Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Grand Union. Cosgrove to Stoke Bruerne

It’s all coming together now. We had a lovely afternoon with Anne on Saturday and came home with a sewing machine and a load of firewood. On Sunday, as promised we went to the boat show at Crick.
We were there two years ago; then we spent most of our time looking at all the lovely boats and dreaming. This time we were on a mission. We had done a power audit of all the 12V equipment on the boat and worked out our average current draw. Based on the UK average sunshine hours per year, plus our 6 or so hours boating a week, we’d calculated what size panels we’d need to (mostly) keep up with us. We’d also measured the new cratch board and plank, written down all the questions we needed to ask BW, knew what colour scheme we had in mind, and had a list of all the chandlery items Legend could do with.

After talking to as many serious looking solar salesmen as we could stomach, we sat down with our sandwiches and ruthlessly slashed through the realms of glossy paper we had somehow failed to avoid. In the end it wasn’t that difficult. Of all the solar companies at the show (and there were lots) only two actually took notice of our careful calculations and made any attempt to match our use. We went back to the one we felt happiest about and, pretty much in line with our original ideas, bought a pair of 80watt panels and a 20amp controller. We also got a pure sine-wave inverter, which means we can now watch DVDs on the laptop. We spent the rest of the afternoon collecting paint colour charts and then listened to a woman from Canal and River Rescue giving a lecture on Narrowboat Maintenance, which was very informative, but seemed to be all about what can go wrong with a modern, water-cooled, electronically controlled engine. At one stage she asked her audience if any of them knew where their manual engine stop was; Dave put his hand up and told her he didn’t have any other sort.

Jon, Jenny and Adam came to visit on Sunday evening, Jon has made this for us.
It’s to replace the very inferior, inadequate and not at all rain-proof one that is supposed to vent the engine room, but doesn’t.
Dave is going to connect the new vent to the engine hot air duct with a new canvas cowling that we’re going to make from a piece of land rover tilt cover. Whoo-oo!


On Bank Holiday Monday, despite the drizzle, we decided we’d been at Cosgrove for quite long enough; we put the bikes on the back, pulled the pins and set off on the six mile lock-free section to Stoke Bruerne. The weather forecast had promised us it would clear up in the afternoon, but even pausing for an elongated lunch didn’t stop us getting thoroughly soaked. Ironically, at about 7pm it cleared up and it was a beautiful evening.

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny, so Dave set to work fitting the new panels. There is a good argument for having them loose on the roof – that way you can tilt them towards the sun. There is also a good argument for bolting them down – they might not be facing directly into the sun but they will still be there. After spending over £500 quid on them we opted for option 2.
At the moment they’re held down with regular fastenings, but Dave’s got his eye on these.
Wiring the panels and the controller up was simplicity itself. The blue boxes are taking over the engine room a bit, but as far as power supply and management is concerned that’s about it.

It came as something of a surprise to find we’d gone through a bottle of gas in 2 ½ weeks. A quick dose of soapy water over the pipework in the front gas locker told us why. The easiest way to get to the leaky pipe was to climb down the hole.
Stupid looking, but effective.

Six weeks of living aboard and we still have lists, but they’re not getting any longer.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Grand Union. Three Locks to Cosgrove

It’s been a week of mechanical ups and downs. This is Dave’s latest Heath Robinson affair.
Last week we decided that having Legend’s diesel injectors serviced would be a good thing. It’s got a smoky exhaust and we wanted to see if we could improve things before we went through any tunnels. We phoned a couple of boatyards further up the canal and arranged for a bloke called Ray to come out to us and take them away to be looked at. As the Girls and Boys were coming boating on Sunday we thought it would be prudent to leave it till this week. Also on the agenda for this week was Ken’s MOT.

So after an exciting day’s boating in the wind on Sunday with Chloe, Shandy, Frankie and Harry as locking/pub testing crew, we moored up at Great Linford. Boating through Milton Keynes is highly enjoyable and a world away from driving through it. Apart from a couple of big concrete bridges there is very little to let you know that anything but Green and Pleasant is out there. Frankie & Harry went home in the evening but Chloe & Shandy stayed till Monday morning. We’ve now got removable curtains between the saloon, galley and bedroom so it’s easier to have folk stay over in the guest wing.

