Sunday, May 27, 2012

Narrowboaters show how it is done–lots of pictures

There might be a thousand boats in the QJD pageant next weekend, but the narrowboaters will be able to hold their heads up if this weekend’s rehearsal is anything to go by.  Here are some pictures to prove it.  Remember to click ‘em up big to see them best.

This morning 26 Nbs processed down the tideway in amazingly good  five abreast formation, showing that practice makes (nearly) perfect.  Rather different form last year’s near debacle.

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 Look at that straight line! Not as easy as it looks in the running  tide

Then on the instruction from the Port of London Authority, we wove our way in stately single file through the city centre.

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Not bad since we were all bleary eyed from  getting up at four in the morning to do it to catch the tide at Brentford.

Yesterday’s trip out was even more eventful if not quite so well executed.  We started off with a trip to where few narrowboats ever venture.   Out past the Thames barrier and on to Barking where the river is like the sea with waves to match.  Remember to take your Quells if you ever have a go.

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then back through the barrier

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past famous landmarks old and new

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under rather a lot of bridges, all requiring choosing the correct arch

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and then, (this is the tricky bit) mooring up alongside designated buoys as we will have to do next weekend.  I think it would be fair to say that this was not the groups finest moment.  We did finally all get moored up,

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but not in our correct positions.  A repeat of this error on the big day will make it much harder to get into our designated formation positions when we set off to impress Her Maj.  All credit though to our rather wonderful leader and SPCC Commodore Andrew Phasey who has brought us to this peak of near perfection.

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Not a bad little cruise eh?  You should try it, but watch out, some of the Thames boats are a bit big.

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Thanks of course to Sue and Richard, who gave their guest on Indigo Dream such a wonderful treat.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sleepless in Brentford

We’re so excited.  In just over a week’s time over a million people are expected to turn out on the banks of the Thames in London to watch me and Kath go past.  Bells will be ringing and flags waving.  I believe the Queen might come along too.

Yes the good ship Indigo Dream, recently returned from the swirling maelstrom of the upper reaches, will be transporting us at a terrifying four knots under the redoubtable skippership of Richard and Sue.  Security will be tight.  I understand they have recruited around a thousand boats to watch guard over us, and CCTV screens will be mounted all along the route. Such Glory!

However there is a price to pay in the shape of some very early mornings.  This weekend there is a rehearsal and we have to report to our skipper in Limehouse well before proper people wake for their breakfast.  Then in order to get all the boats in position we have to cruise half way to France (well a long way past the Thames barrier anyway) to get in the queue for the dash miles upstream to find our designated buoy.  If last year’s rehearsal is anything to go by that should be a non trivial task! It will probably be hilarious and terrifying at the same time. I suspect I may be recruited as buoy grabber.  My life will of course be at risk, but I’ve had a good run and my will is up to date. 

It seems that will take all day, then we disperse up to Brentford to shelter overnight in the comparative safety 9as long as you don’t drink it)of the Grand Union canal.  With any luck we will find ourselves in the vicinity of the Fox at Hanwell which is a bit of a perk after all that anxiety.

Next morning however comes the real price.  We have to be up and off at 4.30 am to get to Thames lock at Brentford for 5.30 to rehearse the proper downstream pageant procession and the buoy mooring.  Apparently, if we survive, we should be back at Limehouse by the time normal people have their Rice Krispies.

Note to self: MUST remember to take my camera.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wooden boat quiz

I don’t know how many things I don’t know about wooden boats, but I suspect it might be quite a few.  However I have just learned a few more, and I thought it might be interesting for you to have a go. 

That nice Mr Ditchrawler sent me a comment following my post about the wherry Albion suggesting I point out that although Albion can have a motorised push these days, this is an external device and the main boat is still as it should be.  He also directed me to the Wherry Trust website which is indeed worth a visit.  It was there that I found the glossary of wherry terminology which I will now use to quiz you.

Do you know what these words mean?

1. Standing Rightup -  nothing to do with the crew, but a bit of the boat.

2. Herring Hole – sounds fishy to me (sorry)

3. Cuddy ( no, not a Geordie donkey)

4. Binn, and Binn Iron (spectacle related?)

5. Ceiling – a good one this!

I confess that I didn’t.  I knew about leaches and luffs and tabernacles and bonnets, but these others were new to me.   I bet Sarah (Chertsey) knows one or two. You can look up the answers here.

