Saturday, November 18, 2017

Solar panel tilting frame – tweaking the design

Now we’ve bought a second solar panel, I’ve been working on a tilting frame for it, and I thought I’d share how I did it in case anyone else wants to get one.

I’d settled on a design like this

frame


which you can buy from a few places on line for £35 or so.  The idea was to have it so that I could have the panel secured flat for travelling or tiled to 40 degrees from horizontal to get the best radiation. Apparently 40 degrees is what you need for optimum average performance in the southern half of the UK.

I costed up the bits I would need to make my own, using aluminium for aluminiumwarehouse.co.uk which was the cheapest place I could find and I could have saved a bit, but factoring in the postage and the cost of the screws and knobs it didn’t save a whole lot, so I decided to buy the ones shown above and tweak them to my requirements. Here’s where it gets interesting.

The kit you get is pretty sturdy, but in my view it isn’t ideal for use if you want to be able to have the panels quickly adjustable from locked flat to tilted, especially if you want to be able to choose whether to tilt port or starboard at any given location.  For a start, the holes on the "hypotenuse” don’t match up with those on the base when you lie it flat, so you can’t lock the panel down with the screw knobs.  Secondly, because the hypotenuse is longer than the base, it’ll only tilt one way unless you unscrew everything and slide the panel to the other end. If you think about it, the bars have to meet at a point at the fulcrum end , otherwise the overhang would hit the boat roof before you got it up.  I suppose if the bottom piece was longer than the top, it wouldn’t be a problem. But then you’d have sticky out bits of frame to catch on your boat’s centre ropes.  Sorry if you’re having trouble envisaging all this, I’ve had rather longer to mull it over.

Luckily, I’m building these for two panels of different widths and so by buying two kits I was able to mix and match the components to make frames to suit my requirements.  My new panel happens to be nearly the same width as the “base” piece shown above, so what I’ve done is to take those pieces from both kits and make a frame with the base and the hypotenuse the same length.  The holes match up to lock it down and I can get very close to 40 degrees tilt, like so:



IMG_20171118_134226

The prop piece will have to be removed when the panel lies flat. Here you see it all upside down of course  so you see the feet sticking up.  I have it face down on the table to prevent it from generating electricity. As you can see, a range of angles is available, so in winter I can tilt it more if required.  Whilst I’m on that subject, on our old panel I have monitored the difference in amps between lying flat and propped up and the difference is significant.

At the other end of the panel you can see the frame folded and locked flat.  here’s a better look at it flat.

 IMG_20171118_133725

The fixed side of frame is bolted to the end frame of the panel by four screws and locking nuts. The feet I had  to buy separately. They have a small amount of wiggle so they’ll lie flat against the curvature of the boat roof.  Once I’m happy with the setup on the  boat I’m going to glue them down with Sikaflex.

There was one further problem.  The tilting edge wouldn’t go up to the required angle until I chamfered off its corner like this:

IMG_20171118_134342

Otherwise it interfered with the other half of the frame.  Incidentally, you can see here that the aluminium itself is of a good thickness.

So that’s one done, and the bits I have left are long enough to do my old wider panel the same way.  You have to get lucky sometimes.

Monday, November 06, 2017

I learn more about solar - after a fright

Phew, my feet ache after trapesing up and down the eastern half of the Slough Arm today looking for woody growth (see my previous post) in the edges.  We didn’t find a lot but sent in about a dozen or fifteen reports, mostly of saplings.  The most surprising thing we saw was a boat actually moving down the arm, so rare that we almost sent in a report of that!

Now then, solar.  Well I ordered a shiny new 120w monocrystalline panel from Midsummer Energy.  I chose that one because it is narrow and ought not to interfere with centre ropes on the roof of the boat.  I had adapted my new stands (more of which another time) to the specific width of the new panel and was just about to drill the fixing holes in the panel frame when I thought I should just check the specification label on the back of the panel.  My heart sank.  What was this? The open circuit and max power voltages were at least two volts higher than the spec on Midsummer’s web site.  Was all my research and thinking in vain? Would this mean if I connected up in parallel to my old 95w panel that the new one would be dragged down below its proper performance?  “Woe is me” I might have said, except I said something rather less printable.

