Monday, May 31, 2010

Cratch table goes for a fitting

Ah ha, I bet you all thought my folding cratch table would never get finished. Well, I admit I've been lagardly in picking it up again after the paintfest, but I'm back on the case, and to prove it, look at this.

Here is the table in its folded-out-of-the-way position. You see it resting on the floor here because I have yet to attach the hanging hinges to the boat, so in the end it will dangle about an inch higher.

The fancy T shaped piece is the leg, which will hinge at the bottom to a board on the floor (the last remaining unmade piece). To erect the table, the leg is dropped to the floor and the table is brought up and folded out so.

Then the leg is raised and wedged behind the aluminium section you see here. Lastly two further aluminium pieces slide out of the centre one to support the table flaps. The reason they are not shown here is that one of them lies at the bottom of the canal! It slid out and fell in as I was putting the table on the boat. Thankfully I have enough material to make another if I can't retrieve it with a landing net.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Electrical mess and a bus bar question

I am not proud of Herbie's battery cabling. Before I install any new batteries I really need to sort out the awful dog's breakfast of wiring that the current lot have. Not my fault, I inherited it, but I really should have sorted it out before now.

The problem stems from the fact that when the boat was built, they welded in a battery tray big enough for three batteries - two domestic, one starter, and we now have four. What's worse is that because of where they are, on the curving shelf alongside the engine bay, they can't line up properly. So because of this (wooden boxes shown in red),the wiring ends up looking like this.

Yuck. Unsightly, very difficult to figure out what goes where, and it's not good to have all those wires on one battery post.

I need to rip it all out, resite the battery boxes further up the shelf where I can get them in a nice neat line and redo the cabling in a neat fashion. In the space where I have to work this is a non trivial task, and I suspect I will utter the odd curse or two before I finish. I have to build new boxes and somehow fix them down, and might have to make up a few new cables.

Does anyone know, is it OK to use a bus bar for connecting heavy current items e.g. the electric charger and the inverter?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ancient military solution to swan invasion

Inspired by Henry V's tactics to defend against French knights at Agincourt, our son Richard has found a solution to deterring the swans which prevented him getting off his boat. The swans had set up camp on the little spit of land that leads to Richard's boat, and last year he had to fend them off daily with a broom handle in order to go out to work!

So when the pair of birds arrived again this year, something had to be done. Whilst the swans were out feeding Richard resorted to military style defences. Wooden stakes.

Here they are. Kath looks pensively on while Richard stands defiant:

So far they seem to have worked, and the swans are reportedly a bit miffed, although the stakes do make it a bit difficult for humans too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cambridge - one duck and a lot of beer

Tuesday saw us in Cambridge -by car and bus, not boat, to meet up with Peter at the Beer Festival. As it happens this is only yards from the Cam and only a minute's walk from Lucky Duck, so after a quick phone call to Amy we acquired festival passouts, and popped along to deliver some surplus abrasives and to admire the Duck's rather splendid solar panel. I must say we're very tempted to get one after Amy telling us how they had to buy an extra battery to hold all the electricity the panel is making at the moment. Their blog today tells more.

And so to the festival. All I can say is Wow!! It is BIG. This is just at opening time, before the crowd packed in..Over 200 ales to try, all with tasting notes 80 ciders and perries - absolutely none from the big makersAlso unexpectedly, over 80 English cheeses.

Sadly, despite my best efforts, I failed to sample them all. In fact I mainly stuck to beers at less than 4% alcohol in order to survive the evening. There were beers tasting of grapefruit, ciders tasting of rum and loads of more amazing stuff. Call me boring, but I did not sample to 10% alcohol Old Engine Oil, or the beer flavoured with chillies or the stout containing port. They were there, but most beers were somewhat more conventional. Virtually none from National brewers, who needs 'em? Hooray for the microbrewing industry. If you think you don't like real ale, go to one of these festivals and I guarantee you'll be converted.

I had never been to a beer festival before and we were surprised first to see how superbly organised it was, then to see what a social occasion it was. There were literally thousands of people there, all in small groups, all doing as much chatting as drinking, and all taking their ales or ciders by the half pint. It was like an enormous and very friendly party.

The most surprising thing was that no-one seemed to get drunk! I suppose drinking only half pints and talking and eating a lot (there were some brilliant food stalls too) and doing so over several hours spread the alcohol intake. People were more interested in tasting what they were drinking than just getting smashed as so many kids seem to do these days. I didn't see a single cross word or hear a single instance of rowdyism, even at chucking out time.

