Thursday, June 30, 2011

Moored near Will's Mother on The Coventry Canal

Tonight we look out of the window and see this.

Looking backwards past Herbie we see this.

Not a lot of distinguishing features then, but it's very pleasant anyway.

There's an old Bedfordshire saying when dark clouds loom over in the distance.  "It looks a bit black over Will's mum's".  Alternatively, a long detour or diversion might prompt you to say "I had to go all round Will's mother's to get there".  It seems that Will's mum lives somewhere indefinable over yonder from wherever you are.  So tonight I reckon we're near her place as we don't seem to be near anywhere else.

Today we made a slow descent of the 11 Atherstone Locks.  I'd almost forgotten what locks looked like, there are so few up here.  We had to queue for every one despite it being so rural.  This seems to be a deservedly popular canal.  What I did manage to do was perfect my skills at leaping across the open lower lock gate to save walking round.  It seems easier on some canals than others.  Maybe the gate designs are different.

Fazeley junction tomorrow then on to Hopwas where we might meet up with Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream if we're lucky.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

North Oxford and Coventry stuff

A certain reader who shall be nameless has cruelly dragged me out of the pub by texting that he needs more news of our exploits! Oh alright then.

Leaving Braunston, we hacked on up the North Oxford (remember this is all new ground for us).  Not enough locks, but very nice all the same.  I have an idea for the new waterways charity or trust or whatever it is.  Find a way of making an expensive perfume or some herbal medicine out of meadowsweet and you'll make a mint.  The North Oxford has it in absolute abundance for mile after mile after mile. 

Rugby, which we expected to see, is invisible from the canal.  I expect it's there somewhere. Just north of there we passed through Newbold Tunnel, of which it is virtually compulsory to take photographs.  A rare example of canal psychedelia.

Eventually we reached Hawkesbury junction on Monday evening.

 Everyone recommends the Greyhound pub there, and we weren't disappointed. We'll be back!

On Tuesday we detoured the five miles down into Coventry basin.  Dire warnings of floating rubbish in the canal were very much overstated and we thought it was fine.  Interesting too.  Did you know they have a special device for sweeping your boat roof as you pass?

It brushes your hair too.

We moored in the basin.  Not a salubrious area but the basin itself  is OK, and you can walk into the city centre in ten minutes.  Like most other visitors we went to see the Cathedral, a monument to the best of 1960's art and design.  It still looks great today.

The basin is brightly lit at night so we felt safe enough,

even though my hands shook when I took one picture.

Today we carried on up the Coventry canal and I like it very much.  No locks yet (tomorrow we have some) , but the countryside is lush and the canal weaves about in a gentle way.   The people of Nuneaton are owed an apology by Canal Boat magazine.  In their feature about the Coventry Canal they warned that we might find Nuneaton uninspiring.  I can't see why.  We enjoyed looking at all the very well kept back gardens on the canal side and a huge number of allotments all flourishing.  I bet garden centres hereabouts do really well.

I'm not sure where we are now, but there's a pub, so that's ok.  I'm not sure where we'll be tomorrow night either.  Isn't that what it's all about?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Braunston Grand Prix report

The practice sessions were over.  The grid positions established.  Engines started and warmed up, the nervous participants stood with hands on gear levers and control wheels ready for the off.  Something like a hundred historic boats, crammed cheek by jowl waiting for the signal .. .

We look forward

I look nervously back at the rest of the crew.  They are like a coiled spring.  Are you guys ready?

The front runners get away early from the pits  (service arm) with Nb President in pole position. Back down the grid it took a bit longer to get away.  Nearly two hours!! Never mind, we're away, now we'll show 'em.  Kath and I and a number of others were riding aboard the mighty Chertsey, helmed by ace driver Sarah.

Two hours later - we're round the first bend.  Record speeds being achieved - 100yards an hour!  No fault of our illustrious driver, the road is blocked by people unloading coal, terrified hire boaters trying just to make their way southwards along the GU canal, and the leading boats coming back in the other direction having made the turn.

Eventually we reach the turn and Sarah executes a near perfect three point turn using the triangular junction of the three canals which meet here. Then it's back into the chaos of the main drag.  Half way along, a quick pit stop and our dirver jumps off and runs to the ladies for a pee.  She's back and we make the turn into the marina chicane.  We suspect skullduggery is at work as someone looking very much like John (Halfie) waves a large can of beer to lure us onto the rocks. 

We ignore it, and in less than an hour we're on the home straight and back to our starting position. Now we can all go for a pee.

