Sunday, March 31, 2013

Digital CanalOmeter mark II beta test version

I'm leaving it here just for the record.

See this post for details

Thanks to the interest in my digital CanalOmeter spreadsheets and help from CanalPlan, we move on to the next phase for someone to test.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then read my earlier post  CanalOmeters for Tablets.
I’ve made very minor tweaks to the previous version and have been trying to find the simplest, most fool proof method of extracting the data from CanalPlan and pasting it into a spreadsheet.  If you fancy a go, please see if you can follow these instructions and report back any problems.  It’s really ever so easy, but like all  these things you do have to get it just right, so take care.
1. The first thing is to download a copy of my Digital CanalOmeter Template spreadsheet.  If I were you I would save two copies, one with a backup name in case you inadvertently mess up the original.  I have attempted to saved it as an Excel 93 onwards compatible format so most other versions ought to be able to read it, but holding it in Google docs does funny things so I’m not very sure what format you get it in.
  On my iPad I have been using Sheet2HD which cost me the princely sum of £3.99.  Some free ones might work just as well, I’ll leave it up to you.
2. Load up Canalplan in your browser and go to the Options page.  You need to click the All places button circled in red here, then the Apply button.  No other option settings are required.
cplan xport0
3. Now return to CanalPlan’s home page and follow the Plan a journey link to enter your chosen route then click on Calculate route.  When the route shows up, scroll to the foot of the page and click on the button Export this route.
4. Here’s what you should see next
cplan xport 1
Should you see something different, make sure the Select output format box says CanalPlanAC CSV.  That should put you straight.
5. Now you have to use those arrow buttons I have circled to clear out the Used in output box and refill it by selecting items from the Available columns box so you end up with this
cplan xport2
It is important that the right hand box ends up with the four items in the right order, top to bottom as shown.  (At some time in the future CanalPlan have offered to include a ready made output format for CanalOmeters, but of course they are busy with many other tweaks so for now we’ll do it this way.) When you’ve done that, click on Export this route.  You should then see a message Your export file has been generated, click here to open or download it.  Well what are you waiting for?  Click it and depending on what kind of computer/tablet you are using you should notice that a file called something like canalplanAC blah blah .csv is now in your possession.
6. Nearly there now.  Assuming you have some sort of compatible spreadsheet (if you haven’t, you shouldn’t have started all this) you ought to be able to click on the downloaded file and it should display itself in your spreadsheet program /app.  What you have to do now is to carefully Select and Copy (in one big piece) the table of data you see.
7. Last step.  Hang in there.
Into your spreadsheet app, load my CanalOmeter template.
cplan xport3
click on cell E:11 and then do a Paste.  Hey presto, it’s done and you are now the proud owner of a digital CanalOmeter for your chosen route.  Before you start messing about with it, quickly save it under a route name e.g Braunston to Brum so it leaves empty template file is till available for future use.  It seems that the template downloads in read only form, for some reason I know not, so you may first need to change it to an editable file.  How you do this will depend on what operating system and software you are using but it should be easy.
  • Because of the cheapo (well free with Windows 7 actually)  Excel version I have used to develop this, I have been unable to lock or protect any of the formula cells, so you could over write them and destroy the functionality.  That’s why I told you to make a backup copy.  DO NOT type anything in the green boxes.  The only place you type anything in is the pink column, where you type a F (or f) for the From point and a T (or t) for the To point.  The green boxes will fill automatically.
Once you have your Digital CanalOmeter complete, you can enter Fs and Ts to your heart’s content to find out the times, distances and locks between any two points.  Just remember to delete the previous Fs and Ts before you enter new ones.
Once you have mastered the above procedure you can make spreadsheets for all your favourite journeys.  They only take a few minutes each to do.
Well there it is.  I fully expect I have missed out a vital step or made a mistake somewhere so please regard this as a beta test version.  If anyone out there is kind enough to give it a go, please let me know if it worked and pass on any problems or suggestions.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why you should eat bananas at the tiller.

I’ve been having another dip into my Bradshaw’s Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales, and great fun it is too.  Does that make me the Michael Portillo of the waterways?

