Monday, July 31, 2017

Disappearing water

The schools have broken up and now it seems to want to rain.  Aah well, it does that.  The July CRT Reservoir Watch figures show quite a variation in the change in water holdings for the canals. Over June The Oxford dropped 16.8%, GU North dropped a somewhat alarming 26% while the GU South dropped 11%.  How do you work that one out?  At least holdings are still somewhat above 2010/11 levels when we were all worried about being left high and dry.

Last week we had an interesting episode at Grant’s Lock, that’s the first one south of Banbury, where the overspill weir pours under the lock cottage floor.  I had the lock empty ready for Kath to bring Herbie in when a lady appeared asking if we would kindly let some water down because the pound below, which includes Twyford Wharf, was very low.  No surprise there, I thought, it’s always really shallow down there (don’t go near the sides or you’ll be aground in no time).  So, anyway we had a bit of fun bringing Herbie into the lock with the top paddles open for a few minutes.  I think Kath enjoyed driving her in hard against the current and I suppose we donated a few thousand gallons to the pound below.

It turned out the the lady was one of the owners of Twyford Wharf where they have a little hire fleet.  She was convinced that there must be a groundwater leak in that pound although she couldn’t find where it might be.  Certainly round the corner south of the wharf, the canal sits on a high towpath side embankment above the Cherwell, so there’s plenty of chance for gravity to take away any leakage.  Actually Grant’s lock is fourteen inches less deep than King’s Sutton (Tarver’s) lock which is the next one below so that according to my calculations that would account for a fifty gallon loss each time a boat passes through, but, if I recall rightly the overspill weir at Grant’s lock was flowing so that would make up fifty gallons in no time.  I think the lady is right, the water is escaping somewhere.

Meanwhile I wonder if this recent spell of unsettled weather will make much difference to the reservoirs.  I doubt it somehow.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cratch front designs

Phew, despite frequent rain showers, I've repainted Herbie's cratch front over ten times today. All in a search to find a design Kath likes. If you don't believe me, take a look at some of them.

cratchc   cratchb  cratchd

Alright, I admit it, I wasn't using paint on the cratch, I was using Paint on the computer. Useful though because my original design idea which looked good on paper, didn't look at all right on the boat. One thing I learned is that the designs look better if they don't extend through the full height of the “mullion” board.

Of course the Met Office (never the same since they left Bracknell where I could keep an eye on them) have supplied us with weather unsuitable for painting all this summer – either too hot or too windy or showery. So my solution is to make a new “veneer” board to pint at home and then screw over the somewhat weatherbeaten one on the boat.

For the designs, I have been using colours that are already in use on Herbie, the two greys from the cabin sides, the red from the cants and the white lining from the bow flashes. Also you will see that I was keen to reflect the red diamond on the bow flashes. Our final choice is this one:


The board is cut, primer-ed and undercoated twice and once that last coat is dry I'm ready to start on the real fun, the marking out and painting. That'll take several days because of the different colours and abutting edges and multiple coats of paint, although only probably twenty minutes at each session. I'd never have got it done out in the open.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Learned Treatise on Dogs on (Canal) Boats Part II

When I said in my last post, part 2 “tomorrow”, I meant that in the Donald trump sense.  Don’t worry, it’s gonna be great.

I feel I have adequately demonstrated my credentials as a world authority on DogsonBoats, but as further proof of what I said last time, I have located a photo of our Sheltie Jaz attempting to walk the gunnel of a hire boat.

Photograph (10)

As you can see, she is having second thoughts.  I don’t recall if she tried to turn and then fell in the canal, but probably.  I shall not be recommending Shelties as ideal DogsonBoats.

And so to the meat of my thesis, popular breeds and their owners.  Let us start with the ubiquitous Staffordshire Bull Terrier. 

Staffies are acquired, mostly by single men of socio economic groups D and E, in the mistaken belief that it will increase their macho credentials, and in the eyes of the non cognoscenti, this may work.   It is true that they could probably bite a windlass in half, or crunch through a mooring chain, but unlike their nasty cousin the American Pit Bull, you are far more likely to be licked by one than bitten by one.  So they sit on the rear deck, quietly watching the world go by, generally doing as little as possible and putting on weight. Their owners quickly learn that despite their often terrifying appearance, they are soft, sweet natured and afectionate.  This is the ideal dog for the low energy boater.  It is pointless throwing a Staffie a ball or a stick, because it will demolish the missile with a single bite on reaching it so there’ll be zilch to bring back.  As to feeding, they eat anything.  If you run out of biscuits, they might be perfectly happy with half a dozen nuts and bolts.