To cut a long story short, after a dialogue with the tecchies at Midsummer it’s OK.  As I had explained in previous posts, they confirmed that series connection was a No No in my case  but when in parallel, the MPPT controller will hold the voltages from the two panels at an appropriate level and they’ll perform as well as expected  99% of the time.  That other percent is that rare occasion when the sun is out in the perfect position and everything is at max power, then my 120w won’t quite make all it could, but still comfortably over 90% of what it could.  The rest of the time on normal or dull days the panels will perform just as they should, which in this case is better than most panels because this particular new panel which uses American Sunpower cells is better than others in lower light levels.  That suits me fine, I’ll get better than I might expect 99% of the time and a tiny bit less 1% of the time.  Midsummer explained that mine is the first of a new batch they have just received and they hadn’t noticed the voltage increase.  Their website has now been amended accordingly and they’re sending me some much needed free cable and plugs as a recompense for my distress.

I think what I had overlooked is that the MPPT controller would manage the slightly mismatched voltages and make the best of it.

PS My blockbuster novel Jobs for the Boys is free again this week (Tue-_Sat) on Kindle  Cheap at half the price.  After that I’m hoping to reset it at 99p since a neighbour tells me that she always looks for the 99p books on Kindle.  Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong,  £1.15 was too up market. My cut will go down to 28p, but a million times 28p is OK by me.  I can’t wait to get rich.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

When is a tree not a tree? – CRT tells me

Tomorrow it’s back on with the blue volunteer sweatshirt and the black fleece and out on the towpath for CRT.  I have done very little for them this year, mainly because all the action seems to have been east of Paddington which I have decided is out of my reasonable journey time from home, but this time I have a chance to do something interesting along the dear old Slough Arm.

Using a special iPad app linked to GPS, we’ll be recording “woody growth” - trees, shrubs and saplings, growing between the towpath and the water, including that growing out of the “wash wall”, sometimes damaging the canal bank.  Apparently customer feedback had highlighted this as a problem so CRT made it a priority last winter and Fountains, the contractor, was asked to cut down any such growth. Inevitably some will have been missed, so that’s what we’re looking for, so any remaining can go on the job list for this winter.  Because the contractor is paid for trees by number and size to be cut, but by length of towpath affected by other growth, (e.g three trees, or ten metres of shrubs) we have to decide when a tree is a tree, or when it is a shrub or a sapling.  Any guesses?

Well the answer according to CRT is to estimate the diameter of the trunk  at 1.5 metres above the ground, for me that’s shoulder height.  Anything bigger than 3 inches is a tree. (yeah I know I have mixed metric and imperial, that’s me not them.)  Hmm I might take a bit of string with a knot at  9.4 inches as it might be easier to measure circumference sometimes. I know, I know, I’m an anorak. I hope I don’t find anything at exactly three inches, I might have a meltdown trying to decide.

Anything smaller is “other woody growth”. Then of course there are separate definitions for Small, Medium and Large trees, but I doubt we’ll be finding anything above Small.  “But when is woody growth woody growth”, I hear you ask?  Well stuff like brambles, saplings and shrubs, but not grasses, weeds, ferns and all that stuff.

So it all sounds like fun.  Anything we find will have its GPS location recorded and sent to CRT through the magic of telecomms.  Deep joy.

Changing the subject, you may remember my recent posts about choosing how to connect up a second solar panel.  Well I’ve bought one, and immediately come upon a problem which could have blown all of my research out of the water. You might need to know, so I tell you all later.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Worth the wait– how to fit a bumper bar in a lock

I hope you think this post is worth the wait, but that’s not the reason for it’s title. 

There we were tootling down the S Oxford with our friends Jan and Stephen and thinking of our dinner booked at the Great Western in Aynho.  It was mid afternoon and we had our fingers crossed about getting a mooring.  Approaching Grant’s lock a man on a boat coming the other way shouted that we might have a long wait “some work going on at the lock”.  Indeed there was, and it cost us at least an hours wait, but it was worth it.  Not only that, but it ties this post very neatly in with my last one when I asked if anyone knew the name of those big T shaped bits of wood were on the CRT boat at Banbury the previous weekend.

Well they’re called Bumper Bars and the guys down in Grant’s lock were about to fit one.  here it is, in the lock and on the boat.

