Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grand Designs at Crick Boat Show

Monday night and the great extravaganza is over.  Just after the whole thing ended a rainbow appeared over the Boat Show festival site as if to give a final farewell to the weekend's events.  I think a few crocks of gold have been found too, as the word is that boat sales have been good.  I chose not to buy one myself. After all I would have had to sell my house to afford most of the boats on show!

We got a call from Adam and met him by the Canal Boat Magazine tent for a chat.  As the writer up of the boat descriptions for the magazine, he was nervously wondering how he could remember which boat was which after looking at 20 of them in a day!   Halfie dropped by too and caught us in the bar watching the last of the musical entertainment, which varied from very good to distressingly bad.

This is all new to us, for it was our first time at Crick Show. It was pretty much as we expected, lots of stands offering new ways to spend our money on boaty bits.  As well as not buying a boat, I also didn't buy an engine, although there were plenty to choose from.  Instead I chose to buy a can of grease and a drum of engine oil - and, I've just remembered, a super old coach lamp whcih deserves a post of its own so you'll have to wait for that.

Rick and family joined us on Saturday, as did Simon and Carrie so eight of us crammed on to Herbie for lunch.  Surprisingly we all managed to sit within sight and sound of each other. Amazing the crowds that Herbie can absorb!

As we didn't intend to actually buy one of the boats on sale, we thought we would look over only the very best ones, to see what you got for your money.  Boy, there are some clever people out there.  The standard of workmanship and imaginitive designs are something to be seen.  Having said that, despite the wonderful craftsmanship and sometimes beautiful lines of some of these boats, I can't help feeling that they are too posh to go boating in. These boats are the equivalent of the houses on Grand Designs on TV.  Entirely bespoke, innovative works of art, but not the sort of place I'd like to live in.

We liked a boat called Oakmere the "mere" bit being a "mere" £135,000 I think.

Probably the best paint job I have ever seen and internal woodwork to die for.  The best bit was a sliding cantilevered dining table ( to seat 6) that slid out into the saloon from under the tug deck.  How do they think 'em up?

We were going to vote it best in show, then Adam suggested we take a peak at Barolo a boat built by William Piper on a Tim Tyler shell.  Actually there are a few things I don't like about this boat, for one the hodge podge of shapes that make up the superstructure. 

But inside, wow!! Entirely fitted out in old reclaimed wood, some of it hundreds of years old, and some of it, believe it or not from Oak panels salavaged from a refit at Buckingham Palace.  To be frank, it felt more like a lovely old cottage than a boat, and I'm not sure I would want to go boating in it, but it had real soul inside unlike the smart lavish extravagance of some of the other boats.  I'm sure you'll be able to see all about it in the magazines next month.  About £140,000 will buy you one.  Anyway we voted for that and were pleased when it won best in show because the team who built it had obvously put their hearts and souls into it.

Now on Tuesday morning the stands are coming down and the posh boats are taking their leave (not without some difficulty for the long ones!)

and we get back to real life.  Tomorrow we venture out from Crick for the first time and take our first trip further up the Leicester Arm to Welford.  It looks as though we may have a largeish crew.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Loitering within tent, and why a Porsche is useless for boaters

One thing you need when you get a boat (excluding live-aboards)  is a car with a big boot.  Although Herbie is fully equipped, domestically speaking, we always end up taking a ton of stuff with us every time we go out to her.  When we bought the boat and spent a fortune on saucepans, cutlery, crockery, duvets and all that stuff we naively thought that all we would need to do was throw some clean clothes in a bag and off we would go. It turns out you need clean clothes and bedding, rainwear (we're no fools), shoes, computer, cameras, food, booze, books, musical instruments etc etc plus there's always some new item or other we've bought for the boat. This time it's a directors chair.

Tomorrow is even worse because  en route to the boat, we're camping near Cambridge while we attend the Beer Festival.  So that means an air bed and pump, sleeping bags, a little cooker and gas bottle, a kettle, some crockery and cutlery, a tent of course, a ground sheet, and some food for breakfasts.

You won't get that lot in a Porsche, which of course is why I don't have one.

Years of camping have made me very good at packing cars.  I remember one year when we went camping in Dorset with 3 kids and a dog, ( albeit a small one - meet Treacle R.I.P.)

plus a large family tent and all the associated clothes, food, sleeping and cooking gear, in an Austin Metro.  People would walk past the tent, blink, and say "Did all of that (pointing at us and the tent) come out of that (pointing at the car)?"  My normal reply was to say yes but we had had to leave an oxo cube at home because we couldn't fit it in.

