Friday, December 31, 2010

When I'm 64 -applying the McCartney MoT.

Another year to look forward to.  Herbie moves north, new places to see.  We have just under three months left to do any boating in our current area.  Hopefully another week in London and maybe a short outing or two up the GU, then it’s off we jolly well go.  Weather permitting we’ll move up to Crick via the Thames and the South Oxford, a great trip in itself.

Meanwhile it’s time for a personal checkup that I’ve been looking forward to for many years.  Very soon I’ll pass the McCartney milestone.  My 64th birthday.  So I thought I’d see if life was turning out according to his rather splendid song.  Here goes.
When I get older losing my hair, (well thinning bit, but I’m still fully covered up top.)
Many years from now, (ten days actually)
Will you still be sending me a valentine (yes, thanks Kath)
Birthday greetings bottle of wine? (a single malt even!)

If I'd been out till quarter to three ( at my age?)
Would you lock the door, (Never, but I have my own key thank you)
Will you still need me, ( I like to think so) will you still feed me, (actually I do half the cooking)
When I'm sixty-four?

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo ( sounds like my stiff legs in the morning)
You'll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah) (and my stiff shoulder)
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you. (where else would I go?)

I could be handy mending a fuse (just about)
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside ( Naah, too busy doing embroidery)
Sunday mornings go for a ride. (Any day really, the joys of early retirement)

Doing the garden, digging the weeds, (Hmm, here we meet our first failure, apart from an annual border bash and a bit of mowing)
Who could ask for more? (I could)
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, (see above)
When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear (failure number 2. I don’t have fond memories of the IoW, on our only holiday there the wind blew our tent down – and it is too dear, so we go camping in Shropshire)
We shall scrimp and save ( we need to, to keep Herbie going)
Grandchildren on your knee (YES! our best achievement, although Jacob is getting too big for knee sitting)
Vera, Chuck, and Dave (well that would have been something of a coincidence!)

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, ( email or text these days)
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say (Failure number 3, verbal precision isn’t Kath’s strong point)
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away. (failure number 4, I could do with wasting away at least another stone)

Give me your answer, fill in a form 
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Have I passed?  4 failures doesn't look too good does it? But like a lot of tests the questions are wrong! 

Instead of the gardening test we could have Doing the engine, changing the oil
 and then perhaps

Every summer we could take a boat 
On the old canal,  if the water's clear
At a steady pace
Grandchildren on our knee
Jacob first then Grace  

I would have liked Jacob to have been called Chuck though.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mind your wee knees

Some years ago in a photo gallery shop in Queensferry a lady shop assistant asked me to move aside so that she could access some photo drawers.  Her polite plea to "mind your wee knees" in her delightful Scots accent has remained a family saying ever since.

Today I forgot her advice and now I have very sore wee knees from kneeling on Herbie's roof scraping at the snow and ice.  A broom proved useless and a shovel would have scratched the paint , but a quick rummage in the kindling box produced a handy sized piece of plywood which doubled as a scraper and shovel.  Under the snow, at the side of the roof there was an impacted layer of ice about half an inch thick and it took a fair bit of shifting.

Anyway, we have now gone from this

to this

and there is a large pile of snow and ice on the frozen canal surface.

The good news is that my newly acquired waterproof gloves (from Black's) did their stuff brilliantly.  I had my hands on cold wet snow and ice for the best part of two hours.  The outer of the gloves was soaking but inside was dry and warm. £24 well spent.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grrrr! Brrrr! Oooh er!

Grrr!  Today I read a forum post entitled Don't say I didn't warn you from Phil Speight advising everyone to get the snow off the tops of their boats so as to avoid the formation of micro blisters in the paint.  I wish he had posted it two days earlier because I was out at Herbie then and could have done it.  However I feel I can't ignore it after all the work we did this year to paint it so  I'll have to drive back out tomorrow and brush off the snow if I can.  It was about four or five inches deep the other day and freezing cold.

Brrr!  It's going to be cold, but worse than that , slippery.  I don't have the luxury of being able to do it from the bank, so I might have to climb on the roof to do it.  Either that or from the gunwales.   I have a nasty feeling that there will be a crusty layer of ice under the snow too.  I don't ant to scratch the paint by too much scraping.  I could  use hot water, although that would re freeze straight away I suppose.  Hmm perhaps not a good idea.  I certainly don't want to do it chemically because that would probably do more harm than good.  The more I think about it the scarier it gets.

Although we have had snow here and it has been quite cold, we don't seem to have had the extremes of cold that people up north have.  The canal was frozen quite thickly the other day but there was water between Herbie and Humbug our neighbour, presumably thanks to Glyn being resident on Humbug and losing some of her heat through the hull.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Herbie 2010 Premier Award

And so to the final Herbie Award for 2010, and anyone reading the blog this year might easily work out what it might be.  For the first time it is a special group award to a terrific bunch of people whom I can never thank enough, as they helped us through the biggest job we have ever undertaken on Herbie.  And here they are in alphabetical order.

David (rainman) who got deep into the job

Kath ( painter and chief catering officer)

Marilyn, the best painter on wood that there is

Rick, the mainstay for whom no problem seems insurmountable

And Simon who slaved over the dirty bits and missed the fun bits

Yes of course The Herbie Special Award for 2010 goes to The Paint Crew for unpaid services beyond all expectations.  Here they are in a rare moment's respite.

