Sunday, 23 April 2017

Stationary in Stourport

Stationary in Stourport
April 2017

As you will have gathered - we are going nowhere fast.

One bonus of our predicament is that we have had an enforced stop in Stourport, and I have to say there are many worse places to be. I spent Saturday morning preparing the product list boards whilst Helen paid the local launderette a visit. As a result word got around that we were moored up and we had a steady trickle of boaters popping by to pick up a bag of preserves.

I also took the enforced stop as an opportunity to make a start on a host of outstanding repair jobs, including touching up the paint around the port side windows where, after nine years, the green paint was flaking off the silicone and revealing the old maroon paint underneath. Fortunately the base layer is intact and there is no rust.

Meanwhile Helen was having a cookathon inside and giving the fridge and freezer a baptism of fire.

For Sunday we decided to seek out a local church and decided on All Saints, Wilden, about two miles away which involved a walk back along the towpath to The Bird in the Hand pub and then off across the Stour valley. All in all it was about 30 minutes at a brisk pace.

Fortitude and Triumph

Wilden parish church was selected on account of its collection of Burne Jones stained glass windows. Burne Jones was a core part of the Arts and Crafts movement alongside William Morris, whose company supplied the designs based on Burne Jones cartoons.


The seemingly bland church is transformed from the inside and is well worth a visit. Our visit was on low Sunday (the week after Easter) and to our surprise we found the place packed on account of a big christening party. The big congregation made for a celebratory service which was very pleasant.

One further claim to distinction is that Stanley Baldwin, three times prime minister, came form this little church!

During the afternoon we had a surprise visit by our daughter, son in law and grand daughter who came to inspect the boat and take a stroll around Stourport. The funfair was a bit big and loud for such a small person but the ice cream at The Windlass Café went down a treat.

The  family come to town

Boy racers aside, it has been a lovely lazy weekend here at the head of navigation on the River Severn. Hopefully tomorrow will see the return of the engineer and the installation of a new PRM gearbox and we will be on our way. Hurray - Droitwich here we come.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The right gear

Stourbridge to Stourport
April 2017

I have said all along that as we travel more we will actually travel less on a daily basis. Little did I envisage pulling three 12 hour days on the first three days of our journey to Droitwich - after all, we have loads of time and were expecting to squander a few days just " messing about on the river".

Ornamental side pound at Stourton

But fate decided to throw a spanner in the proverbial works. As I greased the stern gland at Primrose Hill I noticed oil in the bilge and a spray of oil radiating from the Centraflex Coupling. As the coupling isn't lubricated it meant the oil was coming from further up the transmission system and the gearbox was the obvious culprit.

I topped the box up but a peep into the engine room at Kinver revealed yet more oil in the bilge and it became clear the something was seriously amiss. We pressed on to Kidderminster where Dan was leaving to get back to Birmingham and Helen was to restock at Sainsburys. It seemed a logical place to seek help so RCR was called. The engineer from Stourport arrived about an hour later and after some probing concluded that the gearbox was kaput. The box had been getting sloppy and clunky in recent years and having given 6000 hours of reliable service so a replacement was duly ordered for fitting on Monday.

Bluebells at Awbridge

The snag was our location - Kidderminster at a weekend. The engineer was not happy and we decided to add some more oil and we would press on to Stourport which was deemed to be "more boater friendly". I had a further very helpful call so say that there were three moorings free on the lock side of the bridge so on we travelled, into the gathering gloom.
Stourport Moorings and very convenient for the town centre, Limekiln Chandlery, elsan and waste so its not a bad place to be held up.

Saturday was spent fettling the boats and making food for the freezer - giving the solar panels a workout as the end results were cooled. We even sold some jam to passing boaters!

I even indulged in a spot of magnet fishing but alas I found nothing of interest near our mooring - but I did rescue a floating straw hat!

So here we sit for a few days, enjoying the warm weather and waiting for mobility to be restored. Tomorrow we explore a local church sporting a clutch of Burne - Jones stained glass windows and later we will be visited by our daughter, her husband and our ever delightful grand daughter Alice.

