Thursday, 7 December 2017

Walking Through Spring

It may not seem topical, but I've been reading a delightful book about walking from south to north across England and following the slow spread of spring northwards.
Walking Through Spring is by Graham Hoyland and the author muses on countryside matters as he walks along rural ways.
A passage about horse-drawn narrow boats and canals caught my eye.
It is calculated that one US gallon of fuel can move a ton of cargo 533 miles by barge, 209 miles by rail or 61 miles by truck.
"An eighteenth century canal horse could pull a 30-ton load at a steady 2 miles per hour with no noise and only the occasional pollutant, which could be used to fertilise the fields."
The load was ..."around a hundred times the horse's own body weight and about fifty times more than it could manage using a cart on ancient roads."
This was a highly efficient transport system - the best in its day. If even a small fraction of the loads carried by trucks across our roads was transferred to the canals I'd be pleased, but sadly trans-shipment costs and the limited number of large wharfs in the right places mean that we are unlikely to see much being transferred to our canals.
Hoyland did not give the mileage for a diesel-powered barge....

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Cotswold Canals

The Cotswold Canals, comprising the The Stroudwater Navigation and The Thames & Severn Canal, formed an early 36 mile link between the Thames at Lechlade and the River Severn at Saul Junction. It provided a through route between Bristol and London before the Kennet and Avon Canal opened. The Cotswold Canals fell out of use before the Second World War.  The Cotswold Canals Trust has restored sections of the Stroudwater Navigation, but much of the Thames and Severn Canal is still in a derelict state and some sections have been filled in.  John and Sarah have been staying near Cirencester and walked a short stretch along the towpath of the derelict section between the Gateway Bridge at Cerney Wick and South Cerney locks. The following photo is of one of the pair of locks at Wildmoorway, showing the lockkeeper's cottage, now restored as a private dwelling.
Unfortunately, this is yet another West Country canal that Patience is unlikely to be able to visit - like the Somerset Coal Canal, the Grand Western Canal, the Itchen Navigation or the Bude Canal!  Never mind - there is still plenty to go for on the main network!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Ready for winter

Today was bracing, with a chill wind, but the rain held off and the middle of the day was quite warm. A good day to collect Patience from the tender care of the folks at North Kilworth Wharf who have given her a proud black bottom and a new hatch over the engine - as well as a pump out. This was good work at a fair price and we are very pleased. Once again we can stand firmly at the stern without worrying that we would slip and slide away.
And so we should add to our annual servicing a coat of varnish to the edges of the hatch as it was damp creeping in from the sides that caused the previous hatch to swell.
Returning with pride to Welford (and being extra careful to avoid scraping her freshly painted hull) we enjoyed the usual excellent lunch at The Wharf before setting to with winterising.
We've given details of winterising elsewhere but in summary we've drained the water from tank, taps, shower and loo, changed the oil in gearbox and engine and given her a general brush up before the winter sets in. Patience will be generally on her own until the spring so it's important that things are ship shape and closed up. It may not feel as if she will be ice-bound, but it's only a few years since this is what happened on the Old West river -

Yes that really is ice and snow, in 2010
I also took away any food that was out of date, listing it all so we can replace with basic food next year. See the article on basic food for your boat.

Homeward go beans, tomatoes, soups, pasta sauce and long-life (not long enough!) milk.
Meanwhile John enjoyed messy play with oil ...
So rest quietly, Patience. We'll pop in to check you're OK when we are passing, but there's no need to stir until spring.

Monday, 23 October 2017


Every four years Patience has her bottom blacked with a couple of coats of bitumen. This is essential to keep her hull in good shape, preventing pitting of the metal.
Though this can be a DIY job we've found that the cost of landing her is greater than the cost of having someone paint her and it is a messy job, so we pay a bit to have someone do it for us.
This is the fourth time we've had Patience in dry dock and it's interesting to compare the techniques as well as simply staring at the parts of her that aren't usually visible.
First time was for her very first inspection, a survey in dry dock when we were considering the purchase. Fascinating to see her bottom for the first time!
Second time was for blacking at Earith. A broken crane caused delays (she was craned out of the water in a sling) and perhaps the blacking was put on in a bit of a rush, but no harm done. And we did have the chance to see one of the grey seals that have made their home in the marina.
Third time was in the comfort of the workshop at Oundle, where we were moored.  We had an Oundle man apply the blacking then we paid for an extra few days under cover while we painted her up in other areas more easily reached when she was out of the water.

