Friday, December 15, 2017

Herbie Awards - Alternative Moorings near hotspots

Choosing a Worst Lock for Delays from yesterday’s short list wasn’t hard.  here is only the one where we virtually always seem to get held up,

so the winner is Summerton Deep Lock. 

Summerton I love you dearly,

your wharf is pretty

your meadows are a great place to moor

but your lock,

deep and interesting as it might be with that charming cottage alongside,

is a bit of a pain in terms of waiting times.


Now, I said I would choose some nominations for Alternative Moorings Near Hot Spots.  Not just overnighters, but ones where you might want to spend a day or two to explore a bit. You’ll see what I mean when I describe my choices.  Of course the rules state that they have to be somewhere Herbie stayed this year, so it’s a limited palette of places between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

1. Stoke Bruerne Brick Pits

Stoke Bruerne is a place people like to stop. Pretty cottages, two pubs, canal museum –what’s not to like?  On arriving in Stoke Bruerne we also generally get to meet up with the lovely Kathryn for tea, cake and inevitable CRT gossip.  Generally speaking, along with almost everyone else we try to tie up somewhere between the tunnel and the museum –that’s the hot spot.  This year, on the way back up the locks, we decided to have a change and moor in the long pound below the second lock down where there is always masses of room.  We happened to moor beside the gate into the Brick Pits Nature Reserve which I had never noticed before, so I had a walk round it and liked it very much.  Very rough grazing for the small herd of Highland cattle and otherwise completely wild.  They tell me this resident is called Harry.  Surely that should be Hamish.

Just a minute or two’s walk up the towpath and you are at the top lock, the pubs and the museum.  I think I like it more than the hot spot above the locks.

2. Aristotle Lane Bridge – Oxford

Arrived in Oxford to find no mooring space down at Jericho?  Just nip back up to Aristotle Lane Bridge. There’s a nice little park adjacent to the canal where you can have a picnic or a BBQ (which is what we did with Bones and the Moomins and had a brilliant time.)  Just over the bridge is a nice little Italian Deli. Wander back down to Walton Well Rd Bridge, turn right and you can stroll round Port Meadow and then find your way back to the boat through a little park and a quiet housing estate.  So you have all that, and you can still get at the City Centre if you don’t mind a bit of a walk(or there are buses).  Or it’s only ten minutes walk to the Jericho shops and pubs.  Not only that, but the allowable stay time is separate from Jericho, so you can stay two days at one then another two days at the other.

3. Napton – above the bottom lock.

Most people moor round the corner below the lock and it can get pretty full up down there , but there are three or four spaces above the lock which a lot of folk don’t seem to notice. These are actually nearer the Folly and the village which are the two attractions hereabouts.  For people with solar panels it’s also a lot less shaded.

4. Braunston –between locks 1 and 3

The hot spots in Braunston seem to be up by the Turn or down by the Marina, but these days we prefer to go up one or two locks where you can usually get in, especially in the first pound.  It’s handy of course for the Admiral Nelson, which might have a bit to do with why we like it, or if you fancy an ice cream or need a bottle of milk there’s the little shop by lock 1.  Over the bridge by that lock and a path across the field leads up to the rather splendid Butchers shop and the general stores, so it’s just as convenient as the hot spots.

I would like to recommend one for Thrupp as most people seem to like to stop there en route to/from Oxford, but as far as I can tell it’s one big hot spot and you just have to get in where you can.  Maybe the one through the Bridge by the Jolly Boatperson is the least likely to be occupied and worth an honourable mention.  There’s a bus stop near there too so you can get to Oxford if needs be and Bones tipped us off about a pleasant walk over the bridge.  The downside is that the bank is soft and you might get your pins pulled out.

I’d also like to mention the embankment at Weedon Bec, where there is plenty of mooring.  It’s not a hot spot in terms of getting very busy, but that’s probably because people don’t realise it has good access to the village and also because they don’t know there’s a very good  grocery shop and a nice pub down there – plus a tiny bit past the pub a renowned embroidery/ haberdashery shop with an amazing amount of stock – they even do classes there – well worth a visit if you’re of that persuasion (which Kath is). While I’m on Weedon Bec – there’s also a big antiques centre near the bridge and if you need an Iphone fixed or you want to buy a proper refurbed one at a good price, there’s an Apple phone specialist – not many of them by the canal are there?

This is would be quite a handy topic for others to recommend places wouldn’t it?  I’m all ears.  My favourite from this year is already in the Golden Envelope for next time, when I’ll pose a couple of photo teasers for smarty Alecs to identify.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Herbie Award for BCOSEB plus Award for Worst Lock for Delays

Well despite having to stomach the fact that our Richard’s boat didn’t break down as it should after all the years of neglect, the River Ouse up through Hemingford Grey and St Ives is so lovely that I have to Award …

Best Cruise on Someone Else’s Boat

to

Huntingdon to Earith on Nb Bankside

stives (1 of 1)

If you’ve never found your way down the Ouse, I recommend it, although I don’t recommend doing it on a boat with ten year old diesel in the tank – it makes you edgy.

The pesky locks on that stretch leave a lot to be desired though, because the guillotine top gates are set on a timer and open really really slowly to avoid dangerous currents.  Some locks on the canals seem equally determined to slow down the traveller, which leads us to our next award, which for a change is not to praise  but to have a good old grumble.  So how about some nominations for the locks which delayed us most in 2017.

1. Marston Doles bottom lock (Oxford Canal)

Not content with having one bottom gate paddle broken this year, this flippin’ lock eventually contrived for both of them not to work. This is in the Napton flight, always busy with hire boaters in season and in the days leading up to the final collapse, waiting times went up to four hours.  I hope the hire fleet companies are forgiving to those poor hirers who arrive back late.  CRT were aware of the problem, but hey had to wait for parts to be available,which is a fair excuse, but they would do a lot better to stick a notice on the broken a paddle saying it is in hand. Fortunately when the second paddle broke, they were able to fix the lock next day.

2.  Somerton Deep lock

deep (1 of 1)

I suppose we can all forgive lock delays when a paddle or a gate fails, but some locks seem to create delays even when they are working, and there is no better example than Somerton Deep.  In planning a journey down that way I now always mentally factor in a wait of up to an hour to get through this particular lock.  You might think it’s because the bottom gate at thirteen feet high is big and heavy, or because the top paddles are very hard going, or maybe it’s just that being so deep it takes a long time to fill and empty.  I think the real reason is that down at the bottom of the chamber the lock is a bit narrow so lots of boats seem to get stuck in there, or can’t get in in the first place.  I’ve seen it lots of times and it really doesn’t help when so many boats go in with their fenders down.  It’s all very well wanting to protect your precious blacking, but fenders and narrow locks don’t always go. On top of all that Somerton is a member of a cruel gang of locks that like to get bits of tree stuck behind the bottom gate so you can’t open it properly.  They do it on purpose I swear.  It’s a good job that the lock is in a pretty bit of countryside, because you get plenty of time to look at it.  Mind you, if you are lonely, it’d be a good place to hang about because there’s always someone to talk to as they wait their turn.

3. Grant’s Lock (the first below Banbury on the Oxford)

IMG_0850

A broken paddle on the top gate seemed to have been awaiting spare parts since Tom Rolt came through in Nineteen Whateveritwas (if indeed he did – I haven’t checked)..  No matter, one paddle is enough most of the time.  We weren’t worried on our way down to Aynho in October, that until about coming the other way told us men were working in the lock  and there would be a long wait.  Regular readers of this blog will recall my photo shoot of the ensuing entertainment when the CRT gang installed a new bumper bar. (if not, look back through this blog and find it – it’s a good ‘un)  It cost us about an hour, but I have to confess it was an hour very well spent, and I’d happily do it again.

Miraculously our trip up and down the Buckby flight was without incident or delay this year, which I think is a first for us, so they are exempt from this list, although they are I think previous winners of worst locks awards and for that reason are worthy of respect.

