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Saturday, 25 January 2014

Up, off and away!

I have been reading the 'Towpath' and 'Tillergraph' free papers this last week and found it very interesting to see what second hand boats are up for sale. It makes me doubly sure that we got the right set up for us. I'm sure the boat isn't perfect, but for perfect you need to spend funny money which would be better spent on other things. We love our reverse layout and the arrangement of the accommodation. Some things are not done to the best possible but we can either work round them or in the fullness of time I will change them. We are the sort that would make do anyway I suppose, but there can be too much in a boat really, as the idea of heading for the water for us was a simpler lifestyle, and we consider that we have all mod cons really.

How a methanol fuel cell works.

In the paper was information about a methanol fuel cell, not to power the boat but just to keep the batteries charged when the boat is stationary. At over £2000 to charge the batteries and then with the cell needing replacement every couple of years it doesn't really stack up, even if you are ultra green as solar panels and a wind turbine can achieve the same. There are some that must have the latest gadget no matter what but I think it will be a while before they become what every boater must have. One that is suitable perhaps for a boat would weigh approx 7kgs and be about 40x30x20cm so there are advantages with that, but it still gives off CO2! They are also very quiet so you wouldn't be cursing the next boat for running the genny or engine through the night to watch the football.

This is one make and coupled with the cell that looks like a 5 ltr container they look nice and smart. But still £2500!!

Also featured was the Sterling Engine. These were named after Rev. Robert Sterling who in 1816 invented the first close cycle air engine. These were improved by him and his brother and by 1843 were used to provide all the power for a Dundee iron foundry. I had never heard of these and even the Wikipedia pages about it were fascinating. There are very few moving parts as compared to a steam or internal combustion engine, and it is highly efficient, quiet, and can use just about any heat source to power it. Briefly it seems that there are two pistons with a gas between them. Heat is applied externally to one piston and the gas expands moving the piston. The second piston is 90 degs off the first so as it moves it sucks the gas into the cold cylinder where it cools and contracts. The flywheel drives the cold piston down which moves the gas back to the hot cylinder where the cycle repeats. Hopefully I have that right anyway. It seems that most Stirling engines are just nice shiny desktop 'toys' but they have been built at home to power small boats. I feel sure that they could be made to be powerful enough to dive a canal boat and in this day and age of special alloys etc it could be made to be small enough to fit too. As they are quiet, easily maintained, safer with few moving parts and clean maybe they could first be utilised as a generator for charging the batteries before propulsion? 

Stirling engine
A Sterling Engine and Sterling cycle.

10KW commercially available Sterling engine.

Now these appeal to me much more as they seem to be more of the Meccano era and boys toys stuff. I wonder if you could ferment your sewage tank as a digester and then use the gas to run the Sterling engine and even solar panels to provide power for the heat  source? This to me sounds more like the first different engine we will see on a boat. We all know those that purr over their old engines. This could be the next thing to fit in their engine rooms!

I'm off now to finish my packing. I am away for a couple of weeks now so lets hope the weather isn't too bad for you all, and more especially my boat, and even more importantly perhaps, my car stuck outside at the airport for a fortnight.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Water, water, almost everywhere.

Whilst poking about on the C&RT website I happened across the reservoir levels for January. I was surprised to see that they aren't all completely topped up as we have had the wettest December for at least 50 years in most areas leading to flooding of rivers in many areas and even self regulating canals!

Grand Union Canal breaks banks and floods towpath over long section south of Stoke Bruerne
The Grand Union overflows near Stoke Bruerne. November 2012.

It seems that whilst most canal reservoirs are at almost full capacity there are some anomalies. The first is that the Keenet and Avon group of reservoirs are down 16% on Decembers levels. This is explained by them having to let water out of their Crofton Reservoir to prevent flooding in the locality.

The Caldon Canal reservoirs are only at 86% capacity and I can't see any majors works going on there. They appear to be healthy levels still though.

Grand Union south reservoirs are at 92% after a 35% increase in January. This is quite unusual as normally it is late on in the winter that the reservoirs start to fill up as this occurs only when the water table has become fully saturated, which they obviously are now.

