Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Picture Quiz

Well we made it to Christmas Eve, so dear readers I wish you all an enjoyable and safe Christmas.

While we take a break before the envelope containing the name of the Herbie Special Award 2021 winner envelope is opened, how about having a go at this picture quiz.

The pictures are all of mooring spots in cities or towns.  Can you identify them?

1. It doesn't look like a city centre, but it is

2. A less than salubrious spot which you have to share with pigeons

3. Just a couple of minutes after leaving a city centre canal basin

4.  100 yards from a nice old county town centre

5.  Pontoon moorings in a cathedral city

6. A crazy footbridge very near an old town centre

7.  A normally busy spot but strangely quiet when I snapped this

8. Another town basin

9. A town centre basin due for a much needed update

10 Finally a splendid mooring at the heart of a city

I think they're all easy, mainly I suppose because I took the photos. Anyone getting 7 or more must be quite well travelled.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Herbie Awards day 3 - Best Pub

What? Only five waterside pubs visited this whole year?   Actually that doesn't seem too bad going given how little cruising we've done. And I should add that this year only once did we go "just for a pint" - the rest were always for food too.

The poor old pubs have been having a hard time so they all deserve an award for keeping going, but this is the Herbie Awards so  we have to find the very best.  With only five contenders, we can afford to put them all on the short list. Let's try it alphabetically.

1. The Admiral Nelson - Braunston.  We walked up there to meet Rick and Marilyn for lunch and sat lockside.  I can't remember what I ate (fish and chips?), but it must have been fine because I would remember if it wasn't.  I do recall that the beer was very nice. A very good pub as most boaters know and a great place to watch the lock traffic.

2. The Blue Lias - Long Itchington.  This was the one where we only drank -as a refresher after working down the Stockton locks on a hot day. What a nice garden to moor up on.

 This pub seems to get mixed reviews, but for our purposes it was fine and the beer was very acceptable. We only stopped for an hour, but it was a pleasant one and I would certainly go back.

3. The Cuttle at Long Itchington - also deserving a mention because they have a mooring (albeit treacherously shallow at one end) at the end of their big garden. Here we ate and drank on their terrace and it was 'OK' and the staff were friendly..  

4. The Folly at Napton. What can I say?  The Folly has won more Herbie Awards than you can shake a windlass at. This year Mark and Caroline(?) have really put in the extra mile with their beautiful garden plants, the smart marquees and the building of their huge wooden Potting Shed - which is as big as many a pub in it's own right.  I haven't been in the shed since it opened but it looks gorgeous.   All this despite struggling with staff shortages and new kitchen staff to train up.  Beer good as always.  In the circumstances we have to let them off for the limited menu and the polystyrene food containers.

5. The Two Boats - Long Itchington (again)

This where we settled for the night after leaving the Blue Lias.  Here we see it from our mooring some days later at the previously mentioned Cuttle across the canal. I do like a proper old canalside pub.

Here we ate home made pies. I'll forgive them for the fact that it was a pastry top on a dish of filling (I don't call that a proper pie) because the filling was really very good indeed.  The moorings right outside the pub door are a bonus too, and the landlady was very friendly.  I'd certainly go back even though the beer was no better than OK.

So that's the lot for 2021 pubs.  As for the winner? Well there could only be one.  For sheer hard work and dedication to the job in the face of huge obstacles, expanding while others contract, and always striving to create a great environment for customers,  yet again 

The Herbie Award for Best Pub 

goes to

The Folly at Napton

They're going to need a bigger trophy cabinet.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Herbie Award for favourite locks 2021

Locks -you either love 'em or hate 'em.  some are a right pain whilst others are so good you can't wait to do them again. By my reckoning we've only done 70 odd locks this year. What a load of slackers we are!  Actually because all our journeys are out and back the number of different locks we have passed through is only 34.

It was with mixed feelings this year when after some years down the Oxford we once again found ourselves amongst the big Grand Union Locks.  We had to keep reminding ourselves what hard work some of the Oxford locks were, Bourton Lock springs to mind with it's ridiculously stiff paddles, or even worse come to think of it, the top paddles at Somerton deep lock where I bent a windlass.  Also too many locks on the S Oxford are in a poor state.  So, the better maintained GU locks didn't seem so bad after all.

So which were our favourites this year? I can think of three flights I enjoyed..  

Hillmorton flight, which is of course still on the Oxford, supposedly the busiest locks on the system but generally a pleasure because of they are in parallel pairs and the setting is pleasant.  They have slightly unusual paddle gear too, which is always a nice change.

Stockton flight - big locks coming at you thick and fast but strangely enjoyable as you can send someone ahead to get the next one ready and there's a good chance you can find a friendly boat, as we did, to share with.  Being less than half the number of locks in the Hatton flight , it's not too daunting. Added to that, the setting is attractive and which ever way you go, there is a pub at the end. Three at the bottom actually!

Unlike the identically constructed lock at Calcutt, you don't get blown all over the place or lee shored against a concrete wall while waiting either.

