Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Griff's wake

Last summer as we were passing Three Mills at the bottom of the Lea Navigation, at this very spot:-
I saw a bloke sitting on the bank by a canoe and a cameraman nearby and I said to Kath "That looks like Griff Rhys Jones". "Naah, " she said, "Nothing like him!" Well now we know better don't we? At least we do if we have been watching Griff's excellent TV series on rivers.

We've just finished watching the programmes, having recorded them, and have been amazed to see so many scenes that show where we have been boating in the last year.

On the Lea, Griff went to the Royal Gunpowder Mills like us, showed the sailing barge The Lady of the Lea, which we saw in Limehouse basin,

and paddled his canoe just where we turned Herbie in Hertford.

The programme about the Eastern rivers was even better. Cambridge, Ely, Wicken Fen, Upwell on the Middle Levels where he paddled down the street just here
- all places we explored this summer. To the east of Outwell he interviewed an eel trapper, and we must have missed Griff by hours because we passed within three feet (the river there is very very narrow) of the very same guy in his rowing boat with a cameraman filming the eel traps. We even had a word or two with them as we passed.

Then as the icing on the cake, Griff went to the Norfolk Broads and lowering his sails first, manoeuvred his boat under the tiny arch of Potter Heigham Bridge just as we did this year on our sailing break.

So if you want to see film of where we have been this summer, just watch the programmes. I would think some of them are still available on BBC iplayer and they are well worth a watch in any case.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Signwriting practice with a mahl stick and an organ

Today I thought I'd return to some signwriting practice, this time trying to simulate real conditions a bit. This meant doing it on a near vertical surface about three feet from the ground and at something approaching full size.

I am realising that some of my favourite boats e.g. Saul and Bison, have plain block style writing for their names so I thought I'd have a go at that. Actually it turned out to be more draughtsmanship than signwriting because I took the trouble to measure up some fonts and copied the proportions with a ruler. However I did practice using a mahl stick - one of those sticks with a cloth ball on the end - and found that it needed a fair bit of practice first. Sadly it all had to be in pencil because all my paint brushes are currently on the boat and I'm at home.

Anyway here is where I have got to so far. You can see my home made mahl stick at the side.

Whilst taking the picture I realised you might be interested to see my "easel" which is a seat that I converted from an old chapel organ a few years back. When the internals of the organ got beyond repair I took the whole thing to bits and reassembled it like this:

It now lives in our conservatory at home. Rather grand eh?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why Herbie won't be red - and other choices

Many thanks to all of you who sent in comments on the colour schemes,. Much appreciated although as you will see if you read the comments, there is no consensus. Still, it shows that whatever we choose, someone will like it :-).

Vally P would like red, and in many ways so would I, but there is a problem with large areas of red paint, which is that it doesn't cover as well as other colours. Apparently the red pigment for paints is more toxic than other colours and the EC places a limit on the amount of this in a given quantity of paint. Not only does it not cover so well it is also prone to fading or leeching out. You may remember our Richard's red boat which has faded like this.

I like red on a boat and I will have some, but not a whole side.

Another thing I won't be having is scumbling - that wood effect produced by combing a dark brown paint over a light brown. When we first hired boats about twenty years ago, it seemed to be all the rage, then the fashion seemed to go away, but on our summer cruise this year we noticed quite a few boats with scumbled borders. Maybe it's coming back again, but not on Herbie!

My pictures of the colour schemes were a bit small so you may not have been able to decipher the signwriting underneath the word HERBIE. It says GRAND UNION CANAL. I do want some more writing other than the boat name, but I'm not sure what yet. Ideas welcome.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A new look for Herbie

I'm still planning for Herbie's repaint sometime before next spring and it would be really great if you could let me have thoughts on these colour schemes. I tried this a couple of years back with some retouched photos and got some good feedback, but my ideas have moved on since then. I'd appreciate any thoughts on the variants above. You'll need to click on the picture to see it large enough.

Lets number them from the top. The top one No1 is more or less how Herbie looks today.