The worrying one for those of us on this side of the Pennines is the fact that the Huddersfield Narrow Canal reservoirs are only at 21% full, despite a 9% increase in January and this is the lowest level for the month since 1998! It looks like there has been major work on the Slaithwaite reservoir and it is only now starting to fill again. I wouldn't wish more wet weather on the people of Slaithwaite but if it doesn't get a good few more inches there it could mean restrictions on the Huddersfield later in the year, and we don't want it to end up looking like this do we? Mind you some of the pounds on the Narrow look like that anyway occasionally!

The Trent and Mersey following a land slip draining the canal. September 2012
Photo Andrew Davis

If you are heading that way best to keep your eye on the sate of the reservoirs that can be checked at this address.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Boat Fix.

We left home for the boat in torrential rain but I had great faith in the forecast of bright with sunny periods. By the time we arrived at the marina I was relieved to be correct.

Quite a colourful scene in the marina.

I checked the electricity meter and was surprised to see that the consumption had increased a fair bit, but I suppose that we have got into a bit colder weather. It certainly gives peace of mind to know that the boat wont freeze. Checking the thermometer inside the coolest it has been in the boat is 2 deg so I'm happy with that. The rate per unit isn't bad at all either. 

I then started up the Hurricane heating and it fired up straightaway and the boat was warmed through within 30 minutes. All the radiators were working fully and didn't need bleeding so looks like no leaks there, and the header tank was at the same level too. I then looked down the engine hole. There was a bit of water in there to mop out and dry off. I gave the glow plugs a good 10 secs and she started up straightaway and with very little smoke either. All good encouraging stuff.

The next job was to put up some rail over hour hatch. Helen had run up some curtains to put over to limit any draughts there may be. The idea is that in the summer we will also be able to put muslin over them so that we can keep the side hatch open put maintain a little privacy. I got the got the short end stops so that they don't protrude into the passageway too much and they don't at all. 

New side hatch curtains in situ with Helen undertaking vital work over a cup of tea, transferring dates to the new calendar.

The next job was to fit up the curtains at the after end. This is also to limit any drafts from the doors and hatch. It isn't too bad but will also help to keep the heat in the boat. We will also replace these in the summer with muslin that worked very well last year to keep flies out but allow  a breeze in during those lovely hot days we had. (I'm already dreaming of the same again). We need to attach a ring and cup hook just to seal the curtains to the sides and close the gap at each cupboard.

 New hatch and door curtain. On the work top to the right is the thermostatic heater that I leave on to maintain a 2 deg in the boat.

I then measured up the engine hole hatch as I am going to buy some seals to go all round the 'I' beams with the hope that it will make a better sound seal to the deck boards and also mean that the boards fit more snugly as at the moment there is a little height difference between the side and the removable cross beams. If you just get stood in the wrong place the deck boards can lift a little. Whilst down the 'hole' I checked over everything and all appeared well. I mopped out the small pool of water. I was not surprised as some of the deluges there has been must have overwhelmed the drainage and it had cascaded over the side of the channel bar and into the engine space. One task I have once we are away again is to de-rust the engine deck and then coat with anti rust and paint. One side is good but the side where the water collects must have had standing water all the time it was awaiting sale in a marina, a whole year!

Meanwhile, her work done Helen was found reading. I got this book for Christmas and almost read it in one sitting. It is 'The Accidental Apprentice' by Vikas Swarup who was the Author of  Q & A that became the film Slumdog Millionaire. This book is similar and wont take much to make into a cracking film so watch this space I would say. I wasn't going to get much more out of Helen now!

I had to measure up the bed and the kitchen deck as we thought we would buy a roll of rubber backed coir matting. On the bed I thought it would make a nice barrier to prevent condensation over night. You can buy expensive matting to do the same but all you need is something to maintain an air gap and I reckon that the hairs on the matting wouldn't all be crushed at the same time so do the job for much cheaper. It may even make the mattress softer too. The same stuff could be used in the galley area as a carpet come extra door mat to prevent any excess coming into the body of the boat.