An escape from the BCN

A bid for freedom
April 2017

The title would suggest that the BCN is some sort of prison, and that's far from the truth. However, its been 18 long months since we have managed to venture beyond the 100 miles of the BCN canal system.

Longwood Top Lock

They say every journey starts with a first step and for us this was the descent of Rushall Top Lock (or the Moshies), a lock which ranks in the bottom ten in terms of usage! Progress was not rapid because no sooner were we into the "Mile Pound" than we discovered it was four bricks down. Then worse was to follow when we arrived at a completely empty pound below lock three. Needless to say the Mile Pound was down another half brick by the time we had flushed water through.

The Rushall Canal after Moses

The Tame Valley was clear of obstructions thanks to the efforts of the winter clean up squad but it was a return to filth as usual on the Walsall. We were travelling at Easter so I guess its no surprise that we encountered the yoof in Great Bridge, with about 20 of them milling around Ryders Green Bottom Lock. In spite of the motorbikes roaring up and down the towpath they were no trouble, beyond some rather aggressive questioning about the possible value of our boats. I was really grateful to have Dan's considerable presence on the towpath.

The area around the supermarket is atrocious, with shopping trolly reefs emerging from the surface all around. We probed our way into these obstructions and managed to find a passage with metal scraping both sides of the hull.

Our planned destination was the Tividale side of the Netherton Tunnel but as we made good progress we pressed on heading for Windmill End where we found four other boats and moored for a peaceful night overlooking the site of the Black Country Boating Festival.

The abandoned Two Lock Line - Dudley No2 Canal

Day two dawned clear and bright so we were off by 8.00am and took advantage of the services at Blowers Green. As it turned out there was quite a mele of boats coming and going from both directions, and one which pulled in behind us had the unique privilege of being our first customer of the journey. I loved the patriotic brolley hats!

First customers of the trip at Blowers Green

Just as we came into Merry Hill I was informed that a water pipe was leaking inder the sink - great! It was a dodgey joint which was quickly fixed with no damage incurred.

Red House Cone - Stourbridge

The Delph came and went, as did the Stourbridge 16 and we moored for the night at the site of the breach at Primrose Hill, just short of Stourton Junction.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A sudden chill in the air

A sudden chill in the air
April 2017

Last minute setback are not what one wants at this stage in the game.

Life sometimes feels a bit like a game of snakes and ladders. One moment you are sipping up when good fortune shows you its smiling face and then, as sure as eggs is eggs, a nasty snake comes along and down you go!

In the lead in to our departure we have encountered a couple of snakes:

1. I was investigating a strange mechanical noise when in forward gear and discovered that one of the studs in the flexible coupling had worked itself loose and was trying to cut its way into the back of our gearbox. I had noticed that the stud protruded a bit more than the rest ever since it was fitted 18 months ago, but assumed that the engineers knew what they were doing and left well alone. Big mistake - doubt everything.... 
The good news it that I caught it immediately and before the thread on the stud or the alloy casting was mashed, so I was able to wind it back in and get a good grip with all four nuts.
I guess that's a snake and a ladder really.

2. Our final task was to load the food aboard and part of this process was to fill the fridge. In went the food and I turned it on. But nothing happened, no rumble from the compressor, no gurgle of fluids. This isnt good. I checked that we had power and I wiggled all the connections but like Monty Python's parrot - it was dead, it was no more, its was an ex fridge.
It was 4.30 but a quick call to Midland Chandlers confirmed a 5.30 closing time so off we went. We walked in at 5.01 and walked out at 5.04 with a new Shoreline fridge and £560 less in the account.  Now to my way of thinking that was a snake. Not a humongous one but quite significant. But thats not how Mrs T saw things. She has been chuntering about a new fridge for over three years and with a separate freezer installed we were able to get a unit without an ice box and therefore more room for fridgey stuff.

Well thats it I think - all is set and we set off down the Ganzies tomorrow morning making for an overnight stop at Tividale. 