Lastly the Staircase locks at Bascote - a bit daunting to the beginner but great fun if you can organise a shuffle as bioats cross over in the middle.  We hit it with novice crews top and bottom and it took some persuading from yours truly to get them to attempt the boats in both locks thing.  "Are you sure this is allowed? It says don't go in the bottom if boats are in the top." "Yes. fine, I've done it hundreds of times" I lied.  Well I have done it four or five times.

But it all worked fine and the novices were all dead chuffed. I think it was their surprise and delight that made it such fun. Kath particularly enjoyed chatting to the ex navy guy on the boat next to us, swapping stories.  Kath was in the Navy (the Wrens) in her youth, when ships presumably had sails and cannons.

So which is this year's favourite?  It surprises me that I enjoyed Stockton so much. After not going down there for some years I wasn't looking forward to it but now I like it.  But the cigar I think has to go to the locks which were such good fun so

The Herbie Award for Favourite Locks in 2021 

goes to 

Bascote Staircase

It wouldn''t be the Herbie Awards without a pub so next time we'll look at them.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Herbie Awards - The show must go on

It's half way through December and no Herbie Awards yet! It's a special Herbie year too because as of October, Herbie is now 20 years old - and still going strong. We can't let that slip by can we? 

Certainly not!  So despite all the tribulations and restrictions I cordially invite you all to this years glittering award ceremony. Fortunately the attendance is unlikely to cross the threshold of large gatherings for me to insist on seeing your covid passports so you can come whether you are triple jabbed or not, although I hope you are. So make sure you are well ventilated, don't sit to close to strangers and off we go.

In this strangest of years  it'll be too hard to make awards in all of the categories we've used in past times (I see I've only posted 34 times this year. Compare that with 2009 when I posted 184 times!) and we've done relatively little boating, but there are a few things deserving of recognition so let's recognise them.

Let's start with an old favourite, of mine at any rate. 

  The Herbie Award for Best Gubbins or Gadget.

Both my regular readers will know I'm a sucker for a good gubbins - some device that makes life easier or just more fun.  Sadly for these awards I have to restrict myself to things generally useful to boaters, otherwise the no brainer choice for me this year would be my Medtronic heart pacemaker - a true model of genius and a life saver to boot.  

Or I could have mentioned the little ABC music player I made in March this year, (Here's a link to it.) but that's a bit niche. Actually for anybody a little bit geeky the little £3.80 Raspberry Pi Pico , a true wonder gadget that sits at the heart of it could enable a lot of things on a boat because its very good at monitoring sensors - temperature, fuel or water or pump out tank level readily spring to mind. However, enough geekery, let me recommend something for normal people.

As well as liking gadgets I also love listening to (and playing) music. 

A good gadget for anyone mad like me (and Maffi) who keeps an electric guitar on board is a little headphone guitar amp like the Vox amplug so you can play without annoying your other half.  Hmm, I suppose that's a bit niche too, but they are brilliant and sound great.  

Back to normal people.When we're moored up at night we often like to listen to music, or perhaps an audiobook (more of which in another award post).  The radio speakers on our boat aren't up to much and we wanted something with bluetooth so we could stream stuff from our phones or tablets.  It needed to be portable, have good battery life, and be rugged enough to use outdoors when necessary. Most of all it had to sound a lot better than our mediocre built in radio speakers.  I must admit I'm pretty fussy about good sound.

So  a year or so ago I did my usual copious research, studying reviews and all that and decided  on a particular speaker.  I knew what I wanted, my mind was made up.. So we popped over to our nearest Richer Sounds, who are always helpful and pleasant to deal with.  Yes they had the speaker I wanted, but the man said he thought another was better at a similar price.  "Hmmph, well let's hear it," we said, getting out my phone to connect up and play a bit of music we know.  So a cup of coffee was provided and the speaker was hooked up in their listening room and I can honestly say that within 10 seconds of it playing Kath and I both said "Wow, it's a deal".  I've heard a good few small portable bluetooth speakers but this one takes the biscuit in terms of sound quality and build. What a good little gubbins this is. After having this speaker for over a year I can honestly say it has transformed the enjoyment of our evenings on the boat.  

Should you wish to use it to listen to the cricket (or football if you must) or whatever as you cruise along, it's solid and powerful enough to sit safely on the hatch. Or take it home with you to use in the garden. Having a metal carcass, it is reassuringly heavy and extremely rugged, the rechargeable battery lasts for ages and the sound is amazing for something of it's size.  

Here's a picture of the latest model (improved even since ours which looks identical).

To give you some idea of the size, it has a footprint about the size of a paperback book and is about four or five inches tall. 

So the Herbie Award for Best Gadget goes to 

The Audio Pro T3 Bluetooth speaker

The bluetooth connection is simple and very reliable. We've used our lots and lots and can't fault it.  It'll set you back £119 at the moment, so it's not cheap although more expensive models in the range are available.  

Oh dear, I'm beginning to sound like an 'influencer'.  Sorry about that, but it is a great gadget and I have nothing to gain for saying so. If you don't believe me, just read the reviews.

