Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Log Log

Yes it's time for another installment of my Log Log. If you look over to the links column to the left of this post, you'll see links to three previous thrilling episodes in which I find ingenious ways to show how much water dries out of my firewood logs.

My friend Rob has a log moisture content meter, it has two prongs you stick into the wood then a readout shows you the percentage of moisture.   You can get them for as little as £15 on ebay.  One amusing advert I saw said the meter gave a reliable and accurate reading of approximate water content.  So a sample  reading might be exactly about 20%  - or so :-)

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to make one of these gadgets.  The only problem is, I didn't know how they work.  My first idea was to see if measuring the electrical resistance did the trick, so I bashed a couple of panel pins into each of a couple of logs (one drier than the other) and stuck my multimeter across them.

 Here was the first problem.  Although the resistance was much lower in the wetter log, I couldn't get a stable reading, the number of Kilohms kept steadily climbing one log and steadily falling on the other although I confess I should perhaps have given it ten minutes to see if it stabilised.  Maybe there's some galvanic action going on.

Hmm, more to this than meets the eye. Time to consult uncle Google, and eventually I tracked down what I suspect to be the definitive work on these matters published United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

Electric Moisture Meters for Wood by William L. James

Now I don't suggest you read this unless you are a sucker for technical matters and tables of data, but a cursory reading of it told me two things

1. Conductance or electrical resistance (the one being the reciprocal of the other) of wood wetter than 30% cannot accurately be measured as "conductance is only a weak and erratic function of moisture content greater than fiber saturation." or put more fully: " The direct-current conductance (resistance) of wood varies greatly with moisture content below fiber saturation. As the moisture content decreases from fiber saturation (about 30 pct moisture, based on the dry weight of the wood) to the ovendry condition, the conductance decreases by a factor of over 10 million . In this range of moisture content, a roughly linear relationship exists between the logarithm of conductance and the logarithm of moisture content. At moisture content levels beyond fiber saturation, the electrical conductance correlates very poorly with moisture content."   ( although why you should believe a man who can't spell fibre properly I'm not sure.)  Anyway, fresh logs cut from a tree (often gathered canal side by boaters) can be anything up to  140% saturated, which is to say  the water content weighs 1.4 times the dry weight of the wood.  Hence probably the erratic nature of my multimeter readings.  In a nutshell what this tells us is that moisture meters only start to be useful when the wood is getting towards dry enough to burn.  Useful in itself, but I like to know how far away from that my wood is, so I can estimate when it will be ready.

2. Results vary strongly with temperature, wood species, direction of grain etc etc.
So even when the meters are in their comfortable range, it still all depends on other stuff.  Now I understand where the accurately approximate claim comes from!

So I propose to stick with my tried and tested method of weighing a newly cut log, and writing the weight on the end, then weighing it to check every so often. Sometimes the simple cheap way is the best.

Seeing me writing this, Kath showed me a link to  really great post on wood drying by Mike on Nb Rose of Arden in which he finds out how to dry wood in a plastic bag.  Brilliant!  Much more useful information than my futile electrical experimentation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mr Fixit no can do

Despite Rainman’s excitement at my promise of more on weighing logs, I’m going to keep him waiting because I have something else to write about today.  I think he’ll be mollified though by the fact that I am about to show you a picture of a bit of Herbie’s engine.  Here it is


injection pump leak

You see? Even more interesting than a log.  I spoil you don’t I?

That bar thing with the knobs on each end is the throttle linkage which turns that disc with the holes round the edge to squirt more diesel into the engine.(You can tell I did an engineering degree).  See where that arrow is pointing? Somewhere there is the source of a leak which drips diesel into the engine tray below.  The engine runs alright, but it makes a mess and wastes valuable diesel.  To be fair, I couldn’t spot myself where the drips were coming from.  The source was spotted today by the mechanic at the boatyard. Sadly though he declined to fix it because it means dismantling a bit of the injection pump and as far as they are concerned at the boatyard, that is one of the Dark Arts.  He could remove the injection pump as a whole and send it away for fixing, but removal and refitting is itself a non trivial, hence expensive task.  I was a bit disappointed, but in mitigation he did compliment me on Herbie’s nice clean engine.   Anyway I came home and looked the leak up on CanalWorld Forums and it is apparently a fairly common problem which can be fixed with the pump in situ.  I shall search for a more experienced mechanic and get it done in due course.  In the meantime, an ice cream tub under the leak can catch the drips, and if they are clean I’ll pour them back in the tank.