I rather like the way it refers to narrowboats as Monkey Boats.  I heard it used as a derogatory term during the Queen’s river pageant in retaliation to the commodore of the narrowboaters referring to GRP cruisers as tupperware over the VHF.  I don’t find it derogatory at all and I may well refer to Herbie as a monkey boat in future.  Perhaps we should travel along eating bananas.

Under the section entitled Haulage by Steam or other Mechanical Power the author hints that our continental friends were ahead of us in using electrical haulage, then goes on to say that “Oil engines have been tried but have never passed much beyond the experimental stage.”  That’s been quite a long experiment Mr Author. He then goes on to report that steam haulage is established on the major navigable rivers, but that it is unsuitable for the canals owing to the fact that a heavily laden boat traveling at speed pushes too much water up around the bows for a narrow channel, thus limiting it’s top speed.  Not to mention the damage done to canal banks by the wash from faster boats. Dead right there.  It seems he was still of the opinion that nothing beats a good horse.  Strange for a man who was a engineer and a director of Fellows Morton & Clayton.

Apparently at the time of the book (1904) quite a few tunnels employed steam haulage including the well known Braunston and Blisworth tunnels.  That is unless your boat was carrying gunpowder in which case you had to leg through.  Elf and safety gone mad. The steam tugs left one end of the tunnel every two hours on the hour, and of course returned on the alternate hour. Tickets were bought at the nearby toll offices.

I was surprised to read that they used steam in Islington tunnel.  That’s much narrower and has quite sloping sides (as chunks out of Herbie’s roof handrails can testify).  I bet it was choking in there. The book says that tunnel tugs in the Preston Brook, Barnton and Saltersford tunnels had projecting pairs of wheels on each side so as to keep the boat off the side of the tunnel.  Now there’s a good idea. I must speak to my design engineer (he knows who he is).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More on that engine and life aboard another kind of boat

By jove, I’ve got some clever readers out there. Either that or I gave too many clues. Yes, the engine I showed yesterday was a torpedo engine of the type used in WWII and afterwards.  What an amazing piece of kit, ten times the horsepower of yer average modern narrowboat engine, burning hardly any air, and fitting neatly inside a twenty one inch tube.  Of course it only had a running life of a minute or two, so I don’t suppose they were built to last.  The torpedos were fired out of the tubes using compressed air, how and when the propulsion motors were started I have no idea.

Its a Brotherhood Burner Cycle engine, built by the old firm Peter Brotherhood still going today in Peterborough. I went there myself a few years back, but never realised they had made an engine like this. Nowadays they are still making innovative engineering products for more peaceful purposes like wind turbine stuff and combined heat and power plants.

I think this is a picture of the same torpedo engine with the prop shaft


Air pressurized to about 840 lbs./in2 (59 kg/cm2) was heated to about 1,800ºF (1,000ºC) by burning a small amount of atomized kerosene-type fuel.  This hot air/gas mixture was then fed into the engine via poppet valves and more fuel was injected into each cylinder a little before TDC (Top Dead Center).  The spontaneous ignition of this mixture powered the engine.


Looking at the foot of the page that the link above refers to, I see that 4 out of every 5 torpedos fired by submarines missed their targets!

I saw it when I went last week to the Royal Naval Submarine Museum in Gosport.  A fascinating place.  You get a guided tour of the 1947 sub HMS Alliance and you can’t help drawing comparisons with life aboard a narrow boat.  In some respects a similar sort of space except that it is actually bursting with pipes, cables, handwheels, and of course the big main propulsion engines which strangely have a smaller horsepower than the torpedo engines.  Its the old torque / engine speed thing.  The same reason why a big heavy old working boat with 18hp engines leaves us in the dust with our 40 hp engine when we come out of a lock.

How do you fancy sorting out a wiring or plumbing problem amongst this lot?



This ship boat had crew of sixty plus submariners.  I imagine there was little privacy!  The galley, which was operated by two cooks was a good bit smaller (really) than the galley on most narrowboats yet reputedly the grub they dished up was pretty good.  Apparently the men never bathed on board, water was too short.  Everybody smelled the same I suppose so they might not notice!

