Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dirty jobs

Returning to Herbie after some weeks neglect, she was OK. We spent our time doing maintenance. I took a first ever look inside the morse speed/ gear control to check the cable ends and apply a bit of grease. I'm sure it had never been done since Herbie was new. Anyway it was fine.

Then we tackled the stove. I went on the roof to seal the edges of the chimney collar with some P38 filler. A little bit of water had been getting in since we derusted during the roof painting. Now we need to repaint a little area round the collar, but unfortunately the rain pout a stop toi that.

More seriously we had a good look at an ever widening crack that has appeared in the stove top. We need a new top really but we have a dilemma. Once we take the old top off it won't go back again because we'll almost certainly have to break off the retaining studs. If we then order a new top it might take some time as apparently wood burners are in great demand now that fuel prices are rising. However we don't want to order a new top in advance because there is a small chance we might need a whole new stove. We might be months waiting for a new stove and wouldn't want to be like that over winter. So we'll try and limp on until spring by filling the crack with fire cement. Luckily the crack is at the edge and we're sure that no flue gases are escaping (plus we have a CO detector near by). As you can see we also scraped out most of the old cement round the chimney base so we can re do it.

Lastly we did a serious clean of the toilet cassettes and refurbished the floats that switch the tank full light on. This latter job is not my idea of a pleasant past time, requiring, as it does, groping around inside the cassette through the entry hole trying to undo and replace little plastic clips. You can see nothing of course so it's all done by feel. After a long and frustrating time, I am now a master at it and we have two fully working cassettes. Our third cassette I have yet to explore because it was in use at the time. Enough said.

Kath washed the roof, and sprayed some silicon stuff on the curtain rails which now glide easily.

Not a bad result for one afternoon and one morning's work.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Not boaty but a grand day out

Off topic , I know, but yesterday I went on a charabang trip to the Great Dorset Steam Fair. I guess most boaties would love it because of all the old engines all painted up in traditional styles. Phil Speight was there selling his Craftmaster paints.

The show is really really HUGE. You really need three days at it to get round. The best bit was what friend Pete calls the Playpen. They supply a lot of really heavy loads and any of the traction engines or steam lorries or whetever can hitch them up and have a go at pulling them up a steep hill and back. These people are mad. All day they hitch up tree trunks, rocks, railway engines on trailers, tanks etc and charge up and down the one in twelve slope just for the hell of it.

Then there are the showmans engines. I counted nearly 60, all,except two being painted in maroon. I didn't think that many survived, and they all looked as good as new. A water tanker and a coal lorry were circulating the site all day recharging these beasts.

The one thing that bowled me over most though was a giant Belgian fairground organ Victory, made by J Verbeeck, playing a set of Queen hits. Absolutely brilliant. Lots people have featured this organ on You tube. None do it justice.

Having described about 1% of the show I'll stop there. If you ever get a chance to go, take it.
Herbie's rest period will soon be over and in the very near future we'll be back aboard to do jobs and get ready for our early Autumn cruise.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lack of fibre on the Kennet

I'm such a whimp. Just finished reading Narrow Dog to Indian River in which Terry and Monica Darlington take their narrowboat down alligator infested rivers and across vast bays and swirling estuaries. Then this afternoon we took a stroll along the Kennet just west of Reading grazing on blackberries and I say "Ooh the current looks a bit strong, I wouldn't want to take Herbie up here today". Then after a while I complain of feeling hot and sweaty as it's a bit close, and I remember how in the book they endure 100 degree heat and 100% humidity.

I like the Kennet, full of humungous fish and drifting in and out of the K&A canal as it does. I particularly like the saw tooth weir next to Fobney pumping station. The water seems actually has a curved surface over the teeth. Then there is the house next to Southcote lock. I don't often covet other people's houses but in this case I'll make an exception.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Call to Arms

It won't be long before it’s the Slough Canal Festival again. This little festival is aimed at the local community and celebrates the benefits of the canal on their doorstep. "What's that to do with me?", you may ask. Well if you're a boater or interested in waterways, quite a lot.

You see the Slough Arm of the GU is little used and could so easily be lost if not cared for. You know what they say, "Cruise it or lose it". Apart from the 80 odd boats moored at Highline Yachting, many of which never move, hardly any boaters go down there.

This is strange because
  • it's accessible, being just off the GU on the main canal route in or out of London
  • it is of historical interest, apart from the Manchester ship canal it is the the last new British canal ever dug (1880s )
  • it probably has more aquatic wildlife than any other canal or arm

There's a little film about it here

Why don't people go down there? Mainly because it’s a bit difficult i.e. shallow and weedy, and because it doesn't have a finale, i.e. somewhere attractive to stop at the end.

