Friday, 27 March 2009

Away for a night

Thursday 27th March Alan was going to meet some former colleagues in the Red Lion in Marsworth last night, and as I don't work on Fridays I suggested that instead of driving there, we took the boat, and spent the night on it. This involved Alan going down to the boat during the day and getting it ready, starting the gas fridge and so on, and then, as soon as I arrived back from work we would gather together whatever we needed and go. The trip to Marsworth is about 2 hours 15 minutes in good conditions, and can be a lot longer with the locks against you - and sunset was at about 6:25. Really we needed to be leaving the marina at about 4 pm to be sure of managing it.

All day long the weather had been blustery and rainy, I kept looking out of the window at school, deciding whether or not I really wanted to be trying to work down the Marsworth flight in a hurry in the gathering darkness in a rain storm. However, it brightened up as the day wore on, and I began to be hopeful.

I got home at about 3:50 and rushed around the house, changing out of my work clothes and throwing spare jeans and tee-shirts into a bag, as well as trying to pack some food. We left the house at a run, and drove the short distance to the marina. Alan got the boat ready while I stowed things in cupboards, and we set off as soon as we could. We were lucky on the trip over, with few moored boats across the summit, and the first lock was ready and waiting for us, requiring only the gate to be pushed open. Most of the locks were with us, or needed little filling, and fortunately the sky was mostly clear, giving us as much light as possible as the sun moved towards the horizon. As we came down through lock 42 the sun was low in the sky over the reed-fringed reservoirs and the clouds were a bruised purple with salmon-pink halos. The sun crept out of sight and we knew we had only a short while before dark.

Arriving at Bluebells by the final lock I found a runner, cornered by a large goose, which was refusing to let him past. I used a trick that my sister-in-law taught me - I made my arm and hand into a 'goose neck' shape, and waved aggressively at the goose - which backed off, and allowed the startled runner to carry on - Alan clearly thought I had finally flipped. We worked through the lock in gathering gloom, and set off to try to find a mooring near to the pub. We hammered the stakes into the towpath as the church clock struck 7. then, as I began to cook, the bell-ringers began their practice.

After dinner Alan went off to the pub, and I began baking cakes to take to his mother for her 91st birthday. After which I did some crochet, and then tried to read for a while, although I kept losing my place, and began to nod off. I had just decided to lie down for a few minutes when my mobile rang, "Finished baking yet? Fancy a drink?".

Back at the boat the church clock rang out 12 - don't they turn these things off at a civilised hour?
I slept well, but Alan complained that the church chimes kept him awake.

Friday 28th
The sun was shining when we got up. Alan made coffee and I realised that I hadn't packed any kind of food for breakfast - I would normally have some kind of breakfast cereal on the boat during the summer season, but over the winter I had cleared a lot of the cupboards, and I hadn't grabbed any breakfast as we rushed out of the house in a hurry yesterday. At the very back of the cupboard there was some oatmeal, so I made porridge and I found some golden syrup to add to it. We walked a bit around the extraordinarily attractive village, and looked around the churchyard, although the church itself was locked - probably against vandals trying to put the church clock out of action.

The Red Lion is a very attractive pub, but why is there a barber's pole outside?

After our walk we set off heading North, went down through one lock, and turned in the pound between the 'Marsworth Two'.

As we started up the 'Marsworth Seven'
I put some medium sized, foil wrapped potatoes into the ash pan of the multi-fuel stove, since several people on the Canal World Discussion Forum had suggested that this is a good, economical way of cooking them. The locks were all against us, and it took longer than usual to work back up to the summit. By now it was blustery, with scudding clouds, with the wind blowing the boat towards the side as you waited for the lock to empty. At the top of the flight in a brief moment of sunshine a robin scribbled his song into the air. I was hungry by now, so opened up the ash pan, to find three medium-sized, hot - but completely raw - potatoes. So I moved some of the brighter coals to one side, and put the potatoes into the fire, while I broke into the batch of cakes I had cooked last night. The potatoes were finally ready as we arrived back at the marina - they were delicious and crispy, I'd certainly look at doing them on a glowing fire again.

We went and bought a big bunch of flowers, and took them, along with the cakes, and a card to Alan's mother.
Not a long trip out - but so good to be out on the boat again after winter.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

What we've been up to

It's been a while since I posted - the original idea was that the blog should be for the cruising, but in fact I now realise that lots of things have gone on and I wanted to put them somewhere.

Boat modifications
The Calorifier
After the problems with a freezing cold shower in October in London, we decided to fit a calorifier, so that we had more than one way of producing hot water. So Alan started to measure up and get in the materials he needed. He sawed a hole through the bed top, and over a week or two, working in very cold conditions at the back of the boat he fitted the new calorifier under our bed at the back of the boat, as this was really the only place that we had the room.