In the next post we'll look at a proper specifically canal based award.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Slightly unsettling news

 Just as we are settled in nicely at Ventnor marina, we get slightly unsettling news. An email to all moorers this week informs us that Castle Marinas has gone into partnership with Aquavista marinas.

Looking at the Aquavista web site they describe it as though they have acquired Castle. Anyhow they say nothing will change for moorers except they will get together and explore ways to make any improvements needed.

I learn that Aquavista is the company formed after BWML was floated off from CRT. They already run 18 marinas, so adding the 11 in the Castle group will make it 29.

Possible downsides:

Aquavista seems to encourage liveaboard boaters whereas Ventnor is non residential only and consequently a lot quieter.

BWML mooring charges used to be very high in comparison to others.  Will we be seeing higher costs?


Like Castle, Aquavista have a reciprocal mooring policy meaning we can stay for a period at any of the other marinas in the group at no extra cost.

Time will tell whether this a good thing for us are not. We had similar qualms when Castle took over Cropredy, but I must say that joining Castle had good benefits for us. Not least ease of transfer which has got us to Ventnor.

Monday, November 08, 2021

It's curtains for Herbie

Don't panic!  It really is curtains, new ones hand made by Kath from  lots of squares of fabric which she has hand printed / dyed.  Lots of the prints and dyes come from leaves plucked from gardens, hedges or the canalside.  She was out there collecting more leaves this morning.  Sitting in the boat with the curtains drawn and the light outside, it's a bit like a stained glass window.

We've just spent the weekend aboard, two nights in the marina and one out on the canal near the Willow Wren training school close to the top of Stockton locks. All very pleasant and a chance to get used to our new stove ( I say new, it's 18 months since it was fitted but we didn't get to use in last winter).  It seems you do have to "learn" a stove and it's ways.  This one seems to need the ash cleared away more regularly so it can breathe.  Apart from that it's very good, especially considering it cost far less than the old one it replaced.

Out on the canal was a boat selling cake (Daisy's Bakin' Butty)  ) so naturally we felt obliged to support it by buying and eating some.  It's a sacrifice were were prepared to make. 

Coming back to our mooring I did a spectacularly good spin and reverse into our slot. Of course no one was looking, unlike when I bumped the side of the entrance bridge on the way out in full view of the harbour master. Sods Law prevails.

At this time of year we have to think about winterising Herbie each time we leave her.  It's mainly a matter of draining the plumbing and making sure the shower mixer is dry.  The solar panels will look after the batteries and we have the diesel tank full to the brim so as to limit water absorption from the air - a source of diesel bug which glues up your fuel lines. 

One day when we get HVO fuel we won't need to worry about diesel bug as it claims to be non hygroscopic and the fuel will keep for ten years without harm.  It seems inevitable to me that HVO fuel will become common on the canals, maybe even compulsory.  I asked about it at our marina.  They are aware of it and are considering the pros and cons.  They think it could cost up to 50p more per litre which would inevitably put a lot of people.  Their current diesel supplier doesn't have it yet but they probably will be able to offer it  in due course.  I think it would be good if they could offer it as an option.  I for one would be prepared to buy it because it would let us go boating with a cleaner conscience environment wise.  I see that it gets a mention in the latest CRT boaters update.  I forecast we'll be hearing a lot more about it in the coming year.

Now we're off the Cambridge for a few days visiting our son Peter, then back home next week for our booster jabs.  It's all go.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

More greenery - facts emerge

Many many thanks to those who commented on my previous post about greener boating. All good stuff and revealed to me that there's a bit more going on than I thought.

In particular I hadn't heard about HVO fuel.  For those who like me had never heard of it, it's a straight replacement for normal diesel fuel that offers a huge reduction in harmful emissions. There don't seem to be any problems with normal diesel engines running on it, and it doesn't suffer from diesel bug. On the face of it, it looks just what we need.  Of course we need to be wary of hidden down sides. Rather than me explain it all, have a look at these links:

HVO and greener boating - Inland Waterways Association   Why hadn't I seen this before?

HVO Trials report -IWA  "The feedback from IWA members who are trialling this new fuel has been overwhelmingly positive. HVO is indeed a viable alternative to diesel fuel. It is also a straight drop-in replacement compatible with fuel that is already in a boat’s tank."

Crown Oil HVO suppliers - lots of detail about the fuel itself and worth a read

That'll give you all you need to know about the up sides. And there are many.

The downsides?

Availability.  The only canal marina I can find selling it is  North Kilworth(thanks Pip and Mick for the tip off.) - out there towards Foxton on the Leicester Arm.  Fuel boat Barnet is selling HVO to boaters in London. There also seems to be a supplier on the Thames in London.

Cost:  Do the current rules on red diesel declarations apply?  I assume not so we might  be paying full price and HVO is a bit dearer than road diesel anyway.  Personally I'd be happy to pay up.  Does anybody know what they charge per litre at North Kilworth?  Failing that, at a rough estimate I imagine it might cost me something like £100+ a year more.  Continuous cruisers  would find a much bigger difference of course.  There is one cost reduction element - additives like Marine 16 to prevent diesel bug would be unnecessary.  I reckon that using Marine 16 works out at a cost of about 5p per litre of diesel at the correct dose so that would get me about 15 quid back.  Anybody who has had to pay for fuel polishing to get rid of a diesel bug attack would be quids in.

