Thursday, August 27, 2015

The best laid plans . .

Nice to start off with a Shakespearean quote for the heading as we went last night to see a live broadcast of Othello at the cinema.  These live theatre broadcasts are good and we can recommend them.  Anyway, back to the plot. 

Sod’s Law strikes again. And again. Yes a double whammy this week.  First our over winter mooring plans.  Just like two years ago we are leaving Crick* at the end of September to migrate south for the winter along with the Icelandic redwings, although to be fair I don’t suppose a lot of the redwings will be heading for Slough.  The idea was to take up a mooring at High Line Yachting on the Slough Arm for the winter, from where we will make sorties into Paddington for our winter breaks.  Having fixed all that up, we now learn that from early January until mid March, our sorties will not be possible because the canal at Hayes will be closed while they do brickwork repairs on an aqueduct I never even knew was there. Doh!

There is a glimmer of hope however, because High Line also have a base at Northolt on the Paddington Arm so we have asked if it might be possible to transfer there.

Speaking of the dear old Slough Arm brings us to whammy number two.  The end of next week is the Slough Canal Festival.  A jolly affair to which we have been two or three times. A couple of weeks ago the folks at CRT contacted me to see if I was available to move their widebeam Jena from Adelaide dock to Slough for the festival (on the assumption that the refurb of Jena is completed by then.  Aah, I hear you say, Jena won’t be ready.  Well don’t jump to conclusions ‘cos that’s not the problem. To see the real problem follow this link to Nb Freespirit’s blog and scroll down to Irene’s twelfth photo on her Wednesday’s post.  Yes, the dreaded pennywort has gone berserk down the arm.  Getting a widebeamer down there is quite bad enough without having to plough through that lot.  I have alerted CRT and hope they can send someone down there to clear the weed or I fear attendance at the festival will suffer.

* Not only are we leaving Crick for the winter, we won’t be returning next spring, opting instead to transfer to Cropredy marina for a year. Much as we love Crick, and we do, we fancy a break from endless trips through Braunston et al.  Being based at Cropredy, we can perhaps get in a few trips on the Thames, and enjoy short outings to Banbury/ Aynho /Thrupp etc. and we’ll be no further from the likes of Wigram’s turn for other routes.  Cropredy marina is of course run by the same folks as Crick, so arranging to transfer is simple.  That’s the theory at any rate, but as we can see from the above, the best laid plans . . .

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Airheads

Last week we came third in the Wheatsheaf Quiz at Crick under our new team name of the Airheads.  Not many quiz teams get named after a composting toilet.  Well we thought it was appropriate for our team of me, Kath, Rick and Marilyn since Rick and I had spend a good part of the day solving the smelly Airhead problem.  Regular reader will recall that I previously reported a leak of fumes around the fan housing.  Here, in case anyone else is considering fitting an air head to their boat is how we think we have fixed it.

First let me describe the setup.  A hose about two inches in diameter leads from the toilet to an extractor fan which draws the air from the toilet and exhausts it to the outside of the boat either through a hole in the roof, or in our case, through the side of the hull.  Of course the inside of the boat is lined with panelling behind which is an insulation gap, so a plastic tube takes the fumes across the gap to the hull or roof.  The fan housing, which is flanged  is screwed to the cabin lining so it exhausts through the aforementioned tube. Simples.

Air is, as you know, naturally leaky stuff and will creep out anywhere where there is not a good seal.  We found a couple of problems with the original installation.

1. Where the hole in the lining had been cut to take the plastic tube it was not a perfect fit to the tube and tiny gaps allowed the air to escape into the boats insulation space and thence down to the bilges and up through ventilation holes in the bottom of the washbasin cupboard.  Using an all weather acrylic sealant (Wickes) looking extraordinarily like Nutella chocolate spread, we sealed off those tiny gaps, and also put an extra layer of sealant where the tube met the hull at the other end.

2. The cabin lining panel is not really thick enough to take strong screws, so they could never be tightened enough to get a proper seal to the fan housing.  So we decided to thicken up the wall in that area. Rick made a small panel about 9mm thick which we glued and sealed to the lining using “I can’t believe it’s not nails” or some such brand plus a ring of the aforementioned chocolate spread.  So now we had  a much stronger surface to screw on to. This little panel had of course the requisite hole in it to allow the passage of the fumes from the fan.  Once the glue had set, we were able then to use some more beefy screws and really clamp the fan housing to the panel, using more chocolate spread as well.

3. The hose from the toilet looks corrugated. In fact the corrugations are a left hand thread which allows it to be screwed into a similar thread in the back of the fan housing.  This is not a naturally tight fit and maybe that shouldn't matter much as it is on the suction side of the fan, but we were taking no chances.  The ever brilliant Rick realised that by winding some thinnish electrical cable in the thread of the hose allowed us to get a much tighter fit of hose to fan.  More acrylic Nutella made matters even better.

The result?  Well short term it seems good.  No pongs at all.  It remains to be seen how well it endures the inevitable stresses and strains of the movement of the boat under power, but I’m quietly optimistic.  If you’re worried about all that chocolate spread making things look messy, well in our case it’s all hidden in the cupboard under the washbasin, but we did it reasonably neatly anyway.

The Airhead it self operates very well and is easy to use.  Here I must mention the heroism of Kath who braved the first emptying of the solids bin after some weeks of use. Her comment was that whist it wasn’t anything you’d do for fun, it was far preferable to emptying cassettes every couple of days.

