Saturday, July 20, 2019

At least the EA is confused as well.

Well the EA might know what their mooring rules are for the Thames, but their lock keepers don't seem so sure.  Here's what I learned today,

Had we moored on the other side of Kings lock, it would have cost us £5 instead of £7.50, except that the £7.50 should have been a tenner as Herbie is longer than 40ft.  The lockie says he assumes all narrowboats are 40ft bless him.

The field with the abbey(?) ruin by Godstow lock is not EA and has separate charges but first night is free.

East street moorings are overseen by the lockie at Osney lock and first night is free.There are no signs telling you that. Next 2 nights are £5 each then please bugger off. You can come back and start again after one night away.  When asked about Iffley lock he didn't know.

There is a pukka sign at Iffley lock (hooray) saying first night free, then 2 nights at £5 and £25 a night thereafter.

Tonight we moor a couple of hundred yards above Iffley where I assume it is free until someone tells us otherwise.


Here's our new windlass, acquired at great expense

was it worth it?  Yeah I think so.  It works well and is hardly heavier than our regular ones.  Here's a picture comparing them for size.

My only reservation is that as the handle is rivetted on rather than just a bend, that makes a potential weak point. I feared for it on the top paddles at Somerton deep, but as they are the stiffest paddles I've ever had the misfortune to wind and the windlass survived, it scraped through the ultimate test.  Using the ratchet is a breeze and makes the job a lot easier on difficult paddles.

Now onto bridge names.  Sorry Sue, you were wide of the mark on dentist (230 -geddit?) and Luxembourg (208, surely you're old enough to remember that!). 76 is of course Trombone.  I'm no better, Jim has me foxed on "cowboy time" -see comment on previous post.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Confused of Oxford

Well here we are at Kings Lock on the Thames at Oxford and it is wet wet wet. No complaining though because the rest of the week has been sunny and they say next week will be too.

Trying to find out what has happened to Thames visitor mooring charges is near impossible. The web site of the company that ran them last year is still up despite their contract being lost six months ago, but Environment Agency have put nothing on their own site. The lockie at Eynsham said that EA moorings were free for the first night but there is nothing in writing. Here at Kings Lock the sign just says there is a mooring charge, but not what the charge is. It says talk to the lock keeper, but there hasn't been one at the lock all day. The sign gives you a phone number for enquiries so I tried that, but the man there had no idea either and referred me to the non existent lock keeper. Grrr.

We had Rick with us for a couple of days earlier in the week and we were musing over potential names for canal bridges based on their numbers. How about 
Luxembourg bridge or Trombone bridge or Dentist bridge? I can think of a few more. How about you? Can you translate the three above?


A nice (but somewhat damp and bedraggled) EA lady just appeared and relieved us of £7.50 for mooring here.  According to her, first night is free except where it isn't, i.e. here.  Apparently at East Street, first night is free.  If you then go somewhere else the next night and then back another day later, you are on first night again. Simples. 

Good 'ere innit?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Solutions to old age

I don't know which is getting stiffer faster these days, lock paddle gear or my back.  Most likely the one is the cause of the other I suppose. Anyhow I seem more often to strain what muscle I've got left when winding up some of the stiffer paddles  down our way.  So after consulting with my co-pilot we've agreed to splash out what seems a lorra lorra dosh on one of those Gowindlass ratchet windlasses.  They seem a good bit smaller and lighter than the other one on the market (a bit less expensive too).  The clinching argument is that we're not getting any younger so if it works it'll become more essential as time goes on. Ours is in the post and assuming it gets here in time we'll test it when we to get a bit of boating in next week so I'll let you know how well it works.  If it saves me from pulled muscles it'll be worth it.

Following on from my recent posts about gate hopping (which most of my brave readers seem to do despite CRT's advice to the contrary) I'm going to try an experiment to see if I can avoid the need.  The idea is to have a length of rope with a biggish fixed loop on one end which you drop over the free end of a lock gate before you push or kick  it open from the other gate.  Then you open the gate your side and the boat comes in or out, you shut your gate, then pull the far one shut with the rope.  I'm a bit surprised I've never seen anyone do it.  Perhaps because it doesn't work.  Anyway I'm going to give it a shot and see how I get on.  I'll probably strain my back and you can all have a laugh.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Battle Royal at Cropredy

Saturday News from the Civil War

A further report from our war correspondent Herbie Neil who is stationed close to  the front lines:

“All is calm at the moment after the heat and chaos of this afternoon’s fighting when the noise and
smoke of the battle was intense (unlike the respective Armies’ followers who were in tents). 
The parliamentarians with their backs to the river Cherwell endured a cavalry attack by the Royalists
swooping out of the woods below Williamscot before responding with thunderous volleys of musket fire
and charges by the pikemen who had no idea of where they were going in all that musket smoke. 
It was difficult to see through the murk but I fear that a number of soldiers may actually have melted
in the heat. Certainly a good few of them appeared to fall down “dead” at the first opportunity.
Smart move.

