Monday, April 28, 2008

The weekend b) social pleasures and recognition

It wasn't all hard graft this weekend (see post below). On Saturday evening Geoff and Laura on Lady Elgar invited us to join their bankside BBQ. We just managed to avoid setting the boats (and Geoff's shed) on fire and consumed a lot of meat end even more booze, not finishing until just after midnight. I confess to feeling somewhat fragile for most of Sunday, not good when you are lying on your back dismantling shelves.

Then on Sunday morning I was recognised by a reader. Well at least Herbie was. We were passed by a jolly crew in a boat called Mad Hatter and the helmsman called out "Are you the Herbie that has the blog?" Mustering all my wit and sagacity, I replied "Yes" and then they were gone, on down the Slough Arm. How long now before I need to wear dark glasses in Tescos?

The weekend a) More than we bargained for

The plan at the weekend was to give Herbie a deep clean inside. Whilst we did do this, we left her in a more untidy state than we found her, because we succumbed to the temptation to make alterations.

But first let me tell you about the other unplanned job - baling out. Whilst cleaning under the back steps I thought I'd take a peek under the little cover that give access to the bilges and I found three quarters of an inch of water inside. Not as bad as you might think because the boat is lower at the back than at the front, so any water lies at the back. And no, I don't think Herbie's hull has a leak. I suspect the water mostly came from the leaky water pump that I fixed last summer, but no doubt a little bit also came from condensation. The main bilge is totally separate from the engine bay bilge which catches a bit of rain and drips from the stern gland. That one I swab out more regularly to keep it dry.

Anyway baling out through a hole the size of your fist is not a quick process, so using a cut out plastic bottle and a sponge it took well over an hour to get out about four bucketfuls of rusty looking water (looking surprisingly like beer!). We now have dry bilges with a disposable nappy in to soak up any residue. I guess I'll check every couple of months in future.

Then after cleaning out the TV shelf, under which we keep small supplies of kindling and logs for immediate use, we decided a bit of carpentry would be a good idea. The shelves straddle a corner and prevent us getting a chair in a useful spot and we have been thinking of cutting out the diagonal bit. So half an hour with a screwdriver and we removed the shelves to take away and cut to the required shape. Hence the mess the saloon is now in with the TV and other stuff dumped on the floor and the sofa. It was also interesting to see how all the wires at the back of the radio had been cleverly restrained in a net to keep them up under the shelf out of the way.

The good news is that with the help of our friend Pete, who has an industrial sized saw table, we now have the shelves expertly reshaped with new hardwood edge trim and later this week I'll reinstall them.

Finally, in a spare hour, I made a start on another job. Painting diamonds on the front of the cratch. They will eventually be red and blue with white and cream triangles at the sides. The pink you see here is undercoat for the red.
Not a bad weekend's work all in all.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dust busting

We plan a spring clean on Herbie this weekend. The main enemy is dust, which is not easy to eradicate when you don't have a hoover on board, so we generally do the best we can with a duster and a dustpan and brush. This weekend however we'll take the hoover out and get at the unbrushable places. One place where there is a lot of dust and grit is inside the front lockers where we keep wood and coal.
One thing we have to work round is that Geoff and Laura on Lady Elgar, which we moor up against, are shift workers and are often asleep during the day, so we don't want them to lose their beauty sleep because of our clonking about. We can easily work around that once we know their routine for the weekend.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Huge insect terrorises canal

Not really. Anyway, what do you think of this dragonfly spotted alongside the Hatton locks last week. Interesting sculptures seem to keep cropping up by canals. More evidence of them being a linear park rather than just a waterway.

Speaking of the Hatton locks, I rather liked their paddles gears which stick up at a jaunty angle and have a clever little horseshoe shaped device on a chain which presumably stops the paddle from dropping under its own weight once wound up.
I've not seen them anywhere else, although for all I know they might be common enough on canals I haven't visited yet.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Plan B

Oh dear. We went out to the boat yesterday armed with sofa bed measurements and now realise that the sofas we had been looking at are too deep from front to back. When in place the sofa would take up half of the available width of the saloon and make it quite diffilcult to get past from the galley to the bathroom etc. Here Kath demonstrates how far out it would reach.

We have seen plenty of boats with such a problem, but its not one we want to inflict on ourselves or Herbie. Was our trip to Kinver in vain? No, because we avoided a costly mistake and anyway we had a good day out.