Real world downsides?:  Whilst the emission figures for HVO look amazingly good, you have to factor in the hidden environmental cost of growing and harvesting the biomass crops which make up a lot of the fuel, and the processing of the stuff.  You wouldn't want a lot of rainforest cut down to grow the biomass like it has been for palm oil.

I'm thinking of canvassing others in our marina to see if we get get enough demand for them to stock it.

Moving on - A bit off boaty topic but Sarah made a comment about heat pumps and fridges.  I wonder if heat pumps could extract heat from the canal water?  No idea.  As it happens there is a row of houses with air -source heat pumps just across the road from where our Peter lives in Cambridge. It's called Marmelade Lane and has a number of fascinating lifestyle features.  This Guardian article tells you about it and is worth a read.  It looks very appealing to anyone who likes a community feel.  I stroll past them and hear the fans gently whirring inside the big brick boxes outside the front doors.  As far as I'm aware they don't get your house as warm as a gas boiler can.  

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Green boating?

Well COP26 is upon us and I'm wondering how to be more green, or more especially how to go boating in a greener fashion.  After I've typed in my thoughts (which I haven't had yet) I'd be grateful if anyone else can chip in to help.

Thought No 1: is this a serious problem?  Of course it is. On a scale of 1 to 10 I'd put it at 11.  Extremely serious - not particularly for me 'cos I won't live to see the worst of it  but my kids and grandchildren face a pretty bleak future if we don't do something now.  I have no time for climate change sceptics. If they can't see what's staring them in the face then I won't waste my time arguing with them.

Thought No 2:  I have to own up that a narrowboat like ours is off to a bad start in being green.  An older inefficient internal combustion engine  burning red diesel for hours a day is not good.  Neither is a heating stove burning fossil fuels or an Eberspacher diesel heater.  Of course if I'm not moving the boat or using the heating it's OK but that rather defeats the object of having a boat.  Also, every time I travel from home to the boat, that's another hour and three quarters car driving.

Thought No 3.  There are more positive attributes.  Boaters tend to be more frugal with water.  Our boat has a composting toilet which uses no water and no chemicals.  We have solar panels to make electricity, albeit mostly in the summer.  And if we do run the engine to move the boat, we make hot water and electricity at the same time so it makes good use of what fuel we do burn.

So what's to be done?  How can a boater reduce his /her carbon footprint?

Well of course there's all the personal stuff which applies whether you're on a boat or not.  Eat less red meat and dairy, wear extra clothes in winter, reduce use of plastics, etc.  At home we've dropped the thermostat a couple of notches, tried to cut down on packaged foods and consumables, avoided food products flown in by plane or grown in hot houses, cut down on car use, experimented with non dairy alternatives like oat milk (ok but not as nice - I hear good things about almond milk so we're trying that next).  Etc etc.

But what about the boat specific stuff?

Well I suppose the first thing is to see if we can run the engine less.  That means two things - travelling less far and minimising our use of battery electricity.  It's true that these days we don't cover the distances that we used to and are often quite happy to stay in one spot for a couple of days.  I guess we might /should do more of that.  In the winter though, we don't get a lot from the solar panels, so the engine has to run to keep the batteries up.  And if the engine is running for battery charging you might as well be moving.  Hmmm.  How about in cold weather not using the fridge?  We could keep stuff cold in a cool box in the well deck.  The fridge is the main eater of battery power so that would be a good saving I reckon.  Of course if we didn't eat meat or dairy we probably wouldn't need a fridge anyway.

In the past I've put a clip-on ammeter onto the charging lead from the alternator and it seemed to me that it showed that the charging current didn't improve much with increased engine speed, so there's a tip - if you do run the engine just for charging, run it gently -that will burn less diesel.

I always go on about making sure firewood for the stove should be properly dried, and that does make a difference to how much wood you burn for a given amount of heat.  Less wood =less CO2.

LED lights inside the boat? Got'em.  They use about a tenth of what a neon strip uses.

Now I'm running out of ideas.  Short of selling the boat or keeping an expensive boat and not using it much, I can't think of much else.  I'm sure there are ideas out there.  Let's pool them and go green together if we can.  Over to you.

PS I forgot to mention one thing.  It can be quite hard to know what to do for the best and how much difference certain actions make in reducing your carbon footprint.  One book that is really helpful in that respect is How Bad Are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee (brother of the more famous Tim). It's packed with the facts and figures you need to know and very readable to boot.  Highly recommended.  BTW bananas are not bad. Unless you are diabetic.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Off topic ramblings

 I have nothing Herbievourous to tell you today so purists might wish not to read on.  For those who are left, here is some irrelevant news.

Twice in the last week we have been visited by grandchildren who within hours of seeing us tested positive for Covid.  I mentioned Grace in my previous post.  Now it's the turn of her big brother Jacob. He came to stay the night at our house so as not to mix with Grace.  He had been routinely tested at work and got an email next morning to say he was positive, so he's gone back home with Grace.  Mercifully Kath and I seem OK so far.