Thanks guys and gals, I continue to feel very humbled by your contribution.

Not only that, but they all make very fine cruising crew members too.

As for me, I did a bit as well, although in disguise

Well that's the end of the awards for this year.  I hope you enjoyed them.

Roll credits

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Herbie's Video Christmas Card

Before we get to the final Herbie Award for 2010, a short musical interlude.  Unfortunately we couldn't afford Take That ("What is Take That?" , " A popular beat combo M'Lud") so you'll have to put up with me on smallpipes and Kath on dulcimer playing a Spanish carol while you look at some pretty winter canal scenes.  This is our home made Christmas card to all our lovely boaty friends, blog readers, and fellow bloggers, especially those afloat that we don't have addresses to send real cards to.

Its all a bit Low Res and  Lo Fi, (Simon we need you).  I never tried this before, and the recording was on the internal mic of a handheld MP3 player after all of three minutes rehearsal.  So having suitably managed your expectations in a downward direction, have a click on the video thingy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Awards amid winter's weary snaa

The view from my window as I write.  My car is abandoned in the snow a hundred yards down the hill from the house.

My good friend Terry Conway who lives up in Allendale, wrote a wonderful song called Winter's Weary Snaa and the last verse and chorus goes like this (to be read in a broad Northumbrian accent)

This white stuff is a corse, ye pluff it aal in vain
And then ye find yon corsed wind 
Has blaan it back again
I've often thowt meself
Heid doon against the sting
The squirrels has the best idea
Gan beep po's till the spring

Why man it makes ye bad
Tae hear the aaful blaa
Of yonder ca'ad north eatern wind
That drives the winter snaa

I guess you might need a tad of translation:  Corsed -cursed, pluff - plough, beep po's - to sleep

Terry is semi retired now but used to be a snow plough driver across the Northumbrian fells, so you can imagine that this song is very heartfelt.  I get very cross when people on telly complain about the lack of help from the authorities in this awful weather.  Let them have a go and they'd soon see it ain't that easy.

What has this to do with the Award for  Best Boater's Accessory?  We had some great wintery suggestions form readers.

Is it the hot water bottle I suggested, and Carrie warmly endorsed in her comment?

Is it the fantastic battery powered tiller hand warmer that Sue on Indigo Dream has?  (I want one)

Is it the Eco fan that wafts the warm stove heated air round the boat as suggested by Rick?  By the way Rick it doesn't work by peristalsis but by  placebo effect.

No it has to be the camera.  How else could  show you today's snow, and reminders of warmer times like this favourite from earlier this year.  I call it The Driving Lesson.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Boaters Accessory nominations

Back to the awards and our penultimate prize.  This is for the item which is most useful when you are out boating.  This is a good one for you to join in on.  All suggestions considered.

Note: There are some exclusions, viz:

A boat
All the fixtures within, otherwise it might have to be the toilet, and we wouldn't want that would we?
Essentials such a windlasses, mooring stakes, gangplanks etc.
Fancy fixtures like solar panels
Food and drink (otherwise Jim McBeam might win too easily)
Waterproof clothing - vital but not exciting enough

 No, it has to be something simple that you are glad to have and /or something you would regret not having if you forgot to bring it.

and my suggestions (in no particular order) are:

1 A canalometer, beautifully modelled here by a scarily semi naked Simon  with the mighty Tortoise in the background

This amazing device must have been invented by a genious  (modesty forbids me to say who), and it tells me how long it will take to reach the pub.  Clearly a vital piece of kit.  Should you be unfamiliar with Canalometers (shame on you) there is a link on the right hand side of this blog.

2. A battery-less torch.  Canals don't tend to have street lights, so when you are out and about after dark you often need a torch unless you like having a midnight dip in the Grand Union.  However torches with batteries are a waste of time.  They always run out just when you need them.  We use this super little hand powered jobby which you can buy in lots of shops quite cheaply.

It works and except for high summer it gets used virtually every day.

3. A hot water bottle.  Its a cold night, and the bed on the boat is up the other end from the stove.  You know you'll be cosy once you have been in bed for a little while but a HWB put in the bed half an hour before bedtime makes getting into bed a real pleasure.  Bliss.

4. A camera.  How could I keep doing this blog without one.  My main record of our boating activities is photographic, and browsing through the pics brings back so many memories.  Even when you have one, you curse it not being to hand when something interesting passes or suddenly occurs.  And sorry all you DSLR lovers, it has to have some point and shoot capability otherwise you'll miss too many shots fiddling about.  You haven't got time to fiddle with white balance or ISO settings when your engine is on fire (believe me, I know!).
I use two cameras, a big Fuji one with knobs to twiddle and a  Lumix compact.  It's the compact which gets most of the work.

Any more ideas?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Antifreeze testing

I popped out to the boat today to check it was OK pending the return of the freezing conditions.  No frost damage so far, but how can you be sure you have enough antifreeze in the engine?  Apparently too much (ie over 50%) is not a good idea.  I had to top up with a few litres of fresh water when we had the boil up on the Stort so I'm not sure how we stand.

