Sunday, July 31, 2011

Choosing a front end design.

The design on the sides of the bow of course.  I reckon that more than half of the narrowboats out there have this design.

I'm itching to have a go at painting a design on the front the front of Herbie, but it would be nice to think up something a bit different.

Another "traditional" design is the FMC logo seen on the front of President here.

I like it, but although I'm not a strict traditionalist I would feel a bit of a cheat putting it on a modern boat like Herbie.

Then there's the diamond idea, shown here in a neat combination with the "standard" on Humbug, our old neighbour at Iver.

The commonest other type is the name panel shown here with an interesting variation on Halfie's Shadow

(Also note the winner of the Braunston 2011 nobbly knees competition.)

and now for a couple of things in a different vein. I especially like this first one

There's nothing wrong with any of the above, and all would be better than Herbie's present plain white panel, but I still can't find one to win me over.  Can anyone point me to other examples?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The most useless tool on a boat

There is a commonly used DiY tool that is worse than useless on a boat.  If you have one, throw it away now.  What is it?

Some clues:

It is a common hand tool - no electricity involved

The problem it causes is not a safety issue

Worse than useless.  If you did use it you would cause big problems  - do NOT use one on a boat

It is very commonly used by chippies, kitchen fitters, plumbers, etc since time immemorial

Someone fitting out a boat on dry land might find it OK to use, but I doubt it. Once the boat is in the water it would lead to serious errors in fitting out.

A last cryptic clue - Would a confused viper sell it?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Essential tools for boat DiY

"No posts, what's he been up to?" I hear you all ask.  Well, just because I'm not posting doesn't mean I'm not doing stuff.  Quite the reverse in fact.  One of my periodic assaults on the garden at home  (machetes, flame throwers, pick axes - that sort of thing), research into my Grandad's activities in WW1 at the National Archives, and stuff like that.

I've also been doing tiny bits of DIY, fixing things that don't work or are broken, and that brings me to today's subject.  Tools.

The problem with owning a boat and a house is that whatever tool you need it's always in the other place.  Some things are cheap enough to have one at home and one on the boat (e.g screwdrivers), but others like power tools have to be shared.  Larger items like my trusty old workmate (no not Rick, I mean the Black and Decker thingy) have to live at home and be temporarily moved out to the boat when I need it there.  (Although that could still apply to Rick I suppose).  And then there's all that stuff on the shelves in the shed.  Boxes of screws, tins of paint, etc.  they can't all live on the boat all the time.

For anyone contemplating spending a lot of time on a boat, here is my list of essential, useful, and useless tools, starting with the most used and most essential.

1. This first item has had a great deal  of use, although it is shortly to be obsolete because of a move from analogue to digital. It's a  plastic tube with a brass point at one end with a tiny ball at the tip.  Can you guess?OK, it's a pen for signing cheques. From now on a debit card.  This can solve most mechanical problems, and is even necessary in DiY work to pay for all the parts, materials and other tools you need.

2. A lot of  screwdrivers.  In my experience you need at least two of every sort because they can disappear in seconds.  You put it down to find a screw and then five seconds later, it's vanished.

3. A lot of spanners.  They don't disappear quite so often, but every time you want to undo a nut, you need a different type.  I can never understand why half the nuts on Herbie's engine need AF spanners and the other half need metric.

4. Things to mop up unpleasant fluids.  Despite my best efforts, the engine bay floor seems to periodically need ghastly stuff mopping up. Rainwater mixed with canal water from the stern gland mixed with grease from the stern gland, or oil and (lately) diesel dripping into the engine tray. ( Reminder , I must reseat the fuel filter which is leaking diesel.).  These fluids are slimy and smelly and spread too thinly across the floor to be pumped out.  Solutions are a) cheap disposable nappies, b) cat litter (messy and bitty), c) a mop or sponge-ruined forever in ten seconds, d) rags. Whichever you use have a plastic bag ready to drop the disgusting thing into.  Also remember to wear really old clothes.

