Monday, January 31, 2011

On choosing friends wisely in order to get your plumbing done.

No posts recently because I've been busy with non boaty things like fiddling with my new camera, teaching someone to play mountain dulcimer, and all that stuff.  But tomorrow I have a boaty job on hand.

Despite my advanced age I have never done any real plumbing, apart from attaching a washing machine and minor tasks of that ilk.  Now I'm going to have a go at installing a new drinking water tap and an under sink filter.  It ought to be easy because Herbie uses simple plastic plumbing fittings.  However I have to cut a neat hole in the stainless steel sink surround.  Hole saw?  No chance.  Drill?  Would probably put a dent in the sink.  There is a proper tool for the job, sometimes called a tank cutter but where do you get one in a hurry?  Simples.  Just ring Pete.

I choose my friends wisely.  As well as being a fine chap and a member of our band Prank, Pete has a sideline in buying and selling tools and has a huge collection of tools and machinery.  It's like having your own personal ironmonger. "Yes " says Pete, "Just pop over and I'll look out a selection for you."  I don't know yet what size I need because although I have seen a tap I like, it don't have any measurements for it. So in my pocket I now have a small assortment of tank cutters.  One of them should be the right size.

This is the point where I write " It should be simple now, nothing can go wrong." but for me, DIY usually takes ten times longer than estimate so I expect it will take a couple of days and five trips to Wicke's for bits I didn't know I needed.  I'll try to remember to make a photographic record to show you later.

While I'm on the subject of cameras, my new one is teaching me a lot of lessons, and giving me surprises.  However, I now take Granny Buttons advice, which is not to talk about two different topics in one post, so you'll have to wait to see what the surprises are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lies and half truths about cameras

Last week I became the proud owner of a new camera.  Well that's a half truth because you shouldn't be proud to be the owner of anything unless you have won it in a contest or made it yourself, and I merely bought it on ebay.  So I  merely became the owner of a new camera.  Well that's another lie because it's a second hand camera.  So I became the owner of a new (to me) second hand camera.  Well, that's only a half truth because it was only half a camera.  Until today it had no lens.

Perhaps I d better start telling the whole truth from the start.

After our recent free ride on the Thames tideway with Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream, Richard sent me some copies of the photos he took.  Now this was very interesting because I had taken my own shots of the same scenes at the same instant, so I was able to compare.  Most of my pics weren't bad, but in a number of cases Richards were better, especially in terms of colour.  He had also taken some shots that my camera just won't do in terms of depth of field.  

Seeing Richard's photos prompted Kath to repeat her advice that I ought to get a "good" camera.  My portrait shots of the grand kids are never as good as those taken by their uncle Peter with his digital SLR.  Now before you accuse me of being disloyal to my Lumix TZ4 point and shoot camera,  I am not.  It is a supr little camera and I will continue to use it, especially when we are on the move.

However, I do miss the old days when I had SLRs and would take time over camera settings and I especially miss the ability of a lens to take a good portrait with a nice blurry background.  After we tie up for lunch or for the evening I do like to wander about and try to take some more composed pictures.  When the light is good and the subject is right, the little Lumix does well, but there are shots where it can't compete with the superior lens and bigger sensor of an SLR.  More than that though, I do miss the old days when you could have more control over the camera settings.  So here I am struggling to get to grips with a camera with 20 odd buttons to press and a user manual of 190 pages.  Nerdy heaven!  I estimate I'll master it before I'm 80.

Why second hand?  Well not to spend less, but to get more / better for the same money.  I had budgetted for a new entry level Nikon but then I realised I could get a higher grade camera for the same money if I could lay my hands on a good used one.  My very best cameras in the past have all been bought second hand.  Expensive cameras are often sold by enthusiasts trading up for a newer model, and such people have often taken great care of the equipment.  This is certainly the case with the camera I have bought.  It actually looks like new and the included, more or less essential, extras alone would have cost me £100+.

The problem is that people trading up usually want to hang on to their detachable lenses, hence my lens-less purchase.  I had to look round for the best deal on a new lens.

Will you suddenly see a startling improvement in the photos on the blog?  Well I doubt it, for a while anyway, because they have to be compressed right down in order to post them.  What I hope is that I'll be able to have a go at some more difficult shots.  If I can learn to do night shots as good as Andrew of Granny Buttons, then I'll be right chuffed. Be patient with me.

