Saturday, 28 May 2016

Can We Fix It? (No, We Can't!)

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Very retrospective post for Saturday 28th May 2016)

The brief version of the first part of this story is as follows, (the actual story far more convoluted, but readers of the blog are fortunately spared most of it!).....

1) We knew that the batteries were being charged at far too high a voltage.
2) Flamingo has a very elderly, but also very robust and substantial "AC5R" alternator, but in order to extract maximum charging capacity from it, a previous owner has wired it into a Kestrel external alternator controller, (an add on box remote to the alternator itself).
3) Both the above items are well obsolete, and the Kestrel controller has long been de-supported by its suppliers.  (The available documentation looks like a 6th form students A-level project - the world has moved on!)
4) It was very hard to ascertain where the fault was, in the alternator, or in the external controller.  In the end we decided to completely remove the latter from playing any active part.  The batteries continued to be getting to much charge, thus eliminating the Kestrel as a possible cause.
5) Normally in these cases it would point to a fault on the regulator on the alternator itself.  Although the alternator is obsolete, these are obtainable as a third party item.  Someone had one that they were prepared to gift to me, (thank you Jerry!)
6) Eventually the new regulator arrived, and David and I fitted it, also sorting out some of the associated wiring that looked a bit suspect.  In particular we replaced wires with crimped joins in the middle with new continuous wires.
7) The alternator now appeared not to be charging at over voltage, (if anything we thought it was maybe not charging enough), and we naively thought we had solved the problem, and were OK to carry on with our journey.

At this stage we thought we had fixed it!
So some 4 days after we had arrived in Berkhamsted, Cath and I loaded up the boat with provisions and dogs, and we set off again.

After a couple of locks, I ducked into the engine room with a volt meter to check all was OK, and it seemed to be, however having got up all the locks to Cow Roast, and set off across Tring summit, I checked again, and was very upset to find that once again we were cooking the batteries.  We disabled the alternator, and limped on again to the moorings at Bulbourne.  A son was summoned with a car, and we loaded everything back off the boat, and went home to contemplate our next move.

Berkhamsted to Bulbourne 
Miles: 5.4, Locks:7
Total Trip Miles: 85.0, Locks: 106

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Limping On

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Locking up through Boxmoor.
Not content with the issues we already had with the engine, as described in yesterdays post, by this time we are also pressing on wit our batteries not being charged by the alternator.  This is because without the alternator disconnected they are being severely overcharged, something which at best will wreck the batteries, and which at worst can have far more dire consequences like a battery bursting open, and spraying sulphuric acid around the engine room, (and over anybody who is in there).

Raven's Lane lock cottage is surely on of the prettiest.

Passing our friends Paddy and Ruth who had traded at Rickmansworth.
Today's objective was solely to get to Berkhamsted, so we could tie up near to our home for a while, whilst we investigated and corrected the problem.  This we managed with no new issues developing, thank goodness!

Apsley to Berkhamsted
Miles: 5.7, Locks: 15
Total Trip Miles: 79.6, Locks: 99

Monday, 23 May 2016

More Trouble!

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Batchworth lock - the first on the return trip.
Well we knew we had to go gently on the return trip because the engine was clearly not in the best possible health - not too much of an issue if it didn't get worse.

Lot Mead Lock
However once we had been travelling some time, David, who was inside trying to use computers, came and asked if there was a problem with the 240 volt power , which seemed to be dropping out.  The power is created from the 12 volt battery bank by a unit called an inverter, and investigation revealed it was indeed shutting down.  Further investigation revealed the cause - the voltage that should have been going into the inverter from the battery bank was far too high, and as a protection it then shuts itself down.

Waiting for two other festival visitors to lock through ahead of us.
Unfortunately the alternator on the engine that charges the atteries was not being regulated correctly, and much too high a voltage was being fed to the batteries.  I was unable to find a reason, but it couldn't be left like this without risking damaging the batteries and on board equipment.  Reluctantly I disabled the charging circuit, meaning we were now running out batteries down, and unable to keep them topped up.  I reasoned howler we should be able to get much nearer to our home, giving us a better chance of diagnosing and fixing the problem.