As to the Airheads quiz team, we were delighted to get third prize, especially since we had our customary disaster in the music round.  These quizmasters always seem to assume that everyone listens to radio one.  I feel like one of those old High Court judges asking  “What are the Rolling Stones?” – “ A popular beat combo m’lud.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

VLKs aplenty but a stretch for VTRs.

“What’s a VLK?” I hear you ask.  A Volunteer Lock Keeper of course.   I met a load of them last night at a BBQ put on by CRT as a thank you to all London region volunteers.  Judging by their numbers, lock keeping seems to be the most popular volunteering job.  I wouldn’t mind it myself if I could commit to a regular day, which I can’t.  I heard someone at Braunston this year refer to VLKs as Professional Gongoozlers, implying I suppose that they often don’t seem to help when you need them. 

Down on the Hanwell flight at the bottom of the GU, you are likely to get good service by the sound of it.  I met a couple of the Hanwell guys last night. As you may know it’s a pleasant enough flight but quite hard work and many a prop gets fouled by the large numbers of plastic bags that seem to gather under the water thereabouts.  I was amazed to find out that the VLK team at Hanwell now numbers about 13!  Not all on duty at the same time of course, but you should always find a couple there.  I’m told that they display mobile numbers by the top and bottom locks so you can call them if you can’t see them when you arrive.  The ones I met were the Wednesday team and they said they work the year round, so I look forward to calling on their services next winter when we may well take a trip down to Brentford.

Us Volunteer Towpath Rangers are much more thinly spread.  Due to changes in roles at CRT we have now been divided up into five teams in the London Region and I have been appointed as Obergruppenfuhrer (well, Lead Ranger they actually call it) of the West team. This gives me no power whatsoever, but a few extra organising and co-ordinating duties.  Including  me there are but four of us covering the GU between Brentford and Ricky, the Slough arm and a bit of the Paddington arm too.  The good news is that shortly we will be released to run our own affairs and hold our own meetings and recruit further volunteers etc.  CRT have been somewhat tardy in supplying us with some of the kit and the final Risk Assessment training we need, but after bending someone’s ear last night I think we may be back on course soon.  Nuff said.

I think I wrote before about the Share the Space campaign going National.  Dick Vincent, who has up until now been in charge of us has been seconded to the national campaign with what sounds like a reasonable budget to try to do something about getting towpath users to be considerate to each other.  He will be training staff and towpath volunteers in the regions. The main culprits as we all know, are speeding cyclists and irresponsible dog owners, and I’m glad to report that they both problems are referred to on the back of the redesigned maplet cards we give out at Share the Space events.  Better still, there is an encouragement to give way to waterway users, i.e. boaters at locks and bridges etc.


These little fold-out cards have cute maps of the local canals, so may well be held on to by towpath users of all types.  At the moment they only exist for the London region, but Dick’s budget allows for other regional versions to be designed and produced.  Click on this one to see it bigger:


And the BBQ last night?  Very good actually.  Some people failed to show up because the Met Office was warning of Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very Very Frightening, and a dluge, but in the end we didn’t get a drop or rain or electrocuted.  The upshot of the slightly lower numbers was an excess provision of food and booze.  I did my best to help out and woke with a slightly fuzzy head this morning.  Always keen to assist, that's me.

If you fancy doing a bit of towpath rangering they’ll be recruiting all over the network before long.  Either go via the website, or if you like, I’ll pass your details on.  The time commitment is quite small.

Toodle pip.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Stars, organs and livestock, but no boats

Just back from our dry land holiday in our traditional spot in deepest Shropshire.  I think if we didn’t go one year they’d be sending out search parties for us.  By now we know Pam the campsite owner so well, she greets us with a hug, and this year she came over with four bottles of wine for a drink and a natter with us and a couple of other “regulars” we have got to know over the years.

Our Peter brought along his telescope and one night we drove up the scary road to the top of the Long Mynd to one of their designated Dark Sky sites.  Here is the view just as the sun was going down.


That’s the lights of Church Stretton down there.  Actually although the sky was clear, it was a rotten night for star gazing because the wind was ripping across the hill and the telescope was shaking about.  We did get a glimpse of the rings of Saturn for about half a second but that was about it.  So we crept down the hill, our hearts in our mouths as we drove through the darkness next to the precipitous drop and back to the campsite where lo and behold the air was still and plenty dark enough to see hundreds of stars and to make out the milky way.

It was the second week of the Church Stretton Arts festival, so we got in a bit of culture for good measure.  Three lunchtime organ recitals in local churches and a world class violin duo in the school.  Follow this link to see a short video of them if you like.  The last organ concert was brill, as we sat right behind the organist and could see his feet as he did a Michael Flatley on the pedals.  How do they do that at the same time as playing really flash two handed stuff on the keyboards?  Not only that they have to read three lines of music at the same time. These people are not human.

Our other highlight was a visit to the Burwarton Show, a big agricultural affair with all the usual livestock judging and show jumping and motor cycle display team etc.  I could have stood all day and watched the cattle. I have never seen such magnificent beasts.  people are wary of huge bulls but those bred for beef are generally so docile despite their huge muscular frames.  Just keep away from dairy bulls. Apparently Jerseys are amongst the worst.

In another week we are back up to Stretton again, but only to deliver Jacob and his girlfriend who will be camping.  Then we are straight back on Herbie to have another go at sealing the loo fan.  Rick has a plan, so knowing him, we will prevail.

I’d rather you didn’t tell anyone else what a brilliant place the Stretton hills is.  I like it like it is – unspoilt.