In general a good time was had by all, but there was much suffering in the thirty degree heat. 
In the rehydration station (aka The Red Lion) after the cease fire, many were regretting the authenticity
of their heavy woollen jackets and trousers and big boots.  There was much perspiration. Fortunately, the
lower ranks were able to take much comfort from the fact that their more meagre costumes caused a
lot less distress than the fancy topcoats and sashes worn by the officer class.  I believe the fashionable term
is schadenfreude. Surprisingly perhaps, none sought the cooling comfort of a dip in the canal, which was
a pity because they might have been usefully employed in searching for my assistant’s iphone which fell in yesterday.

Rumour has it that the cease fire is only temporary and that further fighting will break out on sunday
afternoon when your correspondent will be taking refuge by escorting a young family up the locks and back
to escape the fighting.

Back to you in the studio

Friday, June 28, 2019

News from the war zone

... and now over to our civil war correspondent Herbie Neil at the battle front.

"Yes, here we are very close to the front line where tensions are running high in preparation for the mother of all battles at Cropredy Bridge.  Earlier today we undertook the perilous ten minute journey from Cropredy marina to our bunker  in the sunken cutting between the two canal bridges.  Peering over parapet we can see the tents of the army supporters and hear their cries as they surge into the Brasenose Arms to fortify their spirits for the battle ahead.  The medical units are bracing themselves for an influx of bedraggled troops in the morning seeking help for their self inflicted hangovers.

"We are reliably informed by the army commanders that the first attacks will take place in early afternoon on Saturday.  Rumours abound however that the action may be somewhat overdue because although June 29th is the right date, the real first wave of attacks in the battle of Cropredy Bridge happened a little while ago.  375 years ago to be exact.  It is not clear who the opponents are because they all appear to be members of the Sealed Knot so in effect they are fighting their own people.  I suppose that's the essence of civil war really.

"Meanwhile the village is swarming with historians arguing about what really went on and who won.  Who was it who said that in times of war, truth is the first casualty?  I understand there may be doubts about the rumour that the Royalist cavaliers are to be led by Lord Boris of Henley and the Parliamentarian roundheads by Sir Jeremy of the Hunt.  All may be revealed tomorrow as I don my flak jacket and enter the field of battle, notebook and camera in hand.  Pullitzer prize here I come.

Stay tuned."

P.S. The first casualty of the skirmish has already occured.  A communications blackout has been imposed on my assistant Herbie Kath who dropped her iphone in the canal.  Those of a scientific bent may be interested to know that iphones appear not to be magnetic as prolonged dipping of our Sea Searcher magnet failed to locate the device.  There's never a frogman when you need one is there?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Fenders up or down?

We just got the quote for having our boat blacked and at first sight it's um, eye watering.  Why so? Well this time we asked for them to rub down and repaint the gunnels in black gloss.  For many years now I've been touching up the inevitable battle scars on the gunnels, but it's time to get back to square one with a deep rub down all over and some decent layers of anti rust primer and top coat,  hence the extra cost.

Did I say inevitable battle scars?   You might say we shouldn't hit anything if we were good drivers, but I reckon we're as good at steering into locks as anyone else. Lets face it, boats have rubbing strakes and fenders for a reason. Boats have to come alongside brick and concrete walls, metal piling which is often buckled and jagged etc etc.  Contact at some point is inevitable.

 "Well that's what fenders are for," I hear you say. 

No, not that sort of fender you idiot.

Well for good or ill, we choose not to deploy fenders of any type while the boat is moving.  Plenty of boats have the reverse policy in order to protect their precious blacking and gunnel paint, but I've seen no end of them get stuck in narrow locks in the process.  Somerton deep lock is a favourite for this.  I wouldn't like to count how many hours I've lost at this lock because of people with stuck fenders, and in other places down the canal where a bit of a fallen branch gets under or behind the lock gate so it won't fully open.

So normally our fenders only get deployed when we are tying up for the night.  Maybe there's a half way house and we should drop the fenders over before we come in to moor.  That might save a few scratches.  Or should we have them down most of the time and only take them up before entering a narrow lock?  I would value your opinions.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Future Banbury canalscape

I came across this youtube video showing how the canal area in Banbury will look after they complete the regeneration they are supposed to be starting sometime soon.  It includes a sort of fly-through along the canal, CGI I suppose.  The canal and towpath look unchanged.