I have one of those little antifreeze testers from Halfords - three little plastic balls in a dropper tube, and that shows two balls floating, which according to the label says probably enough, but check.  Then I remembered a great tip I read on canal world forums.  Take a sample of your coolant and stick it in the freezer at home.  So I did, remembering to run the engine first to give it a good mix.  After four hours in the freezer it is still liquid although there are ice crystals at the bottom of the sample which is is a pottery jug.  I Googled freezer temperatures and found that most UK freezers operate at about -18 degrees C, so I guess I'm alright unless it gets extremely cold out there.  The engine is reasonably well insulated from the outside world anyway.  The min max thermometer I left by the front water tank stopcock showed a low of -1 deg C over the last 3 weeks or so, so that's not too bad.

Whilst I was there today I also stuffed a hot water tank insulating jacket round as much of the calorifier as I could reach.  These are really cheap at the moment in DiY stores as they get a government subsidy like roof insulation.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Herbie Award for 2010's worst bit of canal

This is a tough one.  Not because we have encountered much to complain about this year, but because I like nearly everywhere we go.  However, certain bits of the waterway in certain weather conditions or times of the year can be a real pain.

Let's start close to home.  The dear old Slough Arm.  I love it really and as you can see from the picture I use at the head of the blog, it can look very pretty.   Not bad at the other end either except for a bit of graffiti.

Remarkably clear water, loads of fish, greenery and waterfowl.  What's the problem?  The dreaded blanket weed that's what. Every summer it becomes nigh on  impassable because of the weed.  Us boaters are surely to blame because the densest weed growth is alongside the boats at our yard at Iver, and when I say dense I mean really dense.  Great thick blankest of green cotton wool that seem to clog the whole width and depth of the waterway.  It can clog a propeller in seconds.  That is the one thing that I shall not miss when we move Herbie to Crick next year.

Next contender.  The Regents Canal south of Islington.  That Regents Canal? Yes, I know it is lovely through Madia Hill and Regents Park, and great fun at Camden market but . .

It all starts at City Road lock just beyond the Islington tunnel.  A nice enough spot, but it has the most frustrating lock I think I have ever encountered.  It seems that whatever you do, the bottom gates want to swing  open on their own.  You walk round and shut one, and then you charge round the other way, leaping over balance beams  and nearly falling into the adjacent unused lock, but its no good.  By the time you reach the other gate the first one has swung open again.  To add insult to injury, not only do these gates swing open, they are real pigs to shut.  Something is seriously out of balance.  There are some heavy gates further down this stretch too and beyond Ducketts Cut  a number of places are really vulnerable to side winds, so the poor person waiting on the boat while you do the gates gets blown into the far bank.  Drab too, this bit.  And so on through to the final lock at Commercial road which seems to have permanently broken paddles and takes ages to operate.  But what is even worse, it nearly always seems to be terrible weather when we go down there.

After that I'm struggling to think of another really bad bit on our travels this year, although quite a few locks in the  chilterns do suffer from gates that swing open, they are not in the same class as City Road.  So I'll declare here and now that the Regents Canal takes the biscuit  Award for Worst Bit of Canal in 2010  .

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So what was the scariest moment of 2010

Do you know what people are generally most afraid of?  I once saw the results of a survey and there was clear winner.  Way above, flying, spiders, getting mugged and all the rest was public speaking!  I reckon it all boils down to fear of failure of of embarrassment.  And so it was with my scariest moment of 2010.  Not the sudden adrenaline shock of Herbie's engine threatening to blow up, but the slow inexorable approach of a moment when disaster might be revealed.  A bit like those people who can't watch their football team in an important match.

So my choice of  the Herbie Scariest Moment of 2010 has to be the removal of the masking tape at the end of the paintfest.  Months of planning, weeks of work and stacks of money, all resting on the pull of a piece of tape.  It was truly scary.  Now you know why the masking tape was a contender for best DiY product!

But there is an upside this type of fear.  If the event passes without the dreaded worst happening, then the result is often complete euphoria.  And in this case it was.

Coming soon

2010s worst bit of canal
The Best boater's accessory,
and a mystery Special Award

Award logo mark II for the taking

As I suspected my lovely award logo was too wide for the job, so following an idea from Sue here is Mark II.

Herbie Award

Just copy the jpeg and type in the citation below.  Is that OK?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Scariest Moment Award nominees

As a firm believer in discretion being the better part of valour, I'm a fairly risk averse person, which is I suppose what makes me such a dull chap.  However it seems that operating a boat does unavoidably have it's scary moments, so how about an Award for the scariest moment this year.  Here is my shortlist.

1. Starting Herbie's engine after bleeding the fuel and having it instantly run away to what seemed like ten million rpm because I had replaced a broken governer screw without adjusting it.  I had fleeting visions of the engine exploding as I was in the engine hole alongside it.  I still get palpitations at the thought.

2. Mooring up in a very strong sidewind at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes.   I was on my own and there was no-one ashore to catch a rope.  I quote from my blog post at the time.

There was one mooring spot, just long enough, and there was a stiff breeze blowing offshore. My first attempt failed and I overshot. Then I got blown into a rather smart boat opposite. I backed off and had another go, pointing the bow of the boat at the centre of the gap and in forward gear just ticking over, I ran along the gunwales to the bow and jumped of with a rope just as we were about to crash. Not a textbook manoeuvre but it worked. I pulled the boat parallel with the bank and leapt on to the stern to apply reverse gear to stop us just before we smacked into the boat in front. 

And if you wonder why I don't have a photo of this, you don't really understand the situation!

3. On the Stort , lifting the engine hole cover to see why it had stalled and seeing this.

Nuff said.  It was alright in the end.

