Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Education, education education

Over the weekend I attended a course on boat maintenance organised by RCR and delivered by the well known Tony Brooks of TB Training. If, dear reader, you have a narrowboat and don't yet consider yourself expert on diesel engine maintenance, boat electrics etc, then I can't recommend the course highly enough. Tony is a great teacher and you get to get your hands on all the bits and pieces of machinery and to have a go at things like bleeding the fuel system, setting the valve clearances etc. There were seven of us on the course and I think we were unanimous in saying it exceeded our expectations. The ground covered in two days is huge, but it is so clear and practical that you can't fail to learn loads. I'm even beginning to understand the electrics.

Do it!

Yesterday I took daughter Claire and boyfriend Joe for a spin in Herbie in preparation for them borrowing the boat sometime. Claire is pretty good on the tiller, but there is so much to explain about the fridge, the loo, the inverter, the water heater etc. I'm having to write a manual and a huge checklist for what you need to do when you leave the boat at the end of the trip.

The canal was lovely and weedy so Joe had good practice at clearing the weedhatch!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

In ( tempered) praise of the Slough Arm

Some people have a poor opinion of the 5 miles of the Slough Arm of the Grand Union where Herbie is stabled. They should see it at the moment. The water is clear, full of fish, dotted with damsel flies, edged by yellow Irises and altogether very lush. However if your boat is much more than 2 feet deep, I'd walk the towpath rather than cruise it because it is very shallow which makes it very slow going, especially as you will need to stop at least once to clear the weed from your propeller! One lucky angler, using two rods, caught a four pound tench on each of them simultaneously as we passed. He kept his cool, dealing with one at a time while we stopped to watch.

This week my good friend Pete Higson joined me for a short cruise from our moorings at Iver, down towards Slough to the winding hole (about a mile) to turn the boat, then four miles back out onto the Grand Union proper, turning left and going just a hundred yards to the Water's Edge pub /restaurant. Pete declined the honour of steering Herbie up to the pub landing stage since it looked (and is) a fragile affair requiring a sharp turn and a gentle stop. So I had a go and all I can say is the jetty is still standing.

The pub, which we were anxious to explore for future use, is OK except they have no real ale:-( It would make a pleasant enough overnight mooring for a meal at the pub. There's something special about mooring up ten feet from the pub door! The food looked reasonable. Thankfully the cold Guinness was a good substitute for proper beer on such a hot day.

It wasn't so hot on the way back though. Wwe good a good soaking in a very heavy thunderstorm. All we could do was head for the nearest bridge, get underneath and wait it out.

This weekend I'm off to Nottingham to attend one of RCR (River Canal Rescue)/ Tony Brooks boat maintenance courses. Watch this space for a review.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Rain, mud and fun, sunshine and a blizzard!

A somewhat delayed posting because we've been on the boat and away from the internet for 11 days, and then had lots of network problems NTL :-( when we got home. Anyway cast your mind back to the week before the bank holiday and read on.

We moored up at the Wendover Canal festival in rain that rarely seemed to stop. Mooring in the rushes, we needed to use the gang plank to reach the muddy bank. Needless to say it was slippy and on Thursday Jacob did a spectacular back flip off it to immerse himself in the canal. He was very shaken, but otherwise OK after a change of clothes. According to tradition he can now call himself a boater!

It was amazing to see the festival site transformed from an empty field in just a couple of days. They even built a temporary bridge over the canal. Despite the bad weather the festival attracted some 8000 people and about 140 boats, and we all had a good time. Jacob watched birds of prey demonstrations and had a go at abseiling,

and we enjoyed evenings in the huge beer tent which was mostly full of boaties. Tring brewery brewed a special beer for the occasion called Under the Bridge - very passable indeed. Perhaps the highlight for me was the Saturday night band "Grand Central" who were superb and played hits from the 60s through to the present day. I commend them to you.

The trip home - good company, fine weather, fun with oil leaks, and a blizzard!

After overnighting in the lush and quiet Tring cutting with the mist swirling over the water

we collected friends Rick and Marilyn at Tring station. A quick trip down and up the Marsworth flight - for the hell of it, and we were headed southwards toward home. At Marsworth we were delighted to spot the narrowboat "The Old Bovine", home to Leon and Ray who were so helpful to us last year when Richard's boat "Bankside" suffered a battery failure. As ever, Leon was painting the boat, so we stopped for a chat and some helpful tips on paint and painting.

The journey home (Wednesday to Saturday) was brilliant, with very good weather for the most part. Having two extra crew is a great help. Here they are with Kath.

I was disappointed to see that recent oil seal changes hadn't stopped our engine oil leaks, so after cleaning out the engine bay floor and lining it with newspaper we ran the engine and looked for drips. Eventually we found the source of the leak. Not a seal or a gasket at all, but a drip from a nut where an oil pipe enters the block. It just needs tightening. Sadly we didn't have the right spanner to get at it but, next time I'm at the boat with the right tool, it shouldn't be a difficult job at all.

On our last morning we had an amazing blizzard of cotton-wool-like willow seeds (like dandelion seeds). They were everywhere, so thick they covered the canal and even got in our throats. I've never seen the like before.

All in all, a great trip. Where next?