Saturday, December 30, 2006

Charges up

I had a nice letter today from our boatyard (High Line Yachting) , wishing me a happy new year etc and mentioning that mooring fees are going up by about 15% :-(. However they were quite right in mentioning that they are still the cheapest in the area, considering the good level of security and facilities they offer. We checked out the opposition over the summer. If we were to moor two miles up the cut at Packet Boat marina, our fees would be around £1000 per annum higher! I guess we'll stay put for a bit.

Here we are on our mooring spot. First looking towards Slough

And then looking Eastwards towards the main line GU canal which is two miles away

We've been on the road for the last two days, delivering our son Peter back to Cambridge and visiting other son Richard on his boat at Huntingdon. On the way home we detoured a good few miles for a spot of lunch at one of our favourite canal pubs - the Anglers Retreat at Marsworth. Lovely food and perfect Tring Brewery beer.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Back to Front

We popped over to the boat the other day to check it was still floating and to measure up what Kath calls the "back" shelves, which are actually at the front of the boat. I know what she means though because when you are inside the boat it feels the other way round.

Herbie, you see, is one of the one or two percent of boats that has the bedroom at the front, the galley at the back, and the saloon ( and the bathroom) in the middle. The vast majority of narrowboats have a layout something like this :

Some traditional boats may also have an engine room between the bathroom and the bedroom, and of course longer boats may have extra rooms.

Herbie is rather more like this :

Of course there are pros and cons. The more usual layout is especially nice in summer when the front doors lead straight from the saloon to the front deck, and also has the saloon at maximum distance from the engine and any noisy gubbins.

Things we like about our layout are:

1. the galley is handy for making tea etc when we're on the move and on the rear deck
2. the wood burning stove is admidships and distributes the heat better
3. the side opening doors are right in the saloon to give an outdoor feel in nice weather

Horses for courses really, but I'm a bit surprised that our layout is so uncommon.

According to our site meter this blog has just had its 1500th visit since we started counting! Actually its not so impressive as it seems as quite a few visits are from people who have reached us accidentally through a Google search for "Slough" or "stove" etc. There do seem to be a few repeat visitors though, so if you are one, thanks for coming back and Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Money money money

Any boater reading this will already have heard the news that the EC have refused to let HMG allow continued use of red diesel for pleasure craft. So sometime we'll be paying about double what we do now. I guess that's another £250 or £300 a year for us. Ah well. Apparently they are allowed to make arrangements for a transition so perhaps that nice Mr Brown will take pity and give us lots of warning or maybe phase in the change. We live in (slender) hopes.

I shouldn't think many people are boating from choice at the present. The rivers down here are in "red" condition and it has been really windy. My garden fence was leaning badly today, and having propped it up, the gate won't now shut, partly because the wood is swollen with the constant wetness.

Changing the subject completely (boaters may switch off now if they want), we went to a fascinating do on Friday. It was Roger Watson's 60th birthday bash coupled with the 17th anniversary of Traditional Arts Project (TAPS), of which he is artistic director. Roger is well known to folkies throughout the land and a friend of ours. As we expected, it was a real mutlicutural event. The (huge) buffet was a mixture of very authentic Indian and Middle Eastern snacks and sweets, and the entertainment featured a whole list of acts including an amazing steel drummer, a lady playing Andean? music (pan pipes etc), a village folk choir, a mumming play with longsword dancers, songs from the brilliant Rob Johnson, a few more I can't now recall, and of course Roger's Anglo/ Afro/ Indian band Boka Halat who were on top form. All that and free guinness too. What more can I say!

Christmas is coming and we went to a carol singing session at a pub near Alton. We sang for nearly two hours. Exhausting.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This and that

No Herbie trips to report at the moment, although we did a short canal visit last week when we went (by car) to Banbury which is on the Oxford canal. I'd forgotten how small the single locks look. We are getting so used to the two-boat-width ones on the GU that the single ones seem tiny. We prefer single locks really as they hold the boat snug, are lighter to operate and they fill / empty faster. Next year we hope to do the Oxford canal on Herbie.