Speaking of meat products, Simon and Carrie will be pleased to know that despite yesterday's recipe, one thing we are really looking forward to at the Beer Festival is the veggie food stall.  Falafels, olives, chillies, peppers, hummous, tzatziki and pitta.  Yum Yum.

Whilst on the subject, please note Rick's amendment to yesterdays salad recipe to say that I had omitted the pate and that the tomato was optional.  I think if you have a strong urge for more vegetation that he might allow a pickled onion.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Healthy eating the Herbie way

It has come to my notice that a number of bloggers have recently taken to publishing their favourite boater's recipes.  Not to be outdone in this respect, I thought I had better get on the band waggon and lend my own culinary advice.

We always like to eat healthily aboard Herbie,and encourage our visiting crews to bring along nutritious contributions to keep us all in the pink during the rigours of manhandling the good ship.  So with this in mind I would like to pass on to you the following culinary masterpiece supplied by occasional frequent bosun Rick.

Rick is a firm believer that a good salad is about as healthy a meal as you can get and his signature dish, handed down through generations of his family, is known as the Bunnage Salad.  No cooking is required.  The ingredients are as follows: (Simon and Carrie might like to look away now)

1 pork pie (Melton Mowbray)
1 Scotch Egg
3 or 4 chicken drumsticks
3 or 4 slices of either ham or corned beef
a few crab sticks
half a small tomato

Nutritious or what?

Of course we all have to eat our 5 portions a day of fruit and veg so we still have four more to find.  May I suggest

1. a slice of lemon in a large gin and tonic
2. a piece of fruit cake  - making sure it has glace cherries
3. a large glass of fermented grape juice -  aka wine
4. a portion of chips


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ignoring advice

I'm always grateful for advice, and I quite often ask for it in these posts.  However sometimes you have to do the other thing.  This happens in two ways. First on matters of taste and judgement, where I ask how people like suggested colour schemes and I ruthlessly over rule their ideas on the grounds that I have a pass in O level Art (2nd attempt, 1964).  Then  on matters of cruising routes, where constraints of time get in the way.

This summer we plan to have a go at the Leicester Ring.  This rough sketch shows the route.
In the time honoured convention the heavy lines show where the locks are wide enough for 2 boats, and the thinner lines where they have single locks.  Altogether it's 150 miles and 105 locks.

To us this is new ground and so I've been reading up on the forums to get the lowdown.   By all accounts it's a lovely ring to do, but practically everyone says it would be best to go round in an anti clockwise direction.  I think this is so that you go downstream on the river and where the locks are biggest and heaviest.  Also, starting from Crick it would make sense to get the River Soar out of the way earlier on so if there are delays cause by flooding, we could make up the time on the canals.   Between Fazeley and Braunston there are only 17 locks - easy.

So why are we planning to go the other way?  Because we have what Linda Snell would call a window.  (If you don't know who Linda Snell is, you are better off staying that way). We want to go to the Braunston Rally at the end of June, and then we would like to complete the ring in time to do our annual pilgrimage to Shropshire (camping and walking) when the school hols start.  We could complete the ring easily in a fortnight, but what would be the point of that when we have a bit more time.  We'll likely detour to Coventry and Market Harborough and maybe we'll even sneak up the Trent and Mersey to Great Haywood  and Tixall wide for nostalgic reasons.

So the plan is to get through Braunston before the rally and moor as close as we can the other side  By then we'll have 17 of the 105 locks behind us..  Then after the rally continue on round the ring.  The wrong way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If you think some canalside areas are rough now, read on . .

I just found a truly wonderful account of life down by the Limehouse cut written down in 1897.  We've cruised though here on quite a few occasions and lived to tell the tale.  Here we are entering the cut a couple of years ago.

This is not a posh area today by any stretch of the imagination, although it is going upmarket fast, being very close to the new Olympic park, and to Canary Wharf.  However, it was once very very very very very rough.

The account is from the Charles Booth online archive currently hosted by the LSE.  I stumbled on it whilst doing some genealogy research. Mr Booth commissioned an inquiry into the life and labour of the people of London.  One of the things they did, was to walk round each district in the company of a senior police officers and write down what they saw.  The archive has digitised images of the notebooks used, and from one of them recorded in 31 May 1897 I pass on these extracts.  I am assuming that being that old, and being freely available on the web, they are out of copyright.  Anyway here goes.  The surveyor, who was walking in the company of Mr Carter, District Inspector of police, wrote many pages, but here is a short extract.

