Sunday 21 July 2013

Wolverhampton Lock 20 - the latest

Update on Lock 20
Wolverhampton 21
July 2013

We were at Calf Heath seeing some friends off for a weekend aboard Wand'ring Bark on Friday, and decided to do a spot of foraging for wild cherries. 

Wild Cherries alongside the "21"

During our trip to Pelsall I had noticed some frit laden cherry trees along the "21" so this seemed the perfect opportunity to see what is going on the ground at lock 20.

Drained pound above :Lock 21 and a partially excavated Lock 20

May and Gurney are on site and the towpath side wall is being dismantled. The coping blocks are all removed and the supporting brickwork stripped to the waterline. It was hard to see how much more excavation is needed before rebuilding can commence but I suspect it is a week or more.

Stored edging blocks

The contractors are taking no chances and there were a couple of guys camping on site to ensure that the site is not interfered with.

My guess is that a mid August reopening is optimistic and a target of having the flight open for the Black Country Festival is a more likely aspiration.

Friday 19 July 2013

Pacific Rim - film review

Pacific Rim
Film Review
July 2013

I was in London this week and a few of the lads from the office decided to go and see Pacific Rim - would I like to join them?

Docklands on your own is pretty tedious, so off we went.

My short review?

Extravagant 3D effects and non stop action but ultimately its Independence Day with Transformers. No real plot and no discernible character development.

Earth was populated by aliens millions of years ago and they have patiently waited underground till our atmosphere was polluted enough to sustain them. Then they started to emerge like giant dinosaurs and man responded with giant machines which grappled and fought the invaders. But the invaders got bigger and bigger so the humans built walls which still coundn't stop them.

Enter the last of the "Tranformers" whi entered battle following a Henry 5th "band of brothers" speech and, against all odds, won the day.

It was fairly engaging but left knowing I had seen it all before. All in all an OK bit of high budget escapism which will appeal to all the family but ultimately will be completely forgettable,

Saturday 13 July 2013

A Closer look at the Jam Butty

Inside Montgomery
July 2013

After my initial post on the Jam Butty, you must be wondering about the radio silence on the subject. Well, things have been very hectic and my time to post on the blog have been limited. My apologies.

The full Monty - well, 11ft of her actually!

Its probably worth clarifying what the butty will be called. Helen and took one look at the stern and independently concluded that the boat will have to continue with its given name of Montgomery, but as a working description it will be known as "The Jam Butty" and will be sign written as such. I have no scruples about changing the name of an inland waterways craft - it used to happen all the time, and indeed Wand'ring Bark used to be Piccalo before we got to work on her. So, Montgomery she was and Montgomery she will remain.

The deal being struck

Fine lines at the stern - would probably tow faster going backwards!

I havn't had a chance to see her again but the deal has been struck and the steelwork will be done between other jobs over the next few months and we may test her ability to float in the autumn, after which she will be stored on the bank till next summer whilst I sort out the inside.

The Capt making a quick inspection

The back cabin was nicely fitted out when it was built and there is much I can refurbish and repair. In fact the extent of the internal joinery greatly reduces the amount of work I have to put into her and I quite like the fact that it will be "used" when we get it as she will immediately have the patina of age about her. Here are some photos of the back cabin as it currently is:

 The interior of Montgomery

The hold is just an un reinforced void at present, stitched together to show how she will look with those 100 year old riveted sides from the stern of a BCN day boat and a new base plate. When the elements were assembled the day boat was nearly 10 inches wider than the more modern stern, which is the contemporary 6ft 10in. About 4 inches will be from the original construction when day boats were typically 7ft 1 1/2 inches wide and the rest will be from spread. The hull was slimmed down when it was being tacked to the new base plate and made to fit the profile of the stern. There is more to the restoration of old boats than meets the eye.

Monday 8 July 2013

Prat Miles

Prat miles
July 2013

We all recognise the concept of lock miles, adding time to our journeys - but how about prat miles?

Prat miles don't add time to journeys but they do add irritation here and there. We all encounter them from time to time and I sometime wonder if there is a correlation between prat encounters and miles travelled. 

Having pondered on this for a while I guess I bump into a prize plonker about three times a year so maybe I shouldn't be surprised that at the half way point I met up with this year's Mr P No1. There I was, out on the Staffs and Worcester on a scorching sunny day minding my own business when an irritating idiot throws a sarcastic curved ball.

The scene was Helen and myself working up the last of the Gailey flight with five non boating guests from her church "Ladies Monday group" in the front enjoying the experience. A boat is descending Brick Kiln lock ahead of us so we hang back in mid channel, minding our own business, finding a bit of shade and waiting for the boat to exit the lock.

Prat comes out of the lock incredibly slowly and as he passes the ladies in the front leans out and sarcastically says "thanks for the help" - and repeats the same to us as he passes the stern. OK so it looks like we have a  crew of seven, but that's making a very big assumption that the five at the front have even the faintest ideas about lock operation!

I responded with the question "you are joking, arnt you?" but it seems not. He did indeed expect us to moor up and come up to the lock and help them work their lock.

Rant over - you meet idiots everywhere and the fleeting opportunity to understand their comment and respond accordingly is so brief you never get to say what you think - which is maybe just as well!

Nuf said.

Sunday 7 July 2013

A man's got to know his limitations

Replacing Beta engine mounts
July 2013

It was Clint Eastwood who uttered those immortal words in Magnum Force: "a man's got to know his limitations".

Its a phrase which has suck with me since the 1970's, but one I have always found a little difficult to apply. Sure, I know that there are many things I cant do, but what do you do about all those things that you might be able to achieve but equally could be beyond your skills?