4. Taking off the masking tape at the end of two weeks of painting the boat.   The whole business of the boat painting was scary because there was so much at stake, and it's not until the end that you know if it has worked. You see, before you pull off the tape, you have this.

The paint looks OK but would half the paint come off with the tape? Would it have bled all over the place and the nice sharp edges be all ragged? After two weeks hard graft  and a thousand pounds spent, these are not trivial matters.  I happy to say Rick did the peeling for me while I held my hands over my eyes and squinted  through the gaps between my fingers.  

The result - brilliant, and probably my best moment of the whole year!

5.  Another painty one.  Never having done any signwriting before, putting the first brush strokes of Herbie's name on the lovely shiny newly painted panel. 

Now there was no going back.  Would it be a disaster?  Would it ruin the whole effect of the new paint job?  I was very nervous, and shaky hands are not what you need when you are signwriting.  Hence all the masking tape.

Do these seem scary to you, or am I just a whimp?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Your Award logo?

Award Winner Sue suggested it might be nice to have Herbie Award image that recipients might proudly display on their web pages.  A great idea but not all that easy when you try to make one small enough yet still legible.

Are either of these any good or do I need to make it simpler so it can be smaller and still be read?

Don't forget if you are a continuous cruiser and sticking out the freeze like Sue and Carrie, then this award is for you too.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A very special award

Late last night I decided I would make a special Herbie Award.  I'd been reading some other boater's blogs and messages to Canal World Forums about life for those frozen in on their boats.  In particular those continuous cruisers who are stranded in the countryside away from sources of fuel and water.  Once their water runs out, and their logs or heating oil are finished, they are in real difficulties.

It was all summed up well by Sue of No Problem in her post yesterday, concerned about fresh water supplies and the treacherous walk to fetch it.  Not that she was really complaining, for anyone reading her blog over the years will know of her adaptability and stoicism.  Real continuous cruisers (rather than continous moorers) have my respect at this time of year.  I wonder if after this winter some will decide the floating life is no longer for them.

So I decided to make a Herbie Award for Fortitude and dedicate it to all those brave souls struggling out there at the moment.  On their behalf I will give it to Sue and Vic on No Problem (seen here in warmer days)

Sorry Sue and Vic, this award has no monetary or any other value.  Just recognition of the stoicism of you and your fellow CCers.  I hope you will accept it on their behalf.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

And the Best Mooring Stop is . . plus Best Waterways Event

Well, I've surprised myself.  My choice for Favourite Mooring Stop 2010 is Fenny Stratford lock!!  By no means the prettiest or the most exciting, I've just had to admit that I aways enjoy staying there, whether it's doing jobs, walking down into the shops or along the path behind the hedge, or just sitting out by the water chatting to passers by.  As an additional bonus, it's a safe place to leave a boat unattended for a few days as we did in order to go to the Braunston Boat Rally..  A pleasant old chap from one of the houses opposite was deputising for the mooring warden there last summer and he did daily checks on the boats.  I would suspect that other boaters might find this choice surprising, but each to his own

Now what shall we have next?  having just mentioned Braunston, lets have an award for Best Waterways Event.

This year we attended three.  Here they are in chronological order

1. IWA Cavalcade at Little Venice at May Bank Holiday.  For a number of the liveaboard boaters at our yard this is their annual outing, so we joined in the convoy.  When you arrive on the Friday evening it is very chaotic as they sort out which boat goes where.  For those lucky enough to be booked into Brownings Pool it is well ordered.

 For the rest of us moored up the main line it is definitely not.  You just grab what spot you can as the boats moor up three abreast.  This is one of those festivals that is an annual gathering of old friends, so the organisers don't seem to feel bound to explain the goings on to newcomers.  Black mark.

There are of course some lovely boats there.  The artwork on this one  looks suspiciously like the work of a certain Mr Speight.

Some good craft stalls, a decent supply of ales and cider, a very good band one night, and a fine if somewhat hilarious parade of old boats.  Hilarious because of the problems of processing very big boats through very small spaces.  We had a grandstand view from aboard Simon's diminutive Nb Tortoise, and felt we were going to be demolished on one or two occasions.  The weather was nasty, a very cold wind and some heavy rain taking the shine off many events.  The best bit was meeting up with James and Amy from Nb Lucky Duck,  Sarah and Jim from Nb Chertsey and of course Simon and Carrie.  Lots of chat and a fair bit of cider if I recall correctly.

2. Braunston Historic Boat Rally 24 June

Another first for us and we really enjoyed it.  Leaving Herbie at Fenny Stratford we got buses and trains up to Rick and Marilyn and went with them to the rally.  A lovely hot day.  Free entry - just a modest car park fee. Crowds of people.  Lots of lovely old boats.  Complete chaos on the cut as they all crammed in together,

this is the main line of the Grand Union Canal!  A bit like holding a vintage lorry rally on the middle lane of the M1!  They have a fine boat procession with a good commentary on the tannoy.  It was especially good to see Sarah on her first showing of her newly restored Nb Chertsey.

Cogniscenti will also spot a pair of Ducks sitting just forward of the cabin. The rally also had a good craft and canal bric a brac tent and the beer tent sold the right stuff.  Once again we ended up drinking and chatting with the Ducks, the Chertseys and the Tortoises.

