold to fit them. Let's hope I don't drop them in the cut as we carry them across Lady Elgar next door!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Egrets, I've see a few but then again too few to mention

One waterway that is definately unnavigable is the river Blackwater, which is a tributary of a tributary of the Thames. It rises somewhere near Farnborough Hants and rarely achieves a depth of more than two and a half feet. Last Friday I took a stroll along the upper reaches and was startled to see a little egret. These mediterranean birds looking like a small white heron have been seen along the south coast in recent years, but this was near Camberley! How soon before we see them on the canals?

The walk took an even more eventful turn just a bit later when I struggled past a bankside barbed wire fence and slid unceremoniously into the river. But like I said, the Blackwater has no depth and although a I got a wet foot, my knees never got wet :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

After some debate, a Best Pub Winner

How hard was that? We've been debating the relative merits of our final two choices for our favourite pub from this years cruising- the Angler's Retreat at Marsworth and the Fox at Hanwell . Very close it was too

And the Herbie award goes to . . . (opens gold envelope, smiles) .. The Angler's Retreat. Because they do food all day every day, which the Fox does not, and they have a nicer garden, and the surroundings are the more interesting. having said that the Fox gets a Highly Commended.

However, the Fox get's its own back as the pub which served the best pint - Timothy Taylors Landlord - a good pint anywhere, but served to perfection in the Fox.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Catching water

What might be a simple job on a car engine can become a real swine on a boat. Today I drained down the engine coolant and refilled with fesh antifreeze mixture. Just a matter of draining the water off from the bottom and refilling from the top. Except that in a boat engine compartment, the bottom of the "radiator" or the skin cooling tank is actually right on the floor of the boat, so there is no nice spot for the water to "fall" into for a receptacle. No drain tap either so you have to undo a hose. Then how do you catch over four gallons of water gushing from a hose in a very confined space? Answer: with great difficulty.

I use an oil drain can with a hole in the side. But one small enough to get into the space would only hold 6 litres so as it filled I had periodically to somehow stem the flow, without a tap remember, and decant the drain can into a larger receptacle. About 6 times including a bit of flushing.

Actually I was quite pleased in the end that only about two or three pints spilt over into the bilge - easily mopped up with a sawn off plastic milk bottle.

Refilling was straighforward enough, helped by a bleed tap on top of the "radiator" to let off trapped air. Whether I have still got any air locks. I probably won't find out till we next cruise for half an hour.

Cost: nearly 30 quid's worth of antifreeze - supposed to last 5 years.

I just got a quote for three new domestic batteries - £69 each. That's the cheapest I can find. It appears that the rising cost of lead has pushed them up. You could get them for about £55 a few months back.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Herbie Awards - now some major categories

Now we come to two major awards from this years cruising - Best Pub and Best Pint.

To be a best pub, it would have to have the following attributes

Good location on or near the canal
Good real ale, well kept and served
Friendly atmosphere
Good food reasonably priced
Comfortable and preferably interesting interior

it would also help if it had a nice garden or patio.

We have quite a few nominations in this category which are arranged here north to south

  1. The Nag's Head at Great Linford - just across the park from the visitor moorings. A decent pint and very reasonable food.
  2. The Globe at Old Linslade - canalside with good moorings right outside the pub door, nice (but pricey) food, a cosy bar, and decent beer. They brought our lunch out to the boat!
  3. The Anglers Retreat - near the canal at our award winning best mooring spot, really good home cooked food and superb beer, and a garden. Not the most inspiring interior decor I suppose. Chatty locals
  4. The Paper Mill at Apsley - a modern Fullers Pub in a converted paper mill. Canalside, lots of comfortable seating inside and out. Friendly efficient staff. Very tasty food asnd perfectly kept beer. Perhaps not a good place to chat to locals as it is so big.
  5. The Black Horse at Greenford - canalside Fullers pub. Similar food to the paper Mill, a good garden, comfy areas inside, well kept beer friendly staff and locals - and a Thursday night quiz.
  6. The Fox at Hanwell - hidden from the canal but only 50 yards from excellent moorings. Wonderful beer and very good food. Friendly locals, but one or two nutters! A traditional feel although in a single open plan bar.

Well, those are they. All fine pubs, but which one takes the prize? Results when I have consulted the crew.

