Friday, November 30, 2012

The final piece of the jigsaw

Frozen ropes, ice on the puddles, but I was nice and warm working the locks.  In fact we have all had a bit of glow today as Herbie has been purring along better than we can ever remember.

Our new drive plate has been the final piece of the jigsaw of getting Herbie's engine to run smoothly. First the engine brackets and mounts, then the new camshaft and finally the drive plate.  It has been a bit stressful at times, not to say expensive, but so far, we are delighted with the results.  Rick joined us for our cruise back to Crick and agrees that the boat has never been so smooth and quiet.

So now we are back in the marina burning the last of our coal before we go home tomorrow a lot more relaxed than a week ago when we set off towards Calcutt in the pouring rain.

Just the blacking to get done in ten days time and we'll be all set for 2013.

Sent from my HTC

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Testing testing

I'm hoping this will post a photo from my phone to the blog. It shows the view from Herbie's cratch taken from where we have stopped for the night.  Seasoned boaters may well recognise the view.  Clue: it is very muddy on the towpath.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

So far so good

Well here we are 100 yards from where we started after an hour's cruise. No don't worry, we have had to get out of Calcutt marina and ascend three locks in that time. The new drive plate has made quite a difference. No big clunk when we engage gear and the engine seems very smooth and quiet. As to the alternator, they bench tested the old one and it was giving over 16v on the bench even after having a new regulator fitted. So that's good news, meaning there is nothing else wrong with the electrics.

Calcutt give good value I reckon. 270 quid for a new drive plate and alternator including fitting labour and vat.

We're staying put tonight and then moving to Braunston tomorrow. Me by boat and Kath by car and bus. The car has to get back to Crick.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Our No 1 son becomes honorary coot.

Our son Richard who lives on his boat in Hartford marina on the Gt Ouse is having to paddle to his car to get to work. His pontoon is not of the floating type. I suppose that must mean the water level is at least  couple of feet higher than normal. He texted us an interesting observation to the effect that the coots that live on the bank near his boat usually scarper when he steps ashore, but since he has been wading they take no notice of him and swim around his feet.  I suppose they think he’s an honorary one of them now. That would make him very proud.

I know I’m a plonker for not taking any pictures of our cruise last week.  I should have got some brilliant ones at Braunston with all the mess the floods caused there.  I was just too hot wet and bothered at the time.  We start the return journey tomorrow with a new drive plate and alternator.  In theory that should make Herbie in tip top mechanical and electrical condition, but I feel somewhat like the guy who’s crashed a plane and has to be made to go up again to keep his nerve.  I’ll need a few miles under the belt before I can relax.  Hopefully there won’t be too much wind and water about.  The weather promises to be cold and dry.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our worst ever cruise? Chapter 2

Wednesday (day 1) wasn’t all disaster.  Having turned off all the electrics in the boat to save the batteries, we paddled and splashed down to the Admiral Nelson to drown our sorrows.  I’m happy to say that the current landlords, who took over earlier this year, are doing a grand job and I would now give the Admiral a strong recommendation for food, drink, service and comfort.  After a good meal, Rick and I settled in a sofa by the log fire and gradually got ourselves back up to working temperature whilst relieving our mental stresses via a very nice Caledonian American style IPA.

Eventually though, it was back out into the cold starry night to splosh back up to the boat.  I was wearing my new LED head torch from Poundland (no expense spared) and as I glanced at the canal, I noticed that it wasn’t there.  At least the water wasn’t.  Someone had raised lock paddles to drain the flood, and completely emptied the pound.  Grrr.  That would cost us more time in the morning.

So we got up earlyish next day and Rick went off down to run water through the series of locks to fill up the empty pound.  Actually it didn’t take too long because there was plenty of head from above to wash the water down.  We started the engine and lo and behold, the alternator was behaving itself.  Half way down the flight we met a man from a boat coming up.  Please could we let some water through – the long pound below the pub had been emptied too.  Grrrr.  More delays.  At least it wasn’t raining, but the breeze was beginning to pick up.

Once down in Braunston we decided we deserved a treat, so we had breakfast at the gongoozlers cafe boat.  A proper fry up.  Lovely.  Now we were in better spirits.


Setting of again, we only just reached the turn onto the Oxford section when the alternator did its pieces again. 16.5 volts. Right. Time to deploy the Johnno method and disconnect the charge light.  Hey it works!

The engine revved up and the battery voltage stayed put at 13 point something. Putting on more speed to give us more steerage against the increasingly strong wind, we pressed on.  By now I was even more of a voltmeter anorak than ever and could hardly take my eyes of them.  Was I mistaken, or wasn’t the starter battery voltage dropping.  Checking the Smartgauge, it had dropped a bit.  Then three minutes later a bit more, then more, then still more.  Oh dear now what’s wrong.  Something is eating amps.

