Friday, August 31, 2012

CanalOmeters go digital?

How could I productively spend a wet Wednesday afternoon at home?  Well I thought I’d have a go at making a smartphone CanalOmeter.  For those unfamiliar with my CanalOmeters, they are strictly low tech analogue devices for estimating journey times between two points on a canal trip.  You can’t beat cardboard.  Look them up here if you need to see one.

Why bother then with a Smartphone version? Well mainly because it was a bit of a challenge but it does overcome two disadvantages of cardboard ones.

1. Unlike a CanalOmeter, if you do have a smartphone, then there is a good chance it will be in your pocket when you need it
2. On the disc of  the analogue CanalOmeter there is only space for a limited number of locations, whereas the digital version can have every bridge, lock, wharf, visitor mooring etc.

On the other hand, the original CanalOmeter is so quick and easy to use, and don’t be fooled by the seeming precision of the digital version the old disc is just as accurate in the scheme of things because your cruising speed and time to do locks can only be an estimate.  And another thing, printing on cardboard is visible in bright sunlight, which my phone’s screen isn’t!

Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

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This one has a hidden table with the entire Oxford canal (South and North) with every bridge  etc. To use it you put a code into the pink and green cells to indicate start and finish, it  looks up the places from its data table and comes up with the full place description, the cruising times, locks and miles come up as shown.  As you might guess, it’s an Excel compatible spreadsheet.  I think most smartphones have free or cheap apps to hold such spreadsheets. You create the spreadsheet on your PC and then download or sync it onto the phone.

I should here mention that the data is exported from Canalplan (everyone genuflect) into the spreadsheet.  The entire thing is self contained and needs no network connection which is a Good Thing as phone signals on the canal are often poor or non existent.  If you did have a good connection of course, you could just log on to Canalplan and use that, although its screen layouts are not good for a phone.

To start with in version 1, I just included bridges and locks, because they had obvious numbers, so I could enter B34 or L27 and so on.  Then spurred on by success I had a go at a vesrion 2 using simple guessable codes for other locations.  This turned out to be much simpler than I thought and I think remarkably easy to learn. For places without numbers I just used the first three letters of the place and then three letters for the canal feature, so we have HEYWHA for Heyford wharf, NAPMAR for Napton marina NEWTUN for Newbold tunnel, HAWJUN for Hawkesbury junction and so on.

I can see a problem on some routes with this approach.  If a route uses more than one canal, you might get duplicate bridge numbers, and on canals like the Birmingham and Fazeley, the bridges have names instead of numbers.

I’ll give it a try when we set off again in September.

So that’s how I passed a rainy afternoon.  As a project it was much simpler than the original analogue version, formatting the data around those discs is sticky. I still prefer the discs though.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Snake Oil cuts fuel consumption?

I'ts an old story.  A bloke is throwing balls of grass into the canal, and when asked why, he says it keeps the sharks away. "But there aren't any sharks here." says a passer by.  "Proves it woks then." says the bloke.

That's the trouble with preventative measures.  You never know if they work until you stop taking them.

Scare stories about diesel bug have got a lot of us paying good money for fuel additives in case they work.  About a year ago I stopped using Fuel Set and swapped to Marine 16 on the recommendation of RCR backed by Tony Brooks. As well as combating diesel bug, it also claims to counteract the recent reduction in sulphur content in diesel.  Us with older engines need sulphur as an injector lubricant and to protect seals. No, not seals, seals.  Anyway Marine 16 is not  cheap, I reckon it adds up to 4p per litre extra on your fuel bill.

Then yesterday, for some reason I cannot now  recall, I was reading the Marine16 blurb on the net.  I noticed that they also claim an improvement in fuel consumption.  Hang on a minute, when I last bought diesel I recorded my engine hours as usual and noticed that over the last year Herbie’s fuel consumption had dropped significantly. By about 7 or 8% I reckon.  Actually, a bit better even  than that because we have been using the Eberspacher a bit.  That means a saving of roughly £25 a year.  About enough to pay for the bottles of Marine 16 :-)

 Can this really be down to Marine 16?