Inhabited by many Irish workers in the Gas works, a rough lot given to drink and racing and betting.  Whippet racing a favourite sport for Sundays.  Whippets are dogs of the greyhound type, smaller than regular greyhounds, but larger and stouter than Italian Greyhounds.  Blackthorne Street is perhaps the worst Street of this block. 

South of the Devons Road are Glaucous, River and Weston Streets,  getting worse as they approach the Fenian Barracks.  The block of streets between Gale St. and Furze St.  (still there today) are the worst in the district, worse than almost any district in London. Three policemen wounded there last week.  This block sends more police to hospital than any other in London.  Men are not human, they are wild beasts.  You take a man or a woman, a rescue is always organised. They fling brick bats, iron, anything they can lay their hands on.  All are Irish cockneys.  Not and Englishman or a Scotchman would live among them. The group is know as "the Fenian Barracks". The streets have all the appearance of semi vicious poverty - hatless women, uncleaned doorsteps, two or three women drunk,  shoeless and ??less children in great numbers, notwithstanding that at 3.15 they should be in school.

In Hawgood(?) Street a group of young men between 18 and 20 years of age playing pitch and toss. One older man of about 25 to 50 years among them.  Consternation at our appearance.  Free fight to get out of the circle. Carter surprised at their having let us get so close. "What were the Crows doing?".  Crows being those put to watch and keep care.   Eastward Street the roughest part of this rough lot. All knew Carter by sight well.

At the corner of Hawgood Street the doors leading to a fat refinery. Not only are the inhabitants savage, and think nothing of taking a human life, the beasts are more terrifying.  "You should come down here of an early summers morning, if possible after a shower of rain:  Rats - not in twos or threes, or 10s or twentys but in thousands and tens of thousands.  The streets will be covered with them, so will be the yard of the factory.  Rats, not small rats, but big and fat, the size of cats: you knock a ?? with your boots and away they go with a rush and a hissing sound made by their feet upon the pavements that will make your blood run cold.  Most evenings or even during the day they will come up in search of water.  Water is scarce in the drains in which they live.  They will eat anything.  A load of hams was condemned by the inspector as unfit for human food and brought down by barges to be boiled down for train oil.  They arrived one evening, were unloaded and left till morning on the quay.  In the morning nothing was left but brown husks  from the outward appearance of the hams.  The rats had eaten all that was inside.  carter saw them himself.  What would happen if rat food ran short?

Things begin to improve as they walk further on.  Indeed, in Flint street, they encounter "prostitues of the better class, working the East India Dock

I don't know about you, but I get the impression, it's a bit better today.  I could go on, for the surveyors notes on this area continue for many pages, but I'll leave you to follow the link if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Not a lot of people know that

Or maybe you do.  Let's see.

The other day we had cause to drive to Marlow and we drove in over the chain suspension bridge that we went under with Herbie in March.  I was reminded of the amazing amount of ironmongery there is in the river at this rather fine little town.

While we were moored there I went for an exploratory stroll which eventually led me to the town bridge and over it.  Its a suspension bridge made up from lots of chain links.  I think that in technical parlance that probably makes it a chain link suspension bridge don't you?   (cue arty shot).

Anyway, despite vehicles weighing more than 3 tons being prohibited from crossing,  it shakes rather alarmingly when anything drives over.  I know because I was standing on it.  Upon reading it's history I discovered that it was only built in 1965!  Odd, because it looks a lot older and who would build a town bridge incapable of carrying lorries or vans in 1965?  Then I learned that it is actually a  faithful reconstruction of the previous bridge after the original presumably became even more fragile than this new one.  Well it was quite old, having been built in 1832 to the design of a Mr Tierney Clark.

Now I don't want to disparage the august Mr Clark, but apparently he built four suspension bridges of similar designs around that time and none survives in its original state today.  The ones at Hammersmith and Shoreham have been done away with entirely, and apart from Marlow, the only other survivor is another modern reconstruction but rather more famous.  It's the bridge that links Buda and Pest in Hungary.  Whether that one wobbles I don't know, but you can't blame Mr Clark for the demise of his original, rather blame a Mr Hitler, for it was destroyed in a WW2 air raid.

Whatever, the good people of Marlow must like bouncy bridges because it was them that insisted on the 1965 reconstruction of the old chain link bridge rather despite the offer of a more robust concrete one.  Good for them.

