Thursday, 20 July 2017

Off to Stratford on Avon

Yesterday we set off on our summer trip to Stratford Upon Avon. At our usual daily average of 3 hours a day, it will take about 8 days.

However, them canal people have gone and dug up part of our route: The Garrison lock flight is closed on the Birmingham and Warwick and so we now have an alternative, but longer route – going up through the Aston flight and then through the Ashted locks (and tunnel).

To keep to our schedule we planned to catch up some time on our first day, and planned a mammoth 4 and a half hours. But then at the end of the cruise, there was a moment of confusion and indecision, and we went a lock further than planned. This extended the time to 4 hours 45 minutes and by that time we were exhausted. Hopefully these rough notes will tell the tale. 

But we had reached the Dog and Doublet at Bodymoor Heath. We were a little late for our table and as we dragged ourselves up the steps into the bar (on our hands and knees) I think they took pity on us. 

And it was wonderful to be there, but given the circumstances, I imagine the food and beer tasted better than it was.

Today is more sensible 2 hours to Curdworth.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Caledonian Dreaming

Although we are on holiday and not on our own boat, a wee blog still seemed fitting as we are busy watching other craft negotiate the engineering masterpiece (of Thomas Telford) that is the Caledonian Canal.

More precisely we are staying in Bona Lighthouse which was built to guide boats travelling north east from Loch Ness into the narrow channel leading to Inverness.

We are staying in the converted stables of the lighthouse which used to charge boat keepers for stabling their horses overnight. We look directly out over the magical, mystical and sometimes palpably scary, Loch Ness. A fact that we cannot avoid, with the trip boats bearing loud hailers and a reliable script echoing regularly off the lighthouse: 

"You will see a group of little white houses over to your right. That is the village of Lochend. And it is well named as we are at the Loch end." 

If that was a joke, no one ever laughed.
A quiet Sunday at Fort Augustus
One of the little known stories of the area around the lighthouse, followed from an underwater "side sonar" survey. This revealed huge stone blocks and there was talk of discovery of a new underwater Stonehenge. It was close to being publicised when someone found that Telford (yes him again) on finishing building the canal, had dumped hundreds of tons of surplus stone from a dredger.

It is the end of June and the canal seems very quiet. I don't know how many lock-boat movements there are, but I would guess maybe 20-30 boats a day, with even fewer through the sea locks - as most of those are hire boats "doing the canal." We may do the canal one day. I thought it would be more expensive than it is, and on a quick look, it appeared less expensive than hiring a narrowboat,
One highlight of the trip is the local stag. He spends a fair bit of the day in the wheat field at the back of the lighthouse, but also wanders around our garden when he fancies it. 

Last night, we took Jonesy for a romantic bed-time stroll on the shoreline adjacent to the stables, The Loch was like a silver mirror with dark shadows occasioning a slight chill in our bones. We were returning from the beach, climbing up a a slope up to the garden, but blocking our way and towering over us was the silhouette of Mr Stag, His magnificent furry antlers just visible against the night sky. 

Jones was not happy. First mate took matters into her own hands as he appeared unbothered by a barking dog and two humans. She shone the torch, first directly at him, but he remained rooted to the path. Then she shone the torch up into her own face and he ran for his life. An impressive thing at any time of the day but especially awesome in the moonlight. We haven't seen him at all today and we are wondering if he was seriously spooked. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

Piping Away

After months in the design stage and a good few weeks in the making, we are now the owners of possibly the only narrowboat with a decorative stench pipe.It's rather elegant in brass and metal of the type is often used as an engine chimney on historic narrowboats. So it doesn't look out of place but hides its real function. 

On our boat, the combined vent and rinse point from the toilet holding tank is fitted in the roof skin. And the whiff from this pipe can be quite intense.

Now, it needs to be stated that I am no expert in fluid dynamics and most of the theories here are a bit home baked. But I think what is happening is that a boundary layer effect is allowing the venting gases to hug the outside surface of the boat and creep in through any open windows and portholes.

Now houses traditionally have soil stacks or stench pipes. The simpler ones just vent to the atmosphere. Household Building Regulations require that the top of the vent pipe must be 900mm above any window. Presumably this is to both avoid the boundary layer problem and get the gases (which are slightly lighter than air) into the atmosphere and maybe into a breeze.

Household stench pipes have been in common use for over 150 years and in all the houses I have lived in, they have worked very successfully. So, we figured there was no point in looking any further.

