Sunday, January 27, 2008

Brassknocker Basin

This weekend we've been visiting friends in Wiltshire and we took a detour to look at Brassknocker Basin which is at the end of all that remains (in water) of the defunct Somerset Coal Canal. It joins the Kennet and Avon Canal near Bath at the Western end of the magnificent Dundas Aqueduct which carries the K&A over the river Avon. The coal canal was once 10 miles long but only a quarter of a mile is still in water now, and this is all taken up with moored boats apart from the gateless narrow lock at the entrance. You can hire holiday boats from here and it would be a brilliant place to start, being immediately in beautiful countryside between Bath and Bradford on Avon. The canal sits high up on the hillside and affords great views. One day we'll take Herbie to see it. I suppose from our base it would take about three weeks to get there

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Today we drove out to Cowley to have a look inside the wet dock where we will be repainting Herbie's roof in March. I was surprised but pleased to see that the dock is only wide enough for narrowboats, which means we'll be able to get at both sides of the boat at once. Along the walls were plenty of power sockets, including 110volt ones which are needed for industrial tools like the one we'll be hiring to get the old paint off.

You might be a bit misled by the photo. The space you can't see on the other side of the boat is just as wide as the side you can see. Notice there are lots of lights - very important when you are painting and there are also overhead infra red heaters, but apparently they would cost a bomb in electricity if we use them much. Let's hope the weather is as warm as today when we come to do it.

The guys there told us that we shouldn't get any condensation on the roof overnight, which is another good thing as the paint will dry better and we won't have to remove any moisture before we start next morning.

All in all it looks ideal, so we won't have any excuses!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dumping food overboard

I like to bring you unusual boats to look at and here's a good 'un. A specialist cargo carrying vessel transporting high protein supplies which at a given point it discharges overboard and into the deep. I don't think you'll ever see one on a canal. You can get yourself one for a few hundred quid, but you probably wouldn't want to unless you were a carp fisherman. It's a radio controlled bait boat.

The idea is this. The angler finds what he thinks is a good fish friendly spot in a lake by flinging out a weighted line and "feeling" the bottom of the lake for gravel as he drags it in. He releases a float from the weight to act as a marker buoy. You can just make out the red marker in front of the boat in the picture. Then he loads his bait boat with his special bait and sends it out to the chosen spot where it tips out the load of fish attracting freebies. Next he uses the boat again, to carry out a water soluble plastic bag containing a baited hook, a weight, and more free samples. All this of course attached to his fishing line and his rod and reel . So his baited hook drops exactly where he wants it.

The weight is a pretty hefty one and when the carp picks up the bait it feels the resistance of the weight and it bolts, thus hooking itself because the weight stays put. At the other end of the line, the angler's electronic bite alarm goes beep beep and he rises from his easy chair and hauls in the monster. This is fishing Jim, but not as we know it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Keeping a distance

How's this for a clever idea. Take a look at butty Betelgeuse moored up inside mother ship Arundel at Uxbridge. Presumably for security reasons, the owners have ingeniously managed to keep them a few feet from the towpath bank, whilst still maintaining tight mooring ropes.

The secret is in these T shaped stays pressed against the bank, and tipped with a little wheel to allow some fore and aft movement. I don't know if this is an original idea or if it is old hat amongst the cognicenti. Has anyone seen something similar?

Arundel has been working the gravel run from Denham to Hayes for some time now, but has recently been joined by Betelgeuse to double the capacity. I've seen them together at either end, but haven't yet been lucky enough to see them moving together. I note they now call themselves Phobox Ltd. The Fellows Morton & Clayton of the future?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Driving test

Driving an narrowboat is pretty easy. Just one speed/direction control and a tiller - what could be simpler? Only two things make it more difficult, a) the propensity of the boat to wander dramatically off course the minute your attention is distracted by reaching for your cup of tea or looking at something on the bank, and b) wind and current.

Last year, in a wide straight section of the Paddington Arm, Herbie and I made a truly spectacular excursion into the bankside bushes whilst I was struggling with a biscuit jar, causing much amusement to the crew who were having a stroll on the towpath. Getting the boat out of the mess took a few minutes, but restoring my dignity took somewhat longer.

This picture of the approach to Uxbridge lock, just under the bridge, amply demonstrates problem b).

You get nicely lined up for the lock and then wham, the current from the overspill culvert pushes first the front of the boat, and then when you have corrected that, the back of the boat as you pass. I'm amazed we ever get it right, but we usually seem to. Actually, both Kath and I enjoy steering though tight spots and we get quite competitive over it.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Herbie 1 - Met Office 0

We nearly cancelled our trip at the weekend because the weather forecast was for heavy rain on Friday and Sunday, but we went out for Saturday and Sunday and didn't get a drop. Admittedly it did pour on Friday and we would have got a good soaking if we had stuck to our original plan of picking up our friends Jan and Stephen on Friday night and gone on into London.

As it was we had a great weekend. We saw two kingfishers on our way up the Slough arm, and then moored briefly at Cowley where the ladies visited a fabric warehouse and the men sounded out the Paddington Packet Boat pub. It's quite a plain pub, but friendly and the beer (Fullers) is good. Noticing they had Sky TV we decided we would call in the next day to watch the footy match twixt Portsmouth and Sunderland. J&S are big Pompey fans.

After lunch we continued on up through Cowley lock and on to Uxbridge where we moored near the Swan and Bottle (as we did last weekend!). Next day we did it all, including seeing the kingfishers, in reverse (by that I don't mean Herbie went backwards - any narrowboater knows that would be nigh impossible). Sunday roast at the Packet Boat was OK too, but sadly Pompey lost 2-0.