I think I'm right in saying that the towpath itself belongs to CRT so hopefully we'll still be able to moor in the centre.  The video certainly shows boats moored along there.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Wet paint

"Oooh that paint has beaded up nicely in the rain," I might have said, but I flippin' well didn't.  besides the paintwork being wet in the rain, it was wet paint!  The next meteorologist I see, I'm gonna bust him in the nose. "Less than ten percent chance of rain" said the forecast for that day, and then only light rain.  So as the gas locker lid and the cants were in need of a fresh coat of the old Hempel Bordeaux Red, I got out the kit and sanded and masked and slapped on a  quick coat of gloss.  Job done I retired to my folding chair on the towpath verge and set to The Week crossword feeling pretty pleased with myself (albeit not with my efforts at the crossword)..

When the first tiny spots of rain arrived I wasn't too concerned, then Kath remarked that it was looking very black over Will's mum's and disappeared inside.  That was when the heavens opened.  Not just a light shower but a full blown downpour all over my fresh paint, barely an hour after I brushed it on.  Then to cap it all, it stopped raining, but replaced that with hail!  Anybody looking for happy bunnies aboard Herbie would have been sadly disappointed.  After the rain stopped, the water beads stayed put of course, but I couldn't wipe 'em off because the paint was still really gooey.  So I just had to grin and bear it and tried to get used to the idea of a Hammerite finish on the paint.  What really happened was that when it did finally dry a day later it wasn't too bad - more of a silk lustre finish than gloss.  Hey ho.

We were moored below the Claydon lock flight at the time, planning to have a bankside BBQ - well that never happened of course, but we had a nice relaxing weekend.  On the upside, all this rain will have put another couple of inches on the reservoir levels.  The reservoir figures are out any day.  They might make encouraging reading although they are about a month in arrears.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

One small step for a man

Are you a jumper or a walker?

The latest Boaters News from CRT contains an article warning of the perils of  stepping across the opened gate at the bottom end of double gated narrow locks.  Your feet might slip, the grab rail might be slippery etc.  so don't do it they say.  Of course they're right, but I'll go on doing it.

I would certainly never advise or encourage anyone to do it.  It's a long drop  into the water and you could easily bang your head.  I mean why would you do it?  Or should I say why do I still do it?  Well, to save a walk of 150 feet I suppose.  One pace or 50 paces.

The gap you have to step (not really jump) across is about 3ft 6in I suppose.  Sometimes I stand on the edge and look down and think "not this one" and walk round instead, but more often than not I check that my feet have grip, that my clothing won't snag the paddle gear, that my windlass is safely in the hand away from the gate and make an exaggerated step across, ensuring that I am well onto the opposite footplank and grabbing firmly on the opposite rail. It's not a huge step but I do think and take care each time.  Well like I said, I won't encourage anyone to do it but lots of us still do.  It's funny how at some locks it doesn't feel or look right and I walk round whilst at others e.g. at Broadmoor lock (The one above Cropredy where they sell fenders and windlasses) the other day the step seemed like nothing at all.  I suppose they must all be the same distance.  I must admit, if it doesn't feel safe somehow, I don't do it.  I'm not that cavalier.

Kath, I ought to add, walks round and I'm fine with that.

Are you a stepper or a jumper? It'd be interesting to take a straw poll.  Also has anyone knowledge of someone falling in in the process?

We're back out to Herbie today for a little bit of sanding and painting up at the pointy end.  I noticed the other day how scruffy the bow cants and the gas locker lid have got.  It's really noticeable how horizontal surfaces suffer paint degradation more than vertical ones.  The area I have to deal with is so small that the sanding should't take more than ten minutes and the masking and painting no more than half an hour, but we still need two or three days to get it done because of drying times.  So I have to work a few minutes and then take the rest of the day off.  That's my kind of hard labour.

We had a lot of rain last night but I'm not complaining.  I spoke the other day to one of the CRT chaps walking down Claydon locks and asked him about reservoir levels at the summit.  He said they were pretty grim.  Now I read that they're putting restrictions on the Leicester line and on Buckby locks. I hate to say it folks but we need a wet month.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Food and drink

Having got a letter from the cardiac consultant saying that after the angiogram and the echocardiogram they can see nothing wrong with my ticker,   I've decided to ignore my symptoms unless they get bad and just carry on.  Maybe I just had a virus or something, or maybe I have a nasty case of acute hypochondria (Oh no, not that as well!).

So here we are sneaking a few days away on Herbie.  Tomorrow we head just three locks up the hill to a favourite stretch below the foot of the Claydon flight  where we plan to do not a lot except potter about and I'll do some guitar practice following some cool theory stuff I just learned.