My approach tends to be a bit on the gung ho - "lets have a go" end of the spectrum - tackling practical tasks and relying on my instinct to see me through to a positive conclusion. Nine times out of ten this enthusiasm and a practical bent is enough, and when I fail I try to see it as a learning opportunity.

This weekend offered me one of those 1:10 learning opportunities.

Our Beta 38 is now nearly 10 years old and have run for about 4,000 hours - but whilst it has run faultlessly to date it is starting to need some running repairs. The last year has thrown up a bit of vibration at idle speed which has been diagnosed as worn engine mounts where the rubber has lost its texture. So new mounts were purchased at about £25 a pop having examined their construction I figured out how I would go about the task of DIY replacement.

A new Beta engine mount

I figured that I would just replace the two back mounts to start with, keeping the engine aligned longitudinally and measuring the distance between the runners and the engine brackets to ensure the vertical alignment was correct. Of course, things didn't go quite according to plan and I tried to unscrew the studs from the foot pads they just rotated in the mushy rubber. This wasn't entirely unexpected and I then resorted to the trusty angle grinder to cut through.

An extracted mount (note the mushy rubber)

Extraction was fairly simple but I initially made a stupid error as I screwed the studs down into the new feet. I screwed them down too far and bottomed them out on the bearers, negating the flexibility of the rubbers. However, lifting the studs didn't fully solve the problem but I set out on a short trip more in hope than confidence. 

The screw in stud

We had only been moving for 40 mins and things were clearly not right. The vibration was bad and varied at different revs, but there was no sweet spot on the throttle. I lifted the deck boards and was confronted with a smoking stern gland - I had clearly completely messed up the alignment big time. My problem was that I didn't know if the engine should be lifted or lowered so I was, as they say in the trade, well and truly stuffed.

Two engine mounts in

And so came the moment when the man realised his limitations. I didn't have the tools or the expertise to dig myself out of this particular hole. When the boat's bust who you gonna call? RCR of course! I use the RCR retainer scheme as I rarely need their services but I do appreciate the peace of mind of knowing that there is someone out there who will come to my rescue should the need arise. 

RCR confirmed that an engineer from an agent boatyard would be with be in 40 minutes and sure enough it wasn't long before the Oxley Marine van came into sight. Oh the relief of an expert when you are in a tight spot! The engine was too low on the mounts and its weight was being bourne by the stern gear resulting in a severe dose of over heating.

An angel in a green boiler suit!

With the benefit of many years of experience the mounts were loosened and the engine edged this way and that till the prop shaft was dead centre in the stern tube and all was running smoothly.

With the mounts tightened up the grease tube was reconnected (had melted off) and the packing tightened and we were good to go.

The hour spent with the engineer was a masterclass in boat transmissions, almost worth the call out fee! Sure I feel a bit daft having got it wrong, but I have learned and next time my limitations will be that bit further away. You live and learn.

Friday 5 July 2013

An Audience - film review (sort of)

An Audience
July 2013

Its a bit like the game of charades. Is it a film or is it a show? Well the truth is that out trip to see An Audience was a bit of both.

Let me explain. An Audience, starring Helen Mirren, is a stage show presented by the National Theatre but in an attempt to bring theatre to a wider audience a number of their shows are televised live and shown at selected cinema's. However, on this occasion An Audience was so popular that a further screening was hosted at the Tamworth Odeon (Tamworth - that hotbed of thespian passion). So what we ended up with was a stage performance from the Gielgud Theatre, filmed live and re run as a repeat!

OK, so that's the technical stuff out of the way. What about the production?

Its based on the curious fact that every Tuesday (except Tony Blair who liked Wednesdays) the sitting PM pays a visit to Buckingham Palace and has an audience with the Queen, and there have been 12 of them over her 60 year reign.

These audiences are not minuted or recorded in any way and neither the Queen or her PM's have ever revealed what has been said. So, you are a stressed PM who, during your term in office, sees the Queen 1:1 maybe 70 times - what passes between them.

Its pure speculation and this show attempts to fill the blank canvas, and does so with aplom. There are great cameos featuring the likes of Anthony Eden during the Suez Crisis through the less kind interpretations of Major, Thatcher and Brown. It it therefore a canter through the post war political scene, each PM sitting in the therapists chair baring their soul to the one constant strand in the shape of the monarch.

Its also an interesting insight into the changing life of the Monarch who has had to endure more than a few brick bats herself over the years. A measured transformation from a little princess in her palace to the woman of immense integrity and stature we see today. (Hmm, that's high praise from someone who would never have described himself as a Royalist).

It a compelling production written by Peter Morgan which drags you in and even the fact that its a televised repeat shown in a cinema doesn't detract from its power. Maybe that was one of the most interesting things - the reaction of the audience. It was theatre behaviour in a cinema. The audience laughed, engaged - and even went out to get ice cream during the full length intermission.

So this worked on two levels. 

1. The show was great - entertainment and education packed in a fast paced 2.5 hour package
2. The theatre in the cinema concept took you 90% of the way to a live performance, at a fraction of the price and co convenient.

A good evening's entertainment supplemented with fish and chips from Glascote Chip Shop - I know how to show a girl a good time!

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Last remnant of the Churchbridge Flight

Last fragment of the Chruchbridge Flight
Hatherton Canal
June 2013

I have been told that a single fragment of the old Churchbridge Locks exists in the shape of an ornamental pond which was one of the upper lock pounds.

I have always been a little sceptical about this as the only water features I could see from Google Earth was a large lake and a very rectangular cooling pond, neither of which were very likely prospects.

With a few minutes to spare I took a walk up the hill behind Sainsburys which sits on top of the lock flight and after skirting the big lake I came across a reedy stretch which was aligned perfectly with the old canal course.

Could this be the last surviving remnant of the steep flight of locks on the Hatherton Canal to Rumour Hill Junction?