Nos 2 and 3 are similar except for the shade of red and the colour of the side doors

Nos 4 and 5 are variants on green

and No 6 is a very dark grey with red trim top and bottom as well as the cream coach lines.
Doing these drawings didn't take all that long. I measured up the boat in about ten minutes with a tape measure and then used a package called smartdraw that I got on a free magazine cover cd some years back. Once you get the outline in, pouring in colours takes no time using MS Paint. Nothing fancy but it works!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Interesting results already from Smartgauge

Technophobes might like to wait for my next post which will be far more about artistic things. Anoraks read on :-)
My new Smartgauge is wired up and working and already giving interesting results, although it is supposed to take a day of two to synchronise fully.

The first thing I noticed was that the voltage I have previously been measuring by putting a multimeter across two points behind the engine control panel was reading 0.1 volts low compared with the Smartgauge which I have wired directly to the battery terminals using some properly crimped connectors. Now you might think 0.1 volts is insignificant but if you read my previous post you will realise that that represents 10% of battery capacity which is very significant.

The next thing I noticed was that battery capacity fell by about 10% in ten hours overnight due to use of the fridge. Useful info, because I need to know how much capacity to leave in reserve overnight before charging on the next day's cruise. In fact, that means the discrepancy I previously had in voltage measurement amounted to the overnight usage.

So I reckon Smartgauge is already proving its worth. Tonight Claire and family are aboard Herbie in Paddington and they like to watch a lot of telly so I was able to show them the gauge and tell them at what point they might need to switch the telly off according to the gauge so as to leave enough for the fridge overnight. Easy.

Wiring it up was very simple really except for getting the cables through the engine bay bulkhead. I did think for a while that I had done something wrong because after a few minutes the Smartgauge seemed to conk out. I redid the connections a couple of times before I realised that it was simply that the display turns of after a couple of minutes to save power. You just have to touch a button to bring it back. Doh!

As for the final installation in the cabin, I have adopted a temporary solution while I decide where it should finally be located, so for now it rests neatly fitted into a washing powder box!

An example of what a voltmeter alone won't tell you. Here the gauge shows 14.2 volts during charging

Here the gauge shows how far charged we actually are = 81% - I had no way of knowing that before. Voltmeter readings only work with the battery at rest for some time

Friday, August 21, 2009

On battery paranoia

I get paranoid about preserving Herbie's batteries. I am determined not to over discharge them (ie more than 50%) at any time because that's what makes them degenerate. The best I can do up until now is to measure the voltage regularly. 12.7v is fully charged and 12.2v is 50%, 12.3 is 60% etc.. However such readings are often meaningless, because if the batteries have just finished charging the volts will read misleadingly high, and if the battery is under load e.g. if the fridge is on, the volts will read misleadingly low. I have been known to turn the fridge off overnight becuse the voltmeter is reading 12.1v, then checking again in the morning and it reads 12.48, so I needn't have unplugged.

I manage OK by being ultra conservative, but it's unfair on the others aboard when I won't let them use the telly because I'm unsure how the batteries really are.

So I've splashed out on a Smartgauge which is a gubbins that claims to give you true readings of battery capacity at all times no matter whether charging or under load. As I understand it this clever little box constantly measures battery voltage and uses a computer model to work out what is going on and what the state of the batteries is. So when Claire and family borrow the boat, as they will do tomorrow, I can just say look at the gauge and if you are above x% you can keep the telly on. I have yet to work out what x is though because I have to allow for how much more the fridge will take overnight before the engine recharges the batteries next day. One night observing the Smartgauge should tell me the answer to that.

As we're delivering the boat to Greenford today to give Claire a head start tomorrow, I hope to fit the gauge this evening. In theory this is dead simple. Just attach a couple of wires to the batteries. However I'm old enough to know that it'll probably be a pain because I have to run the wires back to the cabin which means crawling around in the engine hole with bits of cable tie, then I have to find a hole to pass the wires through to the cabin, and then cut a hole somewhere inside the boat to mount the box.

I'll let you know how I get on. Note to self - take the camera!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Long term test of our Cobb BBQ - a mariners dream?

A couple of years ago at the IWA festival we bought a Cobb barbecue system. I don't know if you've ever seen one but here's a picture I borrowed from their web site (I don't suppose they'll complain as I'm giving them a write up).
The Cobb web site claims that the product is a "mariner's dream"(!), so I thought people might be interested to hear how it performs in general and on a boat in particular.