Having had an exhausting day getting packed up and driving here, tonight we succumbed to one of our favourite ready meals (not that we often have such things) - M&S Gastropub Moussaka.  I challenge you to cook me a nicer one.  Anyway we scoffed it sitting outside Herbie at the marina and washed it down with another naughty but nice treat.  Here's an appropriately blurred picture of Herbie with the treat in the foreground.  If you like wine with bags of flavour this a good 'un.
 Tesco's finest.

I've been cutting back severely on the old alcohol in recent weeks and experimenting with alcohol free (or nearly free) wines beers and ciders.  Most Wines of this genre are pretty ghastly, the best we found was from dear old Tesco.

Ciders are generally ok - just sweet fizzy apple juice mainly.  Beers are very mixed.  Low alcohol wheat beers are pretty good if you like that sort of thing.  Sainsbury's do a good one.  As for English type beers, many illustrious brewers have had a bash at it and most have produced quite nasty stuff.  There is one however that is a belter if you like beers of the Ghost Ship genre(American hops and light malts).  Look out for Infinite Session Pale.  They describe it as an American Pale Ale and it is typical of that type of beer, which I happen to love.  I've seen it in bottles in Sainsbury's and cans in M&S.  Virtually alcohol free but really really good.  Very hoppy, and I'm pretty sure I could be fooled into thinking it was a 4%er if someone got me one from the bar.  And only 36 calories in a 330 ml can. Sadly (there has to be a down side) it ain't cheap.

So tomorrow he head up hill for sea trials of our new steerer's seat and to check that lock working doesn't give me a heart attack.  I'm quietly confident.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Uncomfortably numb no more

Pink Floyd may have made a lot of dosh from being Comfortably Numb (at the same time as inspiring the naming of a narrowboat or two), but sitting on Herbie's rear end whilst steering makes my rear end uncomfortably numb.  So flagrantly copying an idea from Oakie, Kath and I have manufactured ouselves a padded steerer's seat covered in an alarmingly scarlet shade of vinyl.

Held in place by two bolts and wingnuts we sincerely hope it will not deposit us in the cut.  Sea trials have yet to be carried out.

Anyhow our couple of days aboard Herbie in the marina have not been entirely wasted. I even washed and polished Herbie's port side.  What a good boy am I.

This picture fails to show the full glory of my efforts but at least you can see the full glory of our lovely spot in the marina.. The starboard side will have to wait until I don't have to risk life and limb to get at it.

Tomorrow we depart by car for Cambridge for our annual assault on the beer festival on Jesus Green. In deference to my current medical predicament I promise to exercise a modicum of restraint and stick to halves of lowish alcohol beers. Actually the hard bit will be to refrain from the delights of the cheese counter. It's a hard life.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Not a Constable

I don't do much sketching and I do even less painting, but I though I might as well make an exhibition of myself and show you this pencil and watercolour sketch I did of Kath sitting outside Herbie at Abingdon last autumn. Not that you'd recognise Kath or Herbie from it, but you might at least be able to make out that it's Abingdon.

Today we're off(by car) to Long Buckby to help celebrate Rick and Marilyn's golden wedding anniversary.  If she'd have strangled him all those years ago, she'd have been out by now.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Good news = not so good news

Hmmm, I'm not exactly a happy bunny after my angiogram yesterday.  The good news is that my coronary arteries are narrowed a bit but not all that much.  The bad news is that my coronary arteries are narrowed a bit but not all that much.  No, I haven't made a typo there, the bad news is the same as the good news.  After taking measurements they concluded that stenting was not the answer, so I'm back to square one.  I was really hoping for a quick fix. So now it's more medication and they'll book me in for an ultrasound scan of the heart so they can see how the valves and muscles are operating.  Ho hum.

I'm far from being an invalid, but I certainly couldn't safely manage a hard day's locking down the canal.  Ten minutes raking up hedge trimmings in the garden leaves me feeling breathless and in need of a rest.  Maybe my new medication will help.  We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile I'm lucky enough to have lots of other interests to get on with.

It's been a fun week otherwise, and we still managed to fit in a few very pleasant hours on a boat on the Grand Union, even if it was stationary.  The lovely George and Carol of Still Rockin' fame were moored in Cowley and they invited us over for a chat on board their stately home.  Just what the doctor ordered and we had a great time.  Thanks G&C it did me a power of good.