5. A voltmeter.  This is really a social tool  to give you a source of conversation with other boaters. Unlike at home where everything is 230 volts or something like that, voltages on boats go up and down like yo yo's according to the state of charge of the battery, how many appliances are in use, how long or how thick cables are.  Sticking a voltmeter across stuff will give you some numbers.  Of course you may not know what they mean, but it'll be an endless opportunity for discourse with boating pals.  It might even help you to refrain from ruining your expensive batteries.  Remember though that analogue voltmeters that you may have on your instrument panel are vague indicators of the presence of some volts.  Forget any numbers on the dial, they are only there for show.  You might as well think of a number at random.

These are the essential tools which you will definately need.  After that collect what you like, but understand that whenever you come to do a job, even if you have a hundred tools, the one you need won't be there.  The same goes for screws, no matter how many different sorts you collect, you never have the right one. Then it's off to Wickes or B&Q with Number 1 above.

Now for the most useless tool on a boat.  Can you guess what it is?  Answer tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Waterways face banking crisis

No, not banks, I mean banks.

People get concerned about the backlog of maintenance that the new waterways charity will face, and they tend to think of dredging, locks, bridges and towpaths.  However on our recent trip I really began to notice another growing problem.  Bank side encroachment.

It's hard for me to complain about this because I love reeds and rushes and meadow sweet and bushes and all that, but  I also need some water to cruise on.  In places the canal looks like it could soon be choked with plant life.  I also like the paintwork on my boat, but if the trees grow any further out they'll scratch it off. I could understand this on remote arms of the system, but when it comes to, say, the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal, which I would expect to be a main thoroughfare, it is a bit worrying.  We saw miles and miles of stuff like this

at least half the canal's width is taken up by vegetation and there are very long stretches where a boat couldn't get near the bank.  Look at this next photo -  the towpath is somewhere on the left

This bit below looks lovely now, but in five or ten years it could easily be half the width.  What then?

I suspect that there maybe hundreds of miles of canal that need attention in this way.  

This is going to be a tough problem to crack in the coming years.  There will be the understandable concerns of the wildlife lobby on one hand, ( the middle picture above is in the middle of a SSSI) and the need for boats to have bank access and a through route on the other hand. As to the cost of doing something about it, it would be enormous.

I suppose the first step would be to work out a new policy for the compromise between nature and navigation.  From what I remember of our trip down the river Wey navigation, it's owners the National Trust seemed to have struck quite a good balance between vegetation and navigability.  At the time I complained that it all looked a bit "managed", but I'm beginning to think they might be the ones to show how it should be done.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cruise report part 2 - the Urban Experience

Where's this?  Coventry. Well, sort of.  It's a detail from a sculpture in the still stunning Coventry Cathedral, all 1960's contemporary art but still looking great.

 Only a two hour detour from Hawkesbury junction where the North Oxford canal ends  and meets the Coventry canal,

 it seemed churlish to miss it out, although many people do apparently.  We heard the usual tales of  supermarket trolleys in the canal and gangs of marauding youths, and went anyway.  No youths emerged, and the canal was a lot less junk filled than, say, Brentford.  Quite pleasant in fact, and plenty of interest.

All along the arm you follow a sculpture trail.  One of the first things you see is this
which seems very odd until you realise it's a map of the canal and its bridges.  The fork shaped bit at the end shows the shape of the canal basin (not to scale).

There is a sense of humour to some of the sculpture, as in this concrete sofa.  Pity about the graffiti though.
 I showed a peek of the basin yesterday.  Here is another view showing dear old James Brindley studying his plans or maps.

The Coventry canal is one of his, which to aficionados explains why the canal wiggles around all over the place as he was prone to follow the contours of the land to avoid too many locks, cuttings and embankments.  Compare with Telford's canals which have monumental earthworks and often go straight as a die.  Brindley didn't really need a map it seems because there's a handy signpost next to him.

I'm told there is a really good transport museum in Coventry, so one day we'll return to take a look.  Otherwise the city centre is not terribly appealing apart from the cathedral.

One interesting thing you pass on the way in is this building, known as Cash's top shops

Like me you may well have gone to school with a woven label bearing your name sewn into your uniform and games kit.  If so, it was more than likely made here.  The brothers Cash built this place in 1857.  It features a row of weavers cottages on the ground floor, and workshops above powered by a beam engine.  I don't know about the engine, but they were still weaving there until the early 1990s.  The company is still in business today, although they have relocated to a new computerised factory elsewhere in Coventry.