The best pint? Aaah, we've done some very serious research on this. There were many fine examples including all the Fullers beers at the Paper Mill and the Black Horse, but there were two which stand head and shoulders over the rest. The Timothy Taylors Landlord at the Fox, and the Tring Sidepocket at the Angler's Retreat. What a tough decision. We'll sleep on it.

I have to say the worst pint was the non existant one at the Fishery - Hemel Hempstead. Three hand pumps, all empty and the staff seemed surprised we cared. We caught a train back to the Paper Mill.

Getting ready for winter

Time to get the boat ready for winter. Drain the engine coolant and replace with fresh antifreeze, fill the diesel tank and put some fuel set in it to prevent condensing water getting in it etc. Its a good time to do it now while the weather is nice and the real cold hasn't come in yet. If it gets very cold, I'll also drain the domestic plumbing. I found out this was quite easy earlier this year when I had to fix the leak in the water pump. I'm also going to replace the domestic batteries which are on their last legs. If I don't report on the blog that I've got it done by this time next week you can write me a slap on the wrist!

I must also book High Line Yachting's wet dock at Cowley Peachey so we can get Herbie in there for a week and strip and repaint the roof. I was pleasantly surprised to find out their rates were cheaper than I imagined. About £160 for a week. Not bad considering its a nice heated secure indoor dock and you have 24hr access. There's quite a lot to plan in advance though. Book hire tools, choose and buy paint and consumables, get some safety gloves and goggles, get the loan of a transformer for the 110v power tools, try to fit in the when friends can help :-). It might have to be after Christmas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Herbie Awards first results

If you read a few posts back, you'll come to my categories for the Herbie annual awards.

After some consultation we're plaeased to announce the result for Best Overnight Mooring (remember this is just based on where we have been this year). And the winner is (long pause for dramatic effect) - Alonsgide Startops reservoir at Marsworth. Why? Sheltered, tidy, good views from the top of the adjacent bank, abundant wildlife, lots of good local walks, a number of good pubs in walking distance (including the brilliant Anglers Retreat), a boaty atmosphere, and a friendly mooring warden (Hazel). Its a long walk to the shops in Tring, but a pleasant one, and there you can even buy big cans of draught beer from the wonderful Tring Brewery. Well done Marsworth.

Our next category is Most Scenic Day's Cruise. Not a lot of nominations for this. Our bit of the GU has lots of pretty bits, (Denham to Harefield, Cassiobury park to Lady Capel's, Tring cutting, Marsworth flight, )but perhaps not a whole day's worth of prettiness in one go. So we have one real nomination and hence an automatic winner. It is ,Da tada da tada daaah - Ivinghoe to Fenny Stratford.

Alright there is Leighton Buzzard in the middle, but even that is quite nice on the water. The rest of the stretch is lush pasture land with pretty villages lying half a mile back from the canal. There are lovely views over towards Whipsnade and winding streams alongside the waterway. A fine example of the English countryside and always a pleasure to cruise.

London again

We've visited London more since we've had Herbie than we ever did before. Well, its an easy days cruise. No locks. On Staurday we went in to Camden to pick up Jacob and his "auntie" Lizzie who had been spending the afternoon at the Star Wars Exhibition at County Hall.

Very few boats were on the move. We had no trouble getting an overnight mooring at Paddington and there were a few spaces at Little Venice too and plenty at Kensal Green. However a lot of the other visitor moorings further east are now given over to booked winter moorings.

On the way into Paddington basin the alternator charge light came on and half the gauges switched off. Aargh!! I feared an alternator fault as the fan belt was intact. Luckily Mike whatisname, the boat engineer from Uxbridge was moored nearby so I asked him to come and take a look. His diagnosis was a short within one of the domestic batteries as they are now on their last legs. "Probably blown the voltage regulator but you'll get home alright. Get some new batteries asap."

Well things weren't quite so bad because when I started the engine again everything seemed to be working and the charge light went out. It might have been a dodgy earth on the alternator - was the other idea. A bit of wire waggling may have done it. We got home on Sunday without further incident.

Anyway I'm getting new batteries real soon and putting a better crimp on the earth cable. We live and learn!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Some you win, some you lose

No, I'm not referring to the sports results last weekend, but to Herbie jobs. We popped out to her on Sunday to try out the new/ prototype steerers seat which Rick had made to fit on the sides of the rear deck. As you can see it fitted well and worked well. (modelled below by Rick).

It clips on in a second, stays put and offers a nice high seating position on either side of the boat. No more sore bums sitting on the narrow top rail.

