Friday, May 19, 2017

Water level info – a great new site for river levels

It looks like we’re in a wettish spell weather wise, but of course we needed it after the dry April.  I took a look at the CRT Reservoir site and as expected, the reservoirs took quite a hit last month, what with the dry weather and the start of the boating season.  Down south the typical drop in levels was around 10% over the month, which isn’t too serious but not an ideal start to the season. Further north, on the Leeds and Liverpool, levels fell by 18% and the poor old Lancaster went down by 24% although some of that was due to a draw down for engineering works.  The report says that “We are advising local operational staff on the optimum feed quantities to ensure efficient use of the water available and maximising use of back pumps (where they are installed) to recirculate water used by locks, in case the recent dry weather continues through the late spring and into the summer.”

Well it looks like bad weather might come to the rescue, but what then for those of us who have to negotiate rivers.  Of course, most boaters know about how to check on the Thames (http://riverconditions.environment-agency.gov.uk/) , but what about the smaller  rivers . Where do we check on them before setting out? Down on the jolly old Oxford we have to join the cheery little Cherwell on a couple of stretches, above Aynho, and between Enslow and Thrupp.  We are not supposed to continue if the level on the indicator boards go into the red.  Little rivers like this can go up and down like yo-yos.  Others like the Stort, the Soar and the notorious Nene spring to mind. 

So today is asked Mr Google for help and lo and behold he came up with the goods, pointing me to a site called

www.riverlevels.uk

Apologies if you already knew about this site, but I didn’t, and it is exactly what we want. It appears to be quite a new site, and they say it is still under development, but already it looks great.  Bear in mind though that it is primarily designed to indicate river levels from a flood warning point of view rather than a navigation one.

It seems to have precise monitoring levels for all the English navigable rivers I could think of and it looks like they may be updated at least  daily.  I’m sure they wont mind me showing you a couple of screen shots as I now find myself plugging their site:

levels2

levels1

You’ll notice from the top one that it might also be handy for those times when you want to buy a Porsche, I’m fresh out of them myself as it happens.  Anyhow I think it’s a brilliant site and I’ll certainly be consulting it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Posh Broads and an exploding rocket

I’m alive!!  Yes I’ve survived another year of the dreaded Norfolk Sailing Weekend.  I only got whacked on the head once by the boom and no-one fell in or got stranded on a mud bank this year.  Amazing.

The winner of the Bowsprit Award for the helmsman inflicting most damage on his boat was Rick.  The citation reads: “For not looking up and noticing the overhanging tree and so demolishing the mast top burgee(little pennant that indicates wind direction)”.  Admittedly a minor offence, but somebody has to take the trophy home.  Well done Rick.

This year we were forced to try a new base since our usual holiday let at Thurne is due for demolition, so we relocated to some very nice barn conversion cottages near Ludham on the river Ant.  Consequently, we were able to explore waters that we hadn’t seen for many a long year.  Probably not since our famous week aboard the Wherry Albion in 1973 where I fell backwards into Salhouse broad in  spectacular fashion just as a big pleasure boat full of tourists with cameras was passing.  It says something for the longevity of friendships that five of us sailing this weekend were on that trip 44 years ago.

Passing through Horning, I realised that I had forgotten that this is the posh end of the Broads.  The riverside houses are large and expensive looking, many of them thatched

horning (1 of 1)

Some have expensive looking statuary like this magnificent looking wooden horse and foal

horning horse (1 of 1)

All this is a far cry from the humble little chalets that adorn the banks of the Thurne up at Potter Heigham.  I can just imagine the conversation between residents of each at a party.  “Oh, you have a riverside property too.  Where is it?” - “Potter Heigham” – “Oh,” sniff, “how, um, quaint.”

We managed to sail all the way to Salhouse to revisit the scene of my historic backflip and moored up for lunch on Salhouse island where our boats lay empty like the Mary Celeste while everyone paid a visit to admire the bushes (or something like that).  Here you see the very tree that won the award for Rick.

salhouse (1 of 1)

Probably the best bit of the weekend was the launch of the vinegar and baking soda Coke bottle rocket launched by Frank, who should stop smelling of vinegar after a month or two after his first attempt sprayed all over him before he could retire to a safe distance.  It might be 44 years on but we’re still big kids at heart.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Impending doom?

