Saturday, April 17, 2021

Old Herbie's Almanac 2021

Looking into Herbie's crystal ball, what do I see for the coming season?

Yay verily, I see hordes of stay-cation boaters merrily chugging along our beloved waterways, using lots of lock water, and I see said water getting very short.

Yesterday, en route by car from Wigram's turn to Cambridge we did a short detour to have a butchers at Welford Reservoir that feeds the Leicester line.  Here's how it looks.

Not ideal for the start of a busy season is it?  The lower photo shows the overspill slipway.  I foresee some lock restrictions before the summer is out.

Luckily our vague cruising plans for the summer include hardly any locks as were thinking about the North Oxford to Coventry and then up the Ashby, only three proper locks and one little stop lock each way.

That's always assuming we get going.  Yesterday we popped in to say hello to Herbie and were pleased to see that she was looking ok and  inside, she was just as we left her apart from a very fine rust coating on the lower part of the stove flue, probably from condensation.  That'll rub off easily, then we'll black it.  Otherwise no sign of frost damage or pest infestation or damp.  Domestic batteries 100% charged.

Now the down side.  I tried to start the engine, and for the first time in 15 years, failed.  The starter battery (which doesn't get charged by the solar panels) was low, but turned over the engine quite a few times before it gave up. Had we got the dreaded diesel bug?  I dipped the tank and it looked fine.  We didn't have time to investigate further, so we'll have to sort it out when we next visit.  Maybe the fuel in the lines had dissipated over the long lay off.  Re bleeding (I hate doing it) will be the first thing to do I guess.  An overnight charge from the land line charger should get the battery back enough to turn her over again.  If none of that works, at least there are 'engineers' on site, so help is at hand.  I doubt very much it is anything serious.

As ever,  there is a bit of  roof paint repair to see to, but I'm beginning to realise that's just normal, and I can deal with it.

Otherwise, all systems go.  I'm not sure where to hope for a warm dry summer fro pleasant cruising, or some decent rain to fill the reservoirs.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Fear and trepidation

 Tomorrow we take our first look at Herbie since November.  Will the engine 'ole be full of rainwater? Will the stern gland have leaked?  Have we had an infestation of mice or flies? Have any pipes burst? Will  it be damp and mouldy? Well, we'll soon find out wont we? Having a boat is a bit like having kids -always something to worry about.  It's always like this after a long break but this time the break is much longer.

It'll only be a fleeting visit en route to our Peter's place in Cambridge.  I'm imagining we'll come away from the boat with a list of things "that need doing" before we go aboard proper for our first cruise since September.  Maybe it'll be OK and we'll come away elated and eager to plan our first outing.

Tune in soon and I'll let you know.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Duckett's discoveries

If you're quick and take a look at the bottom of  today's BBC News site, there's an interesting set of photos of CRT volunteers clearing out the Hertford Union canal aka Duckett's Cut in east London.  The canal is currently drained, presumably for lock work and so they're taking the opportunity to clear out all the junk that's been chucked or dropped in over the years.  Unsurprisingly there's plenty of evidence of criminal activity, old safes, car number plates etc as well as some interesting curios.  Worth a look.

Our marina informs us that we can now visit our boat, but not yet stay on it.  Presumably we'll be able to go out on it from April 12th.  That's if she's still floating after all this time and the diesel hasn't turned to jelly etc. (ever the optimist, that's me).  We've decided to keep our mooring at Wigram's for the next six months, and then decide whether to move after that.  It should make for  an easy summer with long cruises up the north Oxford and perhaps to Coventry and/or up the Ashby with hardly any locks.  In previous times we would have scorned that, but I'm still not in the best of health so it makes sense and anyway I like that stretch and we haven't done it too many times.  Let's hope the sun shines.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Light at the end of the tunnel?

 We boaters know all about light at the end of tunnels.  It's often further away than it looks.  However CRT's latest update talks non specifically about the reopening of navigation in the not too distant future.  My guess is mid April.

The CRT update also has a large piece on composting toilets, or the disposal of the contents thereof.  There must be quite a few boats out there now with these toilets (we love ours), and so the question of disposal of the solid contents is becoming an issue.  To keep a long story short, CRT doesn't want our poo and is instructing us not to put the bagged compost into their waste bins.  Now for us, that's not a problem because we bag ours up and keep it in the gas locker until we go home, then take it home with us where it completes its composting safely and odorlessly in a corner of the garden.  Sometimes in warm weather it hardly needs it, having already broken down in situ ( or should that be in sit on?).  Liveaboards however are going to be scratching their heads.  I don't know what the answer is, but it's a pity that a home can't be found for this chemical free waste.  Ironically, we are still allowed to put used nappies in the waste bins, so perhaps liveaboard boaters will take to wearing  adult size nappies.  Maybe not. As it happens, we do keep a few nappies on board because they're brilliant for soaking up rainwater in the bilge.