I remember Tony Brooks once saying that it did no harm to turn off the “ignition” switch completely, so I persuaded Rick to try. Well, we kept going and kept going and the voltage stayed put. I don’t really understand how it works, but with the key switched on and the exciter circuit broken, the alternator was kind of working in reverse.  Goodness knows where all that energy was going. In heat probably.  Had we not corrected it we might have a had a cable fire.

A text came in from Kath.  She was due to arrive at Calcutt by car to pick us up should we ever get there alive. “ I might be late.  I’ve locked myself out of the house and don’t have a key.  And I’ve strained my back lifting a box of logs and can’t bend.”  It never rains but it pours.

Actually it wasn’t raining.  The wind was now gusting to the point where it was beyond my boating experience, but the canal along there is wide and fairly empty so despite being frozen with wind chill, we got to Wigrams Turn in record time.  That’s when the real wind really hit us.  It was blowing straight down the canal. We could have held up a hanky as a sail and not bothered with the engine.

In 3 minutes we were at Calcutt top lock.  Hooray.  We’d made it.


I crossed over the lock gate and reported to the marina office where they had been expecting us.  “Aah you  made it then.  Your wife phoned to say you would be late.  Could you bring the boat down the three locks and into the marina?  It’s best to back in so you can put the rear of the boat against the wharf.”  Now that is very easy to say, and maybe if I were ten times as good a skipper and had a powerful boat with a bow thruster I might have done it.  But I’m not and we haven’t.

Getting into the locks as bad enough in that wind.  Rick had her well and truly pinned against an approach wall at one point.  Shouting out instructions against a howling wind and with chattering teeth didn’t help either.  But we made it down the locks.

Now just the marina entrance.  If I said the word choppy comes to mind, you get a tiny indication of what it was like. The wind was blasting us sideways at a rate of knots so with the spray lashing into my face and obscuring my specs I turned to point the boat across the canal and slid sideways until we got near the entrance then wacked on full power.  We would worry about how not to smash into the shiny boats inside the marina once we were through.  Miraculously we made it.  We didn’t even hit anyone.  Rick was in fact quite complimentary.

Backing on to the wharf was fun too, but we made it by going in forwards. Rick jumped off the front and lashed the rope onto a post while I did a handbrake turn to swing the back in against the wind.  Now we were alongside, so I tied off the back and Rick let go the front.  Immediately the wind took the front and blew us neatly into line with the other stern end moored boats.  It worked perfectly.  No-one was watching.

Big sigh of relief.  We had made it.   After a while Kath arrived in the car.  Then Jim arrived.  Jim is the Calcutt engineer who did most of the work we had done there when we had new engine mounts and camshaft and all that.  We recounted our alternator woes, and asked him to deal with that as well as the drive plate.  Looking in the engine bay, he pronounced that there was sufficient space to make the drive plate an easy job.  At last some good news.

Even better when we got a phone call next day to say it was all fixed and it only took a couple of hours labour to do both jobs.  I’ve seen Jim work.  He’s quick.

Did we rush back to pick up the boat?  Not likely.  We’ve seen the weather forecast.  Calcutt had too and they are quite happy for us to leave it until all this stuff blows over.

Such fun.

Our worst ever cruise?

