Sunday, 19 February 2017

A bright spark

A bright spark
Feb 2017

Time is flying by and whilst there has been little action on the blog in the last month, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.

New solar panels on Wand'ring Bark

The end of my paid employment is rapidly drawing closer, with just over six weeks left till I leave in mid April and then, almost immediately, we will be heading off to Droitwich for the first trading event of the season. 

Suddenly, all our plans are stepping up a gear and there is a veritable blitz of ordering going on to ready ourselves for our 2017 extended trip. Glass jars are being ordered by the thousand, new leaflets have arrived, blackboards are being re painted and various carpentry jobs are being finished off on both the motor and the butty. Truth be told the number of things on the "to do" list is frighteningly long.

Viewed from the tiller

This weekend represented something of a milestone in the electrical power department. You will remember that I built a small 12v freezer into the new saloon (32ltr Isotherm) but this needs an extra power supply and extra storage, which all adds up to quite marathon on the DIY front.

To start the weekend I bought 4 new sealed cell 110ah batteries from Coombswood Trust in Hawne Basin. These will replace our pair of five year old batteries and I was relieved to discover that the extra two batteries fitted snugly into the newly extended battery box. Now I just need to source some extra battery wires and we will be sorted.

Not content with the batteries I also bought two 160 amp Midsummer solar panels with a controller just before Christmas and have been itching to get them fixed in. I did spend a very chilly day on the boat about a month ago installing all the electrical cables which will carry the power from the panels to the controller and also the 12v supply from the batteries to the freezer, but the means of securing the panels to the boat was in something of a gestation period.

Motor and butty await the start of the new season

My key criteria is that the panels have to be as inconspicuous as possible, protected from accidental damage and also capable of some angling to maximise power gathering. What I didn't want was those triangular brackets screwed to the roof which are, to my mind, unsightly and add significantly to the air draft. Success means that I can still navigate the Froghall Tunnel and failure is not an option.

My solution was to set the panels end to end in front of the centre ring and to the port side next the the pole rack. The panels have been fixed to a hinged frame which in turn is attached to three hardwood strips which match the curve of the cabin roof, wedged into position under the the handrails. The production was a bit tricky but in the event turned out better than I expected, with a very even 5mm gap all round the panels. When flat the panels are below the level on the handrail and even in the centre of the roof they stand up less than the height of the cratch. Froghall remains within our reach.

All in all I am very satisfied with the end result. From the stern the supports look a bit like boatmans beams and from the side they are all but invisible.

Now I just need to sort out the wiring.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Reader on the 6.27 - a book review

The Reader on the 6.27
By Jean Paul Didierlaurent
Jan 2017

I don't know how this book came to be kicking around on the welsh dresser in the kitchen. Its almost certainly one of Helen's literary acquisitions, maybe bought to satisfy the reading demands of her long running book group.

Whatever its origin,s I know it wasn't bought for me and at no time did she proffer a "this is a really good book - you should read it" endorsement, which of late has tended to introduce worthy and often ponderous tomes. Books which no doubt have great literary merit but so often fall short of gripping plot lines or heaven forbid, a half way decent body count!

And so in silent protest at this onslaught of the worthy I have tended to indulge myself in the type of lightweight action thriller offered by Clive Cussler or Dan Brown.

However, finding myself bookless and wanting a read I aligted on the above book, its spine unbent and its pages unread. The blurb offerd no suggestion of references to long dead playwrights, so I carefully opened the book to page one, which is always a good place to start. Now I have to say that I am a bit notorious for reading books lightly, and its quite possible that I can read a complete work and replace it in a condition which leaves almost no clue that a pair of eyes have travelled this way before. So, if this book was not for consumption by the Captian lets leave it that way, as a little secret between the two of us ok? 

The book is an amazingly charming translation of a short story written and first published in France written by, for and about book lovers. In fact its fair to say that books and the reading thereof forms the the core of the plot line.