I spent the rest of the time going round the exterior of the boat touching up any rust spots that I found to stop them growing. It was doing okay on the whole. It was great to be back on the boat as we both realised how comfortable we both feel on her and it always makes me want to let go and steam off. Before leaving I turned the water off from the tank, turned the gas off at the bottles and turned the Hurricane heater off. I had been turning all the electrics off too but thought that I would leave the breaker in for the bilge pump as you never know if it may be needed. The moorings were fine with very little wear and tear at the rings. As we shut up the boat it was with hope that we will be back soon and she will be okay in the meantime. We spent the journey home discussing plans for the next season away. I can't wait.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Why wide and how narrow?

I have been using the dark winter  hours to look at pictures and details of canal boats, just to confirm that mine is exactly what we want don't you know. There is always the question of space on board any boat so I can see that getting a wide beam boat would be appealing. Wide beams seem to be an assortment of sizes, 9'6", 10', 12' +. This obviously limits where they can sail as they can not use the narrow canals that are maximum 7'.

Typical layout of a narrow boat.

Typical wide beam 60' x 10'6". To compare the width of the galley on the wide beam is the same width  (beam) as the narrow boat, well 10'6".

This blog isn't really about the pro's and con's of narrow or wide beam boats but more why did they settle on 7 feet for the gauge in the first place.

I think that length measurement are mainly based on human sizes. Hand spans, a stride, the length of the arms outstretched etc. seven feet is close to 2 metres, 2 yards or a fathom. Was the decision about the gauge based on just as simple as that was how far a bloke could stretch across to reach both sides? 

I know that the 'starvationer' boats that were built for moving coal from the underground at the Duke of Bridgewater's mines. They were around 4'6". So the canals weren't built to take two of these. They would have been small so as not to have to make the tunnels too wide.

starvationer boat at Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port
Starvationer boat in the Ellesmere Boat Museum.

What the narrow canals lacked in length though they made up a little in length as the normal narrow lock is 70'/72' long where as the majority of broad locks are less. In the north the wide beam locks seemed to have built to accommodate the size of the local sailing barges which preceeded them, to allow them to not have to tranship from canal to estuary or seagoing barge.

Could it be more to do with the amount of cargo the boat could carry. Coal was carried in Chaldrons. In fact this was still legal until 1963! It was a measure of volume and there were loads of different measures used. It seems by the age of the canals there were mainly two the Newcastle and London Chaldron (Derived from cauldron). The Newcastle measure was standardised at 53cwt (2.7 tonnes) by the time of the canals. The London was less at 28cwt (1.4 tonnes). The limit a horse pull in a cart was one chaldron as more was thought to damage the road (not the horse you understand!). There was a standard chaldron railway wagon that was 10' x 6'3". Therefore it looks like this wasn't the reason unless they started with a different measure of a chaldron.

I'm not sure whether it is a good thing that our canals were so early and so narrow. On the continent the canals are on a much greater scale and as such are more economical to retain for commercial use. If that had happened her in the UK then there would have been big powered barges dashing about and it wouldn't have been nearly so easy to be a leisure boater. Mind you there would then be less of an argument regarding continuous moorers and the use of visitor moorings etc.

A busy day on the Rhine.

Friday, 10 January 2014


There was an interesting item on Radio 4 today about wood collection. It seems that with the increase of wood burning stoves in homes several nature reserves have been finding that timber thinnings and wind blown trees that have either been left to create insect habitats or for other ecological reason have been taken away by folk. Brush that has also been trimmed and sorted to pass on for donations have also been taken. It seems that any timber that has been felled or naturally fallen still belongs to the land owner. There are such things as common rights on common land but these are very few and far between. The Forestry Commission even sells firewood gathering rights occasional which go for about £120 a year it seems.

If that is the case I wonder who would be liable in this case?

In common with most folks I pick up bits of wood I pass that will burn on the stove but as I am not currently aboard over winter I do not do it wholesale. It looks like C&RT have a very pragmatic attitude to wood gathering as when they have carried work in on their tow paths etc they seem to leave the resultant logs in an accessible position, in a manageable size to assist in the passing boater to take it away making a saving in transport for disposal. 