Now admit it, you didn't know that did you?

Monday, May 16, 2011


I know we need rain, but please can it wait for another couple of weeks before the monsoon.

Our free weekend passes to the Crick Boat Show have arrived - one of the perks of being a Crick marina moorer.  We've never been before, but we never refuse anything free so we'll stay there on the boat and take in the experience. I have an idea of what it will be like, that is more of a trade show than a festival, and BIG.  Boating festivals like the ones at Uxbridge or Tring or the Braunston rally are excuses for a lot of boaters to get together and have a good time, whereas Crick is more for people wanting to buy stuff, including posh boats.

I'd better take my cheque book. Apparently they'll have nearly thirty shiny new boats for me to buy, and half of them cost less than £100,000 each.  I might buy a Steve Hudson tug and I might not. (in my dreams!).  Perhaps I might buy Herbie a present from one of the eight engine suppliers exhibiting. Now where did I put that seven grand?  More likely I'll buy a magazine and collect loads of useless leaflets and a few free carrier bags.

Nevertheless there will be a bar and lots of entertainment, and I'm  excited that Peppa Pig is scheduled to make an appearance.  (Please read that sentence again in a voice heavy with irony.)  It may be hard to avoid her, and I'm already up to my neck in her stuff. Our TV recorder seems to be full of Peppa Pig episodes and Grace has P. P. dolls, pyjamas, a scooter and goodness knows what else.  I wouldn't mind a few shares in the franchise!

There are some strange goings on according to the programme. I see that they have something called the water vole craft and food marquee.  I'm not sure whether the water voles will be demonstrating nest making, or whether people will be making handbags out of water vole pelts.  As to the water vole food, I don't fancy it.  Then in the  "Show Village" I see they have a stand for Bioflow Magnotherapy.  Will I be attracted or repelled?  I suspect the latter.  Or there's a company specialising in portable cycloidal massage systems.  I can hardly wait.  This is what boating is all about.

Actually I suspect it'll be all good fun and hopefully we might see one or two of you there.  I fear we may be in the bar during the evenings.

We plan to get in training for the bar.  On our way to Crick we plan a short (well two days in truth) detour to Cambridge for their rather wonderful Beer Festival which starts next Monday.  We're really going to Cambridge to visit our son Peter you understand but it would be churlish to miss the festival as they go to so much trouble arranging it, and we have free entrance to that too, on account of being CAMRA members.

It's a hard life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Paint Wars - who wins? Who loses?

Welcome to our conservatory where I have spent many happy hours this week and last.  I think it smells of paint, and I suppose I may do too, but I'm nearing a good result.

This doesn't make me an expert, but I've had a good chance to compare 5 different paints, so I though you might like to know what I found.  Are cheap paints as good as expensive ones?  Do the big brands make better paint?  Read on.

Here's a close up.  You can see the dark grey border is showing the wood grain and needs more to build it up, but it's only one coat so far, the others already have 2 or 3 coats.  Nice sharp lines though

Lets look at the old scoreboard.  I've used 5 different paints (basically what I had to hand in the appropriate colours) and I'll score each one on ease of application, ability to cover, and resistance to running.  Marks out of 5 for each category

1. Blakes Enamel (now sold as Hempel) Bordeaux Red.   Ease - 4 good, brushes on easily.  Covering - 2 mediocre, but then its a red paint. Run resistance 4 OK it stays put.  Total marks 10

2. Wickes exterior wet gloss Midnight Blue.  Ease 3 manageable.  Covering 3- needs 2 or 3 coats.  Run resistance 4 similar to Blakes  Total marks 10

3. Dulux Weather shield gloss Country Cream. Ease 2- too thin to control.  Covering 2- seems to be v low on pigment content  Run Resistance 1 -appalling.  Total Marks 5 (I'm feeling generous)

4. Wickes non drip gloss Brilliant White - Ease 3- needs care to avoid lumps.  Covering 3 - 2 coats gives a reasonable cover  Run Resistance 4 -stays put.  Total Marks 10.  Seems to take longer to harden off

5. Craftmaster Coach Enamel Graphite Grey - Ease 5 - goes on like a dream and dries fast.  Covering - 5 one thinnish coat completely opaque.  Run Resistance 4 - helped by not needing such a thick coat and quick drying.  Total Marks 14

I am continually blown away by the Craftmaster stuff.  OK it's £25 a litre, but nothing compares.  I don't know how they get such a free flowing paint to hold so much pigment.   The Blakes which is also fairly expensive is fine but not really that much better than the Wickes paint.  As to the Dulux - hopeless really.  I wouldn't buy it again.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tarting up Herbie

Still making progress on the roof box, but it's a slow old job.  I wouldn't like to think how many hours the painting will have taken by the time I finish.  You certainly couldn't do it commercially without charging a fortune. Luckily the white paint is much less runny than the cream (see earlier post) and I'm back to using masking tape.