As you know, no talk of boats can exclude reference to toilets and batteries, so here goes.  The loos were not unlike the pumpout loos on many narrowboats except that to operate them you had to open and close various valves in the right order to get suction pressures right.  Supposedly, failing to do this correctly was the origin of the term “getting your own back”.  Enough said.

There was of course a huge bank of wet cell batteries under the floor.  These were charged by the main engines when the boat was at the surface (or just under, using a snorkel to breathe the engine), and then the batteries would drive the boat’s electric propulsion motors when they went deep and quiet.

Elsewhere in the museum we looked into a “miniature submarine”, more narrowboat size I suppose.  There were used for sneak attacks or reconnaissance missions in harbours and the like, and were not for living on for any length of time.  There we saw an old friend- a Gardner engine


reportedly the same model they used to use in London buses but it wouldn’t surprise me to see one in a narrowboat somewhere.

All in all a brilliant museum, and yet another reason to visit dear old Pompey.

And that reminds me.  On Thursday at the Leopold tavern in Albert Road, Southsea I had what might well be the best pint of beer I have ever had in my life (and I have drunk one or two in my time). Dark Star American Pale Ale, completely and absolutely stunningly delicious.  The Leopold does look after its beer very well.  So there’s another reason to visit Pompey.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Can you identify this engine?

This is a really really hard one.  Here are two parts of an amazing  marine engine I saw the other day.  I was a bit gobsmacked. They are part of an exhibit, and so you see cutaway sections.

IMAG0213_edited-1 IMAG0212_edited-1

Apologies for the poor photos, it was gloomy and I only had my phone, which has no flash. The first photo shows  a cutaway of the cylinder head and piston.  I wouldn’t expect you to recognise the engine so here are some extra clues.

It is a type of semi diesel engine.  It has I think three (maybe four) cylinders, and is very very compact.  It was produced in a number of versions, the latest one developed 465hp at 1300 rpm and weighed 210lb, (that’s some power to weight ratio!) and it could propel it’s craft (which weighed well over a ton) at a speed of over 40 knots over a range of a few miles.

Rick wouldn’t believe me when I told him such things existed, and he’s an engineer!

I don’t expect details of make and model, but can anyone guess what this engine is for?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A special friend

How a week can change things.  After last week’s happy post about our Peter, I now have a very very sad one about another Peter.

pete 1

Pete Higson our very dear friend for well over thirty years died yesterday after a monumental two and a half year battle with illness.  Just when we all thought he had beaten it.  We were already making plans to take Pete on a celebratory cruise this summer.

pete 2

Pete was one of our closest friends and our companion on some of our most memorable cruises.  Most significantly our first proper cruise taking Herbie home after we had just bought her.  He also was with us for the first days on Bankside, our son Richard’s boat, on part of his homeward cruise.  Pete was the man you would want on such cruises on an unknown boat.  Calm and resourceful, a knowledge of things mechanical with the hand skills to match.  And he was as strong as an ox.  With Pete on board you knew you could get out of any problem. Not only that he shared our love of the canals and our penchant for the odd pint or three of real ale.

At home, I have played music with Pete on most Tuesday nights for a dozen years.  He played a mean rhythm bouzouki and did a fair bit of the singing in our undiscovered supergroup PRANK.  (Pete, Rob And Neil & Kath geddit?).

pete 3

On nights when we couldn’t be joined by our fellow band member Rob, we abandoned our customary Irish jigs, reels and polkas and fooled about with 60s pop like a couple of naughty schoolkids while teacher wasn’t looking. We had a rather fine version of the old 1960 Jimmy Jones hit, Handyman played a la James Taylor but on bouzoukis.

Pete was a master craftsman with wood.  How many of your friends could make a perfect bow fronted oak and glass corner cabinet without a single screw or nail ?  He loved old machinery,  Land Rovers, railways, and has a huge collection of craft tools which he did the odd bit of trading in.

Pete leaves a wife Val, with whom we are very close and three wonderful grown children and a much loved Grand daughter.  They are busy comforting and supporting each other as I write.  They are a strong family.