After they’d gone we phoned Ray to let him know where we were, and because he couldn’t get his van close to the boat, he suggested moving to Cosgrove where access is a lot easier. A quick look at the weather forecast told us that although it was fairly breezy, the afternoon was going to be worse, if we were going, then the sooner the better. There were a couple of hairy moments, the cross-wind on the aqueduct over the river Ouse was ferocious and despite his best efforts Dave was blown into the edge. Going sideways with 20 tonnes of boat when you’re 50’ in the air doesn’t half make your bum twitch. After Ray had been we cycled back to collect the vans, then huddled in and watched the weather forecast come true.

Ken’s MOT was on Tuesday. Because Karma was getting its own back for all the good stuff, his headlight lens fell out and smashed on Monday afternoon, so we knew he was going to fail. As well as the headlight they found a noisy, loose rear wheel bearing and a steering rack end joint that needs replacing. We came back and searched the web. Surprisingly the rack end was the easiest to find, the headlight wasn’t that much harder (despite being eye-wateringly expensive), and they’re both being delivered to Harry, who has generously agreed to help Dave fit them. The rear wheel bearing, on the other hand, was proving rather elusive. Because Ken is a coach built camper, Fiat supplied the cab but Swift fitted an Alko chassis to the back end. So you’d think the rear wheel bearings would be a Swift or Alko part. After half a dozen conflicting phone calls, and after both of us squirming about underneath Ken’s rear end with torches and mirrors looking for an axle part number, we were assured by Alko that the axle was a Fiat item and we needed to go the them for a bearing. So, back on the web. It turns out that In 1986 Fiat fitted 4 different wheel bearings to the Ducato, the only way of finding out which one you’ve got is to take the wheel and drum off and look at the number stamped on it. Dave trudged off with the tool-box only to return 20 minutes later with a big grin. There was no need to find a number or anything; they’re taper rollers, which mean they’re adjustable. Sorted! If the other bits turn up before the weekend we can book him in for a retest next week.

Ray came back on Wednesday, there was nothing wrong with the injectors, but once he’d re-fitted them and we’d started the engine it was decidedly less smoky than it had been before. It may be that it’s getting better all the time anyway as it’s now being used for propulsion rather than ticking over charging batteries, but it was good to know that someone who knows what they’re talking about has had a look at it and found nothing wrong. Dave learnt a lot from him while he was here as well. We’re off to Chesterfield on Saturday and the Crick Boat Show on Sunday. Jon and Jenny are coming to see us on Sunday evening, which we’re looking forward to, then next week we go up Stoke Bruerne locks and through the Blisworth tunnel.

This is Cosgrove, it's really lovelly here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Grand Union. Grove Church to Three Locks

We moved up to Three Locks this week.
Mum and Dad came along to help and stayed the night. It’s a lovely spot, there are ducklings
moorhen chicks, a beautiful pair of Mandarin ducks
and a constant supply of hire-boaters from Leighton Buzzard encountering their first lock.
It's not a staircase, just a flight of three, but it's still pretty daunting to come round a corner and find that lot in front of you.

Dave has nearly finished the well deck locker, there was a tense moment when we thought it wouldn’t go into the well deck,
but it just fitted..
He then spent most of the week painting it. It’s going to be red, even though we quite liked the look of it in grey undercoat.
While the paint was drying he fitted new seals and vents to our toilet cassettes and fixed the electric flush. It’s a rich, carefree life on a boat.

We've got the power.

When boaters get together it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to amps, volts and watts. How much you’ve got, how much you need and how you make it. Hardly surprising, and probably much the same as anyone who lives off-grid. When we bought Legend she had three 110amp leisure batteries and a starter battery, all of which were less than a year old. So that’s 330 amps of battery capacity; the fridge only takes 2.4, LED lights only take 6 when they’re all on and the water pumps don’t use much either. Sounds good, eh? Well…. not quite. There are one or two rocky outcrops we’ve scrambled over on our learning curve.