The only other reason I can think of is that we may have been driving more economically.  This is entirely possible.  We do seem to be cruising at slightly lower revs these days and we've also been doing some heavily locked trips where the engine spends longer at idle.

 On the balance of probabilities, I'd plump for the better driving Of course it might be a bit of both.  I shall never know unless I stop using the additive.  Then I might find out the hard way that it works!

Oh I just thought of another reason.  I may have got my figures wrong.  Surely not! Next time I'm on the boat I'll double check.

Has anyone else used Marine 16 and found an improvement in fuel consumption?  I’d love to know.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is this boat?

While we wait for our next cruise – coming shortly, you might be able to help me with an explanation of his odd looking craft.

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I’m sure some of you will have noticed it if you have cruised between Braunston and Wigram’s Turn on the oxford/ Grand Union bit. I find it hard to believe it was originally built in that shape.  It looks more like it has been somehow constructed from different bits. No doubt it is destined to be someone’s home rather than a moving boat although there does seem to be some sort of rudder in the top photo. I took this picture in June of this year, but if memory serves me right it had come on a bit when we passed it again a couple of weeks ago.

I wonder about its lateral stability.  Unless it has a huge amount of ballast it looks like it wouldn’t half rock about when you move about inside.  And what could you do with the narrow bits at the ends?  They don’t look wide enough to be useable in any way.

Does anyone know any more about it?

We might pass it again next month as our current plan is to go down the Oxford and onto the upper Thames.  Mind you, this is not  plan A or plan B, or even plan C.  Because of other commitments, we are down to about plan F at the moment!  There is still time to get further down the alphabet, particularly if river conditions don’t behave themselves.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Certificated Locking

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This is Grace earning herself a certificate.

Anyone negotiating Watford locks lately will have noticed that for a small donation to their flower fund, the Lockies will issue you with a signed certificate to show you have got safely through without making a mess of it.  More of  a fun memento really. However Grace did well in getting hers as she put in a sterling effort.   Given suitable supervision these locks are good for kids to try as the paddles and the gates are quite light.

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Coming through the locks last week I  noticed that they now have a popular new variant certificate available.  I should have photographed it, but it had words to the effect of “Watford locks failure certificate – for making a complete pig’s ear of operating the staircase locks”.  No doubt they will be very popular with the many Canal Boat Club hirers who pass through here most days!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Did they have varifocals in 1793?

After our nightmare on our last trip when our tunnel light failed in Braunston tunnel, I was not looking forward to going back through this week.  I did however have a secret weapon.  Having replaced the tunnel light bulb, I now know how knackered the old one was.  Now we can actually see.

What our new brilliant light revealed in the 2042 yards underground was that William Jessop, who built the tunnel in 1793 was either a) drunk, or b) a wearer of varifocal lenses.  (Wearers of the latter will testify to the distorting effect of these optical marvels, which I maintain is the reason I have lately become useless at reversing a car.), or c) having a laugh.

I can forgive Mr Jessop and his mate James Barnes for starting from both ends and missing in the middle thus causing the infamous S bend on which so many of us have modified our paintwork.   What our new bright light has now revealed is that they couldn’t even get the straight bits straight. I don’t know what Jessop and Barnes were playing at. Was this some kind of precursor to slalom racing? As far as I can make out it’s like a python that has eaten several rats. Gently bending this way and that and changing width at frequent intervals.  It’s like they bought a lot of bits of second hand tunnel from elsewhere and stitched them all together.  The old trick of trying to keep a fixed distance from one of the walls is a waste of time.  So much do the walls wobble that you end up weaving a very serpentine course through.  Of course when you do meet a boat coming the other way, sod’s law dictates that it is when your boat is either on a tack across the centre line or should you be going straight, it’ll be at a place where a lump in the wall jumps out to scrape your vessel.

To check that it wasn’t just me that had problems I did a quick search of the canal forums and found that I am indeed not alone.  One correspondent says he would accept a hundred mile detail to avoid Braunston tunnel.  I wouldn’t go that far, but don’t expect me to enjoy the trip next time through.

