Friday, January 30, 2009

Help design a better CanalOmeter

If you can give me a bit of help now, you can have some free cruisng calculators later.

In October I showed you my first attempts at making my CanalOmeter crusing time calculator, and I had some positive comments and requests to make them available. See here to re read the post and see how it works. Field trials this autumn showed that the disc work quite well.

Here is the version I made then. Let's call it version A

Now I'm trying to produce a version which doesn't need any handwriting or protractor work.
Nick Atty whose CanalPlan data I have used has graciously given me permission to publish the finished discs so other people can copy them for free. I intend to publish them as pdfs. First however, I want to arrive at the best layout.

The big problem is I can't find a way to print the place names along the radial lines. (Please don't suggest using WordArt, that would take forever!). So I've come up with two alternative designs, both generated using Excel's graphing capabilities. Version B below is easy to generate and I reckon I could knock them out really quickly.
Version C needs a fair bit of fiddling about the draw the lines from the names to the graph.

Sorry the images aren't all that good. As PDFs they'll look fine.

Any comments on which version you like best would be welcome as would any ideas for other ways to set them out.
I could also publish a manual on how I extract the data and process it so that you could do your own, but it's fairly fiddly until you get used to it. What do you think?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fort High Line

Our boatyard (High Line Yachting) is run like a business, not a charity. Sometimes it can seem a bit officious but at least they stick to the rules and things get done. We all get licence renewal reminders, and safety inspection reminders . Visiting tradesmen, where allowed, have to fill in a risk form, and so on

Today I got a letter saying that following a couple of break-ins to boats, they are ramping up security. Already we are well fenced in with electronically operated gates at either end of the moorings, but now they are looking at improved fencing, CCTV and and another gate between the yard and the moorings and they are introducing a visitor badge scheme. We're supposed to challenge any unknown characters who may be hanging about near the boats. It all sounds a bit draconian but those of us with precious property stored on site will have less to worry about I suppose.

Actually on Herbie we are lucky to have Saltysplash alongside and Lydia on Serendipity next door, who are often around and I'm sure keep an eye open for us. Thanks to Lydia we're also amply supplied with guard cats!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oddyssey 2009 plans

I have to be careful not to get too excited in case our ideas for a great cruise this year don't come off. We plan to be out on Herbie a long time, but with breaks to come home from time to time.

The objective is to visit our two sons, one in Huntingdon and one in Cambridge, by boat. While we're out that way we'd also like to explore the fen rivers that flow into the Great Ouse. That means the rivers, Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey. This map gives you an idea.
The Wissey in particular is supposed to be very attractive and is a favourite of Sue on No Problem. Here's a link to her last trip there

On the way there of course we'll have to journey up the Grand Union to near Northampton, then down the river Nene and across the middle levels. Lovely jubbly.

The whole trip should take a couple of months or more as we don't want to hurry and we'll have time off for good behaviour when we can leave the boat somewhere safe. We'll also get some jobs done as we'll get Herbie's hull blacked somewhere on the way.

No doubt we'll also play host to good friends on various parts of the journey and that'll only add to the enjoyment. I can hardly wait, but as I said, I mustn't get too excited, there are any number of things that could spoil the plan - especially prolonged rain, which c an make the Nen in particular impassable.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Games on board

Boating is arguably good for the mind. When we're on board Herbie we watch a lot less telly than when we're at home. Quite often we play cards or scrabble in the evening and now we've discovered another good game -Tantrix. It's been around for several years but we've only just latched on and we like it a lot. We bought Peter a set for Christmas and enjoyed it so much that we now have our own set for Herbie.

You can play Tantrix solo like patience, or there is a good set of rules for two to four players. I won't describe it here but they have a good web site where you can see it and even play on-line. Apparently there is even a UK championship and this year they will hold the first world championship in Edinburgh. I don't think I'll enter, I've only just mastered the rules and it looks like you would have to be smart to beat a good player.

Come to think of it, we needn't stay on board to play Tantrix. It's a very compact game and we could easily play it in the pub. Now I've warmed to it even more!

Advert over.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The other inauguration.

Whilst everyone was excited about events in America, one English citizen was receiving having her own moment of glory. This was the presentation to Marilyn of her hand embossed award certificate for being Herbie crew member of the year 2008. Following a gala dinner of Hungarian Fish Stew cooked by me and winter fruit compote cooked by Kath, I put on my Herbie T-shirt and a snazzy tie and gave a short resume of Marilyn's achievements and Marilyn made a suitably tearful thank you speech.

Later, Rick made a counter presentation of a gift to Herbie. A hand fashioned spanner to fit the diesel filler cap. Our practice is to do the cap up really tight to deter thieves. Without such a big spanner they have no chance unless like me up till now they use a G clamp and a hammer!

