Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Approval

Last night's food at the Mucky Duck was carefully delivered by our attentive teenage waiter, who also went on little errands for us: what was the nature of the Thursday night folk sessions? please could we have more custard with our sticky toffee pudding; please could we have some spoons to eat the pudding with.

The two pies (for £15) were, I suppose, typical pub food. Quite tasty (we cheerfully cleared our plates), rather long on carbohydrate but rather short on protein. When you added in the pudding, we ate more simple carbohydrate in an hour that we would normally imbibe in a week! But if you're going out for a meal, you've got to at least consider having a pudding. It wasn't home-made (neither were the pies) but it wasn't bad.

Today's target was to replenish the larder in Rugeley, so we'd become comestibly self-sufficient once more. That was accomplished, courtesy of Morrisons and the fruit & veg shop opposite, but we decided not to remain on the very convenient visitor mooring in the middle of town. We'd never stayed overnight by the aqueduct where the T&M crosses the River Trent, and thought we would do so. Tomorrow is threatening lots of rain, so if we hole up here it should be more pleasant than in town.


At least, so we thought until our mooring neighbour came to warn us that this spot is sometimes prone to teenagers out for a laugh coming and jumping on and off the gunnel. Hopefully the promised rain will keep them away. If not, it transpires that our neighbour is in the process of making a claymore – a traditional two-handed Scottish sword. If he gets that out on the towpath, I doubt our little boating community will have any trouble!

Though I don't think I should really approve.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Food

We don't eat out a lot – it seems to cost quite a bit to get something better than what we do at home, even on Erin Mae. This has the benefit that, when we do go out, it feels a bit more special (though I feel a bit of a rat writing that – I'm sure my best beloved would like to go out more often!).

On the other hand, when the larder runs bare of the meaty essentials, there's a decision to be made. We could make do, and make something tasty out of veggies, supplemented with a tin of this or that. We could tie up temporarily at a point where it's a 300 yard stroll down to a small Co-op. Or we could decide to eat at the Mucky Duck (The Swan at Fradley). Guess which won!

Since it wasn't very far from our overnight mooring, near King's Orchard Marina, to Fradley, we took it nice and gently, enjoying the warmth of a very pleasant autumn day, and the sights along the way.


Only an hour and a half of engine time – something of a record. We tied up in the same spot we'd moored at on the way down. It was a change to have lunch sitting down instead of on the move.


We were about to go for a walk to check out the pub for tonight, when along came Helen and Andy Tidy (aka Captain Ahab) in NB Wand'ring Bark, with the Jam Butty behind. That was the chance for a short chat, and a convenient purchase of some of their Wildside produce – it makes excellent Christmas presents!


Finally we did go for our walk, checking out The Swan, and then sauntering through the woodland trails behind the Fradley locks.

Tonight is pie night at The Swan – with a variety on offer at two for £15. Now that's something we don't often do. If it's remarkably good, or remarkably bad, I'll tell you tomorrow.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Speed

This is the first time we've been using the new tachometer in the wild, and getting used to it is an interesting experience.


It's nice that the engine hours counter works – it was a classic complaint about the old model that it failed fairly quickly. Of course, it's early days…! It's a little different in that the calibrations correspond to 100 rpm – on the old one they corresponded to 200 rpm, so I sometimes have to think twice.

But the main difference is that I found, during the installation process, that the old one had clearly been calibrated wrong, so that it significantly under-read the engine speed. I'm now getting used to a new set of "standard" readings for different situations. Engine speed for going past moored boats is now showing as 1000 rpm, whereas it used to be about 800. That takes some acclimatisation, though my ears tell me everything is fine. Normal cruising speed is now nearer 1500 than 1200, and top canal speed on a stretch where you can do it is up around 1700 rpm.

You get used to this, and you keep listening and you keep an eye on other things, like whether you're producing a wash. But in between times, especially if (a) there's nothing riveting to look at, and (b) you have a mind that works like mine, you start calculating how many amps the alternators are putting into the batteries, given these revised engine speeds. Since the time when I began to think seriously about Erin Mae's electrics, I've had a chart of alternator speed versus current imprinted in some part of my brain, ready to be called up and interrogated. So now I have fun thinking about how many electrons are getting stored away, under the new regime. It's a very satisfying procedure – not just the maths but the fact that they're doing much better than I used to think they were. Apologies to those readers who either don't have a clue what I'm talking about, or think it just shows what a very sad case I am.

There are times when speed is no mere theoretical consideration. As we left our Fazeley mooring this morning, I decided to reverse the couple of hundred yards to the bridge at the junction. I saw a boat coming about a quarter of a mile away, but thought I'd have plenty of time to get to the junction without interfering with his progress. How wrong I was! In the first place, he was coming a lot quicker than it had seemed, and didn't appear inclined to slow down for moored boats. In the second place, the shallowness of the canal (I think) kept causing Erin Mae to get off line, far more than she normally does when reversing. So I had to make regular corrections, for which you have to go briefly into forward gear, which slows you down. After about 50 yards he'd caught me up and decided he didn't want to wait. He rammed Erin Mae's bows to push them out of his way, which left me with no choice but to pull across and let him by. He obviously felt offended by what I was trying to do and asked me a few rhetorical questions as he came by. I chose to apply the principle of "a soft answer turns away wrath" and said I was saying nothing (for the philosophers among you, that's a self-stultifying statement!). So, no harm done, but I must confess some relief when he went the other way from ourselves at the junction!

