Monday, November 26, 2007

A lesson in boat handling

I'm useless at steering Herbie in reverse. So much so that we take her 25 minutes each way to the nearest winding hole and back to turn her round rather than back up 200 yards to do it at the boatyard slipway.

Ever since I first went to Portsmouth 40 years ago, I've been astounded by how the big ships can manoeuvre. I know they have bow thrusters and all sorts, but it still amazes me. At the weekend we saw this huge cross channel ferry spin on the spot and back up to her berth without any assistance from tugs. Probably all from a tiny joystick on the bridge control panel. ou can see the slick of smooth water where it has spun.Incidentally this ship carries 700 cars and can get them all off and take on 700 more and be ready to leave again in ninety minutes! It takes us that long to load a few bags on to Herbie and turn her round!
However this banana boat , ("day-oh, day-oh" I hear you sing) . . . took three tugs to do a similar manoeuvre. Slippy things bananas. I notice it is registered in Monrovia, not noted I think for its bananas. Presumably a flag of convenience so they can get round some maritime rule or other.

Visiting an old lady

Herbie rests on her moorings waiting for next weekend when we move aboard for a few days and a short trip out. Meanwhile, we've been using up the last of our season ticket to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. What a great place. Yesterday we did tours of HMS Warrior, HMS Victory (again) and the harbour - by boat.

HMS Warrior built in 1860 is an amazing ship. The first iron clad steam powered (and with sails too) battleship. In its day it was completely revolutionary and so advanced that nothing else dare come near it. Twice as fast as other ships, much bigger, lots more cannons including breech loaders firing explosive shells, and strongly armoured against cannonball attack. She never fired a shot in anger, never needed to, as she was such a deterrent. Now she has been restored so well that she looks virtually new, at a cost (to wealthy donors) of £8m and taking 8 years.

If you like boats, you couldn't fail to like Warrior. Everything about her is stunning. The vast stretches of teak deck planking (from recycled factory floors!),

the ships wheel taking up to sixteen men to hold her steady in rough seas, the endless banks of heavy cannon,

the posh paintwork. Best of all is her restored condition, which is immaculate. Just look at this ceremonial cannon.

While the stars of the show at the dockyard are obviously the Victory and the Mary Rose, Warrior is every bit as impressive, although I admit that the sense of history you get aboard the Victory is un-matchable.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Best eat - dead heat

Controversy reigns in our household. We can't agree on the best pub meal this year - see nominations a couple of posts ago. We even had a late nomination! So the joint winners are:

Pork spare ribs at the Anglers Retreat Marsworth - a veritable mountain of the meatiest ribs you ever saw (they must have a good butcher) often with a spicy tang. A stack of serviettes and a big bowl of lemon water comes with it and you need 'em. Accompanied of course by the Angler's regular local brew - Sidepocket for a Toad, from Tring Brewery.

Bavette beef steaks with tarragon butter and real chips at the Fox, Hanwell. Washed down with Herbie award winning best pint - Timothy Taylors Landlord.

Real British pub grub at its finest.

Our next award category is Most Coveted Boat Seen - stay tuned

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Cormorant-rant

We don't bat an eyelid at seeing a cormorant on the cut these days. We've even seen them in Paddington basin. But did you know that this bird, a protected species, has increased its population so much that in large areas of East Anglia it has had a disastrous effect on the ecosystem of the rivers and waterways. Apparently they have devoured so many fish, that the once ubiquitous roach can scarcely be found in that part of the country. The other predators, pike, perch, herons don't get a look in because the cormorant is such an efficient and hungry fish catcher.

I'm told that the RSPB is oblivious to requests to take steps to limit the spread of the cormorant. I suppose they like to watch birds (as I do) but can't be bothered about the rest of the ecosystem. Well, all I can say is I'm not impressed!

Nominations for Best Pub Meal

What makes a good pub meal? Well in my view the criteria are

Real food - actually prepared on the premises
Fresh produce - especially vegetables where appropriate
Served hot - its surprising how often food is served just warm, a sign of microwaving sometimes
Flavour of course
A fair price
Good service

We're not after gastronomy here, just real good food. One more thing, we're talking only of pubs on or very near the canal, and of meals we have eaten this year.

So Herbie's shortlist for 2007 is:

1. Any selection from the Thai restaurant at the Cowroast Inn, at Cowroast - brilliant service, real tasty food and good portions
2. Pies and Sunday roasts at the Anglers Retreat, Marsworth - real home cooking and usually with at least seven different vegetables and proper gravy
3. Steak with tarragon butter at the Fox, Hanwell - just about perfect. An unusual cut of steak I can't recall the name of.
4. Stilton Cheeseburgers at The Paper Mill, Apsley - real home made stuff, meaty and powerful

Not haute quisine is it? After a day's boating you want feeding up with nourishing and tasty food. Believe me all the above are very good indeed.

