All posts by mike

Hawkesbury to Rugby

It was all part of the plan. A few days in Newbury and then back to Zulu, who has been on the 7 day moorings at Hawkesbury Junction for 6 days now.

With two boats we now play the car-boat-boat-car shuffle. No car and one boat is the most simple variation, but we are doing the more complicated version of two cars and two boats. Except today I thought we should take the train instead.

Newbury to Coventry – £34.00 single.

But lets do the train fare shuffle.
Newbury to Banbury – £22.10
Banbury to Coventry – £7.90
Total Newbury to Coventry with two tickets, same train – £30.00 saving £4.00

Now lets use my Network Rail Card which gives 30% off off peak fares for only £20.00 per year.
Newbury to Banbury – with 30% off – £14.60
Banbury to Coventry – £7.90 (no railcard discount)
Total Newbury to Coventry with two tickets,same train – £22.50 saving £11.50

Unfortunatley part of the journey – Oxford to Coventry was with Cross Country Trains – formerly operated by Virgin, and a common sight when boating on the Oxford canal as the sleek modern trains zoom past the boats at a rapid rate. What you cant see from a boat is the inhumane conditions passengers are expected to tolerate inside these trains. Today we had nine people and two dogs, a pushchair and two of the biggest suitcases known to mankind, not in the carriage or even on the train itself – this was in the vestibule area before even getting into the carriage which had obviously been completely full before arriving at Oxford. So we had to stand and sweat and put up with stupid people who obviously thought that the nine of us were too stupid to look in the carriage ahead, dragging their bags over the dogs and squeezing past the suitcases in the doorway only to find that the carriage ahead was also crammed full, and also was first class, and then they had to come back past the cases, and the people, and over the dogs before doing similar to our alter-egos in the next vestibule, while their counterparts made their way from the back to the front of the train. God how I hate Cross Country trains. Why cant they add more carriages – it would not be amazingly complicated to provide a service compatible with the demand by doubling the number of carriages. Or maybe they should stop selling discounted advance tickets for a tenner for a ten hour journey.

So we got tipped out of the opening door onto Coventry Station platform, took the bus to Longford, which I now know to be pronounced Long … Ford, and walked the fifteen minutes up to the boat, stopping for lunch at the Greyhound and savouring yet another gorgeously poured pint of Mild.

The weather forecast today was for cooler weather than of late, with rain moving in from the west. Excellent – it won’t do that then! In fact it was somewhere between boiling and unbelievably hot with not a cloud and certainly no rain, as we set off for Rugby and tonight, many hours after leaving the train we are just outside Hillmorton.

Braunston to Sutton Stop

Its funny how first impressions can be so lasting.  I have long intended to venture up the Ashby but once on the Coventry canal I have gone past Marston junction in “next time” mode.  Somehow it just didn’t seem to fit my criteria for being interesting enough – possibly something to do with when I used to live in Shardlow and took the odd day trip to walk the towpaths which were, to say the least, remote.

And so it finally dawned on me that with the boat in Braunston and the prospects of visiting a new canal it would be no great hardship to pop up the Ashby for a week or so.

Leaving Braunston was emabrassing.  Heads popped out of hatches as I tried to nonchalantly reverse several hundred yards to the junction to save a lengthy trip to the first winding hole towards Napton but the wind decided to have some fun with us causing a rapid change of plans and direction.  Once at the winding hole I had a bit of fun with the wind and made the turn in one.  Nice one wind! Pity nobody witnessed this manoeuvre instead.

Zulu Warrior in Sutton StopBraunston was much busier than last week but the North Oxford seemed pretty quiet as we headed towards Hilmorton.  Predictably the wind played havoc with the queue as we hung back with half a dozen other boats and crazy though it sounds, everyone was being so polite with each other that nobody knew who should have the next lock – you know the “… no – you go first; no please, YOU go first…. no, no no no…”. So we we were waved through ahead of couple of others and soon clear of the third and last lock for many miles to come.

Boy was it busy too – each pair of locks surrounded by a dozen or more windlass-weilding hire boat crews all eager to do something but not quite sure what.  This is, after all, the first set of locks experienced by hundreds of hire boats each weekend.