Now to the other end of the energy scale.  The Border Collie – living proof that genius is close to madness.  These brilliant dogs can operate see saws, run through mazes, drive sheep through a gate and into a pen, and could probably solve third order differential equations if they could hold a pencil.  On the downside however they all seem to suffer from ADHD and have to be doing something all the time.  This is the reason that Border Collie owners are either superbly fit or completely knackered.  In truth ColliesonBoats prefer to be ColliesontheTowpath.  If only they could be trained to go ahead and set the next lock, they’d be perfect.

Now we come to a dog with supernatural powers.  The Greyhound.  These come in two types, the normal, and the retired racer.  Both types have a common skill, which is hypnotism.  In the verbal sense, Greyhounds don’t have a lot to say. They slink about in complete silence, find your favourite chair and lie in it. A big racer can easily occupy a three seater sofa on his own. However they have acquired to power to instruct their owners through their eyes with subliminal messages such as “You will adopt another three retired racers as company for me”, or “I refuse to pee here, please take me to my favourite spot fourteen miles away or my bladder will burst and you’ll have yet another expensive vets bill.”  The dogs’ powers of hypnosis ensure complete and utter dedication and devotion to their every need. What these dogs are operating is a secret cult like the Moonies or something. Perhaps their ought to be a treatment centre somewhere to cure owners who have escaped.  

The reason vets have expensive Range Rovers and nice houses is principally due to the retired racing Greyhound, which like all finely tuned racers is prone to injury.  This is especially true of the creature’s skin, which appears to be about one micron thick, so that a brush against a dralon sofa will produce a wound needing medical attention. These are of course supremely athletic dogs capable of running along the entire grand union canal in about three minutes.  The only sound they make is the sonic boom as they pass. Despite this they are fascinatingly reluctant to step over a six inch gap between boat and bank and so need lifting across.  So we come to their boating owners.  Those of “normal” greyhounds tend to be single people who enjoy the quiet telepathic bond with their dog.  Those owners of ex racing greyhounds are almost always couples with a good joint income to cover the vet’s bills. Generally speaking their sacrifice and generosity (even to humans) knows no bounds. What else could you say of a lady who willingly stood on a boat for a whole day in the cold pouring rain in a soaking Womble costume to publicise a Greyhound charity? The most impressive special skill of owners of racers is that of recognising one greyhound from another.  To the rest of us they all look identical.  Having cruised on a narrowboat through the Thames barrier with five of these animals, all I can say is that I was glad they all had colour coded collars. So to keep a Greyhound on a boat, you need to prefer non verbal communication, not have a favourite seat of your own (or fool the dog into thinking it’s a different one), and never look into its eyes or you will be lost.

Finally a dog which will follow you around like a, um, well, like a little dog I suppose.  It is the ever popular Jack Russell Terrier.  These come in a range of colours and sizes and temperaments.  The good ones are sweet and gentle and the not so good ones will display a savagery worthy of a beast ten times their size. On the deck of your boat, a bucket of soapy water and a scrubbing  wouldn’t go amiss, because the JRT does like to roll in the leavings of other dogs and, worse, of foxes.  A good JRT, being of small stature is happy on a boat, is a good guard dog and will get on well with your friends and not mess up their boats.  They live for ages and the running costs are low.  Being so portable they can, and will, go everywhere with you.  JRT owners are a very mixed bunch, singles, couples, rich, poor, high energy, low energy.  Could this be the ideal DogonaBoat?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Learned Treatise on Dogs on Boats

There follows below, a Learned Treatise on Dogs on (Canal) Boats and Their Owners, and as the author of said Treatise I shall commence by describing my credentials as an expert on the subject.