The reason we were in Banbury was to go to Banbury Folk Club to see one of my favourite performers, Anna Ryder, who was absolutely brilliant (check out her web site here ). In over forty years of folk clubbing I must have seen thousands of performers, and Anna ranks with the best (IMHO). Apart from the fact that she can play anything (like piano and trumpet simultaneosly), her songs are so original and her general enthusiasm and energy is always a treat. I defy anyone not to enjoy seeing her perform. The club organiser Derek Droscher is an old chum of ours. Poor old Derek is now suffering the attentions of the Performing Rights Society (PRS) who want a sizeable cut of his door takings to cover copyright. This is the first time I have come across this in a small folk club, and were it to become general practice it would surely shut down 90% of the small clubs out there :-(

I'm just reading "Idle Women" by Susan Woolfitt. Its a true account of the lives of women who supported the war effort in the 1940s by operating narrowboat freight transport. I have to say its an unexpectedly good read, made all the better by her regular references to places on the cut that we know so well from our travels in Herbie.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Waterways Protests

You may well have seen reports of the many Save Our Waterways protests that happened over the weekend. We were unable to get out to our nearest one because of Jacob's birthday celebrations, but we were with them in spirit. In case you missed it, its all about the government cutting the grant to British Waterways because DEFRA has been fined £millions by the EC over mishandling of farmer's subsidies. Boaters are afraid that all the good work restoring and maintaining canals in recent years will be undone. We know this only too well, living as we do near the Basigstoke canal which was reopened after many years of volunteer activity (doing all the digging, lock repair etc.), and is now closed off and already slipping back into disrepair because of underfunding. If you want to see the benefit to ordinary folks of waterways development, just look at the transformation of Birmingham's Gas Street area. What was a slum is now a thriving night spot, and bringing in loads of tourist income.

If are sympathetic to the cause you can easily help by signing the electronic petition at the 10 Downing Street website You can find our more, at the camapign website

Nuff said

Friday, November 24, 2006

A reminder of a sticky adventure

This is a picture of Olive, a converted Humber Keel that resides at Cowley on the Grand Union. We pass her every time we go North from our base. A good number of years ago I had the chance of a trip on her, and an interesting trip it was!

Olive is the floating home of a friend (Dave 1) of a friend (Dave 2), and she was due to have her bottom scraped, inspected and blacked. Being such a big boat, it was decided that the best way to get her out of the water was to take down onto the Thames to Isleworth, where she could be floated onto supports which would be exposed at low tide. So that was the plan.

I was recruited, with Dave2 to help through the Locks on the way to the Thames, and invited to do a turn on the tiller on the way. Everything about Olive is huge. To operate the tiller, which was about 8ft long, you couldn't just stand still and move it with your arm, you had to walk side to side across the deck! Getting under bridges was a matter of ducking down low. Dave1 was a bit concerned about the low bridge on the tidal stretch at Brenford, and we knew we had to wait until the tide was right to get through.

All went well until we arrived at our first lock (Norwood top lock on the GU, where we went through on Herbie a few days ago). getting in to the lock was fine, although Olive was about 14ft1 in wide and the lock was only a smidge wider. The water was duly drawn off and Olive descended gracefully to the lower level. Gates open and off we go, - except that we didn't! The lock sides obviously narrowed at some point and Olive was stuck. We tried full power to push her through. No deal.

Dave 1 was getting anxious at this point. His home was jammed in a lock.

We decided to refill the lock, back Olive out at the top, and think what to do next. The problem was that this did no good as Olive was still stuck. A quick phone call to BW was made and an operative appeared shortly. "I know Olive has been through this lock a few years back", he said,"but I think the lock sides have bowed in a bit since. We'll open all the paddles and try and flush her through." So the bottom gates were opened, all the sluices were opened, and a tremendous force of water surged through the lock. Still no joy. Olive was well and truly jammed.

"We'll have to pull her back out at the top" said Mr BW, "I'll go and get a work boat and pull her out. There's one moored just up the way." In only a few minutes he was back on a little blue tug thingy and a big rope. The rope was tied fast to Olive and with a tremendous splashing and churning, the little tug with its big engine strained at the rope. Tighter and tighter it went, until with a loud crack the rope gave way. Had the rope hit any of us at that point it might have killed us, such was the speed at which it flew.

By now we had gathered quite a few onlookers, it being a sunny weekend day. Various suggestions were made, such as taking an angle grinder to the lock wall, or applying a layer of grease to it. Dave 1 was not amused. This was his home we were talking about.

An hour passed, with various attempts at this and that, and a queue of boats was forming, waiting to use the lock. Things were looking desperate. Suddenly, someone said, "I can see her moving", and sure enough, for no explicable reason Olive seemed to have freed herself! Dave 1 was decisive. "Right, "he said, "we're going back home. We'll never get through all these locks. I'll have to have the bottom done somewhere else." Out of the lock we backed, Olive was turned and we set off back towards Cowley, which Dave1 not a happy bunny.

It was now getting very late and when we arrived back at Cowley it was pitch dark. Amazingly we managed to turn Olive and squeeze her into her moorings (which only have inches to spare at either end) by torchlight.