Two weeks later we visited Leicester which again seems to have an undeserved reputation for rubbish and youths.  We liked it.  To my mind the city centre is more appealing than Coventry's, having lots of pedestrianised lanes to wander round, and a good covered market.  It also has a very modest but atmospheric cathedral.

By chance we arrived on the day of the Mela a big South Asian and Indian cultural festival held annually in the city centre.  The streets were packed and noisy but good humoured and there was music everywhere which, although clearly Asian, was very 21st century.

Strangely,  it all finished at 6pm, after which we wandered off to find some  "different" Asian food i.e. stuff you don't get in your local Indian restaurant.  Up Belgrave road there are loads of such restaurants, many vegetarian, with not a rogan josh, a jalfrezi, or a korma in sight.  We had to ask what things were on the menu where we ate.  It helps if you like chick peas.

So that was our urban experience on the Leicester ring.  I wouldn't want to do all my boating in cities, but I think all the people who avoid them are missing out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cruise report part 1 pics and stats

A reminder of where we went, using my freehand, not to scale map.
The red blobs show where we stopped overnight, or in some cases more than one night.  Here are some of the places we stopped.

Night 1 just before Norton Junction

Nights 2 to 6 at Braunston
 Night 9 at Coventry

Night 11 I think, somewhere on the Coventry canal

Night (oh I'm losing count now)  17 perhaps.  At Shardlow

Night  20 ish at Leicester

A few nights later (now I've really lost count) at Foxton

Anyway, you get the picture.  This Leicester ring is mostly rural, but there are interesting towns and (mostly) villages to stop at. You can see from the map that some days we went a  long way, and others we just moved on to the next interesting place.    Sometimes a six hour day, sometimes only two or three.

Of course we spent some time in tunnels, adding up to over three miles all told.  Some were dry and some were wet.  I love this photo taken after we exited Husbands Bosworth tunnel.  The drips on the gunwale make it look like we've gone all posh and had Herbie covered in faux rivets.  I suppose I could work out  the frequency of the drips assuming I knew the boat speed.

Boring stats follow for anoraks

I reckon we averaged about 2 miles an hour, so you could have walked it a lot quicker.  Of course there is the small matter of 103 locks done on the way.  According to my new diesel dipstick which I made and calibrated before we started off, we used 110 litres of diesel which works out to something around 1.3 litres an hour.  I think this is typical for a BMC engine like ours.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Glandular Fever

I'll ignore Simon's facetious comment to yesterday's post and instead congratulate Carrie and Halfie upon their accurate guess that I had attempted to repack Herbie's stern gland.

This is the point where the propellor shaft exits through the hull, and where water can get in and sink the boat.  Packing the gaps with stuff called, er, packing is what you have to do.  Here's where it all happens.

I had visions of me in a scene from a world war 2  submarine movie, gallantly battling to close a hatch against huge pressures of water gushing in.  I bought the packing two years ago, but until now never had the nerve to try, but the daily ingress of water past the old worn packing was getting messy.

After forcing as much grease as poss into the gland and wiping the area clean, I laid out my spanners and some rags.  Rick was there to give moral support, although because the space is so cramped no-one else could do anything practical once I had started.  To put off the job for a final few minutes I tested the bilge pump to make sure it was working. It was.

Nothing for it, I had to go ahead.  Here goes.  Gingerly I removed the two nuts from each side and slid the collar back along the shaft and waited for the gush.  There was none.  None! Not a drop.  Probably still sealed by the old packing I thought.  When I dig that out I'll be drowned.  Using a gimlet I dug out first one and then two more old squashed bits of packing.  Still not a drop.  Not a single drop! Just the grease was enough to keep the flood at bay.  What an anti climax.  Two years angst and procrastination and not a drop of water came in.  You have to laugh.

Inserting the new packing was much easier than I had thought too. The whole job was done in five minutes.

After a brief run next day I had to retighten the gland as the new packing settled in, and Bob's your uncle.  Job's a goodun.