The stack was fitted yesterday and after a few exhaustive tests, it does appear to be a success. Now we can catch the summer breeze without any noxious top notes. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Hot Rails

With First Mate away on a jolly in France, Mr. Jones and I thought a few days boat painting would be a good idea. The plan was to paint the handrails and the cratch front

But we hadn't counted on the weather. Now DIY painting of boats, or bits of boats, is always a trial. There are flies, blossom, leaves, wind blowing other stuff, farmers mowing, it can be too cold, too damp, and of course there can always be rain. This week, though, the problem was the sun and the heat.

But we hatched  a rough plan. It involved getting up at SIX! and masking as soon as the dew had gone. This was tricky on the handrails as the dew kept down rolling off the roof. Then the idea was to paint before the sun became too strong. As a way of mitigating against this, the unpainted section of handrail was shaded with old bed sheets (at least I think they were the old ones).

Handrails don't look very exciting in photographs, so here is the cratch (before and after). Mr. Jones and I are reasonably satisfied.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fighting With Nature

Cratch after second undercoat
I have long been a believer that fighting with nature is a task you are never going to win. Attempts to engage that power need to be considered carefully. 

It is one of the reasons we do not have any lawns at home – in fact we barely have any land. We acknowledged the nonsense of lawns at our last house, where the ratio of the time spent mowing it, to sitting in it, was about 20:1. 

Of course there are occasions when the fight is necessary; such as staying alive at our age! But clipping hedges, mowing lawns, and vacuuming, or is it blowing? the autumn leaves surely must be questionable.

One - Two -Three
Staying with the garden theme a bit, we realised, a while ago, that oiling or varnishing outside furniture is a battle you are going to lose. After a summer or two, you will have lost. I know this from experience and it has been added to my list of questionable activities.

Now the wooden cratch on our boat is rather tired: the varnish has gone and the wood is looking not so new. So armed with my garden furniture knowledge, I set about painting it. I am a big believer in paint. 

And whist I was painting it, First Mate and I thought we might add some diamonds or hearts: something to give it a bit more colour. So after much debate, including discussion of the rather difficult to prove 'Four Colour Theorem,' we came up with the picture here.

To save dragging the cratch home and having it on the living room table for a week or two, we decided to paint the cratch timber a single colour in situ, and make the decorated centre panel from sheet steel that could be screwed on when finished.

The plan is progressing well and I will post again when it is finished.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Bubbles

We spent Easter Sunday in Stone, batterned down, awaiting a deluge that never materialised. Our wonderful neighbours, Rod and Sue, arrived for lunch in more than decent weather. Bringing our post, Prosecco and chocolate cake, they were more than welcome. Mr Jones almost licked them away. His way of telling them that he loves them very much.
We even managed a gentle stroll down the tow path past the old Joules Brewery and back through the woodland which runs along the river.
After a small Babycham, we went for dinner at Smoke and Rye. Since The Plough incident, we are scoring the quality of service. These young staff scored 10 out of 10 for respect.  politeness and attention. The food is American, burgers, ribs, steaks and Mac 'n Cheese.   It is carbo loading at its best. Heavy on the gut but very tasty.
Today we leave Stone and head for a middle-of-nowhere mooring and a slightly healthier dinner on board.


Friday, 14 April 2017

The Star by the Lock

The Star must have been a siren call for hard grafting boat men, situated as it is,  literally on one of the prettiest locks you're likely to find. Last night we decided to take Mr Jones in for a pint and had our dinner there.  It's an interesting old pub with welcoming staff and good food. It's honest, unpretentious and the sort of pub we like.
It is thundering down and has been a rainy day off and on.  We are now holed up with the stove ticking over - coats dripping in the cratch. We can't actually move after stuffing down rather too much of a fish and chip supper.

It's a quiet night in having had visitors for lunch. Our friend Amanda and her five year old daughter Daisy came to check out our new boat. They live on the Wirral and this is nearer for them than Kings Orchard Marina near Lichfield.
We like Stone. It's a solid little town with plenty of green spaces for Jones to play ball in. The canal runs past the edge of the shops and restaurants. It has its fair share of charity shops but feels quite buoyant in comparison with Rugeley.
More exploring tomorrow and we will stay put quite happily until Monday.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Rugely Hugely Appreciated

We really knocked ourselves out yesterday and cruised for a full hour and 20 minutes with no locks. Taxing but we just about made it from our lovely rural mooring to Rugely.
On our morning walk we met a very wise woman, a solo boater who lives and works at Fradley on her boat 'Don't Panic'. Jones was very frisky with her Cairn terrior Bonny who appeared to be dragging round a piece of slim cord and a triangle cut from a piece of Fablon bearing pebbles.
Mystified, we had to enquire as to its purpose. She told that it kept the runaway near her and the boat and that it had worked successfully for 6 years. Bonnie, like Jonesy, is very independent and thinks nothing of running off after a rabbit and had once  disappeared for 10 hours! Even though this string is not attached to anything - it fools her. The bright patterned fablon helps her owner see her if she burrows into some undergrowth. Genius.
We arrived at Rugely in the afternoon sun. It still has a Boots, a Wilcos and a Morrisons. We had a delicious dinner at Terrazza. This is an old fashioned Italian with fantastic service and food. After the contempt heaped on us by the staff at The Plough, we really noticed the difference and it was much appreciated. Perhaps the Plough could send their rather superior bearded hipster manager for a refresher training course to Terrazza?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Pizza Ahoy