Well, that's the story. Olive's bottom today looks like it has had its clean up, probably in the dry dock at Uxbridge. Dave2 was pleased to see her when we passed her on Herbie last week. Whether she'll ever see the Thames again is anybody's guess.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Five more days afloat

Despite the short days and variable temperatures, the canals are looking lovely at the moment with all their autumn colours. last Friday and Saturday we entertained old friends David and Helen aboard Herbie. On Friday the weather was appalling! Very heavy rain and strong winds too. I got soaked just taking the boat 100 yards up to the boathouse to load up. Needless to say we didn't go far that day, just 2 miles to get out of the Slough arm and 10 more minutes up the Grand Union to a sheltered mooring near Cowley lock. Luckily, Saturday was really sunny and pleasant and we managed to get up to Harefield marina and back before dark.

David showed his skill at the tiller (he is an experienced sailor), executing an immaculate turn into the narrow entrance of the Slough arm on our return. Here he is taking us down towards Uxbridge below Denham lock, the deepest on the GU.

The colours of the hedgerow are stunning in places. Just look at the variety of shades in this short stretch of bank on the Slough Arm.

Having returned our guests to their car, we had just enough time to get Herbie down to the winding hole and back so we would be facing the right way next morning. It was a race against the rapidly failing light. At the winding hole we did our best ever turn, straight round in one go like a handbrake turn. We needed our tunnel light on when we got back to our mooring, but we made it.

Next morning our regular crew mate Pete Higson joined us for a cruise where we planned to break new ground. Up until now we hadn't gone further south on the GU than Bulls Bridge at Hayes. This time we were to go all the way down to Brentford, close to where the canal joins the Thames. Once again our range was constrained by available daylight, so that night we got as far as the Fox pub below the eight lock Hanwell flight. This is an attractive flight of locks, most being less than a hundred yards from the next. They're quite deep too, so by the time you get to the bottom, you've come down quite a hill. Part way down is the famous Three Bridges where the railway, the canal, and the road all cross at the same point (the canal being over the rail and under the road). Vey difficult to get a good photo, but here we are on the canal crossing the railway, with the road immediately above us. I'm not sure what went over the disused bridge you can also see.

The Fox is to be recommended, being just a few yards from the canal, and service as good a pint of Timothy Taylors as you'll get anywhere.

Next morning we carried on down to Brentford, and were all surprised by the countryside feel of it all. Only in the last half mile does London reveal itself with the mighty GlaxoSmithKlein building (the one at the end of the M4) looming over the tree tops.

Eventually we see it from the other side as we approach the basin at Brentford gauging lock. (Pete at the helm here).

The basin would be a good spot to stay for a few days in London - mooring is free for 14 days.

We only stayed a couple of hours. Enough to walk down to Syon Park and to the Thames at Isleworth where the speed of the tidal current looked somewhat alarming to us narrowboaters. We plan to take Herbie through there next year. I guess we'll do it at a gentler stage of the tide.

That evening we returned tpo the Fox for a meal, but they don't do food on Mondays so we walked on to the Viaduct, a splendid Fuller's pub nearby. The influx or Polish workers seems to have at least one beneficial effect here as the waitress (who was excellent) was Polish and there were Polish dishes on the menu. We had Bigos, a Polish hunter's stew containing sausages and pork and cabbage, and it was just the job on a cold night. The beer, being Fullers, was of course pretty good too.

Next day we had to get back to base, and took Herbie up the Hanwell flight in double quick time. The locks were all set in our favour, presumably because the last boat to use them was us on the way down two days earlier. The canal was of course full of leaves at this time of year, and sometimes the water in the locks looked like a thick leaf soup!

Before turning down the Slough arm for home we detoured into Uxbridge to fill up with diesel. At Denham Yatch Basin their it was 45p a litre as against 60p at our boat yard. So as we needed a hundred litres that saved us 15 quid!

Then the short dash for home before dark. On the way we got caught in a hailstorm and it got very very cold standing out at the tiller.

All in all an excellent trip, and we were impressed enough with the Brentford strech to add it to our pleasure cruising repertoire.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

We're certified!

Herbie was retested today by the Boat Safety Examiner and we passed:-). Not without some difficulty I might add. The inspector's manometer kept showing a very slight gas leak, so I had to keep clambering in and out of the very cramped gas locker with a pair of spanners to tighten up the various connections. I was afraid of overtightening, which you can easily do with compression fittings. It took nearly an hour of tightening and testing until she was happy. Anyway we're certified safe now for four more years. All in all it cost £193 for the inspection, retest, certificate and report, and £30 or so for new hose, regulator and compression fittings etc. A good job its not an annual exercise.

Today I did my first trip from home to the boat by public transport (plus a 30 minute walk). It actually takes over ten minutes to (briskly) walk the length of the line of boats at our moorings. I think there are about 70 or 80 boats in all, mostly breasted up in pairs.