Flushed with success I then went inside to drain the water heater in case of hard frosts while we're away from the boat. Just a matter of taking out a drain pug, allowing the trapped water to escape and then replacing the plug. Easy. Except I overtightened it and the plug head sheared off. Luckily I had my secret weapon to hand. Rick. Patiently he cut a groove in the broken stub and managed to unscrew it.

The maestro at work.

Now I just need a new plug. It looks like a brass screw will do it if I can get the right size. Looking on the web I find I could buy a new plug , but they're nearly nine quid! Outrageous for a tiny brass screw with a big head and a tiny plastic washer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Superbrain fails to rescue quiz team

We strolled up the hill to our local pub last night to have a try at their quiz. We haven't been in there for years and we were delighted to bump into our old pal Robin. Robin is an experienced IT consultant who has worked all over Europe, is a proficient musician and has a PhD in astrophysics from Trinity college Cambridge. We lost no time in bribing him into our team with pints of ale.

Sadly, the quiz master had neglected to include any astrophysics questions, and I am sorry to report that Robin's knowledge of the works of Brittney Spears and the cast of Emmerdale was less than adequate. We came 4th out of 5 teams.

The Inquisition

Excitement in the mail today. I have been specially selected (well, randomly chosen along with thousands of others actually) to participate in British Waterways' Annual Boaters Survey. Which means filling in a form.

In my working days I designed many a questionnaire and I know how hard it is to construct one which allows the respondent to get across their point of view. So BW, I forgive you. Nevertheless it is a bit frustrating. For a start I am asked to choose one of a number of cruising areas on which to comment, and of course a boundary between two cuts right through the middle of where we cruise. So we get to comment on half of our journeys in an area we only use half of.

Questions such as what is your typical crew number are impossible to answer. We have anything between two and five. How many locks do you do in a typical day - well none if we go to Paddington, or perhaps twenty odd if we go from Bulbourne to Aylesbury. How many miles in a day? Depends how many locks doesn't it. I just dreamt up some averages.

I chose to comment on the greater London area which is where we have most to grumble about. The other option for us would have been the Grand Union north of Watford which to my mind is pretty good as far as we reach and unknown beyond that.

In general I am not one of the folks who perpetually gripe about BW. They have a huge task and much of the network is very well maintained. So what were my grumbles.
  1. Too many boats moored bankside between Cowley and Rickmansworth. You have to cruise for miles at very slow speed. It wouldn't be so bad if less of them were illegally moored!
  2. No dredging or weed clearance in the Slough arm
  3. Proliferation of submerged plastic bags between Bulls Bridge and Hanwell. About one every yard I reckon..
  4. Infrequent clearance of floating rubbish below Hanwell- especially at Osterley where it all gathers like a huge log jam and bars entrance to the lock.
  5. Poor provision of recycling facilities.
  6. Overstayers on key moorings eg Camden

However on the positive side I was able to indicate (through tick boxes) that other facilities such as sanitary stations, boatyards, water points etc were sufficient, although not regularly enough cleared / maintained and that the BW waterside staff were unfailingly polite pleasant and helpful, if a little slow. Towpaths were generally good as was the condition of the banks (Slough arm excluded).

Well, I've done my bit, and I may even get lucky in the draw for a free years licence.

Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Herbie Awards

With the nights drawing in, I spend more of the evenings idly planning future cruises and contemplating the highlights and low points of this year so far. So I reckon it'll soon be time for the Herbie annual awards. When I say annual, I don't imply I ever gave awards before, but I might do again next year.

The categories (all relating to cruising we have done in 2007):

Best overnight mooring spot
Most scenically attractive days cruise
Best pub
Best pint
Best pub meal
Most coveted boat seen
Best shop near the canal
Best guest crew member
Most scary moment
Worst canal lock
Worst day's cruise

Quite a challenge. My mind is already buzzing with nominations. Its all too much to cope with in one go so I've decided to do it bit by bit between now and Christmas. That way, the blog will be a regular series of glittering occasions (or possibly not).

Just to get us started, the nominations for Best Overnight Mooring Spot are:

  1. Alongside the reservoir near the foot of the Marsworth flight - sheltered, lots of bird life, near a favourite pub, mind blowing views over the reservoirs at sunset.