Nearly six hours to travel less than a mile.  What a race.  No winners, no losers, but great fun for all.  Special thanks to Sarah for taking us, and to Jim for plying us with beer that made us desperate to rush off to the loos at the end.  We wouldn't have missed it for the world.

It was a great day all round. Lots of wonderful boats.  An amazing gathering of many of our favourite bloggers - Halfie, Sarah, Bones, the Lucky Ducks, Adam (Briar Rose) and new to us, the Bella's.

In the evening John (Halfie) and Jan made the day even better by inviting me and Kath to join them for a barbecue and a gossip.  Many thanks to them.

Was there a "Best in show" boat?  Not officially, but had there been, I suspect the winner might have been the FMC boat Lucy.

Like a better view?

Aah, now you get it.  A perfect scale model, complete with authentic Bolinder engine sounds with the characteristic off beat rhythm.  When the boat went faster, the sound responded just like the real thing.  We couldn't decide whether the skipper was Action Man in disguise, or Barbie's Boyfriend Ken.

Two days later we sit on Herbie at Hawkesbury Junction having completed the North Oxford Canal.  More of that in another post.  The Greyhound pub beckons.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Things to see at Braunston

First I couldn't resist showing you this, spotted yesterday evening.  No doubt who is top dog at Braunston.

As for the rest of our time here, what a treat! Fans of old boats here think they've died and gone to heaven. All day we have had a procession of historic narrowboats  chugging past Herbie on their way into the centre of Braunston for the rally which starts tomorrow.  They must stop soon, because there won't be any more room.  The little service arm at the marina is absoloutely crammed with gorgeous old boats

and on the main line outside they are now moored up to six abreast.  This picture shows the front line where they seem to put some of the smaller boats.

Behind them the queue goes back several hundred yards.

Tomorrow are the first of the display processions and we hope to be in it! Not on Herbie of course, she ain't historic yet.  But Sarah has kindly offered us a ride on Chertsey when her turn comes to show off.  She gave us a mini tour of the boat today, and although the restoration is not totally finished, it's a great boat.  Standing on the counter at the rear, it feels like a supertanker!

There are other things to see here too. Last night at the marina, we watched the play by DayStar theatre.  I had heard of them before and supposed they were a sort of Mikron theatre imitation.  But no, they are quite different and quite brilliant.  I can't go into all the twists and turns of the comedy thriller plot, but suffice it to say that two actors acted the six parts and one of them also wrote the play which kept us all rapt throughout.   They normally tour rural locations - should you get a chance to see them, then don't miss it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Round the bend in Braunston

Things are beginning to look a bit crazy in Braunston.  The big old boats are arriving for the historic boat rally at the weekend, and they are already moored three abreast along the main drag.  Arriving in late morning we picked our way through what was left of the canal width and managed to hit nothing as we passed.

A quick wave to Jim and Sarah on Chertsey as we came through. Jim seemed to be busy slapping black paint on the top of gunwales - in the rain! - how desperate is that?

Of course there is nowhere for us to moor within the main bit so we now find ourself in a pleasant spot round the bend and "behind" the village. From this angle, you can't help comparing Braunston with Napton.  In both cases the village sits high on a hill while the canal sweeps round in an arc.  Once out of the busy, boaty bit, the Braunston hill has ridge and furrow pastures just like Napton. 

I would imagine that a lot of people who come to Braunston to look at boats or to shop at the chandleries  or visit the workshops never see this bit.  Climbing up the hill towards the church, and looking back down across the canal the view is very fine indeed.  Look, there's Herbie on a sheep's back.

Looking north we see the canal meandering towards Rugby, but that won't be until after the weekend.

This is the second day of our cruise, and we are taking it at a leisurely pace.  Yesterday took us through the Crick tunnel and down the Watford lock staircase.  Some see the staircase as an obstacle.  We see it as a treat.  Everyone seems to muck in together to help others through and the lock keepers keep order and prevent queue jumping.  I was enjoying it too much to remember to take pictures, save this one looking up out of one of the locks.  Deep innit?

Sunday, June 19, 2011


We're almost ready.  Bags packed. Lists of things to take with ticks by most items.  Tomorrow we head for Herbie and for our summer cruise.  One thing left to decide - entertainments.  These are items we take to while away the hours when we are moored up at night , or if we stop somewhere for a day or two.  I guess these items reveal more about us than you might imagine.

Kath reads deep into the night, so she takes books - most often by women authors, and her Kindle.  She also has become a genealogy freak and brings along loads of paperwork which she records on her netbook.  You wouldn't believe how many hours this takes.