Hopefully thats all the snakes we will see for a while.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Weighing heavy

Loading up The Jam Butty
April 2017

Well, after a delay of exactly one year we are nearly ready for the off.

In some ways 2016 seems like the year that never happened but Helen is now well on the road to a full recovery and our delayed plans are swinging into action.

As prelude to our departure there was the small matter of my job but finally, after 38 years, I have parted company with my illustrious employer. Yes, I have joined the ranks of the pension receivers (I am far too young and vain to be described as retired) So, this now frees us up to go travelling.

During the winter months I have, under the critical eye of Mrs "quality control" been busy emptying the freezers and transforming their contents into a range of mouth watering preserves. To be honest I did add up how much we had in stock about six weeks ago, but since then Sticky Toffee Pudding jam and a huge batch of Wild Garlic Vinegar have rolled of the Wild Side production line and I sort of lost count at 2,000 jars.

Now all that stock is heavy, really heavy. I have loaded the Zafira to the gills three times with finished product and again with new glassware and it all had to be loaded into the butty. No problem I hear you say, butties are made to carry loads - its the whole purpose of their existence. Well, yes - and no. The Jam Butty is not exactly a normal butty as it is essentially all front and back with only about six feet of straight plate in the middle. As a result the buoyancy of the stern is limited and made worse by the presence of a heavy steel cabin. 

Before we started the ambient trim of the butty was about 14" at the bow and about 2' 10" at the stern with a propensity to list to the left (port for you salty types) and getting the trim right when loading has always been a challenge. If it was a challenge when carrying stock for 3 or 4 days trading imagine the issues when loading enough stock for 14 or 15 days - enough to last us right through to the Black Boating Festival in September. 

I tend to use the back cabin for storage, locating boxes of preserves under and on the benches, but for this voyage I have added a large watertight hold box capable of carrying an additional 700 jars. This box (it looks a bit like Hagrid's coffin) can me moved from side to side to balance out any listing. This aspect of the plan worked pretty well and by moving the heavy gazebo from side to side managed to achieve a very level boat, and with all that weight below the waterline its also very stable for such a short craft. 

However, and isnt there always a however, I did have a problem with the pitch. As I mentioned the boat sits naturally bows high which allows the bulk of the prop wash to pass under the butty and the deep stern acts like a drogue keeping it straight. The additional weight at the back of the cabin caused it to sink even deeper to the point that when I stood on the back water started to come into the well deck through the drain holes rather than the other way around! Whilst there is no danger of the boat sinking, this isn't good.....

To counter this tendency I had to reconfigure the loading to bring the weight forward wherever possible, thereby taking greater advantage of the additional buoyancy in the hold section. With much re ordering I have managed to get the whole thing balanced and its now sitting about an inch and a half down to the left and two inched to the right, evenly spread along the whole length of the boat. But thats it - as Jim McCoy said in Star Trek - "she canna take no more, Capn". 

Note for future - pack a bit less jam!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

CRT National Council jottings

CRT National Council meeting
22nd March 2017 - Bath

Following my recent notes on the National Users Forum here are the notebook jottings from the National Council meeting in March:

Richard Parry's update

The Trusts income rose to £203m last year, breaking the £200m barrier for the first time - up from a £190m plan. This was mainly attributable to the income obtained for repairs to the Rochdale Canal.

Costs were also £203m and the books balanced exactly.

The capital assets of the Trust increased by £23m - mainly from the commercial property portfolio. Since 2012 £100m of property has been sold and £41m bought - mainly in Manchester (£14m) and Bristol (£15m)

Significant areas of expense outside routine maintenance were £1.5m for and extra mile and a half on the Montgomery, £300k of historic boat restoration and £2.5m on the Monmouth and Brecon.

Infrastructure condition has trended towards improvement whilst staff injuries have increased.

Serious incidents have occurred including a death at Trevor (individual outside railings) and the release of sediment on the Monmouth and Brecon.

DEFRA performance targets are all being met.