Despite the wind (why do you always meet an oncoming boat in the narrowest sections) we made good progress looking forward to a pint of Mild at the Greyhound.  Rugby’s moorings were very busy and Newbold visitor moorings were virtually empty.  I bet that wouldnt have been the case if we intended to stop there!

And so on to Hawkesbury where despite being after 7pm we found a lovely mooring just under the pylons.

Beer at the Greyhound is amongst the best in the world – it is a sheer pleasure to watch it being poured through a tight sparkler, first fill half the glass, then let it settle and then fill it to the top leaving a thick creamy head.  Oh boy if only the Newbury bar staff could be brought here to learn the art of pouring rather than the one handed pull resulting in not a single bubble on the top of a freezing cold flat pint being gently warmed at the edges by the glass.  Why do we have to pay £3.00 a pint for such crap, when at the Greyhound a pint of Hansons Dark Mild comes in with 10 pence chance out of two pounds. 

We ate a huge plateful of home cooked food for a very reasonable price and left as very satisfied customers.

I note with great interest that there is to be a beer festival at the Greyhound on 15-17 August and decide that whereever Zulu is that week, we will be returning.

Two months hard labour

Time passes so quickly – I didn’t want to tempt fate by blogging about the day to day repairs.  Suffice to say that they were done, albeit over a longer timescale than I had first imagined.  Zulu spent just over two months out of the water giving me a chance to get to know her a lot better.

Craned out for repairsHer survey, commissioned by the previous owner, was very thorough and required that urgent repairs were undertaken to the steelwork, so we lost no time in having the anodes removed and new 6mm plating to the front 10 feet – new sides and bottom, and around the stern.  Thank goodness I didnt hit the front anodes too hard on the way up, as the survey proved accurate and there was actually a hole the size of a ten pence piece where the welders torch burnt straight through the non existant metal.

What a relief therefore to see the new shiny steel plating being fitted.  That should give another thirty years service, I hope. WIth steelwork completed I was able to spend a couple of lovely days wire brushing the rusty bits back to shiny metal and then three coats of blacking.  What a transformation!

Turning our attention to the other points on the survey, the diesel tanks looked pretty thin and required further investigation.  When I say looked thin, I really mean it – the holes in the top of the starboard tank allowed daylight through so with great reluctance I heard myself agreeing to have the two tanks removed and new steel tanks made up on site.

Looking better by the dayWe baled out 140 litres of diesel into every spare container I could find.  It was everywhere but at almost a pound a litre it was definitely not going to be wasted!  The old bilges were foul full of oil and mud.  Now they were topped up with a layer of spilt diesel as the old pipework was removed.  Harborough boats had a port and starboard diesel tank with a balancing pipe connecting them, which is impossible to remove without a mess.  To cut a long story short, I spent a lot of time myself, and paid a lot of labour charges too, to have these old tanks removed.  The whole aft deck framework had to come out and overall the mess was unbelievable as we baled out buckets full of diesely gunk from the bilges followed by two bin liners full of soil, wood, screws and worse.  It took a weeks worth of pressure washing and more baling before the mess was gone, but the good news was that the engine bay is now largely free from the years worth of mess which had accumulated on every surface and most of the metalwork was relatively rust free after years of oily coating.

Would I do it again? I guess if needs must, but I can’t think of a worse job.  The cost was also quite enormous – the boatyard made a splendid relacement tank for a reasonable price but it cost a lot to fit it, so in damage limitation mode we have only fitted the one tank.  It took every drop of the 140 litres of recycled diesel, so I can’t see this being a problem in the future.

Other work was more pleasant – a bit of painting, some electrics – in fact quite a lot of electrics – to be continued later. And the last big job was finally completed when the metal front well deck was returned to cover up the old water tank and welded in place.

She floats!And so it was with great relief that on Wednesday 11th June – two months after being lifted out, Zulu Warrior was returned to the water.

Fire extinguishers – a rant!

How, in this day and age, can it cost as much to refill a fire extinguisher as it does to buy a new one.

Surely it could be done for 50p. A bit of powder, screw the top on, pressurise – job done.

Today I am addressing some of the critical failure points for a new boat safety certificate. Zulu has a BSC valid for another two years, but there are a number of issues which would fail instantly if I had her retested today. Fire extinguishers is one of them, as not only does she not have enough (should have three) but the two which are installed are both empty.