However the journey is well worth it if you like wild flowers, birds, seeing fish, and waving to Herbie.

The festival is small, friendly and free. The samosas are tasty, and the kids get fishing lessons. If you don't have a boat, come anyway, you can get boat rides too.

Come on down. 13/ 14 September.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Punt names

Yesterday we went up to Cambridge to see Peter. After a lunch of falafels, salad and chips washed down by some Adnams at the ever splendid Castle Inn, we took a stroll along the Cam to look at the boats. Since attending the painting course, I'm keen to look more closely at the signwriting styles on boats.

Well the narrowboats there were few and none had any good signwriting, but there were of course lots and lots of punts. Peter remarked that Cambridge colleges tend to have themed names for their own punts. At Trinity, their punts are named after something known to come in threes only without actually including the word Three - e.g Bears. Perhaps they have Blind Mice, I don't know. Anyway, the one he likes best is Mile Island. Neat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


With our Olympians doing so well at rowing and sailing, and with the games coming to London in 2012, I'm thinking that we ought to instigate some events for narrowboaters. Here are a few ideas:

Gymnastics - take a boat through Pyrford lock on the Wey. This requires balancing on one leg on a narrow beam performing complex arm movements requiring great strength. Marks for agility and not falling in.

White water narrowboating - negotiating through the dangling sticks below Coppermill Lock on the GU where the river belts across the canal.

Weight lifting (well, weight moving) opening or closing one of a selection of the heaviest lock gates on, say, the Regent's canal.

Towpath cycling - marks for the number of pedestrians you knock into the cut

Towpath steeple chase. Running up the Tardebigge flight, jumping over the balance beams and a water jump over every fourth lock.

Equestrianism - taking a horse drawn boat through an obstacle course

Rope throwing, diving in to retrieve your hat, high jump off boat roof to lockside, hammering the stake - the list of possibilities is endless. And think of the lottery money we could get!

All suggestions welcome

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to paint your boat

I promised a feedback report on Phil Speight's boat painting course which I attended a week ago, so here it is.

30 of us paid their £60 and turned up, so you can see how many people want to learn from the master. With that number of course, there was no chance of hands-on teaching so it was a lecture and demo over two days. Starting with a bare sheet of steel, Phil showed us how to prepare it, paint the various layers of primer and undercoat, and sign-write and finally decorate it. The rubbing down bits were described, but not demonstrated (imagine the mess).
I can't go into all the detail here but here are a few things that particularly struck me.

To get a good finish you need to paint much faster than you might think - and with what most folk would consider big brushes. Phil reckons to cover the cabin side of a 60 ft boat in about 20 minutes. The finish Phil gets with just a brush is amazing. It all looks very simple. Hmmmm.

There seem to be a hundred ways you can spoil the job - condensation, inadequate ventilation, skin oils on the prepared surface, tiny bits of silicon from sealants etc etc. You do need to plan and to be meticulous about prep and cleanliness.

Even when you have done a nice paint job, it can easily be ruined by lack of after care - regular washing, stuff on the roof etc

Amazingly, Phil does his sign writing totally freehand. No measuring, no accurate marking out, no rulers or straight edges, and masking tape only to mark the top and bottom of the letters. Watching him pull a perfect freehand arc in masking tape is a bit jaw dropping!

From very close up you can see it is not perfect, but from a couple of feet back it looks right. From across the canal it will look perfect but much livelier than geometrically set out stuff.

Phil likes what he calls the all or nothing approach to the paint design on a boat. On the name panel, great big bold letters and lots of decoration, then going forward a very plain minimalist look until at the bow another blaze of decoration. Here he starts on bunches of roses

On the second day, Phil forced us to endure (his words, not mine) his lecture on the origins and styles of traditional narrowboat painting and he brought along a wonderful display of the real stuff by the old masters like Frank Nurser.

Here it is almost done.

My pic is a bit blurred because it was all to shiny to risk flash photography!
You might gather that Phil is a Ferrari fan. Well, nobody's perfect :-)

A great course and I'm very tempted to have a go on Herbie's cabin sides in the next year, sign writing and all!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A free narrowboat flight

We're just back from our annual camping trip to Shropshire which I suppose I might say was pleasant but fairly moist.

As well as stirring walks on the Long Mynd (can you spot Jacob?),
we couldn't resist a bit of canal spotting and we took a trip out to revisit the aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte.