Licensing - Phase three ready in Autumn.
London Moorings - engagement phase has ended.
Winter Moorings - demand up 40%
1250 boats in enforcement process - down 25%
600 CC'ers subject to active monitoring - down 15% (2/3 on K&A / London)
116 Cases with solicitors - 37 resolved before court  action, 32 Court Order Outstanding, 38 and ongoing. Still no landmark test case to provide clarity.

The DB Pension Scheme is now closed with a defecit which is currently covered by a portion of the Property estate. There is a small net defecit which is being monitored / addressed.

Other issues and updates were offered - most of which have been  covered in the User Forum notes.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

CRT National User's Forum - Jottings

CRT National Users' Forum
The Captain's Jottings
5th April - The Bond, Birmingham

OK, a break with convention.

Till now I have tended to keep business and pleasure separate, which meant not using the Capt Ahab Blog to document my observations from the various CRT meetings I attend ,either as an elected Council Representative or in the various sub groups which seem to follow on its coat tails.

The problem is that its really difficult to reach all the Boating Businesses I have been elected to represent, so rather that restrict my feedback to the Roving Canal Traders via Facebook, I have decided to post them on my main Blog. That way anyone interested can read them, follow them or forward them on.

Before I provide my observations from yesterday's meeting you may find it helpful to know what CRT forums I find myself on. 

1. The main National Council which comprises a mix of elected and co-opted representatives of the main users of the canal network. This group meets twice a year, once tacked on to the end of the AGM (usually Birmingham in September) and then again in March at different places around the  country. 2016 was Liverpool and 2017 was Bath.

2. The Elected Boater representative forum which meets three times a year and serves as a sounding board to CRT on all their plans which impact us boaters. As you can imagine, there is currently a lot of focus on the Licensing Consultation, The Stoppages process and the underlying asset management issues and also the thorny problem of London Moorings.

3. Finally there is the National Users Forum, takes place (I think) every six months or so, usually at The Bond next to the Grand Union in Digbeth, Birmingham. This has some overlap with the Boaters Forum in terms of input but includes a broad range of users and interested parties from the Horse Society, through the Ramblers Accociation, the RYA, Waterways Press, Marine Federation, The National Bargees and Travellers Association to the Steam Boat Association. A very broad spectrum of about 30 interest groups plus elected Council members and CRT staff.

So, against that background I found myself at my third National Users' Forum. There are official minutes but here are the things which caught my attention, and made it into my note book:

Asset Management

2016 retrospective
910 planned jobs and 260 unplanned ones - which include 160 new lock gates
Contracted works cost £26m and involved 144 projects
£11m was spent on vegetation management including 68 miles of offside trimming
There are 500,000 trees on the CRT estate (someone must have counted them and there are more than the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire - you need to know your Beatles)
200 trees came down in storm Doris.

Looking  forward: 
The CRT defects log extends to 60,000 tasks, but many are grouting / pointing which are low priority, unless the Pi**er is landing on your head.....
CRT own 74 reservoirs and some of these need urgent work. Has anyone listed them so we can "bag them" like Munro's in Scotland. A big spend will be on upper Bittel.
£4.3m on Reservoirs
£8.2m on Dredging
£3.3m on Bridges
£4.0m on Embankments and Culverts.

Lock gate replacement will accelerate from 160 in 2016 to 180 in 2017 with 42 in the West Mids, where some will be undertaken in the summer where alternate routes exist. This spreads the time available for repairs and increases the amount which can be achieved each year.

There are 1000 automated assets which require 6,000 visits pa. There are 10,500 miles of towpath cutting needed and they expect to attend to 2,000 windblown tree incidents.

These numbers are a bit boggling but they do offer an insight into the complexity of managing our antiquated network.

The Licensing review is progressing with the initial round of telephone interviews by an outside party complete. There is no agenda in terms of a preferred go to position for CRT - they are waiting for the findings to come in from the calls, after which they will convene focus groups as phase 2 and then present a plan as phase 3 in the summer - ready for implementation for the 2018 season.
CRT are very clear that the mandate for this project is simply to create a fairer system and the revenue generated is to be neutral.