Towy - You don't see many wooden working boats any more.
We carried on slowly to Apsley with no further issues, trying hard to use as little electrical power as possible.

Rickmansworth to Apsley
Miles: 8.3, Locks: 15
Total Trip Miles: 73.9, Locks:84

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Rickmansworth Festival 2016

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Very retrospective post for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd May)

We had an excellent time, but without "Sickle", and with "Flamingo's" engine struggling somewhat, there aws no way we were going to do the tug of war this weekend!

A surprisingly small number of photos seem to have been taken for this one.

Richard Parry, CEO of Canal and River Trust joins the Tug of War.

The more people you load on the better your chances.

"Bream" versus "Russia", if they can sort themselves out.

Fly pasy by Dakota adds to the interest.

The chaos is really quite normal at this event.

Super power for the tug of war final.

Boat not moved
Miles: 0, Locks: 0
Total Trip Miles: 65.6, Locks: 69

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Furthest South We Have Yet Been With "Flamingo".

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

South through Apsley, before meeting up with Jan.
Very late again of course, but at least a few photos to record that despite some burgeoning engine troubles we did make it to Rickmansworth with a day in hand.

Jan follows - I had already failed this turn at the first attempt!
Our friend Jan who operates The Art Boat needed to make the same journey as us this day, and would have had to single hand through quite a lot of locks.  However we had arranged to meet up with her, and share locks all the way down to Rickmansworth.

The well known ornamental bridge at Cassiobury
Generally Jan was following behind us, so will have seen the full horror of me totally failing to make the first of the large bends through the very windy stretch near Cassiobury.  In my defense I have done this perfectly OK in a full length ex working boat before, but Flamingo is distinctly lacking in power compared to my previous experiences, and simply wasn't making the tightest turns well whatever I did, (well, that's my excuse, anyway!)

Both boats between the Cassiobury locks

Trying to clear the cill on a gate that refused to close properly

Using the services at Batchworth - the cone is protecting from twisted ankle

Apsley to Batchworth (Rickmansworth)
 Miles: 8.6, Locks:16
Total Trip Miles: 65.6, Locks: 69

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

To Apsley In The Rain, (and second day of organised appointments).

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
First lock of the day -  Ravens Lane, Berkhamsted

The blog has had some rough times in the past, but I don't think it has ever before been quite as neglected as this!  It is now over 4 months since this journey was in progress, and a bit late to give any real history, but as I was trying to sort out the photos, I thought I would put some up here.

Leaving Berkhamsted
It's probably not really already reported, but by now "Flamingo's" engine was smoking quite badly, and starting to give concerns about whether carrying on to Rickmansworth was really sensible.  We decided to press on slower than usual, as it was not then as bad, but to keep the situation under review.  At least at "Ricky" a few engineers would be about who might be able to advise.

Winkwell - the rain is now continuous
I recall this day just how some of the photos depict it - unrelenting rain for much of the middle of the day.

Passing "Towcester" and "Bideford". "Flamingo" was once paired with "Bideford"
Both Cath and I had physiotherapy appointments at the hospital in Hemel Hempstead - part of a number of ongoing appointments during the trip, hence theee was no option to lay over for a while and dodge the rain, so we plodded gently on.

