Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Both sides now- plus some worries

First the worries.

We're still at Fenny Stratford, our fifth day. The reason is that our son in law Joe has been rushed to hospital in great pain and we're waiting to see if we are needed at home to help with baby sitting. Test and more tests. They know what it is but not the cause. We might know more today. I think he is over the worst.

Fenny is not a bad place to be stuck. Pleasant 14 day moorings, the shops you need, and reasonable transport links. Last evening we walked in to IKEA and broke a record. We spent only 99p!!!!

Anyway, whats this?

A mahl stick, some paint and rags, a tube of brushes. Yes, I 've been signwriting. On Sunday night the boat was called HERB on the starboard side,, but now it's called HERBIE on both sides. At last.
Look at those reflections! If we have more hanging about time I'd like to start painting in the shading. We may move up to Great Linford today. Not far. I suspect that is as far north as our cruise will take us now.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Braunston pickle

This the GU main line at Braunston today.

Looking in the other direction from the same bridge, things weren't a lot easier.

Heaven help anyone trying to merely pass through, for this was the annual historic narrowboat rally with 90 boats, mostly 70 footers, on parade. There are some mouthwateringly good boats here, fabulous signwriting and paint jobs, and wonderful sounding vintage engines.

All having a jolly time in the hot sunshine and stoking up a thirst for the beer tent. Big boats in tight spaces call for expert handling and we did see one or two smack into the far side bank piling on exiting from the marina. However the star performance was probably a chap we only know as Pete reversing a butty into the entrance and down the narrow channel next to the workshops.

Here he is, on the little boat which is pushing the big one, both being in reverse, and heading under the narrow bridge I am standing on to take the picture.

To warm applause he did it!


Another highlight of the day was seeing Sarah steering Chertsey on its first public outing since all the restoration work she and Jim have done. She was well pleased.

Those with keen eyesight might just spot James and Amy "Duck" hitching a ride.

A brilliant day and a good chance for an informal mini gathering of boat bloggers too.

PS Today's title was thought up by Rick, so don't blame me.
Meanwhile Herbie awaits us at Fenny Stratford where we will resume our travels tomorrow.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Things about Tring, a night by the reservoir and an improved Canalometer

Tring is not very close to the canal. Tring station is. Tring cutting is part of the canal. but Tring town is a mile away. Nevertheless if you are boating thereabouts, you should find your way in, because its worth it.

1. It has a natural history museum that is amazingly amazing. You need to like stuffed animals and birds and fish etc, but the collection, which was put together by Lionel Walter (later Baron) Rothschild, seems to have everything from polar bears to sharks. It is a huge collections and nicely presented too. And its free.

2. (one for the anoraks) Tring has a cracking ironmongers shop with lots and lots of everything. And of course it is largely free from the dreaded multipack, so you an buy a screw or a nut, not packet. Forget your chandlery, go to the ironmonger.

3. It has Tring Brewery, where very nice people will let you taste their very nice beer and sell you some in 9 pint tins. Be aware though that the brewery is shortly to move to bigger premises on the outskirts of town, right opposite Tesco.

The best access from the canal is to moor up at Cowroast and catch a bus, taking a mere 5 minutes to Tring.

We did Tring on Wednesday morning while we awaited the arrival of Simon and Carrie to accompany Herbie on Tortoise. Once they arrived we set off through the cutting and detoured up the Wendover Arm (because it's there). They both agreed with us that on the way up, it really feels like the boat is going uphill even though it's all on a level.

Emerging out of the arm we encountered Jem Bates's lads maneouvering two old wooden boats (the last of their class apparently) in and out of the dry dock.
Jem specialises in restoring old wooden narrowboats. I think that by the time Jem has finished with them, they'll be like the famous original cricket bat that has had three new blades and two new handles.

On down the Marsworth flight with Herbie plodding on while Tortoise weaved in and out of us like a jet ski! And so the the Anglers for a pint of three and then back for a nightcap sitting out on the reservoir bank watching the sunset. Its a hard life!

Today we moved from Marsworth to here at the Globe at Old Linslade. Crossing the plain below Ivinghoe beacon in hot sunshine. Simon produced something special.