Well we’ve all got stories of being held up at locks.  It’s all part of boating, but then again, so is grumbling, so next time I’ll have the pleasure of making the award as well as making some nominations for good stopping places just round the corner from hot spots.  After that one, we may pause for a little quizette.  Stay tuned.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Meal Deal Award Awarded plus BCOSEB

Hmm I almost wish I hadn’t mentioned Marks and Spencer in my last post about meal deals because Paula and Carol (bless them) chipped in with Waitrose and Tesco just to confuse things.  Well on considering it, I concluded that getting a bargain meal when you are out boating is all the same whether you get it served in a pub or whack it in the oven on the boat.  However I can’t include Tesco or Waitrose, ‘cos we haven’t had any of their meal deal specials apart from the sandwich/crisps/drink thingy.  So originally I thought i would probably give the prize to the navigation for their two steaks and wine for £20, but as M&S are right next to the canal in Banbury, and you get a very nice  meal for two plus wine for a tenner I think I will surprise myself by giving

The Herbie Award for Best Meal Deal (while out boating)

to

Marks and Spencer (Banbury)

(try their Moussaka – yum)

Well that was a surprise to me at least!  I wonder who puts the answers in the Golden Envelope?

Now then, in previous years we’ve made awards for BCOSEB (usually won by Sue and Richard), so we’ll carry on the tradition of including the category.  I mean of course Best Cruise on Someone Else’s Boat.  Sadly we were unable to join S&R for an adventure this year, although I recall we might have been invited.  So what have we got? (in chronological order)

1. Ludham to Salhouse Broad (Norfolk) on, um, Hazlenut or Walnut or Jaylene (we’ve hired sailing half deckers from Martham for so many years I lose track).  This was our annual bash on the Broads with “very old friends” (in all senses of the phrase these days).  This year we chose new routes to sail and revisited Salhouse Broad, where I haven’t been since the early 1970s.  It was nice to see the spot where I fell in off the Wherry Albion and the place in Horning where we sank the dinghy by overloading it on the way back from the pub in the dark all those years ago.  Happy days.  Trips down the tidal Thames with Sue and Richard can be pretty hairy, but they should try sailing down the Bure on a Sunday afternoon.  It’s a bit like zig zagging up the wrong side of the M6 in a pedal car.  Kath usually finds an excuse not to join us on those days, something about needing one of us to stay alive for the grandchildren.  Anyhow I enjoyed it very much.

Here we look across at Rick and family,no doubt trying some underhand trick to overtake our boat, not that he’s competitive or anything.  Anyway we beat him that day, possible because I didn’t take the helm.

2. Thrupp to Jericho on Nb Bones

Yes, I know I’m honoured. Bones had a poorly leg and needed to get to Oxford to join us and the Moomins for what turned out to be a fab barbecue in the park, so I hopped back from Oxford on the bus and gave her a hand.  It’s always nice having a go on someone else’s boat and I must say her old BMC 1.5 runs sweet as a nut, or at least I did when I drove it, I think she’s had some trouble with it since (Ooo err, it wasn’t me wot broke it – honest).  Bones, as many of you know, is always good company and we had a pleasant run all the way down to moor up right next to Herbie.  Lovely.

3. Huntingdon to Earith (R Ouse) on Nb Bankside

Nb Bankside is the boat and the home of our eldest son Richard, who after not moving it an inch in many years, needed to take his embarrassingly rusty barque to Earith to be painted.  I was filled with trepidation, because the engine hadn’t been started for years and the diesel in the tank was at least ten years old.  What were the chances of that getting anywhere in one piece?  We brought Rick along with us as guest engineer, being fairly certain his skills would be called upon as we drifted helplessly in the current and disappeared over some weir.  Astonishingly after routine replacement of the knackered starter battery, the boat made it without so much as a hiccup.  I was furious – Richard didn’t deserve to be that lucky after neglecting the boat like that!  Afterwards we realised that he was saved from the dreaded diesel, bug by the fact that the stuff in his tank was so old, it was before they started adding biofuels to it.  Aah the good old days when diesel was diesel.

That part of the Ouse is very beautiful and the sun shone for us, so it was all extremely pleasant apart from the bits at locks where  Rick and I had to pretend that this scruffy old boat was nothing to do with us.  Is there a finer sight in all the waterways than St Ives bridge on a sunny day?

Well that was three good Cruises wasn’t it?  I’m a lucky fella.  Another sleepless night lies ahead while I wonder what lies in the Golden Envelope.  Don’t go away.



Saturday, December 09, 2017

Herbie Awards – Best Gadget decision plus Best Meal Deal

After consulting the chief judge, we are agreed that the Herbie Award for the Best Gadget 2017 (although we’re not really sue that it qualifies as a gadget, but hey, we can make up our own rules) goes to our

Eberspacher 7 day timer switch

because it makes an expensive gadget that we already have a lot more useful.

Of course, if you don’t have an Eberspacher, which is very likely, I wouldn’t get such a switch and get the sander or the Cobb instead.

And so to our next category.

In the past we’ve bestowed awards on a few hostelries for the quality of their food. With all the dedication of Greg Wallace and Monica Wotsername we’ve scoured the cut for the finest dining and haut cuisine (as opposed to Oat Cuisine which is porridge), supping this and chewing that all for your information.  However it hasn’t escaped our notice that it’s all getting a bit pricey at that end of the market, so this year we’ve been on the lookout for a genuine bargain.   Due to the fact that we have “eaten out” less often this year and the fact that despite doing plenty of boating, we haven’t been to so many places, we were struggling to get enough candidates for this topic, worthy though it is. I happy to say we’ve found a couple to pass on and in the tradition of the Herbie Awards, we’ll choose ourselves a winner.  In both cases, we bought meals which we could hardly have cooked for ourselves at the price. So the nominations for Best Meal Deal 2017 are:

1. “Crazy Steaks”at the Reindeer, Banbury.

You all by now know how much we like the Reindeer, and on Saturday nights it gets even better when you can get a 6oz rump steak with the trimmings for  £6.  As usual at the Reindeer the cooking is good, the service friendly and efficient, and the meat comes from the brilliant Steve Betts butcher thirty yards away.  They have other special deal nights too, but £6 for a nice steak takes some beating we think.

2. Steaks and Wine at The Navigation, Stoke Bruerne

Oh dear, this isn’t turning out to be a good list for veggies is it? Still, two sirloin steak meals and a bottle of surprisingly good wine for £20 can’t be ignored.  Again the cooking is good, as are the ingredients, and this time you can get it all through from Monday to Thursday.  We’ve had this meal twice, on quiz nights, and both times it’s been very good and the wine they gave us was Hardy’s Main Road which is lovely.  They normally charge £12.50 a bottle for that, which means the steak meals work out at £7.50 for the two!  I should say right now though that I just checked the web site and the total price has now been put up to £22, but that is still less than you pay for one steak at a couple of our previous posher winners.

I’m very tempted here to sneak in the Marks and Spencer Dine in for Two for a tenner deal, which we sometimes get when we’re in Banbury at the weekend.  if you haven’t tried them, maybe you should.  You get a main dish, a side dish, a dessert (all for two) plus a bottle of wine – all for £10, and despite being “convenience food” they are really very good.  You couldn’t buy the ingredients and cook it yourself for anything like the price.

Other pubs doing bargain deals (although we didn’t use them this year, we do actually cook on board most nights!) include the Boathouse at Braunston and The Nag’s Head at Great Linford and of course there is always dear old Wetherspoons.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

And the Best Canal Village Shop is . . .