The Chirk aqueduct is somewhat overshadowed in reputation by the mighty (and 50 ft higher) Pontcysyllte but in some ways I like it better. Its proximity to the adjacent railway viaduct lends it a feeling of solidity, and of course you get the extra bonus of a 500yd canal tunnel immediately after crossing the aqueduct. What more could you want?

Pontcysyllte is only a few minutes away by car. We parked up and strolled over, somewhat nervously clutching the handrail on the towpath side and peering over the 120 foot drop. Reaching the other side, we were surprised to see a familiar boat just about to do the crossing. It was Floss, who moors at our base in Iver. What are the odds against that I wonder?

Kath lost no time in chatting them up for a ride (thanks guys) and so we sat in Floss's fore deck as she flew (or so it felt) over the valley below. If you've never been across this aqueduct, its hard to imagine. When the boat leaves the hillside it seems to launch itself into the air. There is not rail or safety guard on the non towpath side so from the gunwales upward there's nothing between you and the drop.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Boats we didn't buy

Tir Na Nog (above)

Swanley (below)

And Faith

Looking through old photos I came across ones we took when we were looking for a boat to buy. We saw a lot of old rubbish but there were a few that sorely tempted us.

One was Tir Na Nog which had a new interior fit out on a Reeves semi trad shell. The fit out was very nice indeed but the boat had only small portholes and no glass in the front doors so it was very dark inside. It also had a diesel stove, which in retrospect might have cost a lot to run now that diesel is so dear.

Another was Swanley, a very nice trad boat, tastefully fitted out and with a Russell Newbury engine in a centre engine room. The owner had left copious notes on managing the boat and obviously had taken good care of her. However the notes on how to start the engine took two pages. Today, I wouldn't mind at all, but we didn't have the confidence then to take it on. I bet it sounds lovely. We were also concerned about the faint smell of diesel throughout the boat and the exposed fan belts alongside the corridor.

Then there was Faith. A very smart Colecraft shell, and nicely painted. Externally it was a really smart looking boat. The interior had a modern fit out with a walk through bathroom and didn't feel very boaty inside. Also the engine, a Lister, wasn't so easy to get at under the back steps. The final nail in the coffin was a rubbing noise coming from the prop shaft when we went for a test run.

If I bought a boat again today would I consider any of them? Swanley probably. It took ages to sell too and eventually went for a good bit less than we paid for Herbie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Night time in dockland

I always admire Andrew Denny's superb night time photography on his Granny Buttons blog, so I thought I'd have a go. It's not easy. This couple of shots were taken when we were in Limehouse basin at the end of May. Not perfect, but I like them.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The other Thames barrier

This is the bridge at Richmond where they lower the barrier each day to stop the river above from getting too shallow when the tide goes out. When the barrier is down, boats have to use the half tide lock alongside.

Nice innit? I don't suppose they would build anything so ornate today.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Painting and upholstery

This weekend I'll be at the bonded warehouse in Stourbridge learning at the feet of master boat painter Phil Speight. Its a two day course starting from preparing the surface right through to decorative finishes. I'm hoping that it'll give me enough confidence to have a go at Herbie's cabin sides this winter. I may even attempt signwriting.

A full report in a week or so's time.

I can't think of a single thing that would do more for Herbie than completing the paintwork, although we have quite a list of other planned improvements inside too.

We're quite close now to a final decision on the revamp of the sofa bed after visiting an upholstery place in Bristol last week. It's always worth discussing plans with these people because we came away with our ideas improved and with one or two more measurements to check. That's the thing with narrowboats. Space is so precious and so fixed that you have to be really careful in planning stuff. You have to think carefully about cushion thickness because as some of the cushions form the back rest, they take up sitting space. Too thick and you end up perched on a ledge. Too thin and you don't have a comfy bed. Then there's all the business of grades of foam etc etc. Anyway we're getting a handle on it now.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Play up Pompey

I expect there are a few boats named after football teams, but I was pleased to see this one on the Wey. Named after the famous chant of the supporters, it even features a stave of the tune on the cabin side near the front. And of course it had an air horn to play the tune too. Well Pompey supporters had a lot to celebrate this year.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A floating hippy home

We're away camping for a bit, but just to keep you entertained I've saved up a few interesting pictures and snippets which will appear by the magic of blogger post dating.

Boats on the Thames are generally pretty smart, but this one beats most for interest. It's moored somewhere below Richmond so it must survive the ups and downs of the tide. Although it's wondefully ramshackle, the owner, who I'd love to meet obviously works hard on the plants. What would he /she be like I wonder. Probably resourceful, hippyish, and green. Some old wrecks annoy me because their owners don't seem to care for them, but I wouldn't expect the same here.