IMG_0840

As you can see, it now had its wacking gert iron slab bolted to it. I should like to have seen how that fitted that slab without losing a few fingers.  I wouldn’t like to guess the weight, but clearly lifting the whole assembly into place was going to be a non trivial task.  Grant’s lock has no road access, so a crane was out of the question.  The first job was to get the bumper facing the right way and at the front end of the work boat, so as you can see an RSJ was laid across the top of the lock and a chain hoist strapped to it and to the bumper.  With the chains tight, the water was then let out of the lock, so lowering the boat until the bumper was left dangling.

IMG_0845

Then the boat was backed off until the bumper was at its bow and the lock was refilled, laying the bumper down again.

Next, with the chain hoist unhooked from the bumper the RSJ was moved to the head of the lock, the boat moved up and the bumper reattached and the boat descended once more, now leaving the bumper where it could be re hoisted ready to be manhandled into position.

IMG_0850

The bar has to sit on that curved ledge by the top gate cill, but first they have to attached some retaining chains to the cill using some gert big iron staples. First drilling holes, then knocking the points in with a lump hammer and finishing off with a mighty whack from a sledgehammer.  In that confined space it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

IMG_0853 

At last. with the boat lowered and backed off, the bumper could be swung into place.  It needed a fair bit of persuading and in terms of elf and safety, some pretty dubious acrobatics by the lads, especially as the boat kept drifting backwards as they shoved the bumper forwards.

IMG_0863 (1)

The short retaining chains were then fixed to the bumper and it was all over bar the removal of the straps, in itself not an easy thing given where the bumper now lay,  and some general tidying up.

IMG_0867

Job’s a good ‘un as they say.

The CRT gang went on their way, declaring the lock open for business and we descended with a new found appreciation of what it takes to do jobs like this. 


IMG_0876

Well, I hope you enjoyed that.  We certainly did and it was well worth the hour’s delay, especially as there was still room at Aynho when we got there.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Lots to see and learn in Banbury today.


Well Banbury Canal Day, despite being cancelled and then uncancelled, went pretty well. The good folk of hereabouts turned out in lots of thousands to buy food and crafts from the various market areas and the trading boats, there were long queues for the boat trips and the live music outside the social club was popular, as was the kids funfair in the park. We just sat there looking pretty, well Herbie did, resplendent in our bunting.



Lots of local charities had stalls too, as did IWA and CRT, who also had a boat with some bits of lock on it. Can you identify what the bits are, and do you know the correct name of them?


I had a long chat on Friday with Nigel, (or was it Kevin? Maybe it was Tarquin. Anyway..) CRTs Head of Operations for the Oxford Canal. He's been with BW /CRT for 22 years and seems to know every nut and bolt of every lock on the canal. Definately a hands on sort of bloke. We talked about various locks down this way that had had or still have paddle problems and he was explaining some of the challenges they face in getting them fixed. The largest challenge seems to be funding, the cost of some of the castings required for some of the paddle gear is eye watering. Then there is the problem of boaters who think they know better trying to operate faulty paddles that have been taped up awaiting repair, and making a matters a lot worse. That's what happened at Marston Doles last week.

I asked about the crumbling brickwork on some of the lift bridges. He said their aim was to repair or rebuild two per annum, but sometimes the budget won't stand it. The one they rebuilt at Somerton this year cost 200 grand!! (I think I heard him right).

Reservoir levels, he said, were still a concern. Apparently a lot of this year's rain has been isolated and not where the reservoirs can catch it. Off the top of his head he was able to quote me how many millimeters depth was left in each of his reservoirs. There is a lot of back pumping going on. Apparently water is being pumped up all the way from Leamington to the Braunston pound and then on up the Napton flight to feed the summit. He did quote me how many litres per second they pump, but as he pointed out, it takes a helluva lot of pumping to replace what is lost by a busy morning on a lock flight.

So tomorrow we finish our four week cruise. It's been very good indeed. No doubt later I'll be able to remember more things to tell you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jobs for the Boys

CRT have got stuff to keep them busy up here, but people are grumbling about how long it is taking. The lock second from the top of the Napton flight is causing big queues. One bottom gate paddle is out of action entirely and the other can only be raised a couple of inches so the lock is taking twenty minutes to empty. I've heard tales of people queueing for three hours!