More stationary boating awaits. Next weekend we have a few days using Herbie as a pied a terre either side of Rick and Marilyn's golden wedding celebration and before tootling over to Cambridge to join our Peter for our annual pilgrimage to the Cambridge Beer Festival where I shall attempt to drink just a few halves of not-too-strong beer.  It's not all gloom and doom :-)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Getting a fix of boating

Don’t tell anyone, but a week ago  we sneaked out under my doctors nose and took Herbie down to Banbury.  I don’t think we were spotted by anyone except Eeyore who was out on NbSonflower and he won’t snitch I’m sure.  Not that my doc need have worried because neither Kath nor I lifted a finger at the locks as we were crewed by grandson Jacob and his mate Ian neither of whom are strangers to the gym as their bulging biceps will testify.

You can’t keep us away from the water, and this weekend just gone was our annual trip to the Norfolk Broads.  Sadly I had to admit that the stressful process of hurtling down a river in a little boat in strong winds, far from a phone signal, was probably not a good idea for someone with angina so I stayed ashore while the others went out.  The family honour was maintained as we had brought along Jacob to crew on our behalf.  Although he has done little sailing in his twenty one years, he has been weilding a narrowboat tiller since he was eight so he managed well. Not to be outdone we did jump in the car and visit a few favourite waterside haunts – Womack staithe, Potter Heigham bridge, and more staithes at Thurne and Upton.  At Upton (near Acle) we waited patiently for the return of our pals as they brought their boats back to base propelled only by the wind in their jib sails as they came up the little channel.

At Potter Heigham we had a treat as some men were refixing a warning sign on the notoriously low bridge so we sat and watched as we ate our lunchtime baguettes. 

Anyone who knows that bridge will know that the tide rips through it at a rate of knots, so the man in the boat with the outboard motor had to hold them in place while they worked.  Unfortunately no one fell in, so it was not quite as much fun as it might have been, but quite entertaining all the same.

It’s only eight days now until my hospital procedure which I hope will restore me to some sort of fitness.  I went to a “pre assessment” appointment last week when they showed my some typical stents like the ones they might fit if they find a good place to do it.  There ain’t much to them, they look like they probably cost ten pence a dozen – about the size of the little springs you get inside retracting ball point pens, but much flimsier.  I can’t wait.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

I have to tell you I’ve lost something significant, but I don’t want it back.  More of that later.  Meanwhile last weekend we took Herbie out on a cruise.  ‘Hang on’, I hear you say,’aren’t you supposed to be grounded pending treatment for your angina?’  Well yes I am but we threw caution to the wind and cruised all the way to this spot:

Cropredy lock.  It took us all of five minutes to get there from our berth at the marina and it was worth it because we’d arranged to rendezvous with the Moomins (aka Simon and Ann on Nb Melaleuca), so we spent a couple of jolly evenings eating and drinking and talking about batteries and toilets, like you do.  Melaleuca now has lithium batteries and a fiendishly clever battery control system devised and installed by Simon.  I wouldn’t know where to start – Simon’s brain works on a higher plane than mine.  Nevertheless now that the days are longer, Herbie’s solar panels are earning their keep and our conventional batteries held up well, losing only 15% over 48 hours of fridge, lights etc. If there is anyone out there who doesn’t have solar yet –get on with it. It’s a no brainer.  Interestingly, I did a quick survey of boats in our marina and I reckon that less than a quarter of them have solar panels.  I think that’s because lots of them never go anywhere. They just sit there plugged into the mains and quietly get eaten away by galvanic corrosion. 

I’ve now got a date (8 May) for my medical ‘procedure’ which I hope will include fitting a stent or two.  According to Oakie I’ll feel like a new man.  Kath say’s she’s felt like a new man for ages.

The thing I have lost as of today (see para one)  is a stone in weight since all this heart thing started a few weeks back! Hooray.  You may congratulate me. No faddy diets, just portion control and cutting out fats, sugars and alcohol (I allow myself a drinky once a week – well twice last weekend ‘cos we were dining with the Moomins).  Now I need to lose another stone- stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Here we are aboard Herbie and going nowhere.  I'm grounded.  You know when people get told 'You're under investigation - don't leave town.'  That's me that is.

No I'm not a criminal suspect, I'm awaiting an angiogram appointment because of a sudden bout of chest pains a couple of weeks back, so I'm not supposed to be out of easy reach of an ambulance - just in case.  I shouldn't be all that surprised, my dear old dad was an angina sufferer at my age, so I guess I'm a chip off the old block.  Strange though that it should come upon me so suddenly, although it isn't going away. No more English breakfasts at Wetherspoons (even though they were a rare treat).

Out here on the South Oxford most of the canal is away from roads and the phone signals are pretty poor too, so we won't be going anywhere until I get sorted.  Luckily our spot in the marina is very pleasant, so we can still spend time aboard, which is what we are doing now.