Tomorrow we set off for our annual group sailing fracas on the Norfolk B Roads Broads.  Once again we have checked our wills and made our confessions before setting off for this terrifying annual ritual.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew anything about sailing, but even then zig zagging in a little sailing boat down rivers full of drunken holiday makers who only picked up their huge plastic megacruiser that morning doesn’t seem to get any easier.  Some of these cruisers are approximately the size of an aircraft carrier. Generally I refrain from taking the helm unless we find ourselves in some quiet backwater, preferring to rub my cold wet hands raw with heaving on the jib sheet whist trying not to be tipped overboard.  On the plus side we will be spending the weekend with old and dear friends (most of whom are more skilled than I at sailing), so if we perish, we’ll all go together.

As usual we will be attempting not to be the winner of the Bowsprit Trophy, awarded to the person who inflicts the most damage on his boat.  I myself am a proud past holder of this prestigious award after a sudden gust of wind whipped our barque into the side of a passing cruiser some years back.  I don’t think the boatyard realised the bowsprit was two inches shorter when we returned the boat so unusually, we kept our deposit that year.

On Saturday night we shall all share a meal cooked by the drawer of the short straw and undertake the customary quiz where each person donates ten questions.  In recent years I have provided the music round, playing intros, middle eights, classical snippets etc from a music player.  Having run out of ideas for this, I have instead this year recorded sound snippets of well known people laughing.  I don’t think it’s too difficult, but the questions do tend to be easier when you know the answers.  We’ll see. One of our party is from Yorkshire, so no doubt it will be lost on him.

(Two dour Yorkshire men converse in the pub. 

“Didst thee see that comedian feller on t’telly last night?”,

“Aye”

“What didst thee think on ‘im.”

“Alright, – - - if you like laughing.”)

Well that’s it.  On the assumption that I survive (about 50/50 I should think), I’ll see you next time.

Toodle pip.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Plenty happening where nothing ever happens



Look at this. Can you tell where I ran out of wax polish? Of course you can. It's quite striking isn't it? That's Craftmaster for ya.

We're back in Banbury having had a very good trip down to Heyford and back. We all know it's been cold this week, but during most of our cruising it's been sunny and the countryside is looking gorgeous. Funny how we set off, just the two of of us, and ended up having quite a social time. On Wednesday we caught the train from Heyford into Oxford to see Julius Caesar. Turns out we were 2050 years or so too late of course, but there was the Bill Spokeshave play about him being broadcast to the Odeon, so we satisfied ourselves with that. Typical Spokeshave play, dead bodies all over the stage at the end and I get distracted by wondering how they get all the bloody costumes washed and ironed before the next performance.

Earlier, while we were strolling among the dreaming spires a text came in from dear old / (young actually)Mort Bones simply saying "I spy a Herbie". Well we had left the boat just up the path from her famous barque. Sadly we were out cavorting until very late, so we agreed to meet up aboard Herbie for a breakfast cuppa at 8am next morning. Even at that early hour she arrived bearing cake. What a star! We do like Bones.

Sadly, we had to depart all too soon because Rick and Marilyn had arrived to crew us back to Banbury and we needed to get there in time to plan an assault on the Reindeer Inn quiz that night. Next time Bones we'll plan a proper do.

We did alright at the quiz, but not good enough to get in the prizes. Frustratingly, the quizmeister admitted that he had planned the music round to be on 50s and 60s stuff. We would have cleaned up! But he changed his mind that day and played 90s
Indie tracks instead. Bad oh. We managed to recognise Blur, Oasis and Pulp between us which might be more than you can expect of old farts like us, but anyway it wasn't enough.

Then today came a knock on the boat and auld acquaintances from home Bob and Fran off Nb Song and Dance appeared out of the blue and so we all had tea. So our quiet "just us two" cruise had turned out to be a lovely week meeting friends. Good innit?

Tonight I embarrassed myself by tripping over a kerb outside Tesco Express and falling flat on my face on the pavement. There was a loud bang as the big bag of Kettle crisps I had just bought burst under my prodigious weight. I'm comforted to tell you that several kind young folk emerged to help this poor old bugger to his feet. I suspect that they thought I might have had one too many sherberts, but I assure you that I had not. I just tripped. Honest. The crisps were still edible but somewhat crushed.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Packing

At last we've managed to sneak off to Herbie for a week while nobody at home was looking. Well amost nobody. Of course that Mr Schafernacker on the telly must have spotted us because the weather is due to turn cold on his instructions.

Days when we move out to the boat are always the same.

0800hrs. I lie in bed and wish I had got stuff to take ready yesterday.

0900hrs. Large piles of this and that accumulate in the hallway ready to load into the car. I look at it and doubt we'll ever get it all in.

1000hrs. I am amazed. It's all in the car and the boot isn't even full. Easy peasy. I feel good.