Back down at Whilton the other day there was a fallen tree right across the canal. This hastily grabbed as we passed photo doesnt show it too well, but the tree has fallen from the right hand bank as we look at it.



Mercifully the trunk has sagged enough to let most boats float over it, but only just. Out of gear of course.

Then today I heard a tale of what might be CRT performing an unrequested duty. Cutting a boat's securing chain. At least we presume it was them. Up near the Wormleighton radio mast on the Oxford summit a man had left his boat for a few days while he had gone off to work. He had secured his boat via a chain between a ring on the edge of his roof down to the arnco, locking it with a padlock. When he returned to his boat, he found that his chain had been neatly cut with bolt cutters and placed on the roof complete with his padlocks. We can only assume that someone from CRT concluded that chaining a boat in this way is unsafe because the boat could tip over sideways if the water level changed materially. However I would have thought that up here in this ten mile pound, such a rise or fall would be highly unlikely. Is this general CRT policy I wonder? In which case it would have been nice of them to leave a note explaining their actions.

Speaking of Jobs for the Boys, I have resumed writing my sequel to my blockbuster novel of the same name, as I have now spent the twenty quid it has earned me and need more funds. I am currently up to 46,869 words, every one a gem, well some of it makes me laugh when I read it back at any rate. I am aiming for a minimum 80,000 words, so only 33,131 to go.

Should anyone be thinking of attending the Banbury Canal day this weekend, that's where we'll be. Knock three times and quote the password "cake" and we might invite you in for some. And a cuppa of course. The weather forecast says wind and rain, but we can always hope they are wrong. Where is Michael Fish when you need him?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Herbie in the sky



Here we are this evening, now facing North and high above the surrounding land, except you can't see that for the trees. These steps down to the village will give it away to those who know the GU. (Oh, look, there's William across the other side. That means we might get woken tomorrow by the best alarm clock sound in the world - a Bolinder firing up.)



Yes we are on the Weedon Embankment, up level with the roof of the church! Having strolled into the village below, I'm pleased to report that they have a very good, well stocked One Stop supermarket (not the Tesco Express on the A5), a rare thing on this part of the GU and only a short walk from the canal at this point. For a village stores we thought the prices were very competitive too.

We spent the previous two nights in the long pound in Stoke Bruerne locks, along with some charming neighbours. Here's one of them.



Sorry I don't know his name. To be frank, he didn't have a lot to say, and he was a bit stand-off-ish, but quite passive. He and his family work for the local wild life trust, keeping down the scrub at the brick field nature reserve. I recommend a walk round it. He didn't bother to join us for the pub quiz either. We could have done with some help because it was very hard this week. Predictably it was one by a team of eight. Someone ought to devise a handicap system for large quiz teams.

When we arrived there , the pound was very low. I'm not talking about Sterling here, but referring to the fact that the bottom of the canal was too near the top. We were not alone in sitting on the mud at an angle. Someone must have alerted CRT who switched on a back pump and water gushed from an outfall for at least 36 hours, and the pound was fullish but not overflowing. That's a helluva lot of water.

Kathryn was there to say "Hello, Goodbye" when we came through the top lock. The sun was shining and it was a lovely morning, so of course we then plunged straight into two miles of dark wet tunnel!

Tonight, in the interest of research, we plan to investigate the Plume of Feathers, whose menu looks interesting. I'll report back.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A morning surprise and a night time shock..

Arriving at our favourite mooring at Great Linford, it looked just as attractive as ever.




It's a spot I never get tired of. Very peaceful with just the occasional dog walker.

Next morning however we pulled back the curtains to see half the park covered in marquees, gazeebos and vans! I strolled down to take a look. I was a bit taken aback that it had all arrived that very morning. It was the Milton Keynes Food Festival. Artisan bakers, brewers, distillers, pie makers, ham smokers, cheese sellers, currys, samosas, paellas, and a lot more I can't recall now. Also there was a tent with live music and another with gourmet chefs giving coookery demonstrations. Well what a treat. The only annoying thing was that we had eaten breakfast before pulling back our curtains. Anyhow we got some fab cheese and some great sourdough bread, some Indian pasties and a couple of yummy takeaway curries for the fridge. They're all gone now. - that's both the food fair and the food we bought.

