Thursday, October 30, 2008

Odd sights in the capital

I've at last sorted through the pics from last weekend's trip through London. I'm reminded of the contrasts between city bustle and our separate existence on the canal.

Having a leisurely breakfast outside at Paddington is always fun, eating our cereal whilst the commuters scurry past.

Going down St Pancras lock we see the gas holder frame which in the near future is going to be filled not by gas but by a circular block of apartments. Someone told me they were even going to move it over to the left of this picture while they were at it.

Catching glimpses of the famous landmarks is always interesting whether it be the gherkin peeping over the skyline as we come up Ducketts Cut, or Canary wharf tower seen with its head in the clouds as we swing into Limehouse cut.

Cruising through London is good. If you haven't already tried it, then you should.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Being a Worcestershire man myself, I had to smile this weekend at the headline "Eartquake rattles teacups in Worcester - 15 people call police". Such is the pace of life over in the British countryside.

We had plenty of rattling teacups on Herbie this weekend, mostly from tremors caused by plastic bags around the prop. I think we broke all records on the number of times we visited the weedhatch. Janet pointed out that a lot of the bags were knotted at the top and wondered if they were doggy poop bags. I used not to mind clearing bags off the prop but she's put me right off it! Mercifully they were all empty and clean by the time the prop had minced and rinsed them.

Another problem was the build up of fallen leaves that seem to stick themselves to the prop. The boat gradually slows down until, every ten minutes or so, you have to engage reverse gear and rev up to shed them.

More leaf trouble - Herbie nestles under a maple tree at our moorings and I'm noticing that the fallen leaves leave brown stains on our newly painted roof. What a drag.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sea trials reveal flaw in CanalOmeter design - ESB factor results in a dark homecoming

All went well with my new paddingtonOmeter and regentscanalOmeter as we cruised down to Limehouse on Friday and Saturday. The calculations worked out pretty well and we arrived in good time each day.

However Monday was different. A new and hitherto unforeseen element came in to play and Herbie was forced to negotiate the narrow Slough Arm in near darkness.

It all started when we stopped off at the Black Horse at Greenford for a scheduled break. We arrived spot on schedule, leaving time for a quick pint and a snack. That's when the ESB factor hit us. Phil and I both agreed it was the best pint of Fullers ESB that we had tasted in a very long time, and over a packet of crisps it was decided that we really ought to have another, and maybe we could make up time later.

Sadly the ESB clouded our judgement, so that half an hour after resuming our journey we decided to stop off in the park at Yeading to eat our Toulouse sausage baguettes rather than eat them on the move. Now nearly an hour late we set off for home in the gathering gloom. We thought it would be light until 5.30, but along the Slough arm it is very shaded and I was steering by a faint reflective glimmer on the water surface all the way down. By the time we arrived back at that time we had the tunnel light on. Miraculously we moored up against Lady Elgar without so much as nudging her.

One solution to this would be to avoid drinking nice beer at lunchtime, but as designer of the CanalOmeter I think it would be better to put a warning notice on the device and advice on adjusting factors in the case of beer of a particularly strong and delicious nature.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another good pub find and a crazy building

It’s funny how doing a familiar journey with new companions gives you a fresh look at places. Today we cruised from Paddington to Limehouse with Phil and Janet and discovered a number of things new to us although we have done the trip ourselves quite a few times now.

We’re always happy to discover a good pub, and as Phil is partial to a lunchtime pint we stopped off at the Narrow Boat just below city road basin. From the canal this looks like more like a wine bar, but entering from street level above the canal revealed a comfortable bistro style bar with three good real ales and what looked like a tasty menu. There is mooring right outside too. Another fine addition to our favourite watering holes list.

Despite a gloomy weather forecast it stayed dry and we arrived at Limehouse basin in time to explore the area on foot before dark. There seems to b e something interesting around every corner, and one thing we hadn’t stumbled on before was the crazy portico of the Limehouse Link tunnel. This huge edifice of pink and cream stone looks like something from radio GaGa or King Kong. The building stands a good forty feet higher than the top of the tunnel and probably contains something. Maybe in the morning I’ll wander back over and take a photo.

Last night we had the first of three sessions of Desert Island Discs. Kath did hers, mostly folky things, and the only thing the general population would know was Leonard Cohen. Tonight Phil is doing his. First however we have to do our customary visit to the Grapes and eat some fish and drink some beer.