Now I have the makings of the perfect boat trip. Down the Nene, across the Middle Levels, down the Ouse and the Cam, taking in Wicken Fen as you pass, and finish at the Cambridge Beer Festival. It would be hard to imagine a better one.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Up in arms up the Arm

Those of us with boats up the Slough Arm are not happy bunnies at the moment. Our moorings continue to be lovely, but anyone wishing to move their boat is having a really hard time because of the blanket weed.

Although still relatively early in the weed season, the section of the canal by our boats is already getting choked with the stuff. On Sunday evening we made the mistake of heading down the arm (or is it up?) to turn the boat at the winding hole less than a mile away and the trip took us two hours and a few trips into the weedhatch. And we got off lightly. Some others failed to get through and had to haul their boats back to their berth.

People are writing to BW to get something done, which they should as BW has a statutory duty to maintain the navigability of the canal However I suspect that their isn't really much they can do as the weed grows back very quickly if cut.

The real solution is to eliminate whatever it is that feeds the weed, for it only grows this thickly alongside the boats and it's probably something to do with the washing up and bath water that the boats discharge into the canal. I read somewhere that a lot of detergents contain phosphates which is good plant food. We need to find products that don't do this, probably quite possible, and then persuade everyone to use them, probably much harder!

In the meantime our future trips out will start with us reversing up to the slipway 50 yards away and turning there - a difficult manoeuvre with all the boats littered around but far preferable to what we did on Sunday.

Today we head off by road to Cambridge and Huntingdon for two days, ostensibly to visit our sons, but I confess that the Cambridge beer festival might have something to do with the choice of date :-)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

To DIY or not to DIY that is the question.

After my abortive attempt to bleed the fuel system the other day, Herbie's engine is now running again. Had I been more experienced it would have been reasonably straightforward and I wouldn't have bust the head off a bleed screw. The replacement part wasn't cheap, but I still have saved money by doing the engine service myself. However, it might have been a different story if I had done more serious damage.

DIY jobs don't always save money. By the time you have bought tools, wasted a piece of wood, broken something or whatever you could end up a lot worse off than paying someone else to do the job.

So why DIY? Because you learn. After fitting the replacment part today and finally bleeding the fuel system I started the engine only to find that the engine raced away uncontrollably. After pulling the stop button I pondered, then consulted Steve, one of the mechanics at the boatyard. He pointed out that the only thing that had changed was the new engine part, so take a look at that.

It was adjustable. Using two spanners the inner core of the bleed unit could be moved in and out. The packet it came in was labelled anti stall. Hmm. Maybe it controls minimum engine speed. And it did. A few turns of the spanner and I can now control the idle speed and the engine works fine.

The moral of the story is either

a) that by doing a job myself I now know a lot more about the engine than I did before and that might come in handy.

Or b) don't mess with what you don't understand you might do more harm than good.

You decide.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Calcutt Boats. plus what is 50% battery charge

Waterways world this month has a feature on Calcutt Clippers, probably the cheapest new 50ft narrowboats you can buy. The basic model is £48k which these days is amazing value for a new proper boat of that size.

Herbie is closely related to these boats in that it was fitted out by Calcutt and has many of the Clipper features, especially the rear galley inside layout. The main obvious difference is that Herbie has a totally different shell with a semi trad stern as opposed to the cruiser stern of the standard Clipper. Herbie's shell was built by Andicraft whereas normal Clipper shells are built by Pat Buckle on the river Nene.

Looking at the Clipper spec on the Calcutt website I see that most of the things listed as optional extras are things that Herbie already has. Things like central heating (which we rarely use) steel doors, TV ariel points, 240v electrics etc all come as extras, even the centre T stud on the roof! I recall phoning up Calcutt once over paint colours and the Lady said "Oh I remember Herbie, the chap who bought it wanted lots of changes over our normal spec, so its a one off really." Then she said "I also remember Herbie because I fell off it when I was painting it!"

So I guess a Clipper could end up costing you rather more than the basic £48k, but it's still value for money. Certainly their fit out is very professional and has been remarked on as such by surveyors and BSC inspectors on Herbie.

It was to Calcutt that we sent this week for the replacement for the injector pump bleed screw that I broke the other day. Apparently it has now arrived at our boatyard so I have again to face up to trying to bleed the fuel system. This time I have printed off the page from a copy of the BMC 1.8 workshop manual that can be found at the website of - you guessed it, Calcutt Boats.