Overnight stop in Apsley - the only place we could get close to the edge.
Berkhamsted to Apsley
Miles: 5.3, Locks: 13
Total Trip Miles: 57.0, Locks: 53

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

First day of organised "appointments"

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

The immaculate FMC Josher "Holland" owned by a friend.
So one consequence of yesterday's long day it seems is that I have become somewhat sun-burnt.  I must admit I never gave the possibility a second thought, but clearly I was outside a very long while, and although it was not an exceptionally hot day, much of it was indeed sunny. We live and (don't always!) learn, it seems

Sharing with "Hyperion" in Dudswell bottom lock.
When we first bought our first boat "Chalice" some 11 years ago it was always based in the area we are now boating through, so most trips inevitably involved the stretch of canal either North or South of Tring summit.  However as our home moorings have progressively moved to the North we now only boat the waterway close to our home town only occasionally.  In fact our last trip over Tring summit was a full year ago, when we were taking "Sickle" to last year's Rickmansworth festival.  Incidentally, currently repeating that trip would be a challenge, because although myself, Cath and Odin the dog could just about fit into "Sickle's" back cabin, the arrival of our second dog Max is probably a step too far, and we have not yet worked out a way the four of us might share that small space.  We have far more space in "Flamingo's" very large conversion of a full working boat hold.

"Bushes" lock, Northchurch
So today we found ourselves in the slightly odd situation that on Saturday it took us just about an hour to drive from our home in Bekhamsted to where"Flamingo" is moored in Northamptonshire, but that we have spent about the equivalent of three full cruising days to get back there!

A few unexpected things happened with the engine across Tring summit, but these seemed to largely resolve themselves before we reached the first downhill lock at Cow Roast - just as well because such work that the engine may eventually require is far beyond my basic mechanical abilities.

Top "Gas" lock, Berkhamsted
At Cow Roast Phil on the fuel boat "Hyperion" who we passed facing in the opposite direction advised us he was about to turn and head South again, so we waited for him to join us in the lock before continuing. Phil only had one further boat he knew he needed to top up with diesel on his return through Berkhamsted, so it was no bother to wait while he did that, (surprisingly quickly in fact), and we then worked down into the centre of Berkhamsted with him.  Unlike yesterday's struggle though pounds North of Tring summit that were heavily depleted of water, today all but one of the pounds were fully up South of the summit, (the exception bring the one from "Bushes" lock to top "Gas" lock - which often seems low.

Bottom "Gas" lock, Berkhamsted
At Berkhamsted we stopped for the first of several appointments over this trip - I was able to quickly walk to my doctor's surgery, where a nurse removed the stitches from the operation on my left shoulder two weeks earlier.  Because it was keyhole surgery there were only three very small incisions , each fastened by a single suture.  The  nurse advised all had healed well.  We also had an interesting chat because her son is looking to buy a boat to live on in the area - I was able to give her some information on how much more difficult that is becoming for some people, and suggested he needs to do some serious research before committing to the lifestyle!

On our own again - Broadwater lock, Berkhamsted
Cath then did a supermarket shop, whilst we negotiated with home about how son David would join us on board - it needed the collaboration of son Michael to drive him down with masses of stuff, as, like Cath he would be performing that evening with New Moon Morris at the Rising Sun pub.  We decided Cath and I must move the boat down a couple of locks more for access to the pub, and David would be delivered to us there.

Our overnight mooring.
Maybe Cath will add something about their dance session, but to explain a little in the world of Morris dancing it is often the case that if one "side" is dancing at a venue, they invite along one or more other sides.  In this case "Wicket Brood" from St Albans invited "New Moon" from Ivinghoe.  The same had happened last year, but Cath had been unable to attend that time.  Today our journey had been carefully planned to make it possible - the second arranged "appointment" of this trip.  I even got brave and joined in some parts on melodeon, but frankly I was pretty naff!  Stage fright, I guess - I had played the tunes reasonably well at a rehearsal little over a week earlier, but my brain and fingers had other ideas tonight!

This video has appeared which gives a good, if brief, impression of the festivities at the Rising Sun

Bulbourne Junction to Berkhamsted
Miles: 6.2, Locks:8
Total Trip Miles: 51.7, Locks: 40

Monday, 16 May 2016

Bloomin' Hard Work

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Three Locks
What a day - and not always in a good way!