It’s a hard life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Herbie Awards 2008

We had a lot of fun last year creating the prestigious Herbie Awards for 2007. It’s a great way to remember the highs and lows of the year and gives rise to some fun arguments. So here we go with the plan for the 2008 awards. Despite a successful procedure last year and some moving acceptance speeches from the winners, I think we should keep innovating and consider some new award categories along with some of the old ones.

Categories we will continue from last year are:

Best overnight mooring
Most scenic days cruise
Best pub
Best pint
Best pub meal
Most scary moment
Worst canal lock
Best guest crew member

New categories will be:

Best gadget for boat maintenance
Best gadget for boating
Worst stretch of canal
Best thing in none of the above categories

Suggestions, discussions, and arguments will be invited from Herbie people (who have cruised on or shared routes with Herbie this year). Should we ever come to decision the results will be announced as and when, between now and Christmas. The Nation holds its breath.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Mills to Llangollen in a sinking boat, and how Jim MacBeam was invented.

In 1994, in freezing cold weather we took a sinking hire boat from the peak district to Llangollen with our friend Phil. The boat was from Anglo Welsh and we journeyed from New Mills on the Upper Peak Forest Canal, all the way down the Macclesfield canal then down all the 29? locks on Heartbreak Hill to Middlewhich, then across to the Shroppie and up the whole length Llangollen canal. All in six freezing, and sometimes wet, days. To keep costs down we always hired at Easter and just endured the bad weather.

The boat "Silver Cloud" had a leak in the hull and we needed to run the bilge pump for long periods several times a day (and at night) to keep her afloat, and to keep the carpets dry! Here is Phil complete with red nose steering us across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in a howling gale. Nevertheless the sun was shining and so we got the wonderful shadows.
That night it snowed.

The previous year we cruised the South Oxford Canal with Phil, and again the weather was awful. I think it rained 23 hours a day. It was on that holiday that we concocted the Jim MacBeam, a whisky mac using Jim Beam Bourbon instead of scotch. A couple of those before going in search of pubs with log fires were instrumental in keeping our spirits up.

So it is with some trepidation that we look forward to Phil and wife Janet joining us next weekend for a trip down to Limehouse and back. After several beautiful weekends recently, the forecast doesn't look at all good. Perhaps Phil's middle name is Jonah.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Are rivers for whimps? Lies, damn lies and . . .

We have had Herbie now for three springs and summers and it's interesting to look at our cruising stats between January and September only over the three years

2006--404 miles--332 locks--60 days on board
2007--399 miles--390 locks --58 days on board
2008--481 miles--226 locks--60 days on board

You can see that we got further this year because we had less locks to do in the same number of days. That's because we've done more river and less canal this year and haven't gone up the GU over the Chilterns . If you add locks to miles you get 736, 789 and 707 which is not all that big a variation.

Life is a bit easier on the river then. But are rivers for whimps? Not likely! In fact, in my book, probably the other way round. The lack of big lock flights is more than compensated for by the horrors of flood conditions. I don't fancy hanging on to trees by my fingernails or getting trapped under bridges. We'll stick to river cruising when the weather is good thanks.

The figures don't give annual totals, there is still October to December to count. I reckon we're getting our money's worth anyway. By the time we count those in, Herbie will have has clocked up well over a thousand locks with us. No wonder my arms ache.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dids, didn'ts and letter shading

A weekend of some real work and some displacement activity.

Should you want to eat your dinner off the floor of Herbie's engine bay, now's your chance. I had a good clean up on Sunday and now it's as dry a bone (apart from a healthy protective smear of oil). I now realise the bilge pump float switch is white and not black!

On the downside, I failed to get round to checking the battery water because I wasted a few pleasant hours siting in the sunshine copying the lettering from the side of Lady Elgar to a sketchpad. Should I get round to attempting to signwriting Herbie, I couldn't follow a better example, painted as she was by the esteemed Phil Speight.

Interestingly the relief shadowing on Lady E is on the opposite side of the letter from that on Herbie, and much chunkier. Herbie written a la lady Elgar would look a bit like this.

I think I prefer Lady E, probably because of the chunkiness, but I suspect Herbie's might be a bit easier to do.

Another thing I did do was do some sums and mark off the diesel dipstick in 50 litre divisions, so now we can tell better how much we've used and how much we can get in.
Lastly, I didn't get round to doing my Regents Canal Ometer. But I can do that at home.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Odd jobs

My Grand Union Ometer seems to be interesting to a lot of people. This weekend we are staying on Herbie but not moving, so I'll have time to do some odd jobs, including work on a Regents Canal Ometer. I might try and get my head round the problem of returning via alternative routes, like to Limehouse straight down, or via the Hertford cut and Bow. Hmmm.