Just a quick reply to a question by Halfie - I never know whether to reply on the comment space, but I suspect many people don't go back to look. Anyway Halfie, if you measure the battery voltage at no load, and after the surface charge has dissipated, then 50% is about 12.2 volts, 60% is 12.3v, 70% is 12.4v etc. This is not entirely reliable but a fair guide. On the other hand, if you install a Smartguage, you just press a button and it tells you the percentage, whether on load or not.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Batteries - research findings and decisions

Regular readers will know me by now. I like to get the facts on stuff. People with no interest in batteries or an allergy to figures can be excused from reading the rest of this post. See you another day :-)

Have Herbie's batteries failed before their time? Well according to my research they have done almost OK. Various sources quote various cycle lives for domestic (leisure) wet cell batteries, but something around 200 t0 250 charge/discharge cycles seems to be the norm. Ours were bought in November 2007 and have probably now done over 200.

What makes batteries last less long is a) discharging them below 50% - something we have been careful never to do, and b) not getting them fully 100% charged each time - something that inevitably happens when you are relying on the alternator.

Tony Brooks's course notes imply that under these conditions batteries will lose about 20% of their capacity each year, so what started off as a 330amp hr battery bank is probably now down to only just over half that. Then if we still aim not to discharge more than 50%, we have to half the number again. So in we reality the we would expect only have roughly 80 amp hours per day available.

I think ours have rather less but not all that much less, so they have done a bit worse than you might expect but not outrageously so.

Anyway it seems that they are near the end of their life and so we need some new ones. Should I get cheap and cheerful (as last time) and accept they will only last two and a half years, or pay more and get other types with a claimed longer life? I've read too many stories of people being disappointed with expensive batteries to go that way, but I have found some that are only a bit dearer than cheapos that might be significantly better.

Numax, the maker of our current (excuse the pun!) batteries still sells them at about £80, but they have a new type CXV 113 amp hr battery which has the guarantee extended to 3 years and an "expected service life of 500+cycles" (pinch of salt required here I suspect) rather than 250 or so. These batteries can be got for about £95 each, so the extra £15 per battery seems to be worth the punt.

So I think three of them are next on my shopping list.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How not to bleed an engine

Had I remembered to take my camera today, you would now be looking at a picture of a small broken screw. A fuel bleed screw from the end of the engine's injector pump. I was too heavy handed with the spanner and the end of the screw sheared off. Now Herbie's engine won't work until I get a replacement. Of course it is no ordinary screw, and its broken off inside a little spring and ball valved gubbins that can't be bought locally.

Bleeding the fuel system on a BMC 1.8 is not my idea of fun. I hate it. There are no less than 6 bleed screws, plus the four injector unions to bleed and some are hard to get at. Still, you have to do it after you have changed the fuel filters which is what I did today, along with an oil and oil filter change.

A new screw is on order courtesy of Calcutt boats who marinised the engine, and I'll have to try to bleed the system again when I get it, hopefully at the end of the week. I am not looking forward to it.

My check on the batteries was no more cheering. First, I found my hydrometer glass was broken, then the boatyard chandlery didn't have one to sell me. Fortunately they took pity and lent me one from the workshop.

Checking each cell in all three batteries revealed no rogue cells to explain the batteries dwindling performance. I guess they are steadily deteriorating throughout. I might look for some answers by posting a query on Canal World Forums. The guys there usually shed light on teccy dilemmas.

One good thing I did achieve today was a good cleanout of the engine bay and whilst you still wouldn't eat your dinner off it, it looks very presentable. If I can fix the engine at the weekend then I suppose today will be time well spent and I'll have probably still saved money by doing myself in spite of the no doubt outrageous cost of the injector pump bleed unit.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Sometime soon, early June probably, we'll head off on a longish cruise, three or four weeks probably. We might go North and explore the Leicester arm of the GU. Market Harborough appeals. Or perhaps through London and up the Lee navigation to the Ware festival and maybe detour up the Stort again. Or maybe up the Thames where we have never boated beyond Weybridge. If we go up the Thames we could go all the way to Lechlade. That would be nice, I love the upper reaches. We used to go camping there when the kids were little. Or we could turn off up the Oxford canal and then complete the Thames ring by heading home down the GU.

Nice to have the choice you say, but we always find these decisions difficult. We could be practical and write up the pros and cons e.g.