I also found out that I lied to you (sorry).  Albion’s mast, which weighs 3 tonnes, is not made of oak but of pitch pine.  Most of the rest of the boat though is oak.

Meanwhile have a butchers at these old photos taken aboard the Albion which I have this week rescued from (nearly 40 year old) transparencies.  Mercifully I don’t appear in them because I was taking the photos, but I’m delighted to tell you that a number of those featured are still good friends today. Four of them were with us last weekend!

You might spot a young Rick and Marilyn and one or two of the cognoscenti might spot a certain member of the infamous Elderly Bros as well as superbrain PDS who helped us out with tunnel geology recently.

Elderly crew stands to attention

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Man relaxes while wife works.  Nothing changes.

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PDS looks down on us (quite rightly)

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I don’t know if this is Rick or a certain Mr Plod plodding.

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Who needs an engine?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Celebrating a 448th anniversary

I feel I’m in danger of losing my canal credibility, so little cruising have we done this year.  But fear not dear reader.  Plans are afoot for the good ship Herbie to venture forth before too long.

Having got 33 hours and 39 minutes to spare next month, I find that is exactly enough to travel 51.6 miles and negotiate 94 locks and 6 small aqueducts or underbridges,  3 tunnels and 1 major aqueduct.  Hmmm I wonder where that could get us.  I’ll consult Canalplan.  Aaah, that’s exactly what is required to get us to Stratford upon Avon.  And as luck would have it, I have 33 more hours and 39 minutes available to get us back again.  It looks like hard work though, 188 locks in a couple of weeks.  I’ll just consult again to see where we might rest on the way. 

Ahaa, working on about five and a half hours a day, we could stop over at Braunston for the historic boat rally, drop in at Saltisford basin in Warwick, revisit the rather splendid Tom O’ the Wood pub we only briefly called in on last year,  and have a pint or three of Ubu in the Boot at Lapworth on the way.   Sounds like a plan to me.

Talking of Stratford, there’s an awful lot of Shakespeare on the radio and TV at the moment and I assumed it might be an anniversary of some sort.  I don’t know about you but although being 448 years old is quite an achievement, I don’t see it as a special number.  I suppose it’s all to do with the world egg and spoon race they are having in the other Stratford later on this year.

Anyway, that’s our “blow the cobwebs off Herbie” cruise tentatively sorted.  Later on if we can find 145 hours and 28 minutes to spare, we might make it up to Chester and back.  I quite fancy doing  268.06 miles and 258 locks, 3 moveable bridges of which 1 is usually left open, 43 small aqueducts or underbridges and 12 tunnels.  Hmmm, now I suppose I should sort out the watering holes for that trip too.

In the meantime, to get in training, we have the jubilee pageant to crew for on Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream, and a jolly up the GU to get Adam to Crick (and perhaps back) on Briar Rose.

Surely that should be enough to restore the old cred for a while.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reservoir figures latest–graphs rocket upwards

This is what we've all been waiting for (well nerds like me anyway) – the latest reservoir holding figures from BW.  Out today, and what a change!  Generally speaking, we’re now better off in water supply terms than a year ago, with the notable exception of Grand Union South which is still 17% lower than last year! 

Poor old GU south.  despite the wettest April for 100 years, it still looks gloomy for them, as I noted when we visited Marsworth reservoirs recently.  I think the problem they have is that the ground water levels there are low and the geology near the surface is porous.  Much of the Chilterns are chalky.   Should the summer be a dry one, they are in real schtuck.

Contrast with the Saddington reservoir which feeds GU North.  In just one month it has increased its holding from 48.2% to 100%!!  yeeehaaah!

BW claims that the 30% increase in holdings on the Oxford/ GU section is partly due to the pumping schemes they introduced such as the one we saw at Welford where water was pumped into the reservoir from the 20 mile canal summit pound.  Whatever the reason, we can now go boating again with a clear conscience.

Well the trick now is for BW (soon it’ll be CRT) to hang on to this water so we don’t lose it all again.  They do seem to have been putting resources into repairing leaky gates etc. but there are still plenty more to do.
I can’t help feeling sorry for those boaters who, wisely at the time, forsook the canals for the rivers earlier this year.  Now they are trapped on flooded rivers while many of the canals seem to be returning to normal.