Buses are really cheap on this trip. I can get a green line coach from Bracknell to Langley (an hour's ride) for only £2 if I go after 11am. In January, when I turn 60, it'll be free! Getting older has some benefits.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A riveting picture

I couldn't resist taking this photo yesterday when I was at the boatyard. What a fantastic patchwork hull. More interesting than a lot of the new boats with faux" rivets. It's just had the epoxy treatment - very expensive - about two grand I think.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A disappointment, some fireworks, and a recovery.

Curses. I got a phone call to say I still had a small gas leak on the boat when they retested following my fitting of a new regulator and hose. The test pressure was falling over a 5 minute test. So I turned to good old Google for help. Of course it showed I could buy a gas leak tester for 30 quid, but I didn't fancy spending that. Would I be able to fix it anyway if I found it? Then I found out that a fine spray of soapy water on the joints should show up leaks as bubbles. So that was the plan for Sunday.

Saturday night was fireworks, and we went to a free (charity collection) display in Bracknell at the dry ski slope. A good opportunity to try out my new(ish) camera in difficult lighting conditions. I like this shot - it shows skiers holding flares approaching the audience.

I also tried out the camera's video facility and I was amazed by how good it was, including the sound. Sadly, Blogger doesn't support videos, and it takes a lot of bandwidth anyway, so I can't show them to you.

On Sunday it was back out to Herbie to attempt to find and fix the gas leak. The soap solution worked a treat and I immediately found the leak where the pipe union screws into the new regulator. A couple more tweaks of the spanners and it stopped. Now I feel a bit daft that I didn't check it in this way when I put the new regulator on. Oh well, we live and learn.

I also had a go over the boats charging system with the my multimeter. The voltmeters on the dash show different readings for the starter battery charging and the domestic batteries. When the engine is running, they should be the same as they are connected via a relay. I suspected a faulty relay, but the meter showed it to be OK. Anyway I now know the cause. The voltmeters on the dash are giving false readings! One is reading over one volt lower than it ought. So what looks like a faulty charging system isn't.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

An Inspector Calls . . .

Boat Safety inspection this morning and Herbie almost passed. Electrics good, fuel lines / engine good, extinguishers etc good, gas appliances good. However the regulator on the gas bottle was knackered and letting too much pressure through, and the gas hose was out of date (I should have spotted that). Pressure testing also showed a slight gas leak, but I suspect that was the old regulator connection, which looked a bit dodgy. Anyway, I got straight to it and I've already replaced the reg and the hose with shiny new ones and await a recheck of the pressure in order to get the magic safety certificate. I just hope I've done the new connections up tightly enough.

Doing up the "fixed" end of the hose was fun, I had to squat down right inside the gas locker (along with 2 large gas bottles) to get at the connection. That was OK until I tried to get out again and realised I was stuck. Actually I was laughing at the stupidity of it all. Eventually I wriggled free and I'm here to tell the tale!

I general I was pleased, as the inspector said the boat was very professionally fitted out and in good nick.

Today was also the first frost of the season, although our moorings and the canal looked a picture in the autumn sunshine.

Monday, October 30, 2006

We've been away at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire for the annual bash of the Nonsuch Dulcimer Club. As well as meeting up with old friends, and having an AGM and a great concert, and some lat night tune sessions, I spent the daytime in workshops with Butch Ross , a great young dulcimer player from Kentucky. I'm not really a dulcimer player (Kath is rather better at the hammered variety), other instruments being my forte, but Butch managed to inspire me quite a bit so I'll have to get down to some more practice now.

No boats at Launde Abbey, but we did call in at Whilton marina as we drove past on the A5, to pick up a gas leak tester from the chandlery there - and to have a bite to eat and a cuppa in their excellent tea room alongside the canal. Whilton have more boats for sale than practically anywhere else, and whilst we're not boat shopping I couldn't resist having a quick glance over the for-sale bay. I didn't see inside any boats, but there were some lovely paint jobs in evidence.

Only three more days till our boat safety inspection. Tommorrow I need to get out to Herbie and do some last minute jobs to meet the requirements. I have to re-secure the batteries after I moved them about recently, and get rid of some redundant wiring left by the RCR man a while back.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Still not expert but a lot more knowledgable

I'm just back from my weekend course on Boat Electrics, complete with my certificate to prove it.

Of course the certificate doesn't prove I had to pass anything - just that I showed up! However, it was a great course run by Tony Brooks at Reading College (part of Thames Valley University). We not only covered basic electrical theory on engines and on domestic systems in the boat, but we also, in small groups, got to wire up all the electrical bits of the engine - starter, alternator, glow plugs, solenoids and relays, warning lights and dashboard meters etc. Not only that we built a small domestic circuit with lights, a motor (eg for a pump), fuses etc, then coupled the two circuits together for charging purposes using a split charge system. Finally we did a lot on battery planning and management and on diagnosing faults. My brain is now officially full!