Yesterday, in order to turn the boat and give my Ranger pal Alan a ride we took Herbie all the way down to Slough basin and back.  We didn’t see a single chav, or floating armchair and the canal was just about deep enough but it’ll be a lot better after they dredge it.

Logs next time.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Keeping people off the towpath

We did another Towpath Ranger ride the other day, between Uxbridge and Yiewsley, principally to record and photograph points of access on to the towpath.  A record is being created for the National Access Programme, one of the points being to assess suitability of access to the canal  for people in wheel chairs and such like.  So at each access point or bridge we note the surface type and condition, width of access, steps. slopes, obstructions etc.  Also any bits along the towpath that are particularly lumpy or muddy etc.

Unsurprisingly there are plenty of places where a wheelchair user would be in severe difficulty, like the steep slopes on humped turnover bridges, but the bit that amused / horrified us most was this gateway onto the canal at Yiewsley.  If you sat down to try to design the most difficult access gateway possible you’d have a job to beat this work of art.


Doesn’t that just take the biscuit? I can only imagine that this was designed to bar anyone except a single person on foot.  Bikes, prams, push chairs and wheel chairs just couldn’t do it. Why!!?? It looks like something to trap sheep to give them their jabs.

As you might imagine, there is plenty of water in the canal at the moment. I reckon that the current through the Swan and Bottle bridge at Uxbridge was a good 3mph.  That might not sound much on a river, but on a canal it sure is. Of course the water is still pouring over the top of the locks although a CRT man at Cowley told me it was a lot less than a week ago.

The Slough Arm is to get some fancy signs to help towpath users to find their way to railway stations at Iver and Langley.  I have to go and take photos to help with planning the locations of the signs.  Handy for me because that’s where Herbie is at the moment and I have to go out to her Monday  / Tuesday because I’m getting somebody at High Line to fix an annoying diesel leak in the engine bay.

Anorak special soon:  I’m back to my old pastime of monitoring log moisture content with a new approach.  I’ll tell you later.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Batteries - very long term test.

Oh yes, it’s time to get another fix of battery talk.  Next to toilets, it’s the boaters favourite topic.  Well, I notice a  year has gone by since I reported on how well our last lot of domestic batteries were doing. I also notice that its only two years since we were all worrying about the canals drying up!  Remember this ? – Welford reservoir


Anyway, I digress.  Back in 2010 we bought some sealed Numax CXV batteries to run Herbie’s domestics.  At the time they time cost about 15% more than the standard open cell types..  The gamble was that they were supposed to last longer.  Well did they, and if so how much longer?  Read on.

I checked back to our old open cell types.  We bought them in November 2007 and  by June 2010 they needed replacing because they were running down too quickly (very handy having a blog to look back at) so that’s about two and a half years we got out of them. So how about these CXVs then? Well we bought them in June 2010 and they are still going strong. That’s three and a half years and counting. In fact I would say that over the last twelve months they have hardly deteriorated at all. On present performance I don’t see that they will need replacing for another year. (Now they’ll probably give up tomorrow, must learn to keep my mouth shut.)

So for 15% extra cost we get a minimum of 40% extra life even if they did pack up tomorrow.  Not only that, we don’t have the tedious business of topping them up.

Now the caveat.  I strongly suspect that having a solar panel has contributed to the beneficial effect, mostly because it keeps the batteries up while the boat is resting up between cruises.  We didn’t have the panel when we had the old batteries.  And another thing – we do take care not to let the batteries run down too far.  When we are moored up for a few days but still using the fridge, the lights, and all that, we don’t let the batteries fall to below 65% or so (measured on our Smartgauge).  let me see, that would be about 12.35 volts.  Any lower than that and we run the engine to get them back up.

So given the caveats, will I be spending the extra to get these batteries next time?  In the immortal words of Churchill  “Oh yes”.

