Sunday, February 24, 2013

Batteries–an unexpected end to my paranoia.

Thank you thank you thank you.

If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have just found out something I have really needed to know (and worried about)  for a long time.

I started writing a post about long term results of our changing to a different domestic battery type in 2010.  We bought three Numax CXV 113Ah batteries which are 15% dearer than standard open cell types.  This was a bit of an act of faith based on manufacturers claim of much longer battery life.  Was I a victim of advertising hype? Did I waste my money? 

A year ago I wrote that 2012 should be the decider one way or the other.  So here we are in 2013 and I was writing that they did really seem to be lasting better.  Then I thought I’d try to check my technical facts on these batteries.  Previous attempts at this led me nowhere as none of the technical sheets or advertising specs gave anything away.  Maybe it was snake oil.  Maybe I had bought a pig in a poke.

Anyway my desire not to give you misinformation got me to have one last try, and just as I was giving up I found the vital snippet.  It turns out that these batteries have plates that contain Silver and Calcium plus of course being mostly lead.  Being none the wiser, I looked up Silver Calcium batteries.  Bingo.  Lots of info.

Now fitted as standard by Ford amongst others.  Silver Calcium batteries have a much lower self discharge rate and a much longer life than standard open cell lead acid batteries.  Ford reckon on 6 years in a car.  They also lose a lot less water (by a factor of ten times)   But here’s the bit of information I really needed and didn’t know, and it will significantly change how we manage these batteries.  The charging voltage tolerance is increased from the usual 14.4v to 14.8 volts.

Well woopy woo I hear you say.  What difference does that make?  I’ll tell you what difference it makes.  It makes me want to weep for all the wasted worry we have had about overcharging. It means I don’t have to keep worrying every day when our alternator voltage creeps up beyond 14.4 after some hours cruising.  Full of battery boiling paranoia, we watch the Smartgauge like a hawk until it goes into error mode because of “over voltage”.  Then we turn the fridge up higher to soak away the extra voltage, and still I worry that we might be damaging the batteries because they are sealed and can’t be topped up if the electrolyte boils off.

So it turns out that far from damaging the batteries, it would actually be good for the voltage to rise up to approaching 14.8.  The batteries would get more fully charged.  Doh.  I had even built and installed an alarm that beeped when we rose above 14.5.  I spent hours on it.  Now I’ll have to strip that out.  Also I’ll have to change the Smartgauge settings to reflect the max voltage.

So back to my original idea for this post.   Most normal open cell batteries have a predicted life of about 250 charge discharge cycles. I reckon we must be well over the 300 cycle mark now and four months to go on the three year (rather than two year) guarantee.  So how are we doing?

I suppose the first thing to say is that based on past experience, our older set of open cell types- same make, different model, -  were giving up the ghost at this stage and suffering a lot of self discharge when left in the cold weather and of course ruuning down quickly in use.  Our recent discovery that our solar panel had not been connected for at least two months this winter exposed our CXV batteries to the same conditions for self discharge, so how did they manage?  Not badly is the answer.  There was some self discharge, but very small in comparison.

On a broader front, the CXVs seem to be holding up well. Although I don’t think they have as much capacity now as they started with, they are still up to about 65 - 70% on the smartgauge after a 16 hour overnight stop using the normal fridge, lights, water pump, a bit of telly / radio.  I won’t start worrying until that drops nearer to 50%.

So that shows they work does it?

Well we can’t really be sure how much better they are than the old ones because these days we look after our batteries better.  Having a solar panel makes a lot of difference.  Our batteries really do get charged to 100% very regularly, even after short cruising days, what the alternator doesn’t achieve the solar panel finishes off, and of course gives us a boost after sunrise before we get up. My new solar panel ammeter (which works-hooray!) shows that even on a sunny February afternoon with the sun low in the sky, we can get 4 or more amps out of the panel.  On a long summer day, that would equate to a lot of amp hours.

I was going to write that the downside was that you had to do something about preventing your alternator from charging at too high a voltage, but now that problem seems to have disappeared.   Thank you thank you thank you.