I really should decide on who to choose as the winner from a short list before I go to bed.  I must have lost at least couple of hours sleep last night mulling it over.  In the end, I found the solution was easy – I just asked Kath.  She approved of the shortlist of Weedon Bec, Napton and Kirtlington, but came instantly to a firm decision, and I have to say she is probably right, so:

The Herbie Award for the Best Canal Village Shop on our travels in 2017

goes to

Napton Village Stores

(rapturous applause)

Don’t just go there to get something you need, go there anyway, you’re bound to find something to treat yourself with, and don’t forget its a Post Office and a tea room too – and it’s only a few minutes stroll from the canal.  I think we’re unlikely now to ever pass through Napton locks without a quick walk up the lane to see what’s in store.

And now for something completely different, although an award category we’ve had several times in the past. Best Gadget.

I suppose by gadget we mean an object we use on the boat and we find useful either to make a job easier, or to make our time more pleasant.  This year I can think of three quite different things that I have enjoyed using. Let’s have a look at our nominations.

1. Wickes Precision Palm Sander

Wickes Presicion Palm Sander 240V - 130W

What a little beauty.  I used it on Herbie’s roof before repainting both for sanding down rusty spots, but also to gently flatten off large areas before repainting.  It’s small but not silly small, very comfortable to use one-handed and it performs really well. The pointy iron shape lets you get at quite small areas.  The little dust catcher on the back really works and is a lot better than the fabric bags on previous models.I see they are now a penny short of £20, although I seem to recall paying rather less when I bought mine, but even at £2 I would still recommend it. The only gripe I had is that the replacement sanding sheets don’t have the extraction holes in the right place, so you have to hand cut them, but that’s easy. If I lost or broke it I would buy another. I’m going to use it on our well deck seats next.

2. Cobb Premier Charcoal grill

Cobb® Premier Charcoal Barbecue Grill & Carry Bag  alt image 3

Well I told you the nominees were all quite different.  We’ve had our Cobb for many years and it has lasted really well and this year it gave us some good meals.  That’s because it is very well made and uses quality materials. It cooks, meat and veg, potatoes, gravy. . .  Grill stuff goes on the cooking plate and you can put veggies in the groove in the stainless steel bowlaround the heat source with a splash of water or wine.  Miraculously the outer case stays cold and you can pick it up with bare hands and carry it around when it is at full heat.  You wont burn your hands or the grass you stand it on – it would even be safe to use on your deck board as long as there is enough open air to make sure you don’t get Carbon Monoxided.  (It is strictly an outdoors-only device.) The only thing is don’t think of it as a barbecue, the Cobb cooks slower and more thoroughly. Think of it more as an oven. It is much less messy than a BBQ and is easy to clean and packs up nicely.  You can use charcoal as fuel, but we use their “Cobblestones” which are thick discs of compressed fibre which are a bit of a pig to get lit, but then burn very steadily for ages.  Here’s a photo of ours after we’ve cooked and eaten and removed the plate and lid. You can see where the meat fat has collected in the bowl, it made some yummy roast spuds.

Cobbs are not cheap.  One will set you back about £100, but they should last forever.


and now for something else completely different


3. Eberspacher timer switch.

Eberspacher Heater D1lc D3lc Compact D5lc 7 Day Timer + Diagnostics |

Over the eleven years we have had Herbie, we have hardly ever used our Eberspacher heater because we like the cosiness produced by the wood burning stove.  The Eberspacher heats three radiators plus the hot water tank which is nice but it does take a while to warm everything up, by which time we could have lit the stove.  So when one day the Eberspacher refused to start, we made a mental note to get it fixed but did nothing about it for a couple of years.  This year, we thought we should get it sorted, so on the recommendation of Adam and others we took Herbie down to Heyford Fields Marina where the wonderful  Dave of Boating Leisure Services fixed it in a trice and at our request fitted a timer switch.  Well what a difference that switch has made.  Being able to set it to come on an hour before we get up has made all the difference.  Having the chill off the boat in the morning and getting up to ready made hot water is a treat.  Then of course we switch it off and light the fire, but it has already done its job.  I can see that this small addition is going to mean we use our Eber a lot more in future.


So there you have it.  Three gadgets that we have enjoyed having and using this year.  Which one shall we give the award to? I’ll need to consult the head judge. Answers next time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Herbie Awards – Best Canal Village Shop nominations

You know what it’s like on the average canal journey- you’d better stock up with food before you start because you don’t pass many shops, or maybe you just do big shops when you happen to pass near Rugby / Rickmansworth Tesco, or Banbury Morrisons or Berko Waitrose etc, otherwise if you want anything more than some sliced bread, a bottle of milk and a packet of bacon, you might have to go a long way.

Well, we’re beginning to realise that if you are prepared for a walk, there are some pretty good shops in some villages you don’t really see from the canal. So from our discoveries this year we nominate the short list for the Herbie Award for the Best Canal Village Shop.  here they are in no particular order.

1. OneStop –Weedon Bec, Grand Union canal

Actually this is only two or three minutes walk from the canal, but although we have passed nearby many times, we didn’t know it was there.  You need to moor your boat on the high embankment by the Church - either side of the canal will do because there is a bridge under the embankment. For a village shop, this one is bigger and better stocked than a good many we have come across, but still not huge.  However unlike many shops in villages this size, you can find pretty much all you could need in the food and drink department.  Nothing fancy mind, just regular stuff, but a good range and at surprisingly good prices for a village shop. In either direction along the canal it’ll be quite a while before you find another as useful.

2. Napton Village Stores – Oxford canal

Five or six minutes stroll from the Napton bottom lock brings you to this independent shop which is not only stuffed with tasty goodies you don’t see in other places, but also serves hot and cold snacks and coffees, yummy cakes, artisan breads, local meats and sausages, including of course from the Napton buffalo herd, cider made just round the corner and lots of fancy sauces and pickles and biscuits and… you get the idea.  We bought some Bloody Mary Ketchup!  It’s all very nice and it’s easy to be tempted to sit down at one of the tables inside or outside and have a cuppa and a cake.  As you might expect, it ain’t never gonna compete with Aldi on prices, so go there for a treat rather than for basics.  Take a look at their excellent web site which gives you a good idea of what it is like.

3. Kirtlington Village Stores – Oxford canal.

You’ll have to walk rather longer to reach this one from the lovely moorings at Kirtlington Quarry, about a day’s cruise north of Oxford.  Climb up through the quarry and turn left when you reach the road and then right when you get to the centre of the village. It’s hard not to notice that this is a well to do village with its pretty cottages and elderly gentlemen wandering about in panama hats.  Think Midsummer Murders without (as far as I know) the murders.  The lovely little shop is, um, little -  and you’ll have to choose from what they have, but as this includes home cooked takeaway curries and all sorts of yummy specialities, this is another place where you might want to treat yourself.  Old fashioned it might seem, but they do have a Facebook page bearing some glowing and no doubt well deserved testimonials and a nice photo of the shop front. The twenty or thirty minute walk is well worth it, and if you need to sit down after that they’ll do you a cream tea and a coffee, or there is a nice pub practically next door where the cuisine looks quite haut. 

Well that’s our shortlist – all previously undiscovered by us and each one a pleasant surprise.  I’d be interested to now if anyone else has opinions on them.  Tomorrow we’ll open our first Golden Envelope to see which of them gets the award.  Also we’ll have nominations for another category.  Stay tuned.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Herbie Awards Box Office Open

Blimey, I just noticed it’s December already!  What happened to November?  Anyhow, it all means that as the length of the days dwindle to a pitiful few hours of half light and we all start to suffer from SAD, it’s time to cheer ourselves up.   Yes, forget the Prosecco and eschew the Cava*, now’s the time to break open the bottle of the real Bolly you’ve been saving up, splash on the Channel 5 or the David Beckham, dig out the diamonds and take your seats for the years most glittering event – well alright, this blog’s most glittering event.  Yes, it’s the

The Eleventh Annual Herbie Awards.

starting tomorrow!!!

Hooray!!

More critical than Craig Revel Horwood, more passionate than Bruno Tonioli, more glamorous than Darcey Bussell and more knowledgeable than that new lady whatsername, we look back over Herbie’s year to find the loveliest places, the yummiest grub, the biggest bargains, the handiest gadgets and all that other stuff I haven’t thought of yet. Will anything get a perfect 10?