Remember my Canalometers? If not see the link at the side of the blog. Basically they are a simple caclulator I invented to give cruising times between landmark points on a canal or river. Anyway Simon has made a simple but brilliant improvement. Printing them out A5 size and mounting the two parts of the GU calculator back to back. Giving him a pocket sized cruising calculator that works from Brentford to Braunston. This is much nicer than my A4 versions and I'm going to redo all mine.

We've had a great couple of days with Simon and Carrie and it'll be strange to be on our on again tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kath on a hot tin roof

Phew what a scorcher! At Berkhamsted (which sports a handsome new bridge sign)

today Kath washed Herbie's roof while we took on water. The water was evaporating oin a cloud of steam in seconds, such was the heat. A good job we have wooden handrails. Earlier, we had to endure a choking blizzard of willow fluff falling from the canalside trees.

One interesting but somewhat unpleasant event today was seeing a heron snatch a poor little duckling right in front of it's mum. I'm not at all sure I like herons and I certainly don't when they have a duckling dangling from their beak.

Altogether we did 15 locks in the heat of the day and we were glad to arive safely in Cowroast where Herbie now nestles immediatley behind Simon's Tortoise who we will cruise with tomorrow.

here is our view tonight

and our view at Winkwell last night -
all too handy for the pub next to the swing bridge. In years gone by, Kath used to stop the traffic with her good looks, these days she resorts to pressing the ubtton on the bridge console:-)

Yesterday at Kings Langley we passed a very lonely looking Indigo Dream and were sad to have missed meeting Sue and Richard. Maybe next time.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Some pictures of our back garden tonight. Nice eh? Click the pics and see them big. We're at the Grove, the posh bit of the GU hereabouts. And the news you're waiting to hear - the batteries seem fine. Now at 100% and seem to be staying up well. Phew!
We have passed an extraordinary number of extraordinary boats over the last couple of days, one like something from the battle of Trafalgar, one paddle wheel powered - and moving, one with a strange stepped roof. I'll save the pictures for later in the week when I have more time.
My patent Canalometer is being put to good use in calculating how we can meet up with Simon on Tortoise on Wednesda, travel with him for two days and still get to Fenny Stratford for Friday. It all looks good -we may even have time for a short bus ride to the Tring brewery for essential supplies before Simon arrives. Tomorrow it looks like a 6hr cruise to Winkwell.
Toodle pip.

Near disaster before we even set of!!

We arrived at the boat yesterday ready to start our cruise, and upon unlocking and entering I could hear the water pump running. Aaaaghh! My lovely new batteries, they'll be ruined. I was distraught.

I quickly deduced what had happened. On leaving the boat on monday I had not switched off at the battery master switch, but I had turned off the water tank stop cock. The kitchen tap has a very slight drip. Eventually the pressure accumulator calls for more water and the pump switches on. because the water main cock is off, the pump fails to supply any water and it just runs and runs and runs - depleting my precious new batteries.

I dashed to the Smartgauge to see the battery level. 47%. Not at all good, but could be a lot worse I suppose. You're not supposed to let them go below 50%.

Anyway we picked up Peter from the station and set off with the alternator doing its bit to recharge the batteries. Four hours later at Black Jacks lock we were on 86% and that stayed level all night. Now at lunchtime on Sunday we're at Rickmansworth and the Smartgauge says 94% with the fridge running. We might just have got way with it.

Anyway, we're on our way and the weather is OK. The canal is at its best at this time of year and we have already seen more wildlife than you can shake a stick at, including parakeets, tufted ducks, loads of herons and lots and lots of chicks of one sort and another.

Further on up we hope to run into (not literally) Indigo Dream and Tortoise. Tonight we stop at the lovely Grove park near Watford, when I shall post further news and some pics.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A working boat trip

We're off on Herbie tomorrow. Hooray. Three weeks afloat. Although we have jobs to try and get done while we cruise, so it'll be something of a working boat holiday in parts. We're going up the GU to as far as we have time for, and back.

First job - try to stop at Denham and take a picture to replace the one at the header of the blog. I thought it would be nice to use the same spot to picture Herbie in her new colours. Wait a minute though, we don't yet have signwriting on that side. That's another job to do if we get a good spot and a nice evening, or more probably two evenings. Maybe I'll have to take the photograph on the way back. Then the boat will be facing the wrong way :-) Ah well.