I also take books but if I read for more than 15 minutes I fall asleep, so for me it's far less worthy stuff, generally short stories and crossword puzzles.   If there is room is left in the car, I take musical instruments to annoy Kath with and also in the hope of improving my playing abilities.,

Dear reader, I hesitate to reveal that one book I always take is the William Dixon Manuscript of bagpipe tunes from the borders (1733).  I know that makes me a nutter, but I'm here to tell you  I love it. I am obsessed by this collection of mad tunes which have nothing to do with men in kilts, but positively reek of Northumbria and Galloway.  The subtitle of the book is "Nine Notes that Shook the World".  It's bagpiping captain, but not as we know it.  I spend hours attempting these impossible tunes on my prized set of smallpipes which have a sound that is surprisingly sweet, quiet and unobjectionable even in my hands.

If there is more room I take my trusty mandola in the hope of joining in an irish  music session in a pub. Due to lack of space on the boat it has to live in the bath.

I think I should stop now before you send in the men in white coats.

Friday, June 17, 2011

New roof box finished in time for cruise

There's nothing like a deadline to make you finish a job.  We move back on to Herbie on Monday for our summer cruise, so the new roof box has to be ready.  And apart from fixings for the cover, which have to be done in situ, it is ready.

Just a couple of points on the construction in case anyone is interested.  My joinery skills are very poor, so there are no joints.  The sides and ends are simply screwed and glued to the square leg posts.  A rail runs along the bottom of the insides, and supports slats which are merely glued down to it.  I used one of these fancy new super strong glues from Wickes.

The blue masking tape is not holding the box together.  I'm not quite that useless!  It's for painting purposes.

Thin plywood sheets were then glued on top the slats to form the floor of the box.  I drilled a few holes in the floor to let any water out - there shouldn't be much as it will have the waterproof cover from the old (rotting) box.  All the internal and underneath surfaces have several coats of exterior varnish to try to protect the wood. (I still pessimistically fear that it'll de-laminate and fall to bits in a couple of years, plywood ain't what it used to be).  The outside of course has the fancy paint job that I have bored you with in previous posts.

I have had to make the box as near as I can in dimensions to the old one, so that the old cover should still fit, also the removable triangular end pieces that hold the ridge pole.  Removable for getting under low bridges!   Here's the old one so you can see.

 I bet I still have to make minor mods to make it fit when we get out to the boat.

The box measure 130 x 89 cms which gives a good capacity while still leaving room to walk carefully down the sides of the roof  which you occasionally have to.

What goes in the box? I hear you ask.  The anchor (except when we're on rivers, when it is out ready for emergency use), folding chairs for picnics, our water hose and the odd spare bag of coal in the winter.  It also forms a strong footing for the TV aerial pole using a couple of brackets

Note the cunning angle on the base of the legs.

This is to accommodate the curvature of the boat roof. I hope I've made the legs long enough or the middle of the box won't clear the apex of the roof.

Making a box like this is not cheap when you add up all the wood, paint, screws, glue, and varnish costs. I could probably buy a stronger box for no more than this has cost me, but it wouldn't be so pretty, or so tailor made.  We think the roof box has become an integral part of how Herbie looks.

Oh one last thing.  I did have to measure the car to make sure we can transport the box out to the boat!  It fits.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cruise Tease

Sometimes I can't resist gently teasing people.  Today I had to take my car back(yet again) to the garage.  The dear old thing, 122,000 miles on the clock still goes well, but it suffers from the garage mechanic's nightmare - an intermittent electrical fault.  The man rechecks all the connections on my new starter motor, and says if the fault reoccurs to bring the car back and they'll take the motor off and have it looked at.

"OK," I say, "but that won't be for a while because I'm going away for a month or so".  "Ooh, " chips in Debbie the garage receptionist, "Going on holiday then?"  I smile.  "Yes, on a cruise."

"Oh I'd love that" says Debbie.  She momentarily drifts off into a private dream of the Greek islands or maybe the Norwegian Fjords.  Consciousness returns.   "Where will you be going?"

 "Oh, you know," I reply, " Coventry, Burton on Trent, Loughborough*, Market Harborough . . ."

"Oh." An embarrassed silence, then she gives an uncomfortable smile and with some hesitancy says "That's nice".

* reportedly pronounced Loogaborooga by some American tourists.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kath wins a prize!