The big question is, next time would I buy these batteries again, even though they cost more?  The answer has to be YES. a) because they really do seem to be lasting longer, and b) because topping up the old ones was a pain due to the fact that they had so little headroom over them.  I suppose there is also a c)  because they are sealed, there should be no potentially dangerous hydrogen escaping to cause an fire or an explosion in the engine bay or risk of acid spillage.  Oh and a d) because my alternator is unlikely to produce a voltage high enough to overcharge them.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Coventry

I have written in the past about the pleasures of entering Coventry by canal, and I stand by it. O.K. there is quite a stretch of industrial wasteland to pass, but there are a lot of more pleasant stretches as the canal meanders its way into the city, not least the last half mile as you pass the wonderful old Cash's Hundred building and the brilliantly converted power station, now an apartment complex featuring many reminders of its industrial past.

Then the canal basin itself, whilst not pretty, is comfortable and safe and handy for the city centre.

Yesterday however, we had an alternative experience. We went into Coventry by car. Forget Alton Towers or Thorpe Park. If you want a true white knuckle ride where you genuinely feel your life is threatened, drive into Coventry using a Sat Nav . It's alright for the electronic lady to calmly say at the next roundabout take the third exit. When you have only just arrived up the ramp from the last roundabout on a flyover and find you are in totally the wrong lane and cars and lorries are coming at you from all directions it's not easy to remain polite to her. What a nightmare! Give me the canal any time.

I was taking Kath and Grace to the station so they could take Grace back to Reading to be picked up by her Dad. Waiting for Kath to return, I had three hours to kill. Now I have done the Cathedral twice already, and the Transport museum. These are both wonderful and you must go to them when in the city. However after that the centre of Coventry is, how shall I put it, depressing.

It's never a good sign when you're see two large pawn shops in a city centre. Across the square, the promenades lead on through the charming grey concrete shopping centres with their flat roofs and draughty corners. Of course the shops themselves are no different from the shops in any other large town, so it's all too familiar but undeniably drabber than most places.

I confess though that I did not reach a more interesting prospect. Pedestrian signs point to Medieval Spon Street. That sounds a lot more interesting and I vow to go there on our next visit.

Lastly there is one very fine building on the centre, full of promise. It's the Flying Standard, the Wetherspoons pub. What a stunner this is from the outside. Anyone who has been in the Standing Order in Edinburgh or the Opera House in Tunbridge Wells or the Old Kirk in Ayr will know the wonders Wetherspoons can achieve in old interiors. However they must have been having an off day when they fitted out the Flying Standard. It's cramped, gloomy, characterless and just like being a chartered accountant, Desperately Dull.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


We chickened out of taking Herbie out today because of ice on the water. I don't mind getting a few scuffs on the rubbing strikes, but having blacking scraped off the whole of the water line is quite another matter.

So we jumped in the car and tootled out to Foxton locks. Blimey, you should have seen the visitors car park. Choc a bloc and it's a big one. I showed Grace the ruins of the inclined plane
and after a visit to the little museum, she got the hang of how it worked.

On the way back we dropped in at Welford where this time last year the reservoir was on it's last legs. Practically empty. What a difference a year makes. Today it's brimming over. There I met a chap who claimed to be one of the reservoir watch team. He told me that after heavy rain a couple of weeks back, the outflow from Sulby reservoir above, was like Niagara Falls.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Up to scratch plus what I have in common with Wayne Rooney

Well our shiny new hull blacking has been on for two months now.  I suppose it’s time we faced up to the inevitable and scraped a bit off.  We’re looking far too smart although the pristine hull does show up the gunnels somewhat.  I’ll get then touched up next time we have the right weather. 

Speaking of weather, it looks like things are getting a bit better.  We may take Herbie out for a few days starting on Sunday.  I don’t suppose we’ll make it down Watford Locks without a scratch somewhere on our lovely shiny hull.  Should we by some miracle manage it, I imagine that Braunston tunnel will oblige if we meet a boat coming the other way.  The first scratch is always distressing but once that’s over you can relax.