The plot centres on lonely and slightly geeky Guylain who's life in publishing is certainly one less travelled. His job is the operator of a book pulping machine, a machine which reduceds remaindered books to their essential pulp, ready to be turned back into - more new books. This endless cycle of loss of the written word troubles Guylain deeply, and each day as he cleans the hated machine he recovers odd pages which he dries out and, for some inexplicable reason, he reads aloud each morning on the 6.27 train.

Words have power and Guylains snatched fragments reach out with unexpected consequences, enriching the lives of those he encounters and transporting them in directions they could never forsee.

Its only 200 pages long but each is crafted with care, sucking you in. As with all short stories, it will come to a conclusion of sorts and leaving you wanting more - a bit like the snatched readings on the 6.27.

Helen - if the book was meant for someone else I havn't read it, honestly, and this review is entirely plagarised form other on line reviews! ;-)

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Making Plans for 2017

Making Plans for 2017
December 2016 (with  less then 2 hours to go till its 2017)

With 2016 a near wash out from a boating perspective it has been a huge relief to start to plan out our 2017 route.

For years there has been an irritating and time consuming  fly in the ointment of my life - the job!  It has has had to stand front and square in my plans and everything else had to work around it.

Of course, 2016 included a six month sabbatical and that gave me a tantalising taste of things to come, but then reality returned with a vengence as I managed the transition back to the weekly grind in November. Having reflected on our priorities we have decided that there is enough in the pension pot to support us so, from mid April, I will say goodbye to my employer of 37 years.

But let me be clear - I AM NOT RETIRING!  I cant even guess how many people have said I am too young to retire, and in a way they are right. I cant sit around all day reading the modern equivalent of the paper, I need to be active. So, after my non retirement I will be busy all summer trading The Jam Butty with Helen, this year making a slow circuit from Birmingham to Bristol and then down to London before returning for the bulk of our Canal Festivals in July to Sept.

The planned route is as follows:

29th April to Mon 1st May - St Richards Festival, Vines Park, Droitwich, WR9 8LB

13th and 14th May - Coombswood Trust Open Weekend, Hawne Basin, Hereward Rise, Halesowen, B62 8AW

1st and 2nd July - Ware Boat Festival, Lee Navigation, Ware, Hertfordshire

22nd and 23rd July - Cosgrove Canal FestivalCosgrove Lock, Lock Lane, Cosgrove, MK19 7JR

29th July - Linslade Canal Festival, Tiddenfoot Water Park, Linslade, Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire

12th and 13th August - Blisworth Canal Festival, Blisworth, Northamptonshire, NN7 3BU

9th and 10th September - Black Country Boating Festival, Bumble Hole nature Reserve, Windmill End, Netherton, DY2 9HU

16th and 17th September - Tipton Canal FestivalOwen St, Tipton DY4 8HE

23rd and 24th September - Huddlesford Boat GatheringHuddlesford Ln, Huddlesford, Whittington, Lichfield WS13 8PX

If you want to follow our progress we will be updating our location pave on the Wild Side website.

As well as the cruising and trading I will no doubt be doing some more writing for Waterways World, representing the Boating Businesses at CRT meetings and developing the Handyman business in the winter. 

Taken with the chutney making in the autumn and the marmalade making in the winter and a long trip to New Zealand I cant see my pace of life slowing down anytime soon.

Here is to 2017 for all of you. May it be healthy and fun. See you out there!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Tanked up for Christmas

Tanked up for Christmas
December 2016

The Jam Butty has been receiving some attention over recent weeks as we turn our thoughts to the 2017 trading season.

My time sleeping on the butty identified a deficiency, apart from a lack of internal height which is inescapable! Whilst the cross bed is very comfortable, there is no way to secure the back doors and hatch from the inside. I discovered this in Walsall Town Basin and I spent a night wondering which would open them first - a gust of find or a curious local. In the event the doors stayed shut but some catches were needed and this has been addressed.

Tearing a new hole "where the sun dont shine".

