Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Boating–just what the doctor ordered.

Interesting programme on telly last night.  Horizon I think.  For those who didn’t see it, it concerned weight loss and fitness and some new research by academics in various countries that is showing that traditional long held beliefs about fitness and exercise are somewhat askew.  To cut a long story short, it seems that whilst sweating it out in a gym for hours a week does no harm, it is in fact is no better for your general health than a few very short, very intensive bursts of exercise.  In this case the presenter, a doctor, was asked to go flat out (and he really did go hell for leather)  on an exercise bike for three twenty second periods, three times a week.  This it was claimed is all the cardio vascular exercise you need in order to get healthy.

At this point I couldn’t help recalling our descent of the Hatton locks flight last year.  Those big lock paddle mechanisms are just right.  Twenty seconds of lung bursting activity every few minutes.  I have a habit of jokingly chanting “It’s doing me good, it’s doing me good” at such times and now it seems that that might be true.

The other interesting finding of the programme was that sitting still for long periods does you no good.  In fact it can be harmful.  You don’t have to leap about and fling heavy weights all day, just get up and walk about a bit at least every hour.  Even just standing is better than sitting.  Perhaps that’s why my mum lived until she was 94.  She couldn’t sit still for 5 minutes.  Anyway doesn’t all this sound like a day boating?  On your feet all day, frequent opportunities to walk about a bit and occasional bursts of frantic exercise.

Maybe that explains why Kath and I are laid so low with a fluey virus at the moment.  We haven’t been boating since well before Christmas. 

Next time I go off boating, I can say I’m only doing it for health reasonsSmile

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The difference between buying cars and buying boats

Our family (me , Kath, our daughter Claire and the grandchildren) have all been laid low these past two weeks with some kind of flu like lergy.  In fact it hasn’t gone away yet, we keep having relapses.  That’ll teach us, Kath and I have  been on a weight losing campaign since Christmas –strict healthy eating, exercise and no booze.  There’s a lesson there somewhere. 

However we haven’t been as bad as my poor old car, now ten years old and 130,000 miles.  It nearly had a terminal event last week, a suspected gearbox failure.  At that age we were ready to evoke the Do Not Resuscitate rule as the repair would have cost twice what the car is worth.  I was qetting quotes from recycling yards to take her away.  Then at the last minute I softened, and I sanctioned a short investigative operation at our local garage and it turned out to be just a drive shaft bearing failure, so after a short operation the patient is restored to health.  We have however cruelly decided to get another younger model before the old one costs us any more.

Being house bound with the lergy, I have been car shopping on the net.  Plenty of cars there, ebay, Autotrader etc.  Pretty much like browsing for boats on brokers’ web sites.  Then I came across something quite different.  OK for cars but not for boats.  You see the thing about narrowboats is that almost every one is different.  Granted you can get a standard Liverpool boat or a formulaic Polish jobby, but in general narrowboats are bespoke.  Contrast with cars where companies like Ford churn out hundreds of thousands of identical Focuses (or should that be Foci?).  That’s were Tesco’s come in.  (Bear with me I - have not lost the plot.)

Someone at Tesco has realised that one used low mileage Focus Zetec TDCi estate, say, is much like another.  So much so that if they could assure the customer of the car’s good condition through independent surveys and money back guarantees, they could sell the car unseen. Try that with a boat.  Furthermore, they sell the car before they even receive it!  What they do is get the cars from leasing companies at the end of lease.  The end of lease date is known in advance, and from the service history, the likely mileage is calculated in advance.  The car is advertised on the web at a fixed price(cheaper than forecourts because of the low cost of doing it this  way) and the purchaser puts a £99 deposit on the unseen car which is then taken off the site and allocated to the customer.  The car eventually arrives and the RAC give it a thorough going over (all in the price).  The customer gets the RAC report and if he or she is happy the deal goes ahead, although the customer can first go to inspect the car personally if they like. They can in fact walk away and get their £99 back at any time before they finally commit. Once the customer is happy the fixed price is paid, the customer gets a 7 day money back guarantee and a free short but full warranty to cover any unseens.  Simples.  The testimonials on the web site all say one thing – a scary way to buy a car, but it works and everyone would do it again.

Is this the future of boats sales?  Will Whilton marina advertise a five year old Steve Hudson tug due in shortly and sell it unseen? Hmmm I doubt it somehow.

Hang on though. What about new boats? Well they’re almost all bought unseen aren’t they,  because they are built to order and bespoke.  Compared with buying a used car unseen, having a new boat built for you must be  really scary.  Will the builder go broke half way through?  Many have.  Will the builder produce precisely what you asked for?  Many don’t.  Will the original price hold good until the end? Hardly ever.  (admittedly often the customer’s fault for changing his mind halfway through, or over looking things at the beginning).  Or worse still will the builder turn out to be less than trustworthy?    A certain Mr BH springs to mind.

No, to me, buying a new boat is more scary than buying an unseen used car from Tescos.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The great battery experiment - interim findings

Whilst my heading today might have put off non boating readers, I know I have the rest of you in my grip.  Oooh yes. For a boater it is good to be obsessed about batteries, because unless you are, they will probably fail and let you down when you need them most.  One of the few grumbles I have heard from people with shared boats is that some of the owners don’t know or care about battery maintenance and ruin it for the others.  I’m also quite sure that half the moored boats you see with engines or generators running practically permanently would need to do that if they had looked after their batteries properly.