And now the time has come again, and we have brought Patience to the workshop at North Kilworth Wharf, where she will be cared for this week. This is the tractor that towed her out of the water into the slipway. First you float the boat over a cradle that is attached to a long towing pole. Then the tractor tows the cradle out of the water, with the boat resting on top.
Now we have our first view for four years of the condition of the hull. Surprisingly there are large numbers of fresh water mussels clinging to her.
Patience is here on the cradle which in turn rests on wheels on rails.

 In addition to blacking they will weld on some sacrificial anodes. These are blocks of magnesium which are bolted to the hull and corrode faster than, or in place of, the metal of the hull and prop, thereby giving protection. It is important to check the anodes, as they prevent electrolytic corrosion of the steel plate and the bronze stern gear. And we don't want the steel hull to wither away ....

And so we leave Patience for a few days while the hard working guys at North Kilworth dry her off, paint on the bitumen, weld new anodes and attend to her every need. More details next week.
And by the way, don't confuse the well established wharf at North Kilworth with the yet unfinished new marina. A lot of work going on there and it will be a fine sight, but we prefer the well established wharf.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Outlets and gutters

Water water everywhere - which is hardly surprising in a canal environment, but we do find that more water than we'd like ends up in the engine compartment. For a while we added a little tub that caught drips through the engine hatch, but recently the situation seems to have become worse. Where was it coming from?
John tightened gaskets, jubilee clips and checked hoses, but there was no clear culprit. Until now.
A gutter surrounds the engine compartment and should collect surface water towards the stern and into two outlets, directing the water out into the canal. However on close inspection the outlets, hidden in the hull, have small holes and also are low in profile. This means that surface water decays leaves which clog the gutters and water flows over the low edge or through the small holes and ends up in the engine compartment bilges.

It's not so bad that it activates the bilge pump but it's not too good to have water in the bilges.
So John scrubbed the gutters, cleaning them of leaves and scraping away loose material and rust. Then with coats of anti-rust, red oxide, grey undercoat and two coats of gloss, he firmed up the gutters. The rear gutter was more difficult as this acts as a hinge for our hatch - hence in this picture it remains red, though it will be painted again next time.
The outlets, under the rear corners of the gutters, were cleared as far as possible, then a layer of fibreglass added to build them up. Now after several weeks buckets under each outlet remain empty even after rain, so John's treatment seems to have worked.
Next we are to take Patience up to North Kilworth for bottom blacking and for a new hatch, as the present one not only lets in the water but is slippery on the surface and crumbling at the edges. Patience has been cleaned and polished in preparation for her grooming session at Kilworth and is excited about spending a week there!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Starter motor problem

On several occasions over the last few months, Patience's starter motor has failed to engage and turn over the engine.  Rather than the engine roaring into life, only a rather unsatisfactory click emanated from the starter motor solenoid when the ignition key was turned fully clockwise.

This was diagnosed as either a low battery, loose battery contacts, a fault with the solenoid or the motor itself.  The first cause was eliminated by checking the battery state of charge, which was fine. The second cause was also eliminated by checking that all the battery connections were tight and in good order - they were.  I then disconnected the cables from the solenoid (photo 1) and removed the solenoid from the starter motor.  There was a slight looseness in one of the the electrical connection studs on the top of the solenoid (photo 2) which was corrected by carefully tightening the lower of the two nuts on the stud (not shown in photo 2 but just visible in photo 1). Unfortunately, it's not possible to take the solenoid apart, as it appears to be a factory sealed unit, so it wasn't possible to check the condition of the internal contacts.
Solenoid in place on the starter motor

Solenoid removed, showing electrical connection studs
After cleaning the studs and spade connectors, the solenoid was replaced on the starter motor and the electrical connections restored.  Although I hesitate to claim that the problem has gone away, to date it does seem to have done the trick.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Swing bridges near Foxton

There are two swing bridges to negotiate near Foxton. The first is a pedestrian bridge guarding the entrance to the Market Harborough Arm. This requires a BW key. The helmsman moors up to the left of the bridge while the crew walks across, unlocks the bridge (if clear of pedestrians?!), swings it to the side letting the boat through, then returns it to position before walking back to hop on to the boat moored nearby. This is a quirky little episode but not challenging - unless you're a solo boater. Incidentally it was broken on our last visit (July 2017) - open to boats but pedestrians are re-routed to the fixed bridge.