One good thing is that my closer attention to (my already reasonably healthy) diet has already knocked half a stone off my weight.  What's more, I have been forbidden strenuous exercise (although I have been to our regular exercise class a couple of times, taking it steady) for the time being, so I'm on light duties only  Every cloud has a silver lining:-)

Hopefully I might get a stent or something to put me back to normal.  Fingers crossed.

Anyone offering me medical advice or anything other than the mildest sympathy will be shot.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How fast (or slow) is a canal boat?

“How far can you get in a week on your boat?” That’s something I often find myself explaining to people who ask about our journeys.  In the past I have usually guessed that “In a week on the canal you can probably get as far as a car can in an hour.” Of course if it’s an out and back trip you have to half that.

Well I was lying in bed wondering (like you do) how accurate that advice was, so I thought I might as well check it out and do the numbers.  As you all know I’m quite partial to a few numbers.  So between Google maps, Canalplan and my own Canalculator (I’ve just written a new Python version using about half the lines of code of the old one –sweet!), I chose a few routes and came up with the following

Route                                              Time by car/road                        Time by canal boat            Ratio(canal/car)

Paddington to NIA Birmingham              2.25 hrs                                       79 hrs                              35

Oxford to Coventry                               1.1 hrs                                        40.5 hrs                            37 

Brentford to Braunston                         1.75 hrs                                       55 hrs                              31

Stratford to NIA Birmingham                 0.9 hrs                                         21 hrs                              23

Braunston to Aston turn                        0.9 hrs                                         29 hrs                              32

Well there you are.  Averaging those out and rounding up we see that a car gets there 32 times faster than a boat.  So a distance travelled by a car in an hour takes 32 hours on the canal.  That makes my original statement not far off given that we rarely cruise more than six days in seven and do between five and six hours a day. When we were young an energetic, we did the four counties ring in a week and according to Canalplan that’s 55.5 hours.

“Hmm how about fuel costs?” our boat uses about 1.4 litres per hour.  A car might typically average about 5 litres an hour. So from Paddington to Birmingham a car might use about 11.5 litres, a boat would use 56 litres. So car transport would appear to be about five times as efficient in that respect.  Less fun though.

Then I thought it might be fun to try out some less typical routes.  I thought that boats might fare better against cars in a city, so

Paddington to Camden                         19 min                                         45 min                              2.4

Wow, the boat looks a lot better.  How about up the Thames?

Teddington to Lechlade                        2.1 hrs                                         44 hrs                              21

showing that the river fares better than the canal.  And lastly, just to push the limits I compared our longest ever trip,

Iver(Slough) to Bedford                        1.2 hrs                                          103 hrs                             85

Here the boat is 85 times slower than the car, but that’s because of the route.  The car can get there pretty directly but the boat had to go via Northampton, Peterborough, across the fens to Denver then down through Ely etc.  It might be 85 times slower but for enjoyment I know which route I’d take.

Well that was fun.  Having done that and replaced a tap washer today I think I can take the rest of the day off don’t you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Looking back and forth

In an effort to avoid doing anything useful today, (something for which I am especially gifted), I devoted a couple of hours to reading through my historic blog posts.  As a result, I don't know whether to be impressed or depressed. Having a boat blog is a useful diary of what you have been up to, or more often these days, what you have not been up to. When I look back at 2010 when we did the mammoth Herbie repaint, did numerous engine jobs, built the cratch folding table, did the signwriting, swapped out the batteries, installed our first solar panel and controller and made the folding stand for it and blogged on most days, I realise that nine years later I don't have that much energy left.

Then I read that last year (2018) I made and painted a new roof box, completed the repaint of Herbie's roof and the handrails, installed another solar panel and replaced the controller and tilting stands and completed my second (admittedly not exactly a best seller) novel, and wrote myself a useful new Android Canalculator app, I don't feel so bad.  Then I feel bad again because so much more needs doing and I doubt I shall have the energy for it all.  Hey ho. We soldier on.  This year I might replace the battery in the clock.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Dodgy safety equipment found by CRT

The advice I always give to visitors on Herbie is “If you fall in the canal, stand up.”  Nine times out of ten your head will be above water, and on the South Oxford, your knees might be as well.  However, some canals are deep enough to submerge a human and lots of rivers are too, so what do you do if someone does go overboard?

They might of course be wearing a lifejacket, but very few of us bother on the canal.  We do wear ours on big rivers.  Alternatively, some boats carry a life ring.  We’ve got an old one, but the only time I tried to use it, it landed some way from the person in the water and anyway it could give you quite a bang on the head if it hit you, so life rings are not ideal.  What we carry now is a throwing line, which is a length of buoyant rope stuffed into a little pouch.  You hold one end of the rope and throw the pouch  which unravels the rope as is travels to the person in the water and then you haul them to safety.  If you don’t have one I recommend you to get one.  I learned how to  use these when I did my RYA Helmsman training as a CRT volunteer, and I think they’re a good thing.  Throwing them accurately is surprisingly easy and they cheap and are compact enough to keep to hand when you are steering.  Every now and then I have a little practice with ours just to keep my hand in.  On one occasion I even used it to measure the width of the canal to see if we could turn!