Meanwhile, during drying times, I turn my attention to another outstanding paint job.  What I call the front flashes and on an old boat would be known as the fore top bend.  Some people put the name of their boat there, others feature a logo or insignia of an old boat company like FMC.  Some do really fancy stuff like this:

I'm going to opt for something more modest and traditional I think.  I won't use any more diamonds.  What with the cratch front board and the roof box that would be overkill.

Here is a picture of the blank canvas

and a couple of samples of how it could look courtesy of a bit of photo doctoring

That bit that looks black could actually be the dark blue used in the diamonds.  The dark grey would be the same as on the cabin sides.

Rick has in the past suggested I should use the space to feature this blog address, but I don't think so.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Broads sailing and a new (to me) way to reverse a boat.

Miraculously, the Bowsprit Trophy, awarded to the skipper who inflicts most damage to his boat on our annual Norfolk Broads sailing weekend, was not won this year.  So I suppose we have a rollover until 2012.

I say miraculously, because although we suffered none of the rain that refreshed the rest of the UK this weekend, we did have some scary moments in unexpected periods of stiff breeze while we were out in exposed places.  Tootling up to Hickling Broad on Saturday morning it was a very gentle breeze and bright sunshine. Easy sailing. Then in the space of half an hour while we had a picnic and a pint outside the Pleasure Boat Inn, it all changed.  The wind suddenly got up and we were faced with having to get away from the landing stage into a stiff headwind.  Not easy with shallows to the right and left.  It looked like an "award winning" opportunity. After a committee meeting to work out how it could be done, we reefed the sails down and took the plunge.

You don't get two goes at it, you either get away, or you get blown on to the shallows where you are well and truly stuck.  We decided the only way was to give the boats a good shove off  by someone on the bank pushing the end of the boom at a run. The first two boats away had us to help push off, but us in the last boat needed to recruit a passer by, who luckily seemed to know what he was doing. Somehow all three boats  managed it and survived to tell the tale although we collected quite a bit of water over the gunwales by the time we got back  and we had a few white knuckle moments on the way.  Out in the middle of the broad it gets pretty windy.

Monday was my favourite sail, because we got off the beaten track.  Not only were we once again east of the ancient and very low Potter Heigham bridge where the big cruisers have to call it a day, but we took advantage of a favourable wind to sneak up the narrow winding creek into Horsey Mere  - within sight of the north sea if the dunes didn't intervene.  I love these quieter parts of the broads where all you can hear is the whispering of the wind in the reeds and trickle of water under the bow of the boat.

Up at the moorings at Horsey I witnessed an interesting boat reversing technique.  Before reversing out the the moorings on a cruiser, the skipper heaved the mudweight overboard (still attached by rope of course) at the front of the boat.  Sorry the photo is a bit blurred.

He then proceeded to back off, dragging the mudweight as he did so  and thus keeping the boat from wandering off line in the breeze.  What a good idea.  It might not work on a canal though because of the risk of snagging the mudweight on a submerged object.  Worth a thought though.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Roof box stage 2- in which I contemplate animal cruelty

The next time I see an Old English Sheepdog I'm going to kick him up the bum.  His flippin' Dulux paint has bled all under my masking tape.

It was all going fine on the red and blue diamonds.  Nice sharp edges with minimal bleed.

The blue was Wickes paint, the red, Blakes.  Both nice and gloopy.  Having no cream paint I went out and bought a tin of Dulux weathershield, which is definitely single cream rather than double, so it seeped along the grain of the wood under the masking tape.

Rats!!  Now I'll have to patch up the blue and red diamonds and henceforth paint the rest using hand and eye rather than masking tape.

However that won''t be until next week because in a couple of hours time we're off to Norfolk for our annual sailing debacle extravaganza.  If I don't get washed overboard and lost, I'll tell you all about it when we get back.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Napton album

I've been looking through the photos we took on our last trip, and remembering what a picturesque place Napton is.  As you would expect from its name, Napton is a sleepy place (sorry).  It sits perched on a hill with panoramic views over the countryside, while the canal sweeps round it below.