The second swing bridge is a mile or so further on and, because it is a road bridge you are moving has more safety features, is heavier, and has the added burden of the responsibility for delaying the cars waiting for you to finish.
It may be helpful to describe how to use this bridge so you can approach it with more confidence.
Bear in mind that everything must be done in the correct sequence with every catch, key and barrier slotted in to its correct place or you (and the fuming traffic) will be frustrated.
Also, it's impossible for solo boaters, who must wait for another passing boat to give a hand.

1. Moor up at the bollards before the bridge.
2. Take BW key then walk to and across the bridge
3. Read instructions carefully ...

then insert BW key in the control box (on left of this picture) and give it a quarter turn.

4. If road is clear of traffic, walk back across the bridge and swing the barrier across the road.
5. Walk across the bridge again and close second barrier.
6. Pull red handle to disengage the hook holding the bridge in place.
7. Now you can push, with all your weight, the long grey bar that moves the bridge. Keep going until canal is completely clear.
8. Indicate boat to pass through. Check there are no other boats coming.
9. When boat is completely through close bridge by pushing or pulling on the long grey bar. Make sure it is fully lined up with the road's white lines and check the catch is back into position. Leave the key in!
10. Open the first barrier and push the end into its slot.
11. Walk back across the bridge and open the second barrier.
12. Walk across bridge again to reclaim key and apologise to queue of traffic.
13. Walk back across bridge (for the sixth time!), through the other gate to your boat.

Congratulations. Can you do it quicker next time?

To Market Harborough

The previous post recorded a trip from Welford through Foxton Locks towards Market Harborough, which was then aborted due to a tree across the canal. We repeated this trip and succeeded in reaching Market Harborough this time.
The weather throughout was a perfect balanced of a slight breeze, sunshine and warmth which highlighted the peace and beauty of both the Leicester line and the Market Harborough arm. For us this offers us a restful passage through overhanging greenery punctuated by a tunnel at Husband's Bosworth, the impressive locks at Foxton and the interest of two swing bridges with a final destination in the attractive market town of Market Harborough. It's just two hours from Foxton to Market Harborough, offering a pleasant day out from Foxton.
Market Harborough arm
We recommend the museum and library here, situated in The Symington Building, the old corset factory. We also remember that pioneer of the canal revival, LTC Rolt visited the town in "Cressy" (see chapter 12 of Narrow Boat), and later, with Robert Aikman, proposed the first boat rally at the town, in 1950.
We moored at the beginning of the Market Harborough Arm, which is off the Leicester Line of the Grand Union, with the choice of refreshment from Bridge 61 traditional pub, Foxton Locks busy restaurant and - our preference - The Black Horse at Foxton. We note there is also a steak house at Foxton but we opted for The Black Horse which is just right for us with a range of beers and excellent pub grub, plus wi-fi.
The bottom lock at Foxton
It was a relaxing trip with the exception of one pushy boat who forced his way in front of us and sped ahead at a rate we had neither desire nor ability to compete with. "It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive" and "Boating is the fastest way to slow down" are firmly in our minds.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Welford to Foxton again

For Patience, moored at Welford, the trip to Foxton Locks is a convenient overnight, and could be done in a day. This time we planned to visit Market Harborough which we last visited two years ago.
All started well, though the weather was a bit variable with much putting on and taking off of jumpers and waterproof jackets. Nevertheless we reached Foxton in good time (less than 4 hours) with only a slight collision between our aft rail and the brickwork of the Husband's Bosworth tunnel to spoil the journey. Having swept away the brick dust and found the rail grazed but not injured, we felt inspired to descend the staircase at Foxton, which can take anything between 40 minutes and several hours, depending on traffic. We feared a long queue of boats returning from the Crick event but it was no worse than usual.
We moored conveniently in the basin and celebrated with a beer and a meal at the Foxton Locks restaurant. Very busy here in the warm evening sunshine.
In the morning we headed down the Market Harborough arm, hoping to visit their museum, but unfortunately a fallen tree had blocked the canal - conveniently close to a winding hole for us but inconvenient for those hoping to leave Market Harborough.