Can you believe we’ve been doing this for eleven years?  This year we take the opportunity to include a couple of new categories.  On Herbie did a few things a bit differently in 2017, especially on our longest outing, when instead of crashing on and putting in long hours and more miles, we took time to explore “off piste”. So we’ll have an award for worth while walks when moored up.  Let’s have separate ones for urban and  rural.

This year we managed to fit in a fair few pub quizzes, although of course we never win any because of the dreaded popular culture questions.  Why don’t they have questions on unpopular culture?  We might get somewhere then.  Anyway, I reckon we could give an award for Best Pub Quiz, so we’ll do that.

Of course we have to find Best Pub/food/drink, Best On-board Gadget, Best Guest Crew Member, Best Day’s Cruise and more.

Plus, if that isn’t enough to keep us happy, in the intermission, while you recharge your drinks and powder your noses, We’ll have a picture quiz.

So tomorrow we’re straight in with our first set of nominations for Best Canalside Pub Grub.  Admission is free and there’s room for all.  See you then.


*Now that I’m a professional author (I made about £2.50 this year), I thought I ought to aim for spot of alliteration there, but despite consulting a Thesaurus, I couldn’t find words meaning reject or expel or whatever starting in P and C.  Feel free to recommend alternatives. Cast off the cava? Pitch the Prossecco?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Slough basin–what’s next?

Yesterday we completed the washwall vegetation survey of the Slough Arm.  Not a particularly exciting volunteer job, but eventful in its own way.  They gave us a nice little phone app with which we send in photos and comments of any woody vegetation needing cutting back.  I suppose recording the GPS position, writing a comment and taking and sending a photo direct to the survey database takes no more that thirty seconds each time.

There is a bit of news to report.  The old Travis Perkins yard and buildings down at the Slough basin end has now been cleared, so now the basin area has a cleared and empty building site for development.  Maybe something exciting will happen.   What will it be?  Luxury flats? A hotel? Affordable (huh!) housing. Maybe a revamp of the moorings – that would be splendid. How about a nice little park or garden?  Hmm even as I write that I realise it might well be taken over by the oiks and their lager cans which are now evenly distributed along the hedgerows down the Slough end.  I did notice that a CRT water tap had been installed down there, probably for winter moorers although there are none down there.  What ever is planned for the area,  I advise against holding your breath.

It was at that point, furthest from where I had left my car, that the pedal crank fell off my bike.  Doh!  I did in fact have two spanners with me, but of course neither of them were the right size.  We managed to effect a temporary fix which lasted about five minutes, so we had to push our bikes for half of the way back. A lot of the towpath down their is very muddy, so the fun was quickly evaporating from the day. Stopping to eat our sandwiches at the field where they hold the canal festival, we noticed that my beloved pair of long handled loppers had gone missing, so poor Christine (my volunteer partner for the day) had to cycle back to the basin to find them.  Thankfully she did.

The water down the Slough Arm tends to be very clear, mainly because very few boats get down there to stir up the mud, so it was easy to see the traffic cone standing on the canal bed in the middle of the bridge hole at bridge 10.  Had we been on a boat with some sinking rope I reckon we could have got it out somehow, but from the towpath there was nothing we could do to yank out what was undoubtedly prop fodder for some unfortunate boat.  Having said that, the likelihood of any boat going down there in the next month or two is pretty remote.  Anyhow this morning I decided to rend in a report of it to CRT.  Will they bother to send somebody down there?  Answers on a postcard…

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Solar panel tilting frame – tweaking the design

Now we’ve bought a second solar panel, I’ve been working on a tilting frame for it, and I thought I’d share how I did it in case anyone else wants to get one.

I’d settled on a design like this

frame


which you can buy from a few places on line for £35 or so.  The idea was to have it so that I could have the panel secured flat for travelling or tiled to 40 degrees from horizontal to get the best radiation. Apparently 40 degrees is what you need for optimum average performance in the southern half of the UK.

I costed up the bits I would need to make my own, using aluminium for aluminiumwarehouse.co.uk which was the cheapest place I could find and I could have saved a bit, but factoring in the postage and the cost of the screws and knobs it didn’t save a whole lot, so I decided to buy the ones shown above and tweak them to my requirements. Here’s where it gets interesting.

The kit you get is pretty sturdy, but in my view it isn’t ideal for use if you want to be able to have the panels quickly adjustable from locked flat to tilted, especially if you want to be able to choose whether to tilt port or starboard at any given location.  For a start, the holes on the "hypotenuse” don’t match up with those on the base when you lie it flat, so you can’t lock the panel down with the screw knobs.  Secondly, because the hypotenuse is longer than the base, it’ll only tilt one way unless you unscrew everything and slide the panel to the other end. If you think about it, the bars have to meet at a point at the fulcrum end , otherwise the overhang would hit the boat roof before you got it up.  I suppose if the bottom piece was longer than the top, it wouldn’t be a problem. But then you’d have sticky out bits of frame to catch on your boat’s centre ropes.  Sorry if you’re having trouble envisaging all this, I’ve had rather longer to mull it over.

Luckily, I’m building these for two panels of different widths and so by buying two kits I was able to mix and match the components to make frames to suit my requirements.  My new panel happens to be nearly the same width as the “base” piece shown above, so what I’ve done is to take those pieces from both kits and make a frame with the base and the hypotenuse the same length.  The holes match up to lock it down and I can get very close to 40 degrees tilt, like so:



IMG_20171118_134226

The prop piece will have to be removed when the panel lies flat. Here you see it all upside down of course  so you see the feet sticking up.  I have it face down on the table to prevent it from generating electricity. As you can see, a range of angles is available, so in winter I can tilt it more if required.  Whilst I’m on that subject, on our old panel I have monitored the difference in amps between lying flat and propped up and the difference is significant.

At the other end of the panel you can see the frame folded and locked flat.  here’s a better look at it flat.

 IMG_20171118_133725

The fixed side of frame is bolted to the end frame of the panel by four screws and locking nuts. The feet I had  to buy separately. They have a small amount of wiggle so they’ll lie flat against the curvature of the boat roof.  Once I’m happy with the setup on the  boat I’m going to glue them down with Sikaflex.

There was one further problem.  The tilting edge wouldn’t go up to the required angle until I chamfered off its corner like this:

IMG_20171118_134342

Otherwise it interfered with the other half of the frame.  Incidentally, you can see here that the aluminium itself is of a good thickness.

So that’s one done, and the bits I have left are long enough to do my old wider panel the same way.  You have to get lucky sometimes.

Monday, November 06, 2017

I learn more about solar - after a fright

Phew, my feet ache after trapesing up and down the eastern half of the Slough Arm today looking for woody growth (see my previous post) in the edges.  We didn’t find a lot but sent in about a dozen or fifteen reports, mostly of saplings.  The most surprising thing we saw was a boat actually moving down the arm, so rare that we almost sent in a report of that!

Now then, solar.  Well I ordered a shiny new 120w monocrystalline panel from Midsummer Energy.  I chose that one because it is narrow and ought not to interfere with centre ropes on the roof of the boat.  I had adapted my new stands (more of which another time) to the specific width of the new panel and was just about to drill the fixing holes in the panel frame when I thought I should just check the specification label on the back of the panel.  My heart sank.  What was this? The open circuit and max power voltages were at least two volts higher than the spec on Midsummer’s web site.  Was all my research and thinking in vain? Would this mean if I connected up in parallel to my old 95w panel that the new one would be dragged down below its proper performance?  “Woe is me” I might have said, except I said something rather less printable.