Now don’t say “Well our old car battery has gone on for seven years. “  Car batteries are a different thing entirely.  They have a very different job to do and have a different charging regime. I’ve lost count of how many people write into canal world forums complaining about their domestic batteries giving up, mostly because they ask too much of them and don’t understand how to look after them.   I recall some boater saying to me “I never let them get below 11 volts.”   And he wondered why he was having to run his engine for hours and hours a day.  At 11 volts a battery is knackered.

This is not an ad for Numax in particular.  Other people make batteries of the same type.  I believe they are sealed Silver Calcium batteries which is something to do with why they don’t boil off the electrolyte at normal charging voltages.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lots to do for me and you

I hope you survived last night’s storm OK.  It was pretty scary round the back of our house, the noise was terrifying. We have a big tree which would crush half our upper floor if it fell. In the end we had a small fence panel blow out and that was it.  I really fear for the canals though.  I suspect that once the flood waters recede that there will be some collapses of towpath, landslips in cuttings and on embankments, not to mention damaged locks.  CRT think so to so they have launched a national flood appeal for donations (something not legally possible in the old BW days.) If you can spare a few quid then click on the link and donate.

In only three weeks time we’re supposed to be leaving our Slough Arm mooring and cruising back up to Crick.  Ooo er, it might not be that easy I reckon. Of course there are two routes we could take – up the GU, or up the Thames.  No prizes for guessing which one we are planning on.  Even then, I don’t think we can guarantee that the GU will be passable. I keep thinking of the northern end of Braunston tunnel where they had landslips last time.

Coming back to CRT, Another thing you can do to help, if you are a boater who ever visits Paddington, is to read their new proposals on visitor mooring changes in the area.  After consulting boaters meetings and I suppose listening to people like me voicing concerns and opinions direct, they have come up with some new ideas.  Follow this link to go and read their document and complete the survey if you have an opinion.  I won’t influence you with my opinions except to say that they have come up with some interesting ideas.

One opinion I will share with you is that I always thought it would be a good thing for BW to move to CRT and my current feeling is that it is a better setup.  Richard Parry gets closer to boaters than Robin Evans ever did and he does seem to be generating a culture of listening to people’s views.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have a fence panel to reinstate.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guaranteed no pictures of men in wellies

If you’ve had enough of watching news reporters up to their knees in flood water, you could have a look at these pictures to cheer you up.  This first one which I took a week ago gives a nice list of all the things you are not allowed to do in the foot tunnel beneath the Thames at Greenwich.


I fear I may have broken the rules, then because I was loitering in order to take the picture.  Hang on a minute, what’s that in the distance?


I decided on this occasion not to make a citizen’s arrest.

Over near St Paul’s Cathedral we enjoyed this phone box.  Which is free to use but you can’t use it.


Coming back to the subject of people ignoring signs and rules, one which did wind me up was this:


a boat moored on the water point at the Black Horse.  Twenty yards away there were at least four, probably five, mooring spaces with rings and everything.  A pity his boat was so non descript. If only I knew what it was called I might have reported him.

This was our last trip into London by boat or a year or two, so I took care to take snaps of some of the bits I like on the approaches to Paddington.


Here we are alongside the Harrow Road whith the increasing anticipation of Little Venice not far away.


I remember when we first boated into London, this building, or where it now stands, was a big hole in the ground.  It’s simple but I like it.

Looking the other way is another building I’ve got used to. It has narrowboats moored at either end. Very handy for someone.



And here I must stop because Inspector George Gently calls on the telly, and I like him.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Oi - read this

What are you doing reading this? We're in Paddington where there is a bit of wind but the.canal Is about normal level. I suggest you go off and read about some real boaters like Sue and Vic on No Problem on the Oxford Canal or James and Amy on Serverner Willow on the Cam. They have some serious flooding to report. Great stuff.


Off you go.

Links on the right hand sid of the screen

While you're at it read about Jaq and Les on the Aylesbury arm.



Where East meets West


As you can see, we went yesterday to Greenwich, a place we have seen from the Thames aboard Nb Indigo Dream a few times, but have never been ashore. It's good. If you haven't been then you must go. We got lucky, and as we wandered into the chapel we found ourselves in a free baroque music recital from a very talented international quartet, so that took up our first forty minutes.