The Enforcement team is now the License Support to reflect their aim of helping people stay on the water - not driving them off. This is a sensitive area and is consuming a lot of time.

Business Boating generates £6 to £7m of revenue and the license renewal process is being automated like the private boat process, which has to be good news  for those of us who are mostly away from our base for long periods.
Licence renewals and Lease Reviews have been a focus of attention and resulted in an additional £500k of income pa so far.

The results of the London Boaters Survey were shared and the following highlights emerged:

58% were primary homes
69%  were lived on 
50% chose to live afloat due to affordability
33% reported mechanical issues (echoes the RCR's observations on breakdown cover in London)
45% would like to have a permanent mooring.
Top of the concerms list was security.

The pre bookable visitor moorings in Rembrant Gardens are now effectively full till the Autumn. This process has proved popular and successful and there are plans to expand it next year.

Boats in Bloom is about to be launched with all sorts of categories and ways it can be accessed. This struck me as a nice feel good initiative which will bring some extra colour and cheer to the system, as well as some positive PR. Before you raise your hands in horror there is very little cost to this exercise! This is all about recognition for effort rather than winners and losers.

On a similar "green" theme, we were introduced to the Green Flag programme which has been awarded to two canals in the north - Macclesfiled was one but I cant remember the other. This was a great way to engage with volunteers and gain support from local councils hungry for green good news stories. There is a plan to roll this out more  widely and ultimately have 10% of the network covered. Interestingly, I cant see the BCN in any of these plans - apparently shopping trollies and car tyres do not offer points!

Brand and Fundraising
The Friends programme is growing but there is a long way to go to reach the 200,000 Friends by 2024. Chuggers have thankfully been abandoned (50% drop out in a year) and replaced by Direct Towpath Rangers who engage on a  1:1 basis. This form of recruitment has a drop out rate of only 15%.
Discussions took place to glean observations and opinion about how the Friends programme can be developed.

The towpath sharing agenda remains topical and research suggests that 50% of those surveyed think that the answer lies in signage and education. The rest cover a massive range of ideas from speed humps to the Spanish Inquisition.

The towpath campaign has evolved from "share the space" in 2015 to "manners" in 2016 (remember the antique bikes?) and moves to "kill your speed this year".

I think that's about it.

My apologies for what I have missed or misrepresented. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Claverton Pumping Station

Claverton Pumping Station
March 2017

Wednesday 23rd March represented the 13th meeting of the CRT National Council, this time gathering in the beautiful city of Bath.

One particularly positive dimension of the Council meetings is the provision of a guided tour around what is usually one of the lesser known elements of the CRT estate. This time it was the turn of the Claverton Pumping Station on the banks of the river Avon, about three miles upstream from the town. 

Our visit coincided with one of those mornings when BBC Weather indicated grey cloud with two drops of rain - in other words it would be p*****g down! And on this occasion the good old BBC were spot on, not that it dampened our enthusiasm for a brief tour.

The station is spread over three levels and we entered beside a swollen mill pond which was pouring two tons of water over 48 wooden slats fixed to 24 foot wide and 17ft diameter wheel which rotates every 12 seconds. Given the fall in the river at this point there is not enough height for an overshot wheel, so instead the water rushes onto the wheel mid way up, producing more power than the sort of undershot wheel I am more familiar with from the Norfolk watermills.

This huge wheel originally drove a traditional watermill but with the construction of the adjacent Kennet and Avon Canal an additional water source was needed. The mill was therefore converted to house a beam engine uniquely powered by water, lifting 50 gallons of water with each stroke and pumping nearly 100,000 gallons per hour 48 feet to the canal. To put that in perspective, its enough to fill two locks each hour. All this is achieved using free power supplied by the river.

As a walked under the bobbing and thrusting rods I was entranced by the geometric ingenuity of what I later learned was the Watt linkage, Watts huge contribution to the development of the Beam Engine. When I got all excited about it the visitors around me gave me rather strange looks so I will try to explain the problem the linkages overcame.