It never struck me before as normally I am surrounded by serviceable fire extinguishers and don’t give them a second thought. Now I am sitting looking at a defunct empty one and am thinking how vulnerable I would be on a boat with which I am not yet totally familiarised, if I actually needed to tackle a fire, so today its off to the shop to have them refilled… no chance!

I therefore feel really aggrieved, not just that I have just had to pay out sixty quid for three brand new ones (yes I do know that Lidl occasionally do small ones for a fiver), but also that I now have two perfectly good looking empty ones which are destined for the bin, or ebay. Or maybe I will just have the boat tested then put them empties back for show (NOT!!!).

If anyone has any use for the two empties (1kg and 2kg), then I presume you will know how to get them refilled. Can you let me in on the secret?

Rickmansworth and beyond

Zulu Warrior at Croxley Green, Grand UnionThis is almost our first cruising log entry. Day 1 didn’t really count as we only went to Tesco in Rickmansworth, so this weekend will be the first real test for Zulu Warrior. All week I have been trying to contact the various boatyards to see about getting some work done on the boat – dry dock or crane required. I won’t name names but getting in touch with boatyards has proved to be a bit of a problem – most are on voicemail – understandable if the owner is up to his elbows in oil, but unfortunately nobody at all has replied to my messages, not even those left in person.

One boatyard answered the phone instantly, dealt with my questions and called me back first thing next day when they had received a copy of my survey report by post. They then came to visit the boat to preview the work and offered to do start this week.

So far so good then. If all goes according to plan I will let you know how the work goes once it is done – right now I don’t want to tempt fate.

I had a lovely weekend leaving Rickmansworth and heading north at a very leisurely pace. After being used to a modern diesel engine which only ticks over comfortably at around 900 rpm, the old SR3 is a delight, with a slow running speed of, I would guess, 400 rpm which allows for cruising at maybe 1mph; wonderful for passing moored boats and taking in the countryside. Even up to full 3 mph (I don’t think 4 is possible) the engine isn’t labouring too much and she makes hardly any wash at all, which is marvellous compared with most boats I have steered. The boat has been steady as a rock – its possible to pop inside, put the kettle on and return to the tiller without finding the bows running up the nearest bank, and when reverse is required we stop in a straight line. Without knowing the engine history we definitely need an urgent service, but the most important work right now is to get a small amount of plating done to the bows and a pair of new diesel tanks. And even more importantly we got to our destination without any problem at all.

So right now Zulu has an appointment with a crane on Tuesday. I can’t believe how fast this is all happening!

Under the green – is green

I spent the first night on board yesterday.  Zulu has a fairly new Morso Squirrel solid fuel stove, which blew back a room full of smoke as soon as I lit some test kindling.  My new smoke detector works!  Even with the door closed smoke oozed out around the edge – time for a new rope seal I thought, so today its all smoke and no fire I’m afraid.  The door glass is horribly blackened and although the flue appears quite clear, it could obviously do with a chimney brush running through it.  So I set to, scrubbing the glass clean, removing the firebricks and throat plate, sweeping the flue and emptying the ash can several times.  A quick trip to the chandlers for some heat resistant rope to seal the door and a pot of special glue to fix it with and then put it all back together again.

An hour later my hands are black, the stove is clean and blacked, the new door seal is in place and the fire is roaring in the grate with a smoke free cabin.  How very satisfying to bring a neglected item back to life in such a short time – I can only hope that the rest of the boat is this easy!

Venturing outside with a Cillit Bang spray (where on earth did they get this name?), a bucket of water and various cloths, sponges and scourers I made an effort to cut through the green coating which seems to form on all waterside fixtures after a year or three.  Under the years of grime and algae there was indeed paint; green paint – and within an hour a much more respectable looking boat was beginning to appear.  Same on the front cratch cover – a little test revealed a fully serviceable green cratch cover beneath the algae, which will be cleaned this weekend.  Quite unusual for a Harborough boat to have a covered cratch too – and a Wilsons one to boot!

So from under the green grime my green boat is emerging.  I may even need to get the polish out to make her look even smarter, but theres a long way to go before we cease to be grungy.  I do intend to paint her within the next few weeks, but for now, she will have to remain anonymous green.  Right now I too am grungy and green – so its off to the shower (I hope!).