We weren't so lucky on the buses. One we got on suddenly announced that it would not be going as far as it said when we got on, then the next one broke down and everyone had to get off. Never mind, I like London bus rides, from the top deck is a great way to see the city, although I can announce that it's probably just as well to take a book to read when passing through Peckham.

Lots to see at the Old Royal Naval College and the National Maritime museum, especially if you like stuff from Nelson's time, and if you like model naval sailing ships you'll be in heaven.

We didn't have time to go to the observatory so we are saving that for another day. One thing I didn't expect to see though, was this


It's the entrance to the foot tunnel under the Thames and there seemed to be quite a few walkers and cyclists using it. I went down the stairs to take a look. Not much to say really, it's a long white tiled well lit tunnel. Having taken the stairs down I elected to come back up in the lift, it is very deep! When I can get the photos off my camera I'll have pictures of that and some more Greenwich stuff to show you.

Last night we went back to the Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice to see their News Review sketch comedy thingy. After our previous visit to a play there we had high hopes and we weren't dissapointed. How these folk can put together a different show like that each and every week I have no idea. As well as the sketches there were several very clever comedy song and dance routines all based in the week's news. It was all very polished and very funny. They must have been rehearsing day and night. So that's my recommendation for a good inexpensive night when moored in Paddington. Dinner in the Bridge House pub, then upstairs to the theatre. I think the theatre tickets were £9.

Today's our last day here. We're off to Camden market, but not by boat as I doubt there would be mooring space. WE'll take a look while we're there and report back on the stop and shop moorings.


Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bent double in St John's Wood and a mystery knocker

Last night we had a visit from Simon and Carrie and they showed us the way to the somewhat amazing Prince Alfred pub in Formosa Street, about ten minutes stroll from where we are moored. What a place! The bar is divided into series of oak panelled snugs divided by very ornate "snob screens". Impressive enough in itself, but the most striking feature is the height, or lack of it, of the connecting doors through which you must pass. Let Simon demonstrate for us.

See what I mean? You have to bend double to get through each one! Unless you are Warwick Davis I suppose.

Anyhow we had a jolly time as usual and it was great to see them, and I got another recruit to read the current draft of my book.

We've been a couple of times to the Bridge House pub at Little Venice this week and we like it a lot. Granted it is frequented mostly by folk much younger and trendier than us, but the place is friendly, they do good food, albeit not especially cheap (£10 for a burger and chips, but it is a big thick home made type burger and the chips are good) and what might turn out to be a contender for the best pint award next December, to wit Windsor and Eton Knight of the Garter. Absolutely right up my street beerwise and very well kept.

Upstairs they have the little Canal Cafe theatre which we went to and enjoyed before Christmas. We're booked in tomorrow night to see their weekly comedy news review which I am hoping will be in the mould of the Now Show or something like that.

There is one free spot on a pontoon in Paddington basin tonight and about three places in Little Venice if you care to breast up, so not bad.

Now then, on to today's mystery. Was it one of our readers who knocked on the side of the boat a little after nine this morning? We were having a cuppa in bed and by the time Kath jumped out and found the bathrobe and looked outside, they were gone. Sorry we missed you whoever it was. Anyone like to confess?


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Breezy in Paddington

Coo I'm glad we're not round the corner in Paddington basin. The wind is bad enough down here by the station entrance, but the basin is windy even on calm days. Out of the boat window we see the people coming to and from the station walk with their heads down and their umbrellas blown inside out. I suspect our garden fence at home will be down again. I'm beginning to think I'm a bit of a Jonah. This is the third time we have been moored in Paddington when gales struck. I should be banned.

What with the wind and rain and the tube strike, we haven't ventured out yet today. I still haven't been round to photograph the basin works for you but I will when the rain stops. Meanwhile to give those who haven't been here a flavour of where we are moored, here are pictures I took last night.