Yes, we were out on the boat in That Weather this week. Not hunkered up in a safe spot, but on a journey. And it’s one I won’t forget in a hurry.  Rain, floods, empty pounds!!!!!, and a worrying technical problem. Its a long tale so you can have episode one today and number two tomorrow.
I had arranged to take Herbie to Calcutt for a new drive plate and we were due there on Thursday morning. All I had to worry about was the drive plate not failing en route.  Or so I thought.
Kath (lucky her) was otherwise engaged so Rick volunteered to crew.  Asleep on the boat on Tuesday night, I could hear the rain drumming on the roof, and by the time Rick arrived  early on Wednesday morning the water level in the marina had already risen by several inches.  No matter, we had waterproof clothes and there was little wind so we deployed the Brolly Mate umbrella holder on the tiller and set off towards Watford staircase. 
Arriving at Watford was strange.  It was completely deserted.  No lock keepers. No signs telling you to book in. Nobody at all.  So we set off down the locks on our own initiative. So far so good.
The rain continued to pour and the canal was the colour of milky coffee, but we were OK.  Then I chanced to routinely check the charging voltage. Flipin’ Nora ( I paraphrase)  16.5 volts!  Some of you might not think that strange but believe me it is.  The batteries would be boiling off hydrogen gas at some rate.  If the hydrogen gas didn’t ignite and explode, the batteries would fairly quickly go dry and be permanently damaged.    Aaaargh.  We noticed that volts were proportional to engine speed so we throttled back to tickover (15.5v) and drifted on at a snails pace to get help at Welton marina.
With rain dripping off my nose, I entered the office and the lady remarked that I looked as if I was having a bad day.  Well it wasn’t about to get any better because it was their engineer’s day off.  OK, we’ll call out River Canal Rescue.  Welton smiled and said, ”They’ll probably call us first , and  doubt they’ll have the right alternator with them anyway.”  “Can you turn on all the electrical devices in the boat to drop the voltage?  A washing machine, a fan heater? Lights?”  Not us, I’ve spent the last two years installing LED’s, getting a very low wattage telly and eliminating anything that eats power.
We returned to the boat and fiddled with a few wires round the alternator. Starting up the engine, hey, I don’t know what we’ve done but it’s fixed!  Maybe some water (there was plenty of it) shorting out summat.  So we pressed on.
On the summit pound between Norton junction and Braunston, there’s a weir spilling water into a gulley which goes out across the fields below.  Well, that was like the Olympic white water canoe cataract.  On the canal itself the current towards the weir was a couple of knots at least.  It felt like we were on the river.
Approaching Braunston tunnel we could see what appeared to be a fountain.  Water off the surrounding land was pouring down a pipe with such force that when it hit the canal it created a standing wave about three feet high although fortunately there was room to sneak past it. Going through the tunnel was going to be fun – not.  In fact worse than that.  After a brief bacon roll stop we entered the tunnel,and the alternator went berserk again.  Oh no, now we could get a hydrogen explosion in the tunnel.  Really we had little choice but to press on.  At tickover, against a two knot current, Braunston tunnel takes a surprisingly long time to pass through. 
It looked like our plans to get to the Folly at Napton for the night were well and truly shot. At the top of the locks we pulled in and I walked (actually, that’s not true, I waded up to my ankles) down to the bottom of the locks to get alternator advice.  And where better than Union Canal Carriers where the esteemed Johnno fixes everything on their hire fleet.
He would replace the alternator if we wanted next morning, but he advised us not to attempt the locks that afternoon.  I sensed he was not wrong.  Water was gushing and swirling everywhere.  The towpath was inches deep all the way down.  Water was pouring over all the gates.  In the pound above the Admiral Nelson there appeared to be some sort of maelstrom, and the brick ramps where you walk up to the locks from under the bridges were like waterfalls.
Johnno also told me how to safely disable the alternator if we wanted to press on to Calcutt next day and get them to sort it.  What you have to do is disconnect the field wire that excites the windings.  The simple way to do this is to disconnect the charge warning light.  At least I was learning something useful out of the experience.
So we stayed put overnight, waiting for the water to calm down.  The forecast said it would be dryer next day,.  Oh good. Only with 60mph winds. Oh B*gger.  By now I was feeling very grateful that I  had kept an old pair of wellies on board.  At least I had dry feet.
Next day was quite different.  Not better, just different.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Something I bet you never realised

Well I didn’t anyway.  Did you know that it takes more water for a boat to go up in a lock, than it does to go down?

I can see it now, but only because I read a section in Inland Waterways of Great Britain and Ireland (see yesterday’s post).

It quotes an essay by Mr W O’Brien which won the Canal Association prize in 1858.  Its a bit wordy and long winded so I’ve simplified the text and used more modern mathematical language.

The loss of water caused by the passage of a boat through a lock is as follows:-
Let W = the loss of water,
Let L = a lockfull of water as calculated by the surface area x the depth of rise or fall
Let B = the volume of water displaced by the boat.
When the boat ascends, the loss of water W= L+B
When the boat descends, W= L – B

Hmmm. You see when the boat comes into the bottom of a lock it pushes out B amount of water.  The lock fills with L gallons, then when the boat leaves the top of the lock another B gallons is drawn in from the canal above the lock. So it has used up L+B.

Going down.  The boat gives back B gallons to the canal above as it comes in, so the lock has L-B galloons in it, which is what is lost when it drops. I think that’s what it implies anyway.

That being so, we ought to have canals designed by M C Escher so we’re always going down hill.

Or thinking of it another way, shallow drafted boats like Herbie are cheaper (in water terms)  than deep boats like the coal boats Ara and Archimedes going uphill, but it’s the other way round going down.  Good innit?

Oooh, I just noticed that this is my 1006th post!! What a pity I missed out on doing a special thousandth edition.  Aah well, when we get to 2000 I'll do one.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Canals 1960 style

They say if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there.  Well I can and I was. It was fab. 

I’ve been reading through a 1960s book that Rainman kindly gave to me. Inland Waterways of Great Britain and Ireland compiled by Lewis A Edwards Hon Sec of the IWA (1950-58).  Published in 1962 this tome takes over where the 1904 Bradshaw’s (see my recent post) takes off.  It uses a lot of the original Bradshaw’s data but augments it and updates where necessary.  It also has some very interesting general remarks about the state of the waterways at that time e.g.

In the Foreword by Robert Aickman – “Over the last 100 years, through public inertia and the destructive activities of those responsible for competing forms of transport, British inland waterways have fallen largely into ruin and almost entirely into oblivion” Well at least bits of it have improved since then.

In the Preface: “The National water shortage, coupled with serious flooding in many areas is an anomaly the nation can ill afford . . “ Ring any bells?