We also want to find time to give the boat a good shampoo and wax, the first since the repaint. This would be very hard to do at our moorings because we are moored on the outside of Humbug.

Another job is to get fit! That's part of the reason we picked the GU rather than the Thames. We need all those locks to lick us into shape. The other part of the reason is that we really like it, especially the section that cross the chilterns. Winkwell, Berkhamstead, Tring, Marsworth, Ivinghoe, lovely.

It'll also be a working boat trip in another sense, because next weekend we plan to visit the Historic Working Boat Rally at Braunston. We won't reach that far on Herbie but we'll do the last bit overland somehow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On manoeuvres

The kids returned Herbie to us safe and sound yesterday, although by the look of the water in the bilges, they didn't grease the stern gland enough. Anyway, no matter, we stayed overnight in the park near Willowtree Marina on the Paddington Arm (don't we look smart and shiny!) and had a lovely return home in the sunshine.

En route we had to give way to the big gravel barge turning at its base near Hayes. Amazing to watch this big boat backing up and doing a broadside round like it was a toy. I think they have propellers that can swivel right and left.

It all serves to remind us that boats steer from the back and not the front. That's why we turn easily into the narrow entrance of the Slough Arm, but find it much harder to exit from the arm onto the wide canal. On the way in, the back of the boat is free to steer, being out in the big canal, but on the way out the back of the boat is constrained in the narrow entrance and we can't steer until the front of the boat is nearly hitting the other bank.

Today we did what I think must be our most difficult manoeuvre ever. As the canal alongside our moorings is so weedy, we want to avoid at all costs going on down to the winding hole to turn. So we decided to back into our spot. This meant turning in the tiny slipway entrance by the boatyard workshops where there is just room for a 50 footer (us) to get round. Not too bad normally, but lately there are "for sale" boats everywhere. Three abreast either side of the slipway and one on the opposite bank. So in very shallow weedy water (awful for steering) we had to do a three point turn to reverse our direction and back out in the narrow gap between the moored boats.

I don't think it looked too elegant, but we did it and it saved us a good hour and a lot of visits to the weedhatch, which is what the trip to the winding hole would have meant.

I hear that BW is sending a weed cutter down the arm this week, so maybe things will improve as long as they collect the weed as well as cutting it. I wouldn't bet that they do! That aside, now is the time to take a trip down the arm if you never have. At this time of the year bits of it are very pretty.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Faith, Remembrance and a traffic anomaly

Should you spot Herbie in and around London this weekend, it won't be us on it, but Claire and Joe and the kids, who have borrowed her for a weekend jaunt. Someone at our boatyard commented that we were very brave letting someone else have our boat. Well yes, but its family and you have to have faith in people. Rick and Marilyn have also borrowed Herbie in the past and we're confident in them looking after her and they know her well because of all the jobs on board they have helped with and the various cruises we have shared. I have faith in them. Well a bit. Sort of !

Tomorrow we take over Herbie from Claire and co at the Black Horse in Greenford from where we'll bring her home next day. It so happens that we'll be at the Black Horse anyway enjoying an annual dinner with friends in remembrance of Alison, a very dear friend who died a few years back at the age of 52.

Alison was possibly the most funny and cheerful person I ever knew despite the fact that she was often in pain from a life long arthritic condition. Apart from being very well known on the folk scene nationally as a member of all girl groups Hen Party and Bread & Roses, she also slummed it with me and Kath in our group Man Sandwich (I was the man in the sandwich, Alison was the main singer and Kath played hammer dulcimer). We were of course absolutely brilliant and extremely famous, albeit only within a ten mile radius. Such was our commercial success that sometimes our fees almost covered our petrol costs. There was always a great deal of laughter from us and from the audience, and we still laugh at memories of Alison and treasure the few live recordings we have.

Alison would not have liked narrowboating any more than she enjoyed camping, which she loathed. Not for her a cassette loo. Its a good job we don't all like it or the canals would be too overcrowded, which in the South East, they are generally not. Strange that. The most crowded part of the country with the most road traffic, has the least boat traffic. We very rarely queue for locks on the Grand Union. and in the seventeen miles between our moorings and Paddington we often pass only half a dozen moving boats. In canal terms, London is less well known than Llangollen and less frequented than Shropshire. Who'd have thought it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Red diesel changes threaten older engines??