I just realised I haven't said what the camera is.  It's a Canon EOS 40D about 2 years old, now with a new 18-135 mm lens.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are Heat Holder socks up to the job? Test results.

Our technical test team has now completed preliminary trials of the  Sock Shop Heat Holders 2.3 tog socks we were given for my birthday.  To carry out this scientific investigation we utilised our top laboratory, otherwise known as Narrowboat Herbie.  This state of the art cold feet laboratory has cork tile floors and a specially constructed cool air stream at feet level, cause by the inflow of air from the door vents, drawn in by the oxygen requirements of the solid fuel stove.  So while the boat is often toasty warm, on a cold night it can get a tad nippy round the old toes.

Tests were carried out during three nights last week, when the outside temperature fell to a suitably negative number and the boats glistened with frost.

Here are the results.

1. Are they comfy?  In the words of a well known TV dog, "Ooooh Yes!" Very.
2. Do they keep your feet warm? Yes.
3. Warmer than normal thick socks and a pair of slippers?  Not massively but yes, and more comfy.
4. Any downsides?  Too bulky to wear shoes or slippers with, but I bet they'd be brilliant inside a pair of loose fitting wellies.

Recommended?  Yes, as long as you don't want to wear them inside close fitting shoes.  For lolling around with your feet up they are what we thermal footwear scientists call "The Biz"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Plans gone wonderfully wrong and energy saved

Just back from three lovely days aboard the good ship Herbie although nothing went according to plan.
Firstly we planned to spend most of day 1 getting Herbie up to temperature after being let so long in the cold.  In the event we put on the eberspacher and lit the stove,  and we were toasty warm in less than a couple of hours.

Then I planned to spend a couple of hours erecting a tv aerial (using aluminium brackets that I made last week - sometimes I amaze myself) and fiddling with the aerial for ages to try and get the new tv tuned in.  In the event the aerial mount took 5 minutes and I pointed it vaguely in the same direction as aerials on nearby boats.  When I turned on the new tv it muttered to itself for another 5 minutes then burst into life with 20 odd channels tuned in perfectly!

Then we planed to settle down quietly for a couple of days reading with perhaps a walk thrown in.  In the event we got a phone call from Carrie (Blackbird) who was in the area and we met her for lunch on Wednesday and her and Simon for lunch on Thursday, and then we went out for a meal with neighbour Glynn for a meal last night. So our quiet retreat turned out to be a happy social event. I think we're really going to miss our local social boaty network when we move up to Crick in the Spring.

It seems that all our efforts to be more power efficient are paying off.  Apart from a sharp fall in battery level over the hour or two that the eberspacher was on, our LED lights and TV / radio  etc. used no more power than the solar panel generated so the battery level stayed stable for over two days.  Not bad for the low light and short days of mid January.

The new TV is amazingly good, great picture, low power consumption, no inverter needed, no satellite aligning to do (its a freeview set).  perhaps it'll keep us out of the pub more!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unmothballing - counting chickens?

Pretending that the worst of the winter is past might be seen as foolhardy, but the plan tomorrow (Wednesday) is to dewinterise Herbie and stay aboard for 2 nights to get her out of hibernation.  Even the prop will get a spin and the rudder a waggle as we motor down to the winding hole to turn her round.  It takes about an hour to do the round trip so she should be fully awake by the time we have finished.  We'll even have a tank of hot water as long as the calorifier tank hasn't sprung a leak because of ice.

The questions is, have we jumped the gun? There's plenty of time for another deep freeze before the winter is out.  No matter, I've got the winterising down to quite a fine art now and if the weather turns very cold again it'll only take me an hour or so to put Herbie back to sleep.

As if the excitement wasn't already enough, we plan to get some exercise by walking into Slough.  Deep joy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chuckle while you learn - every thing about TV aerials

I  found a brilliant web site, but before I reveal the link I'll cruelly force you to read the background.

We just bought Herbie a new TV.  Not that we watch TV a lot when we're aboard, but it keeps us out of the pub now and then.  Our old boat tv has a cathode ray tube and is not digital ready let alone HDTV and works off 240volts.  So after a lot of research we bought one ( not posh, just 15.4 inches flat screen) which is not only fit for the 21st century, well it has freeview anyway, but also uses 12v and draws only 20watts or about 2 amps.  That should save battery capacity because our inverter which is needed to run the old TV probably takes more than that on its own.