Tough photography

Not a lot to do with boating, but I thought I would pass on one of my periodic lessons in how not to do things.

The bluebells are out now and you might be tempted to wander off your boat and  into the woods to take some photos. We took Grace out to a wood near our house today and I took a lot of pictures, but having seen them I want another go now to get them right.  Everything looks lovely when you are there but the dappled light in the woods can be a real challenge for your camera.  Add to that the plethora of things your autofocus might wish to fix on with branches and twigs near and far and you have a recipe for disappointment.

This shot of Grace for instance
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What was I thinking of?  The dappled light is lovely, but try as I might with software to even out the blotches all over her, I can’t rescue the picture. I took about ten like that.  Doh!

Then to cap it all, when I got home I noticed all the pictures had a blue cast on them.  Reflected light for the bluebells?  No, I had set the white balance to suit tungsten light when I last used the camera and forgot to return it to normal.  Doh again.  I have had to try to readjust them on the computer.

Also the camera was set to a shutter speed of 1/500 which I often use to eliminate camera shake on the long lens.  Not a smart idea in a wood because of the low light levels.  The camera will choose a wide aperture and you will loose sharpness.

I did manage to get a couple of reasonable ones, mostly by use of shallow depth of field like this one.Although I'm not sure that having a tree sprouting out of her head was a terribly good idea.

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In fact sometimes the bluebells looked more impressive out of focus.  Look at these two pictures taken from the same spot of the same view.

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I don’t know about you, but I prefer the first to the second even though the former has the bluebells out of focus.

So what have I learned today?

1. Shooting in woods needs thought about light settings.  Check your camera settings are set for the conditions you have today, not the ones you had last time.
2. Dappled light is lovely, but not all over your subjects face!

That’s enough about non boaty things.  We have a fair bit of boating coming up soon, not to mention the imminent release of the reservoir figures to update my graphs, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tickling Hickling and Up the Albion

Another record broken.  A second whole weekend sailing on the Broads without crashing or sinking a boat!!  This either means we’re getting better at it or we are getting more cautious in our old age.  Maybe next year we’ll return to form.

Despite all the rain, even in Norfolk, river levels were pretty normal, thus demonstrating that if you have enough wetland not built on, it can prevent flooding.  The fact that our boats only just scraped under Potter Heigham Bridge was more due to the state of the tide than any rain.

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Hickling Broad, despite having an average depth of half a meter never fails to scare me because the wind always seems to howl across it and we could easily have towed a water skiier in our wake.  Peter (PDS), our skipper at the time got a slap on the wrist from spouse Pat for scaring the living daylights out of her, while Kath gritted her teeth and smiled as the waves smashed over the bow and down her neck.  I just feigned calmness whilst my knuckles went white as I clung on to the jib sheet.

We always seem to see the Wherry Albion on these weekends, surely the finest boat on the Broads and especially dear to me as I was in the crew aboard her for a week in 1974 or thereabouts.  Quite the finest boat I have ever fallen off.  Since then she has been spruced up to look like new although she is now 114 years old.

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We caught up with her at Ranworth Broad and had a nostalgic look at some of the detail.

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Everything about Albion is massive, especially the oak mast which is thicker than the thickest telegraph pole.  You wouldn’t guess that this huge mast is so finely balanced that lowering it to get under bridges is quite within the capability of two people.  There’s an enormous lump of lead below the tabernacle (fulcrum) to balance it.  I suspect that Albion’s new sails are not nearly so heavy as the thick tarpaulin stuff it had when we sailed her.  That winch you can see in front of the mast is where you wind up the sail.  It used to take two of us several minutes to do it and we had to go and have a lie down afterwards.  Sad to say Albion now has motor assistance to push her along when the wind is unfavourable. Tut Tut!  In our day we had no such luxury, and if she wouldn’t sail we either quanted her along with the poles or send a rope party ashore to haul her along.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Water gauge mark II

Or is it mark III, I’ve lost count already.  Anyway it’s a game of three halves and here are two of ’em.