With no way of knowing how long the waterway would be blocked we turned and retreated towards Foxton. With noise from Foxton Locks Inn echoing in the distance we decided to try The Black Horse at Foxton - and that was a good choice. It was quiet, an attractive pub and grounds, with good beer and very good value lunch. The church is worth a look too. We ambled back to Patience, moored just 100 metres away, and found that the tree was now cleared.
However we were now facing the wrong way for Market Harborough so we continued back to Foxton where we used the convenient water point to wash the roof.
Now we decided we couldn't be bothered to head to Market Harborough once more so we joined the queue for the locks. Three hours later we emerged at the top lock after more than an hour queuing at the bottom plus an hour or more moored in the centre pound while descending boats passed us by (or nearly collided - Horatio that was close!).
Wooden butty Raymond man-hauled through Foxton locks
Working boat ‘Nutfield’ passing Patience in the centre pound at Foxton

One plus from this was that we saw the wooden butty Raymond which was laboriously man-hauled through the locks by the volunteer lock keepers. Raymond was the last wooden narrow boat built for carrying in Britain, launched at Braunston in June 1958.

Reaching the top at 7pm, well after the lock keepers' bed times, (we salute you, hard working men!) we moored up near the sculpture of the boy and the horse then walked back to The Black Horse in Foxton. After a close shave with a fast moving black Audi we decided the towpath route was preferable to the country road ....  Nevertheless we had a very good meal and good beer and were able once more to stagger back to our moorings above the locks.
Next day we set off early to return to Welford, a very pleasant trip through dappled shade, with delightful views of the Laughton Hills.  So dreamy that I nearly missed our turning to Welford! We were further surprised to find another Patience just leaving Welford. There are 56  entries for Patience according to The Boat Index so the name is more common than we thought, but we've only seen three other boats called Patience in our seven years of boating.
Final painting of the fore deck and the roof and another excellent value meal at The Wharf in Welford. It felt like more than three days - but in a good way.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Cromford Canal

John and Sarah have been staying next to the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire, another canal now cut off from the main network and therefore inaccessible to Patience.  It was built between 1789 and 1794 by William Jessop and Benjamin Outram to provide a 14.5 mile link between the Erewash Canal and Cromford Wharf, near Richard Arkwright's historic cotton mills. The canal closed for commercial traffic in 1944, but a restored section remains open for a few miles south of Cromford, and on which a horse drawn boat operates as a tourist attraction.
Cromford Wharf
At High Peak Junction, a mile south of the canal terminus at Cromford Wharf, there was an interchange with the Cromford and High Peak Railway, which ran over the Peak District to connect with the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge, providing a short cut for the shipment of minerals and other goods, thus avoiding a much longer journey via the Trent and Mersey Canal.
High Peak Junction from where the Cromford and Hgh Peak Railway ran behind the buildings
Completed in 1831, the Cromford and High Peak Railway was engineered on similar principles to a canal and comprised a series of relatively level sections connected by very steep inclines (analogous to the locks on a canal), up which wagons were drawn by cables powered by stationary steam engines.
Railway wagon at the top of the Middleton incline
The gradients of the inclines ranged from 1 in 16 to 1 in 8 and it reached 1,266 ft above sea level, the highest point reached by a standard gauge railway in England.  It was in operation carrying freight until 1967 and part of its route now forms the High Peak walking trail.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Re-seating the blanking plate in a Morsø stove

I love wood fired stoves. I have one at home and another is on Patience. Both are about twenty years old and have caused little trouble.
But last year we had to replace the flue collar and this year we noticed smoke appearing from the back of the stove. Looking around the back of the stove I could see that a disk or plate had slipped out from the stove body and that was the source of the smoke. But how to fix it?
Blanking cap at back of stove, viewed from above
Metal wood-burning stoves often provide for the flue to come out from the top, back or sides of the stove, so you can choose your configuration according to where you have your outlet.  Here is another stove I know well, with the blanking cap on top, as the flue comes from the back.