Of course to get Freeview we need the correct aerial so I got back into research mode and stumbled across a rather wonderful web site.  Not only does it have everything you could possibly want to know about aerials and where all the transmitters are etc but there is even a section recommending the best aerials for canal boats.  And, as if that wasn't enough, it is not only very readable  but also very funny!  The writer, a professional aerial supplier and installer, has a very dry wit and laces his erudition with a good dose of humour.  Even if you don't want an aerial, it's still worth a  read.

I can't praise this web site enough.  It's taken me ages to write this post because I keep referring back to the aerials site and getting distracted by reading another good bit.  For once I did actually LOL! As one correspondent writes on the testimonials page "Carlsberg (or Carling for that matter) don't do aerial websites but, if they did, this is exactly what it would be like."

Do have a browse around.  The more you look the more you find. I even learned more than I already knew about the simple job of attaching a coax aerial plug.  And don't miss the cowboy installations page, or the fascination page quaintly entitled health and safety bollocks.  Or if you just want some very useful facts, look at the pages about TV transmitters - for a boater on the move, very handy.

You can find it at  .

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Warming up the boat, and a secret weapon for warm feet

Today I've been splitting logs and cutting kindling.  Can this mean we are soon to leave the comforts of home and stay aboard Herbie for a day or two?   I'll give that a provisional "yes".  We haven't slept aboard since before the Big Freeze and although it's now a lot warmer, Herbie will take a bit of warming through.  We always reckon it takes a day with the log stove on to warm up the fabric of the boat after a long lay off.

This time I have a secret weapon.  So secret that I'll tell the world about it now.  Heat Holders Socks.

In truth it's an untested (by me) weapon, but I have a family testimonial.  Our liveaboard son Richard, mysteriously known to everyone except us as Ralph, actually gave me a pair of these socks as a birthday present.  Now you should understand that this is not a common event.  Richard doesn't do birthdays, in fact he doesn't have anything to do with Christmas either, so this is a rare and special event, meaning that he really likes these socks.  In an email to me he writes "I know I don't have the best birthday acknowledgement record in the known universe, but this year I have the discovery of Heat Holders 2.3 tog thermal socks to share with the world.  I thought it wise to get mum a pair as well, otherwise you might find yours missing from time to time.

One slight word of caution though.  I know a couple of other people have them and washing results have been varied.  Obviously none of us bothered to read the instructions but I would suggest not tumble drying them to prevent bobbling.

I am convinced that these have made a real difference to my winter so far.  Despite the marina being frozen since November, I've been fairly comfortable so far this winter and I don't think I'm getting any tougher in my old age!"

Later this week I'll put them to the test and report back.  Of course everyone will say "I wish you had mentioned these before the Big Freeze and not after."  Don't blame me, blame Richard.  Or Ralph.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Moorings - value for money unfathomable

Yesterday we got a letter from our boatyard announcing an increase in mooring fees.  Contrary to what you might think, I am not at all upset because
a) we are moving to another marina in April
b) the increase(the first for two years) is below that of inflation
c) our boatyard is the cheapest around, taking into account the facilities provided

What staggers me though, is the huge variation in cost between different places.  Compare our place, High Line Yachting (HLY) at Iver, with the newly opened Roydon Marina on the Stort which we glimpsed last October as we passed.

Both a half hour train journey from London
Both have a chandlery, showers, laundry, electronic security gates, CCTV, electricity to all berths
HLY has workshop facilities and on site  technical staff, I don't think Roydon has.

Cost for a 50 foot boat per annum (non residential) ?

HLY  £1750
Roydon £3100

Now look at BWs Packet Boat Marina just 10 minutes drive from HLY.

Similar facilities.
annual mooring charge £6242 !!!!!

You can find examples of this level of variation in any part of the country.  I found  big variations six months ago when looking for somewhere for us to move further north.

Am I a skinflint or are other people profilgate? What is it that people get for the extra money?  Well it seems to be one of two things.

1) Location -places like Braunston at the hub of the canals south of Birmingham can charge a premium.  Also it is noticeable than marinas on the main line charge more than those on canal arms, although Roydon is definitely way off the beaten track.

2) Newness.All these new marinas springing up seem to want more money than most of the older ones.  I suppose they have higher costs to recoup.

