Saturday, September 29, 2012

High Diving at Shipton Weir and a Blogger’s dinner

The bit of the R.Cherwell that you have to negotiate below Enslow was  pretty high.
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Another couple of inches and we would be in the “Do not proceed” area.  Cautiously we went down the lock and on to the river only to find that it seemed fairly benign.  Cruising at an admittedly smart pace, we were soon approaching Shipton Weir lock and the safety of the canal.
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Little did we know that this would be a lock to remember, for all the wrong reasons.
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Kath brought Herbie in safely enough while I was happy snapping with the SLR.  Then coming back down the slope off the footbridge. . . .
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my foot slipped on the greasy brickwork and I did a dive worthy of Tom Daley.  Two twists and a pike I think it was. Unlike Tom however I didn’t make a smooth entry into the water, but instead onto the path.  Heroically I saved the SLR by sacrificing my knee against the hard floor.  Kath was most impressed with my athleticism.  It is now 30 hours later and my knee is still very painful, not to mention being an interesting colour.
Gritting my teeth we motored on to Thrupp where there are fine moorings thanks to the work of the local cruising club.  It was a fine afternoon with a nice clean bank to work from so I shampooed and polished Herbie’s starboard side.
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Blimey, I’m in danger of being one of the despised shiny boat brigade.  Whilst I was hard at it with the elbow grease a car drew up behind me and a gruff voice shouted at me to put my back into it. Hmmm, “I bet I know who that is” I thought, and turning round I found as expected the face of a certain Mr Maffi, known to haunt these areas.
Later in the pub we joined Maffi and Bones and Carol and George form NB Rock and Roll (bloggers all), plus Dusty the coalman and a handful of others for a meal and a drink or three.  We talked all night and didn’t mention batteries or toilets once!  We barely mentioned blogs!
Now, a day later we have arrived in Oxford.  I was beginning to think we wouldn’t find a mooring.  You nearly run out of canal before you find some, but we’re OK here 15mins walk from the city centre.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012


Banbury is a town of two halves.  Above and below the salt, the salt in this case being the town lock.  Above the lock, millions have been spent.  All is smart and well kept and the Castle Quay shopping centre adjacent to the canal draws in the crowds from far and wide.

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Once through the lock the landscape changes instantly to one of gentle urban decay.  This of course is where they put the long term moorers.

We stopped in the posh bit for a two day urban fix after the remoteness of the Wormleighton wiggle where even villages are hidden over the hilltop and you can see the stars at night. No such darkness in Banbury town centre.  The town has in general done a lot to make visiting by the canal a comfort.  There are certainly no shortage of things to tie up to.

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Kath is always complaining that I only take her out to eat at Wetherspoons, so to prove her wrong we booked in at Quisine which had had such a good write up by Sue of No Problem.  See her write up here. One review I read of this place compared it to Fawlty Towers and in some ways that’s true.  Certainly the lad who waited on us had a number of Manuel’s more endearing characteristics.  However you have to forgive that, and the somewhat shabby decor, for the sheer charm, enthusiasm and skill of the proprietor / chef Vipen Sharma.  Once we sat down in the tiny dining room, Vipen, soft spoken and smiling from ear to ear, gave us a personal briefing on what he was going to cook for us that evening.  “ If you want some more of anything, just ask, and if you want to take some home afterwards, we’ll wrap it up for you”. The other customers that evening (the room only seats a dozen people), had asked for a Greek theme, so that’s what we got, at least in part.

First yummy butterbean and coriander soup and some lovely warm focaccia type bread, then 5 different humouses with pitta, then starters!  5 of them.  Well the portions were small.  The best was a piece of lamb fillet that melted in the mouth.

Then a (not at all small )main course of chicken with a very flavoursome sauce and cous cous and a sort of tzatziki.  Then a selection of four sweets.  By the end of the main course we were feeling pretty full, so we ploughed on eating bits of this and that and ended up taking home enough leftovers to give us lunch and pudding the next day.  The meal took us three hours in all, although a lot of that time was waiting for the next course.  I suppose it cost about three times what we usually pay in a pub, but much much nicer and a lot more fun, not to mention the doggy bags.

Thank you Sue for alerting us to it.

After leaving Banbury, our journey has returned to it’s bucolic theme as the canal chases hither and thither after the River Cherwell. 

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We’ve had good weather, although the rain earlier in the week has swollen the river somewhat.  At Aynho weir, where the canal and the river briefly mingle, the level boards were only just below the red “Don’t go any further” line.   Tomorrow we have another stretch of river to pass through, so I hope it settles down a bit.