BTW I had cause to have a short conversation with the great Roger Bucknall today.  Who dat? I hear you ask.  Well his customers include (amazingly) Wayne Rooney, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and David Beckham plus a good few more of equal notoriety.  Oh and me.  Follow this link and you’ll see who he is, plus you’ll be able to listen to him telling a very short but amusing tale.

Why was I speaking to him?  Just trying to get a small spare part.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Job description for a boat plumber /mechanic

I’ve just been doing one of my unfavourite jobs at home.  Clearing out the gunge traps under the sinks and washbasins.  The worst is the bathroom washbasin where the necessary bits are hidden behind a ceramic pedestal.  It’s so hard to get at even though the pedestal can move a bit.  I couldn’t help thinking about so many jobs on the boat which ought to be easy, but take ages of cursing and aching fingers and stiff necks to accomplish.

Had the money I would have a permanent handyman on tap to free me from these miseries.  Here is my proposed brief Job description.

Principal duties

Removing and repairing or replacing parts from engines, plumbing, electrical apparatus etc.  in the employers home, his car, and aboard his narrowboat.

Qualifications and Experience

No essential formal qualifications, but experience of keyhole surgery performed upside down in a small dark cupboard desirable.  Preference will be given to candidates who have trained and worked as a contortionist.

Required physical attributes

The successful candidate be able to work blindfold inside a 2ft cube, but possess the reach of a basketball defender.  Must be able to apply a torque of 20 Newton Meters to a greasy plastic nut using fingertips only -  preferably behind his /her back while his/ her forehead is pressed against a hot copper pipe.  The ability to see round corners will be an advantage, as will the ability to assemble the parts of a clockwork wrist watch placed on a shelf two feet above the employee’s head. Must be able to perform complex tasks with strength and fine dexterity with frozen fingers whilst oily water is dripped into his/ her eyes.  The ability to swim may prove valuable from time to time.

Working hours

This is a part time job, but the employee must be available at any time day or night.

Any volunteers?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Insulation demonstration

Looking at the snow on Herbie's roof this morning I was pleased to see that the only bits that had melted were the areas of roof around the stove chimney and the water heater chimney. That must mean that the ceiling insulation is pretty good because we were toasty warm inside the boat.

There must be some heat escaping from the hull though because the other night I went outside to take a last breath of outside air before retiring to bed, and shining a torch into the water I saw a large shoal of small fish around the boat. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of Crick's monster carp were sheltering beneath our baseplate.

Snow always makes the place look fresh and pretty and our corner of the marina was undisturbed by vehicle tracks. The white snow showed up the colours of the bare trees. Colours which you wouldn't notice in normal weather.

We're back home now, but we'll be back afloat at the weekend giving Grace a half term treat.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter electrickery

There's a fair old blizzard blowing outside the boat. Despite us being hunkered down safely between Owl and Henry Cleaver either side of us, we are getting quite a buffeting. The wind is howling a bit. The afternoon Rick and Marilyn came over in the rain for lunch and by the time they left all outside was white. Here aboard Herbie I have spent a fair part of the last couple of days doing electrical jobs.

The main job was to put together and install the new ammeter and shunt to measure the output of the solar panel. Until now we have never been sure of whether it is performing to spec. Subjectively we know that it helps us to get through a day moored up without running the engine, although recently I had been suspicious that it wasn't doing as much as I would hope. Little did I know I was about to find out why.

I installed the shunt in the return earth wire between the batteries and the solar controller. As it was dark when I did it I had to wait until daylight this morning for the solar panel to put out some power to measure. Somewhat excited (I know I'm sad), I pressed the button and the meter read . . . . Zero! Oh dear. I double checked the wiring. All ok. Then I noticed on the controller box, instructions about in what order the wires should be attached. Apparently it makes a difference. the instructions say to flow them "in strict order". So I covered up the solar panel to stop it generating, undid all the wires and replaced them in the correct order. Oh dear again. Still no result. Perhaps I have bust the controller. Grrrrrrr.