Sod's law being what it is, next time I do something really simple like changing a light bulb it'll take two hours and blow all the fuses.  Boats are like that.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Schadenfreude and unschadenfreude

Schadenfreude - "the malicious enjoyment of another's misfortunes" was what Rick and I experienced yesterday while talking to the lock keeper at Foxton.  I am reminded of this by Adam's comment on yesterday's post.  He says a boat got sideways on to the locks in the short pound betwen the two Foxton staircases.  How a boat can get sideways on in such a short space is hard to imagine.

Anyway Rick and I were talking to the lock keeper about where all the water went to from the little overspill gullies in this pound - I suppose about 70ft square.  "It might look calm on the surface" said the lockie, "but it's a maelstrom underneath.  Look at this boat coming now, all in control.  When it gets here (coming downhill into the top of the second staircase) it'll whack into the  stone shoulder of the lock entrance."

We couldn't se why it should.  It was a very good boat - a Hudson I think- with a competent looking crew heading straight toward the open lock.  Then quick as a flash it veered off course and whacked hard straight into the stone shoulder, then rebounded with a bang onto the other lock wall.  Crash bang wallop! The crew's embarrassment wasn't helped by our laughing, but we weren't laughing at them, only at the fact that the lockie's prediction had been so accurate.

Why are people always there when you mess it up? 

Today when we arrived back at home in Crick, I steered into the marina entrance on a perfect line, swung over to the first pontoon on the left where Kath leapt off.  She then ran round to our pontoon ready to catch a rope.  I did a perfect turn and reverse and backed into our narrow space without even needing Kath's help.

I imagine I will never execute such a perfect manoeuvre again in my boating career.

Who was watching this?  Nobody!!

In yesterday's post I mentioned I had had a go at the scariest boat maintenance job.  Details tomorrow, but before then can anyone guess what it was?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The icing on the cake

What a treat! The penultimate day of our cruise and one of the very best, because today we ascended Foxton locks.  Boaters will know all about these, but for those who don't, here they are

10 locks in two staircases of five, all neatly maintained and in a lovely setting.  After waiting our turn for about an hour and a half, we shot up the ten locks in forty minutes.  Rick came along to join in the fun and we had unexpected extra help in the form of a little Australian boy gongoozling with his mum and sister.  We encouraged him to help us with the gates and you'd think all his birthdays had come at once. He was tearing from lock to lock, pushing and pulling and grinning from ear to ear.

Driving the boat into through the staircase is easy.  Once you are in, you just move forward into the next chamber everytime the gate opens, no real need to steer, as the boat is held snug in the chambers. 

The gates in front do look alarmingly high though.

I can't think of another flight of locks that are nearly such fun to do, and they are all light and easy to operate.  The staircase system of using side ponds to empty and fill locks takes a bit of getting your head round, but here they make it easy with the coloured paddle ratchet posts.  "Red before white and you'll be alright".

After all that excitement we tootled on to Welford where we are spending the night in the cosy little canal basin.  Here I did a maintenance job that I have been putting off for well over a year because I have been quite scared of attempting it.  But I'll tell you all about that another day in case you get over excited right now. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fortune favours the brave.  Now I can assure you that bravery is not one of my best features, but we did have to ignore a few warnings over the last few days. First all those people who say watch out for dangerous conditions on the Soar and all the all the flood warning signs

then the comments from people who think that Leicester is a dangerous or nasty place.  In fact it turned out to be somewhat overstated.  I'm told that the big hire boat company, Son of Canaltime or whatever they are called these days,  in Sawley charges and extra £500 deposit for any hirers going down the Soar, and that they forbid any mooring in Leicester.

Well ya booh to them. We found the Soar a delight all the way

and as for Leicester, we rather liked it, both on the way in, and the way out.

The plastic bag and shopping trolley count here is way way below other places I could mention.

Since I last posted on the blog we have moored at Barrow upon Soar, Birstall ( a pleasant suburb of Leicester), and right in the centre of Leicester at Castle Gardens where they have a good mooring pontoon with a locked entrance into a park, which is also locked at night.  All very secure and actually quite attractive.  No one  peicestered us at all (sorry).  Here we are just arriving. The city centre is 5 minutes stroll away.