As Kath put the finishing touches to her Creative Textiles for her course's end of year exhibition in Portsmouth (then we're  free to go boating) and I put the finishing touches to Herbie's new roof box, we received a little bit of unexpected good news to relieve our respective last minute nerves.  Kath has won a free two year subscription to Waterways World!

At the Crick show lots of stalls had a competition to win a prize.  You had to answer a simple question like "which canal goes from London to Birmingham" or such like.  I expect it was a good way of building up address books of potential customers.  You never think you are going to win one of these things do you - but Kath did.  Well done her.  Now I can read the monthly jottings of Andrew Denny and co in WW as well as our usual dose of Adam and co in Canal Boat.  You know what they say -"If you don't enter you can't win."

I have still never bought a ticket for the National Lottery though.  It makes me laugh when people buy extra tickets when it's a roll over - as if ten million quid isn't worth the bother, but twenty million is.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Opportunism on the Cam

Whilst in Cambridge recently we spotted this punt.

Clearly not a new one, so it must have been renamed since The Wedding.  I hope they took it out of the water and walked three times round it backwards when they changed the name, or it'll be cursed and doomed to go down with all hands somewhere near Grantchester.  Naked opportunism I call it.

I haven't seen any boat names to make me smile recently, but although I generally deplore personalised car number plates, I did enjoy this one I spotted outside the fresh fish emporium in Camber Docks, Portsmouth.

You might need to click on it to see it bigger if the plate is too hard to read.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Women - don't be a whimp, grab the tiller.

As you may deduce from the title, this post will probably get me into trouble because I am about to criticise the behaviour of a lot of women who go boating.  I'm already in trouble on that score since last week I referred to Carrie (of whom we are all very fond) as a virago.  Although I intended it as a compliment, Carrie wasn't at all sure that it was,and having now consulted the dictionary I can see why, for it says a virago is "a domineering, violent or bad tempered woman". Whoops!  However I see that an alternative definition is  "a strong courageous woman" and that's what I meant.

On to the main point.  On our travels up and down the waterways we meet a lot of couples boating, and there seems to be a significant proportion of women (probably even a majority), who never drive the boat and have to do all the physical work at the locks while their husband/ partner stands at the tiller.  Kath, (who is not exactly a shrinking violet and has been referred to oft times as "formidable"), usually takes these poor women to task with some harsh words.  The conversation is usually something like this:

Kath:  "Why are you doing all the heavy work while he stands at the tiller drinking his tea?"

Woman "Oh I tried driving once and he kept saying I was doing it wrong, so I don't have the confidence.  Anyway he doesn't trust me with his beloved machinery."

I don't know who is more to blame, the woman for putting up with it or the man for being a bully.  What we need is more viragos and less men who sap their partner's confidence.  I fail to see what either of them gain from the arrangement.

There are of course numerous exceptions to the rule, for example, women like Carrie and Bones who boat single handed and Sarah who manhandles the mighty Chertsey, the boaty equivalent of a twenty ton truck.

Kath and I share the lock work and the steering by swapping duties every three locks and we enjoy it that way.  Neither of us wants the one role all day.  I like working locks and I like driving into them, and I like a rest after every three locks on a long day.  And so does she. Mind you it does get very competitive.  Either of us committing a  glancing touch of a lock gate on the way in gets a look of disdain from the other.  We both know that we are better than the other at the tiller.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The downsides of FAME

No, I do not refer to the tribulations of Cheryl Cole (who I have only ever seen on an advert telling girls they are worth it) which seem to have driven Afghanistan and Libya off the front pages. Nor do I refer to those rare occasions when an unknown person shouts hello and announces he reads this blog - that's actually quite nice.  No dear reader, I refer to the downsides of FAMEFatty Acid Methyl Ester, or biodiesel to you and me.

Now I'm not known for being a grumpy old man, quite the opposite, but this stuff makes me weep.  Biodiesel sounds green and lovely but it's a nightmare for boaters, and it seems most of us have to have it whether we want it or not.  Almost* all suppliers now include a percentage of it in the diesel they supply, and that percentage is due to increase next year.

According to the lady from River Canal Rescue (RCR), who gave an excellent talk on preventative maintenance at the Crick Show, the number of incidents of boats breaking down due to diesel bug blockages is rising very rapidly since FAME was introduced.  She said that last year, fuel related problems were the cause of 33% of their call outs.  That's a lot.  What's more, as I pointed out in a post some months back, the reduction of sulphur in the "new" diesel causes seals to fail.

What have we done to deserve this? How can "they" do this to us?  Is this what they call progress?