Then in a very detailed and  interesting section on Derelict Waterways, “Usually canal and river navigations were promoted by Act of Parliament though there were numerous short private canals constructed.  These Acts almost invariably laid down statutory rights and provisions, which in many cases have been flagrantly ignored.”

Too right! You don’t have to look far into the detailed data sections to spot one or two of these flagrant breaches of responsibility.  For example on the Middle Levels the book reminds us that headroom under bridges should by statute have been 8ft.  Oh Yeah?

P1010491 (1024x768)

7ft would have been nice!  As the book says, several of these bridges are only 6ft above the water.

On the Basingstoke canal, the book reports “This canal is not in a good state of maintenance”

No change there then.  Oh look , a Special Note:

“A curious legal situation surrounds this waterway.  No part of it has been abandoned by Act of Parliament.  Its construction was promoted by Act of Parliament in 1778.  The original company  due to railway competition, was wound up in 1869.  In 1910, this winding up order of 1869 was found invalid, and that the responsibility for upkeep and the power to exact tolls remained vested in the ghost of the original company”  No wonder the various authorities involved today still can’t seem to get their act together.  The people responsible for upkeep have been dead for over a century!

Finally, a look at Cruising Licences on the Nationalised Waterways in 1962

Powered pleasure craft  - vessels class A over 50 ft. Annual licence £16.  Todays value based on Govt. inflation records  - £280.  Hmmm my licence costs more than double that, but at least many of the waterways are in better nick than in 1960.

Excellent book Rainman.  Thanks.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

First the chores, then we can all join in the fun

There’s work to be done on Herbie before the year is out. For these jobs I shall be deploying the most versatile of all marine engineering tools, – the cheque book.  Alright, the Visa Debit Card actually, but cheque book sounds better.   I could attempt taking off the gearbox and changing the drive plate, but frankly I’d rather have it done by somebody who won’t do more harm than good in the process, so we’re booked in again at Calcutt next week.  Rick will be crewing and so it would be churlish of me not to take the short detour en route for an evening at the Folly, so he can be fed and watered.  (When I say watered, . . . . )

Then after all that is done,we are due for blacking at Crick early in December.  I could do that myself too, but I find the idea of getting cold and wet pressure washing a hull in winter, then getting black and sticky whilst layering on black and sticky stuff less than appealing.  It can come out of what we laughingly call Herbie’s sinking fund.

So those will be our last cruises of 2012.  One no doubt plagued by fallen leaves on the prop but hopefully silky smooth and clanking noise free on the return journey, and the other a two hundred yard marathon across the marina to the dry dock. I’m hoping for that one that the Daily Express (or was it the Mail?) headline earlier this week predicting  sub arctic temperatures in December was up to their usual standards of accuracy and it will in fact be reasonably warm.

And then (da tada da da da daaaaaah)

we can get on with our traditional end of year celebration.  Yes dear reader, you can get down to Moss Bros and book your DJ and/or polish up the tiara– it’s nearly time for the Herbie Annual Awards.  Hooray!!!!  All along the cut, nervous publicans wait with baited breath, towns and cities polish up their waterfronts, and boaters thank their lucky stars that they were nice to us this year as they all tremble at the thought of being nominated for one of these coveted awards.

Alongside the traditional awards for Best Pub, Best Overnight Mooring, Scariest Moment and all the other old favourites, we’re open to suggestions for new and exciting categories.  Send us your ideas. One we’d like to give this year will be for Best Photo on Another Boater’s Blog.  I’ve seen some great candidates for that and you may have too.

At the Grand Finale we’ll once again be announcing the winner of the Herbie Special Award for 2012 for someone who has done something really special this year.   It’s as near as you can get to a Knighthood without going to the palace. 

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A morning photographing boats - and I hear 21 explosions

I have a new lens for my camera, at least it’s a new second hand one.  Amongst other things it gets a pretty wide angle.  Will it make me a better photographer?  Naah.  I read somewhere that most lenses are better than most photographers, i.e. a good lens won’t necessarily give you good pictures if you don’t do your bit well.

As Kath was going down to Pompey today, I hitched a ride and spend the morning wandering round Old Portsmouth, the bit down by the harbour entrance.  So much goes on there, you can always guarantee something worth a snap. 

What a beautiful day.  Deep blue sky and low autumn light.  Lovely.

I’m trying to think out of the box a bit photographically.  What do you think of this?  Do me a favour and click it up big.

  IMG_2024 (1024x310)

What is it? You may ask.  Well it’s this IMG_2024 (2) (1024x683)

a scene in Camber Dock turned upside down and chopped.  I liked the reflections, but the scene behind the boats was so tangled that it was a bit of a mess, so i experimented.

A couple of hundred yards away, once again taking advantage of the wider angle of view, I took this

IMG_2046 (1024x683)

Two pubs and a boat.  What’s not to like?!  Pity about the car roof though.  As you can see, the IoW ferries get pretty close to the bank hereabouts.