We knew we needed to make good progress today, to avoid excessive pressure the next day, by which time I needed to get to Berkhamsted for a scheduled nurses appointment.  However we looked to have enough time if not severely delayed, and made a reasonable start, but  little knowing what lay ahead.

Very drole!
Our first locks of the day were what is generally referred to as  "Soulbury Three Locks", but which working boatmen actually knew as the "Stoke Hammond Three" - not unusually for names of canal features they are not actually that close to the places bearing either name!   Here we saw our first volunteer lock keepers of the trip, and very good they were, and we progressed quickly up to the picturesque "Jackdaw pound", that leads down to the outskirts of the paired towns of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade,  En route we passed the fuel boat Ascot travelling breasted up with its butty "Beverley", (actually a former pairing with our "Flamingo") .  Unusually the owner had the motor boat on the right of the pair, so in order for him to stay in deep enough water, the butty was well to the centre of the canal.  As we passed, although still a massive way from the "off" side, "Flamingo" tilted heavily over as it explored the surprisingly shallow waters.  I should have taken this as a warning for the rest of the day, but didn't think too much about it at the time.

Passing breasted working boats in the Jackdaw pound.
In Leighton Buzzard we needed provisions, but unusually all the visitor moorings from the supermarket to the bridge were taken.  This was not a problem, as we needed to fill the water tank and empty toilet cassettes, so we went through to the service area, and Cath had ample time to do a quick top up of provisions, whilst I attended to things domestic.  If CRT are paying any contractor to clean the sanitary station at Leighton Buzzard, then they are getting a poor service for their money.

A heron at Ivinghoe locks contemplates a relative lack of water!
We had just entered Grove lock, and started to fill it, when we saw that a boat we had seen in Leighton Buzzard was now following us, so we quickly stopped the process, reopened the bottom gates, and let the other boat join us.  This was about the point life started getting hard!

Delightful lighting effects near Cheddington

In the notoriously bad pound between Grove lock Cath had gone ahead to set Church lock, when I was not paying enough attention to where there is enough channel for a deep draughted boat.  By the time I realised I was grounding, I was particularly impressively stuck!  I was many yards from any bank, (in fact not actually that far off centre of the cut), but it is incredibly shallow on the non towpath side, and, as I was to discover the bottom is covered in hard slabs, and not forgiving at all.  No amount of poling or use of the engine would free me at the back, although the front was swinging free, but fortunately Andy on the other boat was able to eventually get to a position where he could help drag me off.  I'm extremely grateful for his efforts, and the delay was considerable.

Swing bridge near Cheddington
Hoping things might improve they never really did after that!  Above Church lock the long pound to Slapton was maybe nine inches down, and trying to work out where any channel was in the middle proved hard.  I could be close to where you might assume it to be, but was intermittently switching from grounding on the left, with boat tilting to the right, to a grounding on the right, and tilting to the left.

Thereafter every pound to Marsworth, yes, every single pound was down by anything between six inches and a foot.  Hence even if we could plough slowly along them, we could seldom get the boat anywhere near the side at locks, causing much complication with the dogs, and continually increasing the delays.

At the bottom lock of the Marsworth flight we caught a boat towing another, so had to wait for them to lock through.  As the pound below these locks was also well down we had not been able to get to the edge, so having reset the lock, I was alarmed to return to the boat, and find it now tight against the bank.  Unfortunately the flush from emptying the lock had temporarily raised us up, washed us over to the bank but then dumped us down on more solid material again once the flow stopped.  Once again we had become well stuck, and we hadn't even been going anywhere at the time.  Again we are grateful to local boat owners who arrived with poles to help with the inevitable pushing and shoving that followed.

The ever delightul Marsworth, but impossible to moor Flamingo.
Our plan had been to moor in the long pound beside the reservoirs between the two bottom locks of the main Marsworth flight, but that pound was itself about a foot down, and wherever there was a potential space, I couldn't even get within a boats width of the bank.  We simply don't carry a plank that long!