Our flue comes from the top, and Morsø have provided a blanking plate in the back to seal up the unused hole. After twenty years of use ours had come adrift - but we weren't sure whether it had been held in place by gravity, flanges, bolts or some other way. And how could we replace it? Would we have to dismantle the stove? And how would that work anyway? Stoves are included in the boat safety check and must be made safe so something must be done.
After a close examination using mirrors and torches in the small gap between stove and wall we resorted to a web search, first of suppliers, then of forums. And this is what we found:
The plate could easily be removed without damage. We inserted an old screwdriver into the gap and gently levered it out.
Inner face of blanking cap, before cleaning up. Note lug on the left and remains of lug on the right.
The plate had been held in place by two lugs screwed to the inner edge of the plate. This made them inaccessible from the outside.
The body of the stove was in satisfactory condition but there was debris, black and gritty, inside the hole and around the edges.
We also found that gaining access to the inside of the hole from the front of the stove was prevented by the baffle, a metal shield which directs smoke up the chimney (and prevents flames going up). Some people say you can remove the baffle to get access to the hole but we found it was very firmly held in place. If you can remove the baffle you'll be able to fit a new plate with lugs. That is the best answer. But we couldn't remove the baffle so ....
Stove from the front, grate removed. The baffle is a false back to the stove with a sloping internal roof
... here's our solution to the problem. This is what we did:
1. Remove the plate, as above, gently levering it off if it hasn't already fallen out.
2. Clean the plate and the rim of the hole with a wire brush, especially the edges.
3. Remove as much of the debris from inside the hole as you can and dispose of it. You may find the broken lug(s)! Test to see that the cleaned plate fits neatly into the hole. You might have to cut away any remains of a lug.
4. Buy some fire cement.
5. Brush a little water onto the edge of the plate and the edge of the hole.
6. With a spatula, press a layer of fire cement all around the edge and outer surface of the hole.
7. Place the plate neatly and firmly into the hole. Push firmly. With a small hammer and a short length of timber you should be able to tap the plate firmly so that it is almost flat to the back of the stove. Don't hammer the stove or the plate directly. Remove any cement that has squeezed out and check there are no visible gaps.

And that's it! Let the cement dry according to the instructions on the pack. Take the opportunity to clean the rest of the stove and to tidy your log pile. Check carefully that the plate remains in place and that no more smoke comes from the stove back. Check this as part of normal maintenance: it's a health and safety issue. Continued heat may cause the fire cement to crumble and it will need replacement - though now you know how to do it that's not a problem.
If your blanking plate is damaged or warped you can buy a replacement from any Morsø supplier. Measure your blanking plate and make sure you know the correct model of stove.
Finally, my sweep tells me that we should have fire bricks to deflect the heat from the rear and sides of the stove.  This is true of steel stoves as well as cast iron. A couple of fire bricks would protect the blanking cap and would protect the sides against direct heat.
In extreme cases, he says, he has drilled into the blanking cap and inserted a stainless steel threaded rod then wound a metal bar so it lies across the rear of the stove, holding the cap in place. Too difficult for me, but I think the fire brick is a useful and important addition.
Which is better, steel or cast iron? It's explained here at StoveWorld

Friday, 21 April 2017

Servicing the glow plugs

The glow plugs are essential for starting the engine from cold and we normally switch them on for about 15 to 20 seconds before turning over the starter motor on the BMC 1.8 litre engine.  Two of the glow plugs can be seen just below the fuel injection nozzles in the above photo of the starboard side of the engine. As it's some time since the glow plugs have been checked and it is recommended that they are removed and cleaned after every 600 hours of running, I decided that this task should be undertaken as part of this year's annual engine service.