More on cameras

A couple of people have asked for details of my new camera. It's a Panasonic Lumix TZ4. It's too early of course for me to recommend it, all I can say is that I carefully read a lot of reviews before choosing it. Regular readers will also observe that I am not an expert photographer compared with the likes of Andrew Denny. Some interesting facts turned up in my research, the main one being that in the race to offer increased megapixels a number of manufacturers seem to have sacrificed low light picture quality. Often, last year's 8 megapixel model outperforms this year's 10 megapixel model in terms of picture quality.
What I wanted was a pocket camera with a good wide angle lens and of course one that gave good pictures. The TZ4 lens zooms from a pretty wide 28mm to a very long 280mm telephoto (35mm camera equivalents), and seems pretty crisp so far.

Wide angle lenses are not common on pocket cameras, but they're great for landscape photography and inside a confined space like a boat you can get lots more in the picture.

The TZ4 is not the smallest camera out there but you can see that it's pocketable. It feels quite rugged.

I paid £149 for mine but you might find one a bit cheaper if you shop around. Here are a couple of links to reviews of it.

You will be able to judge photo quality yourself by seeing what I post in future, although I will also continue to use my larger Fuji S5600 bridge camera which gives me more manual control. Of course I used that too to take these pictures of the Lumix.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I bought you a new camera

Well, I bought me one really, but I will be using it to put pictures for you to see here. This time its a "pocket" camera so I'll be more inclined to have it with me at odd times. Here is my first ever picture taken with it last Thursday night ( and untampered with). On the Bridge between Windsor and Eton showing Windsor castle on the skyline. The camera was rested on a wooden handrail which is what you can see.

Then near home at our local pond showing two pictures taken from the same spot at either end of the zoom, again unadjusted.

Monday, January 12, 2009

An evening with Granny followed by the big thaw

We got a tour of NB Granny Buttons on Saturday night when we popped over to Uxbridge to join Andrew Denny for a drink at the Swan & Bottle. Not to spare Andrew's blushes, we both loved Granny's interior, an old fashioned feel in the best of senses. I'd swap. Then, I suppose I'd swap for any one of a large number of boats that were ten feet longer than Herbie. The extra space makes so much difference as it nearly always all comes in the "saloon" area.

The canal at Uxbridge was still free from ice as we set off back to Iver to reboard Herbie firmly stuck in the Slough Arm ice. Andrew walked of to get his camera and take advantage of he moonligh. You can see his results in his latest blog entry. Next morning however the thaw began to be apparent as a growing film of water spread over the surface of the ice.

I busied my self rigging up a drain hose to get more of the dregs out of the plumbing before we left the boat. This turned out to be really easy, so it'll be part of our winter routine in future. The more we learn about Herbie the more we realise she was well fitted out when she was built.

Friday, January 09, 2009

More ice pics

Two inches thick in mid canal here on the Slough Arm, but no ice on the Grand Union three miles away!
I took a walk yesterday afternoon to take some photos and got this piece of ice from the canal outside the boatyard offices. No wonder no boats are moving!

I reckon you could probably walk safely across the canal here. I offered to photograph Steve who works at the boatyard, if he did it, but he politely declined muttering something about Health & Safety.

This piece looks like a big raw diamond.

Last night we persuaded (without much dificulty) Saltysplash and Laura to join us for a meal and a pint or three at the Swan &Bottle in Uxbridge. It was much warmer there and the canal had no ice at all. Urban environment I suppose. At our moorings here we are in the countryside.

We were hoping to be joined by Andrew from Granny Buttons who was driving back to his boat from Norfolk, but sadly he didn't arrive until just after we left. Sorry Andrew, - next time.

On ice and time lags

How low does the outside temperature have to get before things freeze inside the boat?

A lovely sunny day, but down here on the Slough arm the ice is really thick. I broke this piece off from near the stern of the boat this morning. Further away I think it might be thicker.

Inside the engine bay the temperature last night fell to about +4 degrees so that’s OK. I’m not sure what the outside temperature was. Halfie suggested that by measuring outside and inside temperatures we might be able to predict future risks if interior freezing from the weather forecast. Thinking about it, that wouldn’t really work because the variable factor is how long the cold temperatures have held for. In a prolonged freeze up, and unheated boat will gradually lose temperature, at a rate dependent on its insulation, until eventually it would be as cold inside as out. Of course temperatures rise and fall throughout the day, and sunshine on a boat can pump quite a bit of heat into the shell and through the windows.

According to the Met Office, it should fall to about -5 degrees here tomorrow (Saturday) night, then much milder weather should set in. I wonder how long the canal ice will take to melt next week.

I really need to work out a policy of when to come out and warm up the boat during prolonged deep freezes, or to go to the trouble of completely draining down all the vulnerable pipes and pumps - not easy.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Up the ranks

Thanks to Granny Buttons, I've been pointed to a new UK Waterways ranking system for websites and blogs so I've registered. As I was only the fourth person to do so, I'm riding high at present but fully expecting to be overtaken by a good few others as they join up.