Someone out there might know of Stanley Accrington ( a popular entertainer and master of puns and anagrams m'lud).  I wrote to him four years ago asking for the words of a song which included the immortal words "Why must I be a dyslexic in vole?" Another line had something about a tin leg running down his spine. This week, out of the blue, he emailed back. How's that for a quick reply?! Cunningly he invited be to buy his DVD with 180 of his songs on it, warning me not to listen to them all at once.  I succumbed.  I have thoughts of sitting through them as a sponsored marathon listen for a dyslexic charity.  Apparently Stanley had to stop singing that particular song in public due to objections that is was unkind to dyslexic folk.  Draw your own conclusions.

My friend Steve, a keen amateur naturalist saw a great white egret at a local lake last week - there are only 35 in Britain so he was chuffed.  Little egrets have become much more common of course. and occasionally visit our canals.  In France they have a lot of egrets although as you all know, Edith Piaf famously claimed so have seen none.

I can't understand what is going on with my novels.  I put them up for free on Kindle the other day, expecting a few dozen to be taken as usual. (Over the last six months actual paid sales at a quid or so have been zero.) This time, after three free days it's up to 1700 and counting! That's never happened before.  Of course how many takers actually read the books is another matter, but it's puzzling.  As Harry Worth used to say "I don't know why but there it is" . I thought maybe there were not many free ones out this week on Kindle, but I checked and there are tens of thousands of them.  Apparently my second book "A Good Hiding" is ranked number 3972 in the best free seller lists and number 51 in General Humourous Fiction.  Result!  The other one is ranked 10,044. Booker prize judges please note.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Seizing opportunities to get knotted

 If you read my previous post you will know that I had a go at doing eye splices at the end of a bit of rope.  Rope work, as anyone who has tried it will tell you, is strangely therapeutic.  With me it all started when I was a young whippersnapper making my own fishing rods.  This required doing a lot of whipping to secure the rings that the line goes through onto the rods.

Nowadays a quick look at youtube will reveal any number of people showing you how to do knots and spices and various types of whipping.  I found that they all look helpful until you try to do it, then somehow it doesn't seem so simple in reality.  However I have found one youtuber that has the knack of clarity, probably because he is slow and long winded and tells you everything at least twice.  Now in normal circumstances such a person might be construed as a bit tedious, but in this case it's a real blessing because you get time to absorb the information properly.  Sadly I didn't find his video until after I'd done my eye splices, so I'm going to do some more now and get them right this time.

So if you fancy a go at splicing something like this:

or putting a really neat end to your ropes like this:

or doing something fancy like this:

The chap I would recommend is  youtuber Johnny Debt.  

Have a go, I bet you enjoy it.

Here are the links to the three I've shown above (there are several more)

Eye splice:

Sailmakers whipping:

Ring splice:

As I said, he is charmingly long winded which for my money is exactly what you want. If you are a complete beginner then start with the sailmakers whipping which is easy and very satisfying.

In other news:

Kath and I are awaiting results of a PCR test after having had a visit last weekend from our Grace who later that day tested positive for Covid  and is rather poorly but not dangerously so.  We have no symptoms so I suspect we're in the clear.

In yet more news, if there is anyone out there who has inexplicably failed to have read either of my blockbuster novels Jobs for the Boys and A Good Hiding, they are completely free on Kindle from 8 -12 October. I re read them myself recently as if after all this time they were written by someone else and they made me chuckle. Not a totally unbiased opinion I admit. Or for traditionalists they are still cheap (as cheap as Amazon allows) as paperbacks.  Search for on Amazon for Herbie Neil.

Or should you ever bump into us on the cut, I'll happily give you a paperback copy.  Got to get rid of them somehow:-) 

VIRUS UPDATE: Our PCR tests came back negative, so that, if you get my meaning, is a positive result :-)

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Uptight alright

 Bob, who moors a couple of boats along from us, passed on a trick he'd learned from another boater -reportedly an elderly lady single hander.

Picture this.  You bring your boat in alongside some sheet piling and want to quickly tie up.  Maybe there are passing boats which are pulling your boat around as they pass.  Time is of the essence. What you need to so is to tie off one end of the boat very quickly, then run up to the other end to secure that. Well here's the trick.

Today I made up a rope like this.

Just a short length with a loop on each end.  Don't look too closely at my splicing, I'm not sure it's quite right, but it is strong.

One end drops over the dolly at the back of the boat, the other end goes through your piling clip or chain which has been dropped through the piling beam, then back over the dolly. This should be quicker than having to tie off with a knot at the dolly.  Then you nip up to the front of the boat and tie off there in the normal way pulling the boat forward  so as to tighten the short rope at the rear.

I'm not sure what is the ideal length of rope, at six feet mine will give a reach of three feet  from dolly to clip.   I think that'll be about right in most places.

Well I haven't tried it yet of course but that's the theory.  Bob says it works for him.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has tried this.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

HS2 Monster Munch

Strange munching and graunching noises came from over the hedge as we came back up past Wood lock on the way back from Leamington. It didn't take us long to spot the reason.