If you have a boat, and you don't have a clue on electrics, you should go. Well worth the money.

Friday, October 20, 2006

We enjoy a pleasure cruise while the workers work

Just back from a few days on Herbie with friends Jan and Stephen. The weather forecast was for rain, but luckily it didn't, so we had a great time tootling up to Batchworth and back. Amazingly warm for the time of year, although we did have the coal stove to make us cosy in the evenings. This was Jan and Stephen's first trip aboard Herbie and they seemed to enjoy it. Anyway we got them home safe and dry and as you can see they were all smiles as they posed with Kath (and Herbie) at the end of the trip.

While we were relaxing, the workers on the canal were still hard at it. First there were the gravel boats which go back and forth all day between Denham and Hayes. When they're full they carry 70 tons of gravel and sit very low in the water and need a depth of six feet of water, so they sit mid channel and you have to move aside for them. Here's an empty one (except for a lot of water as ballast) approaching whilst in the background you can just see a full one going the other way.

Despite always having to give way to them, we really enjoy watching them and talking to the boatmen as we wind the locks for them. Its great to see the canals still being used for freight transport.

Then further up the cut, we came upon a gang relining the banks with sheet piling above Coppermill lock. They had an amazing machine sutting on a huge steel raft. Looking at first like a caterpillar tracked digger, it actually had a brilliant swiveling device for handling the piling and ramming it into the ground with a shuddering action.

The raft was so wide that only 7ft narrowboats (that's us) could squeeze past into the lock. Others had to wait for a couple of hours.

Strangely for the time of year, we saw more kingfishers this trip than ever before. There were even a couple flying past Herbie after we had moored up back at base.

Tomorrow I'm off on my 2 day Electrics for Boaters course at Reading. I've been busy trying to map out all the wiring on the boat because it came without useful circuit diagrams and nothing is labeled. It's all beginning to make sense, but I have plenty of questions to ask on the course.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Gone gongoozling

Over the weekend we walked the canal rather than boated it. Visting friends Rick and Marylin in Long Buckby we went for a walk in Braunston, perhaps England's most famous canal village, and took the opportunity to walk overland above the 2000 yard Braunston tunnel and see the air shaft chimneys.

Its quite a hill so its easy to see why they needed to build the tunnel.
Here we are at the southern portal as a boat emerges from its half hour trip underground.

Hopefully next year we'll be taking Herbie through here on our summer cruise.

Herbie now boasts a beautiful name brass made by Rick. We're not quite sure where best to hang it yet, but here it is alongside our quirky pressure gauge quartz clock.

We'll be back on the water next week for a few days with our friends Jan and Steven after their son's wedding at the weekend.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Weighing up the Wey

I had an hour to kill near Guildford today, so I popped down to the River Wey near Shalford to have a look. This is one river we might take Herbie to next year. Well, it all looks very pleasant and easily navigable, although I recall a couple of years back when it was flooded all over the fields, so well need to watch the weather.

There seem to be quite a few boats moored around there, both narrowboats and GRP cruisers.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I'm reading through the published guidance for the Boat Safety Scheme ( a bit like an MoT for boats). Herbie is due for her 4 year inspection in December. Lots of things to check but I reckon we should be OK. One thing I was unaware of though is some means of checking the gas tighness of the LPG system - we're supposed to have some checking point or a bubble tester. I'll have to ask the chaps on the uk.rec.waterways newsgroup. Someone will tell me what I need to do :-)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Looking back

Well, its 7 months since we took ownership of Herbie, so I've been reviewing how its all going. Are we getting our money's worth? Are we achieving our objectives? First I did the stats. So far they look like this

Days aboard 60
Miles travelled 404
Locks negotiated 332
Canals cruised Grand Union main line as far N as Milton Keynes and S to Bulls Bridge
Slough Arm of GU
Paddington Arm of GU
Wendover Arm of GU
Regents Canal
Lee navigation

Passengers / crew 9 plus ourselves

Pubs visited :-) 18 (some more than once)

Not too bad for a start. Our longest trip was 15 days at Easter, and our plan next summer is for a more extended cruise so we can get further. We have other ideas for short cruises this autumn and winter including a trip down to Brentford to complete the GU South and to eye up the exit onto the tidal Thames for next year.

Favourite overnight spots so far are Limehouse Basin in London for its excitement, Black Jacks Lock on the GU at Harefield for its prettiness and tranquility, and The Marsworth reservoirs for the sunset views (and the Angler's Retreat).

Best pub so far? A tough one. Either the Grapes at Limehouse, or the Angler's Retreat at Marsworth, or perhaps the Papermill at Apsley, or maybe the Old Barge at Hertford, or the Cowroast Inn for the Thai food or . . . .