I generally like to think of my self as an optimist, but sometimes I struggle. Now I read that as from next year, red diesel, which we all use in our boats, will have to contain no sulphur. "So what?" you may ask. Well sulphur acts as a lubricant which is vital to keep some types injector pump going and protects some seals from wear. Injector pumps that might well fail without sulphur include ones made by CAV, which are fitted to BMC engines used by lots and lots of boats, including Herbie. Aarrgh!

There is some discussion about it on Canal World Forums, albeit inconclusive. From one post it implies that it will be possible to use an additive to overcome the problem. How many BMC owners will become aware though, and how many engines may fail before people find out? I think we should look to sellers of diesel to at least make customers aware and offer a solution.

By the way, sorry to be tiresome by changing the blog template yet again, but my old friend Roy says the previous one rendered some of the page illegible. ( Knowing Roy, he's probably browsing on a steam driven PC.) Is this better?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Next job: Less DIY more cruising

Hooray, the cratch table is completed all bar a coat of varnish on the leg. Here it is up,

and folded away:

The folding system (the brainchild of David "Rainman" if I recall correctly) works brilliantly and the table is up and down in a trice. However I wouldn't want to sit on it. For light dining or card games use only I think.
Note the cunning recess at the bottom of the leg so that we can access the water tank filler when the leg is laid down.

The new batteries are in and much better arranged, creating simpler wiring and more space. Some of the cables are too long now so if I get some shorter ones it'll be even neater.

Today I finished the side hatch window, which has been hanging around for weeks in a semi assembled state.

I've had enough of boat DIY for a bit, although there are still some little jobs to do, not least completing the signwriting. We're also contemplating getting and fitting a solar panel to save running the engine just for battery charging. We ought to buy that before the inevitable VAT increase in a fortnight.

However what I really want to do is to go boating! We hope to set off in a couple of weeks time and we're leaning toward a trip northward up the GU (of which we never tire), and probably up the Leicester arm to Market Harborough and back. Saltysplash gives it a big recommendation.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A new marina for the Slough Arm?

Some news (all heard second hand , so unverified). Planning permission has been applied for to open a new marina in one of the gravel pits adjacent to the Slough Arm. Access would be via the arm, with a lock needed in order to drop the boats down to the level of the pit.

Will this threaten the business of our moorings further down the arm? Apparently not according to the owner of our yard. The new marina will have basic facilities only, i.e. a place to keep a boat, but no facilities. It might be very cheap to moor there I suppose. Of course the planning permission may not be given so it might come to nothing. Sadly I don't think it will lead to a fresh determination on the part of BW to address the much needed dredging and weed clearance in the arm because the new marina will be up the "good end", not far from the main canal.

Changing the subject. A good day's progress on Herbie yesterday despite the heat. Working down the engine hole in such weather is not my idea of fun, but the batteries are now properly lined up and restrained, ready for the new ones to be installed next week. I also nearly finished the cratch table. Photos of the finished work next week I hope.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

An essential DIY tool for boaters

Today I head on out to Herbie for a day and a half with a workmate, a selection of bits of plywood, a saw and some screws and only a vague idea of how I might use them. Three shiny new leisure batteries arrive tomorrow and I'm rebuilding the battery box to house them more neatly and sensibly. I will not be pursuing fine joinery and elegance in this task, just something that contains the batteries in a neat line as opposed to the higgledy piggledy mess we have now, and stops them from moving. The space is so complex that I'll just have to do it in situ and see what I can make fit.

I do however have a secret weapon. My digital camera. An eye that sees where my head won't reach. The other day I used it to see what lay behind some of the batteries, where I can't possibly see by normal means. There just isn't the headroom. Here we see two things hidden from my normal view, the back of the master switches and the space behind one of the batteries, showing a batten I didn't know was there.

In a boat engine bay like mine, a camera is a wonderful tool. You can peek into out of reach crevices, take a spanners eye view of an inaccessible nut and spot where bits of wire go as they disappear behind the calorifier or whatever.

Stop press. As I write this (at 10.30 am) the postman has just delivered a bus bar that I ordered off ebay at 4pm yesterday! I'm impressed. Remember the old days of "allow 28 days for delivery"?