Tonight were moored opposite the Rock of Gibraltar.  Not a Barbary Ape in sight, although the bloke on a nearby boat might qualify.  There’s supposed to be a folky music session in the pub tonight so I might wander over with my old mandriolium and see if I can get a note in edgeways.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The other Cropredy pub

I always think of Cropredy as a sort of chocolate box place.  Thatched cottages and log fires in the pub.  The country retreat of Oxford dons.  Last night we arrived here somewhat moist.  You know about the rain at the moment so I won’t dwell on that.  Being cold and wet we opted to eat at the pub, but the Red Lion (which we have patronised in the past) doesn’t do food on Sundays, so we walked on up to the Brasenose Arms. 
I think, without ever going in,  I always thought it to be – how can I describe it – a sort of Daily Telegraph Pub.  Men in blazers etc.  Anyway, I was wrong.  Entering the bar the first thing that assailed us was John Martyn on the PA singing “May you never”.  A bit cool for a country pub I thought.  We sat in comfy leather sofas by the (imitation) log fire supping pints of well kept Hooky while the music moved on through Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley.  The posters on the wall soon confirmed that this was something of a muso’s pub. Regular visits by blues bands etc.  A prog rock magazine on the table.  The PA was coming through rock band speakers and a 16 channel mixing desk.
Then we noticed the other people in the bar.  Not a blazer in sight.  In fact the public bar side at least seems definitely to be the haunt of choice of the local working man.  Conversations were friendly but occasionally , er, robust.
The menu looked fairly ordinary, but with hints of adventure.  Being too hungry, knackered and cautious to take any risks, we each opted for burgers with blue cheese and bacon.  When they eventually came we got a real surprise.  Looking very cheffy on square plates, the burgers were obviously home made, hugely thick and nicely pink in the middle, the bun was a nice toasted ciabatta, there was a delicious red chutney, attractive salad leaves in a tasty dressing and very good chips.  Top marks.  It was, we both agreed, delicious.
Retiring to the sofa, we were approached by a man encouraging us to take part in the pub quiz. So we did.  40 good general knowledge questions and we got into a play off for the winner.  Then we drew the playoff.  Then on the second playoff we got beaten.  Ah well.  Can you remember the theme song to “The Office” and guess the height of Angel Falls?
Finally, with Jimi Hendrix still doing his stuff in the background we had a go at the meat raffle.  Yes a meat raffle.  An old working man’s pub tradition that I thought had died out.
It just goes to show you can’t judge a book by the cover

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Road Test results and Napton mozzarella

Here we sit atop the South Oxford summit after a day of very fine weather.  Blackberries from the hedge for pud tonight.

“That’s all very well,” I hear you ask, “but what about the engine repair?  Did it work?  Are we no longer all a tremble?”

The best thing I can do is to publish the private texts that have passed between Rick and us this evening.

Rick: “Good Vibrations or All Shook Up?”

Us: “It’s a fact, it’s actual, everything is satisfactual”

Rick: “It’s Good News Week.”

Us: “Another day older and deeper in debt”.

So is Herbie now smooth as silk and purring like a kitten? Could you stand a threepenny bit on the running engine?  Come off it, it’s a reciprocating engine with a 50 year old design, bolted to the floor of a big tin box.  But, whilst it may not spin silently like a steam turbine, it is loads better than it was.  Better than it has been for ages.  Glasses on the shelves do not rattle.   The surface of my cup of tea has no interference patterns on it. There are no particular rpms to avoid. No fuel pipe unions have sprung a leak.

So our fix wasn’t cheap, but it did work :-)

Funny it should turn out to be the camshaft because in our all too short chat to Brian from Harnser  the other day he mentioned another boat that had a similar problem with the camshaft.  And I took some satisfaction from reminding Jim at Calcutt that I had asked all along if it could be something to do with valve timing.

Enough of engines.  Here’s our other story of the last few days.  We just missed a calf being born.  But no ordinary dairy or beef cow.  A water buffalo. 

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  We saw the calf takes its first wobbly steps while the hard hearted mother seemed to take no notice at all and get on with her dinner! You can still see the umbilical cord attached to mum!

There’s a substantial herd of these buffalo in a field adjacent to Napton locks.

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So next time you tuck into some mozzarella, just think it might be from Napton!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The root of the problem?

If you didn’t read  yesterdays post – read that first – it’s an ongoing story!
Measurements of the valve rise and fall showed that the cam shaft was indeed worn especially on one cylinder, which would certainly cause the engine to run out of balance.  So we bit the proverbial bullet and authorised fitting a new camshaft.  We moved the boat down to near the workshop and Jim set about disconnecting all the pipes and cables that attach to the engine.  Then before we knew it the crane was lifting out the engine.
Jim holds her steady:
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A quick steam clean, then working like men possessed Jim and Ian set about dismantling an alarmingly large proportion of the engine, or so it seemed to me at any rate. 
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I hope they remember where all the bits go.  As Ian has stripped and rebuilt literally hundreds of these engines he ought to.
It wasn’t long before Ian arrived at the boat triumphantly bearing the camshaft showing a very badly worn cam for No3 cylinder inlet.
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As you can see, one of the cams is really worn down and pitted.  Compare with the ones further along the shaft.
At the end of the working day, the new camshaft was in and the engine was partly reassembled.
Then, after a stressful day, we got a visit from Rick and Marilyn who ferried us out to the pub in Flecknoe where we had a rather fine pie and chips and a very nice ale called Goats Milk.  Also we came second in their pub quiz- only let down by our incomplete knowledge of pop song lyrics.  I even failed to spot a line from Baby Love by the Supremes.  I’ll never live it down.
Now Herbie’s empty engine bay lies clean and hoovered out waiting for what we hope is a smooth running motor.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