When a nodding beam engine seeks to convert power into an upwards and downwards motion for a pump it is hampered by the fact the the end of the beam arcs as it moves, so its end does not stay directly above the pump cylinder. Most engineers overcame this problem by using a cable on a rim which provides the desired vertical motion, but a cable can only be pulled, not pushed. Watts device involved two hinged bars hanging down from the beam which can swing to and fro. The alignment is then achieved by a bar attached to both the drop bars and the external framework, gently compensating for the movement created by the arc. I am not sure I am explaining this very well so you had better pay the site a visit and see it for yourself. My thanks to Phil Prettyman for the explanation.

This unusual structure continued quietly about its business from its construction in 1813 till 1952 when it fell into disuse. Then a group of volunteers set about its restoration, a group which continues to this day under the watchful oversight of CRT, the site's owner.

These days the mechanism is fully operational and they just need to reestablish a pipe under the adjacent railway line and they will be able to join Crofton as the second operational beam engine supplying water to the canal.

This site is well worth a visit if you are passing on one of their monthly open days.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Vital Statistics

Measuring up
March 2017

Its getting to crunch time when we actually start to load all that carefully prepared stock onto the Jam Butty, ready for sale during the summer season.

Its not just the size but the weight distribution and storage capacity which has been occupying my mind. A quick tally in the store room suggests something like 2000 jars / bottles will be coming with us which at about 150 jars per trading day gives us, um - about 13 days supply. Thats a lot of volume and a lot of weight.

All jars have to be stored in boxes to keep them safe, and we have enough space, just. But how much will it all weigh? Nerd that I am I decided to do a bit of maths. Each 210g jar actually weighs 370g when you include the glass - so thats 740,000 grammes or 740 Kg. But as traditional boaters we spit on metric so 740 kg equals 1,630 lbs, or 116 stone which is the equivalent of 7 medium sized blokes (something I can imagine).

Thats quite a lot of weight, but not so much that the butty cant carry it. It just needs to be distributed taking account of the natural list to port (it lists 2 or 3 cm and its not the fit out weight distribution, so it has to be vagaries in the construction using the remains of the iron day boat. My guess is that one side is deeper than the other. The fabricators were never convinced it was straight either and the feeling is that one side is longer than the other but on a boat which is all bows and stern, with just 2 metres of straight plate in the middle, being a "banana boat" isn't a particular problem.

So, the storage has been constructed with 2/3 to starboard and most towards the middle of the boat and about 66% below the waterline for stability. Time will tell if this all works out.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Bunging up the ole

Its curtains for curtains
March 2017

Its hard to believe it, but in just over four weeks we will be setting off on our epic jaunt. One level this is great but on another it highlights the need to attend to all this little jobs on the boats which remain undone.

One new porthole bung

Sure, the installation of the solar panels and battery bank was a big achievement but everywhere I look there are outstanding tasks which, if I get my finger out, could be addressed before we go.

So, yesterday set about one of the most obvious tasks - washing Wand'ring Bark. This may not sound too hard but our mooring is under a tree and as a result we suffer from chronic verdigris. It all washes off of but it was so bad that the gunnels had become like ice rinks in the wet. So, I ran the engine for an hour or so to get a supply of hot water and tackled the task full on. I have to admit that the improvement was immediate and impressive, even if it did highlight the flaky bits of paint here and there.

Whilst the water was heating I tackled some internal jobs like fixing the pictures to the walls and most particularly, trying out the new bung in the window on the corridor. We have never really cracked this particular window from a curtain perspective as anything we have used has been snagged as we walked past either wrecking the curtain or our clothes. When we had the rest of the curtains made by Elite we asked for suggestions for this window which has a rebate of just 1cm, which precludes a traditional fabric covered porthole bung.

The suggestion was a circular bit of ply with some form of tape found the edge to bake a tight fit. Not a bad idea so I thought I would give it a shot.