Yes it's the dreaded HS2, munching its way through the countryside courtesy of gert big yellow tractory things. .  You can see the big cutting in the distance, while over on the other side of the canal is a man made mountain of mud, presumably ready to lift the line over the canal, and some sort of plant works, perhaps to make concrete or whatever.  

In a couple of years or so people will be hurtling over the canal at what I calculate to be mach 0.3 while we cruise beneath at 3 mph. How strange is that. I'm not sure how many times HS2 will cross a canal, at least four I think.  I should think the trains will be going too fast for the passengers to wave at us.  All presuming of course that it ever gets finished and that the trains actually work.

We did our own bit of munching by the canal on our last night, courtesy of our trusty Cobb barbecue thingy which takes its time but doesn't incinerate your food like a normal barbecue can.  This time it was a veggie meal, peppers, courgettes, baby leeks, mushrooms and halloumi. All tucked into tortilla flatbreads and washed down with a swig of malbec.  Yum!

Don't tell me you don't fancy a bite of that.  

I don't suppose we'll get many more such balmy evenings this year.

When we first bought Herbie we earned ourselves a reputation for picking the worst weeks to go boating.  Many was the soaking we got, much to the amusement of our fellow moorers.  Since then we seem to have got either wiser or luckier.  This last week has been absolutely perfect.  The sun shines on the righteous.

Friday, September 24, 2021


 Flights of locks always look a bit daunting when you come to them don't they? Once you get going though, especially if you have crew to set the lock ahead it all becomes quite fun. Here we are at the bottom of the Stockton flight, big locks but not too heavy, I'll take them over Buckby any day. Half way up we caught up with Nb Zola who we met earlier in the week and are our newest good friends. Locks can be like that.  Tomorrow Zola's skipper is booked in to Willow Wrens very smart looking trading centre near the top of the locks for an engine maintenance course.

Also half way up the locks I chatted to a volunteer lockie about our practice of only using one top paddle to fill these locks. The boat sits nice and still, and according to the lockie, his mate at Hatton locks reckons  you only save about a minute over using two paddles. I suppose that mostly applies when a single person is doing it.

Last night we moored at The Cuttle pub to give it a try. A good mooring (if a tad shallow) right opposite The Two Boats.

 Between them they would make a good pub. As it is the Cuttle has the better beer and the Two Boats the better food. The two boats seems to be winning on the popularity front though, being very busy on the benches canal side. It looks proper nice after dark. I think it gets my vote.

Keen photographers will see I missed a trick there. I should have captured more of the pub' s reflection in the canal. Doh!

Now we're moored barely a half mile from our marina enjoying a final afternoon and evening on the towpath before finishing our short holiday. I admit I was a bit reluctant to agree to go down to Leamington just to turn and come back, but it's turned out to be a lovely trip.  Typical Grand Union, hard work but well worth it.

PS for a change I thought I'd do this post on my phone. It seems to work ok.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Fun and sun on the descent to Leamington

 I've always said that September is a good month for cruising - much more reliable weather wise than the earlier summer months. The weathermen were over pessimistic to start with this week.  Here we are at Ventnor on Saturday night when it was supposed to be raining.

And so now we are enjoying a lovely sunny week tootling down to Leamington and back.  It's been so long since we last came down here that I'd forgotten what most of it looked like, and it's a pleasant surprise.  Mind you, with all those big locks it needs to be. Sunday got us from Ventnor down the ten locks to Long Itchington with a quick stop for a swift half (OK, pint) of shandy to cool us down at the Blue Lias

 where the garden is somewhat better than the pub IMHO.  Then off down the last two locks to Itchington where we were amply and tastily fed  at the Two Boats.  Here I note that the beer pump clips are headed "Charlie Wells" - I wonder if he's turning in his grave at such familiarity.

Our Peter who is travelling with us was a bit distracted on day one, feeling a bit guilty having left his cat Bella at home to be fed daily by friends.  Then the little videos started coming in showing she was perfectly happy and he cheered up considerably.  Bless.

Monday was fun, still sunny and travelling along side by side with a merry crew on Andrew one of Calcutt's boats they hire out to ex Navy people.  At the Bascote staircase locks we performed the famous double shuffle with boats top and bottom changing places mid lock.  The crew coming uphill were a bit reluctant at first until I persuaded them that I'd done it dozens of times (actually it's only twice and  many many years ago). Everybody was slightly amazed that it worked. Here we are safely tucked up in the bottom half having completed the sliding puzzle trick.

Lunch was a rather longer affair than we had planned because just as we were finishing our sandwiches on the towpath, a passing boat yelled "Oi Herbie", and who should it be but that old rascal Maffi and the lovely Susan.  So that took care of the next hour.  I can't tell you how many times we've been ambushed by old Maffi (actually he's younger than me) but it's a few.  There's no escape. So now we're up to date with all the canal gossip of course.

Then on to a quiet mooring where we had a barbie in our trusty cobb after which we filled it with sticks 

and sat in the dark warming ourselves in the wood smoke so that our clothes this morning smelled like kippers -aah well, it was worth it.