As I was walking back.  BANG!. . .   BANG!! . . . BANG!!! . . .  BANG!!!!.  Explosions out at sea, it sounded like.  I ran up to the old sea wall at Sallyport and through the door onto the little beach.  BANG!!!!! . . .BANG!!!!!!.  Looking over to HMS Dolphin (that’s a shore establishment, not a ship) at Gosport I soon spotted where the bangs were coming from.

IMG_2026 (1024x559)

They stopped after 21 bangs.  Aaaah, a salute.  Later on the radio they said it was the Prince of Wales’s birthday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Drive plate failure–and why it makes me want to weep

Gubbins alert. Gubbins alert. If you have no interest in bits of engines breaking, look away now.
On Sunday Rick came over and we played with poking a screwdriver into Herbie’s flywheel casing. The reason ? To have a dig at the drive plate.  Now some of you might know all about drive plates, but for those who don’t.  I’ll try and explain.  Lets start at the beginning.

Now that our engine is now running smoothly thanks to our new camshaft, it enables us to hear a nasty clattering sound in the background.  Not all the time.  I suspect it comes and goes depending how hard the engine is having to push.  The clattering seems worse when the engine is lightly loaded.

Reading around on the forums, it’s a fair bet that the clattering is the drive plate.  I know little about drive plates save this much:

The drive plate acts as a cushion absorbing sudden changes in torque transmitted between the engine and the gearbox.  So when you engage gear, the running engine suddenly faced with the load of the gearbox and propeller feels less of a shock.  If you have a diesel car, there’s a fair chance it has a type of drive plate known as a dual mass flywheel.  The one on our old Focus got very clattery and I had to have a new flywheel and clutch costing me over £600.

In a boat engine it all goes together like this (yes, another Sketchup diagram)

drive plate

The big rectangular block is the engine. The thick mauve disc is the flywheel and the drive plate is the thing bolted on to the flywheel. The smaller disc at the front of the drive plate is somehow flexibly attached to the back plate allowing a certain amount of torsional play between the two. At the centre of the front plate is a splined hole into which the input shaft of the gearbox fits, and the gearbox drives the propeller shaft and the propeller drives the boat. So when the boat goes into gear, or there is a sudden change in torque for whatever reason, the plate absorbs the torsional shock. With me so far?

Like I said I don’t know what connects the two halves of the drive plate and how the flexing is managed. There seem to be some nylon parts in there. Anyway we were able to poke at it with a screwdriver and it seemed to us that the front plate was pretty loose and had little torsional resistance. Reading up on the forums, this sounds like a failed drive plate which usually sounds like “a bag of spanners rattling”. Aaah yes, that’s the noise we get.

How do you get at it with a screwdriver when the flywheel is encased ? – I hear you ask.  Ah well Herbie’s engine, unusually,  has two gert big  holes in it’s flywheel casing.  They are there to allow the passage of drive belts for a long gone 240v  generator that used to be on the engine before we got the boat.

Anyway here is one of the holes so you can see.

P1060508 (1024x768)

Don’t panic that the exhaust pipe has fallen off and the gearbox oil cooler is disconnected.  I took the photo when they were getting the engine out for the camshaft job.

The arrow points at the drive plate that is bolted onto the flywheel. 

If the plate has failed, then why? Well apparently they often do in time. I suspoect our previous engine rough running and dodgy engine mounts had something to do with it. On our old car the plate failed after 95,000 miles and eight years. Herbie’s engine has done the equivalent of 150,000 miles and is eleven years old, so I can’t grumble really. It’s a routine job for a good mechanic to replace the plate, but I’m gutted that we didn’t spot it when we had the engine out because it would have been dead easy to do at the time and would have saved a lot of labour cost. 

 Look, they had it at their mercy! A ten minute job. Grrrrr!  It makes you want to weep.  Why didn’t they notice it when they put the gearbox back on?

P1060496 (1024x768)

The plates themselves are about £80.  The engine doesn’t have to come out, just the gearbox has to be pulled off.  We’ll have to have it done sooner rather than later because it can fail completely and engine will fail to drive the gearbox.  What’s more, if the plate falls to bits at speed, it might damage something else.

Does anyone know what’s inside these plates and how they work?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shower realities

Following all the good suggestions you kind readers gave me about fitting a shower to Herbie, I spent some time this weekend doing more accurate measurements in the boat and making Sketchup drawings.  The results are revealing and show the value of 3d drawings.

First let me state some bare facts. 

1. The bathroom is the size it is.  There is absolutely zero chance of making it bigger.

2. We do not want to move the existing washbasin or loo because it would turn into too big a job. My name is not Rockerfeller and I have not won the lottery.

3. There is little room to move the position of the bathroom door because we need to open it without clouting the loo.

4. Shower trays tend to come in a limited range of sizes, although Adam does tell me of someone who can make them any size.