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A series of posts reading down, not up

Hello reader, thanks for coming back. We've been away on Herbie having quite an adventure, so here are a series of posts about what happened. Contrary to normal blog convention, they read chronologically down, not up, till we finally got home.

An alarming breakdown and a chance meeting with the guv'nor

We were on our way from Iver to Paddington basin to collect our son Peter for a week's holiday cruise. Pete Higson, our "regular" crew member was with us as well as Jake the cabin boy. All went well down to Bull's Bridge where we moored at Tescos for provisions and a spot of lunch before turning up the Paddington Arm of the GU.

It was a nice day, and we were idly pondering the voltmeter readings on the instrument panel when we could hear a squeaking from the engine compartment. Lifting the lid we were greeted by a cloud of smoke, so we immediately turned the engine off and pulled over. The smoke was coming from the stern gland where the prop shaft goes through and we could see the grease melting and frying! This looked like big trouble. A quick call to River Canal Rescue got an engineer on his way, although our discussion over the phone with him was depressing. He feared it might be an "out of the water" job.

Then we had some uncanny good luck. Who should cruise past but well known boat maintenance trainer and guru Tony Brooks, whose course I attended earlier this year. Seconds later he was under the bonnet and spotted the cause. The engine mountings at the prop end had worked loose and the engine had dropped so that its weight was borne by the prop shaft. Tony elected to leave it for the RCR man to fix, but phoned them up to offer his diagnosis. He was right of course and it took only a few minutes for the RCR man to bring the engine back up to its former position and tighten the stern gland which was now leaking water. Before Tony left I also discussed the oil leak which has been plaguing us and he spotted that the oil was coming from where the oil pressure relief pipe comes out of the block. "You'll need to change the copper washer" he said.

Meanwhile poor old Pete, who was only with us for the day, elected to take advantage of the nearby tube station to get home, and so missed the rest of the trip to Paddington. Kath and I elected to stay put for the night as it was too far to Paddington to make it before dark and anyway we were very close to the Black Horse pub, which looked inviting. It turns out to be a good stopping place because the food and the beer were excellent.

Next morning we had a smooth run in to Paddington to meet Peter off his train. One amazing thing we saw, whilst crossing the North Circular aqueduct, was a huge (and I mean huge) cavalcade of motor cycles below. Apparently it was a rally called Kill Spills to demonstrate about the dangers to motor cyclists of diesel spilt on the road by lorries and they were hoping to have 5000 bikes there. We didn't count, but it was a hell of a lot! The whole North Circular seemed chock ablock with bikes and of course we could hear the roar over everything.

Here we are coming into Paddington to collect Peter from the station.

That done, we set off back the way we had come. The sun shone and the cabin boy poured the beers as we passed through Little Venice.

We finally moored for the night at Cowley in pleasant surroundings and had a meal at the Malt Shovel. Jacob by now had been collected by his mum for school next day.

The Final Solution for the oil leak and a mooring at a film location.

Although the stern gland and bearing now seemed to be behaving, I was still nervous over the whole breakdown affair and next morning I woke determined that today was to be the day to put paid to the oil leak. It had been getting worse to the point where we were losing a nearly litre of oil per day!

Mid morning we cruised into Denham Yacht Station to seek an emergency repair. The lady at the desk was nice but said "I'm sorry, all our engineers are . . useless!", then grinned and said "Only joking" and handed me to John, standing next to her saying, "If he can't fix it, no-one can."

John initially doubted Tony's and my diagnosis for the source of the leak, but crouching in the engine bay while I started her up, he quickly agreed. "Yep, I can see it dribbling down. We can soon fix that". It wasn't easy because both ends of the pipe had to be dismantled, the washer replaced, and then it needed two people to hold the pipe in line for it to be reattached securely.

It turned out that the old washer was damaged and that engine vibration had probably made matters worse by slackening the joint. Here's the fitting with the old washer on.

A simple thing, but not easy to fix in the confined space of an engine bay, and it took nearly two hours all told. Anyway, they did a good job at no notice and I'd certainly use them again.

We still had time to cruise for the afternoon, and tootled on up to Stocker's Lock for the night. While we were there we were visited by a guy from a film crew who were due to be shooting a horror movie there at the weekend. They needed to make sure that all the boats would be gone by then. This apparently would involve "bribing" the permanently moored boats nearby to disappear for a couple of days. Then they were to dress up the canal to make it look like a river, covering up the towpath and so on.

Up to a favourite spot, a nervous oil check, and a clean up.