To cut a long story short, after a dialogue with the tecchies at Midsummer it’s OK.  As I had explained in previous posts, they confirmed that series connection was a No No in my case  but when in parallel, the MPPT controller will hold the voltages from the two panels at an appropriate level and they’ll perform as well as expected  99% of the time.  That other percent is that rare occasion when the sun is out in the perfect position and everything is at max power, then my 120w won’t quite make all it could, but still comfortably over 90% of what it could.  The rest of the time on normal or dull days the panels will perform just as they should, which in this case is better than most panels because this particular new panel which uses American Sunpower cells is better than others in lower light levels.  That suits me fine, I’ll get better than I might expect 99% of the time and a tiny bit less 1% of the time.  Midsummer explained that mine is the first of a new batch they have just received and they hadn’t noticed the voltage increase.  Their website has now been amended accordingly and they’re sending me some much needed free cable and plugs as a recompense for my distress.

I think what I had overlooked is that the MPPT controller would manage the slightly mismatched voltages and make the best of it.

PS My blockbuster novel Jobs for the Boys is free again this week (Tue-_Sat) on Kindle  Cheap at half the price.  After that I’m hoping to reset it at 99p since a neighbour tells me that she always looks for the 99p books on Kindle.  Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong,  £1.15 was too up market. My cut will go down to 28p, but a million times 28p is OK by me.  I can’t wait to get rich.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

When is a tree not a tree? – CRT tells me

Tomorrow it’s back on with the blue volunteer sweatshirt and the black fleece and out on the towpath for CRT.  I have done very little for them this year, mainly because all the action seems to have been east of Paddington which I have decided is out of my reasonable journey time from home, but this time I have a chance to do something interesting along the dear old Slough Arm.

Using a special iPad app linked to GPS, we’ll be recording “woody growth” - trees, shrubs and saplings, growing between the towpath and the water, including that growing out of the “wash wall”, sometimes damaging the canal bank.  Apparently customer feedback had highlighted this as a problem so CRT made it a priority last winter and Fountains, the contractor, was asked to cut down any such growth. Inevitably some will have been missed, so that’s what we’re looking for, so any remaining can go on the job list for this winter.  Because the contractor is paid for trees by number and size to be cut, but by length of towpath affected by other growth, (e.g three trees, or ten metres of shrubs) we have to decide when a tree is a tree, or when it is a shrub or a sapling.  Any guesses?

Well the answer according to CRT is to estimate the diameter of the trunk  at 1.5 metres above the ground, for me that’s shoulder height.  Anything bigger than 3 inches is a tree. (yeah I know I have mixed metric and imperial, that’s me not them.)  Hmm I might take a bit of string with a knot at  9.4 inches as it might be easier to measure circumference sometimes. I know, I know, I’m an anorak. I hope I don’t find anything at exactly three inches, I might have a meltdown trying to decide.

Anything smaller is “other woody growth”. Then of course there are separate definitions for Small, Medium and Large trees, but I doubt we’ll be finding anything above Small.  “But when is woody growth woody growth”, I hear you ask?  Well stuff like brambles, saplings and shrubs, but not grasses, weeds, ferns and all that stuff.

So it all sounds like fun.  Anything we find will have its GPS location recorded and sent to CRT through the magic of telecomms.  Deep joy.

Changing the subject, you may remember my recent posts about choosing how to connect up a second solar panel.  Well I’ve bought one, and immediately come upon a problem which could have blown all of my research out of the water. You might need to know, so I tell you all later.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Worth the wait– how to fit a bumper bar in a lock

I hope you think this post is worth the wait, but that’s not the reason for it’s title. 

There we were tootling down the S Oxford with our friends Jan and Stephen and thinking of our dinner booked at the Great Western in Aynho.  It was mid afternoon and we had our fingers crossed about getting a mooring.  Approaching Grant’s lock a man on a boat coming the other way shouted that we might have a long wait “some work going on at the lock”.  Indeed there was, and it cost us at least an hours wait, but it was worth it.  Not only that, but it ties this post very neatly in with my last one when I asked if anyone knew the name of those big T shaped bits of wood were on the CRT boat at Banbury the previous weekend.

Well they’re called Bumper Bars and the guys down in Grant’s lock were about to fit one.  here it is, in the lock and on the boat.

IMG_0840

As you can see, it now had its wacking gert iron slab bolted to it. I should like to have seen how that fitted that slab without losing a few fingers.  I wouldn’t like to guess the weight, but clearly lifting the whole assembly into place was going to be a non trivial task.  Grant’s lock has no road access, so a crane was out of the question.  The first job was to get the bumper facing the right way and at the front end of the work boat, so as you can see an RSJ was laid across the top of the lock and a chain hoist strapped to it and to the bumper.  With the chains tight, the water was then let out of the lock, so lowering the boat until the bumper was left dangling.

IMG_0845

Then the boat was backed off until the bumper was at its bow and the lock was refilled, laying the bumper down again.

Next, with the chain hoist unhooked from the bumper the RSJ was moved to the head of the lock, the boat moved up and the bumper reattached and the boat descended once more, now leaving the bumper where it could be re hoisted ready to be manhandled into position.

IMG_0850

The bar has to sit on that curved ledge by the top gate cill, but first they have to attached some retaining chains to the cill using some gert big iron staples. First drilling holes, then knocking the points in with a lump hammer and finishing off with a mighty whack from a sledgehammer.  In that confined space it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

IMG_0853 

At last. with the boat lowered and backed off, the bumper could be swung into place.  It needed a fair bit of persuading and in terms of elf and safety, some pretty dubious acrobatics by the lads, especially as the boat kept drifting backwards as they shoved the bumper forwards.

IMG_0863 (1)

The short retaining chains were then fixed to the bumper and it was all over bar the removal of the straps, in itself not an easy thing given where the bumper now lay,  and some general tidying up.

IMG_0867

Job’s a good ‘un as they say.

The CRT gang went on their way, declaring the lock open for business and we descended with a new found appreciation of what it takes to do jobs like this. 


IMG_0876

Well, I hope you enjoyed that.  We certainly did and it was well worth the hour’s delay, especially as there was still room at Aynho when we got there.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Lots to see and learn in Banbury today.


Well Banbury Canal Day, despite being cancelled and then uncancelled, went pretty well. The good folk of hereabouts turned out in lots of thousands to buy food and crafts from the various market areas and the trading boats, there were long queues for the boat trips and the live music outside the social club was popular, as was the kids funfair in the park. We just sat there looking pretty, well Herbie did, resplendent in our bunting.



Lots of local charities had stalls too, as did IWA and CRT, who also had a boat with some bits of lock on it. Can you identify what the bits are, and do you know the correct name of them?


I had a long chat on Friday with Nigel, (or was it Kevin? Maybe it was Tarquin. Anyway..) CRTs Head of Operations for the Oxford Canal. He's been with BW /CRT for 22 years and seems to know every nut and bolt of every lock on the canal. Definately a hands on sort of bloke. We talked about various locks down this way that had had or still have paddle problems and he was explaining some of the challenges they face in getting them fixed. The largest challenge seems to be funding, the cost of some of the castings required for some of the paddle gear is eye watering. Then there is the problem of boaters who think they know better trying to operate faulty paddles that have been taped up awaiting repair, and making a matters a lot worse. That's what happened at Marston Doles last week.

I asked about the crumbling brickwork on some of the lift bridges. He said their aim was to repair or rebuild two per annum, but sometimes the budget won't stand it. The one they rebuilt at Somerton this year cost 200 grand!! (I think I heard him right).

Reservoir levels, he said, were still a concern. Apparently a lot of this year's rain has been isolated and not where the reservoirs can catch it. Off the top of his head he was able to quote me how many millimeters depth was left in each of his reservoirs. There is a lot of back pumping going on. Apparently water is being pumped up all the way from Leamington to the Braunston pound and then on up the Napton flight to feed the summit. He did quote me how many litres per second they pump, but as he pointed out, it takes a helluva lot of pumping to replace what is lost by a busy morning on a lock flight.