Our first DogonaBoat was Treacle, our dear little Jack Russell Terrier who we had not long after we got married about forty years ago. Treacle was small even by Jack Russell standards and had little of the bravery supposedly attributed to the breed. She once attempted a confrontation with one of our Guinea Pigs and came off much the worse. Rick and Marilyn invited us for a day out aboard Nb Amos, a converted Ice Breaker kindly lent by a friend of theirs. We travelled from Blisworth and went a long way down the Northampton Arm before turning and going back. Treacle wasn't at all sure about the boat and was keen to join us on the bank while we worked down the many locks. At one of the locks the crew of us and our various children elected to reboard the boat to get to the next lock, which, knowing the flight, couldn't have been very far. Unfortunately we forgot to tell Treacle who was left stranded on the bank, so we called to her, intending that she should follow along the towpath. After a moment's thought she remembered her obedience training and decided she ought to follow us, so against all her instincts she plunged into the water and struck out after the disappearing boat. Her little dogy paddle swimming style was admirable and before long she caught us up and was scooped aboard, never to go near water again.

Our second DogonaBoat was ten years later. Jaz was our gentle and clever Sheltie who had an inbuilt dislike of water. Well with all that long hair I suppose she would. We hired a boat from Weltonfield and cruised down through Braunston and the Oxford canal, getting about as far as Enslow. I don't remember if we had a day without heavy rain, but I think not. Having a bedraggled Sheltie on a carpeted boat is not something I'd recommend, not that she was particularly bedraggled by the rain, more by frequent accidental plunges into the canal as she attempted to herd the ducks. She was a sheepdog after all. She fell off the deck, the roof, AND the gunnel (yes she was stupid enough to attempt that). Her first plunge actually took place before we had actually set off from the hire base, as we were loading our gear onto the boat. But her most spectacular plunge was off the footway across the bottom lock gates at I think maybe Cropredy. She decided to follow me across, then half way thought better of it and attempted to do an about turn. There being insufficient room of course she dived several feet into the canal below. Well she survived to tell the tale and on the return journey she did do something to impress us all. Coming back through Fenny Tunnel (which boaters will know is no longer a tunnel at all but a narrow cutting), we were so close to the bank that she assumed we we about to disembark so she jumped ashore. The boat and its crew continued on, leaving her stranded. Would she do a Treacle? Not Jaz. She thought for a minute then raced along the bank ahead of us and waited at the next bridge. Clever or what?

Moving on many years I won't dwell on the SomebodyelsesDogonsomebodyelsesBoat, except to say that we have survived a number of Thames Tideway thrillers in the company of a large number of large Greyhounds aboard Nb IndigoDream. I think I'm right in recalling there being five of them on board on the trip to Gravesend. More on Greyhounds later.

So we come right up to date with our dog sitting trip this week with Ronnie, our Claire's Chihuahua/ Yorkie cross. Rarely has a DogonaBoat attracted so much attention. I have completely lost count of the number of people who have come up to admire him. Despite never having been near a canal before, he has not fallen or jumped in once, although he has had many opportunities. If I walk between locks he follows me dutifully like a, um, er well like a little dog. Returning to the boat after a walk, once he sees it, he runs ahead to our boat and sits at the rear, waiting to be lifted aboard. What a sweetie. Kath won't want to give him back.

So you can see I am practically a world authority on dogs on boats and I await the call from the people who nominate the judges at Crufts. And so on to my Leaned Treatise on Dogs on(canal) Boats and their Owners, where I shall analyse the most popular breeds and the types of people who own them. However, looking back at the amount I have already written and being aware of the short attention span of readers these days, I'll save that for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Animal magnetism.

As the sunset falls over our peaceful mooring tonight at Kirtlington quarry, I ponder why I have suddenly become attractive to young women. Way back in the last century I seem to recall having my moments, but things have slowed down a bit over the last thirty years. Today however I have been approached by three or four attractive young ladies, and it was the same yesterday. Of course they all made the excuse that they were coming to stroke and admire little puppy Ronnie, but I think it's my animal magnetism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Slow going

Having cruised down to Oxford in three days, we're now aiming to take seven days to get back. After two very short days we find ourselves at the Jolly Boatman at Thrupp. Luckily the old solar panel is helping out with the battery charging with the engine only running for an hour or so per day.

Our novice crew member Ronnie is taking to boating like a dog to water.

Although he's not too sure about his life jacket.

Sadly he appears not to have the strength to carry a windlass, but you can't have everything can you?