1005hrs. Kath reminds me of all the stuff we have to take from the fridge and appears down the stairs carrying bags of embroidery stuff, a laptop computer, and a lot of clothes on hangers. I remember we still haven't packed shoes, what seems like 50 different types of charging leads for all our gubbinses , our coats and raincoats, and two boxes of firewood. It'll never go in. I feel bad.

1015 hrs. I wedge the final item into the car's boot, sadly having to leave behind an Oxo cube we had no space for.

1030 hrs. We're on the road. Five miles from home, Kath says, "I know what we've forgotten." I turn the radio up and keep going.

1900 hrs. So here we are on Herbie. All is unpacked and stowed away. Kath is reheating the remnants of yesterday's spag bol. "What happened to that Oxo cube?" I turn up the radio and pretend to study a Nicholson's guide.

Tomorrow we head south first to Banbury, then next day to where the phone signal and the Internet and TV reception are a distant memory. They'll never catch us there. Never mind, we still have a box set of Broadchurch series 2 to watch.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Herbie’s unique gun deck revealed

You may know that you can look up a register of all the licensed boats on our inland waterways.  The list currently resides on Canalplan if you haven’t noticed it before.  All kinds interesting things can be seen there, some of them very surprising.  Who would have thought that there would be 32 boats called Hakuna Matata but only two steel narrowboats called Herbie! There’s a Herbie II and a Herbie III and a number of GRP Cruiser Herbies including a Herbie IX.  “Oi up”, I hear you say,” the title of this post says Herbie is unique, and there are two of ‘em”.  Ah, but read on for the literally incredible difference in our boat.  Yep, I do mean LITERALLY incredible.  Note this is NOT written on April 1st, it is genuine.  If you don’t believe me look it up for yourself.

Looking into the detailed record of our boat in the listing, I confirm things I spot every year on our licence application, but cannot change.  In Herbie’s dimensions section we see the following:

“Length : 15.24 metres ( 50 feet ) - Beam : 2.08 metres ( 6 feet 10 inches )”  so far, so good, but wait, –

Draft : 5.48 metres ( 18 feet )”.!!!

Blimey, no wonder we run aground now and then.  I thought we had plenty of headroom inside, but the bilges must be enough for an extra couple of decks below.  Maybe that’s where the cannons ought to go and then we could have the powder magazine in the Orlop deck like on HMS Victory.

Reading on we come to the details of the propulsion unit and it says:

“Power of 999 HP”!!

Crumbs! I reckon we should get an uprated gearbox and a bigger prop. With 18ft draft we could have a huge one then we could go water skiing down the canal.

How these figures got there I can’t imagine, although it could be that the 999 HP is a default for “not known”.  I know we are supposed to be living in a post truth society, but this takes the biscuit.

Talking (admittedly obliquely) of fakes, you might be interested in a true wildlife story.  A while back I wrote that I am woken most mornings by the call of a red kite over our house.  We’re quite used to him or her now, but we still look up when we hear his cry, because like me,  he’s a handsome devil.  Well the other day I heard it and when I looked up he was nowhere to be seen.  What’s more, it wasn’t the time of day he normally patrols over us.  Then I heard the cry again from our neighbour’s roof and I looked up to see an imposter.  Would you believe it the flippin’ starlings have learned to imitate the call of the kite!

Is nothing sacred?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Locking time calibration

Trying to find an average time taken to  through a canal lock is a daft thing to do, so of course I had a go at it last week. It’s akin to asking how long is a piece of string.  Nevertheless, on our trip down to Banbury and back, we did have a go at it and I don’t think I would have predicted the results.  On Canalplan (genuflect genuflect), Nick suggests a default time of 12 minutes to pass through an individual lock.  I had been thinking that that might have been a trifle optimistic, taking into account that half the time the locks will not be set in your favour when you arrive.  Well it turns out that the Herbie crew,( i.e. Kath and myself, a well oiled machine, often well oiled by closing time too but that’s another story) can do a bit better than Nick suggests, given a lock with no other boats to wait for.

We measured the time from when the crew steps off the boat to work the lock until the time when he or she gets back on board and we continue cruising.    Bear in mind a couple of things.  a) These were narrow Oxford canal locks with double bottom gates and b) the steerer assists by working the offside paddles when the boat is at the top of the lock and c)we try not to walk right round the lock to open both bottom gates but shove one of them open by standing on one and giving the other a hefty back heel, it works.  Often I’m happy to step across the gap between and open and a closed gate, but Kath understandably doesn’t try it. So, in summary we’re reasonably slick at it.  Anyhow here’s how it went.