So here we go.  First lets see the three options.  Here we look down into the bathroom.  Washbasin and loo on the right, and a radiator on the wall opposite the door.

shower variants

The door is represented by the black lines on the floor showing it in two stages of opening.

Now the possible shower positions.

Blue:  a 610x760 shower tray which fits neatly behind the door.

Red: a 760x760 tray. Moved to the opposite wall to allow the door to open, although not all the way

Green: a 900x760 quadrant tray.  No door problems here.

Well, it looks like they all fit doesn’t it? Hmmm. Lets look at some other angles.

shower 610x760b

Here’s the 610x760 as proposed in my earlier post.  We know it would fit, and we would have shelves between it and the outside wall of the boat.

Now what about that lovely quadrant shower.  It looks ideal in plan view. Here is a 3d view,this time I’ve coloured in the bathroom door etc.

shower quadrant

That looks OK.  But wait. lets rotate the view a bit.

quadrant rotated

Oooh er.  Those red lines show the roof and sides of the boat and the edges of the gunnels.  The top of the shower pokes out right through the walls of the boat!  Whilst you could in theory saw off the relevant bits of the shower cubicle, its looking rather like a no-no to me.  Not to mention the fact that it is perilously close to tangling with the radiator.  The cubicle could in theory be moved inboard, but it would be too close to  the opposite corner then to allow you to get in and out properly.

The same applies to the 760x760 square tray even though it would be easier to tailor it to fit against the wall, having straight rather than curved sides, and the sides can be made as a wooden panel with tiles.  But I calculate the at shoulder height, because of the slope of the boat sides, we would have no more space that the 610x760 tray.

Can you follow all that?

I’m pretty sure that without the 3-D view it would have taken me a long time to spot the problem.  Its easy to forget how much the boat sides slope in above the gunnel.

So unless you can convince me otherwise I reckon we’re back to plan A, provided we are prepared to squeeze into a 610x760 tray.  Not ideal, but hey, it’s a boat bathroom, not a hotel en suite.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Showers, shafts and a canal cafe turned Bistro

What a lovely lot you all are.  Many thanks for all the comments regarding my shower questions, although sadly no-one seems to have one of the same size our fitter has suggested.  Lots of good ideas though.  We popped in to Uxbridge Boat Centre yesterday for a tin of raddle, and noticed they had shower trays, one of which was the same size as that proposed for us.  I must say, hanging on the wall it didn’t look too small. Today I’m off out to Herbie for a couple of days doing odd jobs and that will include a really thorough measuring up of all the spaces and heights to see if we could fit in a bigger tray somehow. 

I’m also going to sweep the chimney and see if I can explore further my prop shaft and alignment. I have decided to try to check the alignment by using some digital callipers to measure the gap across the gearbox and prop shaft flanges as I rotate the shaft through each 90 degrees.

Yesterday we had a nice lunch with Mr & Mrs Rainman (David and Heather) in the Malt Shovel by Cowley Lock.  We have a really soft spot for that area as we did much of our early boating with Herbie through there.  I just checked to see if the lock was on the winter stoppages programme and it isn’t.  Well it should be because when we walked over to take a look, the leakage through the bottom gates was so great, we saw the current of water below the gates and thought for a moment that a paddle had been left up.  The only reason the lock was half full was that the top gates were leaking nearly as badly as the bottom ones.

Remember the little tea room by the lock, famous for fry ups and mugs of tea? Well now it claims to be a Bistro!

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Now you can book a table –

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blimey it must have gone posh! It was closed, so we didn’t look in to see what it was now like.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Designing a boat bathroom - a call for advice

Our existing bathroom on Herbie looks something like this

old bathroom

You see the door from the corridor just ajar on the left.  The side facing us is actually a solid wall, made transparent here so you can see inside.  As you can see we have a sort of hip bath thingy which doubles as a shower when we pull a curtain across.

Our idea is to move to something like this with a stand up shower and some shelves.

new bathroom 1 new bathroom 2

I have long kept a plan drawing of Herbie’s internals with measured dimensions, and using that and Google’s amazing free Sketchup software it doesn’t take all that long to produce these 3d images which you can rotate at will.

We’ve already had a man come and measure up for a quote for a revamp along these lines.

Apart from having a proper shower and some shelves we’ll benefit from having a new thermostatic mixer instead of having to juggle with separate H&C taps as we do now.  Kath a is a bit concerned about the size of the shower tray, which because of the position of the bathroom door has to be max 610mm or about 2ft in old money front to back.  The width across the door is a bit better at 750mm or about 2ft 6ins.

Our fitter has specified a bifold door, which I’m guessing he would have folding into the shower.  Wouldn’t that be a bit of a squeeze when you are opening and closing it? – or do they sometimes fold outside?  I’m thinking a full size door might do just as well with the hinge at the left hand side. It wouldn’t open fully, but enough to get in.