Now we have to look out for dog friendly pubs. I'm pretty sure the Jolly B is ok as I recall Maffi taking Molly in there. Ronnie appeared to approve of Annie's Tea Rooms, as do we.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Here we are - with a new guest crew member and a posh extra for Herbie

I suppose you might be wondering where we are. (At our age we keep wondering that too.) Well we're down amid the dreaming spires mingling with the tourists. At least half the population of Oxford appears to be American if you go by the accents you hear as people walk by. Apart from the normal reasons for visiting the city, we had an extra two. The first was to attend a pre arranged collogue (look it up) with Bones and the Moomins to attempt a re-enactment of the splendid jointly prepared meal we had aboard Nb Melaleuca a couple of years back. It's always dangerous to try to recreate such a memorable evening, but with certain essential changes we managed it splendidly. The changes were that we ate al fresco, having a barbecue in the little park at Aristotle lane. I won't bore you with the menu but it was suitably sumptuous and a jolly time was had by all and a box of cider is now empty.

Part of the reason for the jollity was the inclusion of our special guest (the other reason we came down to Oxford). Meet our new temporary crew member Ronnie.

Ronnie is our daughter Claire's dog, half Yorkie and half Chihuahua and we have him on board for a week while Claire and family take a holiday in Portugal. He's quite a character and loved by all but I don't suppose he'll be much use at lock wheeling.

At our BBQ we had a flying visit from Alex who some of you will know as a maker of classy (and very sturdy) boat chimneys, so we asked about replacing ours which is falling to bits. To cut a long story short Alex bowled up this morning carrying one which proved to be a perfect fit so the deal was done and Herbie's roof looks instantly a lot smarter. His chimneys cost about double the tin ones you buy in the chandleries but are about five times as good. The steel is thick and the finish is powder coated and baked on. The old chimney was indeed on its last legs because as Alex twisted it to free it from the collar, the chimney disintegrated in his hands!

The old one, ready for the tip:

and the new one made by Alex:

The canal is looking spiffing at the moment, well, when the sun shines anyway. The yellow flag irises and the may flowers and the elder blossoms have all gone, to be replaced with lush sprays of Rosebay Willowherb, Meadowsweet, white Convolvulus and Purple Loosestrife. It all looks like a lovely cottage garden, miles and miles of it. I know, I know, I really must take some photos.

The other thing growing with abandon is the flippin' weeping Willows which hang in big green curtains over the canal so you can't see where you're going or if your're about to collide with a boat coming the other way. As you come into Oxford you hit loads of them. Something ought to be done . . .

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Something hidden but worth seeing on the Oxford Canal.

Here's a find you might not know about. It's one of those things right next to the canal, but you never know it's there until someone tips you off like someone did to us.

First, a bit of background, so bear with me.

The little old river Cherwell has been known to flood a bit around Banbury. In fact, a bit more than a bit. In 1998 even Banbury railway station had to be closed because of floods. That year, flood damage amounted to 12m pounds. When they had bad floods again in 2007, the town and the EA decided enough was enough and 14m quid was spent on developing and constructing a Flood Alleviation Scheme. A major piece of this was the creation of a large floodwater holding area in fields to the north of the town by building a retaining dam 2850 metres (that's over a mile and three quarters) long and up to 4.5m (nearly 15 feet) high.

Not only is this worth looking at, it's right next to the canal, and you can use it to walk through to the retail park next to the motorway where comfortably off shoppers can visit M&S or the less wealthy can go into Primark or Poundland or the less healthy can eat at MacDonalds.(healthy menu options are available).

So how do you see all this from the canal? Well you start at the motorway bridge just north of Hardwick lock (that's the last one before Banbury if you are coming from the North). There's plenty of room to tie up on the straight stretch down to the lock. Walk back through the bridge and you'll find this gate.

See it there on the left of the picture. Walk through the gate and you'll be looking at a bit of the dam.

Climb up onto the dam to see the vista beyond, where all the flood water will be held. There are a couple of socking great concrete sluices which I suppose are there to control the release of the water at the appropriate time.

If you fancy a bit of retail therapy, it's less than a ten minute walk from here. With your back to the canal, turn to your right and walk along the dam and across a second sluice to join a path going under the motorway.

As you can see, M&S and the rest are just the other side.

There is a good write up of the flood alleviation scheme with maps and pictures available as a pdf. Google the scheme (other search engines are available) and look for the entry from

What worries me is how they will manage post Brexit when we can't get any little Dutch boys to stick their fingers in the dam if it leaks.