So tomorrow we finish our four week cruise. It's been very good indeed. No doubt later I'll be able to remember more things to tell you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jobs for the Boys

CRT have got stuff to keep them busy up here, but people are grumbling about how long it is taking. The lock second from the top of the Napton flight is causing big queues. One bottom gate paddle is out of action entirely and the other can only be raised a couple of inches so the lock is taking twenty minutes to empty. I've heard tales of people queueing for three hours!

Back down at Whilton the other day there was a fallen tree right across the canal. This hastily grabbed as we passed photo doesnt show it too well, but the tree has fallen from the right hand bank as we look at it.



Mercifully the trunk has sagged enough to let most boats float over it, but only just. Out of gear of course.

Then today I heard a tale of what might be CRT performing an unrequested duty. Cutting a boat's securing chain. At least we presume it was them. Up near the Wormleighton radio mast on the Oxford summit a man had left his boat for a few days while he had gone off to work. He had secured his boat via a chain between a ring on the edge of his roof down to the arnco, locking it with a padlock. When he returned to his boat, he found that his chain had been neatly cut with bolt cutters and placed on the roof complete with his padlocks. We can only assume that someone from CRT concluded that chaining a boat in this way is unsafe because the boat could tip over sideways if the water level changed materially. However I would have thought that up here in this ten mile pound, such a rise or fall would be highly unlikely. Is this general CRT policy I wonder? In which case it would have been nice of them to leave a note explaining their actions.

Speaking of Jobs for the Boys, I have resumed writing my sequel to my blockbuster novel of the same name, as I have now spent the twenty quid it has earned me and need more funds. I am currently up to 46,869 words, every one a gem, well some of it makes me laugh when I read it back at any rate. I am aiming for a minimum 80,000 words, so only 33,131 to go.

Should anyone be thinking of attending the Banbury Canal day this weekend, that's where we'll be. Knock three times and quote the password "cake" and we might invite you in for some. And a cuppa of course. The weather forecast says wind and rain, but we can always hope they are wrong. Where is Michael Fish when you need him?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Herbie in the sky



Here we are this evening, now facing North and high above the surrounding land, except you can't see that for the trees. These steps down to the village will give it away to those who know the GU. (Oh, look, there's William across the other side. That means we might get woken tomorrow by the best alarm clock sound in the world - a Bolinder firing up.)



Yes we are on the Weedon Embankment, up level with the roof of the church! Having strolled into the village below, I'm pleased to report that they have a very good, well stocked One Stop supermarket (not the Tesco Express on the A5), a rare thing on this part of the GU and only a short walk from the canal at this point. For a village stores we thought the prices were very competitive too.

We spent the previous two nights in the long pound in Stoke Bruerne locks, along with some charming neighbours. Here's one of them.



Sorry I don't know his name. To be frank, he didn't have a lot to say, and he was a bit stand-off-ish, but quite passive. He and his family work for the local wild life trust, keeping down the scrub at the brick field nature reserve. I recommend a walk round it. He didn't bother to join us for the pub quiz either. We could have done with some help because it was very hard this week. Predictably it was one by a team of eight. Someone ought to devise a handicap system for large quiz teams.

When we arrived there , the pound was very low. I'm not talking about Sterling here, but referring to the fact that the bottom of the canal was too near the top. We were not alone in sitting on the mud at an angle. Someone must have alerted CRT who switched on a back pump and water gushed from an outfall for at least 36 hours, and the pound was fullish but not overflowing. That's a helluva lot of water.

Kathryn was there to say "Hello, Goodbye" when we came through the top lock. The sun was shining and it was a lovely morning, so of course we then plunged straight into two miles of dark wet tunnel!

Tonight, in the interest of research, we plan to investigate the Plume of Feathers, whose menu looks interesting. I'll report back.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A morning surprise and a night time shock..

Arriving at our favourite mooring at Great Linford, it looked just as attractive as ever.




It's a spot I never get tired of. Very peaceful with just the occasional dog walker.

Next morning however we pulled back the curtains to see half the park covered in marquees, gazeebos and vans! I strolled down to take a look. I was a bit taken aback that it had all arrived that very morning. It was the Milton Keynes Food Festival. Artisan bakers, brewers, distillers, pie makers, ham smokers, cheese sellers, currys, samosas, paellas, and a lot more I can't recall now. Also there was a tent with live music and another with gourmet chefs giving coookery demonstrations. Well what a treat. The only annoying thing was that we had eaten breakfast before pulling back our curtains. Anyhow we got some fab cheese and some great sourdough bread, some Indian pasties and a couple of yummy takeaway curries for the fridge. They're all gone now. - that's both the food fair and the food we bought.

Later that night, about half past ten we were sitting quietly on the boat listening to one of my ace (even though I say it myself) playlists, when there was a terrifically loud bang outside the boat. An explosion in fact.

Looking out into the darkness we could see flames about a hundred yards away. Something was burning fiercely, first in three plumes of flame, then two, and finally one which must have lasted for at least ten minutes. We couldn't see or hear anyone out there. I decided not to go nearer to investigate, in case whatever it was exploded again. Eventually it all went quiet and we went to bed.

Next morning I walked down to investigate and this is what I found.



Three aerosol cans, one of which had clearly exploded and two which had burnt out, a couple of torch batteries and a lot of burnt cardboard, all on top of a drain cover. I rang the police and reported it in case it was someone practising bomb making, but there being no wires or anything like that, I daresay it was kids who set fire to the cardboard, then threw on the cans and batteries and retreated to a safe distance. It was, I assure you, one hell of a bang.

Next day our 48 hours at the mooring was up and we were due to move, but the mooring warden came by and said we could stay another night as it was not busy. Thanks Mr Warden. These moorings belong to The Parks Trust, as do the ones at Campbell Park, where I'm told the warden is not so generous. The overstay fine is 50 quid.

Cruising through Milton Keynes is a genuine delight, over two hours of really attractive park land, all I suppose run by the Parks Trust. Well done them.

Tonight we rest our weary feet in Fenny Stratford, having walked over the hill and down to IKEA and back as well as the obligatory traipse through the store. It was worth it, because we now have a load of reasonably priced LED lightbulbs for home, and a few other things we never knew we needed. IKEA is like that.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Glow in the dark canal

Just as we were approaching Cosgrove yesterday, we suddenly noticed that the canal water had turned a really bright green, almost luminous. This continued for about a hundred yards and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. What could it be we wondered? Some sort of algal bloom perhaps, or maybe one of the moored boats along there had spilled something nasty into the water.

When we tied up after the bridge, we chatted to the man on the neighbouring boat. "Oh I know what that is" he said, "I used to work in Environmental Health and we used that stuff." Apparently it is fluoroscene, a harmless fluorescent dye which is used to track water courses, so it may have been used to find out where a ditch or a pipe was leaking into the canal, or vice versa. Our informant said that sometimes they used three different colours to see which of three things was the culprit. Imagine that, a rainbow coloured canal. He also said it glows in the dark so it can be used at night. I'm sure he was right, there were a couple of CRT boats at the site of the dye and men were doing stuff.

I'm very prone to earworms, sometimes they last for days and I can't stop singing or humming some song I don't necessarily even like. Today we passed a boat called Bird on a Wire and that set me off. It's a Leonard Cohen song in case you didn't know. Earlier this year I was forced to send an email to Stanley Accrington, who used to do the folk circuit with daft songs including one with the line Why Must I be a Dyslexic in Vole which I couldn't get out of my head. People of a certain age will know the original song it parodies. I loved the line which went something like, "Each time you touch my hand a tin leg runs down my spine."

I'm delighted to report that our favourite mooring at Great Linford, overlooking the park, was vacant when we arrived, so that's where I am writing this.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chasing the light

Hmmphh! I'm sure I wrote a blog post yesterday, but somehow it got lost. Never mind, life goes on and tonight we are here.





Yup, Cosgrove

The light was good for photos. After taking a lot of pics of the bridge I went off in the direction of the horse tunnel hoping to get the low light streaming through, but the sun had other ideas and did this just before I got there -




That was the last we saw of it. Oh well.