One of the nicest bits on the southern Grand Union is the area around Grove and Lady Capel's lock, so that's where we went for the next night, mooring up opposite the waterfall feeding the old mill building. Nervously I used the dipstick to check our oil level and was pretty sure we hadn't lost any so far. What a relief! "Lets clear out the lost oil then" said Kath, and stripping down to Tee shirt and knickers climbed in with one of those kitchen basters with a suction bulb and began the long process of retrieving the leaked oil from the engine tray. What a star!

We give a tow, then Peter takes the tiller.

We headed off back towards Uxbridge next day with the intention of spending the evening at the General Elliot which had a board saying Quiz Wednesdays.

Passing through Springwell lock, a chap in a broken down boat asked if we could give him a tow to the next lock at Batchworth as he had blown a head gasket. Well, maybe I might need one one day, so we said yes. We tied the boats together side by side and set off down the canal.

Actually, it was surprisingly easy and I even managed to steer him neatly to the side at the finish.

Later, Peter did his first serious bit of boat driving and quickly appeared adept, he even got us neatly into locks with a bit of coaching. Here he is taking Herbie into our favourite Black Jack's lock with Kath instructing. Although it's now getting Autumnal, this section of canal is looking lovely, with blackberries, sloes and wild hops in abundance.

The evening wasn't so good though, as the General Elliot no longer has a quiz, and the nearby moorings looked very dodgy. One small fibreglass boat had been sunk by vandals. So we pressed on to Cowley where we had egg and chips and a game of Scrabble to finish the day.

Next day, Kath had to go home for the weekend, so we detoured down the Slough Arm to drop her near the car, then Peter and I set off back towards Paddington, with Peter by now doing most of the driving. Once again we overnighted at the Black Horse, this time mooring a few feet from the pub door. Noticing it was quiz night we duly entered and did reasonably well, ending up mid field.

Regents Park

Next day arriving earlyish at Paddington we carried on past Little Venice, through the Maida Hill tunnel

and into Regents Park. I can't begin to imagine the value of the houses there, but it must be many millions.As we passed the zoo we could see a few warthogs, and wild boar, and I think some tapirs or similar. Turning round at the floating Chinese restaurant in Cumberland Basin

and headed back to Paddington Basin for the night. Boy was it windy there! Mooring up was a bit hairy. We found a nice little Spanish / Italian restaurant just a minute's walk away and had a very reasonable Tapas meal followed by another game of Scrabble.

Solo Trip home

Peter got his train back to Paddington on the last morning, so now it was just me having to take Herbie home. This was must first lengthy solo trip (albeit lock free) but all went well and Herbie now rest again at Iver, waiting for our next adventure. By the way, since the oil leak was fixed, we've lost absolutely none

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A couple of maintenance jobs and lessons learned.

Looking forward to getting out on the boat again this weekend. We will be picking up son Peter at Paddington basin, and all being well embarking on a weeks cruise to give him a holiday.

Today I went out to Herbie to turn her round to face the right way and to do a couple of maintenance jobs. First up was buying and installing a new starter battery. I was pleased to find one at a reasonable price, and took care to measure up the old one so the new one would fit in the space. However, what I didn't know is that not all batteries have their + and - tyerminals at the same ends, so of course I bought one the wrong way round:-( So it was off back to Uxbridge where luckily they were able to swap it for the right kind:-)

Next up was a go at the oil leak which has been plaguing us for ages. We know where it has been leaking from - a union where the high presssure oil pipe enters the cylinder block. Tightening the retaining nut just didn't seem to fix it, but noticing the two sides of the joint were out of line, today I applied a bit of pressure to align them and tightened the nut as I held everything in place. As you can see there's not a lot of room for the huge 26mm spanner required ( and that's after I removed the oil pressure meter sensor to create more space!)

After a short run there were no drips, so I'm cautiously optimistic, but we'll have to wait and see. Next week I'll be carrying spare oil in case.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Canyoning in Shropshire

Last week we explored a waterway of a different sort. Light Spout Hollow is one of many valleys cutting into the Long Mynd in Shropshire. The little stream runs down dozens of waterfalls into carding Mill Valley in Church Stretton. Whilst we opted for a stroll up the footpath, Jacob elected to do it the hard way - clambering up the stream bed.

The colours on the hillside are amazing right now, the heather, the billberries, the bracken, all mixing together to make a super patchwork.

Jacob had plenty of climbing to do ...

to reach the main waterfall where we turned back.

Summer feels like its on its way out soon. These young swallows where we were camping fled the nest last week

For those of you wondering where Herbie is, fear not. We'll soon be off again, picking up Peter for a week from Paddington and giving him a well eanred holiday from his hard work at Cambridge. Recently he's been to California, to Google no less, where he networked with other "Geeks" working in his field of scientific search engine software.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Past times and a new arrival

Its almost a year now since we took our epic(for us) trip to deliver our Richard's boat, Bankside, from Iver to Huntingdon. Looking back at the photos, its interesting to see how much greener everything was compared to this year. Here we are about to refuel "at sea" from the coal boat at Berkhamsted.