Boats suffer much much worse than road vehicles because we tend to buy diesel in larger quantities and use it up a lot more slowly, so it sits there gradually gaining in water content from tank condensation and the like and producing perfect food for the diesel bug to grow, eventually producing a black clogging slime in the fuel system.

So we have to buy some magic potion (Marine 16 is the favourite and RCR have found that it does work and the RNLI and the Royal Marines use it so there must be something in it) to add to the fuel to combat the problem at a cost of 17 quid for a 500ml bottle.  I reckon it effectively adds another 3.4p to the cost of a litre of fuel, as if that wasn't already high enough.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's another thing RCR have discovered.  Marine 16 and Fuel Set (another popular fuel additive not so effective with FAME) if in the same tank together can combine to cause further problems.  A white creamy suspension can form under high pressure in the injectors and block them.   And what additive had I had in the tank before changing to marine 16?  Don't ask.

Luckily I had let the tank get quite low before putting the next lot of fuel in so the old Fuel Set was very dilute,and the RCR lady says I should be alright.  Still us boaters could be forgiven for getting a bit paranoid.

Rant over.

*That was the bad news.  Now here is some better news (for me at least).  According to RCR, they know of only two boatyards /marinas who supply FAME free diesel.  And one of them is . . . Crick Marina!! Hooray!!  Rest assured I shall be filling Herbie's tanks with some before we depart on our forthcoming cruise.  I'll still add some Marine 16 though, just in case.  And I'll have a go at using the little drain tap at the bottom of the fuel tank to draw off any water.

More good news.  The RAC man who came out to us when our car broke down in Crick last week, diagnosed we needed a new starter motor, and he was right.  (All the symptoms were like that of a flat battery, but I knew the battery was OK). I had a reconditioned starter motor fitted today at a reasonable cost and things seem much much better.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

All down hill from here.

A bit more on the Welford Arm now that I have the photos loaded.

Herbie (looking rather splendid I thought|) waits its turn to descend the only lock of our trip earlier this week.
A boat emerges with the crew looking strangely pleased with themselves while Kath and Grace man the lock gate.

Here, we were at the very highest point of the Grand Union system, not far from the source of the river Avon (or should I day a river Avon as there are so many of them - anyway it's the Warwickshire  / Shakespeare one that wends its way down through Stratford and through my original home at Evesham). I digress.

A lot of the Welford Arm looks lush and leafy

and after the lock there are some fine 14 day moorings

Before you reach a small marina and then the basin with 24hr moorings and the Wharf Inn.  Excuse me while I beat myself up for not taking any photos of the marina and the basin.

As you can see, if you find yourself up on the Leicester Arm of the GU, the short detour to Welford is a must, and not only because it has the only pub for miles and miles and miles.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Georgian Duke playing guitar in the middle of nowhere.

Flippin' 'eck, it's remote out here.  Once you get out of Crick Marina and turn right, you only see about three houses in the next four hours. I wondered why some of the folks in the marina seemed to talk of places in bridge numbers.  Clearly it's the only way to identify anywhere.  No locks, no habitation, no nothing.  If it's peace and quiet you're after, this is the place.  It's quite pretty though, and there are lots of places to pull in for the night or for a picnic. 

The Welford Arm is especially nice and it has a lock!  The only one we encountered all day yesterday, and then again today on our return trip.  There are good moorings there too, although it was too full for us to get into the basin, but the 14 day moorings a bit further back were more than acceptable. 

The reason the place was so  full was presumably that others, like us, had come to see Mikron Theatre outside the pub, doing a play about the Duke of Bridgewater. (Not nearly as dry as it sounds) As usual they were very well recieved and there was a decent crowd to watch them.  We're long term fans of Mikron but I wish they didn't use modern instruments in period plays.  A man in a wig and a Georgian coat just doesn't look right playing a modern guitar.

Please excuse the fuzzy picture, I refuse to use flash on such occasions and the light was fading.

After the play, ten of us retired to Herbie for a nightcap, a record I think.  Tonight we are only three, me, Kath and Grace.  We spent a happy hour leaning out of the cratch feeding the carp in the marina and had several huge ones swirling right beneath us as we hung over the cratch sides.

When we got back to Crick today, we went into the village in the car and it refused to start after stopping at the post office. It has been getting somewhat temperamental lately.  Eventually we got an RAC man out and we got going but he tells us we need a new starter motor.  If we can't restart in the morning we ought to be able to bump start it apparently. We'll have to drive the two hours home without stopping.  I hope I don't stall the engine anywhere.