A special mention goes to the Viaduct at Hanwell, not included because they are 10 minutes walk from the canal, but their Bigos - a Polish hunter's stew - is delicious.

They all deserve to win in their own way, but only one gets the prize. Watch this space while I have a think and consult the crew.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Leaves leaves and more leaves

Everytime I go out to see Herbie I have to sweep a load of leaves off the decks and roof. Oak, mostly at the moment. The canal seems full of them too. They seem to get sucked on to the propeller and ruin its efficiency so you have to put it in reverse every so often to clear the leaves away and suddenly the boat goes a lot better.

Anyway, looking at the trees next to our mooring we've hardly started. Tons more yet to fall.

Nevertheless, the canal looks pretty in autumn and I love the light and even the smoke from the boat chimneys.
This autumn I've started using the tonneau cover that came with the boat. (That's the sinking sun you can see over the top of lady Elgar's cratch.) It keeps the leaves and rain off the rear deck. Last year I used to keep the pram hood up. It makes a good barrier against the cold getting in the back door overnight though. Even in the snow we kept warm. Kath hates it as we tend to leave it folded on the roof as we cruise - not very boaty. The tonneau can be taken off in a jiffy and easily folds into a locker.

Lucky for once

You know how simple jobs often turn out to be right pigs because something won't quite fit or quite reach. Well yesterday I had the opposite experience really. When I ordered my new domestic batteries I forgot to remember that batteries come right or left handed, that is to say the positive terminal can be at one side or the other.

As it happens, they gave me two right handed and one left handed without me noticing. When I came to fit them on the boat, that's just what I needed. I can't get them all in in a nice straight line so they have to be at right angles to each other. The connecting leads have very little slack, so had the batteries been the other way round things would have been very hard. Anyway they weren't and it wasn't. Job's a good 'un.

Then to add to the good luck, just as I was unloading the old batteries into a wheel barrow, not relishing the long push back to the car, Steve from the boatyard came by in his little tractor and trailer and said "I'll get rid of them for you if you want" Nice guy Steve.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More power to Herbie's elbow

OK, I admit it. Herbie doesn't have an elbow, unless some bright spark tells me a part of the hull is called an elbow. I know the internal bracing has knees. Anyway, enough of that and on to the power bit.

Yesterday I bought three new domestic power batteries, so today I'm going to replace the old ones which are knackered. These days I never do anything technical without seeking advice on internet forums, so I researched batteries. You can buy carbon fibre ones, gel batteries etc etc and prices for a typical capacity vary from £60 odd to £200 plus per battery. Interestingly the advice from trusted sources is that unless you can ALWAYS recharge batteries to 100% soon after use, the dear ones will not last much longer than the cheap ones, so long as you keep the cheap ones pretty well recharged and never let them fall below 50% when discharging. With my trusty Fluke multimeter I can monitor that easily so I got cheap ones. Well, when I say cheap, £210 for three 110amp hr batteries.

So today we're off out in the freezing cold to fit them. Let's hope I don't drop them in the cut as we carry them across Lady Elgar next door!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Egrets, I've see a few but then again too few to mention

One waterway that is definately unnavigable is the river Blackwater, which is a tributary of a tributary of the Thames. It rises somewhere near Farnborough Hants and rarely achieves a depth of more than two and a half feet. Last Friday I took a stroll along the upper reaches and was startled to see a little egret. These mediterranean birds looking like a small white heron have been seen along the south coast in recent years, but this was near Camberley! How soon before we see them on the canals?

The walk took an even more eventful turn just a bit later when I struggled past a bankside barbed wire fence and slid unceremoniously into the river. But like I said, the Blackwater has no depth and although a I got a wet foot, my knees never got wet :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

After some debate, a Best Pub Winner

How hard was that? We've been debating the relative merits of our final two choices for our favourite pub from this years cruising- the Angler's Retreat at Marsworth and the Fox at Hanwell . Very close it was too

And the Herbie award goes to . . . (opens gold envelope, smiles) .. The Angler's Retreat. Because they do food all day every day, which the Fox does not, and they have a nicer garden, and the surroundings are the more interesting. having said that the Fox gets a Highly Commended.