The principal problem we still want to overcome is the use of the futon mattress. It is big, surprisingly heavy to manoeuvre and prone to sagging at the back when in sofa mode. Therefore plan B will be to replace it with three separate good quality foam cushions made to measure and suitably interlinked to quickly convert into a mattress. We calculate we can do this without compromising floor space like the sofa would. We'll also make a couple of small adaptations to our existing extending bed frame to make it easier to put up and down.

Here is the frame (built by Herbie's previous owner Roy), in sofa mode,
and in bed mode.

We'll be glad too to keep the existing underbed storage.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A day out. Sofas, a tunnel and a lot of locks

Well we finally got to Kinver today to look at sofa beds. Good sofas that make comfy beds and really were quick to convert from one to the other. However, nothing is ever that simple. Rolled out as a bed they are too long to fit properly across the boat. The bed is 76 inches long and we have a space of 71 inches. Disappointing.
Now we could still use the bed as the mattress will curl up at the end, or we could make more space by resiting the radiator which is what is in the way. We will certainly try to work out a solution, so its back out to Herbie next week to measure up more carefully and think about solutions.
Anyway we had a good pub lunch in Kinver and opted to make something of the journey back to Rick and Marilyn's, so we stopped off to look at Shrewley tunnel and then Hatton Locks.
Shrewley is interesting because of the horse tunnel beside and above the proper boat tunnel. In the old horse drawn days, the boat crew would leg through the tunnel, while the tow horse went up the horse tunnel and over the top to meet the boat at the other end. Here you can see the tunnel entrances

And this is in the horse tunnel A few minutes away, by car, we stopped at the Waterman pub (we only had a cup of tea, honest) and walked down some of the 21 locks in the Hatton Flight. We hope to take Herbie up there some day, but it'll be hard work for a few hours by the look of it. Here is part of the flight seen from the pub
and from closer up

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

If boats were cars or cars were boats

We have had to delay by one day our trip to look at sofa beds for Herbie because our car has broken down. Strange rumblings from the clutch and a lot of juddering at startup. Unlike boats, which generally have old fashioned simple engineering, modern cars are very fancy under the bonnet.

Our Focus apparently has a two part flywheel, like a sandwich, which (if I understood the bloke right) contains the springs which buffer the action of the clutch. Apparently these springs have gone and the whole thing is in danger of flying apart and possibly smashing through the gearbox. It certainly sounds like it. So I need a new flywheel, and while they're at it , new clutch, cylinder, release bearing etc. So by Wednesday evening I'll be £708 worse off. That's at a clutch specialist. At a main Ford dealer you could probably add 25% to that. In the old days it would just have been the clutch bits which would have been about half the cost.

On Herbie I could get a whole new gearbox including clutch fitted for a similar sum, or I could probably do it myself cheaper. Our BMC diesel is quite simple to service and parts are cheap too. Service (oil change) intervals seem short at 200 hours, but 200 hours in a car averaging 450 mph would be 9000 miles which doesn't sound so bad does it. Of course at boat speeds allowing for dallying about in locks with the engine running, 200 hours is only about 500 miles! Then, my car uses posh synthetic oil at about £35 plus VAT each change, wheres the boat oil costs about a tenner each time. Don't you just love modern technology!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bed testing

I notice that this is our 200th posting on Herbie's blog, a triumph of persistence if nothing else!

This week we're off (by road) to Kinver on the Staffs and Worcester canal where we will be looking at a potential new sofa bed for Herbie. Our existing sofa was built by Herbie's previous owner and is a marvel of carpentry and quite comfy when extended as a bed, but not very good as a sofa. The upholstery is a futon, and when folded up as a sofa, the seat and back tend to drift forwards and downwards respectively. Furthermore, it is a bit of a struggle to switch from sofa mode to bed mode. The best photo I have of it is this one which is from the broker's blurb before we bought Herbie.

To erect the bed you have to drag out the seat base across the boat whilst wrestling with the futon, then place a supporting board beneath the pillow end. It works, but not smoothly, and is locked in place by awkward metal pins which have to be pushed into little holes. It does however have the benefit of ample storage for bedding under the seat.

So were looking at purpose designed stuff from Wilsons of Kinver. Sofa beds especially designed for narrowboats. They take up minimum space, are very quick to convert, and arrive in bits that will go through a narrowboat door. No good having a nice sofa and then find you can't get it on the boat! But are they comfy enough??

Coming with us as test pilots will be Rick and Marilyn, who have endured many a night on our existing guest bed. After all Kath and I have an extremely comfortable fixed bed on Herbie, so the guest bed should be acceptable to guests, not us. I'll be more interested in how comfy it is as a sofa.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Trip a success, wifi a failure!