I has some 8mm ply and with care I was able to create a circle on the bandsaw with a margin of error of about plus or minus 1mm. This was varnished and a nice curvy stainless steel handle added. To keep in in place the edge was trimmed with some self adhesive P profile draught excluder and hey presto - one bung which fits tightly in its ole. Time will tell if the slightly over tight fit continues.

In addition I have been giving security a bit of thought. Last year when we were in Walsall Basin with one of the BCN Explorer Cruises on of the boats had its back deck boards lifted. Whilst nothing was taken I did clock the issue, which is a particular concern on a cruiser sterned boat. A winter of cogitating resulted in the idea to add wooden "prongs" to one edge of the board which hook under the metal surround on which is rests. On the other side I inserted a barrel lock bought from Screwfix and drilled a slot into the steel surround which the lever rotated into - making access to the engine and batteries impossible without serious crowbars. 

Thats four jobs down - but a long way to go.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Power to the People

We have power!
March 2017

After much anticipation this weekend was nothing short of electrifying.

A couple of weeks ago I bought four new 110 ah batteries to replace the two batteries which had been in place for 5.5 years, neatly filling the newly enlarged battery box, The problem was then how to wire them up in the post effective manner possible and a bit of guidance from Halfie came in handy.

A new 440ah battery bank

Then there was the small matter of sourcing the crimped wires of the correct thickness and length. Peter from Solar Kingfisher came to the rescue and quickly produced the positive and negative wiring I needed, and pointed out that as my new batteries come ready with M8 terminals there was no need for clamped attachments which can be areas of poor connection.

Friday was a day of biblical rain and I took the opportunity to sit on the engine and complete the battery wiring under the shelter of the canvas awning, connecting the whole bank together and, with the aid of a set of M8 nuts and a socket set. the task was soon complete.

Saturday saw me back at the boat, this time with my friend Mr G, who happens to be both an electrician and experienced in solar panel installation. Now admittedly his specialism is in the huge commercial arrays, but its all a matter of scale and he willingly offered to give me a hand. First we introduced a DC isolator switch at the fromntof the boat into which the wiring from the two panels was fed. Fortunately, there was already a 10mm hole in the bulkhead which used to carry a TV ariel, to this was recycled for our purposes.

The wiring through the boat has been in place for a couple of months so our next task was to install the regulator at the stern, as near the battery bank as possible. An extra hole was cut through the bulkhead into the engine room and the battery feeds were bolted onto the battery terminals. Then, finally, a remote monitoring display was cut into the instrument panel and hey presto - we had evidence of a supply from the panels, a steady feed into the batteries and proof that the battery condition was good. 

Ready to become a battery nerd

Put simply - the whole set up works.

But thats not the end of the story. If you remember we started on this electrical adventure to power a small isotherm freezer, which needed a new power supply and an enlarged electrical storage capability. So, Sunday saw me down at the boat again to complete the wiring to the freezer. Now it said, quite clearly, on the freezer delivery docket that the unit should be tested within 24 hours of receipt, and that would nave been in about November 2015..... so it was with huge relief that I flicked the new freezer switch was was rewarded with the sound of the compressor fan humming and the freezer cooling fast.

Not content with the freezer, I also discovered fixed the hot water pipe under the sink which appears to have caught the frost and resulted in a slow drip. The pipe was repositioned and the jubilee clip tightened and we now seem to have a leak free plumbing system too.

The new cruising season may still be a few weeks away but the boats are taking shape.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A bright spark

A bright spark
Feb 2017

Time is flying by and whilst there has been little action on the blog in the last month, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.

New solar panels on Wand'ring Bark

The end of my paid employment is rapidly drawing closer, with just over six weeks left till I leave in mid April and then, almost immediately, we will be heading off to Droitwich for the first trading event of the season. 

Suddenly, all our plans are stepping up a gear and there is a veritable blitz of ordering going on to ready ourselves for our 2017 extended trip. Glass jars are being ordered by the thousand, new leaflets have arrived, blackboards are being re painted and various carpentry jobs are being finished off on both the motor and the butty. Truth be told the number of things on the "to do" list is frighteningly long.

