Monday, September 30, 2013

Ready to weigh anchor

Imagine the scene. The ship lies in harbour.  Up and down the gangplanks men with huge ear rings and knee breeches swarm, carrying trunks, barrels of salt beef, pigs, chickens, and casks of rum and brandy.  Up in the rigging, the lads untangle ropes and hang newly repaired sails.  The captain and the first mate pore over charts with dividers, protractors and rulers in readiness for the perilous voyage soon to start. 

That’s exactly how it was on Herbie yesterday. Well perhaps I exaggerate a tad but you get the picture. We did move everything on board in readiness to set off on Thursday and now we are back at home because tomorrow I drive to Brentford to be inducted into the ancient order of towpath rangers and on Wednesday we have Sarah’s funeral.  Then we can set off.  Meanwhile everything we need for day to day life has been moved from house to boat and we have nothing to wear at home and few toys to play with. We will be travelling light getting back to Herbie by train as we need the car back down here when we arrive in Slough in a month’s time.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The voyage of the Humbug

The scene outside of Uxbridge boat centre is chaotic at the best of times and this morning was no exception. 


I was there to help our ex next door berth neighbour Glyn to manoeuvre her lovely old 55ft Springer Humbug into the dry dock.  Glyn lives aboard but has never done much cruising and is not confident to drive the boat solo.  At Uxbridge there are always boats everywhere, along both sides of the canal, strewn around the slipway and craning dock, piled up on shelves in the sheds etc. Humbug was going in alongside Capercaillie which belongs to Glyn’s current neighbour.  They are doing their blacking together this week.

After waiting for an hour while the boatyard shifted various boats out of the way, Capercaillie went in first and then we followed, to fit in the narrow slot alongside.  It would have been a lot easier had three boats not approached from the opposite direction just as we had to execute the right angled turn into the shed. Anyway we got in without incident and the boatyard guys started the complex job of sealing off the dock and pumping out the water.  I was going to stay until the boat had settled on it’s rests until the man told me it takes three and a half hours to pump out the water!


Two minutes after that photo was taken they had moved a couple of boats back outside the dock and we were well and truly trapped.

We made the trip up the Slough Arm from Iver yesterday afternoon and I’m pleased to report that we encountered no weed!!  None at all. This was the first time I have ever steered a Springer, noted for their V shaped bottoms, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well Humbug handled.  Glyn, who despite having lived on a boat for seven years has never operated a lock unaided, so she was well pleased to find that Cowley lock was manned by CRT volunteers.  Strange that she is a dab hand at boat DiY, having performed all sorts of miracles on Humbug, electrics, plumbing, painting, yet she is very nervous when it comes to cruising.  I think last night was her first experience of mooring on the public towpath.

Glyn will be putting Humbug up for sale in a few weeks.  If anyone is looking for an inexpensive yet  comfortable and delightfully decorated and cosy boat with a residential mooring they could do a lot worse. And it’ll have a newly blacked bottom. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Who’s a pretty boy then?

I suppose it’s a good time to see pheasants, and I’m used to seeing them in various shades, but how about this one I saw yesterday?



What a cracker.  I wonder if it is a youngster just coming into adult plumage.

A more normally fledged pair M&F were nearby


Tomorrow I have a special boat trip from Iver to Uxbridge aboard a lovely old Springer.  A full report will follow.

Monday, September 23, 2013

All change – Banbury out, Market Harborough in.

I’ve always said that it’s best not to have a plan – that way nothing can go wrong. Sadly, we’re going to have to abandon our plans to take Herbie to Banbury canal day because we need to get to the funeral and wake of our friend Sarah.  Apologies to those folk we were looking forward to meeting at Banbury. We were already under time pressure getting to Banbury, as we couldn’t start until after my towpath ranger induction on Tuesday, and the funeral being a day later put the cap on it. Some things are more important than others, and we can’t not be there with all the gang to say goodbye to Sarah, even though we have just spent three flippin’ days sweating over a model hot air balloon with twinkling LEDs on the basket to flaunt at the canal day.  Their theme this year is balloons you see. I’m sure we’ll find a use for it somehow, and I notice that I am slowly improving my soldering from atrocious to not very good, so every cloud as a silver lining.

Banbury was a bit of a detour really as it fell at the start of our Autumn migration south, and looking on the bright side it will save us two trips through Braunston locks and tunnel, which despite their many charms have become somewhat over familiar to us this year.

However we are supposed to be out of Crick marina by the end of September and we don’t want to arrive at Slough before the end of October, so after the funeral we will have time in hand.  That being so, we can now do something we have been planning to do for three years and never got round to it.  A cruise to Market Harborough – hooray!  We will try to negotiate a couple of extra days at Crick to see us past the funeral, then enjoy a few days tootle along to Harborough and back before heading south down the GU.