Of course I like something for nothing as much as the next man but I do take care not to take away brush left for the building of habitats or partial rotten logs knowing their value to wildlife. I see that you can buy logs in nets but this seems expensive when you may have been used to having it free. Do the fuel boats carry logs in nets? Could there be an opening for a trading boat filling with logs only and moving up the canal selling them. I'm not sure what the margins would be though. If you bought logs you would expect them to be seasoned of good quality which may make running and maintenance stoves safer and easier.

Home grown?

How about if groups of boaters got together and ordered a full lorry load of logs to be delivered at a spot where they could be quickly transferred to the roofs of their boats. It would be a good excuse for getting together and a few drinks afterwards wouldn't it. Meanwhile please be thoughtful when you are timber hunting this winter.

A well built log pile.

Out of season lap lander.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


I was just listening to an item on the radio about Ice Fairs on the Thames. I think the last one was 1814 if I remember rightly. I assume that not only has the weather been warmer since then but maybe the flow of the Thames has increased due to it's banks been developed and the bends narrowed so concentrating the flow making it more difficult for ice to form. I am in the camp that believes that all man made addition to the atmosphere will be having some affect on it. I also understand that there have been fluctuations in the climate for ever, and I don't mean just the ice ages etc, as there has been great fluctuation during and between ice ages. In the past it may be thought that the atmosphere was self correcting as in when there were great volcanic episodes the extra CO2 in the atmosphere helped in the evolution of plants and trees and these grew terrifically using the extra CO2 and producing O2 to bring it back to a balance. When you add in the unnatural man made additions to the atmosphere it is difficult to think that they will have no effect.

When I learned my meteorology the line of depressions moved up and down with the season. So in our summer the winds bands moved back towards the equator and this meant that the depressions moved south of us and were less frequent. In our winter the bands moved north and so the lows tracked over, or to the North of us. This may still be true to a certain extent but it certainly seems that this year they are more fierce than we have known for a long time. There is an item in today's Sunday Times that postulates that this is because the Equatorial Jet Stream has changed from an easterly wind to a westerly. Jet streams are rivers of fast moving air at the tropopause, about 12km up, and at the major front between warm and cold air masses. The main one is the Polar Jet at about 60 degrees latitude and the Sub Tropical Jet Stream at 30 degrees. The Polar Jet is the strongest due to the higher temperature difference between the air masses. They say that this has added impetus to our own Polar jet Stream that is always westerly. (ie blowing from the west). I had never heard of the Equatorial Jet stream before, and I had never heard of one changing direction of flow. I had heard of the sub tropical jet stream and as far as I knew this was always a westerly anyway.

Northern Hemisphere jet streams. Polar Jet Stream is the Mid Latitude Jet stream on the Diagram.

Maybe they ear taking about these much more minor seasonal jet streams that are also much more variable and could conceivably change direction that would then maybe increase the strength of the Sub Tropical jet, which in turn could strengthen the Polar  Jet.

 Equatorial jet streams?

I find the study of climate fascinating as the world is so interlinked that it is almost true that the flap of a butterflies wing can cause a hurricane half way round the world, as said in Chaos Theory. Our weather has a lot to do with the temperature of the sea and this is affected by the ice caps etc etc., and we have all heard of the El Nino Effect.

I hope you haven't got bored and switched off as I'm really not banging on about global warming, man made or not, although I would say that it makes good sense for each of us to do a little bit to prevent pollution just as we will save money by doing so. I was really wanting to say we should not underestimate the power of the weather and especially water.

These people should be very careful indeed as they may just but somebody else at risk trying to save them.

Be very careful when moving about on the water as we may get away with it once or twice but maybe not the third time, and in the end is it worth it.

Winter 2012 saw 75% increase in call outs for River Canal Rescue with claims at £1.9 billion.

It is always wise to take precautions, like mooring from under trees when gales are forecast.

30ft Scots Pine across the Chesterfield canal.