So, completely knackered, and having already taken hours longer than expected we were forced to carry on up the next six locks at Marsworth to Tring summit, with sunset arriving and passing as we did so.  Every pound of this flight was missing nine inches to a foot of water, with the worst ones at the top.  I could not have got up it on my own, as I could not have got on or off the boat, but with me staying on, two of us did eventually get there.

Completely trashed by now, we moored at the first spot available in failing light, and somehow Cath still managed to produce a delicious meal.  There has been much criticism of maintenance standards on the Southern Grand Union in recent months, and, until today, I was not sure how exaggerated they were.  If our experience is typical, not one single pound anywhere between Grove Lock and Tring Summit had enough water in it for deep draughted boats. I make that maybe 17 different pounds, totaling 7 or 8 miles.  If the rest of the trip is like this, I think I could quickly tire of historic boat ownership!

Stoke Hammond to Bulbourne Junction
Miles: 14.2, Locks: 22
Total Trip Miles: 45.5, Locks: 32

Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Somewhat Longer Day Than Anticipated

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Descending the Stoke Bruerne flight
As Cath explained in yesterday's blog, our trip down to Rickmansworth is slightly unusual because we have something like five appointments to keep along the route, and with no other transport than the boat, we must arrive in certain places by certain times.  So, although we don't want it to be a mad rush, the first few days travel require that we get to at least a certain point each day.  We don't have a lot of experience in boating in "Flamingo" with just the two of us, and far less still of trying to keep two energetic dogs in check at the same time.  Also my newly operated on shoulder is very painful, and almost certainly I should not be working locks, leaving Cath to do them all, so it is inevitable we are slower than we would usually have been in the past.

Cosgrove lock, where there was a queue in the other direction
A further barrier to fast progress is "Flamingo" itself.  "Flamingo" is a heavy boat, and whilst it goes along well enough when underway, it is considerably slower of the mark than either "Chalice" or "Sickle".  However the main reason you do not rush with "Flamingo" is its great reluctance to stop in a hurry.  I have never known a narrow boat take longer to stop, and with "Flamingo" you can give it all its got, and still find pulling up alarmingly slowly.  We don't really know why, but suspect the propeller is not the most ideal one for that boat, engine and gearbox.  We don't actually know the diameter or pitch of the propeller, never yet having docked "Flamingo".  So at the moment locks are entered very much slower than we would with other boats, and blind bridges approached with greater caution, all resulting in slower progress overall.

Our old boat "Chalice" looking well cared for.
Anyway today's minimum place to reach was Stoke Hammond, and we have achieved that, albeit taking longer than I probably expected.

Today was mostly new territory with us for "Flamingo", which we had previously never previously brought further South than four locks down the Stoke Bruerne flight, but is of course a stretch we have covered numerous times in our other boats.  A near 72 foot boat that is slow to stop somehow makes the whole journey rather more "exciting".

The very shallow lock at Fenny Stratford
I usually try not to post to much about what can go wrong when one meets other less experienced boaters, but today we have certainly been treated to a few things that made life somewhat harder on occasions.  I am well used to being waved past steerers of slower moving boats that we have caught up, who then don't then let you pass easily, so often I will decline going past if it looks in any way likely to become risky.  However, today I was waved past by a hire boat steerer at what was actually a very good spot to go past, (they often are not!), but it takes a while to get a 72 foot boat past one of maybe 60 feet.  All was going swimmingly well until I was half way past when he then speeded up again - there was no real panic because there was still a clear view ahead, but as I tried harder and harder to draw ahead of him his front end swung across to the point it was rubbing our back end.  It really doesn't have to be made that hard - if you wave someone past, make it easy for them to get past quickly, please!