3. IWA National Festival at Beale Park  August Bank Holiday

In reality mostly a trade show although there are chances to attend a workshop or a talk.  Now you might see a pattern developing here because I have to confess that some time was spent talking to Simon in the beer tent.  As to the exhibits, there seemed to be a lot of people selling high value items such as engines and boat windows, but a disappointing shortage of chandlery stuff.  Of course various IWA branches had pitches, as did restoration groups.  There were a few show boats to look over too and a small number of historic boats.  I'm not at all sure the IWA have worked out what this show is really for.  It seems to me to be a bit of this and a bit of that and have no proper focus.  I suppose I could add that despite taking my camera, I didn't find a reason to use it.

Now, dear reader, from my comments I'm quite sure you can work out the winner for yourself, so I won't make you wait overnight.  So the Herbie 2010 Award for Best Waterways Event goes to the rather splendid Braunston Historic Boat Rally.  Well done them. I shall endeavour to return in future years.

Talking of which, as we are moving to Crick next spring, we shall have a free ticket to the Crick show, so that'll be one we'll get to in 2011.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Best Pub announced plus nominations for favourite mooring stop

What an agonising choice.  Our shortlist of pubs all deserve a prize, but only one can win so it has to be The Rising Sun at Berko.  Architecturally it is no great shakes, and the decor isn't anything special, and you can't moor outside the door, but it wins because they are so good at what they do.  Simply providing lovely things to drink.  And its not by accident.  The landlord is always keen to ask your opinion of this beer or that cider and they really do try to have a selection of unusual and delicious stuff.  Its the equivalent of fine dining.  This is fine drinking. Its also a real pub.  A place to have a conversation with people you never saw before.  As for their little beer festival, it was small but perfectly formed.

And now for something completely different.  The award for Favourite Overnight Mooring.  For this year's selection I have decided to go for places that give me pleasure just to be at.  They may not necessarily have handy shops or a pub or other attractions.  Just nice places to sit on or near the boat and enjoy being there.

So here we go with the shortlist.

1.  Kensal Green, London

The last bit of proper greenery before you get into the city centre, although it is only ten minutes walk from the Portobello Road.  There is always room to moor here, and you can have a picnic or a BBQ and watch the ducks and geese.  Joggers and cyclists go to and fro on the towpath, but it has a nice air of calm.  Even the huge gas holder nearby is attractive, and there are some fascinating boats in the area like this one that chugged past us.

2. Grove Park - Grand Union 

We stopped here on a glorious summer evening and walked around taking photos.  The canal here is actually a bit of river and has a gentle current.  I suspect this place is a bit genteel and manicured for some tastes, but you can't deny its beauty.

3.  Winkwell  -  Grand Union

  The very next evening from the Grove, we stopped at Winkwell just above the swing bridge.  This is the northern outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. You can see the Four Horshoes just down the cut, a popular pub for sitting out by the water.  The towpath runs alongside a little stream at the foot of some attractive house gardens.

4. Fenny Stratford lock - Grand Union near Milton Keynes

I bet a lot of people would be surprised at this choice, but I love it.  The moorings lie  against a hedgerow behind which is a footpath with a surprising abundance and selection of wild flowers.  Grace stayed with us here and she loved the walk. On the other side of the canal just some suburban houses and the streets leading over the hill to IKEA, B&Q et al.

Its a really good place to do a spot of gunwale painting as the bank is low.  This time I used it to do the signwriting on the starboard side.  That bottle you can see is white spirit.   The little high street nearby has food and a great hardware shop.  Most of all though it is a pleasant place to sit out at night.

5. Hertford Town moorings - River Lea

 A nominee in previous years too, I have a soft spot for this place as it was one of the first places we took Herbie.  The river here is clear, narrow and gentle and across the towpath lie the town allotments.  Despite being only a couple of hundred yards from the town centre it is quiet.  Just the odd person strolls past.  Mostly just out for a gentle stroll.  Hertford is such a nice old town, so even after hours, a short walk gives you lots of fine old buildings to look at.  If the wind is in the right direction you have the added bonus of  the aroma of hops from the nearby McMullen's Brewery.  In this picture we had taken the last spot.  Further back, the grass verge is wide enough to sit out on.

Writing these up has given me a strong sense of nostalgia for our cruises this year, and they remind me of why I love cruising.  I have no idea yet who I will choose for the winner.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Best Town Waterfront announced and Nominations for Best Pub

I should have invited the local mayors and the press for this one but I couldn't afford the banquet, so here goes anyway.  The Best Town Waterfront on our 2010 cruises is: (drum roll, tearing open of envelope, camear shots of anxious contestants)  Berkhamsted.  Very well done Berko, always nice but this year better than ever with bridges decorated.  I've even spelled it right today.  Maybe they'll put up another plaque.

And so on to one of the premier and most important awards.  Best Pub 2010.  This is of course the subject of diligent research and frequent sample visits, and I have to say it is a very difficult choice.  So what do you have to do to be nominated?

1. Be close to the waterway.  The closer the better.
2. Be friendly and welcoming
3. Serve very good real ale, preferably an interesting selection
4. Have atmosphere
5. Have locals that will talk interestingly to you

That rules out quite a few I can tell you.

So here is the shortlist

1. The Grapes at Limehouse - last year's winner, seen here from rear as the little balcony overlooks the Thames
The Grapes scores most highly on Atmosphere, and Ale.  One of the great old pubs of London, featuring in all the guides.