  2. Great Linford, alongside the park - good views over the park, undisturbed, good pub within sight

  3. Paddington basin - secure, ideal spot as a base for enjoying the capital

  4. Fenny Stratford - dunno why, I just like it! Didn't even take a photo! Handy for shops, good fishing.

I'll announce the winner after consultation with crew members (who may also like to make nominations in other categories).

Monday, October 08, 2007

New neighbours

I'm pleased to say that Lady Elgar, the boat against which we moor at Iver has new owners. Not that I had anything against the previous owner except that he hardly ever used, or even visited, the boat. Lady Elgar is far too nice a boat to be left empty and idle.

Geoff and Laura the new owners will be living aboard and are reportedly getting ready to spruce her up. A good wash will make a world of difference. I'm also pleased that they will be taking her out for a spin soon. Not only good for the boat but also for us, since it will mean that we can moor Herbie against the bank for a couple if weeks and get on with rubbing down and painting the gunwales. Weather permitting of course.

Lady Elgar's original owner Trevor Pavitt has written a book about his exploits with her and his old cruising blog can still be seen here

New owner Geoff also has a blog which you can see here. His photos even give glimpses of Herbie moored against Lady Elgar. There too are pictures of Emblem, the lovely sea going boat he is leaving behind at Chatham.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I've written before of my dislike of cheesy boat names especially when they try in vain to be funny, but I was reminded today of one we saw recently that broke down my resistance. There was a small rowing tender roped to the back of a cruiser on the Grand Union and the little boat's name was I Rowboat (Should you not see the joke, ask a sci fi fan.)

Which also reminds me of my favourite album title. Way back in the 70's at the height of Simon and Garfunkel's fame, a west country folkie called Trevor Crozier issued an album called Trouble over Bridgewater. Now don't you wish you'd thought of that!

Friday, October 05, 2007


Some people keep very little on the roof of their boat, maybe just the gang plank and a pole or two and some rope. Other keep bikes, logs and bags of coal for the stove, TV ariels, pot plants, mops, brooms, buckby cans and general junk. We're somewhere in between, but the roof gets a fair bit of wear and tear and is of course exposed to the sun and all manner of stuff dropping from trees. So we really need to repaint Herbie's top.

The painting is the easy bit, its the unpainting that's the problem. Getting off all the old stuff and rubbing away the dozens of little rust spots. Here you can see where I've rubbed down and treated lots of little spots. (Picture taken as we cruised through Little Venice)
They'll all have to be done again because I wasn't able to get them overpainted quickly enough. Unless you get back to the bare metal and treat any rust before the applying primer, the undercoats and the top coats of paint, then you're wasting your time. The question is, how do you get it all off in a reasonable time? (We're talking about 250 square feet on Herbie).

I've been doing some research. Chemicals are out because of the environmental damage of washing them off into the canal. The commonly used belt sander doesn't appeal because it takes forever and clogs up the abrasive paper in no time. People who have done it this way claim to have used a mountain of the paper.

The best options seem to be heavyish industrial kit, either a needle gun which jabs at the paint with a bunch of spikes, or a scabbler which rasps it off at high speed. I can hire either of these by the day locally, so that's easy. However, because they are used on building sites etc, they are restricted by Health and Safety rules to running off either compressed air or 110 volt power supplies. No good off the boat's power then. I can get the loan of a 110v transformer though.

Then there's the problem of the weather. Once the bare metal is exposed it needs treating and painting at least as far as the undercoat before it might rain. This takes two or three days at best. So the best answer (if you can afford it) is to do it indoors by hiring a wet dock for a few days, which is probably what we'll do. Actually, the best answer if you can afford it, is to pay someone else to do it!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Burning wood

Its October and the nights are drawing in. Not that this will deter us from boating as long as we have wood and coal for the stove. We have a nice supply of oak which we cadged from Bulbourne dry dock as we were passing in the summer. They were about to burn a load of offcuts, so Kath, never one to pass up a freebie, spoke nicely to the man and he gave us a huge stack. According to an old rhyme quoted in *Ray Mears' excellent Bushcraft book "oak logs will warm you well, if they're old and dry". I heard another old poem rhyming oak with smoke - lets hope that's wrong.

What we also have is a stack of cherry logs from a trunk which I save from the woodchip machine when the local council were felling surplus trees by the roadside. According to Ray's rhyme "cherry logs across the dogs smell like flowers in bloom". I can hardly wait.

What we really look out for is Ash.

Ash logs, all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old
Buy up all that come your way.
They're worth their weight in gold.