Is it therefore any wonder that the British are well known for talking about the weather all the time. Carry on consulting the weather forecasts as 'forewarned is forearmed' as my Granny used to say.

Stay safe out there.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

No Canals but plenty of rivers and bridges.

Well that was 2013. For me it went okay really. Retired and spent seven months on the canals. Not too shabby really. Plus lots of other good things happening too.

Well now we are in 2014 and a lot of expectations. I had an early New Year as I was just looking to see what the time difference was in Dubai to see when the World Record Fireworks were going to be when I happened across the live feed just after it started, at 2000. (Our time). It was quite impressive but when I got to watch the London fireworks on the television I thought they were better as they were more concentrated. And that was without the flavoured snow and mist!

New Years day we were going to visit some friends near Selby and as I wasn't driving for a change, we went with  some other friends, I was able to take a greater note of our surroundings.

We passed over the River Hull using the Myton Bridge. Myton Bridge is a swing bridge taking the A63 over the Hull. It was built in 1981. Just towards the Humber Estuary lies the Tidal Barrier that projects the centre of Hull from flooding, and then The Deep Submarium. I used to bring ships up through this bridge and swing them just before the next one so that the River Hull pilot could then take them stern first up the river but using an anchor down and the flood tide to move them. There are about 12 bridges on the River Hull inside the boundary of the City of Hull.

eMyton swing bridge-a
Myton Bridge seen from the River Hull.
(Copyright Tuesday Night Club 2002)

Myton Bridge is not the first on the river. That is the Millennium Bridge completed in 2001. This provides access between The Deep Submarium and the Fruit Market and Marina Quarter of the 'Old Town'. There is also the Tidal Barrier that saves the centre of Hull being flooded on spring tides and during tidal surges like experienced last month.

Millennium Bridge, Hull

Millennium Bridge with the Tidal Barrier in the background.
( Copyright Ian Taylor. Licenced for reuse under creative commons licence).

The Millennium Bridge is not even the newest bridge as the the one after Myton was only opened last year June 2013 and is Scale Lane Bridge. It is designed to be ridden on when it is moving. It is supposed to provide the link between the museum quarter of the 'Old Town' and new developments on the east bank that have been put on hold during the economic downturn. A reckon a bridge buff would have a whale of a time in Hull as there are so many to see.

Scale Lane bridge

Scale Lane Bridge, River Hull.
(Copyright Timothy Soar and The Guardian).

The road passes along the north bank of the Humber and under the Humber Bridge, which needs no introduction, as does the railway and several other roads. If I remember correctly there is 35mt air draft in the middle on a spring tide, but it never looked like that.

File:Humber Bridge.jpg

The Humber Bridge Taken from Barton on Humber.
(Copyright David Wright).

The road later becomes the M62 and we turned off just before the Ouse Motorway Bridge. It may not be as beautiful as the Humber Bridge but it certainly speeded (sic) traffic up after it was opened in 1976 as until then use had to be made of Boothferry Bridge.

Ouse Motorway Bridge

Ouse M62 Motorway Bridge.
(Copyright Bernard Bradley. Licenced for reuse under creative commons licence).

Boothferry Bridge is a two lane swing bridge, at least the northern section swings open to allow ships to reach Selby. It was opened in 1929 and before this there was a ferry across. How times have changed.

Boothferry Bridge.
(Copyright Tuesday Night Club 2002)

The main reason I started to write this blog was about the last bridge we crossed. This is as it crosses the River Derwent which is navigable and gives access to the Pocklington Canal. I would love to bring our boat up here and move up these rarely boated backwaters, including the River Hull and Driffield Canal and so having to use the Humber for access. I think we will need a few more miles under our belt and a bigger crew to boost confidence. Maybe after we cruise the tidal Trent we will be more prepared for it and my ambitions will be fulfilled. 

Bridge over the River Derwent

Loftsome Bridge over the River Derwent showing the horse tunnel on the tow path bank.
(Copyright J Thomas. Can be reused under creative commons licence).

Wow, I didn't sit down to write that blog. It just happened!! I wonder if bridges are A Freudian thing for this time of the year?