Yesterday after two miles underground we emerged into Stoke Bruerne where the redoubtable Kathryn dropped in for tea and cake, plus lots of canal gossip of course, and then Kath and I dined at the Navigation. Two very good steaks and a bottle of Hardys shiraz for twenty quid. Very good we thought. They had a good quiz too with an interesting format. Twenty five general knowledge questions randomly scattered on a five by five grid. Then at the end, the answers read out in random order and the first to get a line of right answers takes the prize. Needless to say that wasn't us as we were the smallest team.

This morning at half past six, Kathryn came past on Nb Sculptor en route for Foxton and gave us a blast on her klaxon as she did so. I don't think our neighbours were best pleased.

Tomorrow Tesco at Wolverton ( taking care to avoid their mountain as advised by Frank Ifield fifty odd years ago), then on to Great Linford with our fingers crossed that our favourite mooring is free.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wind, Willoughby and a Whizz.

It's Tuesday evening and we're waiting for The Big Wind promised by the Met Office. Stuff on Herbie's roof has either been stowed away or tied down and we are moored in what we hope is a sheltered spot just North of Blisworth. Do you think I should lash Kath to the tiller? Maybe we should have motored into the middle of the tunnel and stopped there:-) Mind you, the rain would probably be worse in there.

Dave, the Eberspacher whizz at Heyford Fields has done his stuff and we now have a working heater. Actually there was nothing at all wrong with the heater, it was all down to a couple of old bullet fuses in the power line that had corroded. The Eberspacher is too clever for its own good sometimes, and if it senses too low a voltage it turns itself off. Listening to Dave talking us through the heater's start up sequence showed us what a sophisticated piece of kit it is. He also fitted us a timer switch so we can program it to start up before we get out of bed. And, here's the good bit, all for a lot less dosh than we had feared. I wouldn't go anywhere else now.

Last night we were joined by Rick and Marilyn for a bash at the Monday quiz at the Wharf at Bugbrooke. Quite a good quiz. Just before the last round, we were within a single point of the lead, as Rick is fond of saying, general knowledge is our speciality. Then the inevitable popular culture questions appeared and we sank into obscurity. Who the hell is Holly Willoughby? She cost us a load of points. I think we should declare a fatois on her.

This, as you all know is the season of fruits and misty mellowness and we are eating plenty of blackberries with our breakfast cereals and tonight we have blackberry and apple for pud. Typically we have to walk only a couple of boat lengths to stock up every time we stop. I wish hips and haws were more edible - we would be really feasting.

Oo er, the wind is just starting to make loud noises outside. Stoke Bruerne tomorrow if we're spared.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Downhill on the Level


Is it just me, or does the canal here look like it's plunging down hill? You might recognise this spot if you've gone "over the top" from Fenny Compton to Napton. I still can't believe it's on the level, although of course it must be.

Down at Napton, we strolled into the village to mooch around the Village Store and Post Office. If you've never been then make sure you do next time you pass through. This is definately not yer average Spar or whatever, more of a posh deli really and they'll serve you a pot of tea and some wicked cakes at tables inside and outside. Of course you can buy some of the produce of the local buffalo farm which you pass on the way down - burgers, sausages, buffalo milk ice cream(!) and the like. Apparently the herd has grown to over 140 by now. We didn't buy any of that but we were ensnared by a sample tasting of their Bloody Mary Ketchup, on special offer and as you'd expect containing Worcestershire sauce and a touch of vodka. Now we have to decide what food is good enough to put it on. Any suggestions?

Just down the road on the way back to the canal we passed the Napton Cidery. They had some of their cider in the shop but we hadn't bought any. However that evening we of course went into the Folly for a meal - it would be sheer folly not to, as the food and drink their is always good. Anyhow, they had some of the Napton cider on hand pump so I asked for a taste. I like good real cider, but a lot of real cider is far from good. The Napton cider, I am pleased to report, is very very nice, and although stronger than beer, it isn't too strong.

The pub was packed early on (booking essential these days), but as it thinned out later we got a chance to chat to Mark the landlord, who as all customers know, is a bit of a character. He produced a pack of cards and proceeded to show us a couple of really clever card tricks. At the time I had no idea how they might have been done, but after sleeping on it I have some theories. I must call in next time and see if he will repeat them. If I'm right he must have put in a lot of practice at sleight of hand. Well if all that doesn't tempt you to visit the Folly, let me just add that although you have to wait a while for your food when they are busy, it is well worth the wait.

Today we rest up in Braunston while it rains. I have been doing some more on my novel, surprising how you can change the pace by shuffling some chapters about, and Kath has been doing some art work on her iPad, inspired by some bulrushes we saw along the way. She uses an artists App called Procreate, which is very good. Here are a couple of versions of her bulrushes. We can't decide which is best. Opinions welcome.


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

On top of the world



A shaft of September sunlight falls on Herbie as we rest for the night on day 2 of our cruise. Clever so and so's will deduce our position from the second photo. That radio mast is a dead giveaway. Kath has had a long held yen to stop at this spot to enjoy the view so who am I to deny her the pleasure.



Yes we're up on Wormleighton hill heading for Napton, Braunston and the GU.

Next Monday we have an appointment to get our Eberspacher heater fixed and serviced by Boating Leisure Services at Heyford Fields. If the man there is as skilled as he is affable, then it should be a good job. We might even get a programmable time switch installed if it doesn't work out too dear.

Thereafter, we're not sure where to go. We could plod on to enjoy the delights of Milton Keynes or we might race back down the Oxford and hit the upper Thames. If you don't have a plan, then it can't go wrong. That's what I say.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Journey to the end of the Earith

Richard, our eldest, is a naughty boy. He has lived on his boat Nb Bankside in Hartford Marina near Huntingdon for eleven years and never moved.  Well the boat that is.  Not only tha,t but he has virtually never run the engine.  Anyhow, at last the time has come to repaint the boat, so the inevitable eventual move could no longer be put off.  Bankside is living proof of the folly of painting a boat red.  Over the years all of the red pigment had bleached out of the paint, leaving the boat a mixture of cream and rust. Its fair to say she looks pretty terrible on the surface. Arrangements had been made with a boatyard at Earith to give the rusty old barque a thorough going over top and bottom, after which she will hopefully emerge all clean and shiny in two pack green paint with a cream roof.

“How do you fancy a four and a half hour river cruise in a rusty boat whose engine hasn’t run for ten years?” was the question he didn’t ask but might as well have.  Well it was with some trepidation that I volunteered, inviting Rick to join us as ship’s engineer, expecting every minute for his mechanical skills to be called upon.  I am not normally a pessimistic person but I confess I was not the least confident that the boat would survive the journey.

So last Monday I popped up to check out the engine and running gear.  The prop shaft turned easily by hand so at least that wasn’t seized up.  The engine was a different matter, mainly because the battery, as you might expect, was knackered.  So one new starter battery later and a good cleanup of the contacts by a nice man at the marina, attempt number two was taken.  Blow me down, she burst into life.  What’s more the ten year old diesel in the tank still did it’s job, no hoses split, nothing overheated and the gearbox turned.  I was later to remark that Richard didn’t deserve to be so flippin’ (I may have used a different expletive there) lucky.

So on Friday morning we assembled at the boat with bags full of tools and armfuls of life jackets plus anchor, warp and chain borrowed from Herbie. Nothing like being prepared for disaster!  Kath spent twenty minutes extracting the boat’s electric shore cable from ten years of undergrowth wile I delved into the weed hatch to clear the accumulation of water weed and hand spin the prop which had a decidedly crusty surface.

After starting the old BMC 1.8 once more, we untied the brittle old mooring ropes and punted the boat off it’s pontoon until we were clear of the raft of weed.  Gently opening the throttle and unable to take our eyes off the temperature  gauge and the voltmeter, we crept out of the marina and onto the River Ouse, which along that stretch is very pretty. 