*If ever I get on Desert Island Discs, I want Ray Mears for my one luxury item.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ladder safety

They say you should have someone holding the bottom of a ladder when you are up it. I hope this isn't the case here!

You have to admire the guy's ingenuity - and agility. It looks like he'd climbed out of the nearby window. Kath took the pic as we passed by last week on the Paddington arm somewhere near Queen's Park

Monday, September 24, 2007

Splash and grab

"What's gravel boat Colne up to here?" you may ask. Using our powers of deduction, and some previous knowledge, we worked it out.

On the way through Uxbridge lock last week we met Colne's sister boat Frays and her driver told us Colne had been broken into the previous night on her mooring at Cowley. Thieves had taken thousands of pounds worth of gear from the cab, including the stereo (well, they're comfortably appointed) and the water pump. The pump is used to fill and empty the ballast tanks which keep the barge stable when it's empty of gravel.

So it was easy to guess what Colne was up to. Trying to fill the tank with grabs full of water. It looked a pretty desperate effort. Most of the water leaked out before the grab could be manoeuvred over the tank, and then half of it missed! I can't imagine how they get all the water out again when they get to Denham where they take on the gravel. I suppose they might just drop the gravel in and displace the water.

Herbie goes to town

We've just been up to London and back with Herbie (and Rick and Marilyn). Despite a poor forecast the weather was mostly fine, which only goes to show you shouldn't be put off by the weather boys. Rick never seems to arrive without a gift for Herbie. This time it was a pair of crew polo shirts. I'm not sure where they score on the twee-ometer but they're fun, and they fit!

Over the trip, Marilyn did most of the driving as she'd got a bit nervous of it in recent years so a boost in confidence was required. We're happy to say she did brilliantly and she was awarded the Herbie certificate of competence at the end.

On the way in to London, we overnighted at the Black Horse at Greenford to have a go at their Thursday quiz and to have a meal. The food and beer is very good there, but the quiz was a bit too full of popular culture for our tastes. We're not very good a recognising photos of soap stars or listing chart bands from Sheffield!

Next day we were hoping to moor at Camden but the few places were full up. Nevertheless the 4 hour shopping berth was empty so we used that to visit the market. This time we remembered not to eat before going in so that we could enjoy some of the the amazing variety of ethnic foods you can get there. I had a lamb tagine from a Moroccan stall. Rick was disappointed that they had no curry goat left at a Carribbean stall.

Returning through Regents park, where we got a good view of the African hunting dogs in the zoo, we moored up at Paddington basin. It always seems pretty full, but we found one of the last spots as usual.

Next morning we decided to walk to Portobello road to see the market, half an hour's stroll from Paddington . We'll certainly go again, you couldn't possibly do it all properly on one visit. Food, clothes, antiques, junk, - you name it, and a lot of people! Rick managed to find and buy a fishtail parka to wear on his restored vintage schooter. Now he just needs a mod haircut.
Its about a half hour walk from Paddington basin and if you leave the basin arm at the right spot, you can do the whole walk in a straight line, just one long road.

It turned out quite hot so we lunched on the pavement alongside the boat when we got back.

I like mooring here. despite being in central London, it feels very calm and secure. Lots of people pass by and you can hear some of the station announcements, but its generally quite peaceful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


We're away on Herbie for a few days with Rick and Marilyn. First up to Rickmansworth for a birthday bash and then off into London, via the Black Horse at Greenford for their weekly quiz and then on hopefully to moor up near Camden market. Typical that the fine weather is now set to finish! I think we'll need to light the fire.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Amazing Grace

Absolutely nothing to do with Herbie or the inland waterways, but today's entry is a special one. Meet Grace McLeod, our new grand daughter born today and seen here with her big brother Jacob when she was barely two hours old.


Here she is with her Grandpa. I'm the one on the right.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I've been painting at the front of the boat and am now ready to put a pattern on the vertical centre board of the cratch window. I know I want to do diamonds to match the roof box, but there are options. Here are four ways.

The only difference between the first two and the last two is the use of black instead of white, yet how different the pattern looks. Should the top start with a half diamond as in the right picture of each pair, or a whole diamond as in the left hand ones.

Well according to the books, a half diamond at the top is the traditional way. Its all very well to be aware of the traditions, but I don't have a lot of time for boaties who get sniffy about it. If you have a proper working boat then of course you want it right, but so many so called traditional boats are no such thing. Is it "traditional" to have a fridge, a toilet, hot water? No.