Has any boater out there got a shower this size, and if so, how do you get on with it?  Any comments would be gratefully received.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


I just paid in US dollars to buy something from China.  What is the world coming to? It’s all Piston Broke’s fault.  Chatting to them last week convinced me that I ought to have a measure of the current produced by Herbie’s solar panel principally so I can aim it to get best advantage from the sun.  My solar panel controller gives no information other than a red LED that lights up when the panel is doing anything at all. So to get a reading of amps  I need an ammeter to measure and a shunt through which to pass the current.  That means the ammeter isn’t really an ammeter at all but a voltmeter measuring the voltage across the tiny resistance of the shunt and translating it into a display of amps.

This all sounds very complicated but it isn’t.  And the kit is cheap.  $20 US including postage from China.  Why China?  That’s what I’m wondering really, but looking on Ebay, that’s the only place these things come from.  Why no-one over here sells a 10A shunt and calibrated ammeter I don’t know.

The shunt, which is just a metal bar like this:

will go in the line between the solar controller and the negative domestic battery terminal, and the ammeter which looks like this:

will connect to either end of the shunt.  Bob’s yer uncle.  I suppose I will have to make a little box to install the meter in.  It’ll need a little battery in there too to power the ammeter. I’m thinking I might combine it with our Smartgauge all in one box.  Then we’ll no doubt turn into amp anoraks, or is that amporaks.  I’m already amused by how Kath has turned into a battery capacity anorak.  She can’t walk past the Smartgauge without pressing the button to get a reading.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Not Rolling in the Deep

On Friday we’re going to drop in for a cuppa with our old boating next door neighbour Glyn on the Slough Arm.  It’ll be nice to catch up on the news of one of England’s least popular canal arms.  Not that unpopular with us I might add.  The photo at the head on the blog was taken on the Slough arm as was the one below.  What’s not to like?  Ah yes, Slough – well nothing’s perfect.

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Maybe next summer things will pick up for the old arm because they are supposed to be dredging it this winter.  My 1904 Bradshaw’s lists the depth there as 4ft for narrowboats and 3ft 9 ins for wide beamers.  I should think today you could knock at least a foot off that.  If they could dredge it out to the original dimensions what a difference it would make. 

While I was on that page of Bradshaw’s I got seduced into reading depths of other bits of the Grand Union, or the Grand Junction as it was then.  Interestingly while below Berkhamstead they quote 4ft or more as the depth, the stretch between Berko and Braunston is only stated as 3ft 8ins. I would have though that was a bit dodgy for the working boats of those days. Strange also that some of the arms now regarded as shallow offered a greater depth than some of the main line in 1904.  The Leicester arm from Norton to Foxton offered 4ft, and the Northampton arm, now notoriously shallow, allowed 4ft 3!!  I wish.

The prize for the shallowest of all went to the now defunct Buckingham arm, which had a max depth of only 1ft 8in at Buckingham.  No wonder it closed.  The Aylesbury and Wendover arms offered only 2ft 6ins.  I’d be surprised if the navigable bit of the Wendover is that deep now.  Herbie draws 2ft and struggles up there.  Bradshaw says it is navigable only as far as Tringford stop lock, whereas today, thanks to the work of volunteers you can get some way beyond that.

It would be very interesting to have someone publish navigable depths of the system today. Inevitably, most areas would have silted up and be shallower.  If it weren’t for the working boat enthusiasts ploughing furrows up and down as they travel along itd be even worse I suppose.  Keep it up lads. Oh and lasses – (must keep Sarah off my neck.)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Canal facts 1904 style.

You don’t have to follow this blog for long to realise I’m a sucker for facts and figures.  So imagine my excitement today in getting a copy of Bradshaw’s Canals and Rivers of England and Wales

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Originally compiled by Henry Rodolph de Salis it was first published in 1904, and now you can get a facsimile of that edition from Old House Books.  With a name like his, you might guess that our Henry was not a working boatman, but he was an engineer and a director of Fellows Morton & Clayton so we’ll let him off.

Rather like the better known Bradshaw’s railway guide, this details every bit of canal and navigable river operating at the time with descriptions, mileages, navigating dimensions and all sorts of other stuff.  I’m in facts and figures heaven.

I’m loving it already. One of the first things I picked up on was a piece about the costs of providing locks with water.  Bradshaw quotes a study in 1896 which showed that it cost £1 4s 8d to provide the approx 56,000 gallons of water to fill the lock at Tring summit (presumably Marsworth top lock) from the artesian well presumably where the pumping station now is up the Wendover Arm.  That’s a lot of money – in today’s terms anything between £100 and £1100 depending how you measure it.   I wonder that the canals could operate economically at that rate.  My first thought was that even at the cheapest price, that wouldn’t take more than a day on the canal to spend your annual licence fee!  But of course you don’t use a fresh lockful every time you pass through a lock, you carry it with you until you get to the bottom of the hill.  Even so I would hope that it works out a lot cheaper today.