Look how lush it all looks. Even then the weather was dry and hot. It was that 3 week trip that finally resolved us to get a boat of our own, leading to a 6 month search until we found Herbie.

Our daughter Claire and partner Joe now have a new puppy, Cleo, a Staffie.

She's quite a handful at the minute as she is so lively. She's going to be a rotten guard dog because she'll happily go to anyone for a stroke and a lick. She does sleep sometimes though as here in my brilliantly constructed cardboard box bed.

Next week were camping again in Shropshire. After all that's done I guess we'll be back to boating, when the school holidays have passed and there are less boats moving. I know we need more rain, but a sunny September wouldn't go amiss.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Boating at 10 times our usual speed

We spent the day in Portsmouth last week and had an interesting journey to the Isle of Wight and back. Outwards we took the Fast Cat from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier. This took a while to get into the fast lane, but when it did, there was a belch of black smoke and we were soon belting along at over 40mph, or then times the canal speed limit! For the return journey we took the hovercraft from Ryde beach to Southsea.

Part way back we overhauled a Cat coming the same way, but we weren't a lot faster in the hovercraft. 45 knots they told us. That's about 50mph. Nearing the beach we had to dodge round the back of a car ferry, without slowing down, and I reckon we missed it by 4 feet!

Portsmouth is just THE best place for boat spotting. Everything from fishing boats to aircraft carriers, not to mention HMS Victory of course.

The locals complain about the huge cost (£millions) of building the Spinnaker Tower near the harbour entrance, but I recknon it was worth it. A great landmark for scores of years to come.

One of these days I'm going to photograph all the lovely old Pompey pubs with their mosaics proclaiming "brilliant ales" and "unrivalled stout and porter" . Brickwoods brewery has long since gone but the old pub signs remain.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A visit to Bankside

Bankside is the 54ft narrowboat on which our son Richard lives, and we've just been visiting (sadly, by road). His engine was overdue a service and his fridge had packed up so I offered to pop up and see what could be done.

We're very envious of Richard's moorings at Hartford marina near Huntingdon. A beautiful spot.

Quite handy for fishing too as Jacob discovered.

Bankside has a huge rear deck, and access to the engine bay is perfect - bags of room - so the service was easy. I also took the chance to look at his electrics which are far less complex than ours on Herbie. Now I've decided to have a go at simplifying the system on Herbie, I'm sure there is a lot of redundant wiring.

Richard was all set to buy a new 12v fridge, which at £400 is not cheap. However, we discovered that the fault with the old one is just a bad connection, so we got it going again.

On the way home we met up with our other son Peter in Cambridge for a pint and a pub meal. If you ever go to Cambridge, try the Castle pub in Castle Street. Excellent. Peter is doing a post doctorate project writing a sort of chemical search engine which can read natural language. He's excited because in a couple of weeks he's off for a sort of brainshare do at Google HQ in California.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

An apology

I just discovered the bit in blogger where comments get sent!!! Apologies for those who have sent in the comments and suggestions I now see. I didn't know they were there! I'll get on with some replies.

PRANK finally gets its band cruise

Saturday dawned much fresher, but still hot and sunny so we were determined to make up for yesterday's non-cruise. Off we went northwards through Uxbridge and Denham and up to Harefield - and then back to Cowley. Rob had his first ever go at steering a narrowboat and was instantly competent! A legacy of his sailing holidays many years ago. Here he is taking us past Harefield marina

Uxbridge and Denham locks are an interesting contrast, Uxbridge being quite a shallow lock, and Denham, ten minutes away being the deepest on the GU canal at over 11 feet rise.

Cabin boy Jacob was with us for the ride and did a splendid job of Brasso-ing the ventilation mushrooms on the roof. Once again they sparkled.

Stopping for lunch we again had a short towpath band session and posed for the inevitable PRANK photograph (see an earlier entry for how our band PRANK gets its name) , courtesy of the cabin boy's camera skills.

Pete and Rob needed to get home so we need to multitask to get everything done. This meant boating and drinking up the remaining beer at the same time. Its a hard life!

After dropping them off at Cowley, we headed back down the Slough Arm to put Herbie to bed. The dragonflies were putting on impressive aerobatic displays. They look like biplanes whirling a looping about.

More weeds! We limped into the boatyard with the prop well weeded up. Delving into the weed hatch I unravelled from the prop a huge pile of weed, a mangled plastic bag, and a shredded shirt of some kind! Ah well, it only takes a couple minutes to do, and we'd had a good day.