An 8 mm spanner is needed to undo the cables from their terminals (don't lose the plain washers between the nuts and the spade connectors!) and then a 12 mm ring spanner is needed to unscrew the plugs from the engine block.  It is unusual to find metric parts on the BMC engine; most of the nuts and bolts require A/F spanners.  Accessibility is limited, particularly in the case of the front cylinder glow plug, which is tucked away in an awkward position behind the alternator.  The task would be made easier with a ratchet ring spanner (not a socket spanner, as the plugs are too long), although it can be done with a simple ring spanner and a modicum of patience. If it is some time since they were last taken out, the build up of carbon may make their removal more difficult, but do persevere, as they will come loose eventually with a little gentle encouragement. You may need to keep turning them, even after the thread on the plug is clear of the tapped hole in the block.

Patience's glow plugs were generally not too carbonised and were easy to wipe clean, and all registered a resistance of about 1 ohm.  This corresponds to a current of 12 A per plug (48 A for all four) or 144 Watts per cylinder at a nominal battery voltage of 12V. However I did notice that the centre terminal of one of was slightly loose in the housing.  I ordered a replacement from Calcutt Boats and it arrived in the post less than 48 hours later - fantastic service. The resistance of the new plug was a little higher at 1.4 ohms, which is either a specification change or the build up of dirt on the old ones may be lowering their resistance slightly. 

Before replacing the plugs in the block I inserted and rotated by hand the recommended 11/64 in (4.37 mm) diameter drill into the holes to clear any carbon build-up.  It is a good idea to coat the drill with grease so that the carbon particles can be removed on the drill rather than falling into the cylinders.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

In Praise of Welford

Patience is moored at a marina in Welford, on the border of Northants and Leicestershire. It's on a short arm that leads in a couple of miles to the Grand Union, so very convenient.
Our mooring is quiet and comfortable, not posh but it does the job, with a good pub, The Wharf, access to water and some maintenance and less than an hour away by boat from the chandelry at North Kilworth.
Why boast about it now? Because today was the first warm sunny day in ages and I felt the urge to pop across and tend to Patience, who has been sitting quietly without us for too long.
I drove across and found her happily bobbing at her mooring, few other people around. I gave her an airing, brushed off the inevitable leaves and twigs, started her up without trouble and let her tick over for ten minutes while I checked out any other problems. But, no problems, no damp patches, peeling paint or stains and so, while John plans to clean the plugs and before we re-fill her with water, I took an excellent lunch at The Wharf then went for a stroll around the reservoirs that provide the water for the Welford Arm and thence to the Grand Union.

 This is the causeway between two connected reservoirs that feed the Welford Arm.

And this is a narrow channel as an overflow connecting the two.
A path near the reservoirs is part of the Jurassic Way, a long-distance footpath of 88 miles connecting the Oxfordshire town of Banbury with the Lincolnshire town of Stamford. It is mostly in Northamptonshire and follows an ancient Jurassic limestone ridge.

Just three miles away is a monument commemorating the Civil War Battle of Naseby (14th June 1645).
All in all several very good walks to be had around Welford, with details available from the pub or on information boards next to the marina.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Swedish Winter

I've spent January scanning old photographs - negatives and slides. Very nostalgic.
Patience has been frozen in before now - here she is in 2010 on the Old West river -
but we seem to have avoided ice and snow recently.
Long long ago I worked for a year in Sweden, in a steel town called Fagersta which is in Västmanland. An industrial town producing steel, it has a canal nearby called the Strömsholmskanal, linking Lake Mälaren  to Smedjebacken and created to transport the product of the iron foundries.
It was always worth a stroll, especially on bright winter days, and here are three photographs of one of the 26 locks, 6 of which are in Fagersta. The ice and snow gives it a certain excitement, I think.

It is 62 miles long, took 18 years to build, between 1772 and 1795, and is now used only by leisure craft. I gather the canal has been renovated since I was there in 1976. Sadly I don't think Patience will make it to Fagersta and the Strömsholmskanal.

As a footnote I note that Thomas Telford (engineer of 17 canals and many bridges, including Caledonian Canal and the Pontycysyllte Aqueduct), had a hand in the early stages (1810) of the Göta canal in south west Sweden. That is not connected to this earlier canal, however.