We walked up the hill so that I could take a reproduction shot of the famous Napton photograph showing the locks climbing up towards the high plateau to the south.  A view that has been used in loads of books.  You have to stand on tiptoe to get the camera over a hedge, then it's easy.  Recognise it?  A pity I couldn't get Herbie in the picture.  She was just out of sight, bottom right.

Much of the land here is given over to grazing, although there is plenty of evidence of ancient cultivation as nearly all the fields have pronounced ridge and furrow patterns.

Up on the hill the pasture is wonderfully undulating and there is a large collection of what seem to be rare breed sheep (Jacobs?)

 and ponies.

Probably the best view we had when we were there was not really of Napton at all, but of the sky at sunset.

Monday, May 02, 2011

News and Weather

As a loyal Radio 4 listener, I now follow their example and present the weather report in advance of the news, as opposed to the TV idea of doing it afterwards.

Phew it's hot.  Just right for drying paint, except that I like to paint outdoors and the breeze keeps blowing bits off our big lime tree all over the wet paint, so I've had to retreat inside to continue with the roof box.

This fine weather is all very well, but we're all starting to get nervous about water shortages.  I don't know how much longer some of the shallower canals can keep going.  I sincerely hope that we don't get trapped in the marina when we want to go cruising.   I believe that in the Leicester Arm the bottom is fairly near the top at the best of times.

This weekend we're off sailing in Norfolk, so I'm confidently expecting a worsening in the weather in East Anglia at least.

Now a bit of news.  First a headline item.

Reliable sources (?) tell me that the Slough Arm is booked in for dredging in 2013 !!!  Apparently it was announced at the IWA Canal Cavalcade at Little Venice over the weekend.  Well that is good news, even though we won't be taking Herbie there for a while.

Yesterday we took Grace to spend a day at the cavalcade.  Not a lot really goes on there, but it's a good place for boaters to meet up with old friends and to look at a lot of nice boats.  We caught up with Robin and Laura on their very newly repainted Miss Matty.  The painters at Baxters at Yardley Gobion look to have done a very good job.  A lot better than I could do anyway.  Then walking along the bank, a kind man pointed out that my shoelace was undone.  Looking behind I instantly recognised it was Vic of No Problem fame, so we introduced ourselves to him and Sue and had a brief chat before wandering over to see Simon and Carrie aboard Tortoise in Brownings Pool.  Tortoise is one of the smallest boats there and has the benefit of being allocated a prime spot   and we sat around watching the end of the boat handling competition and eating crisp and hummous while S&C did a very good job of keeping Grace amused.  Simon should get a job on CBBC as he seems to have  few inhibitions about acting daft!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Solar panel report - was it worth it?

I suppose its about time I reported back on our solar panel, LED lights and all that as its a few months since we had them.  Our objective was to be able to survive a weekend without running the engine to charge the batteries.  Previously we couldn't do this, mainly due to the fridge taking a lot of power, and the inverter too, if we used it to watch our 240v TV.

The first thing to say is that we certainly can now survive three or more days ( at this time of year) without needing a charge from the alternator.  This is down to four improvements

1. The solar panel - a kyocera 95watt panel with an MPPT controller.
2. LED lights, which we use in preference to the fluorescent strip lights and use about 90% less power
3. A very efficient 12v TV (Meos) which takes only 30watts and gives a great picture.
4.  Intelligent fridge management - i.e. having it on lowest setting when the engine is not running - this is still plenty cold enough, and turning it up to full whack when the engine is running  as after a few minutes the alternator has amps to spare and we build up a reservoir of cold in the fridge.

When we were at the boat a week ago it went like this
(measurements taken from our Smartgauge)

1. On arrival batteries at 100%
2. Bedtime  - batteries down to 82%  - fridge takes a lot when first fired up and we watched a couple of hours of TV
3. Next morning 72% - no solar input overnight of course
4. Dusk that evening 82%  -i.e the solar panel ran the fridge and put 10% charge back into the batteries

Over the next day or two we were cycling between 68% and 85% roughly speaking.  This is powering the  fridge plus a couple of hours TV plus lights and bits and bobs (water pump, phone chargers etc etc.)

So we seem to have cracked it, at least for the summer months.  I should say though that it was a very sunny weekend.  We left the boat with the batteries at 85% or so, and I'm sure they'll be back to a hundred by now.