I'll probably opt for the half diamond though because it looks better, and probably the white rather than the black because the diamonds stand out better (and the colours will match the roof box).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Slough Canal Festival

At last, a warm sunny weekend at a festival. No rain, no mud, no hassle - lovely. What a change to be able to sit out in the dark without feeling chilly.

The Slough festival is as I expected not much more than a village fete in size, but on the Sunday in particular, local people turned out in large numbers to enjoy the events.

I guess the aim of the event is to make more people aware of the local canal and its value as a wildlife park and a healthy recreation resource. I'm sure it worked too as most people took a stroll along the bank looking at the boats, or going for a boat trip , or taking advantage of the free fuishing tuition from professional coaches. Dozens and dozens of kids had a go and most of them caught fish, including Jacob who caught nine in about 20 minutes.

Quite few people asked us about narrowboating as we sat outside Herbie, and we gave a few guided tours of the inside of the boat, including one for the deputy mayor! Kath's recycled plastic bag bunting was a great success and I think was the reason so many came up to our boat. I fear we may feature in this week's Slough Observer as we were photographed and interviewed by them.

Entrance to the festival was free thanks to the sponsorship of ICI paints who have their factory half a mile away, and most of the stalls and displays were run by local charities and wildlife and waterways groups. The local residents association were doing a roaring trade in samosas.

The arena entertainments were surprisingly good. I didn't expect to be impressed by a King Fu demonstration, but I was! The complexity and grace of the movements is a sight to behold. Whether it is any use against an attacker I'm not sure, but it sure looks pretty. They also did a Chinese Lion dance. Amusingly, the bloke on the Tannoy wasn't sure whether he was announcing Lion dancing or Line dancing.

The only disappointing thing was that only 15 boats showed up. Surely we can do better than this. There must be over three hundred boats moored within 5 miles of Slough. I know the canal is narrow and shallow but that's no excuse. Its still a lovely cruise. Those who did make it included old deep draughted working boats and a huge Dutch barge. I'm going to make a point over the next year to encourage other boaters to come.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Will she won't she

Our chances of an uninterrupted weekend at the Slough canal festival don't look promising. Claire is currently in hospital while they decide whether she is in labour or not. They might induce her tomorrow or she might start on her own or they might send her home . With all this uncertainty we've decided to go to the festival anyway as it is only a ten minute drive from the hospital whereas from home to the hospital is 40 minutes.

Meanwhile here is an idea what to do with your unwanted CDs or DVD discs.

Presumably it keeps out the birds. You'll also need a boat garage and a very posh house like this one in Caversham (Reading) I suppose. Alternatively you can aways use your old CDs a coasters or as mirrors to signal to passing helicopters for help.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Flying the flag for the Slough Arm

This weekend we're taking Herbie down to the Slough Canal Festival, a cruise of about 25 minutes! As far as I can tell, its a small affair. The programme looks not unlike that of a vicarage fete. I don't know whether I'm more excited by the bouncy castle or the Kung Fu demonstration. However, its our canal and we'll be showing our support. Kath is busy making bunting out of recycled plastic carrier bags, and it looks great. Actually I am looking forward to the terrier racing, which is always fun, and there will be steam engines there, which I like. I'm not sure about the boat trips though :-).

Hopefully the best bit will be getting to know some other local boaters to extend our network of friends on the water. I think they expect about 30 boats to be there and there is a boaters' BBQ on Saturday night.

The only possible spanner in the works is that our daughter Claire is expecting her new baby next Monday, so if it's early our plans might be interrupted!

Thursday, August 30, 2007


While we were visiting the IWA festival last weekend we cadged a free bed with our son Peter at Cambridge. Apart from our ritual meal at the Castle pub in Castle Street (for my money the best pub in Cambridge) we took a stroll around Jesus lock, which is the limit of navigation for narrowboats on the Cam. I particularly like the way the balance beams curve up and over from the top of the gates. I haven't seen any others like it as far as I recall.

Also interesting was the windlass padlocked to the paddle gear. All you need is the combination number to free it for use.

Last year there was a lot of hoohaa about a threat to do away with the visitor moorings, but eventually the Council came to their senses and now there is a nice space for half a dozrn boats just below the lock.

The same rain that caused all the mud at the IWA festival had also raised the level of the Cam and the footpath was flooded here and there. This enterprising young couple found a way to keep their feet dry, but their dogs weren't so lucky!