Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mysterious prop clanking

We took Herbie up to Uxbridge today, ready for her new stove to be installed. I was quite pleased she went so well after lying still for three months in the freezing cold. She even started first time.

However at Cowley lock, as I stood on the lockside wating for Kath to bring the boat in, she reported a loud clanking from the propeller. Once in the lock, I went down the weed hatch to see what we had collected. Nothing. Not a sausage.

So off we went again and very soon -clank clank clank. "Perhaps the prop is falling off" said Kath, ever the optimist.

Back down the weedhatch. Blimey that water is cold when you have your arm in it for a minute or two. No sign of anything. Wait a minute - a bit of fishing line on the shaft, I'll get rid of that anyway. Eureka! On the end of the fishing line, dangling like a pendant necklace below the prop shaft, a copper fishing lure. It hung so low that an arm in the water couldn't detect it, and the fishing line was as invisible as it is designed to be.

Of course as soon as the prop got up to speed the lure was whirled round and struck the prop or the bottom of the boat causing the clanking. A quick snip of the line and problem solved.

We're back home now after having left the boat at Uxbridge, but I'll be back aboard tomorrow in readiness for our early spring/late winter cruise. With any luck the new stove will keep us toasty warm.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Off soon

We've bought a new stove and should have it in on Friday. How's that for quick action! In the end we opted for a more or less straight replacement of our current stove - easier to fit and we like it. The final decider was that the other model we had our eyes on would not be available until April.

Then from Saturday we're off cruising for several days. We might tootle down to Brentford and have a jar with Simon of Nb Tortoise fame, we might even manage a music session as we are all guilty of playing an instrument or two. Or we might head north for a change. We'll see what the weather is doing. Can't wait.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Promise of better times on the Basingstoke canal

Somehow the word Basingstoke just doesn't conjure up a pleasant image. I always say it would sound more up market if it had been called Stoke Basing. Visitors to the Basingstoke canal might however be surprised to see what an attractive waterway it is - all 33 miles of it. Much of it is lined by oak woodland and the water is generally clean, if a little peaty. Some claim it the most attractive of England's canals. This photo, taken on our walk today, shows a fairly typical spot.

Apart from the wooded sections there are also a few huge flashes (bits where the canal widens out into a lake) like this one at Ash rejoicing in the name of the Great Bottom Flash!
As far as I recall its probably bigger than the much more well known Tixall Wide on the Staffs & Worcester.

However over the last two years the canal has mostly been closed to boaters because of severe maintenance problems, and consequent funding issues. A lot of the canal passes through sandy soils and leakage has been a perpetual problem, especially around lock chambers where huge voids keep being created by seepage through lock walls. Now they seem to have found a clever and surprisingly cost effective solution - pumping a setting foam into the voids. A bit like the stuff you can buy in cans for small building jobs perhaps. Apparently they've done a whole large flight of locks for £10,000 which is small beer these days for major leakage works.

So now it seem the canal will be reopened this summer in time for a boaters rally at the end of May. What's more the canal authority has waived the requirement for the usual Basingstoke Canal visitor licence for boats attending the event. If we weren't planning to be elsewhere then , we'd be going.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Collapse of Brunel iron structure

No, not an I.K. Brunel bridge, but our Stovax Brunel multifuel stove on Herbie. There has been a crack in the top for some time which we have been filling with fire cement, but when we visited the boat today a whole piece of cast iron had fallen off. It looks like the back has also broken out of its mounting lip. Time for a new stove I'm afraid.
So we went off to Uxbridge Boat Centre where they have a good range of stoves and started the learning process. Here's what we have found out so far.

Time has moved on and good stoves are available in steel as well as cast iron, and several now have clean burn technology which provides a more complete combustion giving more heat and less harmful flue gases. Clean burn also uses less fuel. It works by ducting a flow of heated air through to the upper rear of the fire and gives a secondary burn to the combustion gases. Clever.

You might think steel is inferior to cast iron and that it will corrode away quicker, but we're told that it ain't necessarily so. Cast iron has better heat conduction capability but being inherently more brittle is more vulnerable to cracking if suddenly vigourously reheated after being left cold and possibly damp for a while. This is probably what killed our old Brunel. Nevertheless some very cheap steel stoves are very thin and I can't imagine one of them lasting very long. You get what you pay for.