Admittedly HLY is fairly rare, being a commercial boatyard that has all of its berths on the canal bank, i.e. not in a big lake.  This is one of the reasons, I suspect, for their lower rates. The towpath bank opposite is quiet and for the most part rural, so no problem there. On our side, residential boats line the bank and non residentials breast up alongside them.  For residential boats the pros outweigh the cons.  Rather than a narrow pontoon to access their boat they have terra firma all along one side.  Where space permits, many have created nice little gardens against the perimeter fence.

The downside is that they each have another boat moored on the other side, but then so do most boats on pontoon moorings, albeit three feet away.  Glynn who we moor against, reckons Herbie's presence gives her added warmth and shelter in the winter.

For us non residents, we have the disadvantage of having to step over another boat to access our own.  On the other hand we have a friendly lookout moored against us when we are away from the boat.  I feel more secure at HLY than I will when we move to Crick.  Crick, by the way, although being a well known large marina will only cots us about £70 p.a.  more than we pay now.  I suspect that that's because they are off the mainline too and you have to go through a tunnel to get there.

One thing I won't miss is the summer weed in the Slough Arm, but bad though it is, it's no worse than the strong stream conditions that trap boats in riverside marinas many's the year.

I guess it's horses for courses, but if I had to pay £6k per annum for a berth, I wouldn't be boating.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Fear and trepidation overcome

Kath was quite nervous about accepting Sue and Richard's offer of a ride on the tideway cruise to the Royal Docks.  All that wide deep water, VHF radio, big ships etc is a bit scary on a little narrowboat.  Landlubbers often gasp when we say we have a 50ft boat, thinking it sounds big, but I can tell you that on the tideway a 50 or 60 foot boat seems tiny.

Coming out of Bow Creek is the daunting bit, especially when you see a Trinity House lightship there!  Note Kath's anxious demeanour.

Then after a mad dash for the far bank the last thing one wants to see is a Thames Clipper taking off from the O2 pier.  Imagine a 220 seater twin engined boat 120 feet long, called Hurricane or Typhoon, coming past you at 28 knots and you get the picture.  The wash they make is prodigious and they seem to make not the slightest allowance for the plight of nearby narrowboats designed for calmer waters.

Sue bites her lip whilst preparing to spin Indigo Dream to meet the wash at right angles rather than straight on.

Luckily the Clippers don't often go beyond the O2 so once we had survived that one all was calm and smiles.

 and anyway, we had two fine lookouts working for us:  Meet Lynx and Lou

Should you ever contemplate a Thames tideway cruise, I reckon the trip eastward to the Royal Docks is a probably lot safer than the upstream trip from Limehouse to Brentford.  Even Kath became very relaxed about the whole thing. On the city centre journey they have clippers and other trip boats all over the place and the river is not so wide.  The riskiest bit out east is dodging the pair of Woolwich Ferry boats as they criss cross the river every few minutes.  I wouldn't want to be hit by one of them I admit.

As to the Royal Docks themselves, they were nothing like I imagined.  Apart from being really really really HUGE, and the water over 30 feet deep, they are not at all overpowering as the dock walls are surprisingly low to the water.  At the finish, we stepped off the boats just like you would onto a low towpath.  I had expected it to be a climb up a long ladder.

It's a pity we are moving Herbie up North soon, otherwise I reckon we would be tempted to join a St Pancras Cruising Club flotilla at the next opportunity.  However, I suspect we'll be back down south in a few years so maybe we'll do it then.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Millions watch bloggers' cruise route on TV - although they don't know it!

Arriving home last night we collapsed on the sofa and turned on the TV, just catching the credits for Eastenders. I hasten to add at this point that I am not a soap watcher, and I may even quit following the Archers following the recent New Year travesty.  Anyway, I digress.  Leaping to my feet I shout "That's it!  That's where we've been today." And there it was, a neat aerial photo of our superb narrowboat cruise only hours earlier.  Nice of the BBC to show it, but they carelessly failed to point out the details of our route so I have pencilled it in for you.

Ruthlessly taking advantage of the extraordinary generosity and hospitality of Sue and Richard aboard Indigo Dream Kath and I  took up their offer of a free ride on the St Pancras Cruising Club outing to the Royal Docks.  Nearly all new water for us.  Down through Bow locks into the tidal Bow Creek,

out into the vast expanse of the Thames at Greenwich racing for the relative safety of the far bank,

eastwards through the Thames Barrier,

running the gauntlet of the Woolwich Ferry,

and then into the truly gargantuan Royal Docks, so large they have an airport in the middle.  It might look like we're going out to sea here but what you see is the inside of just one of the huge pair of docks.