So long Pete.  Kath and I will miss you more than words can say.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Family fortunes

Exciting family news.  Our youngest, Peter, emailed to say he has been head hunted and offered (and has accepted) a new job at the RSC.  The RSC! How thrilling.  Will we be getting free theatre tickets at Stratford?  Will he be mingling with famous thespians?  No, its the other RSC, Royal Society of Chemistry.  Doh.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oooh er!

I thought it was supposed to be Spring!  This was the view from Herbie this morning.


Rick popped over to look at how we would replace the shower mixer with a thermostatic one.  Now Rick is a great engineer and easily the best DiYer I know ( and he has immaculately refitted two bathrooms in his house), but even he gulped and pronounced it to be a non trivial task.  The problem is access.


You have to get to the back of the taps and even if we enlarge the current “inspection hole” an arm will have to go in well past the elbow the reach the far tap, and the gap between the back of the bath and the hull is only just wide enough to get the bits in.  And the radiator is in the way. What happens when we drop a nut or a spanner doesn’t bear thinking about.  Doing up a compression joint one handed and blind is not my idea of fun.  Come to think of it, what we need is a Vet with plumbing skills.

So we have a plan B.  We will need an access hole rather bigger than would look good in the bathroom, so the idea is to tunnel in from the saloon , where the hole will be covered up by this cupboard


Of course I will have to dismantle the cupboard and shelves and disconnect the radio first.  So what should be a fifteen minute job screwing on a couple of tap fittings is now estimated to be a day’s work.  I hope we get the hole in the right place! We’ll have to try and work it out by dead reckoning.  Most of all though, I hope the fittings don’t leak and drip afterwards.

PS if you look closely at the log on the top shelf you might notice that I have not lost my log weight loss measurement fetish!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Pluvious Underwriters, Pregnant Meteorologists, and Cluttery Drawers.

Kath is deserting me, off with her cronies on one of her lacemaking binges. I notice she’s packed a few bottles of wine, so I don’t know how much lacemaking will get done. So despite the weather turning for the worse, I’m heading up to Herbie tomorrow for a few days doing odd jobs.  I was hoping to repaint the gunnels but after watching the weather forecast I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I wonder how much insurance companies have paid out over the last year for events and functions rained off. 

Did you know that the person who assesses rain risk and calculates premiums for insurance against rain is called a Pluvious Underwriter?  Now there’s a job title to be proud of.  By the way, what is it with weather forecast ladies on regional TV channels. We get BBC South and they’ve had a steady stream of forecasters who all seem to get pregnant and leave just as we’re getting used to them. It seems like we have one every few weeks.  If you are having trouble starting a family, forget IVF, just take up meteorology.

Back to boat jobs for this weekend. Project number one will I think be a sort out of the shelves where I keep tools and stuff.  It needs a system. I have a nice old oak drawer out of an old sideboard that should fit on one of the shelves and I’m tempted to divide it up like a cutlery drawer, so I can have screwdrivers in one bit, and spanners in another etc. Rick calls his cutlery drawer a cluttery drawer, which is probably how mine will end up.

Then I need to find out how I can get at the back of the shower mixer so I can replace it with a thermostatic one.  The trouble is, whoever fitted out the boat made such a good job of boxing it all in that I would have to do some serous damage to some very nice woodwork to get at the fitting.  All the screws are sunk and plugged with nice mahogany caps, and for all I know it’s all glued together.


I might come at it another way by making a hand  hole in the side panel and then making a cover plate for that.  If only I had paid more attention to my woodwork teacher at school.  I’m sorry to say that it was the one subject where I came bottom of the class.

For those wondering about further publication of my Digital CanalOmeter spreadsheets, I have had an encouraging response from CanalPlan regarding using their data.  However they are understandably wary about old out-of-date data being around with their name on it.  They do try to keep theirs up to date on line.  What I am working on now is a set of instructions on how to get fresh data into a working Digital CanalOmeter template.  Whilst I can do it myself, my own method is a bit scrappy and I’m trying to find a simpler, more straightforward way for people not so used to cutting and pasting bits of spreadsheet.  Stay tuned.