So far, so good, but last week CRT issued a warning to volunteers after a throwing line broke in half while hauling someone in.  On inspecting the rope it was found to be made up from shorter lengths of line joined together by glue or plastic welding of some kind.  Other samples from the same (imported) batch were found to be equally faulty.  When I get back to Herbie, I’m going to check mine over although I think it’s sound, but I thought letting other people know wouldn’t be  bad idea.  I can’t afford to lose any blog readers can I?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mucky Talk

Yesterday we toddled along to a talk and discussion about composting loos.  As any boater knows, discussing toilets is what we do best, well that and batteries I suppose, so we all had a jolly time.  Those who find talking about such matters repulsive might be best advised not to read this page any further.  Suffice it to say that some talk of the effect of different diets came close to the ”too much information” threshold.

The event was organised and led by Kate Saffin, who some of you will know and attracted about a dozen people, most of whom were thinking about going into loo composting, so having had our Airhead toilet for nearly four years, we were contributing as much as learning.  Kate started off controversially by saying that composting loos by themselves do not make compost, they store the “donations” and perhaps start off the composting, which then continues when you bin or bag the stuff later.  In essence she is right, but certainly with our Airhead in the summer, the contents come out very dry and composty when we do the emptying.  We tend to bag it then and often take it home let it  finish off in a corner of the garden.

Kate showed us that making your own composting loo is a realistic aim and there are suppliers of bits and pieces to help you in this endeavour.  Such a loo could range from something not much more than a bucket with a lid to a fancy built in affair, looking quite posh.  One thing nearly all of them have in common is some means of separating the collection of solids and liquids and ingenious diverters have been invented to enable this.  I dare say that many in the shiny boat brigade would eschew some of the more heath Robinson solutions involving funnels and devices reminiscent of hospital bed pans.  Also stirrers made out of dog lead anchors raised the odd eyebrow.

One of the main differences between designs is that of airflow.  Whilst many simpler devices merely keep a lid on the contents,.  This seems to be Kate’s preferred option. Alternatively, devices like our Airhead use a fan to draw air from the bin and pipe it to the outside of the boat.  This, it seems to us, has a number of advantages.  Firstly, It has a drying effect, thus producing a much more pleasant product at emptying time, often looking quite like peat.  According to Kate you can get an amount of condensation in the sealed type.  Also the fan produces a gentle negative air pressure in the bin, so that even with the trap door open, nasty niffs do not escape into the bathroom.  For us, these two factors are what we like about the Airhead, which admittedly is at the top end of the price bracket, now costing nigh on a thousand pounds.  What I can say is that we wouldn’t go back to cassette toilets if we could at all avoid it.  For those who might imagine that dealing with composting loos is unpleasant, we would say that it is nowhere near as unpleasant as emptying cassettes, not to mention far, far less frequent, and of course requires no chemical additives.

The final point that seems to be agreed on is that it takes a while to learn about how your loo works best, in terms of adding extra materials such as coir fibre or sawdust or whatever, and how much to use and whether to dampen it etc.  Kath has now got it to a fine art. After recommendations by others, we’re about to try out wooden cat litter pellets, although we have been pleased with broken up blocks of coir fibre from pet stores.

I think I’d better stop now before I spoil your dinner.  Come back soon for a safety warning I learned about earlier this week.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A nice ice breaker break.

Our few days moored up in Banbury passed without incident, that is if you discount the fact that we just missed coming third in the reindeer quiz – no small achievement  bearing in mind that we were only two against about ten teams of six or more.  Our trip back to Cropredy was a lot more interesting and enjoyable then the rather cold and damp trip down with the sun in our eyes. This time Herbie transformed into an ice breaker!

It was a very cold bright morning, although the sun behind us kept our backs warm and we were glad not to have the bright light in our eyes and the dreaded sun reflections on the water.  Once we got out of Banbury and given our customary wave to Dink and Malc (regular boaters down there will know who we mean), the ice started.

It was mostly about 4 or 5 mm thick and here and there a bit thicker, so we were crunching along leaving a clear path in our wake.

We were making quite a racket, I would think you could hear us some way off.  I wasn’t too concerned about scraping off Herbie’s blacking as were due to be re-blacked this year anyhow, but in the event I think it stayed intact.  As to the locks, you'll be horrified to know that despite the ice I still managed to jump across the open bottom gates rather than walk round! Elf and safety would have a fit.