Well we had a great few days on the canal but we didn't succeed in finding a free wifi hotpsot to update you "live". Thanks to Simon (see comments) who told us where we can find one in Brentford next time.

On the way down we had a brief but lovely snowstorm, but it never seemed all that cold. I think we were lucky in having the wind on our backs. Sunday night we moored outside Bulls Bridge Tesco, then on Monday morning after doing the grocery shopping we headed down to Brentford. The eight locks at Norwood/ Hanwell went OK although some of the newly replaced gates and paddle gear are pretty stiff still. Osterley lock, our Worst Lock of 2007 was miraculously free of floating rubbish, but leaking so much that it was difficult to fill enough to open the top gates. The final lock near Brentford is also a pain, having no flow through the ground paddles.

Brentford basin was pretty full and we had to tie up under the overhanging shed at the wharf. Rumour has it that a number of overstayers have been kicked out of Camden moorings by BW and they have moved to Brentford. No matter as we were only there for a couple of hours - long enough to seek out the recommended Magpie and Crown for an afternoon pint. We liked it. The beer was nice, the barman helpful and the other customers chatty. Next time we'll stay for the evening.

When we returned to the basin the sky was clear and sunny and we had a good short trip back up to the Fox at Hanwell where we felt obliged to resample a pint (only one mind!) of the Timothy Taylor's Landlord. The moorings there are just at the mouth of the Brent River as it joins the canal for a mile or so. It would seem that it dumps a lot of silt and dead vegetation there as the canal constantly bubbles with methane. All night long you can hear the blurp blurp of the bubbles under the boat.

Tuesday was supposed to be bad weather, but it was fine. Passing up through the locks we were joined by May, a hire boat from Broxbourne on the Lee Navigation. They had a sizeable teenage crew so that cut down our work quite a bit. Jacob got some good practice at steering into locks and is now becoming quite expert.

Hearing there was a Liverpool Arsenal match on the telly we opted to travel up the Paddington Arm to the Black Horse at Greenford where you can eat ggod food, drink nice beer and watch a big telly at the same time. The public moorings near there are outside a modern samosa factory. The smell from it is absolutely delicious. If they set up a canalside stall there would be a regular queue, with me at the front. In fact the Paddington arm is regularly punctuated by food factories. You can smell bread one minute, cakes the next, and curry the next . I know some folks lament the passing of the old canalside industries and their old buildings, but at least the former dereliction is now being replaced, albeit with smart modern industrial parks.

Wednesday we needed to get home for the evening so that's what we did. At Southall we passed a new sculpture to join several others thereabouts made from canal rubbish.

Herbie looks so much better since our recent paintfest. One person commented she looked fairly new as she was in such good nick.

The moral of the tale of this trip: don't be put off by poor weather forecasts. They're usually pessimistic.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Herbie braces for artic cruise

Sunday morning and there is an inch of snow outside the house. Will this put us of our planned cruise? Of course not. When we get to Herbie, it'll be on with the Eberspacher heater then light a fire in the stove and we'll be warm before you know it. It might be a bit cold standing at the tiller though, so I'm putting plenty of layers on.

We might get to Bull's Bridge today so we can do a Tesco shop first thing Monday. You can tie up right outside.

Then hopefully when we get to Brentford on Monday we'll see if we can find a WiFi hostpot to update the blog. Never done it before whilst cruising. Wish us luck.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dipstick designs dipstick

You'd think that getting the design right for an oil dipstick was pretty easy, but whoever did it for the PRM gearbox in Herbie was obviously having an off day. Who in his right mind would design a glossy black dipstick for measuring oil levels. Its virtually impossible to see where the oil film starts.

Anyway, grumble over, yesterday I changed the oil in the gearbox. Being a hydraulically operated device, the oil is worked quite hard and needs to be changed at least annually. The only hard bit, apart from the dipstick problem, is catching the old oil and getting it out from the shallow gap between the gearbox and the engine room floor. I used a 2 litre milk bottle on its side with a big hole cut in the upper side. Recently I've been keeping a disposable nappy in the engine tray. It mops up fluids wonderfully and is easy to take out without drips. I commend them to you.

Tomorrow, all being well, we're off for a few days cruise. Probably down to Brentford and back a bit to the Fox, our pub of the year 2007, and then Claire may join us for a trip up to Paddington. The weather forecast is pretty awful for the weekend. Let's hope it improves