What a scrappy post.  It’s really just displacement activity to keep me away from clearing up the mess I have made when regrouting (badly) the shower at home.  Not to worry, we’re planning to have the whole thing replaced later this year.

Toodle pip.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The perils of blog browsing

It’s all Amy Duck’s fault!  A Saturday afternoon and I had no plans to do much except watch a bit of the Six Nations Rugby on TV.  Waiting for the start I idly browsed a few boating blogs.  Then I happened to spot on Amy’s MB Willow blog that James had bought her a shiny new tile grout removing disc, and I thought, “Our shower at home needs regrouting, I could use something like that.”  Straight to Google I went, hunting for grout removing tools and came across several references to people getting the old grout out using a Dremel.  Aaah I’ve got one of them and there is a little tool a bit like an enlarged dentists drill bit in the kit.   Acting on impulse  and not dressing for the occasion, that is to say not undressing either,  I plugged in the Dremel and set to in the shower cubicle. Just to try it out you understand.

Ten minutes later I stopped.  My hair is getting fairly white these days, but then it was like the purest snow, as was my face, my jumper etc etc. Some of the grout had indeed come out, but with my usual incompetence I managed to score a nasty groove where it shouldn’t be in one of the tiles.  Hmmm.  Well in the immortal words of Magnuss Magnusson "I’ve started so I’ll finish”.  By now I had abandoned the Dremel and got a hand grout scraper from Wickes (only 5 mins from our house).  A bit slower but less risk of damage.  Then I thought I might as well rip out all the silicone sealant around the edges as it was starting to get spots of mould.  This needs a sharp craft knife to cut it away and in the time honoured manner I cut my finger.  Now I had red blood spots on the white dust, very pretty.  I soldiered on, and ripping out the sealant along the edge of the shower tray, three wall tiles fell out.  I poked around behind them.  They are stuck to a wooden back board which (understandably after nearly twenty years) had succumbed to a patch of wet rot.

So my couple of minutes browsing caused me to miss half the rugby, get my clothes all full of white dust, cut my finger, have to cut out and replace some rotten wood,  and go out and buy a whole tub of tile cement just to stick on three tiles. Now I’m waiting for the tile cement to dry before I grout the whole lot.  I should really stop reading blogs.

PS Things are progressing re CanalPlan and CanalOmeter spreadsheets, it’s just that I’ve been a bit busy!

Friday, March 08, 2013

A can of worms

Hmmmm. I’ve been thinking.

Many thanks to those who responded to my experiment with spreadsheets (see yesterday’s post).  People clearly think that they are a Good Idea, and I daresay if I posted up a collection of them I would get quite a few takers.  I’m sure its OK for an individual to generate the data from CanalPlan and format it for personal use, but me giving away the data without permission is something I wouldn’t do. So before going any further I have contacted Nick at CanalPlan to get his view on how far I can take this. This is what I did with the original CanalOmeters and they kindly consented to me giving them away with an attribution to CanalPlan. I’m sure you will agree that  CanalPlan is the most amazing piece of work, freely available to all, and I have to respect their rights.  With hindsight I should probably have contacted them before making yesterday’s post.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

CanalOmeters for Tablets

A small number of enlightened people have taken up my CanalOmeters in the past and been kind enough to say they were useful.  Certainly I have enjoyed making and using them.  For the uninitiated, they are a simple calculating device for working out long it might take to cruise between two points on a canal journey. They look like this