Pros - very pretty, never done it before, no work at the locks, lots to see
Cons - prone to dangerous conditions after a lot of rain, licence cost, no locks to self operate, pressure on overnight moorings, tupperware cruisers everywhere

GU to Leicester -

Pros - Know the best places to stop on the way up, mostly attractive, a chance to do narrow locks on the Leicester arm including two staircases, breaking new ground at the top end

Cons - hard graft much of the way, done most of it lots of times,

and so on.

I'm not sure being analytical helps really. In the end it's a gut feeling that wins out, unless we have a lot of rain making the rivers difficult.

Or we could do the whole lot. Up the GU to Leicester, back down to Braunston and down the Oxford to the Thames and down the mighty river to Brentford and then back to base. Hmmm where's that calendar. According to Canalplan that would be Thames ring ( three weeks plus at our pace) plus ten days for the Leicester/ Market Harborough detour.

In the meantime there is work to be done. An engine service which I aim to do tomorrow and sorting out our domestic batteries which aren't holding charge like they should. I'll do a hydrometer test to see if it's one battery duff or if all three need replacing.

And - there is the cratch table to finish. I have had some design problems with the leg to overcome. More of that in a fresh post soon.

It's all go when you are retired!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Inspector Lewis in Herbie's manor

Inspector Lewis and Sgt Hathaway walk by the canal as they so often do. Where are they this time? Not in Oxford that's for sure, although that's where they are supposed to be.

Kath and I both sat up and said "I know that! Cowley lock." Not the Oxford Cowley but the one on the GU just south of Uxbridge and the nearest lock to our moorings, so one we know very well. In this scene our heroes sit outside the little lockside cafe where we treated our weary painters to all day breakfasts on our final day in the wet dock just a short walk away.

Before I retired, I worked in a building which housed a disused County Court suite, protected from dismantling by English Heritage listed status. It was a lovely old place, oak panelled, complete with judge's bench, jury stand, witness box and the accused's box with stairs leading down to the cells below. Occasionally, over a sandwich lunch I would sneak in there with a friend and I would sit in the judges chair shouting "Send him down" to my colleague who would stand in the dock. To raise cash, the council used to rent it out as a film location and we've spotted it in many's the TV drama. The film crew catering van used to park beneath my office window and I had to suffer the taunting aroma of bacon sandwiches all day.

The strange thing is that when the scene cut to the street outside the court it was invariably somewhere totally different. Not even in the same town!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sailing- and the bowsprit award for damages goes to . . .

What a great weather vane. This one sits atop Ranworth church on the Norfolk Broads, scene of our annual sailing weekend. On Sunday we sailed our three half deckers out from Thurne to Ranworth and then climbed the 89 steep winding uneven steps and two ladders to reach the trap door to the church roof. The view is pretty good as you would expect from such a flat landscape.
We also got a good look at the church belfry as we climbed through, something I had never seen before. My legs still ache from the descent. Downhill climbing is much harder on the legs than climbing up.

Unlike last year when we had a spectacular collision with a motor cruiser, our sail out to Ranworth went without incident and we thought sadly that maybe that the Bowsprit Trophy would not this year be won. The trophy is traditionally awarded to the crew that inflicts the most damage to their boat . At the last minute however, honour was restored when the Bunnages triumphantly clouted their bowsprit into the bank as they returned to the overnight mooring, successfully snapping the tip clean off and preserving our hard won reputation with the boat hire company. Here wee see Bunnage senior (Rick), Bunnage junior (Tim) and Kath aboard the fateful boat Chestnut. Rick reckons they deliberately make the bowsprits weak so that the hire company can collar the £50 damage deposit. Having achieved an almost identical breakage three years ago I can only concur. Anyway the boatyard fitted a new one in time for Monday morning so that we could complete our third day's sailing.

It was fairly windy on the first day and we all reefed our sails down as far as possible so as to tame the boats and allow for our general sailing incompetence. Our trip up through the wild expanse of Hickling Broad in the force 5 breeze went amazingly well and we all lived to tell the tale over a pint at the newly reopened Pleasure Boat Inn. Hanging on to jib sheets (ropes) in these conditions is hard. The rope really pulls and your cold wet hands start to ache. Kath demonstrates here The person, Jacob in this case, on the tiller and main sheet has a much easier time of it although he /she bears the heavy responsibility of not capsizing the boat. The Broads may not be deep but at this time of the year the water is cold.

This was Jacob's first time with us and despite spending the entire time with ten old fogeys, he enjoyed the experience and by the end was able to take the helm without capsizing us.