2. The Rising Sun at Berkhamsted.

A vastly improved pub since the present, very keen, landlords took over.  Known locally as The Riser, this small but perfectly formed it sits adjacent to the bottom town lock, and serves an ever changing range of real ales and real ciders.  We were lucky enough to be passing when their summer beer festival was on, and it was a delight.  No food except on special occasions like the festival when we had an exceptional ploughmans lunch with carefully selected speciality cheeses and English apples.

3. The Old Barge at Hertford

In a quaint spot right by the river Lea at the head of navigation.  This largish pub serves a super range of very well kept ales and has a good food menu.  Inside it is comfortable and it has character and a lively clientele.  Extra points for having newspapers too.  They do a particularly good Sunday night quiz although we missed it this year.  This is the sort of pub you could sit in all day reading the papers and not feel in the way.

4. The Anchor and Hope on the Lee Navigation at Upper Clapton.  What can I say?  A little gem that has somehow survived through the years whilst the surrounding area has been rebuilt.  I took this photo from the train as we passed bound for London on a day off.

Regular readers will recall our tale of being helped over the fence by the barman as we tied up outside.  It has a tiny bar and usually three real ales and no food.  Sadly we've never been there in the evening, but at lunchtime it seems to have people popping in and out for a quick pint and a chat.  Good conversation can always be had here.  This is a real old fashioned local.  Totally unspoilt.

5. The Black Horse at Greenford

Here we are moored outside.

The Black Horse is a big pub, but still friendly and, I have to say, often really helpful.  A friend of ours with an allergy had her meal specially tweaked by them at no notice.  At the end of a very cold day on the boat we called in for a nice hot dinner and were dismayed to find that kitchen staff had called in sick and they couldn't do food for us.  We did manage to get fish and chips up the road, but returned for a pint.  The landlady came over to apologise about the lack of food and gave us a voucher for a free Sunday lunch next day.  The Black Horse has comfy sofas, newspapers, a balcony overlooking the garden and the canal, and unfailingly superb beer.  It has served the best pint of Fullers ESB I have ever tasted.  In fact one of the best glasses of beer I have ever had.  It is also just about half way between our home moorings and Paddington , so a perfect stop for us.

6. Lastly, the lovely old Globe Inn at Old Linslade on the Grand Union.

You can moor right outside the door, and on summer nights the outside tables are a good place to chat with other boaters.  The staff are friendly, the food very good,  and they always have a couple of interesting ales.  This is a picture postcard pub, and very popular.  I can't ever remember passing without an overnight stop.

What a great selection, every one a winner, but not this time.  I have to choose just one.  Results tomorrow.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Best gadget revealed plus nominations for Best Town Waterfront and some of the worst

And the best boaters DIY gadget is  . . .( stupid 15 second pause (don't you find that really annoying on the telly))

Brush Mate (see yesterday for details).  It wins because it really works, it's really useful, it's not expensive and as far as I know it's unique.  If you use oil based paints, you should get one.

Now for the Next Award - a new category for 2010.  It goes to the town which has made the best use of it's waterfront in terms of amenity and most of all attractiveness.  Bear in mind that this year we have only done the Southern GU, London, and the Lee and Stort.

And the nominations for the top three are:

1. Milton Keynes (yes really).  It takes a two or three hours to pass through MK and I can't call to mind one grotty bit.  It is relatively free of derelict boats too!  Practically a linear park, the canalside is extremely well looked after.  It's hard to believe you are passing through a city.

2. Berkhamstead.  Strangely, more urban feeling than Milton Keynes with building often right against the canal, but they've made a good effort to recognise the canal and make something of it.

I bet you never thought of it as a port.  It also has good moorings opposite the park and handy for the shops. A very popular overnight stop.

3. Ware

Thanks to a determined local effort they have preserved the old waterfront gazebos which make this place special.

This bustling little town has good moorings, and a very neatly maintained lock.  Strangely the lock is maintained by the Environment Agency rather than BW, something to do with the New River I suspect.  Ware used to be a major centre of the malting industry and several of the old maltings have been tastefully coverted rather than demolished.

Honourable mentions also go to  Hertford with its lovely riverside cottages, Apsley (if you like smart modern), and at a pinch, Rickmansworth which has a lot of good mooring space.

I'm tempted to add a couple of brickbats for towns that could learn something from the top three.  Firstly, and most importantly London.  Don't get me wrong, I love London by canal because it's interesting, but for such a major city they have made poor efforts in making something of the waterfront.  Apart from Kensal Green, Victoria Park, Little Venice /Paddington, and Regents Park, and Limehouse (What have the Romans ever done for us?)  it looks pretty drab.

Although Bishops Stortford was an important destination on our autumn cruise, I didn't even bother to take a photo.  Sure, there are adequate moorings, but you wouldn't go there for the view.  The waterfront feels claustrophobic to me.

As to Slough. Words fail me.  The most common remark made by the few who venture as far as the Basin is "Is this it?"

Tune in tomorrow to see who wins.  I need to sleep on it.

Perhaps I should do an award for Worst Waterfront.  Slough wins it.  Easily.

Also tomorrow, nominations for Best Pub

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Best DIY gadget

And so to our first Herbie Award for 2010 - Best DIY gadget (surprise surprise).  Please excuse me if these are rather painting orientated this year, but they would be wouldn't they.