I see Crick Boat Show is going virtual this year.  Tickets are free and there will be videos and talks and such like on line, and I suppose a large amount of advertising.  Will Adam be doing virtual boat reviews I wonder?

In other news, our patio gazebo fell prey to the gales this week.  I have a pile of canvas, poles and broken plastic joints to sort out in calmer weather.   Meanwhile . . 

Were you a fan of the Fast Show? I was, and I particularly liked the bit where Mark Williams would emerge from his shed and announce what he would be mostly wearing or eating this week. "This week I'll be mostly eating Yoggut."  You may or may not know that Mark (lately starring in Father Brown) was once a member of Mikron Theatre and travelled the canals as they do each year.  Anyway I digress.  It's just a way of introducing what I'm up to lately.

This week I have mostly been inventing a P Pod, or it might be a Pi Pod.  Anyhow I've made a little prototype  gubbins that plays abc tunes.  Abc is a format for notating simple tunes in text format, and is widely used by folk musicians in particular.  On the web you can find more than 160,000 such tunes,(!) looking a bit like this.

X: 1
T: Drowsy Maggie
R: reel

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Edor
d2fd c2ec|defg afge|d2fd c2ec|BABc dAFA|
d2fd c2ec|defg afge|afge fdec|BABc dAFD|

You need a bit of software to translate and play it but it works really well.  I thought it would be fun to write my own player software and make a little IPod type device that could hold a collection of these tunes and play them, and it was a chance to make use of the amazing little Raspberry Pi Pico device (price £3.80) that was released a few weeks back.  So a mixture of electronics and coding for me to wrestle with.  Well it passes the time. 

I haven't yet mastered the playing of some of the more complex tune features, but simple ones like that one above I've got nailed and two little buttons  let you scroll through the tune list and select and play the tunes . The little Pico holds all the code and potentially hundreds of tunes and could run off three AA batteries.  Total cost about two cups of Costa Coffee plus whatever box  I can make to put it in.  I reckon I could fit it all into a Cooks Matches box. Ok I admit it, I'm an anorak, but it keeps me off the streets.

Next week I shall mostly be trying to work out why my code can't play triplets properly.  I'll get there.

Might see you soon on the canal.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Monday, March 08, 2021

Two boats on cardboard and in felt

 How are you off for cardboard boxes?  We've been collecting them at an alarming rate since lockdown has driven us to buying loads of stuff on line.  Our son Peter who seems to alight upon all sorts of weird things on You Tube led us to some mad person building a full size 3d replica of a Ferrari F1 car out of cardboard (that one has had 8 million views!), and another bloke making a working coin operated bubble gum dispenser out of cardboard.  Inspiring stuff.  So I looked at all our cardboard and decided to start simple, and I had the perfect project.

I'm a big fan of the Cornish artist, the late Alfred Wallis (put him into Google and select Images and you might see why). Dear old Alfred was a simple and humble man.  After a working life on fishing boats (many of them sailing boats) he spend his retirement in his little cottage in St Ives painting what he knew, boats, and harbours.  Alfred couldn't afford posh oil paints and canvases so he used what he had, tins of old household paint and bits of carboard.

Ah, you say, Neil's going to do a painting on cardboard with leftover boat paint.  Oh no I'm not, well not yet anyway. You see I already have a Wallis picture, or rather a super copy made not with paint but with felted wool courtesy of our Peter who is dab had at making objects and pictures from handfuls of wool which he jabs and punches with a barbed needle.  He's brilliant at it.  for Christmas he made me a computer  -  a good old Sinclair Spectrum

and for my birthday he made me this fab Wallis copy for which today I have made a frame, most appropriately for a Wallis, from several layers of carboard.

Here below is a picture of the Alfred Wallis original, it's called Two Ships.

Peter didn't do a bad job did he?  That's my boy!

My frame is alright as well - cardboard just like it ought to be.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Lockdown reading

 "Hauling by horses is still the system most used on the general body of the inland waterways, and in it must be including hauling by mules, which is rare, and by pairs of donkeys, or, as they are termed, 'animals.'"

So begins the section on Haulage in the 1904  Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales.

On talking about towing along river banks, it goes on to complain about the use of stiles rather than farm gates along the Bedford Level"

". . . some of them as high as 2ft 7in, over which horses towing have to jump, giving themselves frequently nasty knocks in so doing."