Just down the canal from another well at Cowroast however, they could do it for 13s 7d, practically half the price.  Strange, cos that’s on the same level.

Up in Brum, the BCN only cost 2s 4d for a lock full, although admittedly the locks were only half the size.  Maybe they didn’t rely so much on pumps.

Interestingly this Bradshaw’s book  cost 21s in 1904.  That’s anything between £88 and £800 in today’s money depending how you count it.  Mine cost £12.99.  A bargain if ever there was one.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Saturated but not necessarily full–latest reservoir figures.

“Rivers are full after the wettest April to June on record, followed by more rain in July, September and October. The earth is saturated and in many areas there is no more space left in aquifers to store water that seeps through from the surface. The Environment agency warns that people should be ready for floods even with relatively small amounts of rain.”

So begins a BBC news item today.  “Aha,” I think to myself. “If I take a look at the CaRT Reservoir Watch figures then, it’ll presumably tell me the reservoirs are all full”

Well, not entirely it seems.  I was a bit surprised and puzzled by what I saw.  Here is my updated graph, now showing percentage full of selected canal reservoirs from January 2011 to October 2012.


Compare this October with last October and you’ll see a huge difference. As usual, the K&A figures are all over the place.  We still don’t know why, but we’re used to it.  Sure enough a number of the others are full, but what’s going on on the GU South?  I wouldn’t have thought that the boat traffic there was any more than, say, the Oxford, and a number of the GU flights have back pumping too.  I’d love to know the answer.

As to others, the BCN, Chesterfield, Huddersfield Narrow and the Lancaster are all at or below 70%.   I thought they were up in the rainy bit.  Anyway, the people in the know seem comfortable with the figures.  The comment on the CaRT site includes the following:

The rainfall has ensured that the reservoir holdings for the vast majority of our network are at a very good status, compared to the Long Term Averages for this time of year when our reservoirs would typically to be at their lowest holdings, or just starting to show autumn refill. To illustrate this, the Oxford Canal reservoir group is now at 95% full, compared with just 20% full this time last year and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal group is now at 91% full, compared with just 25% full this time in 2003. The overall water resource position and hence the outlook is very good, and there is a high degree of confidence that the 2013 main boating season will be able to start with good reservoir stocks, a very marked contrast to how the situation was looking a year ago.

As for those poor boaters on rivers, they’ve had a tough year haven’t they.  I’ve lost count of the number of blog reports of folk stranded in dangerous conditions  on the Thames and the Nene this year.  Now I see the Yarwoods and the Matilda Roses look set to spend the winter stranded on the fens.  I can think of worse places to be stranded but I hope they have plenty of woolly jumpers. It gets cold out there.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A winterising trick

The other day I accidentally found a cute way to drain off the plumbing in Herbie.  Now winter is approaching I like to leave the pipes empty when we leave the boat cold for any length of time.  In the old days I just used to close the water tank stop cock, open all the taps and switch off the water pump.  Not forgetting also to drain our morco water heater.  Then when we had those very cold winters in 2009/10, I got into the habit of removing the water pump (it only takes a couple of minutes) and draining the dregs of the pipes from some drain cocks near the floor at the back of the boat.  A bit of a pain getting at the drain cocks, they are at the base of the coat cupboard under a pile of lifejackets.

This time, I was draining the shower hose and taps by putting  the free end of the shower hose in a bottle lying on the bathroom floor.  I don’t drain it into the bath because you can’t pump the sump really dry. Then I noticed that because the shower hose had been full of water, it not only drained itself into the bottle but also kept going, acting as a syphon to drain all the low lying pipes.  I should explain that the pipes lie in a conduit a couple of inches above floor level.  So as long as the bottle was right on the floor, I could drain everything, as near as dammit, through the shower hose.  I checked afterwards by opening the drain cocks at the back and no water came from them.  Well just a drip or two.  There must be some left behind when the syphon breaks, but spread along 40 ft of pipe I doubt it would be enough to burst a plastic pipe if it froze.   So that makes draining down dead easy.  You have to remember to open all the taps first or it won’t work.

I know some people empty their water tank too.  I’ve never done that, reckoning that it has plenty of expansion space, and that such a large mass of water lying below the canal surface would take a long time to get seriously frozen.  Neither have I drained the calorifier as it is lagged, but maybe I ought to.

Actually the best way to keep a boat safe if the weather gets really really cold is to go and stay on it. Light the fire and get cosy. We’ve done that in the past and really enjoyed it.

One advantage of having our engine taken out to do the camshaft recently was that the engine cooling system had to be refilled, so I got them to fill it 50/50 with 5 year antifreeze, the red stuff.  We were about due for an antifreeze change and I recall from when I last did it that getting rid of the old coolant from the engine bay floor was a rotten job.   At Calcutt they had the answer.  A serious wet and dry vacuum cleaner.  Every boat yard should have one.  I’d gladly pay a modest sum to use it every so often.

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Boating gets you drooling over the strangest things doesn’t it?