The next change was to maximise the storage space for jam at floor level. Last season I took the side panel off the locker under the long seat and exposed a space to store nearly 400 jars. To extend this even further I converted the drawer front under the "bed ole" into another side opening locker and made space for an extra 200 jars - all nice and cool below the waterline.

The latest development has been the creation of a locker in the stern triangle off the stern deck. In its previous incarnation the butty contained a raw water cooled diesel generator fed from a diesel tank in the stern. The generator is long gone and our needs are met by a 2kw petrol unit purchased from Aldi. The problem this brings is the storage of petrol - the boaters nemesis.

There is no way I am keeping any petrol in the body of the butty so I decided to convert the old diesel tank into a ventilated locker which will be perfect for a small can of petrol.

Good idea in theory but achieving the end proved a bit of a challenge. First I marked it out and then drilled each corner - so far so good. Then I attemped to cut it out with a metal jigsaw blade but after a difficult six inches it was clear the tool wasnt up to the job. Time to wield the angle grinder. I came armed with a set of 1mm discs and set to - soon discovering that rather then the 3mm steel I expected it was 5 or 6mm, and soon wore out the cutter discs. Another trip to screwfix and I set to with some 3mm cutters which although slower, did manage to achieve the desired cuts.

Inside a diesel tank

I had drained off the diesel before I started but I was very aware that there was some left sloshing around in the bottom of the tank. I know diesel is pretty inert stuff, but I was not entirely sure what would happen when it was showered in sparks from the cutter. I therefore had an extinguisher and a fire blanket to hand during the process.

As I cut the bottom line I thought I had trouble. Suddenly I was enveloped in foul smelling smoke, but rather than setting fire to the diesel I had burned out the motor on the grinder! It hung in there till I had almost finished and was able to pull the steel panel out, and then died a death.

The old tank was found to contain maybe 12 litres of the most disgusting diesel you ever saw. This was all decanted out and the tank wiped down ready to have a set of doors added. 

All in all a bit of a disgusting job but well worth the effort.

Friday, 23 December 2016

All change on The Bark

Renovations continue
December 2016

Whilst there have been no boat movements in recent weeks, there has been no shortage of work on the boats, preparing them for next year which will be on us in no time.

To start with Wand'ring Bark there is a whole pile of work left over from last spring. Our few outings of 2016 revealed a major flaw in the redesign of the saloon. The key issue was the creation of the L shaped settee. This new settee offers loads more space but it became apparent that we both like to sit with our legs up and as it was me who was left uncomfortable, a further refinement was needed. 

The extended settee (awaiting cushion)

After a bit of thought I removed the old stereo cupboard (which was pretty well redundant) and replaced it with an oak table level with the seat. This seems to work well and an additional cushion has been ordered from Elite Furnishing. This configuration has the added benefit of making the settee into a nice long single bed, which increases our hospitality options.

Linked to the new settee I have also made a set of shelves to go on the other side of the cabin, under the gunnel. This proved to be a bit more challenging than I anticipated because it needs to support a laptop without projecting too far into the room. Lots of ideas were considered and in the end a section of the top was made to flip out, extending the flat space to about 32cm.

Shelf with flap

Another new feature of the galley is the inclusion of a 32 litre 12 volt freezer which sits under the settee. This unit has been in place for a year but has never been run due to and absence of wiring and also an insufficient supply of electricity.

Shelves fixed but without power socket

But this is all about to change. Last week I took the plunge and installed the power supply cables which reach back to the bus bar in the electrical cabinet. It just needs wiring in.

This links onto the power supply issue. Whilst  the engine has always provided the power we need whist travelling, our prolonged stops will soon reveal its shortcomings. The only sensible answer is to go solar. After much research two 160 watt panels plus an MTTP controller were purchased from Midsumer. These big boys toys are currently cluttering up our store room, but will soon be fitted and plugged into yet another power cable which I ran alongside the one for the freezer. What the sun giveth, the freezer will certainly take away!

The next project is to create a tiltable cradle for the panels on the roof and the purchase of a new, larger battery bank - but thats for another day!