Now we do love a pizza. Who doesn’t?  Lunch today was reheated pizza from Papa John’s in Lichfield and this made our fifth pizza indulgence this week. My but it was good today. It was even better last night as revenge pizza after we had stormed out of The Plough at Huddlesford. It was the second time they didn’t have our table even though we booked in person two weeks ago. They are shockingly bad at that joint and there are only so many times they can treat us with contempt.

We had a lovely afternoon lolling in the sun with Jim, Sarah, Ricky and Mr Jones followed by an equally enjoyable evening around Princess Lucy 2’s table scoffing our body weight in multiple toppings and drinking beer and wine. We can live without The Plough and, clearly, they can and will survive without us.

Today, it was much cooler and we went from tee shirts back to hats and gloves as we cruised through Fradley and up towards Handsacre. We are moored in beautiful countryside surrounded by acres of glorious yellow flowers. Trees are in blossom and willows sweep the canal. All is peaceful after a risotto dinner which has finally weaned us off the hard stuff.
No more pizza for at least 24 hours.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Canal Speedbumps

One of, the many, sweeping changes that will be made when my own political party comes to power concerns speedbumps.
The Peoples Party of Common Sense, will both stop filling in potholes and stop providing speedbumps. This will save the country millions. A true win win.
I was reminded of this manifesto item yesterday when first mate complained that the bedroom drawers were flying open at random. The reason for this was twofold. First, Captain had made the very stiff and badly fitted drawers run beautifully. And second he had corrected the list of the boat with 125kg of railway 'chairs.'
Perhaps like the potholes, he should have left everything just as it was.
The boat is fully stocked and decorated with plants on the bow, and today we begin a little (fortnightish) cruise.
This afternoon we plan to meet up with Chertsey. Obviously we are looking to meeting up with the crew, but the main thing is that Mr Jones will catch up with their greyhound Ricky (nee Rocky).
The picture here is from that meeting. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

First World Problem

After we blogged about how to charge the electric toothbrushes, one of our readers gently pointed out that this was hardly a real problem. And we had to agree.

These stupid little annoyances that we spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to solve are trivial when compared with destitution, war, famine.

OK so we are spoiled, but we have now sought and found a solution to another issue that the previous owner had inadvertently pointed out when she sold us the boat. She said that she just hadn't been able to 'get comfortable' and had tried various furniture configurations but nothing 'felt right' when she came to sit down and watch TV.

The problem is a perennial narrow boat issue in that all the furniture tends to be laid out down the edges of the boat to provide for a passage way from front to back.

We too found ourselves uncomfortable, especially on the winter cruising trip when we realised that the sofa (generously proportioned and very comfortable) faced away from the fire and the TV. Often when we sat down, we couldn't see if or when the fire needed attention.

So we took a risk and replaced our lovely three seater white leather sofa with what is euphemistically called 'a snuggler' that could be turned to face the fire. This snuggler is not big enough to qualify as a two seater but bigger than a chair and technically roomy enough for two, that is if you don't mind a certain amount of intimacy. Placed across the boat it doesn't protrude any more than the fixed seating and dinette.

This weekend we trialled this solution and it seemed surprisingly comfy especially with the aid of a glass of wine and footstool. We are now positioned in apposition to the stove and the TV. What we hadn't reckoned on was the fact that Jones would need to get in on the act. He did manage to squeeze in between us in about a two inch gap and slept that way for most of the evening.

Our other triumph is the modernist style log unit/drinks shelf. We designed this and Captain fashioned it out of new French oak floorboards. We have managed to get rid of all the fuel and clutter that barred the way to the stove and looked a mess. Logs are drying out nicely under the gunwales and coal, sticks and firelighters are in the step.

We had Mothers' Day visitors including the real Princess Lucy, who came to do more even more spoiling of the first mate To accommodate them, we simply turned the rug - with the sofa on it - through 90 degrees to put the snuggler back against the wall. So it is now a boat that is very comfy for two (and a Jones) and quite comfortable for entertaining up to six.