Nevertheless Stephen manages to keep smiling as he steers us under the M25 while Kath models her silly hat.

Whilst preparing the boat on Friday, I checked the engine mountings because we had been getting rather more vibration than usual. The forward pair both needed a nip up with the spanner, and the boat did go a lot more smoothly as a result. I must remember to check them more often.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Making a committment

For a long time we've been planning the great Herbie roofpaint. Now we're committed because today I've booked High Line Yachting's Cowley wet dock for the first week in March. That'll give us seven days in the warm and dry to scrape off all the old paint, apply rust protection and several coats of paint.

Its a modern wet dock, fully enclosed as you can see in the photo. We drive Herbie in, close the big black door, and get to work. Working indoors in a heated environment means you can get more coats of paint on in a given time, and of course you have electricity for the power tools you need. A week there costs £160 plus whatever electricity you use, and you have 24hr access if you need to work on into the evening. Not bad really. Of course it'll also cost an arm and a leg for paint and sandpaper, and for hiring some heavyweight tools to get the old paint off. Nobody said boating was cheap.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Blimey! Space at the General

Boaters familiar with Uxbridge will recognise the significance of this photo. For years, BW has been trying to move on a group of "continuous moorers" from the visitor moorings outside the General Eliott pub. Their boats were mostly in a poor state, mostly unlicenced and not always floating. The bonfires and piles of rubbish on the bank did little to encourage other boats to stop even if there had been room. Last year we saw one boat being impounded to be sold or broken for scrap, and BW did manage to get the others to buy licences. Now they seem to have persuaded them all to move.

The landlady of the pub actually wrote to BW in support of the moorers because in general they were kind to her and I suspect consumed a lot of her wares. Lets hope now that ordinary boaters take advantage of the space to bring her a bit of alternative trade. We'll no doubt do our bit.

Herbie rides again

Back on the water at last, if only for a couple of days. I hope our luck continues like this for the rest of 2008 because the weather was bright and sunny, if a bit cold.

Once again the old Slough Arm threw up some surprises. In our 50 minute journey up the arm we saw 4 pike in the shallows, a jubilant group of antique bottle diggers who had found a Victorian dump in the canalside bushes, and some people ferreting (successfully) for rabbits. It makes the odd brush with submerged tyres and floating branches worthwhile.

On up to Uxbridge boat centre where we filled up with diesel. I didn't realise we were so low. It took 145 litres to fill up. At 60p a litre thats £87. This time next year when the fuel tax exemption comes off pleasure craft, it'll be nearly double that.

Winter sun at Uxbridge lock.

Following the advice of our neighbour Geoff on Lady Elgar, we moored up for the night outside the Swan & Bottle at Uxbridge. Ten paces from boat to pub door :-) The food was very good too. We'll definately go again.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The final awards

Still three Herbie awards to decide.

Well, the first is easy - Most Scary Moment. What else could it be than Jacob falling off the gunwales and into the canal as we cruised through Cassiobury Park. Although he can swim, its not so easy when wearing clothes and I had to take the plunge myself to give him a hand. Had it been this time of year with icy cold water and us having umpteen layers of clothes, things would have been even worse. Anyway all's well that ends well and we live to tell the tale.

Then we have worst day's cruise. Not so easy this one because we generally enjoy ourselves when cruising. However, the weather last year did make a couple of days hard going. Let's vote for the day we took our son Peter back to Leighton Buzzard to catch a train home. Not only was the rain incredibly heavy and persistent, but there was thunder and lightning too. I don't think I have ever been so wet, except when I dived in the canal to rescue Jacob :-).

Lastly we have the award for Worst Canal Lock. Aah, I expect we all have favourites here. A couple spring to mind. The picturesque Iron Bridge Lock near Watford is very pretty and popular with gongoozlers, but it takes forever to fill. Such is the leakage from the bottom gates that the water coming in at the top barely matches it so the last couple of inches take ages and ages to fill. Why it never gets on the BW list for repair, I don't know. One of these days it won't fill at all, then everyone will be stuck.

However, the worst lock really has to be Osterley lock between Hanwell and Brentford. Its not the lock's fault. Its just that its position is a rubbish trap. Floating twigs, logs, footballs and general rubbish come down with the current from the river Brent and pile up in front of the lock. Boats have top negotiate up to fifty of sixty feet of flotsam before they even reach the top gate of the lock. Then the lock itself can be absolutely jammed with the stuff. We had a real job getting through last January.
So that's it for the 2007 Herbie Awards. I wonder what 2008 will bring. Not too many nominations for scariest moment I hope.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Braver than me

The morning of New Years Day and these hardy folk of Lee on the Solent are taking a dip in the freezing sea. You might just make out an Isle of Wight ferry in the far distance, trying, I'm sure, not to mow down innocent yachtsmen. You might also see the jet skier in the mid distance. He has no need to worry because the new drink driving laws for water craft won't apply to him, as if jet skiers weren't dangerous enough already!

At midnight on New Years Eve we celebrated on the beach with mulled wine and fireworks
while I attempted to play Auld Lang Syne on my Scottish Smallpipes. Quite a bizarre experience really. I don't think I imagined it. However this after dinner view of the glassware on our host's dinner table does suggest we got through a fair bit of booze.

Not long now until Herbie sets off on her first cruise of 2008. Yippee!