Monday, 27 March 2017

First World Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Boat Solution Number 539 Remote Controlled Heating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 March 2017

USB Toothbrush: The Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Oak Faced Ply, Spray Foam and Rockwool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Sleighing Dragons

Yesterday morning we awoke to a slightly drained canal. To cut a medium length story slightly shorter, someone had thought it a good idea to open all the paddles on Dallow Lock. Fortunately the boater parked up in front of us had noticed this at 10 o’clock the evening before – his boat partly sat on the bottom and listing a bit. He closed the paddles that night.
Shobnall Visitor Moorings
The following morning the canal was still about a foot off where it should have been, but we set off and all seemed well. At the first lock – Branston Lock – a boat was aground just at the exit of the lock. Another boat then came down and tried to flush him out. At least I think that was what was happening. Then I think the second boat got stuck, I think. We got passed him and were up and away by then, and never hit the bottom once.

I recently discussed the reduction in events like this, and the almost absence of any working “handcuff locks.” My neighbour proposed that this because the youth of today - who were, in my day, much more adventurous and happy to open gate paddles - are now sat indoors in front of their screens slaying dragons (or should that be, as it is Christmas - sleighing dragons?) Anyway he suggested that slaying dragons was much more fun. Perhaps on this occasion, the dragons had won?

The biggest problem we had, both yesterday and today, was the fog. Looking for boats coming towards us was hard work and whereas most had their tunnel lights on, we didn’t. Captain had thought it a good idea to wire the Christmas tree into the tunnel light plug/socket. Oh well!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Battered by Barbara

River Trent with weir to the right
We stayed in Alrewas for two nights. We like this village stop-over. It seems to have everything a boater could need. A Coop with a fresh bakery, a pharmacy/post office, several pubs, a chippy, a Chinese takeaway and a smart Indian restaurant. The wetlands surrounding the Trent tributaries attract hundreds of fowl. It's both wild and civilised at the same time. We were well battened down as Storm Barbara hurled its gale force winds at us. The plan to be tucked up inside worked.

But where does time go to? A whole extra day off, and we are still struggling to fit anything extra around the normal routines of sleeping eating and walking Mr. Jones.

Shobnall Rec'
Barbara came and went, but left us with some serious towpath lakes, muddying our boots on the five minute walk to the quite splendid Delhi Divan for dinner.

We crossed the Trent without careering sideways down the weir and had a pleasant cruise into Burton. Jones has reacquainted himself with the myriad sniffs of Shobnall rec'. The next 4 days will be spent stationary and seeing family. 

The biggest challenge now, is whether we can keep up our considerable mince pie consumption.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

On the Move

Today is Thursday 22nd, as far as we know, and that means we left Kings Orchard Marina a day ahead of schedule. After a top up of diesel, and a bag of coal, we were cruising out into winter sunshine.

It was about noon then, and we are now safely tied up, as planned, in the pretty village of Alrewas. 
Even the chip shop is guarded by hand knitted polar bears placed on the pavement bollards. At first glance, we thought some toddler had lost their hat, but their quantity reminded us that this is the village with a radical group of knitters (the knitwits).

The reason for our early departure is that there are 45mph winds,with up to 60mph gusts forecast for Friday and we thought it best to miss out boating that day.

Instead we will spend the day in Alrewas, strapped to our Christmas tree to prevent it blowing away. Captain thought we needed to put wax in our ears too, but I think that's a slightly different story.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Birthday Boy Back on the Cut

We settled in just in time for the Captain’s birthday yesterday. It was fun celebrating with Chrissie and Chris who joined us on the towpath. We had moved the boat down to The Plough at Huddlesford in the light. It is still immensely satisfying to drive up to a nice gastro pub in your boat. A hop across the car park and you are at your table. We had cocktails aboard, then a good and diverse set of burgers and back to the boat for coffee, liqueur chocolates and warm mince pies. Very civilised indeed.

It seems feeble but we haven’t been out of the marina since our Birmingham trip and that was in August. This bit of the canal doesn’t seem to inspire us to go out for a night or two as we so often did on the Peak Forest. We loved our short winter jaunts to Whaley Bridge, Marple or Macclesfield and we will take this boat back up there at some point. That said, it was very nice to back on the cut and remind ourselves of why we are living on a six foot seven wide craft. 

It was also good to see quite a few boats moving around. There was sun on the way back to the marina and Jones positively soaked up the winter rays. Since we arrived two days ago, it has been full on – decorating the boat inside and out, walking in the few hours of daylight and lots of eating, drinking and napping as usual. All of this leaves little time for blogging or reading but who cares? 

