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.