Later that night, about half past ten we were sitting quietly on the boat listening to one of my ace (even though I say it myself) playlists, when there was a terrifically loud bang outside the boat. An explosion in fact.

Looking out into the darkness we could see flames about a hundred yards away. Something was burning fiercely, first in three plumes of flame, then two, and finally one which must have lasted for at least ten minutes. We couldn't see or hear anyone out there. I decided not to go nearer to investigate, in case whatever it was exploded again. Eventually it all went quiet and we went to bed.

Next morning I walked down to investigate and this is what I found.



Three aerosol cans, one of which had clearly exploded and two which had burnt out, a couple of torch batteries and a lot of burnt cardboard, all on top of a drain cover. I rang the police and reported it in case it was someone practising bomb making, but there being no wires or anything like that, I daresay it was kids who set fire to the cardboard, then threw on the cans and batteries and retreated to a safe distance. It was, I assure you, one hell of a bang.

Next day our 48 hours at the mooring was up and we were due to move, but the mooring warden came by and said we could stay another night as it was not busy. Thanks Mr Warden. These moorings belong to The Parks Trust, as do the ones at Campbell Park, where I'm told the warden is not so generous. The overstay fine is 50 quid.

Cruising through Milton Keynes is a genuine delight, over two hours of really attractive park land, all I suppose run by the Parks Trust. Well done them.

Tonight we rest our weary feet in Fenny Stratford, having walked over the hill and down to IKEA and back as well as the obligatory traipse through the store. It was worth it, because we now have a load of reasonably priced LED lightbulbs for home, and a few other things we never knew we needed. IKEA is like that.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Glow in the dark canal

Just as we were approaching Cosgrove yesterday, we suddenly noticed that the canal water had turned a really bright green, almost luminous. This continued for about a hundred yards and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. What could it be we wondered? Some sort of algal bloom perhaps, or maybe one of the moored boats along there had spilled something nasty into the water.

When we tied up after the bridge, we chatted to the man on the neighbouring boat. "Oh I know what that is" he said, "I used to work in Environmental Health and we used that stuff." Apparently it is fluoroscene, a harmless fluorescent dye which is used to track water courses, so it may have been used to find out where a ditch or a pipe was leaking into the canal, or vice versa. Our informant said that sometimes they used three different colours to see which of three things was the culprit. Imagine that, a rainbow coloured canal. He also said it glows in the dark so it can be used at night. I'm sure he was right, there were a couple of CRT boats at the site of the dye and men were doing stuff.

I'm very prone to earworms, sometimes they last for days and I can't stop singing or humming some song I don't necessarily even like. Today we passed a boat called Bird on a Wire and that set me off. It's a Leonard Cohen song in case you didn't know. Earlier this year I was forced to send an email to Stanley Accrington, who used to do the folk circuit with daft songs including one with the line Why Must I be a Dyslexic in Vole which I couldn't get out of my head. People of a certain age will know the original song it parodies. I loved the line which went something like, "Each time you touch my hand a tin leg runs down my spine."

I'm delighted to report that our favourite mooring at Great Linford, overlooking the park, was vacant when we arrived, so that's where I am writing this.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chasing the light

Hmmphh! I'm sure I wrote a blog post yesterday, but somehow it got lost. Never mind, life goes on and tonight we are here.





Yup, Cosgrove

The light was good for photos. After taking a lot of pics of the bridge I went off in the direction of the horse tunnel hoping to get the low light streaming through, but the sun had other ideas and did this just before I got there -




That was the last we saw of it. Oh well.


Yesterday after two miles underground we emerged into Stoke Bruerne where the redoubtable Kathryn dropped in for tea and cake, plus lots of canal gossip of course, and then Kath and I dined at the Navigation. Two very good steaks and a bottle of Hardys shiraz for twenty quid. Very good we thought. They had a good quiz too with an interesting format. Twenty five general knowledge questions randomly scattered on a five by five grid. Then at the end, the answers read out in random order and the first to get a line of right answers takes the prize. Needless to say that wasn't us as we were the smallest team.