The first thing to say is that it doesn't perform at all like a barbecue and this takes a bit of getting used to. Normal barbecues cook very fast and tend to burn stuff if you aren't careful. The Cobb seems to cook a lot slower when using charcoal and when we first got it we were not impressed. Bits of chicken took forever to cook through. The only benefit being that they didn't burn so at least they were cooked the same all through. The big improvement came when we abandoned using charcoal and got some of their special Cobblestones which are thick discs of compressed coconut fibre.

These Cobblestones are quite easy to light, they burn much hotter are are ready to cook over in just a few minutes. Now we get stuff cooked much faster, but still without burning as dripping fat does not create flames or smoke in the Cobb. Instead it just drips through to the moat in the bowl below where you can put some parboiled spuds and you end up with nice roasties. In many ways the Cobb performs more like an oven than a barbie.

Because the food doesn't burn easily, you can chargrill more delicate stuff like asparagus or thin slices of courgette or red pepper which come out lovely. Sausages and burgers get cooked through without being blackened on the outside. The size of the grill is not all that big so if you have a gang to feed you'll have to do it in shifts, but that's how we tend to have barbies anyway. One of the Cobblestones stays hot for a couple of hours.

What we haven't yet tried is roasting a chicken or baking bread - both of which are supposed to be possible.

Now why is the Cobb particularly handy on a boat? Well the first thing is that the external part of it never gets hot. While it is cooking you can actually pick it up with bare hands! So if you don't have a bit of bankside to use, you can cook on the back deck or the well deck or even the boat roof! Or if the ground is muddy the Cobb will be quite safe on a table. It will not burn the surface you put it on - honestly! The burning fuel is low down inside the pot and the whole thing is very stable. Also it makes hardly any smoke after the first two minutes, and you have to cook with the lid on so it doesn't spit either. Secondly it is easy to clean out and stores cleanly inside its zipped carrying bag. The outside of the base and also the lid are stainless steel and don't get dirty at all in use.

However don't try to use it inside the boat because when we experimented with this it set of our carbon monoxide alarm albeit only at a low level.

Downsides: - doesn't fold down in any way, the plate is a bit small for a family meal, you need to readjust your brain to think of it more as an oven, our experience with charcoal briquettes was disappointing, and cost. The non stick cooking plate still tends to stick on some things. We got an extra roasting rack thrown in which we ought to use but never have. The Cobb is expensive - 90 quid or more!! The carrying bag is an extra we got thrown in as part of a deal at the IWA but normally costs another £15.75.

Worth it? It is very well made and I suspect it will last a very long time if looked after because most of the parts are stainless steel.. Once you get the hang of it you can do very nice food on it and it's a lot cleaner and less smoky than other BBQs. I wouldn't call it a must, but if you get one and learn to use it properly it'll eventually earn its keep I reckon.

I'd be interested to see if anyone else has tried one and how they got on.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lister before they made boat engines

Whilst in Shropshire we spent a day at Acton Scott, the historic working farm you may have seen on telly in the programme "Victorian Farm". It feels a bit like you're in a Thomas Hardy novel as the farm work goes on all around you old fashioned style.

As well as old breeds of pigs, cows, chickens and what have you wandering about, we also watched the haymaking,

and a quite spectacular job of fitting a new rim to a wagon wheel, heating the metal first in an incredibly hot fire. The two blokes doing the job had to drench their clothes and hats in a tub of water before setting about the work, producing lots of smoke, flames and steam.

later we wandered round the large collection of old farm machinery, ploughs etc. and I was quite surprised when in the dairy I spotted this old cream separator made by Listers of Dursley. Yep, that's the very same Lister that made all the boat engines, and still does today under the Lister Petter brand. I also saw some old Lister sheep shearing equipment and Googlng them today I find that they still do make shearing stuff. Not a lot of people know that. Well I didn't anyway.

Back on line and have we scooped Granny?

No I haven't had swine flu or got fed up with posting. We've been out of reach of broadband, and even electricity, for the last week on our annual pilgimage to the Stretton Hills in Shropshire. Even the mobile phone connectivity is very dodgy there. Anyway, a bit more of that in the next post, but meanwhile can it be that I have spotted a waterways communications first before the redoubtable Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons fame?? It's just the kind of thing Andrew likes to write about. Maybe he already has, because I am not up to date with his writings, but just in case, here it is.