Follow my link on the right hand side of the blog page to find out more.
Now, having got a nice low tech cheap as chips solution that works, why on earth would I bother to spend time making a digital version?  After all didn’t the data come from CanalPlan in a digital table format?  Well, . . .
a) The cardboard ones are great and I will continue to use the ones I have and maybe make a few more, but the formatting of each one in Excel is something of a pain.  When I am in practice I can do one in about half an hour, but next time I forget and it takes me ages.  Then I get a new computer with a new version of excel and it all goes haywire.  Grrrrr.
b) the cardboard ones are limited in how many place names I can squeeze in
c) If you have a tablet computer with a good internet connection you could use (the rather wonderful) CanalPlan on the move, but bandwidth along the canal is unreliable and using CanalPlan can be fiddly on a tablet.
I did make one for Smartphones a while back, but in truth the small screen size made it a bit too fiddly to use in anger.  So when I got an iPad mini, I thought I’d have another go, and what I have come up with looks like this.
The spreadsheet contains a list of all the places en route (bar individual locks within flights).  All the user has to do, is put a T (for To) in the left hand common next to the name of the place they are going to, and an F (for From) against the start place.  The T and F can be in either order. The Green box at the top then automatically shows both place names and the Locks, Miles and Hours/Min cruising time.  Simples.  Of course if you get there quicker or slower, that would be because your speed is not the same as we use for calculation purposes, which is generally 3mph.
I’ve been using an Excel compatible iPad App called Sheet2HD, which was either free or dead cheap, I can’t remember which, but I think any half decent Excel compatible sheet would do it, either on iPad or Android.
To use one you need hardly any spreadsheet expertise, just how to open it and type the T and F in at the right spot. ( and to delete them ready for the next go). To make one you need a little bit of spreadsheet knowhow, but not a lot.  The data can be cut from CanalPlan and pasted in quite easily once you get the hang of it.  The calculations are of course dead simple, subtracting one number from another.  The only bit that you have to learn is how to deal with the Hh:Mm time format.
So to recap the benefits over the analogue cardboard version
a) Contains all places en route
b) Quick and easy to develop your own for your own routes.
and over CanalPlan, just that you don’t need to be on line, and it’s quicker to use once built.
I suspect that like me, you might think the cardboard ones are still best if you can be bothered to make them.  I will be using both.
Now, would anyone like to help me by downloading a copy and seeing if you can make it work on your device.  This could either be a PC or an iPad or an Android device, just so long as you have an Excel compatible spreadsheet programme or App.  I have been struggling all morning to work out how to link them in a downloadable form to this blog page and I’m interested to see if it downloads successfully.
All you have to do is click this link and it ought to download.  You then need to start it up in your spreadsheet .  If you do, please send in a comment with any feedback.

PS if this one works and anybody wants more, I have several other routes done already.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Batchworth lock boat sinking– Rainman becomes Painman


On getting a CRT stoppage message about a boat sunk in Batchworth Lock we duly despatched our own paparrazi  to bring this picture.  Our Rickmansworth Correspondent David (Rainman) Allum was persuaded to grab his camera and stagger over the road from his house despite being in some pain from a recent tumble on his knees (well when you get to his age . . ).  Three cheers for his efforts, the cheque’s in the post.

He says he thinks the boat probably got its bow caught under the top gates as the lock filled.  Anyway, as you can see they are deploying the time honoured method of pumping out the boat and at the time he left to stagger back home, David said it was indeed rising.

Get well soon mate.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Why Birmingham is built in the wrong place

We like taking the boat into Brum, the routes we have taken so far have been little short of splendid and the city centre visitor moorings are excellent. However, as with everything, there is a downside. Researching it led me to an interesting set of thoughts.

We've just been calculating options for routes from our moorings at Crick to Chester and back, something we meant to do last year but never got round to. There is a wide range of options, all interesting and attractive.

The quickest two are
A) up the Nortth Oxford, Coventry and B'ham and Fazeley canals to Fradley then take the Trent and Mersey to Middlewhich, then across to Chester.

B) we could go through Birmingham, via the GU or the North Stratford canal, then down through Wolverhampton and up the Shroppie.

Or of course we could go up one way and back another.

Now look at these figures (Canalplan calculations)

The shortest route would be B). If we did that and came back the same (shortest) way, it would mean

254 miles. 312 locks. 142 hours.

Alternatively, taking route A) going via Fradley (thus avoiding Brum) and Middlewich and returning down the Shroppie and the Staffs and Worcester ( so completing the four counties ring) and back down through Fradley again, we get

296 miles. 192 locks. 150 hours.

So by avoiding Birmingham we save 120 locks (quite a lot of them heavy GU double widthlocks) and take only an extra day! With Kath suffering a bit with her back recently, that saving is hard to ignore, even if we do like Brum.