Zulu Warrior shrinks to original size

Zulu was first licenced in 1973 at 49 feet, but examining the old log books and paperwork she has apparently grown over the years.

Its probably quite common to have two lengths for a boat – the real length and the length on the licence. Zulu Warrior seems to have several to choose from.

Surveyed in January 2008, she was found to be 56 feet long.

Advertised by Yourmove in January 2007 she was 54 feet long. According to the web she was also a one bedroom house in those days, but then they are Estate Agents and definitely not boat brokers.

Advertised for sale earlier this week she was still 54 feet long, but she seemed to go through a 52 foot stage during the mid eighties according to her old log books.

I am relieved to say that now unencumbered by the undergrowth along her moorings I was able to run a tape measure along the towpath where she turns out to be a modest 49 feet after all. I do hope she doesn’t grow again – I like her just as she is.

Zulu Warrior – my new narrowboat!

Zulu Warriro
Zulu Warrior is a 56 foot Harborough Marine narrowboat from the early 1970s and seems to have an interesting history. In case you missed my earlier posting, I have just purchased her today.

No ordinary ex-hireboat this; she was apparently one of two narrowboats attached to HMS Warrior and operated secret missions from Cowley Peachey on the Grand Union during the early 1980s.

HMS Warrior turns out to be an alias for Northwood Headquarters, almost on the doorstep of Rickmansworth, and of course the secret missions turned out to be a perk of those based there, who could take a break from playing with ships and turn their hand to narrowboating on their days off. More of which later, as I have uncovered the instruction manuals handed to crews on their busmans’ holidays warning the professional mariners of “the difficult handling characteristics of a single screw, 50 ft long narrow craft which has little draft” Section 0307, subsection (c.).

Today she is all mine – money has changed hands – Bill of Sale has been drawn up and signed and insurance has been arranged, keys handed over and after a quick engine check Zulu Warrior was prised off her Rickmansworth mooring of some 15 years, the remains of her rotton ropes falling apart rather than becoming untied, and the green slime still wont wash off my hands.

Yesterday the engine started for demo purposes – today it fired up instantly and as Zulu left her berth for the first time in months, if not years she left her smoky trail through next door’s potting shed. Why did the neighbours smile and wave? Do they know something I am as yet unaware of?

Our first few hundred yards showed she hasn’t forgotton how to be a boat – nice steady Lister SR3 note, stops in a straight line, even goes backwards in a straightish line. These old boats are great! Down Batchworth Lock we went – carefully trying not to bump her thin bits too hard – planning a good dump at the bins (green rope fragments mainly) we were foiled by BWB having “regrettably had to close the refuse point” for reasons unknown, and so on we went to Tesco Rickmansworth boldly completing our first mile without any known incidents.

And thats where we are right now – not on the Tesco moorings as this is now night and overnight mooring is banned there, but opposite where BWB signage informs us that mooring is restricted to 14 days per calendar year. That’ll do for now!

Lazy Sunday afternoon? No chance!

Well its taken eight months to make my second post, so it better be a good one!

Sunday 6th April started with snow. Not the light sprinkling which the weather forecast for the North, but a good old three or four inches – whoopee! Snow! Its snowing!! What better thing to do than to turn over and go back to sleep.

Radio 4 reminded us that it always used to snow in April, so this isn’t necessarily reverse global warming at work and the weather forecast reminded us that they had correctly predicted snow for the North. What about us in the SOUTH – its snowing here too, but apparently nothing worth confirmation by the Beeb.

Poking the stove to revive last night’s embers, I turned the TV on just in time to see the local news celebrating the freaky weather by inviting us to mail in our photos of the chaotic aftermath of the blanket of white. We were shown “some we already have” which mainly consisted of a man and his daughter standing on a lightly covered patch of snow – certainly we had suffered worse than this but at least we were now not alone in noticing.

Oh yes – I almost forgot. Just before lunch I took a look at some narrowboats for sale on the web and by teatime I had bought one.  Another one, that is; I already have one but something on this now sunny afternoon told me that one simply wouldn’t be enough this summer. Zulu Warrior was about to be revived from its residential slumbers.