Whilst I’m on the subject of sod’s law, here’s another example.  Somewhere in the planning for Watford staircase locks in 1814 there must be a document that reads. “Lo it is written that whenever a boater shall arrive at these locks, he shall report to the lock keeper before entering the flight, and the lock keeper shall forever be at the opposite end of the flight from the approaching boat, necessitating the boater to endure a climb and descent (or vice versa) of 52ft 6ins each way to get permission to proceed.” 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Never mind the quality, feel the width

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Alright, I haven’t posted much lately, but to prove I need a rest, look at this lot

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I decided to spend some more of my ill gotten gains on having my old posts printed by Blog2print.  Now I can see that up until last December I had written the equivalent of 950 A4 pages. That’s not far off Lord of the Rings!  Hey, how about Herbie- The Movie, -  oh no, someone’s already done that as some idiot usually reminds us as we passSad smile

I got the first book (the red one above) done last year and it did cost a lot, so this time I got them in softback and black and white at about a third of the price.  Softback is fine, as the covers are still nice, but if I’m honest the photos are a lot less arresting in monochrome.  The printing quality though is very good and you get  nice contents pages at the front, listing all the post titles.

One improvement this time though was that I had them include the comments from you wonderful readers.  It does bring it to life as a blog rather than just a diary.  And before you ask - No, you can’t have any royalties.

At roughly £25 for a year’s worth of posts I reckon they make a nice way to keep your old posts for posterity.

Later today we’re off back out to Herbie, so you never know I might post something about boats or boating.  This year’s book won’t write itself.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Juggling and shuffling and some totally irrelevant holiday snaps.

No, not Olympic sports (yet), although the Ali shuffle has been mentioned more than once in the boxing.  I’m referring to a problem narrow boaters know all about- meeting shore based appointments when you are on the canal.  On the southern Grand Union it was simples.  Never more than a short walk from the railway.  Up in our current area of Northants and Warwickshire much of the canal is pretty remote,so if you want to be somewhere else on a given day you have to do a lot of planning.

  • We have two such problems to solve.  1) How to and where interrupt our planned autumn cruise to from Crick to Chester for a one day appointment in Cambridge.  Where could we be on the previous evening so as to get public transport to Cambridge?  Would such a place be safe to leave the boat unattended overnight?You wouldn’t believe how many options we’ve looked at – largely to no avail. Birmingham might be an option if we are there in time.
  • Which brings us on to 2) First we need to make time to fit in a visit to Calcutt to get our engine mounts and alignment sorted out before we set off on the big cruise.  It would be simple if we hadn’t got some unavoidable other commitments in the intervening period. Grrrrh!

My brain hurts.  I feel some re-arranging coming on.  One idea we had to solve problem 1) was to abandon the Chester trip and go instead down the Nene and across the Middle Levels.  Plenty of opportunities there for transport to Cambridge.  Further investigation revealed that it would cost £197 for a one month EA Anglian waters licence.  Blow that for a game of soldiers.  I wouldn’t mind if we could be sure that the Nene wouldn’t trap us in a flood somewhere and we’d miss our appointment.  It is a beautiful river, but you can never rely on its navigability in advance.

Never mind, to take your mind off it here are some pictures I took while we have been away in Shropshire.  Click ‘em up big if you have the bandwidth. The first three were taken less then ten minutes walk from our tent.

Here we are at our campsite – we’re the one with the white roof.

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A few yards further up the track, some sheep grazing on the slopes of Ashlet on the Long Mynd

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From the same spot, facing the other way, here’s Caer Caradoc above Church Stretton. We climbed it a couple of years back and my feet still hurt.

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Not a lot of people know this area, which is partly why I like it so much.

The weather was OK, but we’ve all had a pretty muddy year earlier on.  Some folk seem to like it though.  This pig is of a breed sharing it’s name with a canal location. You see boats bearing the  label  “Registered at ???”.  Can you guess?

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We have a short trip on Herbie this week , a long standing date to give our friends the GoodyJoes a ride.  The Folly at Napton is the chosen target.  That way they can sample two tunnels, Watford staircase lock flight and Braunston and a good canalside pub all in a couple of days.  Not a bad sample of canal scenery.