Desperation now. Out with the voltmeter and I start measuring here and there. Hmmmm, the wires from the panel to the controller show about 20 volts. As it should. The wires to and from the battery read near zero. That can't be, can it. They just measure the battery voltage and I know that is about 13 v at the moment. So outside I go into the engine bay to look at the wiring at the battery end. There is the answer, but gawd knows how it came about. The positive wire from the controller to the battery was not attached. All I can guess is that the guys at Calcutt removed it when they were working on the engine or on the alternator. That would explain what the solar panel seemed not to be doing much lately. It was't doing anything!

Well it's all working now. This afternoon in the gloom and the rain, the panel, lying flat on the roof was putting out about half an amp. Not a great deal, but acceptable in the conditions and quite enough to keep the batteries up while we leave the boat here over winter. If the sun ever really shines again we're right back in business.

More else trickery tomorrow, I'm replacing our old built in radio with a new one which has a socket for us to play music from our iPads. About thirteen different wires to connect in a cramped space. Deep joy.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Hello World


This is my first blog post using our new WiFi setup on board Herbie. Installed five minutes ago. So far, it's looking good. Here at Crick the phone network is pretty ropey and the marina's WiFi is very weak in our spot, but we're getting quite fast Internet response from our new setup.

Basically we have copied the setup shown to us by Kathryn on NB Leo No2. Thanks Kathryn. What we have is a Huawei E586E Mobile WiFi thingy bought from Amazon, connected to an outside antenna which has a good magnetic foot (just the job for a boat roof) and a longish lead. We are using a 3mobile pay as you go sim 3gb /3 month for about a tenner.

The Huawei thingy is nearly the same as the wireless pointer sold by TMobile but their's doesn't have an antenna socket. We do seem to need the antenna, the signal inside the boat is pretty poor without it.

Kath and I are both on our iPads as I write and we are both agreed the Internet speed is the best we have ever had on board. Also the WiFi seems to work well from one end of the boat to the other.

Herbie seems to have survived her winter lay up. No burst pipes or leaks. The bilges are dry. The batteries were Ok too.

Next job is to fit the new ammeter to the solar panel circuit so I can see what they are generating. In theory this should be simple, but these things never are quite as easy as you hope because of fitting stuff in a tight space. Should I succeed tomorrow, I'll post a picture.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

What a difference a year makes

This time last year we were worrying whether there would be enough water to go anywhere.  Now look at it!  I thought those folk who headed down to the rivers last spring had got the right idea.  Now some of them are still stuck on the fenland rivers.  Now much as I like the fens, I do sympathise with anyone trapped over there for so long and waiting to get back to the good old canals.

Now we’re looking at this year’s itinerary and wondering if we’ll get on any rivers at all.  I’d love this year  to go down the Soar and then up to Nottingham, but I imagine it might be a while before it is safe to do that.  Does anyone out there know? Then there’s the upper Thames that we failed to get onto last autumn.  A good job we didn’t or we might still be there!

I don’t know how much longer we’ll stay at our Crick mooring after the coming year, splendid though it is.  We do miss the ease with which we used to take the boat into London for a few days when we were based near Slough.  So this year I’d like to get as much of the south /east midlands done while we are still up that way.  The change has done us the world of good and the places we have been able to reach have all been good, but do you know what?  I still reckon the southern GU is as nice as anywhere.

We are hoping to get out to Herbie for a few days R&R later this week.  We might have gone earlier but Kath has developed a mystery spontaneous crippling pain in her hip.  Yesterday she was completely immobile.   Thankfully she is a bit better today.  I’m keen to bring Herbie back to life after a too long winter hibernation.  Also I have jobs to do.  Fit our solar panel ammeter.  Try out our new WiFi gubbins.  Get and fit a new radio – one that has an auxiliary socket so we can play music form our ipads on it.  Sounds like quite a screwdrivery few days.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The cat is truly among the pigeons

Well I don't suppose there is any surprise that there is an explosion of debate about CRTs new visitor mooring proposals.  At my last visit, the canalworld forum thread was up to seventeen pages.  As usual the quality of the debate is pretty mixed, varying from distressingly dumb to quite sensible,  but one or two good points have been made.