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On the left you see the display panel, and on the right the electronic dipstick.  Join the two together, immerse the dipstick and press the red button and

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Blimey, it actually works.  Lights come on at nearly full, 3/4, 1/2 and 1/4 full. Getting the LEDs set in the holes was a bit of a pig.  I can’t deny though that  I’m a bit pleased with the result.

The challenge now is to drill a neat hole in the top of the water tank and fix some sort of cable gland.  That’ll have to wait until we get back out to Herbie and have a few hours to spare.  I’ll need to unscrew the hatch cover off the tank so I can catch the drill swarf when I drill the hole.  In any case the tank is overdue a good scrub inside.  I fear it is going to be a non trivial task Sad smile

Monday, May 07, 2012

Something different to worry about.

Who said boating was supposed to be care free?  They obviously never had a boat.   Not that I mind, for the pleasures easily outweigh the problems.

Next weekend we stop worrying about canal stoppages and start worrying about wind and weather.  Yes, it’s our annual kamikazee sailing weekend on the Norfolk Broads.  Although I have a vague idea how to handle a sailing boat, I don’t do it often enough to have an instinctive reaction when something goes wrong.  And on a sailing boat something usually does.  I generally only agree to take over the helm in light breezes or in the wide open expanse of a broad, where I am not in danger of hitting anyone.  Even then, the danger of a capsize is ever present, or of course on the shallower broads getting stranded aground like a Greek cruise liner.

I’m happy to say that our party contains a number of skippers far more competent than I, so I’m happy to do as I’m told.  No-one has died yet on these expeditions but our damage deposit with the boatyard has rarely been kept.  I sometimes get the feeling that they deliberately weaken the bowsprits on these boats so you snap one off and lose your deposit.  Even a two mph bump into the landing stage is quite enough to do it as we know to our cost.

I’ve been checking Broads river levels today and it seems we should be able to get under Potter Heigham bridge in one piece, although it always takes preparation and concentration so to do.  It’s not hard to see why.  We have to drop the masts and paddle through.  If we’re lucky the tide is running with us.  If not we get arm ache.

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Then there’s the traffic.  Narrowboaters have no idea what busy river traffic is, even in London.  At least narrowboats go in a straight line.  Dodging your way through this lot when your motive power could come from any direction at any time is , how shall I put it, stressful.

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Actually, I can’t wait.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

New Royal Yacht previewed at Little Venice

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Yes, you saw it here first.  Of course there has been no official announcement that this is the replacement for R.Y. Brittannia, but what else could it be?  I think Her Maj will be delighted.

The flags were all out at Little Venice in celebration.

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O.K. it was the annual canal cavalcade. We popped down by train for the day to see the event and to catch up with Simon(Tortoise)  and Carrie (Blackbird) who as usual led us astray on the cider.  Lovely to see them though.  Once again Tortoise had grabbed the prime spot for watching the pageant.  You can just see her (the little red boat)under the trees in this picture.

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I don’t know how many boats made it through all the restrictions, but Brownings Pool was full up as you can see, and there were more bunting-ed boats up the arm towards Paddington basin.  Boaters are a hardy lot.

Speaking of which, hardy is what you need to be if you are on the Thames at the moment (or the Nene for that matter).  All the blog reports coming in look pretty scary.  I offered to help out Richard on Indigo Dream stuck in the swirling waters at Wallingford, as he ought to be getting the boat back for a Jubilee Pageant rehearsal in London at the weekend.  In the end it looks like discretion won out over valour and Richard decided it was too dangerous to move despite the temptation to cruise down half the Thames using only half a pint of diesel.  I’m sure I would have made the same decision, although I suppose narrow boating at 10 mph would have been fairly thrilling to put it mildly.

Friday, May 04, 2012

A little local difficulty - solved

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Here’s my mark 1 circuit for Herbie’s proposed water tank gauge.  Neat and tidy huh? I like it.  In fact I’m really pleased with it. There is one tiny problem though.  It doesn’t work.

Well it is only mark 1.  I need to probe around with a meter to see if I can spot why.  My suspicions fall in two places at the moment.  1.  the integrated circuit (the black lump in the middle)– have I damaged it electrostatically?  That could be 40p down the drain (don’t tell Kath),  or 2. the resistor values might need to be changed.  Although I got the circuit working on the prototype breadboard, I did change the resistors when I came to the soldered circuit (I thought for the better).