The view from alongside Herbie

And looking the other way towards the basin:

Very clean safe moorings. Security guys patrol the area every hour or so, but I've never seen any trouble here. Come to think of it I suppose that's because the security guys are here. Prevention is better than cure.
Yesterday we went to the Museum of London where Kath wanted to see the exhibition of the Cheapside horde, a fabulous collection of 16/17 century jewellery discovered under a house in Cheapside in 1912. The museum in general is pretty good and takes you through a journey in time in London from pre history through to the present day.
On the way back we popped into Foyles because Kath wanted to buy a copy of Ukulele for Dummies, and we were both amused when the man produced a copy from under the counter. Very subversive, ukuleles!
I've been back at work on my future Pullitzer prize winning novel and am pleased to report that I have broken through the 60,000 word barrier. Rather like the four minute mile, it took ages to happen, because I kept going back to edit previous chapters. Once I finally passed the magic number things seemed to speed up and now I'm up to 63,694 words, and every one a gem.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The news from Paddington!

Here we are in Paddington, a day later than originally planned, but we did find one mooring spot betwwen the station side entrance and the basin. So that's where we are. Actually it's a good spot for the solar panel, so we're happy. The basin itself is fully occupied as usual, although at least one of the boats there is one that wasnt there on Friday, so someone has moved. Anyone prepared to breast up at Little Venice would find about three or four spaces there today.

There is a lot happening at the end of the basin. A coffer dam has been built across it, just beyond the fenced off pontoon barrier which appeared before Christmas. The area beyond the dam has been pumped dry while they start preparations for the new lift footbridge they will be building. I have some rather fine photos of it which I would show you now had I not just discovered that I forgot to bring the lead to get photos from the camera to the ipad:-( Sorry, folks. I'll take the ipad round here later and use it as a camera.

The reason we have taken three days to get here is that we stayed put at Greenford yesterday, so Kath could go home to attend the christening of our next door neighbour's baby boy. His mum and dad are from Kerala where,perhaps surprisingly many people are Roman Catholics and the weather is scorchio, but not as scorchio as their food! They sent Kath back with a doggy bag for me with some very nice food which they said was specially mild. It was in fact about Madras strength in English parlance which as you probably know is pretty hot. Yummy though.

I was all keyed up for a fight this morning. Some inconsiderate bloke had moored his boat all of yesterday on the water point at Greenford, and we needed water this morning. I am not one that enjoys confronation but I had made up my mind that this morning we would pull up alongside and give him a telling off. I don't know whether I was pleased or relieved to find that he had gone when we came round the corner to the water point.

Anyhow, now we are in London for a few days. Unless someone can placate Bob Crow, we might be hindered by the proposed tube strike from tomorrow night. Not that we use the tube, but I suppose the buses will be choc a bloc.

Photos next time. Stay tuned.



Saturday, February 01, 2014

Weather and Albions

"We're off to London on the boat tomorrow" I said yesterday. "Are you mad?" said Steve at the boatyard, "Haven't you seen the weather forecast? Torrential rain, gales and all that"

Well I had read the weather forecast, but Steve like so many others (grrrr) hadn't. If people bothered to look up a proper local met office forecast, they wouldn't so often say that they had got it wrong. The forecast for where we were going, ie along the Paddington arm past Northolt was spot on. We had a stormy night, then a bright sunny morning with the wind strengthening in the afternoon, just like it said. We didn't get a spot of rain and the solar panel was earning it's keep when we arrived here.

Anyway, here we are half way into London at our traditional stopover at the Black Horse at Greenford. The fumes from the nearby samosa factory taunt us as usual and as a special treat we also get whiffs of roasting coffee blown all the way from the Nescafé factory near Bulls Bridge.

Talking of Bulls Bridge, as we were heading for it, we spied a tasty little tug coming in the opposite direction. I like tugs, and this one had the name I might well have chosen for our boat had it not already been called Herbie. That name is Albion. I once had a great trip aboard HMS Albion a commando /helicopter carrier many years ago travelling from Portsmouth to Rosyth. I also used to be great fan of perhaps the second best Morris side I ever saw, Albion Morris. (The best was Gloucester Old Spot Morris -see them and you'd realise what Morris was all about).

Anyway this smart little tug drew alongside and her skipper shouting against wind called out "I read your blog".

Hello Mr Albion, love your boat.