Sailing is the best way to see the Broads. Given the right wind direction you can out run the motor cruisers and because of the silent propulsion you get to hear all the birds - buntings, warblers and cuckoos this weekend. We hired our speedy but safe boats from Martham boatyard near Hickling and stayed in a big rented house in Thurne, very handy for the overnight moorings and even handier for the Lion Inn where the food and drink is good and the landlord is a jovial fellow who ran an entertaining quiz on Sunday evening.

A nice change from canal boating and I'm sure we'll be back next year. Jacob has I think got the bug and I suspect he'll be back too. Maybe he has his sights set on that trophy.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

No time for boating, were going boating (plus who to vote for)

Herbie takes a rest this weekend while we're off on our annual sailing weekend on the Norfolk B Roads, or should that be Broads? According to the met office it looks as though we'll be cold but not very wet, and we might need a reef or two in the sails to stop us capsizing.

Jacob is joining us for the first time this year. If he lives to tell the tale I'm sure he will find the whole experience an education. Compared with narrowboating, sailing is a lot more scary, sometimes a lot faster, sometimes a lot slower, and on the Broads rivers a lot more congested. Zig zagging in a small sailing boat through a steady stream of big plastic cruisers who have no idea what to do to avoid a collision is er, stimulating to the nervous system.

We seem to enjoy some kind of collision most years. Last year's was probably one of the best as we were rammed amidships by a big cruiser as we turned into Ranworth cut. I'm surprised the hire company accepts our rebooking, even though it wasn't our fault.

I can't wait.

PS vote for who you like as long as it's not the BNP, or UKIP. Historically I vary between Lib and Lab, but these days I'm more Lib. Poor old Nigel Farage has had a plane crash. One report I saw (I am not joking) said he was not too bad, unconscious but still talking!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A grandstand seat for the traffic jam at Little Venice

Monday was the best day of the Little Venice Cavalcade, if only for the wonderful boat traffic jams.

Rising late, we were only just up when a knock on the boat side heralded a visit by Amy and James of Lucky Duck on a day visit from Cambridge. Tea and much chat about solar panels and the like, then we were joined by Simon. More tea, then off all together to see the sights of the festival.

Simon's wee boat Tortoise was the perfect grandstand seat to watch the parade of historic boats led of course by President. With all the big boats moored in Browning's pool, manoeuvring space was very tight and when the Jason's Trip boat and the Waterbus arrived simultaneously, just as the biggest boats were in the tightest spot round the back of the island it all became rather hilarious. People standing at tillers near large loud engines don't ever hear what other boaters are telling them to do and there seemed to be quite a bit of good humoured misunderstanding.

Poor little Tortoise was right in the firing line at the edge of the back way round the island and it was somewhat alarming sitting on her foredeck as the huge iron clad hulk of Victoria came within inches of crushing her forever! Most impressive were the amazing skills of the guys aboard fuel boats Archimedes and Ara who seem to be able to put this big boats (one towing the other) just where they like.

The weather it has to be said, was rotten. Often wet and mostly very cold. It was nice later on to return to the warmth of Herbie's stove before we set off towards home, pausing for the night at the Black Horse. Herbie seems not to know how to get past the Black Horse without stopping.

Then today, sunshine all the way home. Typical.

Finally, we paused at the one of the narrow little aqeueducts in the Slough Arm and gave Herbie a wash. How sad is that? Most unlike us anyway.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Organised chaos at Little Venice

Here we are at the IWA Canalway Cavalcade in the pouring rain. Are we downhearted? No way. We're having a good time despite the weather and the confusing jumble of boats we had to slot into on our arrival. I am green with envy at a lot of the wonderful boats there are here. Just gorgeous, some of them.

Never having been before, we were unsure what to expect. Actually, eventswise, the programme is pretty thin, but it didn't take long to work out that the real purpose is a big gathering of the clans with people catching up with old boating friends and showing off their boats.

Herbie being passed by steam boat President

Yesterday afternoon we had a period of sunshine and Kath and I went off to join a walking tour of the architectural delights of Paddington. Just as we started a text from Simon announced that he and Carrie were in the bar with Sarah and Jim of Chertsey/ Warrior fame. So priorities were swiftly rearranged and we joined them and had a great afternoon, including lots of chat, quite a lot of beer, tea on Tortoise and more tea on Herbie. Sadly our new paint job isn't realy visible as we are sandwiched between two other boats.

Jacob and Grace came to join us for the night, dropped off by Claire. Here Grace poses on Herbie's deck.