This week I was sorting out some old boat paperwork and came across the receipt for our last lot of new batteries.  Judging by the date, I reckon our current set have now done a good 200 charge / discharge cycles which is the point at which normal wet cell batteries would be starting to show signs of age i.e running down more quickly.   When I bought this set I took a gamble and bought some sealed units (Numax CXV) that claimed to go to 500 cycles.  So this year should start to reveal if it worked.  These batteries cost 15% more than standard open cell types, but I thought that if they did really have double the life, that would be a bargain.

So far, they are doing absolutely fine, helped considerably I reckon by the solar panel which keeps them up while we are not there and helps us to get charge up to a proper 100% when we’re cruising.   We very rarely need to let them go below about 70% charged which is also good for them. However there could yet be a dark harbinger of doom sealed inside their impenetrable casings.  Sealed batteries are risky because if they overcharge and bubble off gas, you can’t replace fluid.  I have no way of knowing if ours are full or not.   If they have gassed a lot then they will probably die this year and the extra 15% I paid for them will not have been worth it.  The literature on these batteries is very skimpy and doesn’t really tell you how they work.  You would think that the batteries could in some way condense and reuse some of any vapour that boils off, but that might be my wishful thinking.

I try to avoid the batteries gassing by carefully watching the charge voltage when we are cruising.  Once we get to 14.4v (above which boiling happens), I deliberately turn the fridge to a lower temperature to take the surplus power away from the batteries.  This works a treat because when you stop in the evening you can reset the fridge to its normal setting and being extra cold already, it uses less power overnight.  of course I don’t always spot it when the voltage goes a bit higher so I might have let them gas a bit.

Will the CXVs get me my extra money back, or have I been conned?  2012 holds the answer.  If they’re still doing well this time next year, I’m quids in.

P.S. Can you get treatment for battery OCD?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How I’m not voting

Leesten very carefully , I shall say zees only once.  I generally make it a rule that I don’t sully my blog with my opinions because they’re only mine after all.  I also try to steer clear of waterways politics although I do have views.  However in this case, I’ll make an exception and declare my thoughts on voting for the Canal and River Trust boater’s representatives.  If you’ve got a boat licence you should by now have been sent your voting pack.  I haven’t entirely decided yet on my choice but I’m happy to tell you the types of candidate I will not be voting for.

I don’t know how much influence the boaters reps will have, but I expect it depends on how well they conduct their business.  One thing I’m sure of is that if they argue amongst each other, we’re done for.  We’ll be divided and ruled by the others.  This means that whoever does the job needs to reflect the needs of us all, and not any particular group of boaters over another. So my vote will not be going to any candidate that claims to especially represent any single group or type of boaters.  No matter how much I might sympathise with their views, there are more important things at stake.

The thing we all have in common is the need to have the waterways in good running order and open for navigation.  To my mind anything else is secondary.  With the budget CRT now has and the huge challenges of dealing with water supplies, dredging and general maintenance anyone taking their eye of the ball to argue about who is in charge and how much they earn or  about minority issues will be fiddling while Rome burns.

I shall vote for candidates who get about a bit and talk to all kinds of boaters and focus on the needs we have in common.  I shall reject anyone who takes a pride in being argumentative or intransigent because they won’t make progress, they’ll stunt it. I’m looking for people who can listen, negotiate sensibly, and consult others before putting forward proposals.  Lastly and most important of all my vote goes to people with a positive attitude who want to make things happen and build bridges (literally would be good I suppose, but not necessarily).

There. That’s my two penn’orth. Now I’ll revert back to impartial mode. 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

gadgetry–any ideas?

Yes I’m still here.  No posts lately because I’m up to “other” stuff, amongst which I am attempting to fill in a gap in my knowledge.  (That reminds me of a Batman episode when Robin says “Gee Batman you must know everything” and Batman , with great gravitas, replies, “On the contrary Robin, there are several things I do not know”.)

Anyway, I decided that in the 21st century a chap ought to have a passing knowledge of electronics.  And I didn’t.  So I got some books and some bits and started reading and playing.  So far, my piece de resistance is this little ipod amplifier /speaker, built inside a cardboard tube from a bottle of single malt.  To my surprise is actually works.


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I could let you have one of these for free.  All you have to do is send me the cardboard tube with the bottle of single malt inside it Smile

My researches have led me to discover that building little devices that might be useful on a narrowboat might be fun and not be too hard and would also be very cheap.  Examples might be a water tank gauge, an intercom between the deck and inside the cabin for ordering more tea, security alarms etc.  Why don’t I leap into production mode then?  Well mainly because of the wiring problems.  Most gadgets would take a couple of hours to make and most of a day to install! Herbie has nice trunking for wires but dismantling it is a pain, especially if you don’t have a helper as the trunking is overhead and the sections are long and heavy.  Also, most of these gadgets run on very low voltage and low voltage doesn’t like long runs of thin wire.  You end up having to buy long lengths of expensive fat copper cable which in many cases would cost more than the gadget.

The water gauge tempts me, although I would have to drill holes in the well deck floor to get the wires into the tank.  I could install a little box inside the cratch which had a few LEDs which would light up in order according to the water level.  This could be powered by a some AA batteries and switched on and off when I wanted a reading, so no long wires or power lines.

Making circuits that respond to light or dark or temperature change or touch, or damp seems to be fairly do-able.  I just need a bit of inspiration.  Could you think up something that might be handy on a boat?  I might even try to make it.