Downhill, lock in our favour on arrival               6 minutes

Uphill, lock in our favour                                  6 minutes

Downhill, lock set against us                          10 minutes

Uphill, lock set against us                                8 minutes

Downhill, one boat in front +I waiting below,   15 minutes

Not exactly a scientific study, the sample was way too small, but over all it actually was a lot quicker than I would have guessed.  I imagine if we tried it in the school holidays on this popular canal, we’d be happy to average 15 minutes.   So the answer is, it all depends.  It might be six minutes, it might be an hour.  I think that outside peak times I might go for an average of ten minutes.  Let’s suppose then that we do ten locks in a day (they don’t come thick and fast down the Oxford), the difference between Nick’s 12 mins and our 10 mins would only make a difference of 20 mins all day, and we might easily waste that chatting or messing about before we start.  Proof if proof were needed that boating is not an exact science.  Does that make Canalplan or my CanalOmeters redundant?  No, not really.  Having some idea of how far you can expect to get in a day, or a week is really useful, especially when in unfamiliar territory.

One other thing. We also worked out our average cruising speed.  I would have estimated 2.5 mph or less, given that in places there were long lines of moored boats to crawl past.  In fact it turned out to be 2.8mph.  I think that’s a figure we’ll stick to on this canal.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A gongoozler's point of view

Working through Banbury lock today, I had a pleasant chat with a young lady with a Geordie accent. "There's still time to come across the top gate." I said, "I wont be opening it until the water is level". She looked incredulously into the lock as the water poured through and said, "You've got to wait until the water is level?? That'll take hours." It was only after she had gone off into the shops, that I realised that she probably thought that the paddles had to be open until the water in the pound above the lock would fall to the level of that in the lock. Well she would have been right then wouldn't she? That would take hours! I like conversations like that.

Another thing she said, looking above the lock to where Kath was holdng Herbie mid canal was "How did you get off the boat when it was in the middle of the water?" I resisted the temptation to say I jumped or swam. I just said that I had stepped off. She looked impressed.

Last night we had another go at the quiz in the Reindeer and this time we failed to win the booby prize bag of sweets for coming last, in fact we were doing really well until the inevitable music round. Perhaps I should mug upon the works of ACDC and Ed Sheeran and some other bands I can't now recall the name of.

Our short excursion this time has been lovely now that the weather has improved. The hedgerows up here are still in springtime arrears compared with down home below the M4, but lots of celandines and violets are out.

I've been noting our times between bridges and going through locks in an effort to calibrate my canalometers better, and the early results look interesting in so far as they have surprised me. How long do you think it takes to pass through a narrow lock, from stepping off the boat to getting back on? Obviously it all depends on whether the lock is set in your favour or against, and whether there are other boats about. We had a mixture of all that, but in all cases I was surprised. I'll posts some results when I've had a better look through my scribbled notes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Herbie Neil leads post Brexit export drive

The UK economy has swollen by an additional 1.25 US Dollars in export earnings this month. Philip Hammond must be relieved and its all down to me. Yes, someone in the United States has been reading my book! I didn't know it had been translated into American. It's all very exciting.*

In these days of streaming and all that, people can "borrow" a book from the Kindle library and it counts how many pages they read and I get paid accordingly. I get to see a monthly graph, so I see that on March 10th someone in the US read all 344 "Kindle normalized pages". I don't think it was Donald Trump, because he or she got to the end and I used quite a few long words. Someone else appears to have read it all over three days in February. Add that to my actual book sales over the period (zero) and that's two people who have actually finished the book this year. I'm thrilled. That's exceeded my expectations by two.

Actually it is quite gratifying that people who start the book generally finish it, so I must have done something right, especially as they read it so quickly. The book must be a page turner obviously.

Those eagerly awaiting the sequel probably ought to find another book to read in the meantime. I'm still struggling with the plot.

Any ideas what I could spend a dollar twenty five on?

*PS This is definitely not fake news!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stranded but enjoying it.

Well, we're here on Herbie but we ain't going nowhere, or to be grammatically correct, we are going nowhere. The idea was to tootle down to Banbury, but when I climbed out of the boat this morning the wind nearly knocked me over. Had we set off for Banbury, the wind would have been hard on our starboard beam nearly all the way, straight across the open fields. Not wishing to get pinned against some unfortunate liveaboard, we decided to stay put. That's fine, it's cosy and comfy here and still a break from home.