To avoid disruption we hope to get a stove as close to the size of our old one as possible. We may even end up buying the same model again as we like it. Apart from dimensions, size equates also to fuel capacity, which in turn equates to heat generated in Kw. 4Kw seems to have been adequate for us up until now so we don't need to go any bigger.
A new problem is that due to the big rise in gas and electricity prices, so many people are turning to solid fuel stoves that the manufacturers cannot keep up with orders, so there can be long waits for deliveries. We don't want to wait because we want to start boating now that the weather is improving, but we'll still need heat at night. It might be a case of opting for second favourite choice because of availability.

Cost? Anything from £530 to £650 plus flue £65 ish plus odds and sods. More if you want it fitted of course. Nobody ever said boating was cheap!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A soaking on the South Oxford Canal

My South Oxford canal Ometer is now available if anyone wants it. I've included 40 places on the canal as calculation points. Just follow the Herbie Files link to the right of this screen.

The South Oxford is one of the most popular canals for holiday cruising. We did it once some years ago on a boat hired from Weltonfield. Of all the hire trips we ever did, this was the wettest. I don't think it stopped raining from start to finish. Jaz, our dog (now sadly departed) fell in the canal before we even cast off and proceeded to do so at regular intervals. I think this was the first boat we hired that had fitted carpets throughout. A daft idea if you ask me. It was also the holiday on which we invented the Jim MacBeam, a whisky mac made with Jim Beam and still a great favourite as a warmer after a good soaking or freezing.

Perhaps this year we might get to see the canal in the sunshine. I imagine it might be nice.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More on Gold licence economics

In my piece the other day I was way out in my Gold licence cost. Here are the real facts whcih make quite interesting reading.

For our 50ft boat:

Annual BW licence (before April 09) £555 inc prompt payment reduction
Annual Gold licence £852. This covers virtually everywhere for the year.

Giving a difference of £297

If we only had the BW licence then for our planned summer cruise we would also have to buy
31 day EA licence for East Anglian rivers for our fens trip £179 (after April 09)
extra 7 day licence if we stay on a bit longer £71 (a possibility)
15 day Thames licence if we head up that way en route (which would be nice) £90

So £269 if we don't hang about in the fens or £340 we stay there a while. Given the fact that our home mooring is only a day from the Thames, we could well get a bit more use out of the gold licence at other times, which would mean it was worth it.

£852 sounds a hell of a lot of money though, and if our plans fell through for whatever reason we'd be severely out of pocket.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To gamble or not to gamble - going for gold?

To gamble or not to gamble, that is the question
Whether 'tis wiser in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous short term licences
Or to take arms against a sea of navigation authorities
And buy a Gold licence

Its time to renew Herbie's BW licence. This year we hope to do our fenland cruise which means travelling a lot on Environment Agency waters for which we would have to buy short term licences for the rivers. Alternatively, we could buy a Gold licence, costing an extra £190 and go almost anywhere without further charge.

It all depends how long we stay on the rivers. If the weather is good we might easily hang around on the Ouse or Nene then perhaps head back south via the Oxford canal and make a leisurely return down the Thames. Then we'd get our money's worth, especially if we added a short cruise back up the Thames later in the year. If we get a wet summer though, our extra money will go down the drain along with all the extra water because we'll stick to the canals.

I didn't get where I am today by being a gambler, which is why, I tell myself, I'm so desperately dull. Our financial adviser classifies me as risk averse. However a little voice in my head of me says "Bugger it. Get the gold licence and then you won't be inhibited in making route choices." The pot of money we laughingly call Herbie's sinking fund can stand it. Maybe I will.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Winter cruising

It's just three years this week since we took ownership of Herbie and I well recall it was brass monkeys weather then too. Trapped for several weeks above a stoppage at Stanstead Abbots up the Lee navigation we contented ourselves with short trips up to Ware and Hertford and it had left us with a soft spot for those places. It also gave us a liking for winter cruising. As the old saying goes - there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.

Here we are are our inaugural cruises all wrapped up but in my case not afraid of a celebratory cold drink!

Very soon we'll be braving the cold to test out some of my canalometer timings. It looks like I've had about 90 visits to my canalometer pages this week, although I can't tell from my software how many people have downloaded PDFs. Frustrating. Some more canalometers will appear very soon. South Oxford canal for a start. I did one for the Thames, but its very hard to know what speed to base the sums on. It depends so much on the speed of the current, which on the Thames is very variable.
Which should I do next - any requests?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A stroke of luck - two Buckby cans - a bargain??