Now having shopped at Morrisons by the canal in Leamington, we're heading back.  I was surprised how much mooring there is in Leamington.  How safe it is I don't know, but there's lots of it.  Right now we're tied up at Radford which is very pretty.

I don't think we would have considered coming down here this week had we not taken up our mooring at Ventnor, but it's been lovely - if somewhat hard work. All this canal needs is a couple more pubs in strategic spots and it'd be a winner.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Slow burner

I fancy I might have just broken a world record.  I mean, how long does it take you to light a fire?  Can you beat 18 months?  Thought not.

We had Herbie's new stove fitted last March on the very day that the first Covid lockdown was announced.  The same day we rang up Wigrams Turn marina and asked "Can you take us in for a few weeks until all this blows over?"

Well our stay at Wigrams turned out to be 18 months and all that time we weren't near Herbie in weather cold enough to light the new fire.  And here we are today barely a hundred yards from where they fitted the stove in Braunston and it's just about cold enough so I dug out the old kindling and some coal  and after three attempts we have a fire going.  It always takes a little while to learn the foibles of a new stove.

The canals are a little bit quieter now the schools have gone back but the hire boat companies are still doing well.  Kate Boats seems to have a Monday start.  Loads of them came past last night as we moored up just a spit from Wigrams Turn.  Most seem to be doing well but one poor chap really hadn't got the hang of the tiller at all and was paying frequent visits to the bushes.  I helped out when he ran aground just past Herbie and then he got going only to repeat his error another twice.  Bless!

Kath popped in to Calcutt Boats to buy a couple of ice creams while the top lock was filling.  The lady in there said that this year had been their best ever for hiring and quite a few punters immediately re-booked for next year when they got back.  Staycations rule OK.

Our new mooring at Ventnor Marina continues to be a delight. Over the weekend they held the annual moorers' barbecue 

which was a good chance to make new friends, and next morning the Moorers' Association breakfast with as many bacon rolls as you could manage to eat and more new friends made. 

We took a stroll round both basins, picking blackberries as we went.  All nicely landscaped with lots of attractive sitting out areas on the banks.  We were surprised to find that the walk was over a mile when we got back, so that gives some idea of the scale of the marina.

We're just out for a few days before our Peter joins us at the weekend when I fear we will tackle the run down to Warwick and back if the 44 big heavy locks (22 each way) don't kill us.  I hope my pacemaker keeps working.

Speaking of which, I went in for a pacemaker check last Wednesday.  Very straighforward now I'm bluetooth enabled. All was fine.  The man asked how I'd been and I said fine apart from just a couple of occasions when I felt breathless after exertion and my pulse dropped to 60 bpm.  (pre pacemaker I was running at 38!).  "Aah yes", he said, peering at his computer screen,  "I see you had a couple of episodes, one on August 27th and one on September 4th.  Nothing to worry about. Mild fibrillation which the pacemaker dealt with."  Clever or what?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

In the pink


Somebody once told me there's only one day a year when the weather is right for painting a boat. Well it certainly ain't today.  Too flippin' hot.

Nevertheless after yesterday's rubbing down and crack filling and rubbing down again and sweeping and mopping up the dust, then seeing bits I missed and filling, rubbing and sweeping and mopping again, this morning I managed to slap on a coat of alarmingly pink primer undercoat.

Now in the heat of the afternoon I think that coat has dried, but it's far too hot to start on the top coat. Any way first I need a gentle rub over the undercoat and another sweep and mop first.

I'm exhausted already, and this is only the starboard side handrail I'm doing. I'm currently staring at a nice bottle of (alcohol free)  cider which I would happily drink if only I hadn't lost the bottle opener.

Naturally I couldn't make all that noise and mess in the marina so I'm parked on the towpath outside and very nice it is too. If anyone wants about two tons of crab apples, this is yer spot.

Will I get a top coat on today? Only if it cools down early enough. Don't want to have wet paint exposed to dew in the night.

Sod's law prevails.

A couple of hours later it cooled down enough

" Job's an ok 'un", 
but far from perfect. The wood is too old and worn, so still a bit lumpy despite all the sanding and filling. Still it looks a lot better than it did.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Caught red handed?

 Having wooden handrails on a narrowboat is a bit of a mixed blessing.  On the one hand (forgive the pun), they never get too hot/cold to touch in summer/winter.  Plus when in good nick they look dead smart.

On the other hand they seem to need painting a lot more often.  I've actually lost count of how many times I've done it now.  Last time, rubbing down and painting in the evenings during a boat trip I made something of a botch job.  It's all in the prep as they say, and I rushed it, plus I painted on quite hot days and it's peeling and lifting all over the place.

So this time I have to get serious about the prep, getting off as much old paint as I can and doing a proper job with wood filler in scarf joints, cracks and screw holes, then using a good exterior wood primer etc etc.  A non trivial task - especially in the groove where the wood meets the metal on the side of the boat. And of course there's about 80 feet of it.

So this weekend you'll see me out on the towpath somewhere between Ventnor marina and Calcutt locks, away from other boats who may not wish to be red,  and covered in red paint dust.  I might even have red hair.  Won't that be nice?