It seems that businesses are beginning to see the potential of using Twitter to inform their customers of offers, and in an advert in this month's Canal Boat magazine I noticed that the New & Used Boat Co have set up a Twitter thingy for customers to see new additions to their boats for sale listings. usedboat .
Personally I have not tried twitting or whatever the verb is and so I don't really know if people would find it useful or not. Maybe Andrew would have something to say about it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cattle expert needed

One of the things that surprised me as we boated round the fens was the number of herds of beef cattle gazing the marshy meadows. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised as it is obviously very lush pasture. We often saw herds straying into the water, not just to drink and keep cool in the hot weather but often to graze on the bankside rushes which they appear to like a lot.

I used to think I knew a little bit about breeds of cattle, and in my youth we didn't see much other than Herefords with white faces like those in the picture above and the once ubiquitous black and white Friesians, but now we see all sorts. I was totally unable to identify them in a number of cases and I suspect a lot of cross breeding goes on.

Look at these at Cogenhoe.

The rather handsome bull (left)might be a red poll I think, but the cows are something else

and the resulting calves come in all colours.

Then this herd somewhere else on the Nene seem to be a small breed, perhaps a bit of Dexter? I don't know - and once again they come in a range of shades.

Any experts out there? For once, Google cannot find me answers!

This last one, seen at skulking in the long grass at Wicken Fen is easy of course, being a Highland. These are much used by the National Trust and other conservation groups as they eat anything and are good for keeping wild areas from getting too overgrown with plants that don't belong there.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Etiquette and other locky advice and help.

Today I received the latest copy of the excellent GOBA magazine together with a letter reminding members of what they call Lock and Mooring Etiquette. Full copies of the etiquette are posted at every lock on the Ouse and include advice on closing gaps at moorings to leave more space, sorting out the order in which boats should enter or leave a lock, how to leave lock gates and so on.

Being unfamiliar with guillotine locks it was helpful to me in deciding whether to reopen a half closed guillotine gate when another boat appears round the corner. GOBA's suggestion is that if the bottom of the gate has touched the water surface, then its reasonable to carry on lowering. These gates take several minutes to raise or lower.

I reckon this is a great idea and I wish BW would do something similar at locks and visitor moorings. Not only would it make it easier to gently complain to a miscreant, it would also be useful to hire boaters or other visitors not aware of local informal rules.

EA and BW have surprisingly different ways of doing things and could learn from each other.

I have complained before about the awkward positioning of EA lock gates on the Ouse and Nene, but there is one aspect that BW would do well to copy, which is that of having wooden rubbing boards along the edges where you have to pull in by the bollards. This would save a lot of touch up paint. There is now one lock on the BW that now has this and that is Coppermill lock near Harefield. Also EA visitor moorings have very nicely constructed with good bollards and superb non slip surfaces.

However I'm not so sure that BW should bother spending our money on the safety signboards seen at EA locks. They have so many different warning triangles and No xxxx signs that it would put off people ever using locks if they read them all! Some poor lady was killed a few days ago at a lock on the Oxford canal by hitting her head after slipping, but I somehow doubt that the sign would have made any difference.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Weathering the weather

The poor old Met Office have had a bit of stick lately because they predicted a barbecue summer and here we are beset by showers all the time. Don't be too hard on them though because May and June were hot and sunny for the most part and our fens trip had very few wet days and lots and lots of hot sun. To prove how hot it was, look at this EA chap cutting weed on the Wissey.

The umbrella wasn't to keep him dry, it was to beat off the sun. We were doing similar things on Herbie at the time. The weed was growing like crazy. More weed cutters were out on the Middle levels in March when we passed though. They had more permanent shelter.
Thankfully the weed on the Slough arm was way past its worst by the time we reached home. Less sun = less weed :-).
By the way, if you should spot Herbie in London this weekend, that'll be Claire and family who have borrowed the boat. I nearly told them not to go because today was supposed to be heavy rain. So far here, 20 miles West of the capital, the rain has yet to arrive and Claire has texted to say they have reached Paddington (or Camden?) and moored up in the dry.