All a tremble at Calcutt

As I write, fitter Jim is wielding spanners in Herbie’s engine bay while virtual pound coins drop from my wallet into a bucket at a rate of one every 80 seconds.  Jim is doing his best to cure our engine shake, but up until now we don’t have a solution.  Let me begin at the beginning.
We reported at the wharf at 9 on Tuesday morning and after quite a while of engine running and listening and feeling around, Jim spotted that  the front engine brackets had a mounting tab broken off.  Here’s one:-
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It’s twin on the other side was much the same and he securing bolts had shaken loose.  These days Calcutt have designed a modification to prevent this from happening.  This plate
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fits across the end of the engine like this :
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giving something stronger for the brackets to grip.
So that’s what we did.  The broken bracket were welded up,and  the new plate fitted. The engine was re-aligned to the prop shaft and we started her up.  Hmmm.  Our original vibration at about 1200 rpm had gone.  In fact there was a noticeable improvement higher up the revs too.
But, there was now a strong vibration at tickover or thereabouts.  We decided to ignore this for the time being and see how it affected us in cruising mode.  It could be that we could avoid these revs in practice.
Next day we ascended the Napton locks and it was becoming more and more apparent that the vibration was still a substantial problem.  What was more, the engine shaking was working various fuel pipes and unions loose and we were leaking diesel in a number of places.
So having ascended the Napton flight, we turned straight round at the top and came all the way down again. Grrrrr!
Returning to Calcutt this morning, we are back in Jim’s hands,and after consulting a colleague he is changing the four engine mounts as one of them did feel a bit soft.  It was felt we had to do this to eliminate it from the list of possibilities. Very soon now we will see if it has worked.  If it hasn’t, well, we had to replace the broken brackets anyway, and  I suppose  the new mounts won’t hurt.  Eleven years is not a bad life for such things.  So any money spent thus far has not been entirely wasted, but the prospect of the original problem of vibration not being solved is a real worry.
One thing that is good about Herbie’s design is that the front of the engine is accessible from inside the cabin, via a removable hatch under the steps.
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This tends to make us remarkably popular with mechanics / fitters.

It didn’t work. :-(
Now we move on to the theory that it might be camshaft wear setting the engine running off balance.  This could get very expensive. An initial look at the rise and fall of the valves reveals that one of them might not be rising and falling enough but measurements have to be taken and checked.
Apart from all the potential expense and worry, our cruising plans are now all awry.
Watch this space.  I may post again later today as things develop.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Herbie to visit OFT via her birthplace.

Yes it’s time to start raining.  Our bags are packed and we’re off tomorrow for our Autumn cruise, and this time we’re taking the anchor.  Once again we hope to get to places we’ve never been before.  Well that’s not strictly true because we’re heading down the Oxford and onto the upper Thames, which we used to know quite well when the kids were little.  We used to go camping up at Eaton Hastings (opposite Kelmscott) quite a bit until the pub burned down with the landlord in it.  Nothing to do with me guv, honest.  We also used to camp at  Radcot, and we used often to go through Newbridge (the Rose Revived and the Maybush) when driving up to my mum’s.  And we have camped at Lechlade. So it’s not new ground but it is new water if you take my meaning.  This of course all depends on the whim of OFT.  No not the Office of Fair Trading, but Old Father Thames himself.  If it starts to rain a lot, the old red boards will go up and we’ll have to hang around in Oxford I guess.

But first, we’re taking Herbie back to where she was born. Well,  fitted out at any rate.  Calcutt.

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Perhaps we’ll be able to go under their really cool cast iron bridge.  I wonder what that cost.

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I mentioned a while back that we were going to attempt to get our excessive engine vibration cured.  Well what better place than the boatyard who installed and aligned the engine in the first place.  Yes, I’m using that well tried universal fix-it tool, the cheque book.  Having marinised and installed hundreds of BMC engines Calcutt ought to know what they’re at, so next Tuesday Herbie is booked in with them for a sort out while we hang around biting our nails.  Not an ideal place to hang around as it is in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully they can do it in one day.  Fingers crossed it’s nothing too expensive.  Although a new engine would be niceSmile.