First, because of the way the battery management system works, when you start the engine, all the electricity that it produces goes into the starter battery until it’s full, before any is put into the leisure batteries. All well and good; you’ve always got juice to start. Trouble is, when you’re not on the boat all the time (when you’ve bought a house and are trying to sell it, for instance) you don’t move it or run the engine long enough for the splitter to actually switch to the leisure bank. Lead-acid batteries need charging at least once a month or the plates will start to sulphate, rendering them useless. So although the starter battery was fine, it didn’t take long for us to find out the leisure bank was goosed. Harry got us some at trade price and as 4 were only a few quid more than 3 we upped our capacity to 440amps. Brilliant, should last for weeks. Well….. enter rocky outcrop number 2.

You should never let a lead acid battery go below 50% of its capacity. So 440 total amps becomes 220 usable amps. It doesn’t end there either. When the engine is charging the batteries it becomes harder to push more electricity into them the fuller they get. As a rule of thumb, each 10% takes twice as long as the previous 10%. Which, in effect, means that even after several hours cruising, you only get about a 90% charge from the engine. So 220amps becomes 190amps. Add in losses from the current splitter, the resistance from all the connections and the wiring itself (which on a 57’ boat is a fair chunk) and it ends up at about 150amps. A glance back to the first paragraph and it doesn’t take much to realise that even just running the fridge can flatten the whole bank in 2 or 3 days.

So what do you do? Some people move every couple of days. We quite like having a week or two wherever we are so folk can visit and we can explore. In the very near future we’ll be getting a couple of 100watt solar panels. We’re going to the Crick Boat Show and hopefully there’ll be some deals to be had there. That should be enough to keep up with our usage and give us some extra for the cloudy days. For the time being, and for when it’s not sunny at all, we’ve got a 1KW genny and we’ve just installed a clever 3 stage, 40amp charger in the engine room.
The batteries are in the box under the toolbox. There’s still a solar controller to go in, and a digital volt meter, but it’s looking good.
You’ll have to wait till next time to find out what he’s up to now.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Grand Union - Grove Church to Leighton Buzzard & Back

May Bank Holiday Monday dawned bright but very breezy. If it had just been us two we would have abandoned boat moving plans and gone for a brisk walk instead, but we’d arranged for Karen, Andrew and the kids to come with us, so we reckoned that with extra crew it wouldn’t be that bad. As it turned out it was fine. There were a couple of places where we had to use everyone to push off, but we arrived at Grove without any major worries.
On Tuesday evening Dave’s sister Kate came for a visit. She was to be our first overnight guest and would be the guinea pig for our new sofa. Frankie & Harry were coming over for tea as well and they all managed to arrive at once. A very happy evening,

We took Kate for a little boat trip on Wednesday; down one lock, onto Leighton Buzzard visitor moorings for lunch and a wander round, then back up to Grove.
We had an empty and fill up at the sanitary point, just like being back in Ken!

Kate went home on Thursday morning, it was lovely having her to stay, and it was good to have someone else’s take on things. After we’d waved goodbye Dave carried on fitting out the engine room and in the afternoon we both had a bath. Talk about luxury! It took a long time to fill but it was worth it.

On Friday morning we shut Legend up again and drove down to Karen’s. As soon as we got there Dave dived into her shed and dug out an exhaust manifold for Poubelle. Two hours later it was fitted and we could drive her around without frightening the horses. Dave scrubbed his hands and we shot off to Mum & Dad’s for lunch. This wasn’t just a social visit; we were stopping with them for the night and travelling down to Poole on Saturday morning for Ann-Marie’s cousin Amber’s marriage to Allan. It was a brilliant wedding; a very happy couple and lots of equally happy guests.
Allan is Danish, so we had a few Viking traditions thrown into the reception; they seemed to be mostly about shouting “Skol!” and everyone kissing the bride or groom.