Here we dash across the width of the dock

While an airliner comes into land over our heads

and another prepares to take off next to us

And so, in the failing light,  almost back to the dome again, but this time "inland"

Not a bad little cruise eh?

Indigo Dream was one of a convoy of eleven narrowboats making the trip all well spaced out but in radio contact in case of emergency.  The safety briefing beforehand was the scariest part of the journey!  Its a big dangerous river on which to have an engine failure or a fouled prop, and as for man overboard, well lets just say you can't just stand up and walk out like on many canals. In the event, the pouring rain stopped just in time, the river was calm, and there were no scary moments whatever.  Having said that I was reassured by a brief spell at Indigo Dream's tiller when I discovered what  ample smooth power she had.  I am truly envious.

Apart from Richard and Sue (and their three greyhounds, Lou, Lynx and Ty), we were also joined aboard by fellow blogger Adam of Debdale (and Canal Boat Magazine) fame,

and by Alison who had just read the open invitation on Sue's blog and took up the offer.

What a day.  Many many thanks to Sue and Richard and congrats to the St Pancras Cruising club for such a well organised cruise.

Come back tomorrow for some more pics. And keep an eye on the blogs of Sue and Adam for their take on the event.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Herbie's Little Red Book

 If our task is to cross a river, we cannot cross it without a bridge or a boat. Unless the bridge or boat problem is solved, it is idle to speak of crossing the river. Unless the problem of method is solved, talk ahout the task is useless.  

That's a direct quote from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, but he is not the only one to have a LRB, Herbie has one too.  Here it is

It's a book, it's little and it is indeed red and I carry it with me almost everywhere I go.  What, I hear you ask, priceless nuggets of wisdom are contained therein ?  What gems of dialectical materialism do I write in there to enrich and guide my life?

Well, I'll show you

Shelf sizes, cupboard measurements, brass fitting dimensions, floor plans,

oil filter part numbers,  etc.

Proof incontrovertable that I am a four star anorak?  Well not really.  It's just that when we're out strolling around junk shops or IKEA or browsing through a chandlery we spot stuff that might be good for the boat, but can't be sure it will fit.  So now, with the book, we know.  Simple as that.

At the end of the week I hope to have a really exciting report to make, but in case it doesn't come off, I'll leave you in suspense.  Let's just say it depends on the weather.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Things I will do in 2011, er, perhaps, if I get time, maybe

I'm not much of a one new year's resolutions.  They tend to be behavioural - eat and drink less, exercise more, be kind to plastic cruiser owners etc etc.  I'm more drawn to deciding on a few things I would like to get done in the coming year.  This can take several forms

a) The fantasy dream method - think up some impossibly optimistic target like cruising entire the Birmingham Canal Network in a week and never get round to even attempting it because it all seems too hard.

b) The fantasy list method - draw up a list of jobs, all individually possible but too many to actually achieve, and then fail to prioritise them so that nothing ever gets started.

c) The Bunnage method (after Rick)  - plan some ambitious DIY project in minute detail using spreadsheets that tell you precisely when you will finish.  e.g. completely overhaul, repaint and rewire the engine bay finishing at 3.47 pm on May 19th at a cost of £386.29p.  To give Rick credit, this works fairly well for him although it does mean he often has to say "I can't come out to play today.  The spreadsheet won't let me."

d) The realist (resignation/procrastination) method  " I would like to repaint the inside of the water tank, but it's such a ghastly job, I'll probably put it off another year."

e) The realist ( simplification) method - as d) above but adding "I'll install a water filter instead, because it's a lot easier."

I usually start off with a) and b), work through d) and finally end up with e).

For the coming year my fantasy dream would be to have Herbie stretched to fit in a dinette area.   It'll never happen, so how about

b) fantasy list. Build a dinette where the existing galley table is.  Lay new flooring throughout the boat.  Refurb the engine bay.  Adjust the tappets in the engine.  Add a fourth leisure battery and redo the battery cabling. Polish the boat monthly.

c) No spreadsheets

d) exactly as d) above

e) Hmm now I'm feeling under pressure.  I'll do a couple of the easier ones in b), perhaps fit a water filter and (cleverly) consult and plan on the big jobs like reflooring and galley refurb with a view to doing one of them:

: in the fullness of time                        )
: as circumstances permit                   )  pick any one
: in due course                                   )
:when I have time to spare                 )