Oi, I hear you cry.  Calcutt isn’t on the Oxford.  I know, I know,  but its only half an hour off it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New shower or new boat?

Writing this is literally a pain.  I’m getting used to a new pair of specs and this time they are making my eyes really sore. Enough of that whingeing, yesterday a load of people pushed their wheel chairs flat out for 26 miles and didn’t grumble.

On to the main topic.  It’s all Adam’s fault.

When we crewed for Adam on Briar Rose earlier this year, we had the opportunity to use his shower.  Now it has spoiled us, because it is so much better than ours on Herbie.  Difference 1 - Herbie’s shower is one of those hip bath types, which although you can stand up,not so easy as a proper walk in cubicle and takes up nearly twice the floor space in the bathroom.

Difference 2 – Adam has a proper thermostatic mixer tap.  We have a hot tap and a cold tap, usually resulting in loud screams from the alternate freezing and scalding you get when trying to get the balance right.

So it’s either a new boat or a new shower.  Hmmm.  Sounds like the excuse we need for a new boat.

We do keep drooling over nice boats we see on broker websites.  How about a nice tug with a proper engine in a proper engine room, or a comfortable 60 footer with space for a pulman dinette- and a proper shower.  The trouble is when we do occasionally look over one, it’s never quite right and we seem glad to get back to dear old Herbie.  Plus there is one small matter to contend with. LOADSAMONEY! Our financial adviser barely controls his anger whenever we mention we might one day get a better boat.  He goes quite red in the face and  seems to equate it with financial lunacy.  No soul that man.

So for now at any rate we’ll give Herbie a treat and organise her a new shower with a general bathroom makeover.  Many might regard this as a DiY project, but Kath knows my limits, so we shall resort to professional intervention.  I suspect it would cost less than a broker would charge just to try to sell Herbie let alone an upgrade to a better boat.

Can anyone recommend a good boat fitter within striking distance of Crick?

P.S. don’t tell Herbie we ever contemplate changing boats, she’d get all upset.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

New year resolutions (2)–Doing my bit.

What else should I resolve to do this coming (academic) year.  Keep the boat clean?  Naah, as you can see, I have staff for that.

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How about a bit of do gooding?

One thing does occur to me this week.  I have never ever bought a National Lottery ticket being one of those who has always believed it to be a tax on the daft.  Something tells me that 40 million to one isn’t a good bet.  However, a couple of our brilliant paralympic athletes this week have spoken about what a big help their lottery funding has been, and urged people to keep on buying tickets.  (If you haven’t been watching, you’ve missed a real treat.) So now I look on it in a new light, not as a gamble on winning a fortune, but a good cause worth having a punt on.  So I shall now buy the odd ticket and feel good about it, even knowing that I am unlikely to be funding a new Russell Newbury engine for Herbie out of the winnings.

On a more practical front, I’ve got round to sending of my details to C&RT with a view to volunteering, perhaps as a towpath ranger in the West London area.   Wandering about by the canal chatting to people is something I’m always doing anyway, so I might as well make it official.  If I work alone, can I be called the lone ranger?  Perhaps I should call my bike “Silver” if I get picked. 

Speaking of C&RT, they have now published the winter stoppage programme with the customary maps of lock closures etc.   Interestingly, the Birmingham area map lists the “Stratfordshire canal”   - shall  I tell them or will you?

Friday, September 07, 2012

New year resolutions (1) Herbie in a new light?

Am I in a time warp?  No, it’s just that having spent many years working in the education sector, I still think of September as a sort of New Year. Anyway, who has time to think of resolutions in the gloomy days just after Christmas.  Far better in the warm glow of early autumn.  So here to start with is something I’ve been meaning to do and now I will.

I am a lazy photographer.  I rely too often on auto settings when I should know better.  I’m going to start shooting in RAW format more often, and generally paying more attention to getting better pictures.  One thing I have been meaning to do is to do the odd picture in Black and White.  You can’t beat B&W for a bit of drama. Look at these for example.

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Our friend Jan gets a lot of stick from us because she likes to sit in the cratch like lady muck watching the world go by while we struggle with the locks.  We did get her this year to have a go at Watford locks and this B&W portrait captures the energy of the event just right.

Then how about this industrial scene in Birmingham.  Good when you click it up big.

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Lastly, still in Brum, look what B&W does to this sky.

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The only problem is that it really takes the eye off the canal below.

Rest assured I will still mostly do colour pictures, but I will try to think about when B&W would do it better.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

That odd boat again

Ditchcrawler reckons that the funny boat I wrote about a couple of posts back is an estuary buoy.  Thanks Dc. Although I can’t see one like it on a search of google images, it sounds entirely feasible to me.  I imagine it would swing nicely in line with the tide.  That being so, despite it’s shortcomings as a boat to live on, at least it should have a decent anchorSmile.