And the nominations are

1. Craftmaster low tack masking tape - amazing stuff that leaves a razor sharp edge and no trace of where it had stuck.  Especially good for cheating at signwriting if like me you don't have a steady hand.  Click the picture up big  to see the edges I got here in this part finished stage.  No bleeding anywhere and no residual marks.  Good for coachlines too.

2. Craftmaster coachpaint (No I don't work for them).   - more amazing stuff.  I'm sure other leading brands do as good a job once they are on, but this stuff is so easy to put on compared with the rest.  It flows like milk straight from the tin even though it has a higher percentage of pigment solids than other paints.  Here is me with the roller and Rick close behind tipping off with a nice Purdy brush.  Note how well this first coat is covering and look at the gloss.  We could do one side of the boat in about 40 minutes if I recall correctly. There's that masking tape again  (the red stuff)

3.  Brush Mate .  I mentioned this a couple of years back when I'd bought one but hadn't used it yet.  Now I have, and it's brilliant.  Here it is.
It's just a tall plastic box with some hooks inside to hang up paint brushes.  The secret is in the chemical pad inside which produces a vapour which prevents the paint from drying on the brush.  Next day you just take out the brush and carry on painting.  No brush cleaning, no wrapping them in cling film or dunking in white spirits.  And the amazing thing is it works for months and months.  I keep a brush with black paint in it and if the gunwales get scratched I can just take out the brush and paint over the scratch.  The paint is still wet on the brush six months later!  Another good thing is you can hang a number of brushes side by side, each with different colour paint.  It works for all oil based paints.

4.  My Bosch lithium ion portable drill. At last a battery driven drill that has some welly and the batteries stay up for ages.  If like me you only use a drill occasionally, the lithium ion batteries make a big difference because they hold their charge over  long storage.  As for the welly, well when I was making my solar panel frame I used it to tighten up a bolt.  Unfortunately I held on to the wrong half of the assembly and when the bolt reached full tightness the long bit of the frame was swung up by the drill giving me a smart smack on the head!  I still have the mark.

Not really a gadget, but a special mention for the High Line Yachting wet dock at Cowley.  A super place to work with good heat, light and ventilation and at a very competitive cost.  I haven't seen better.

There is one thing I have not nominated, because I don't have one.  However I reckon it would have been a boon on many occasions this year.  A head torch.  Perfect for working in dark or gloomy confined spaces leaving both hands free.  I think plumbers use them these days.

Who will win? The golden envelope will be opened tomorrow to reveal the winner, and we'll move on to the next thrilling category.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Herbierama review of the year

... and you can see a repeat of Strictly Come Boating on Sunday.   And now, it's December the first, and as a scene setter for the Herbie Awards season coming soon on the Herbie channel, tonight we have a special edition of Herbie-rama featuring a review of the year.  Coming up right after the break.

Advert: (To be read in a female Geordie accent)

My boat used to look dull and lifeless until I discovered new miracle Carnauba wax,.  Now it has a flash and a sparkle to the deep rich colours and you can see all the lovely waves in the steelwork.  Carnauba wax, because your boat is worth it.
Cue Dramatic synthesizer music

Herbie-Rama Review of the year 2010

Hello good evening and welcome to this special edition in which we remind ourselves of the boating events that have shaped Herbie's year.

It all began, as it ended, with a big freeze.  The canal was inches thick with ice and Herbie wasn't going anywhere, but it was DIY time.  Yes, with the help of our viewers readers and the miracle of the Google Sketchup drawing software Herbie got the design for a new folding cratch table which was manufactured and installed later in the year.  But the big DIY plan was for one of the major events of the year.  The Herbie Paintfest.  In this two week makeover special in April featuring a cast of the finest available artisans we saw the boat transformed from a blue, pock marked and scratched body to a shiny grey and grey masterpiece.  While the skies above Heathrow (and Cowley) were clear of aircraft owing to an unpronounceable volcano erupting in Iceland, our expert team worked round the clock with angle grinders, several miles of masking tape and tins and tins of paint.  The only relief came from the fact that it co-incided with the Wetherspoon's Beer festival forcing us to make nightly trips into Uxbridge to ensure the quality of the beer.

The rest of the spring continued without incident until Herbie made her maiden outing in her new livery.  This time to attend the IWA cavalcade at Little Venice, where she was well and truly outdone by all the posh boats in Brownings Pool.  Hmmph!

June saw the first of our only two lengthy cruises in 2010 when we climbed the mighty Chilterns in search of the mystical city of Milton Keynes.  On the way some serious research was done into locating new hostelries to nominate for the Herbie pub of the year award.  The return journey was broken with a couple of lengthy stops in which Herbie's magnificent  passable new signwriting was completed and another half a mile of masking tape consumed.

For the remainder of the summer. Herbie lay resting like an unemployed actor while her owners stayed near home waiting for their daughter's hospitalisation which actually didn't happen until September.  Hmmph again!  The gap was filled by . . more DIY of course.    New domestic batteries, new LED lighting and a solar panel, complete with novelty tilting frame.

And so to cruise number two, in which we travelled the entire lengths of the Lee and Stort, Herbie's engine all but caught fire and we had a city break in London.

So there's our background for the Herbie Awards.  A year featuring limited cruising  (and nowhere new) but a lot of artisanery.  Pundits expect this years awards to have a drop or two of oil or paint and sawdust on them.  Will they be right?