I suppose I also ought to clean out the engine tray of a bit of oil and water , a mucky job, but I love it when it looks clean. Then there's topping up the battery water - so difficult when you can't get above them to see inside. Its all a test of resolve. Do I spend the weekend doing pleasant but unimportant jobs, or unpleasant but important ones. I'll let you know!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Whoops, I missed out a photo in the previous post, but it's there now so if you read again it should be all ok. In the meantime how about this mooring bollard on the Regents Canal. We liked it.

How to start your engine

How about this for starting your diesel. This is an old Vickers Petter engine at the Fen Drainage Museum at Prickwillow near Ely. They use blowlamps to get the head red hot before it will operate. I think old Bolinders required something similar. I don't like to think what Health & Safety would say!

On Saturday Rick and I attended an engineering old boys association do which included a visit to the museum.

I remember crossing the Middle Level three years ago in Richard's boat Bankside. Two days in a ditch. The fen drains are long, straight and you can't see over the dykes unless you stand on the boat roof and then all you can see is potatoes.

When the fens were drained nearly four hundred years ago, the peat shrank at the rate of a man's height in a man's lifetime, which is why the drains are now well above the land. In this picture you can just see a fen drain through the window. The floor of the landing ( at the level of the bottom of the big picture on the wall) is apparently at sea level, and the red line on the wall is where a high tide might reach. The pumping station here lifted water from the drain up some four meters into the river Lark, itself way below sea level.

Originally wind pumps were used, and then steam engines, then diesels, and now electric pumps. Prickwillow has a number of working diesels, three of which they ran for us. A good place to visit if you like machinery. Boats on the Lark can moor up outside. And don't miss the welcome sign, which is a fine example of an educational establishment don't you think? Obviously done before spell checkers were available.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Its amazing how you find things to waste your time when you're retired. Following yesterday's attempt at a canal calculator disc, I've come up with Mark II and a new name.

Here's a close up view in case the main view is too small.

Red underlining of the lock name shows there is a reasonable pub nearby. The main difference form yesterday's model is that the time scale has moved to the inner disc, and the places (all locks in this case) have moved to the outer. Following an idea from Halfie (thanks) I've used a standard 24 hour inner disc. Rotating this inner disc gives times between any two places.
I used an average cruising speed of 3mph and allowed 15 mins per lock. Everyone knows that won't always be right, but past experience shows it averages out tolerably well.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Canal easycalc mark1

For some time now I've been using spreadsheets to work out how long it will take to get from one place to another when we're cruising. I get my distance data from the wonderful Canalplan site, import it into Excel and manipulate it to give times in hours and minutes to get to any place from the start (typically our home base). The finished sheets look a bit like this.
Kath complains that you have to subtract one time from another to get the time between intermediate points, so I started thinking about something simpler to use. So here is mark one of my canal easycalc disc.

This one is for a trip from our base at High Line Yachting (HLY) in Iver, to Paddington basin - about five and three quarter hours usually. I picked this one because there are no locks to make it simpler.

The outer pink ring shows elapsed time in hours and the inner yellow disc, which is free to rotate shows places along the way. I worked out the angle for each place in 360ths of the whole journey time , then just used a protractor to draw them on.

So looking at the first picture you can see it takes about one and three quarter hours from the start to get to Bulls Bridge. Easy. Now the really cool bit comes next. By rotating the yellow disc, I can easily see that it will take two hours to get to Kensal Green when I am at the Back Horse. Neat.

The idea is to make a set of these discs for typical journeys we take e.g from Iver to Marsworth. This particular version uses the whole journey time to make up the 360 degrees, but next time I might just make a 6 hour outer disc (or a 6 day outer disc or whatever), without necessarily taking up all the circle on the total distance. (If you get my drift - don't worry if not :-) )

What do you think?

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts this week, I've been away to attend a funeral in Devon and then off to the Fens to visit a pumping station (of which more in a later post), and our PC has been refusing to connect to the net. It seems to work just now, but for how long, I don't know. Anyway, there's lots to tell you so I'll start with this.

Were seriously contemplating a total paint job on Herbies cabin sides sometime before next summer, and I'm busy looking at paint schemes I like, and also signwriting styles. If you look closely at a lot of signwriting you notice it doesn't have to be perfect to look good. Take, for example this boat currently for sale at our yard.

And then look closer.
Definately done freehand in a very simple way and although the edges are wobbly it looks fine from normal viewing distance.

Something way beyond my capabilities is this great boat we sometimes see in London. The design is a close copy of this 1968 Small Faces album sleeve. I love it. Just look at the back doors