By the time we got home it was getting dark, but we came bearing gifts; Mum had lent us a shopping trolley to see if it was any use to us, (we’d already filled it with firewood from Karen’s) and we’d scrounged a spin-dryer off them as well. Dave’s going to make a board to fit over the end of the bath that it can stand on. We don’t mind hand washing, it’s wringing stuff out that’s hard work; a spin dryer will only take a couple of pence worth of genny juice.
What’s not to like?

Grand Union - Cook's Wharf to Grove Church

The Easter camp was fun,
we got to see all our mates from 2CV land and we went back to our old house to see Pete & Michelle. It was lovely to find them so happy at No 3; they’ve got more chickens and ducks than we ever had, and they’ve got rabbits and 3 adorable pigs as well. It gave us a good feeling to know that someone else has taken what we started there, and is moving forward with it. It was good to see Jon & Jenny and Cathy - our former neighbours - as well. The little community in Gedney Broadgate lives on!

We went to the Easter camp in Poubelle on Good Friday; the plan was to go to a camping shop on the way and get 2 new sleeping bags, however we were 10 minutes late, so we spent the first night under our fleece blankets and Poubelle’s big curtain. On Saturday Chloe gave us a lift to Sutterton Camping where we found two very nice 300gsm bags with cotton linings and opposite zips. Perfect. To make it even better they couldn’t find the stuff bag for one of them, so they gave us a bag from something else and knocked £6 off. Just as well we were late at the other shop!

We caught up with the convoy from the camp site who were visiting a bakery. Nice! We bought some bedding plants for the boat from the shop next door, and then went to Stamford where Bourne Borderers were dancing and performing a “St George & the Dragon” mummers play in the town.
It was good to see all of them again as well. It’s appropriate that we’re in spring; the last couple of weeks have been a time of renewed friendships.

On Sunday, with Chloe following us, we came back to what is really starting to feel like home. After lunch Dave set up the work bench on the tow path and set to making a new plate cupboard. He had no sooner begun sawing when an ambulance pulled into the car park, quickly followed by two police cars and a fire engine, all with sirens and lights going. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, an air ambulance landed in the field behind us. Dave really is better at DIY than that! It turned out they were looking for someone who had threatened suicide and gone off down the towpath. Thankfully they found her safe and sound a little while later, but it was all very tense for a while with lots of talking into radios and a bridge full of spectators, no doubt waiting for someone to get dragged off with a blanket over their head.

On Monday Coops Co. came for a visit on their way home from the Easter camp. They parked their red Citroen H van behind Poubelle and Ken, making the car-park look fabulous. Dave & Coops huddled themselves away in the engine room, discussing volts and tool storage; there may be some sound deadening coming from that direction if we’re lucky.

On Wednesday we emptied Poubelle, drove her into Aylesbury, stuffed a bed settee in the back,
came home again and carefully manoeuvred it through Legend's front doors.
Feeling especially pleased with our planning and execution capabilities we removed the packaging only to find that we’d brought it in the wrong way round. 20 minutes later it was back in the right way round, had its legs attached and was looking fantastic and very red.
In afternoon we cycled the 6 miles along the towpath to Leighton Buzzard with our washing. While it was going round, Dave changed Ann-Marie’s inner tube for one without a thorn in it and we checked out the visitor moorings and services. They’re very convenient for the town and there’s a Jewsons right by the cut which will be very handy when we bring the boat.

First thing Friday morning we pulled the pins at Cook’s Wharf and headed up the GU. It’s a lovely spot but our 14 nights were up so on we went. We’re going to be moving again on Monday so we didn’t go far. We stopped in the pound between the Nags Head locks and listened to Wills and Kate making history on the radio.
After lunch and after making sure we had enough slack in the ropes to allow for water level fluctuations in the pound, we walked back to the car-park and set off with all our camping gear in Poubelle heading for the Upton upon Severn Folk Festival. We were joining Bourne Borderers for a couple of days of Morris Dancing festivities.
We came back on Sunday afternoon after the parade through the town. We parked Poubelle at Grove Church lock, at the end of a cul-de-sac by a bridge over the canal.
This is the spot we’d picked out for our next stop when we cycled into Leighton Buzzard. We walked back to Legend; it seemed a lot further than when we cycled it!