I must say I am really looking forward to going down the GU again. It is one of our favourite canals, especially from Milton Keynes down, and we already have a number of enquiries from would be crew for various bits, so we’ll be in good company. We might even carry on right into to London for a few days if we get there early.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Triumph among tragedy.

It has been a very tough year for us, emotionally speaking. We have lost no less than three of our musical friends. First our dear friend Pete, then the lovely Terry Conway, and now Sarah Morgan with whom we sung at Pete’s funeral.  And then, to give us hope, we are reminded today of our most admired musical friend who has miraculously survived and is still going thirty years after he fell asleep at the wheel and drove his car at speed into the front of an approaching lorry and broke virtually every bone in his body.  All those years ago we got to know Nic Jones quite well and we must have seen him perform well over a dozen times before his accident. Once after a Saturday concert he stayed over at our house and entertained the kids all next day playing fiddle tunes while our Richard, then only  about five, accompanied him on a cardboard drum kit. For a long time after that, Nic would cross a crowded room to say hello to us whenever he spotted us at one of his shows.

You may have heard of Nic.  If not, let me just say that he is unquestionably the best folk singer guitarist I ever heard, and I have heard thousands of ‘em. Suffering from his terrible injuries and quite a bit of brain damage his recovery has been very very slow, but he is now back performing, although he no longer has the ability to play guitar which he did so wonderfully in the old days.  Today, we discover that BBC4 will be showing a programme about Nic next Friday, which is what prompted me to write this.  I have just finished watching some YouTube videos of Nic performing over the last year or two.  I found them extremely moving. On Friday Kath and I are going to need a big box of tissues.

back to boaty subjects in my next post.  Our Autumn cruise is only a week away.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lone Ranger

Yes I’m still here and at last I have something to post about (not that I haven’t been busy). Anyway, today I have at last managed to secure a volunteering opportunity for the Canal and River Trust for which I don’t have to commit a regular specific day of the week or month.  It’s all thanks to Boris, (not that I think that to be a particular recommendation) because Transport for London are putting money into the Trust to improve use of the towpaths in the greater London area.  This means keeping a survey of towpath condition in order to prioritise repairs and renewals of the surface, dealing with intrusive vegetation (on the towpath not the water), encouraging use of the towpath by walkers and cyclists whilst at the same time getting them to behave responsibly and safely and learn about the canal, monitoring and improving signs ( I refuse to call it signage), carrying out user surveys and counts and stuff like that. 

Volunteers are being recruited as Towpath Rangers who will commit whatever time they can spare to helping out with these tasks, and now that they have seen me and passed me as human and after I have attended a short induction session and any necessary training for particular tasks I will be set loose in Hillingdon which covers the GU from Stockers lock just south of Rickmansworth down to Bulls bridge or thereabouts.  I’m quite looking forward to it, especially as I can fit it around our time away on Herbie.   I might even get to use their bike trailer to tow signboards behind me as I pedal along my patch.  And I get a badge.  Wow.

I won’t be doing any rangering in October as that’s when we’re moving the boat southwards to Slough for the winter.  That’s after we have attended the Banbury canal day on 6 October.  We are making something special for that, which I may reveal in a day or two. Let’s just say it involves a wicker basket and some electronics.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Calculating propeller shakes using a guessing stick

Many many years ago, before we had electronic calculators and computers were as big as garden sheds, I studied to be an engineer.  To do our sums we used slide rules, or guessing sticks as some of our more traditionally minded lecturers described them.  In those days if you asked an engineer to multiply 3 times 2 he would fiddle with his slide rule for a minute and then pronounce that the answer was about 5.95. I still have my slide rule in it’s original cardboard box and I couldn’t bear to part with it although I haven’t used it for years.  Nor have I used any of my engineering education, because I left engineering to pursue things I was better at. However for one day only I am trying to be an engineer again.

I was musing on Herbie’s propeller that has picked up a ding at sometime, probably by a blade striking a shopping trolley or something similar.  Feeling round the edge of the blades, one of them has a depression or flat spot on the edge, and this may have something to do with the fact that the transmission doesn’t run as smoothly as it used to.  So it occurred to me that I might be able to do a sum to get an idea of how much this little ding might be unbalancing the prop.  Looking at the little brass weights we have on our kitchen scales I reckon that the ding may have removed or displaced about five grams of bronze.  Does that make much difference?  Well I cast my mind back to a centrifugal force formula. How much centrifugal force is exerted by a 5 gram weight whirling round at 700 rpm (half engine speed at our normal cruising revs – half because the gearbox reduces at two to one)  at a radius of 8.5 inches. Luckily we old 1960 and 1970s engineers were trained to work in both metric and imperial measures so mixing grams and inches is something we can cope with. The formula is mass times radius times the square of the rotational speed (measured in radians per second).  I actually remembered that after 40 years!!!