I wouldn’t call Bankside’s engine smooth, or even smoothish, well, it is a BMC that hadn’t run for ten years, running on ten year old diesel, but miraculously it chugged along without doing anything scary and we were soon at our first lock. The guillotine top gates on Ouse locks are frustratingly slow to say the least and we were soon revising our four hour estimate, while Rick did his best to remain incognito, understandably embarrassed to be seen crewing such a rusty old barque.

Then came Hemingford with its beautiful riverside church and then probably the most picturesque spot on the Ouse, the medieval bridge at St Ives. 

stiv1 (1 of 1)

We slunk through in full view of the usual gongoozlers,  trying not to look too rusty,

stiv2 (1 of 1)


and plodded on through the miles to Brownshill staunch where we entered the short (barely) tidal section, then through the final lock and into the comparative safety of the boatyard.

Well, to cut a long story short we made it!  By the time we got there, the old engine was remembering how to run and seemed fairly content in its role. No-one was more surprised and relieved than me, although we still wait to see what condition the hull is in when they get her out of the water.  Whether I will be volunteering for the return trip sometime in October all being well, remains to be seen.  That'll be a good time for some before and after pictures.

Meanwhile, the Great Herbie Autumn Cruise is about to start.  Where will we go?  Stay tuned to find out.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Solar panel connection reseach. Interesting findings on YouTube

Well now, there's a thing! Helpful comments from Frank and Dave (thanks chaps) on my last post caused me to doubt my decision to connect solar panels in parallel rather than in series. Their arguments were erudite and persuasive. So wanting to delve further, I called upon my secret weapons, Rick, the smartest Engineer (with a capital E) I know, and I know a fair few, and Peter my brilliant Cambridge PhD scientist son (well I have to play the proud Dad sometimes) who has taught me so much inluding most of what I know about electronics.

Rick has never looked into Solar energy in any detail, but his knowledge of electrics and his sense of logic led him to side with me in so far as recognising that serial linking two panels with similar voltages but potentially different currents might not be advantageous. I left him to ponder.

Peter had never looked into solar power either, but he is nothing if not a quick researcher (with a good knowledge of electronics) and went off to look at a lot of graphs and interview the internet. One of his many mantras is that "Theory tells you which experiments to run" so he set out searching for people who had actually compared series and parallel solar panel connections and taken proper measurements under different conditions. What he found was very interesting.

There is a series of YouTube videos presented by a smart lady called Amy from the eltstore which I believe is in Canada. I wont go into all the detail here, but she connects up panels one way and then the other and takes readings of panel volts and amps and the amps delivered by a connected MPPT controller. If you go to Youtube and search for solar mismatch, you'll soon find her.

I was particularly interested in the mismatch topic because my intention is to add a new panel with an old one, and to some extent they will have different characteristics.

What Amy's tests clearly demonstrate is that when adding a second panel with a similar voltage, but materially different current from the first one, it is much better to connect them in parallel. All the specs and graphs i have looked at show that panel voltages are nearly always remarkably similar and stable but amps generated vary a lot with panel size and solar energy input. Furthermore, and most interestingly she demonstrates that under partial shading, series connections suffer a much larger drop in ouput than parallel. Go see for youself if you don't believe me. The videos are very good. She also does a good demo of the effects of tilting the panel in low sun, and another on the effects of temperature on panel performance.

This, as I see it, is the difference between ideal conditions and the reality of solar panels on a boat. Frank and Dave are quite correct and in ideal conditions I would follow thier advice to the letter. The ideal would indeed be for me to have two identical panels, each with their own controller, and each receiving the same amount of sunlight. The next best thing would be two identical panels connected in series to one controller and getting the same sunlight.

But that ain't gonna happen. I will have two different panels, generating different current, but closely matched voltages sharing one controller (because of expense and installation challenges), and on many occasions when we have to moor under trees or next to a wall or building, or the morco chimney casts a shadow over part of one panel, we will encounter partial shading. Unless anyone can prove Amy wrong, I'm going parallel. Having seen her videos, I might even consider getting a 150W panel rather than a 100W to add to the existing 95W.

Now I need to remeasure the roof space.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Solar expansion planning

Having decided to up our solar power on Herbie, there’s a bit of technical/ electrical planning to do, so for the record and in case it helps anyone, I thought I’d set out the considerations here.  Also, people cleverer than me might spot a flaw in my deliberations and put me straight.  Please feel free to correct me if am wrong.

Our current (gettit?) arrangement is one Kyocera 95w panel charging through an Emponi MPPT controller which is OK up to 100w but no more.  I also have a shunt type ammeter in the negative line between the controller and the batteries.  This shows we can make anything up to 6 amps when the sun is strong and in the right place.  More often we are averaging something like 3 amps.  we would like to double that by adding another 100w panel.

So if we have two panels, should we connect them in series or parallel?

I first decided series might be best, so the voltages are additive, and higher voltage in the cables means less resistance losses. Also, daisy chaining up the panels would be simple.  As I understand it, the down side is that if one panel creates more current than the other, there would be equalisation losses.

Now I’m more inclined to connect in parallel,  This way, as long as the panels generate the same or very similar voltage (much more likely), the currents are additive.

So what do I have to check in choosing a new panel?

Voltage is the main thing.  Panels specs should quote  the open circuit voltage Voc, typically about 21.5 volts and a maximum power point voltage Vmpp typically between 17.5 and 18 volts.  For parallel connection a pair of panels need to have these values as similar as possible.  Our current panel has a Vmpp of about 17.6v which I have checked with a voltmeter to be sure it hasn’t deteriorated in this respect.  I’m not sure but I suspect panels deteriorate more in amps than volts.

Type of cell is another issues. Monocrystalline or polycrystalline.  Poly is cheaper, mono is a bit more efficient so panels are a bit smaller for the same output.  They also tend to look a bit nicer. This is where you have to consider space on the roof.  I haven’t made a final decision on this yet, although the difference of up to £50 spread over ten years isn’t a lot. The narrower the panel, the less chance of tangling with Herbie’s centre ropes.

The panel frame is a bit of a consideration, but most of them are ok.  I just need to check the side of the frame is deep enough to take the screws for my tilting stands. 30mm plus is ideal.

Quality.  This is a tough one.  Panels come in a variety of prices for similar specs.  How do you avoid getting inferior quality without paying too much?  My gut feeling is that most panels are OK irrespective of price, but for something I want to work well over many years, I’ll stick to suppliers I think are reputable.  Our last one came from Midsummer Energy, not the cheapest but still reasonable and they are more than just box shifters.  I’ll probably stick with them.  Bits of cable and plugs etc I’ll source from ebay I think where they are a lot cheaper.  Little bits like that can soon add up.

Controller.  I’m going to have to buy an uprated one as the Emponi won’t take 200w.  Choosing MPPT is important, dearer but much more efficient.  Google it if you don’t know why.  Size matters too.  I want to fit the new one in place of the old and space is tight just there. Some of these controllers are at least twice the size of others.  And then there is cost.  Some come with more bels and whistles like remote monitoring etc.  I just want one that is efficient, has the right overload etc protections and from a good manufacturer.  Victron (well known in boat electrics) do a good small 15A MPPT controller for about £80.  That’ll do nicely.

Connections – how best to wire up in parallel.  I am pleased to discover than using the industry standard weatherproof MC4 connections, you can get natty branch connectors to plug two cables into one, which is what you need.  Lots of videos on YouTube show how to do it.

Cables.  Cables get hot and waste power if they are too thin.  They could even catch fire. I checked our existing cables. They are 4mm squared which will be OK to carry the increased current. Phew! I didn't want to have to take the boat ceiling down again for a new run of cable.  I need to check the cables between the controller and the batteries and the fuse too.

So I’ve done my homework.  If you can spot any flaws or omissions I’d be glad to hear about it.  I’m reckoning the panel, plugs, cable, controller, new tilting frames (see previous post) are going to add up to in the region of £300+.