So I blunder on, not really knowing what I’m doing, but it’s cheap and it’s fun. And you never know, one day it might work.

A few hours later  . . .

Yeeehaa!! It works.  I had (stupidly)  omitted a couple of little earth wires on the circuit board.  Now connecting sensor wires to the terminal blocks and dipping them in a pot of water, all the lights come on.  I suppose I ought to test it in a larger container, but I reckon it'll be fine.

So that's the guts of the thing done.  Now I need to make the actual 5 wire dipstick to go into the water tank and somehow get it to resist condensation or I'll get false readings.  Then I have to  connect it all up with a switch and put it in some sort of casing.  I expect that'll be a pain too.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

My answer to the drought /flood dichotomy.

Water water everywhere but it’s still a drought.  The experts, who I have no reason to doubt, tell us that in the spring and summer, that which doesn’t run off down the rivers all gets drunk by plants, or evaporated when it’s warm.  On telly last night they showed inside a borehole down into an aquifer and it was bone dry despite the wet weather overhead.  Apparently in the South East, a large proportion of the domestic water supply comes from aquifer boreholes.

Then, like you do, I thought of the River Mole.

Somewhere between Dorking and Leatherhead in Surrey this little river loses a big proportion of its water, only to get it back again downstream.  Caused by a steep terrain and a change in the geology from clay to chalk the water disappears down “swallow holes” in the river bed as the underlying water table drops down.   So the aquifer gets directly fed through a hole from the river bed.

Eureka! Hence my master plan, for which I confidently expect a Nobel Prize nomination, although a knighthood would do.

Instead of just digging boreholes to pump water up from aquifers, why not dig a load more to pour water down when we have a surplus on top.  This could get the water straight down there without the tedious slow soak through currently used. I propose a network of these reverse wells (or “Unwells”) be strategically placed on flood plains and in river beds across the country.  Not only would this replenish the aquifers, but it would reduce flooding.  Furthermore the plughole vortices caused by the swirling water going down the holes could be used to spin turbines to generate electricity. 

Sometimes I can’t believe my own genius.

PS Rick tells me that his Long Buckby Weather Station  (i.e the lemonade bottle in his garden) collected 125.3 mm of rain in April which is the most since his records began.  However since his records only began on 17 April, the fact that it is a record is unsurprising.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Canal termini–one to add to the list

For a lot of us boaters the journey is more important than the destination.  However sometimes it's nice to reach an end somewhere. Occasionally though, the destination is not so rewarding as the trip.  The Slough Arm springs to mind as a place where the journey is preferable to the destination.  The usual reaction when reaching Slough basin is “Is this it?”, although much of the arm itself is surprisingly attractive.

Our favourite “ends” are I suppose Limehouse, Hertford, and Godalming.  Other good ones are Bedford, Coventry and Chester (although it’s many years ago so I don’t recall that one too well.)

Recently we’ve found another favourite – Market Harborough, although I have to say we have cheated because we haven’t quite yet got there by boat.  We took a bus from Foxton a couple of miles away to save wasting water going down and up the locks.  Nevertheless, its a little gem.  Very unspoilt by today’s standards and we like it a lot.

Most people know it's there alright, but I'm not sure how many give it a miss when passing through Foxton to or from Leicester and the Soar. It’s tucked away on its own little arm of the GU Leicester section although the books tell us that the canal was originally supposed to carry on down to Northampton before they ran out of money.  Apart from the large hire boat/ time share fleet based there, I don’t think all that many boats seek it out.

Next time you pass, give it a try.  I bet you'll like it.
Here is the main street.

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I reckon it must be reasonably prosperous too.  Although like everywhere else it has quite a few charity shops, a lot of the stuff in them is up market, particularly the books and music.  The Oxfam shop had some real collector’s items if you still have the kit to play vinyl.

We especially liked the little town museum which made much of past industries in the town.  I was surprised to realise how busy it must have been fifty years ago. Are you old enough to remember Symington’s soups?  How about Tungstone car batteries.  And if your mum or granny wore a corset from M&S, it probably was made in Market Harborough by another branch of the Symington family.  Today the only large employer is Harboro Rubber who it seems make a lot of specialist industrial rubber mouldings.

Definitely one for the list of places to visit by boat.