OK so applying the formula, our little five gram chip of bronze whizzing round at 750 rpm turns out to exert an imbalance force of six and a half newtons, that’s over two thirds of a kilogram or about pound and a half in old money!  I read somewhere recently that propeller manufacturers only reckon on a five year life for props. Cavitation, dings and bends, and granular separation of the copper and tin that make up the bronze all take their toll. Next time Herbie comes out of the water, I’ll get a new prop fitted. It’s only money.

PS have I got this right Rick? (Rick is a proper engineer and will probably tell me there is more to it than just centrifugal force).

Friday, September 06, 2013

How not to end up on the tideway in the dark.

Like an old salt, I’ve been poring over tide tables today, but we’re not going to sea. Its just that when we bring Herbie down south for the winter, like a migrating bird, we have the option of doing it via the Thames, and that means including the short hop from Teddington to Brentford on the tide.  For those who haven’t done it, its a very gentle cruise of about an hour if you do it on the beginning of the falling tide. Very pleasant in fact.  You have to have your wits about you when planning though because the appropriate tides can occur at very inconvenient times.

The trouble is that towards the end of October, which is when we would be there, the right part of the tide may not occur in daylight and whilst some folk might be happy to do it in the dark, we wouldn’t.  I remember arriving at Bishops Stortford in the dark.  How we didn’t hit a bridge or two I’ll never know.  At that end of October sunset is before 6pm, so we would be looking for a high tide before 5pm at the latest.  Published tide times are measured at London Bridge, so you look up the tide time and add two hours, one for the difference in tides between London Bridge and Teddington and another for the time it takes to cruise down after high tide. So we’re looking for London Bridge high tides no later than 4pm.

So, what result do we get?  Hmm it looks like we would need to be there by the 24th at the latest, after that we would risk boating in the dark. Unless we get a morning tide. They would be OK after the 28th by the look of it.  Well, neither is ideal for our cruising plans, but they are do-able.

Our other option is to come down the good old Grand Union, of which we are very fond.  No tides on that!

Now, the added complication.  Although we are moving from Crick to Slough, we calling in at Banbury Canal Day on the way.  We had such a good time there last year that we vowed to come back.  Distance and time-wise this does in fact favour the Thames route over the GU, as it would save about a day according to CanalPlan.  Not that we need to save time really, we have plenty in hand.  I expect it might all come down to the weather.  The Thames is lovely in nice weather, but if it’s windy or wet, the canals are a lot more comfortable.  And of course there is the small matter of the 137 quid temporary Thames licence we would need.  That would buy a pub meal or three wouldn’t it?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Reservoir holdings after a dry summer

Much as we like to grumble about our British weather, we have to grudgingly admit that this summer has been pretty good. Although some places did get heavy rainstorms in July we were out cruising for several weeks in June and July and only used our raincoats once, and August has been lovely in our half of the country.  So does this mean that we are due for another canal water shortage like two years ago?  In 2011 the problem was at its worst in October, when reservoirs were down to their last 20 or 30 percent.  Of course we don’t have the October figures for 2013 yet but I’ve been having a look at the figures for this summer and comparing them with the previous two years.

Let’s look at three graphs showing the summer change in reservoir levels for the last three years.  I’ve chosen the Grand Union and the Oxford canals for reasons of pure self interest as that’s where we do much of our cruising.

Here’s what happened between May and August in 2011. A steady and quite steep drop in levels and this was to get worse over the succeeding two months. he scale up the left hand side is in percentage full of the reservoirs



The last year, 2012, if you remember we had a very wet spring and a pretty mixed summer giving this chart in which the rain filled up all the reservoirs again.


So how have we done this year? Are we in for a repeat of 2011?  Not if this chart is anything to go by.


Good news so far.  It’s interesting to speculate as to why this years levels are better than 2011. Maybe it hasn’t been quite so dry, or maybe CRT have got better at saving water, or  a bit of both most probably.  Whatever the reason, we can still go out boating with a clear conscience.  except that is for the Leeds and Liverpool where according the CRT reservoir watch report, reservoir holdings are down to 52% and falling, so our poor friends up that way are having to endure some restrictions to lock usage.  Funny, we were always told it was habitually rainy up that way.

It’ll be interesting when we get the October figures.  In the meantime I’ll have to find something else to write about.