This Bradshaw's publication, of which I have written before, is not of the Michael Portillo type, having no descriptions of local scenery or architecture, but I love it. This is not a history book, but a historical document, a snapshot in time and all the more vivid for it. As a handbook mainly for commercial canal fleet operators it contains nigh on 500 pages of detailed information on boats, locks, tunnels, distances, depth of canal and much else, all frozen in time in 1904.  What use it was to the actual boatmen is a matter for speculation, but as they knew the canal like the back of their hand and a lot of them couldn't read anyway, I don't suppose they valued it much. Whilst I have no inside knowledge, it seems highly probable that that is where the brilliant Nick Atty started compiling his data for the number one canal website Canalplan, the clue being that it gives distances in miles and furlongs as Canalplan does..

Interestingly, the book makes no mention (that I can find) of diesel or semi diesel engines, except to say "Oil engines have been tried but have never passed much beyond the experimental stage." So the section on mechanical propulsion focuses on steamers although in a somewhat derogatory fashion.

"The ordinary 'narrow' or 'monkey' boat with a capacity of about 30 tons . . .  is quite small enough already without further deduction on account of engine room space".

It's the window on how things looked to people at the time that I like in addition to the little details, such as:

"A lock of water may cost anything from nothing upwards.   . . a lock of water pumped from the Artesian Well to the Tring summit of the Canal cost £1 4s 8d and a lock from the Cowroast Well 13s 7d. "

On the Birmingham canals where the locks are of the narrow type, the cost of water per lock was 2s 4d.

More sections describe bridges, tunnels, aqueducts and tides, before going on to set out the design,  dimensions  and carrying capacities of the many different types of boats in use, from sailing wherries to monkey boats.  And then we get into the main meat of the book which gives descriptions of every navigable waterway in the country, -Proprietors, distance table, locks and their dimensions, towing path, types of vessels in use and tidal information where appropriate.  What I like is that although this information is well over a hundred years old, the bulk of it is still accurate for today.  There are a couple of things that sadly don't translate so well, one being the listing of quite a number of waterways that have since been lost, and the information on maximum draught.  I doubt whether a boat with a draught of 4ft would make it down the Slough Arm today, but that's the depth Bradshaw quotes.

Here's a bit hat caught my eye:

"The ordinary traffic through both Braunston and Blisworth tunnels is worked by the Canal Company's tugs.  Gunpowder boats have to 'leg' through."

I bet they did! Gunpowder and boilers don't sit well together. I even wonder at the thought of sparks from the legger's hobnails against the bricks. And there would have been quite a few gunpowder boats through Blisworth en-route to the Royal Ordnance depot at Weedon. The entry of Blisworth goes on to give the Company Steamer daily timetable showing 8 steamer tug passages in each direction each day starting from alternate ends every hour from 5am to 8pm.  I suppose the gunpowder boats might slot in between or go outside of steamer hours.

And so it all goes on.  Fascinating stuff and even useful today.  Had I been able to consult it before towing a masted tender under Ludham Bridge on the River Ant many years ago, we might not have broken the mast and lost our damage deposit. While you can't go boating yet, it would make a super browse to fill in the time. You could even plan your cruises with it. It exists in a modern "exact facsimile" copy easily available today.  Amazon sells it for approx £12 (other suppliers are available).

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Looking Up

 A bit more cheery this week don't you think?  For a start, Kath and I have had our first jabs now.   Less than five minutes from home is the Waitrose HQ where they have kindly donated use of their staff sports hall for a vaccination centre.  We did have to sit in a big room full of people for an hour though waiting our turn.  To be fair, the hall was very large and well ventilated, the seats widely spaced and disinfected every time people moved on and of course everyone was masked and checked and temperature measured on the way in. We got the Astra Zenica jab.  Wouldn't it be a fun idea to have the letters after your name now e.g.Jojhn Smith (AZ) or Freda Jones (Pf)?

Over in the churchyard behind our hedge, spring is springing and a carpet of woodland crocuses (croci?) has appeared.

The daffodils over there look like they'll be in bloom in a day or two as well and we have a primrose out in our garden while we wait for the hellebores to do their stuff any time soon.

After many years of absence, a couple of collared doves have shown up in the garden.  Years ago we had loads of them, then they suddenly vanished.  I think they seem more refined than our usual woodpigeons.

On a more boaty note, some of you might care to have a listen to a long interview with CRT boss Richard Parry on the Waterways World podcast page.  It's interesting to hear his take on things, but don't expect any startling revelations.  Other interviewees there include Andy Tidy (aka Cap'n Ahab), Tim Coghlan of Braunston fame, and David Suchet.  All worth a listen.

Monday, January 25, 2021

How to enjoy winter lockdown.

How ya doin'?

Despite the cold and the isolation and the wait for the jab and poor old Herbie left alone in the cold and all that, there are things that cheer me up.  The kids in the square outside our house were having a whale of a time in the snow yesterday.  Well not just the kids actually, a number of the adult neighbours were having a jolly snowball fight. Last night, after they'd all gone to bed I snapped the results of their efforts before the snow had all gone.