How it works
- The diesel engine generates heat and needs to be water cooled, with the heated water passing through a skin tank under the water line to radiate the heat gained before it is returned to the engine. The effect of this is that the heat from the engine is lost into the canal. The calorifier takes some of the heated water from the engine (instead of it going to the skin tank) and passes it through coils in an insulated tank in much the same way as a domestic hot water tank does.

The calorifier (55 litres) and expansion tank (red)
going in under the bed.

The washing machine
- we saw a post on the Canal World forum that someone was looking to get rid of a very small twin tub washing machine. I'd always fancied the idea of being able to do some of your washing while cruising, without having to find a launderette. It can be difficult to find a launderette near the canal (there is a list published by the Aylesbury Basin Canal Society) the only one I've ever used is the one at Braunston marina, which is very useful, but right next to the pump out - and if you have to sit there for an hour or two while you do your washing and drying....well, it helps not to have any sense of smell!
We spent some time measuring up at the boat to see if there was any way it could fit into a corner in the bathroom, even though we'd had to try to estimate some of the dimensions from a web-site picture. Then a bit of investigation made it clear that it really wasn't worth our while going to get a second hand washing machine from the middle of London. The outlay in fuel would be fairly high, and even the owner had no idea whether it worked, as it had been 'inherited' with their boat. So we decided to forget about it - but then once an idea takes root, it niggles and works at you. Alan did a bit of investigation on the Internet and found a cheap
supplier of the washing machine - so one was duly delivered.
Alan began trying to fit it into the space in the bathroom. He built new shelving and eventually fitted the washing machine as well as a small fold out drier, as well as room underneath for a spare toilet cassette and a bucket. In addition the shelving gives us somewhere to put towels and clothing while you are showering - something that had proved a little difficult before. After all Alan's hard work I ended up with the task of making a new 'shower' curtain for the front of the shelving.

The washing machine takes a small load (up to 1.5 kg) and we have fitted it so that it can be filled from the shower hose, and emptied into the shower tray.

the finished bathroom

The electrics

Of course - there was a problem with this. We had the smallest inverter possible. The boat has four batteries, all of which are charged when the engine is running - one is the starter battery, the other three are the domestic batteries, and these supply all our electrical needs while we are cruising - the lighting, the water pumps, the TV, the... well, that's it - there wasn't anything else. Occasionally we wanted to charge rechargable batteries, so we had bought a piddling little inverter - but the washing machine required more power - so we needed a bigger inverter. Not only did this mean a bigger inverter it also meant that the inverter needed to be installed at the back, near the batteries (instead of at the front of Chalice, at the end of a long cable), and new cabling would need to be put through to the bathroom for the washing machine. Well, of course, while Alan was doing that it seemed like a good idea to install new cabling throughout the whole boat, so that when we are at our home mooring we can plug into the shore power and run lights, power tools, vacuum cleaners, etc from the 240V supply. So he recabled the boat.

The Bunk Room
Chalice was bought nearly 4 years ago - with a childrens' bunk room taking up 5' 9" in the middle of the boat. This was not really ideal for our sons - David is 6' 2" and Michael around 5' 11", so there is no way that they could fit into a bunk room as small as this. So the room got used as dumping ground. We'd arrive to go on a cruise and put toolboxes, clothes and boot bags in there - and it would get into greater and greater disarray as the trip progressed. The plan was that we would 'do something, someday'. Well, after Christmas, Alan decided that it was time to start doing the 'something'. We talked through all our ideas - and came up with the idea that we wanted
  1. somewhere to store the stuff we needed to have on the boat in a more orderly way
  2. somewhere to sit and/or eat away from the front of the boat - because sometimes someone wants to read away from others who are watching TV, and because we may want to have the double bed left up at the front and still have somewhere for people to eat.
Alan drew some nice plans using Sketchup, and then we went down to the boat and started to rip out the walls to the bunk room. The whole process took several weeks - as all work on the boat seems to.

At one point the weather turned really cold - down to -11 degrees one night - and we hadn't drained down the water system for winter as we thought we'd need to have water while we were working on the boat. This meant that we had to go down and light a fire every day, to ensure that the boat was warmed up enough that the pipes didn't freeze overnight - no matter how tired, no matter how cold.

Anyway - eventually it was all finished, with new cupboards and wardrobe and a new sofa - for which I was recruited to do the upholstery - rather more than the curtains and cushions I've done in the past. Alan adapted the Desmo leg table, so that it can be put in two different positions in the boat.

The new sofa

Having done all of this work we took Chalice to the Canal World Forums banter at Bulbourne on the 28th February 2009 - where we managed to get 19 people on Owl.

Some of the 19 people who abandoned the pub when the band arrived to cram onto Owl.