Ship shape again

Hurray, we have hot water again. The Morco is fixed and the Eberspacher decided to work properly when I tried it this morning. I think the split union in the cold water inlet to the Morco was probably the result of ice. This exceptionally cold weather really has tested the systems, especially since the boat has been left cold for 6 weeks or so.

I realise now that draining down the Morco deals with its contents and the outlet, but not the inlet. The only way I can drain the inlet, which is four feet above the floor, will be to drain the cold supply at floor level, so tomorrow I'm going to rig up something which will do that. That should protect the water pump too.

Not all plain sailing

Not sailing anywhere of course because the canal is frozen outside Herbie, but inside we are lovely and warm. We seem to have found the knack of keeping the fire going overnight, so this morning it was just a matter of raking the ashes and putting on a log.

However, all is not well. Our Morco gas water heater needs a bit of work, I couldn’t get it going yesterday and there is a split collar on the water inlet union. Not from ice, I might add, because it was drained down last time we left the boat. It’s a plastic collar and it look like it might have cracked from being over tightened in the past. Anyway I don’t like messing with gas devices so someone from the boatyard is due to come and fix it today. It ought to be serviced periodically anyway. Nothing major I’m sure.

More disturbingly, I couldn’t start the Eberspacher diesel heater which is our alternative source of hot water. Lots of smoke and banging! I suspect ice might be a problem here even though it has antifreeze in its circuit. I’ll wait until warmer weather to see if it starts ok when its not freezing. I’ll put the min max thermometer in the engine bay today to see how cold it gets in there.

So were boiling kettles to get hot water for washing and washing up. Not a problem in the short term. We could start the engine and get hot water that way I suppose, but it doesn’t seem worth the bother at the moment.

It’s nice to be here though. A welcome change from home and a different view out of the window. I wonder what is happening to all the fish that usually surround the boat. Asleep I suppose.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A noisy morning and a flying visit

Poor Richard(our eldest). He rarely comes to visit us but he was here last night and as he was knackered (being a shift worker plays havoc with his body clock), we suggested he had a nice lie in before I took him back to the station today.

At 8.30 the kitchen fitters arrived at our next door neighbours' house and started knocking holes in the wall, then at 9 o'clock some council men arrived and proceeded to dig up the footpath outside our house with a pneumatic drill. Then the final straw came at 10 o'clock when the Broadmoor hospital siren, just a couple of miles from where we live, had its weekly test. So much for Richard's lie in.

I drove him over to Slough to get a train home then took the opportunity of nipping out to Herbie to check her over. The canal was iced over and there was a dusting of snow on the path as you can see in the photo, but inside the boat it was more than 10 degrees. Even under the floor where the water pump sits it was about 6 degrees, so I was reassured.

Mind you, that was early afternoon and the sun was shining. It will be interesteing to see howe far the temperature drops tonight which is forecast to be very cold. I left a min max thermometer by the water pump to record it.

If all goes according to plan we'll stay on the boat for a few nights starting Wednesday, so that should get her warmed up.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I must get out to Herbie over the next few days. I suspect she is frozen in. The Mill pond close to our house is certainly iced over.
Having a boat is great but it's always something to worry about. I'm currently nervous about about the plumbing getting frozen in all this continual cold weather. The Met Office says this week will contuinue to be frosty. Of course we took our usual precautions of turning off the water and leaving the taps open, but there still could be water in the pump which would damage it if it froze. Logic tells me it should be OK as it's 18inches below the surface level of the canal and inside the boat's insulation, but you can never be sure. I ought to put a mini max thermomenter next to the pump I suppose, then I would see how low the temperature falls.

I'd also like to check the batteries and top up the charge.

A bit of neglect at this time of year could be quite costly.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New year, new album?

A happy New Year to you.
For a few years I have been keeping my digital photos using a bit of software called Brilliant Photo, which has worked quite well. However, Peter suggested I take a look at Picasa 3 which you can download free from Google. Now is a good time to change. New year, new folder.

Picasa seems to be quite good, although I can't work out why my dated folders don't display in order. For instance it gives me 2008, 2007, 2003, 2005 in that order. Most odd.

However it does have some real benefits for me, the first being that I can create a blog entry starting with choosing photos from the thumbnail library, then it automatically starts up Blogger and puts the photos in and I just have to type the text around them, which is what I am doing now.

Picasa also has a good set of tools for improving the photos, quicker, easier and more versatile than Brilliant Photo. Plus one thing that has really opened my eyes. At a click of a button I can see the exposure, shutter speed and ISO data for each picture. Very revealing. The first thing it has shown me is that when I set the camera to Auto, it frequently adjusts the ISO setting. See these two pictures (neither very good) taken nine seconds apart, both on Auto. In the first one the camera has chosen an ISO of 64, and in the second an ISO of 400! I don't think I would have chosen the 400 had I been operating manually. On the other hand it did allow a shutter speed of 160th of a second which helped to overcome the fact that the boat was moving along at 3mph.

I think I'll spend a bit more time pondering settings on old pics good and bad and see what I can learn.

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