Perhaps the main one is "why bother?" -  for most of the people most of the time it is not impossible to find a spot to moor overnight at or close to hotspots.  Certainly at the ones specifically listed that we have been to, we have always managed to squeeze in, albeit getting the last spot at the end of the row.  I wonder if the Southern region has been chosen because it is the least contentious? Now if the consultation concerned the Regents canal I would feel quite differently.  In our experience you have a poor chance of getting in for the night at Victoria park, an virtually no chance at visitor moorings at Islington tunnel and Camden.  Ditto Little Venice.  But on the GU, its busy and fullish but do-able.  I have never cruised the south Oxford in high season but I suspect that may well be a problem.  In any case I can't see why any measures couldn't be seasonal, confined to the peak holiday weeks.

Will it get adequately policed?  Most doubt it.  Some of these places are fairly out of the way, and the system as proposed depends on a volunteer logging boats each and every day.   Many fear that the loggers will be unreasonable types, but in the old mooring warden days we found most to be very reasonable, so I don't accept that as a reason.

Supposing you stop for an hour for lunch or to shop when the counter walks past and logs you in, then move off and  you return two days later to stop for a couple of days.  Will that be an overstay?  The only solution I can think of to stop that happening would be for the counting patrols to take place late evening or early morning when anyone tied up will have properly stopped for the night.

What about hire boats?  Well of course they are extremely unlikely to stay put for more than a day or two because they are paying a fortune for their holiday and want to get on with their journey.  However, as some one pointed out the same boat will be back most weeks, therefore breaking the number of days in any month rule.  People suspect that hire companies would get separate treatment because of this.

What about "weekenders?"  This is one I hadn't thought of.  If you have a permanent non residential mooring and you work during the week, you may want to take your boat out at weekends.  Inevitably that means that you will end up mooring at the same spots with some regularity and fall foul of the rules.  I don't call that hogging a mooring.

Then one last one of my own.

Is two days enough in a tourist centre?  I'm thinking of Oxford.  If you can only stay two nights, then that really means only one full day to visit the town.  Not enough.  Three nights would be better.

These all seem to me to be valid points.  On the other side of the coin there are the stupid points that just wind me up.

 "It's all a ploy for CRT to make money" - Don't be stupid, if they wanted to do that, they would make the overstay a fiver or a tenner, payable in cash at a meter.  That would raise money because people might think it worth it for an extra day or two. The point is to get people to free the space, so the inducement has to be high. In fact if I were CRT I would make the fine £50 a day or even more.  That way people would actually move, and I wouldn't have all the costs of fighting for the money.  At £25 CRT wont even cover the costs of recovery.  (In fact on the Regents canal I would introduce towing away as the only way of making the buggers move.  I accept that people may wish to moor their boat permanently, but not at a visitor mooring in a city.  It's like parking your caravan at the only bus stop for ten miles.  It makes it very difficult to plan a journey through east London.)

Nor do I accept remarks about the Thrupp mafia.  What they have created there is a pleasant row of moorings with a very reasonable length of stay.  All are welcome as long as they don't stay any longer, and the mooring wardens or whatever they are that I met were pleasant and courteous.  There is not a lot of mooring down that end of the canal and if people were allowed to stay there for weeks on end, then the traveller would have nowhere to stop.

Then a gang of folk are whipping up a petition against the proposals.  I fear they are wasting their time.  Not because CRT will steamroller it through, but because they will either change it in the light of comments or abandon it, albeit perhaps after a trial period.  Sure it'll work at places like Thrupp, it already does, but at others I think the volunteer loggers will be the problem as will the people who just ignore the rules and refuse to pay anyway.

I shall send in my comments along the lines of the above.  If there were to be an early trial, then I suggest Thrupp is not a good place because is is atypical.  I would go for Bulbourne or Marsworth or Banbury if it were me.  A definite trial with a start and end date and an open review to follow.

PS All praise to Alan Fincher, who has made the most balanced and sensible (and informed) comment on the forum.