I started looking up a few facts (you know me!) about Birmingham's altitude. It's built on a limestone ridge, which at the city centre is around 600 feet above sea level. Compare that with Fradley at 223 feet. No wonder they have all those locks up to Brum.

Now, I can understand why in ancient times a settlement might have been built on a high ridge - defence and all that, but how the hell did Birmingham ever get to its prosperous industrial position when roads, canals and railways had all that climbing to do to get there? No rivers to speak of either. The city is famous for its canals and yet they go right through the highest parts. Even the railway stations are well down the hill.

Browsing about the city's altitude I came across another issue. Aviation. Apparently the Civil Aviation Authority set a maximum height above sea level for the tops of city buildings. This gives Birmingham quite a problem it seems and prevents them from building any skyscraper type buildings ( a good thing some might say). The highest they can build is about 150 feet. (Their BT tower seems somehow to have escaped this ruling but it is not accepted as a precedent). In a time when modern cities seem to get their identities and some sort of kudos from high landmark buildings, poor old Brum has its hands tied.

There, I bet you didn't know that. I didn't anyway.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Bright idea for avoiding a tough choice

Sometimes when I’m thinking through an issue, writing it up as a blog post helps me get my thoughts straight.  Let’s hope it works this time.  It’s all about where we should have our mooring base.  The other day an idea came to me which I need to think through.  First let’s describe the problem.
We like Herbie’s present mooring.  The marina is good, well kept , very reasonably priced and the people are friendly.  Also they’ve allocated us a very nice spot near this bench
There is also some good cruising to be had from there as we can reach various parts of the midlands through a choice of routes.  Not only that, we can take advantage of a lot of single locks rather than the bigger heavier doubles down south.
On the other hand, there are things about our old moorings  on the Slough Arm that we miss. 
Miss the Slough Arm?  “Surely not” –many would say.  Well we liked it.  Our banner photo at the top of this blog was taken on the Slough Arm.  It’s quite nice in Autumn too
It had a couple of advantages for us.  First it was only a half hour drive from home which for the odd day doing the odd job was ideal.  Secondly it had a one day lock free cruise into Paddington. For a short winter break a week up in London is ideal, and generally speaking no locks means no winter stoppages, so you can cruise out of season without hindrance.  In other parts of the year we could cruise up the Grand Union over the Chilterns, which to our mind is one of the nicest bits of canal we know. Or down and onto the Thames in a day and a half.
Just recently we received our invoice for the next year for our present moorings, so it is make yer mind up time and our dilemma was which do we like most.  Midlands or back down south. Then the other night it occurred to me that the answer was staring us in the face.  Why not have our cake and eat it?  South for the winter, further north for the summer, and a very pleasant cruise between the two either via GU or Thames /Oxford canal when we swap over.  The more I think of it the more I like it.
Everything has a down side of course, and I can think of two.  First, expense.  Moorings are always cheaper if you book and pay a whole year at a go. However when you think of the cost of us driving up to the midlands and back three or four times over the winter, and take into account that we would have a few weeks during the changeover when we had no mooring to pay for, it might work out to be cost neutral.
The second drawback is that the dear old Slough arm, if that’s where we went is quite prone to icing up in hard winters.
 slough arm winter for blog_edited-1
Often it is frozen solid when the GU end of the arm.  Having said that, I don’t think our present moorings are a lot better.  This next picture was taken recently in only a slight frost.
The third thing (Oh dear, Spanish Inquisition syndrome) is that  if we keep moving back and forth we can’t be choosy about which spot the boatyard owners allocate to us.  Our current spot at Crick is perfect.  We might not get such a good one next time. Should we go back to our old moorings near Slough we would be on a linear mooring breasted up against a residential boat.  That’s OK if your neighbour is a good one.  Also the moorings are  a long stretch.  We could end up a good ten minutes walk or more from the car park.  A pain if you have a lot of gear to carry from car to boat.
The fourth thing (Oh dear) is that we can’t guarantee to get a mooring at either place.  The odds are that we would be OK, but there’s always a chance that there would be no room at the inn.  I guess that we would improve our chances by making a firm booking a long time in advance.
All in all though I think the upsides are better than the downsides.  We haven’t decided yet, but what do you think?