We are off to Qmin in Lichfield to meet Elaine and David for a curry very shortly and will then have a quieter few days on board to relax before we set off for Burton on Trent. There are storms ahead and we have a river to cross but we are fairly intrepid when necessary. Jones has a full set of coats including a Barbour and a faux sheepskin (Arthur Daley style?) that he loves.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Mice and Men

When we are at home, away from the boat – we worry about the boat. When we are on the boat, away from home – we worry about home. Not a lot, but a little.

One of the ideas is to fit a device to the boat to remotely control the heating. This can be controlled from home – or from anywhere. The EZTEXT unit is particularly attractive as it provides both control of systems on the boat, and can be set to send information back from the boat (such as the temperature). I will no doubt post more on this if I fit one - and at about a hundred quid, it is very tempting.

Home is a little simpler, we already have moderately sophisticated systems and good neighbours so the worry is less. But one of the regular jobs is to keep check on the mice that frequent the loft space. This is a job that cannot be done when we are away.

At the moment I have 4 traps down in the loft, and provide fresh cheese at least every fortnight. Sometimes the cunning little mice get the cheese without the trap going off, sometimes they don’t. The mice are most prevalent in the autumn when they come looking for warmth. Yesterday it was time to check the traps and as I put my head into the loft, I could see that I had company.

One dead mouse, one trap missing, but another mouse was sat quite still, looking at me!

‘Hello you,’ I said. ‘Don’t you want to run away?’
He didn’t run away, seemingly relaxed with my company, he just carried on chewing up a BHS carrier bag.
‘Suit yourself,’ I said.
‘I can’t move,’ the mouse piped up.
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘Because my arse is caught in your bloody trap. It only just missed my bits.’
‘There’s no need to use potty language,’ I said. ‘Anyway have you seen the fourth trap anywhere? It’s gone.’
‘Maurice ran off with it. It was stuck on his arse, sorry bottom. Marvin wasn’t so lucky. That’s him there.’ 
He nodded in the direction of the dead mouse.
‘Oh, sorry about Marvin,’ I said. ‘It looks like he died happy.’ I was looking at the squashed nose all mixed up with cheese and blood.
The trapped mouse, I never did ask his name, gave me a sideways look, although most of his looks had been fairly sideways.
‘I’ll get you free in a minute,’ I said, dropping the late Marvin into my Tesco bag.
‘Do you remember our agreement?’ the trapped mouse asked.
I didn’t answer. I knew the conversation was going to get awkward.
‘I will remind you,’ he continued. ‘You agreed to provide us with seed in that old bird feeder on the outside wall, and we, in return would keep out of your house.’
‘Yes I know,’ I replied, ‘but one day there was a great big rat on the feeder, and I thought maybe it had to go.’
‘It’s your choice,’ the trapped mouse replied.
‘Hey don’t get arsey with me,’ I said.
‘I can’t feel my arse actually,’
‘I’ll have a think. OK? Now, will you be alright if I throw you out of the bedroom window? It’s fairly soft down there.’
‘It'll be fine,’ the mouse said.
He looked back at me from the ground, and I thought I was in for another dressing down, but it was short.
‘So long, and thanks for all the cheese.’

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Tree is Up

This Christmas we plan a relatively modest cruise. We will be on the boat for almost a fortnight, but will only cruise for a couple of days (each way) from Kings Orchard Marina to Burton on Trent. There we will catch up with family. Last year was much braver, threading our way on a much longer journey through winter stoppages on the Peak Forest, Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey canals. This took us from Furness Vale to Mercia Marina. Perhaps we should have been braver this year and given ourselves a greater challenge?

Anyway, the boat is being prepared with the usual provisions (mainly wine) and decorated for Christmas. 

This week the tree has ‘gone up’ and Captain (he’s very excited about this) has sourced some 12 volt LED lights, which are a little like rocking horse poo, although slightly more attractive. 

Previously, and nervous of running the mains inverter most of the day, we have used dry battery powered LED lights, but found ourselves changing those AA batteries pretty much daily. 

The lights are now wired in (to the tunnel light socket) and we wait to see how they perform and how reliable they are. They are from e-bay so we don’t know what to expect, but last year’s lights, from B&Q, all failed and went back for a hard fought for refund in the New Year.

We are not the grandest decorated boat on the marina, but the 'grand' boats are unlikely to move away from the shore power. So maybe ... we are being brave?