Patches of ice came and went and it was hard to work out why some places had frozen over and some not.  Some shady places were clear, some sunny spots were frozen.  My bet is on shallow water and lack of cover being responsible for most of the ice.  Anywhere where there was a bit of a ripple on the water was clear.  All in all though I suppose we were breaking ice for about half of the five miles.  Mercifully, the marina was totally unfrozen when we got back although the sun in my eyes when we turned made me make a right pig’s ear of getting back against our pontoon.  That’s my excuse anyway.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Are we mad?

Just as the weather turns bitterly cold, we're off out on Herbie. Last night we got ice and snow, and today it's even colder. Jumping across the lock gates was a bit scary, but I'm here (snug and warm in the Reindeer for the quiz) to tell the tale.

A couple of nights ago we went to a live screening of Bill Shakespeare's Tragedy of Richard The Second, in which the ruler of England was beset by stupidly bickering lords who couldn't agree on how the country should be run. Meanwhile.the king was distracted by issues in Ireland. Eventually he of course was deposed. Nothing like that could ever happen nowadays of course

Monday, January 07, 2019

Clearing up.

Here’s a bit about us not boating. We were planning to go out on Herbie this week, but we decided to enjoy a few days peace at home now that the family have departed back to their own places after messing ours up.  The house is wonderfully quiet and now we can walk across the floor without tripping over wires. People who know our Peter won’t be surprised at this picture of him spreading his toys all over our front room. I did offer him desk space upstairs but he prefers to get under our feet.  Bless!


It’s like this every time he comes home.  He’s the only person I know who buys a new electric guitar (just out of the picture) and instead of playing it, plugs it into an oscilloscope (which he just happens to have with him!)  and starts messing about creating distortion circuits.  No, he doesn’t work in electronics, he just likes toys. We’ll be getting resistors out of the carpet and microchips down the side of the sofa for weeks I expect.

Still, there was an upside. In tidying up after he went back home to Cambridge I found a missing piece of my camera tripod, so I was able to set it up in the garden by our bird feeders which are getting lots of visitors at the moment.  It’s so dark lately that I’ve had to resort to using the flash.  I thought it might scare the birds off but they seem to get used to it, and using flash gives an opportunity to take high speed images like this one of a blue tit.


I’m triggering the camera remotely from inside the house.  Shots worth keeping are running at about one percent.

I’m in a constant battle with the squirrels who try to pinch the peanuts.  The peanut feeder hangs on a longish wire from our lime tree. The thieves hang upside down from a twig, reach down to the feeder with their front paws and lift it up so that they can gnaw at the nuts.  I extended the wire today and after a few failed attempts the squirrel skulked of in disgust. Hah!

Another thing that likes to eat upside down is a nuthatch that has been showing up recently.  I’m still trying to get a good picture of him /her.  Here’s the best I’ve managed so far.


Now the Christmas decorations are down and the Christmas tree has been chopped up for disposal, and once we have overwhelmed our local recycling centre with bottles, cardboard, bits of tree and holly and ivy, we hope to get out to Herbie in a few days, especially as the threatened Beast from the East mark II doesn’t seem to be showing up.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Herbie Awards – New Year Honours

A change in tradition!  Having wantonly missed the Christmas Deadline to finish the Herbie Awards, I have decided to cover up my sloppy work by introducing The Herbie New Year Honours list. What fun!  I could award the Order of the Herbie Empire (OHE), or how about the CHE – Commander of the Herbie Empire (no, I think that’s Kath, or should she get Companion of Honour?).  I think I ought to eschew awarding the title of Member of the Herbie Empire, people might think I was staging a hostile takeover.  How about the Order of the Bath?  Hmm , that would sound like I was frowning on a person’s personal hygiene.  I know.  Got it! The Herbie Order of the Canal Knights.  HOCK. And I know just the people to award it to.

People who read the many boater’s blogs may not realise the effort that goes into writing them. It’s not just typing up a few notes.  Photos have to be selected and edited (not to mention taking them in the first place), headlines have to be invented, facts sometimes have to be checked, interesting themes have to be chosen and of course prose has to be authored.  Anyone who keeps a regular blog going has to put in the hours.  So this year The Herbie Academy salutes all those dedicated folk who keep us amused and informed about the goings on up and down the cut.  Accordingly, taking out my sword I ask them to kneel before Herbie as I tap them on the shoulder and award the

Herbie Order of the Canal Knights


All the Boating Bloggers

Thanks to you all. You keep Kath quiet for many a happy hourSmile