Captain's next tricks include painting the front cratch timbers and the installation of a stench pipe!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Boat Solution Number 539 Remote Controlled Heating

We don't live on our boat but are fully committed to using it all year round. We have always done this since we bought our first boat Princess Lucy and decided that we needed to get year long adventures from her. We are not unique in this respect but quite unusual. For good reason, many of our marina neighbours simply winterize their boats and ignore them from September to late Spring. That just won't do for us. We go away for Christmas and Easter and have weekends in between. So boat problem number 539 is how to arrive to a boat that is warm and inviting on a foul winter's day. On a freezing day, it can take several hours to bring the boat up to a nice temperature. So what to do?

We may just have cracked it.  After talking about it for a  year or two, and researching what is available, and fathoming the wiring, it is finally installed and working.

We can now text the boat and command the central heating to turn on, or turn off and we can interrogate the inside temperature too. The system also has "inputs" to it so that if the heating is turned on by, say, the frost thermostat, we will receive a text alert then. There are a few other things too.

For those interested it is called EZTEXT. It is manufactured and sold by RF Solutions and also sold by Maplins and others.

The main benefit, apart from the sheer fun of it, oh and showing off in the pub, is that we can arrive to a cosy boat and lots of hot water.

If anyone wants to know more - I am happy to supply diagrams and so on.

We are though rather troubled by the name EZTEXT. Why can't it be called Donald or Rupert or Daphne? Something that trips of the tongue a little easier and sounds friendly would be so much better.

We will think of something I'm sure. Coming up next is boat solution number 540. Seating.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

USB Toothbrush: The Future

We have long been fans of the electric toothbrush. At home we have rechargeable ones that we are very happy with. On the boat we fitted the same ones (Oral B).

The only downside was that when cruising, away from our shore power, we needed the mains inverter on for a few hours every now and then.

All was well at first and we enjoyed a good few weeks in the summer with charged up toothbrushes. But on our Christmas jaunt. Something failed: the toothbrushes stopped charging. A quick search on the Canal World forum suggested that toothbrush chargers will eventually fry when connected via  a Modified Sine Wave Inverter.

What followed was lots of walks with the dog where I could discuss the problem. Jonesey and I both agreed that podding out the hundreds of pounds for a Pure Sine Wave Inverter was not really justifiable. I also explained to Jonesy that I didn't fancy going back to a  manual toothbrush. This was when Jonesy suggested we copied his daily oral care routine, which is a bedtime Dentastix chew.

I don't know if you have tried one, but I haven't. And I intend it to remain in the list of things in life that I don't ever experience.

We initially gave battery powered toothbrushes a go, but we didn't get on with them. Then we hit on the Colgate "ProClinical Pocket-Pro" which is a USB rechargeable toothbrush,

Brilliant! No inverter needed, no swapping of batteries, no flat toothbrushes ever.  This is now fitted in the bathroom and permanently connected via (yet another) USB charging point.

Captain has tried it over a couple of days and gave it the thumbs up. It seems quite powerful - but we'll see how we get on during some longer trips this year.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Oak Faced Ply, Spray Foam and Rockwool

I knew the title of this blog would grab you, and had you not read the content below you would have been destined to remain awake tonight in a fitful and hopeless attempt to imagine the tale that follows.

So, to begin at the beginning. Our current 5 year old boat is showing signs of water damage to some of the interior timber lining. Most of this is caused by heavy condensation. The insulation, by the way, is spray foam. Now, our previous 12 year old boat had similar levels of damage, so it had done quite well by comparison. And it had done even better when you take into acount that it had rockwool for insulation. It is generally understood that spray foam is way superior to rockwool; That’s what everyone says – but maybe they just believe what the spray foam people say? But (and in case them spray foam people are thinking of suing me) I will admit that statistically, a sample of 2 boats is maybe not significant.  

Anyway, replacing the occasional lining panel is not that difficult, especially when you have a perfect template to copy. The problem is finding a handy source of oak faced ply. 

I wandered into a good number of local timber yards. I didn’t expect them to stock it, but thought they would be able to order it in. It was not to be, most of them laughed at me. When I finally found a relatively local source who actually stocked it, I was unexpectedly elated. Infact this whole experience made me realise just how sad I have become – I mean getting excited over a bit of ply?

In the event that you need any of the stuff, and/or need a similar level of excitement, then if you live anywhere near lock 70 on the Erewash Canal, then get yourself down to Ilkeston Ply and DIY. It is very close to the canal there.

However I drove there, as a 1 hour drive seemed more sensible than a fortnight on the canal. The nice man there had 9mm and 6mm and probably other thicknesses of oak faced ply. He also cut them into car sized bits for me.

Here is a snap of the new varnished panel (the one in the middle with the light switch.)