However, the Fox get's its own back as the pub which served the best pint - Timothy Taylors Landlord - a good pint anywhere, but served to perfection in the Fox.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Catching water

What might be a simple job on a car engine can become a real swine on a boat. Today I drained down the engine coolant and refilled with fesh antifreeze mixture. Just a matter of draining the water off from the bottom and refilling from the top. Except that in a boat engine compartment, the bottom of the "radiator" or the skin cooling tank is actually right on the floor of the boat, so there is no nice spot for the water to "fall" into for a receptacle. No drain tap either so you have to undo a hose. Then how do you catch over four gallons of water gushing from a hose in a very confined space? Answer: with great difficulty.

I use an oil drain can with a hole in the side. But one small enough to get into the space would only hold 6 litres so as it filled I had periodically to somehow stem the flow, without a tap remember, and decant the drain can into a larger receptacle. About 6 times including a bit of flushing.

Actually I was quite pleased in the end that only about two or three pints spilt over into the bilge - easily mopped up with a sawn off plastic milk bottle.

Refilling was straighforward enough, helped by a bleed tap on top of the "radiator" to let off trapped air. Whether I have still got any air locks. I probably won't find out till we next cruise for half an hour.

Cost: nearly 30 quid's worth of antifreeze - supposed to last 5 years.

I just got a quote for three new domestic batteries - £69 each. That's the cheapest I can find. It appears that the rising cost of lead has pushed them up. You could get them for about £55 a few months back.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Herbie Awards - now some major categories

Now we come to two major awards from this years cruising - Best Pub and Best Pint.

To be a best pub, it would have to have the following attributes

Good location on or near the canal
Good real ale, well kept and served
Friendly atmosphere
Good food reasonably priced
Comfortable and preferably interesting interior

it would also help if it had a nice garden or patio.

We have quite a few nominations in this category which are arranged here north to south

  1. The Nag's Head at Great Linford - just across the park from the visitor moorings. A decent pint and very reasonable food.
  2. The Globe at Old Linslade - canalside with good moorings right outside the pub door, nice (but pricey) food, a cosy bar, and decent beer. They brought our lunch out to the boat!
  3. The Anglers Retreat - near the canal at our award winning best mooring spot, really good home cooked food and superb beer, and a garden. Not the most inspiring interior decor I suppose. Chatty locals
  4. The Paper Mill at Apsley - a modern Fullers Pub in a converted paper mill. Canalside, lots of comfortable seating inside and out. Friendly efficient staff. Very tasty food asnd perfectly kept beer. Perhaps not a good place to chat to locals as it is so big.
  5. The Black Horse at Greenford - canalside Fullers pub. Similar food to the paper Mill, a good garden, comfy areas inside, well kept beer friendly staff and locals - and a Thursday night quiz.
  6. The Fox at Hanwell - hidden from the canal but only 50 yards from excellent moorings. Wonderful beer and very good food. Friendly locals, but one or two nutters! A traditional feel although in a single open plan bar.

Well, those are they. All fine pubs, but which one takes the prize? Results when I have consulted the crew.

The best pint? Aaah, we've done some very serious research on this. There were many fine examples including all the Fullers beers at the Paper Mill and the Black Horse, but there were two which stand head and shoulders over the rest. The Timothy Taylors Landlord at the Fox, and the Tring Sidepocket at the Angler's Retreat. What a tough decision. We'll sleep on it.

I have to say the worst pint was the non existant one at the Fishery - Hemel Hempstead. Three hand pumps, all empty and the staff seemed surprised we cared. We caught a train back to the Paper Mill.

Getting ready for winter

Time to get the boat ready for winter. Drain the engine coolant and replace with fresh antifreeze, fill the diesel tank and put some fuel set in it to prevent condensing water getting in it etc. Its a good time to do it now while the weather is nice and the real cold hasn't come in yet. If it gets very cold, I'll also drain the domestic plumbing. I found out this was quite easy earlier this year when I had to fix the leak in the water pump. I'm also going to replace the domestic batteries which are on their last legs. If I don't report on the blog that I've got it done by this time next week you can write me a slap on the wrist!

I must also book High Line Yachting's wet dock at Cowley Peachey so we can get Herbie in there for a week and strip and repaint the roof. I was pleasantly surprised to find out their rates were cheaper than I imagined. About £160 for a week. Not bad considering its a nice heated secure indoor dock and you have 24hr access. There's quite a lot to plan in advance though. Book hire tools, choose and buy paint and consumables, get some safety gloves and goggles, get the loan of a transformer for the 110v power tools, try to fit in the when friends can help :-). It might have to be after Christmas.