 So don't listen to the doom and gloom mongers.  Come on in, the water's lovely.

Now we're back out in the sticks at Kilby and if I write any more I'll be late for the pub, so see you soon.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Further adventures . . .

. . . in which we are once again undone by our musical tastes, we see a favourite granny, Kath goes in for the wet T-shirt competition,  Herbie breaks her lock speed record, and lots of good stuff to see.

Where was I?  Oh yes Alrewas.  Well that was a while ago and our dongle signal has been poor, so now I have a backlog of stuff to tell. I'll just stick to the good bits.

We pressed on to Willington which was  'er, alright.  In the pub quiz at the Dragon, we were doing quite well until it came to the music round, then the generation gap got us.  Somewhere near there we passed the famous Granny Buttons at its moorings.  Andrew Denny was nowhere to be seen, probably out hacking boater's phones to find tit bits to write in Waterways World. (Sorry Andrew, I'm sure you wouldn't. Well fairly sure anyway.)

Then on through Burton on Trent.  Yes, through the most well known brewery town in the UK without stopping!  Well, it didn't look all that appealing.

Then Shardlow.  Ooooh Shardlow, you little cracker!  What a great place if you like old wharves and warehouses.  This is the start of the Trent and Mersey Canal, and bears it well.  It oozes canal history.
Just a few pics to give you a flavour . .

Our entrance to Shardlow was one we'll remember.  Kath did her impression of an entrant to the wet T-shirt photo competition as she got caught in a sudden downpour whilst off looking for places to moor.  I might have photographed her for you but I am unable to as I have a strange aversion to having my nose punched!

Then today, out onto the mighty Trent through Sawley from where what seems like a thousand hire boats emerge onto the canal on a daily basis.

and finally the right turn into the River Soar, our water for the next few days.  This river features the worlds fastest locks.  We did two of them each in ten seconds!  Well' it's not hard when the gates are open at both ends and you shoot straight through. 

In times of flood, they operate like a normal lock.

So far, I like the Soar a lot

Except that some of the locks are scarily deep like this one at Kegworth.  Not surprisingly it bears the name Kegworth Deep Lock.  How do they think them up?

For tonight we are moored up literally six inches from a pub called the Otter.  If I took a photo out of the boat window, you would just see a plank six inches away.  So I won't.  If we were any closer we would be evicted at closing time.

I'm soarly tempted to use up some of the many easy puns about the Soar, but I'll give it a miss.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A day to remember

This post is off topic.  It has little to do with Herbie or the canal we are on, but to do with where the canal has brought us.

I love being a Grandpa, but it reminds me with very great sadness, that I never had the opportunity to know either of my Grandads.  One died in a car crash when I was a month old, and the other was shot by some no doubt terrified German soldier on the Somme in 1916.  His remains lie in a cemetary in France. Some people take war memorials to be associated with "glorious" dead.  I just find them very sad and very moving.  And none more so that where we visited today.

Herbie now sits in the little village of Alrewas on the Trent and Mersey canal. 

Pretty isn't it?

Following several recommendations, a five minute bus ride from Alrewas today took us to the National Memorial Arboretum where those who have died in national service since 1945 are remembered. Not just military men and women, but firefighters, lifeboat men, victims of chemical experiments at Porton Down and of nuclear bomb tests and all sorts of others.

Non combatants from the second world war are aslo remembered. There is an oak wood there with over 2,000 trees.  Each tree represents a Merchant Navy ship sunk by enemy action.  The crews lost from these ships were not fighters. The lists describe them as greasers, or navigators etc.

The arboretum is a large site divided into lots of individual remembrance gardens.  However your eyes are inevitably drawn to the mound where stands the Armed Forces Memorial, only four years old. 

Inside its sweeping curved walls are the names of every man or woman killed in UK military service since 1945.  There are lots and lots and lots of them for every single year since 1945. 

Most chilling of all was the huge blank wall on the right hand side.  Waiting for new names.

This place is no celebration of military conquest.  I overheard many conversations from the other visitors and all were about the terrible waste of lives.

I had never heard of this place before. You might have your own views on such things, but I would be keen to take the grandchildren here.  They should know the price of military adventure.