Now here's a tip for you. I found out that the lovely people at Midland Chandlers(MC) will give you a fiver each (25%) off fire extinguishers if you hand over your old ones. We drove over to Braunston on Sunday to do just that. I've been meaning to replace them for ages as they are 15 years old and if you shake them, the powder doesn't move. I had assumed that MC sent them back for refilling  or something, hence the discount, but apparently not. They actually have to pay a small charge for their disposal, so the fiver off is just a discount to encourage you to have them safely got rid off. Ain't that nice? So if you want to set fire to Herbie, now would be a good time, 'cos the extinguishers ought to work.

As we were in Braunston we thought it would be rude not to patronise the Gongoozlers Rest cafe boat, so Sunday lunch was a whopping gert bacon and egg doorstep with scallop potatoes. Lovely.

Our stay on Herbie is not wasted. Kath cleared out all the long out of date jars and tins of this and that from the galley cupboards and I replaced the water filter element and, um, not a lot else. I also note that we have a bottle of Jim Beam that needs finishing up, so that's on my to do list.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Musings

Setting my music player the other day to a random shuffle of old stuff, I found myself listening to Simon and Garfunkels “Old Friends”, containing the lines ”Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly.  How terribly strange to be seventy”.  Hah! That doesn’t seem to be how it turned out for me.  This week I’ve been taking garden prunings to the tip, sweeping chimneys, sawing logs, going to the cinema, writing a computer program, improvising minor pentatonic blues solos at a ukulele session and playing bagpipes with a couple of lady friends who play concertinas. I’m looking forward to the park bench if and when I reach eighty.

It looks like the weather might  turn wet and windy over the weekend, so of course we’ll be out on Herbie for a bit. We should have gone earlier, yesterday was sublime.  I was on the boat however, up to my neck in soot and ashes clearing out the stove and sweeping the chimney, which requires the removal of the fire bricks and the inner roof plate of the stove. Funny how I can never remember how it goes back in.  I hope I’ve done it right.  I was pleased to see that the hand made bracket that Rick made to secure the blanking plate at the back of the stove was in fine fettle, unlike the original one which cracked.  Cheers Rick.

Driving up to Cropredy it was interesting to see that more  blackthorn blossom is out at the bottom of the M40 than it is further up. I’ve heard it said that spring marches north at the speed of a walking man, so maybe more will be out on the Oxford next week,  What was out at Cropredy though, was a skylark in the field next to the marina, letting rip with it’s  twittering high up in the air.  Tryng to attract a mate no doubt.  No good twittering at me mate, I’m already spoken for.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Weedy thoughts

fishandanchor (1 of 1)

When I were a lad, for several years I spent virtually the entire summer standing in the middle of this picture. It’s the ford across the river Avon by the Fish and Anchor pub at Offenham.  Nowadays there’s a lock cut a few yards to the left of this photo, but there was no navigation in those days although as far as I recall, boats had been invented.  As you can see, the river is shallow at this point, even below the ford it’s only a couple of feet deep.  The oxygenating effect of the ford brought the fish into the foamy area and I was there trying, and mostly failing, to catch a few.  We would take off our shoes and socks and roll up our trouser legs and wade out across the ford,  slipping and sliding on the cobble stones which were covered in silk weed.  How we never fell in, I’ll never know.  The silk weed was very comforting once you got to stand still, rather like standing barefoot on a sheepskin rug.  The weed itself held an abundance of tiny larvae and wotnot which of course the fish would like to eat. We would drag our bare fish hooks through the weed to pick up a bit of it, then cast it into the foamy race below.  The current is pretty swift there and in a few seconds our fishing floats would be thirty yards downstream as we squinted our eyes to see them.  As I said, I never caught much but I didn’t care. It was a lovely place to be.  In the eddy between the ford and the tree to the left of the picture, gangs of marauding perch used to swoop on the shoals of minnows that huddled there, and once I saw a creamy white pike (albino??) about three feet long, just lazily hanging about in the shallows. It was like a ghost.

Jump forward fifty years and I think it’s the same type of weed that tries to grow on edge of the boat’s baseplate like a little whispy beard.  At Bulbourne on the GU I’ve watched the carp grazing along the side of the boats, presumably more interested in the larvae than the weed itself, and of course ducks do the same don’t they?

I used to lie in bed aboard Herbie in the early morning and hear what I thought was scampering on the roof.  For a long time i assumed this was the pitter patter of rodent feet as they scavenged for a bite to eat.  Only in the last year or so have I realised that it isn’t that at all.  It’s the ducks pecking along the water line picking off the weed, I suppose that makes it some sort of symbiosis.  They get fed and the boat gets cleaned.  Down the old Slough Arm, the boats at High Line Yachting suffer badly from the weed, they have beards worthy of ZZ Top, most of them, and thinking about it I don’t recall seeing many ducks down there.  Maybe I should suggest that they import a few.