Today we took a stroll along the Thames at Reading and then down the Kennet, past the two final pubs on the K&A canal, the Jolly Anglers-now To Let- , and the Fishermans Cottage, once a favourite summer evening haunt of ours. As we passed the latter Kath noticed some old Buckby cans (yes I know they're not really Buckby cans unless they were made in Buckby) in the window and looking a bit forlorn. There were some rubbishy old oil paintings piled around them too. " I wonder if they're selling them" said Kath, so we went in for a closer look.

There were four cans, one very small, one probably two gallons, one probably three gallons and one looking about four. The larger three had inscriptions where a boat name would normally go . 1. London Pride 2. Fisherman's Cottage and 3. Fuller Smith Turner (the brewers). No for sale signs so we wandered out towards the door. Kath told the barmaid we were just looking at the cans in case they were for sale and she replied that they might be.

They wanted £20 each but to cut a long story short we bought the 2 and 3 gallon cans for £30 the pair. The smaller of the two needs a bit of TLC in the paintwork, and the larger one just a touch, but they are sound galvanised cans. I know new galvanised cans of this type and size can cost about £60 unpainted in a chandlery. The painter's signature on the bottom of each can says Terry Remp 1985.

I now have to decide how much to attempt to restore the paint chips. New paint probably won't blend in too well.

Anyway we're quite pleased with them and you can look out for them sitting on top of Herbie in future photos :-)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Those hit hardest by the snow.

Most weeks I try to spend a day fishing which is wonderful for fresh air and contemplation. This week, as you might have guessed, I left my rod and reel at home. I did however go for a stroll in the snow around one of my local fishing haunts - three lakes and a stretch of the little river Blackwater. It seems I was the first human visitor since the snow as there were no human footprints, but I was amazed to see the huge number of tracks left by the wildlife. At one piont where the path narrows round the lake, they all came together.

Most I think were fox tracks, but I could also see where a heron had been pacing around looking for food. I must be terrible for wild animals in this weather. They have a maximum need for calories to keep warm, and minimum chance of finding food. Rounding a bend in the river, I disturbed a couple of large deer who of course ran off before I could ready my camera. The deer were rummaging around in what is left of the weed cover on the river bank under some trees. I guess they can get enough to eat. I suspect the predators and the birds are the ones who have a tough time.

Next time you feel sorry for yourself stuck in the snow or ice, spare a thought for these creatures. Better still, put some food out for them.

PS A couple of people have spotted that pictures on the blog lately don't enlarge as they should when you click on them. I don't know why this is. Any ideas?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

CanalOmeters go live

Remember my CanalOmeters? Well now they're available to download thanks to permissions from Nick at Canalplan and feedback and helpful tips from blog readers. Here's how they now look.

I've managed to generate them entirely in XL and word, so there is no hand drawing involved and I can publish them as PDFs.

At present I have four available covering the GU from Brentford to Braunston (that's two), through London from Bulls Bridge to Limehouse and the Lee Navigation from Limehouse to Hertford.

If you'd like to download one (or more) just click on the The HerbieFiles link on the right of the screen. This will take you to a new web site where I'll keep them and any other useful info such as a pub/ restaurant list I've just started. I aim to generate a lot moreCanalOmeters for my own use, but also for others to try. If you have any particular lengths of water you'd like me to do, let me know and I'll put it on my to do list. CanaOlmeters don't / can't list every place along the canal for space reasons so I'm especialy interested to know what places or features I should include.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Tales of heroics in the snow

I would have loved to get out to see Herbie in the snow today to take some pictures but by all accounts it would have been a two and a half hour drive instead of the usual 35 minutes.

So I consoled myself by taking some snow pictures around home. How about this panorama stitched together from 3 photos taken in the churchyard behind our house. Could be our next year's Christmas card!

The grave in the right foregound ( and a few feet from our garden fence) is that of Major Frederick Jackson who commanded a celebrated polar expedition in 1894-97 and rescued the Norwegion explorer Nansen. A contemporay report for National Geographic in 1896 begins:

On the 17th day of June, 1896, as some of the men of the English Jackson and Harmsworth expedition, in Franz Josef land, were looking out over the ice they discovered a weird figure advancing towards them, with long straggling hair and beard and garments covered with grease and blood stains, who proved to be none other than Dr Fridtjof Nansen, who fifteen months previous had left his ship, the Fram, at 83° 59′ north latitude and 102° 27′ east longitude in order to push on with sleds, boats, and dogs towards the Pole.
So we have a hero buried at the end of our garden. It's a cracking tale and you can read the rest of the report here courtesy of Encarta.
Grace had never seen proper snow before so we took her out to play in it.

Which (as they say) was nice.