This morning at half past six, Kathryn came past on Nb Sculptor en route for Foxton and gave us a blast on her klaxon as she did so. I don't think our neighbours were best pleased.

Tomorrow Tesco at Wolverton ( taking care to avoid their mountain as advised by Frank Ifield fifty odd years ago), then on to Great Linford with our fingers crossed that our favourite mooring is free.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wind, Willoughby and a Whizz.

It's Tuesday evening and we're waiting for The Big Wind promised by the Met Office. Stuff on Herbie's roof has either been stowed away or tied down and we are moored in what we hope is a sheltered spot just North of Blisworth. Do you think I should lash Kath to the tiller? Maybe we should have motored into the middle of the tunnel and stopped there:-) Mind you, the rain would probably be worse in there.

Dave, the Eberspacher whizz at Heyford Fields has done his stuff and we now have a working heater. Actually there was nothing at all wrong with the heater, it was all down to a couple of old bullet fuses in the power line that had corroded. The Eberspacher is too clever for its own good sometimes, and if it senses too low a voltage it turns itself off. Listening to Dave talking us through the heater's start up sequence showed us what a sophisticated piece of kit it is. He also fitted us a timer switch so we can program it to start up before we get out of bed. And, here's the good bit, all for a lot less dosh than we had feared. I wouldn't go anywhere else now.

Last night we were joined by Rick and Marilyn for a bash at the Monday quiz at the Wharf at Bugbrooke. Quite a good quiz. Just before the last round, we were within a single point of the lead, as Rick is fond of saying, general knowledge is our speciality. Then the inevitable popular culture questions appeared and we sank into obscurity. Who the hell is Holly Willoughby? She cost us a load of points. I think we should declare a fatois on her.

This, as you all know is the season of fruits and misty mellowness and we are eating plenty of blackberries with our breakfast cereals and tonight we have blackberry and apple for pud. Typically we have to walk only a couple of boat lengths to stock up every time we stop. I wish hips and haws were more edible - we would be really feasting.

Oo er, the wind is just starting to make loud noises outside. Stoke Bruerne tomorrow if we're spared.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Downhill on the Level


Is it just me, or does the canal here look like it's plunging down hill? You might recognise this spot if you've gone "over the top" from Fenny Compton to Napton. I still can't believe it's on the level, although of course it must be.

Down at Napton, we strolled into the village to mooch around the Village Store and Post Office. If you've never been then make sure you do next time you pass through. This is definately not yer average Spar or whatever, more of a posh deli really and they'll serve you a pot of tea and some wicked cakes at tables inside and outside. Of course you can buy some of the produce of the local buffalo farm which you pass on the way down - burgers, sausages, buffalo milk ice cream(!) and the like. Apparently the herd has grown to over 140 by now. We didn't buy any of that but we were ensnared by a sample tasting of their Bloody Mary Ketchup, on special offer and as you'd expect containing Worcestershire sauce and a touch of vodka. Now we have to decide what food is good enough to put it on. Any suggestions?

Just down the road on the way back to the canal we passed the Napton Cidery. They had some of their cider in the shop but we hadn't bought any. However that evening we of course went into the Folly for a meal - it would be sheer folly not to, as the food and drink their is always good. Anyhow, they had some of the Napton cider on hand pump so I asked for a taste. I like good real cider, but a lot of real cider is far from good. The Napton cider, I am pleased to report, is very very nice, and although stronger than beer, it isn't too strong.

The pub was packed early on (booking essential these days), but as it thinned out later we got a chance to chat to Mark the landlord, who as all customers know, is a bit of a character. He produced a pack of cards and proceeded to show us a couple of really clever card tricks. At the time I had no idea how they might have been done, but after sleeping on it I have some theories. I must call in next time and see if he will repeat them. If I'm right he must have put in a lot of practice at sleight of hand. Well if all that doesn't tempt you to visit the Folly, let me just add that although you have to wait a while for your food when they are busy, it is well worth the wait.

Today we rest up in Braunston while it rains. I have been doing some more on my novel, surprising how you can change the pace by shuffling some chapters about, and Kath has been doing some art work on her iPad, inspired by some bulrushes we saw along the way. She uses an artists App called Procreate, which is very good. Here are a couple of versions of her bulrushes. We can't decide which is best. Opinions welcome.