Viewed from the tiller

This weekend represented something of a milestone in the electrical power department. You will remember that I built a small 12v freezer into the new saloon (32ltr Isotherm) but this needs an extra power supply and extra storage, which all adds up to quite marathon on the DIY front.

To start the weekend I bought 4 new sealed cell 110ah batteries from Coombswood Trust in Hawne Basin. These will replace our pair of five year old batteries and I was relieved to discover that the extra two batteries fitted snugly into the newly extended battery box. Now I just need to source some extra battery wires and we will be sorted.

Not content with the batteries I also bought two 160 amp Midsummer solar panels with a controller just before Christmas and have been itching to get them fixed in. I did spend a very chilly day on the boat about a month ago installing all the electrical cables which will carry the power from the panels to the controller and also the 12v supply from the batteries to the freezer, but the means of securing the panels to the boat was in something of a gestation period.

Motor and butty await the start of the new season

My key criteria is that the panels have to be as inconspicuous as possible, protected from accidental damage and also capable of some angling to maximise power gathering. What I didn't want was those triangular brackets screwed to the roof which are, to my mind, unsightly and add significantly to the air draft. Success means that I can still navigate the Froghall Tunnel and failure is not an option.

My solution was to set the panels end to end in front of the centre ring and to the port side next the the pole rack. The panels have been fixed to a hinged frame which in turn is attached to three hardwood strips which match the curve of the cabin roof, wedged into position under the the handrails. The production was a bit tricky but in the event turned out better than I expected, with a very even 5mm gap all round the panels. When flat the panels are below the level on the handrail and even in the centre of the roof they stand up less than the height of the cratch. Froghall remains within our reach.

All in all I am very satisfied with the end result. From the stern the supports look a bit like boatmans beams and from the side they are all but invisible.

Now I just need to sort out the wiring.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Reader on the 6.27 - a book review

The Reader on the 6.27
By Jean Paul Didierlaurent
Jan 2017

I don't know how this book came to be kicking around on the welsh dresser in the kitchen. Its almost certainly one of Helen's literary acquisitions, maybe bought to satisfy the reading demands of her long running book group.

Whatever its origin,s I know it wasn't bought for me and at no time did she proffer a "this is a really good book - you should read it" endorsement, which of late has tended to introduce worthy and often ponderous tomes. Books which no doubt have great literary merit but so often fall short of gripping plot lines or heaven forbid, a half way decent body count!

And so in silent protest at this onslaught of the worthy I have tended to indulge myself in the type of lightweight action thriller offered by Clive Cussler or Dan Brown.

However, finding myself bookless and wanting a read I aligted on the above book, its spine unbent and its pages unread. The blurb offerd no suggestion of references to long dead playwrights, so I carefully opened the book to page one, which is always a good place to start. Now I have to say that I am a bit notorious for reading books lightly, and its quite possible that I can read a complete work and replace it in a condition which leaves almost no clue that a pair of eyes have travelled this way before. So, if this book was not for consumption by the Captian lets leave it that way, as a little secret between the two of us ok? 

The book is an amazingly charming translation of a short story written and first published in France written by, for and about book lovers. In fact its fair to say that books and the reading thereof forms the the core of the plot line.

The plot centres on lonely and slightly geeky Guylain who's life in publishing is certainly one less travelled. His job is the operator of a book pulping machine, a machine which reduceds remaindered books to their essential pulp, ready to be turned back into - more new books. This endless cycle of loss of the written word troubles Guylain deeply, and each day as he cleans the hated machine he recovers odd pages which he dries out and, for some inexplicable reason, he reads aloud each morning on the 6.27 train.

Words have power and Guylains snatched fragments reach out with unexpected consequences, enriching the lives of those he encounters and transporting them in directions they could never forsee.

Its only 200 pages long but each is crafted with care, sucking you in. As with all short stories, it will come to a conclusion of sorts and leaving you wanting more - a bit like the snatched readings on the 6.27.

Helen - if the book was meant for someone else I havn't read it, honestly, and this review is entirely plagarised form other on line reviews! ;-)