You can see the 2010 Herbie Awards series starting soon on this channel.

Roll credits

Film of lots of people dancing around a telephone shouting "We buy any boat" and other inaudible phrases


And now another chance to see  a three year old episode of QI . . . .

Monday, November 29, 2010

Un-remembering the memorable

What a brilliant lot you are! Many thanks for all the suggestions for the 2010 Herbie awards, some of which I'll incorporate.  Others might be more difficult as my memory is so useless.  I have had some bizarre conversations with other boaters this year, but the details escape me, so that category might have to wait until next year when I should keep a notebook.  As an example of how bad my memory sometimes is, here is the script of what happened when we were getting a meal in the Moorhen pub on the Stort.

Me:  I'll go and order the food.  What do you want?

David (Rainman):  I'll have the fish and chips.

I walk six paces to the bar, order my meal and Kath's, and fish and chips for David

Barman:  Is that with garden peas or mushy peas?

Me:  I'll go and ask.

I walk over and ask David.  He wants garden peas.  Six paces back to the barman.  Ten seconds at most.

Barman:  What did he say?

Me:  er . .er . .   I can't remember!

All:  General laughter.

At least the lads behind the bar saw the funny side.

I know there's something I have been using on the boat this year that I have found a real boon.  I kept thinking to myself, that'll be good for the Herbie Awards Best Gadget.  Do you think I can now remember what it is?  I expect it'll come to me.  Probably at 3 am and I'll forget it again next morning.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The 3 stages of boat frost protection

As temperatures plunge, and the kids wait excitedly for the snow to arrive  I start to fret about Herbie and frozen pipes.  Normally in winter when we abandon ship to go home, we frost protect Herbie at Level 1 - turn off the water pump, turn on the water taps to get rid of water pressure in the plumbing, and drain the morco gas water heater.  All in all a 2 minute job.  That's all we ever did until 2 years ago.

Now with the benefit of experience I know that escalating to Level 2 is not all that much bother.  So today with a prolonged sub zero period promised, I made the journey back out to the boat to escalate the protection.  Our moorings at Iver are some way out of town and they do get colder than built up areas nearby.  There was some ice on the canal today.

Level 2 requires me to:

1. Properly drain the plumbing by bleeding off the taps on the floor at the rear of the cabin.  This gets the last couple of litres out of the pipes.

2. Remove the water pump, empty it and store it in a well insulated cupboard.

At one time I would have thought that removing the water pump was too big a job merely for precautionary purposes, but experience shows that it only takes a couple of minutes, and as I learned to my cost last April, a new water pump costs nearly a hundred quid.

"Is there a level 3?"  I hear you ask.  Why certainly there is. When the temperature really drops and you can walk on the canal, more stringent measures are called for. In fact there are two options.

1.  The unpleasant option.

 Drain the calorifier (hot water tank) which sits in the engine bay.  I have never done this as a) it is a lot of water to somehow collect and try not to spill and b) it is quite well lagged and c) I am too lazy to work out which pipes to disconnect to do it.

2.  The rather pleasant option

Move on to the boat for the duration of the big freeze.  Light the fire, run the engine or the Eberspacher to heat up the calorifier, get a good book, put your feet up and enjoy.  Being snug and warm on a boat when there is ice and snow outside is one of the Best Things.  Herbie enjoys it too.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nominations for nominations for the big awards

The red carpet is being cleaned, the old Tuxedo pressed, and the glittering stage is being set for the major event of the year.  Yes, it's nearly time for the 2010 Herbie Awards.  Each year excited virtual crowds gather round the blog, breathless in anticipation to see which bit of canal bank we most liked to stop at, and anxious publicans thrill at the thought of their establishment being nominated for best pub or best pint.  It all gets very emotional, the winners' tearful speeches and the brave smiles hiding the anguish of disappointment for the runners up,  but I try to keep my head.  If you have missed them in the past you can always look back at last December's postings to get a flavour of the event.

The first task is in many ways the hardest, deciding what the categories should be.    Best pub is always a favourite, so we'll keep that in.  Most scary moment is another good 'un.  Best bits of waterway cruised and overnight stops are always a favourite.  But, we need to inject some drama into the affair, a new category or two.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Famous names

Herbie is not a bad name for a boat, although we didn't choose it.  I don't know why the original owners chose it, but I like to think it was after a nice friendly person rather than a Volkswagen car.    Mercifully we get very few references to VWs from people we pass, and I can truthfully state that I have never seen (or wanted to)  the Herbie film, or is it films.  I'm not into anthropomorphism.  I have enough to put up with having Herbie's pizza leaflets through the door every week.  I've never had one of those either.   (Blimey, I just looked it up, and there were Six Herbie films! ).

However we have this year seen a couple of film related boat names that I did like.

First, up at Rammey Marsh on the Lee we see this.  Complete with photos of Bogie and Katherine Hepburn in their respective parts.

How do they do that?  Put a photo on the side of a boat.  They do it on buses and vans now don't they.
Anyhow, I like the idea because it's a great film and at least the African Queen was a boat.

And at Crick a couple of months ago we saw this:

More a book than a film, but a neat idea.  In a similar vein, Our friends Robin and Laura have Miss Matty - Cranford on their boat.

No, we will not be having Herbie - Duisburg on our boat thank you.