Friday, August 20, 2021


1. Written on Thursday evening:

Here we sit, on the back of Herbie at our new Ventnor berth, gazing out across the still water to the reeds beyond.

The only sound is the gentle plop of our neighbour Bob's car keys as he drops them in the water, followed by the inevitable clunk of his Sea Searcher magnet as it clamps to the side of his boat’s hull instead of lowering to the lost keys below. This is the life.

Miraculously, he did retrieve them and despite being the electronic variety, they still worked.  Ventnor is indeed a magical place.

When we pulled into the marina this afternoon, Karen the marina manager was waiting to greet us on our pontoon and swiftly offered a lift in her car back to Wigrams Turn to collect our car. How nice was that? We've been made to feel very welcome.

The boat next to us is called Tranquility, when we pulled in I had to restrain myself from shouting "Tranquility base - the Herbie has landed".

Before dinner we took a walk to view the other basin. Ours is called Sunset, the other being Sunrise . Sunrise is nice enough, but I'm happy to say that there's hardly a spot in the whole marina that I would swap for the one we have. How lucky are we?

In other news, yesterday I managed without difficulty to climb the steep footpath from Braunston marina up to the village. This photo doesn't do it justice.

Those familiar with that path will testify to the fact that it takes a bit of puff at the best of times. A month ago I could never have managed even a half of it. Thank you NHS.

Down at the marina entrance the dear old Gongoozlers Rest cafe was doing a brisk trade.

At the moment service is outside and people eat in the adjacent little tea garden. Miraculously we resisted temptation and passed by opting instead to visit the Aladdins Cave of Tradline Fenders to buy some shiny stainless steel shackles for our fender ropes and some nice whipping cord to tidy up the ends of our mooring ropes. I love doing whipping - a skill I learned in my youth when I used to build my own fishing rods.

I must be feeling better because I've made a start on some badly needed jobs on Herbie. The wooden hand rails are in a terrible state, presumably because I did poor prep last time I painted them. Now paint is peeling everywhere.  This time I'm being more thorough and have discovered that an abrasive flap wheel on my drill gets the old paint off nicely. It won't be quick but I'll get there.

I've been giving Herbie a wash and polish too and that's only half done as you can easily see in this next photo. Eighteen months of lockdown neglect has taken its toll on the paintwork.

My magnetic letters have been a hit with passers by this week. I've had lots of comments of approval and amusement. Everybody should get some.

2. Friday:

Now back home for a bit. What a joy it was not to have to trek half way round the marina to pack the car.

We hope to be back to Herbie very soon, those jobs won't finish themselves.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Transfer news shock!

 As the excitement of Lionel Messi’s transfer to PSG dies down in the world’s press, news is coming in of an even more dramatic and unexpected transfer, this time suprising all parties involved.

“Only a week ago we had no thoughts of such a move,” explained bewildered elderly couple Neil and Kath Corbett,  “and now it’s practically done and dusted. Job’s a good ‘un as they say”

The Story unfolds - as told by the aged couple

It all started when we had a couple of days to kill while we waited for our daughter Claire to join us on the boat for a short cruise  Where could we go to keep young Grace amused without straying too far from our base at Wigrams Turn? Grace wanted to do some locks, so no good heading up to Braunston and back.  No good either going up and down Napton because that’s what was planned for when Claire joined us.  OK, we thought, that just leaves Calcutt locks.  But they’re only ten minutes away, what do we do after that?  Hmm well we could go and turn round at Ventnor marina, but that’s only another ten minutes.

“Ah haa”, quoth the skipper, “ Ventnor is a Castle Marinas marina, same as Wigrams.  We have the right to moor there free for a short period.  Let’s stay the night there and have a look around.”

A quick phone call set it up and we duly pulled in to Ventnor to be greeted by harbour master Chris who gave us a super warm welcome and a tour round.  It’s a lovely marina, well landscaped, tranquil, plenty of wild life, car parking near your boat, easy to get in and out, excellent facilities.  What’s not to like? “Blimey, this is much nicer than Wigrams”, we said, “ In fact it’s probably better than any marina we’ve been in until now. We ought to come here after our contract with Wigrams runs out They need three months notice.”

“Why wait?” said Chris, “I’m pretty sure you could transfer now and we can sort out the arrangements with Wigrams. We’re all the same company after all.”

And that dear reader is what seems to have happened. 



Just like that. I think we'll be just to the left or the red and blue boat in this picture. So instead of returning to Wigrams later this week, we’ll be pulling into our new berth in this sheltered corner of  Ventnor where we’ll sign on for twelve months.

Wigrams is not a bad marina, not at all. It’s well run by good people, but it’s more of a bustling boatyard.  Lots of boats packed into a small space, a busy hire fleet on site, lots of liveaboard boaters and a long haul from the car park to your boat with all your gear. Well located, yes, but tranquil it ain’t.

So virtually by accident Herbie suddenly has a new home in spacious green calm surroundings and only a mile or so away from her previous berth.  We’re in shock!