On the other side of the house we look out over the church yard which like a secret garden has given me so much pleasure over lockdown.

The graves over at our end of the churchyard mostly date from the second half of the nineteenth century and it is now designated as a wildlife area.  The wildlife themselves seem to have read the notices too because they take good advantage of it.  Birds, insects, wild flowers, foxes, squirrels, we get them all, and being so close, they stray into our garden all the time.  Most of our hanging bird feeders are cunningly set up to be squirrel proof but I let the squirrels get at one of them and they don'r need asking twice.

Next weekend we'll be doing the RSPB annual great garden birdwatch when all who want to are invited to watch and count the birds in their gardens for an hour and send in the results.  Luckily I can observe it all from a bedroom window. Last year we didn't get many but this year looks more promising.  Over the last week we have had pigeons, robins, great tits, long tailed tits, blue tits, coal tits, rooks, blackbirds, magpies, a dunnock, a nuthatch and yesterday our first ever blackcap.  It's a pity we're not allowed to count birds that fly over the garden without landing because we get a red kite most mornings and over at the church tower a neighbour assures me there is a peregrine falcon although I have yet to see him.  I have however heard all the other birds panicking when he is about.

I take a walk around the graveyard most days and am beginning to regard the people resting over there as friends.  I find my self giving a cheery  "Hello Willie" or "Morning Lord Arthur" as I pass their graves.  I have now built quite a large dossier of potted biographies of the more illustrious incumbents.  Spring is beginning to spring over there already, the daffs are about eight inches high and the crocuses are already out.

I was going for a longer exercise walk each day until a few days ago something 'went' at the back of my left knee so now I need to rest it I suppose.

Inside the house I've been trying to record a lot of the songs I know so I can leave something to annoy the kids after I'm gone.  I think I've done about ten songs so far. The longer I leave it and the older and more senile I get, the worse at it I will get so that's why I'm doing it now while I can still remember the words and all that.  Here's a sneak peak at my untidy 'recording studio' aka the back bedroom. No cat swinging here.

And if that wasn't enough, to keep me busy, the clever people at Raspberry Pi have just released a powerful little microcontroller  called a pico for a trifling £3.60 so I've ordered one of them to play with.  That'll keep me quiet for at least a month I should think.  One thing I'd like to build is a gubbins I could leave on the boat to keep a log of the inside temperature during the cold months of winter.

I hope you are managing to keep sane and well.  See you next time.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Insurance small print

Do you read your insurance policy details?  I thought I ought perhaps skim through them this time as I came to renew Herbie's insurance, especially as last year we changed insurer.  We're now with GJW if anyone's interested.  To cheer us all up, here are some of the more interesting exclusions.

Speed: Sadly they won't insure Herbie if she's capable of exceeding 17 knots.  Cor, I'd like to see that!  Maybe on the rip tide out of Denver sluice or something.  I think you might do 10 knots on the outgoing Thames tide through Barnes if memory of the Jubilee cruise rehearsal serves me right.

Accidental damage: We're covered if an aeroplane drops something on Herbie as long as it's not a bomb, or I suppose if the bomb were accidentally dropped in peace time, I think we might still be covered.  How reassuring.

Theft/ Burglary: If the boat is unoccupied for 60 or more consecutive days, any subsequent theft or burglary is not covered while the boat is still vacant.  Ooh I bet that would affect a lot of us this year. I'm pretty sure the marina wouldn't accept responsibility.

Sports:  Bang goes my chance of parascending ( or indulging in "similar aerial activities") off the back of Herbie - the personal injury cover forbids it.  Neither can we go scuba diving off her.  I'm not even allowed to be or become insane apparently! 

Age: Now here's an interesting one.  They won't pay for any personal injury if I'm 75 or older.  Next year that'll be me. Oh well I might as well go insane next year then.

Injury payouts: I get ten grand for every leg or arm permanently lost and the same for every eye. How can you temporarily lose a leg? Lord Nelson would have been quids in at any rate.

Third party damage:  Apparently I'm not allowed to launch a cyber attack from a computer on Herbie. Are we not allowed any fun?

Plumbing - a warning to us all.  To stay insured against damage from burst pipes you either have to have central heating set at 10 degrees or higher between November and April or turn your water off at the tank stop cock.  I'm OK there, just before the November lockdown I got out to Herbie, drained the plumbing as best I could and turned of the tank tap.  Any bit of water still lying in the pipes after that should be OK especially if you leave the sink and shower taps open.

Lastly  they wont pay if my gun barrel goes rusty and/or bursts.  Quite right too.

Well there you are, something to keep us amused while we wait for our jab letter.  Stay safe folks.