Distinctive double bridge at Stoke Hammond lock.
However on a wide straightish section by Linford an approaching boat switched across to the wrong side of the canal as it was already quite close to me, and firmly held its position, leaving me no option but to reverse hard, and hope they took avoiding action eventually.  There was no collision but we ended up on the mud and in the bushes.  "Sorry" said the steerer, "Woman, driver, I'm afraid - I think I need more practice".  I was forced to agree with her about needing more parctice, but as I tried to extract us from the mud, I did wonder why neither of the people stood by her had intervened, particularly if either was more experienced, but had allowed her a go at the tiller.  I suppose I have to laugh it off, but we have quite a lot of scratched paint as a result, and I didn't really think the the "lady driver" excuse good enough!

Strange effect with Max's ears as the photo  captures him mid leap!
Otherwise it has been a good day, with good weather, and we and the dogs have thoroughly enjoyed it.  When we finally moored up Max decided Odin was definitely going to play bouncy chasing games, and he didn't let him off the hook until both has had a very active run about.  Max is definitely getting a lot "younger"!

Moored for the night just above Stoke Hammond lock
Stoke Bruerne (Long Pound) to Stoke Hammond
Miles: 21.2, Locks: 8
Total Trip Miles: 31.3, Locks: 10

Saturday, 14 May 2016

In Need Of A Holiday!

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

We seem to have had life working at odds with us recently. I won't go into the details of the problems of getting my late mother's solicitor to release her will to me; or the fact that the executors' bank account that my brother and I set up together has been lost by the bank - and that all proof of my brother's passport and bank statement has now been shredded; or the fact that the estate agent can't get into my mother's house with the keys that we supplied (that we checked before we handed over). Or, indeed, that the Tesco delivery that we set up for last night, so that we had food to bring to the boat for our trip was cancelled because the van broke down, and couldn't be rescheduled until well after we had to be on our way.

However, we really, really needed to go boating. Life has been difficult for a while, not seriously difficult, but hard work. So we had band practice last night (if you're around, come and see New Moon Morris dancing and playing music in Stoke Bruerne at the Family Festival in June), we got up early, packed bags, packed some food, and set off to the boat.

Max has gone all puppy-like - hard to photograph well, though!
Max, who was my mother's dog, has been transformed over the last 10 weeks. He's lost weight, his coat shines, and he's built up a lot of fitness. He still needs to lose a lot of weight, but suddenly he's behaving like a puppy. He won't be five until August, but when he came to us people thought he was twice that age. Today he's been gamboling up and down the towpath, racing with Odin and clearly enjoying life.  Without a doubt my mother loved him, but what she needed, and what Max needs are not necessarily the same thing.

We got to the boat, loaded the huge amounts of stuff we need on the boat - huge amounts of dog food, melodeons, a bit of food for us, and left High House Wharf at about 2:30.  We took turns at steering, and doing sorting out of things inside the boat - stowing food, dog food, clothes - dusting after the weeks since we've been there.

Four hours later we moored in the long pound at Stoke Bruerne, and I rang Trevor, who I needed to see about the schedule for the Family Festival.  He turned up quickly at the boat, we had a helpful and productive chat, and then we headed for the pub.

Arrived at Stoke Bruerne on first day (The brasswork needs polishing!)
I'm on holiday, for the first time in a while, and goodness knows, I need it after the year that we've had so far. It's a bit of a weird holiday, with a tight schedule. Alan has to have the stitches out of his shoulder surgery on Tuesday so we have to be in Berkhamsted for that - as well as me needing to dance with New Moon Morris at the Rising Sun pub that evening - we will also be picking up our son David for the journey to Rickmansworth - since he is musician, and occasional dancer with New Moon. On Wednesday both Alan and I have physio appointments in Hemel Hempstead - Alan for his shoulder, me for the borked knee that I managed in Braunston at the historic boat festival last year. I also have a bank appointment to set up a new account to allow me to administer my mother's estate.  After that it's a potter down to Rickmansworth.   Hopefully we can meet with some of our boating friends there for a 'slow and steady' session of folk music.

Weedon to Stoke Bruerne (Long Pound)
Miles: 10.1, Locks:2
Total Trip Miles: 10.1, Locks:2