It's one of those occasions when you're not sure about the effect of having a BCF sticker in Erin Mae's window!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Music

My best beloved and I like listening to music. Live music is great, but usually it's something played through speakers, at home, in the car, on the boat. Not all the time, but often enough to miss it when it's not available. Erin Mae came with a Samsung "home theatre" player, which was supposed to do FM radio and CD/DVDs, outputting visuals to the TV, and sound to a 5+1 speaker system. However, it was a casualty of the "Twelvoltification" process I engaged in last year, since it ran off mains voltage, and used a lot of electrons. It would mostly suit someone connected permanently to a landline.

Playing music through a laptop's speakers is not a very thrilling experience. Earlier this year I found a solution for the boat which has worked very well.


First up was a small amplifier, hung on the panel to the left of the TV. Mass produced in China, cheap (and therefore rather worrying), and able to run off a 12 volt supply. For those who like such info, it's a 20+20 watt Class-T design, which I researched since I'd never heard of it. I won't go into that here (!) but I found it very interesting to update my technical knowledge of amplifiers. I bit the bullet, disconnected Erin Mae's principal stereo speakers from the Samsung unit, and connected them to the new amplifier. The result, naturally enough, is not the best Hi-Fi in the world, but to our ageing ears the sound is pretty impressive.

Next I wanted to run it all wirelessly, and I bought an AudioCast device. It's the little round thing in the photo just below the amplifier, and normally it sits out of sight behind a panel. It runs off USB voltage, connects to the amplifier via a short lead, and to Erin Mae's wiFi  network. It was a doddle to set up.

I tested it all as we came down to Fazeley during the week, and it works a treat. I streamed some folk music from Spotify to my laptop, and sent it wirelessly via the AudioCast device to the new amp / speaker setup. Just as pleasing as the sound was my audit of how many electrons it was all using. An hour or two made not a dent in my SmartGauge readings. So we have music on tap, and the next thing will be to monitor what sort of a dent in my mobile broadband allowance streaming music from Spotify will make. Since we've got a good deal from Three at the moment, I doubt I'll have to worry.

So finally we turn to live music. Using the computer application MuseScore, I'd recently transcribed some folk tunes I'd come across via Spotify – mostly some of Phil Cunningham's compositions. We're at a BCF get-together at Fazeley for the weekend, and as the rain fell on Saturday afternoon a number of us who had instruments gathered round my laptop to play the tunes. Accordion, a couple of recorders, penny whistle, cello and a fiddle. It was great fun! The music was mostly new to everybody except myself, and all trying to sightread from a laptop screen presents some challenges, but we had a ball!

However, the musical highlight came in the evening when Halfie entertained us with the National Anthem and a couple of Christmas carols. Nothing unusual in that, you might think – but he was whistling the tune while simultaneously humming a bass accompaniment. I don't know anybody else who can do that!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Broadband

We've used Three's mobile broadband very successfully since we bought Erin Mae, together with a mobile broadband router from ZoomTel.


This creates a WiFi hotspot for connecting computers, phone, iPad, etc, and links to the internet via a dongle which can also be connected directly to the computer if need be.


It's the one on the right, a Huawei E3256. Brilliant little 3G device, with a folding USB plug so you don't need a cap, among other advantages. Normally it nestles in the boat licence holder in Erin Mae's window, attached by a cable to the Zoom.

Until a few weeks ago, when it accidentally got washed along with a pair of shorts. Condition was terminal, I'm afraid. The dongle was an ex-dongle. The SIM card inside, however (and amazingly), survived the wet, warm, detergent-laden washing cycle – I just didn't have a working device to use it with. So I checked on the Three website, saw which dongle they are currently selling for mobile broadband users, and found one on eBay – a ZTE MF730F, pictured on the left. Supposed to be slightly better technology than the Huawei but, annoyingly, with a cap and a fixed USB plug. It seems nobody is making rotating plugs any more.

Well, the ZTE worked fine when connected directly to my computer, but the Zoom went into a sulk and completely refused to talk to it. Unfortunately we didn't discover this until we were back on Erin Mae last weekend. The immediate result was that my best beloved was dropped into an internet-free existence – her devices all connect via the Zoom. I checked ZoomTel's website, and found that this particular ZTE is not listed among the zillion that are supported, and their support department confirmed that, if it's not on the list, there's no way to get it working.

So it was back onto eBay and, wonder of wonders, there was a second-hand E3256 going for £7, including postage. It certainly wasn't there when I first checked some weeks ago. So we got it sent to some friends at Fazeley, where we are holed up for the weekend. It arrived yesterday, I inserted the SIM card, connected it to the Zoom, and my best beloved's enforced fast has come to an end.

I'll just have to be extra careful the next time we've been out and about and I want to wash my trousers. And anyone want a ZTE MF730F, going cheap?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Bridge holes

Calculate the overall distance you travelled (11.2 miles today). Now calculate how much of that was in bridge holes – 34 bridges x a guestimated average bridge hole width of 10 yards (to be generous, I think) = 340 yards. If my maths is correct, the bridge holes comprise 0.017248377 (340/1760/11.2) of the overall distance. In other words, we spent about 1.7% of today's cruising under bridges.

Now, how many boats did we encounter coming the other way? I confess I did not count them at the time, but I'm sure there weren't more than 20 (being generous again). But 3 of those were in difficult encounters at bridges. That's 15% !

You might argue that I haven't allowed for the length of the boats – making a notional, virtual bridge width considerably larger. But I counter than the three bridges were also on blind corners (any boater knows that it's always on a blind corner bridge that you encounter someone coming the other way). These two factors perhaps cancel out.

So – nominal chance of encountering a boat under these conditions – 1.7%. Today's actual experience of encountering such a boat – 15%. A small sample, I know, with little statistical validity – but why does it always happen this way!

Apart from that, we had a good run from Fradley to Fazeley. More of the sunshine and cloud recipe. When the sun was out the Coventry Canal was pretty,


graced with the occasional early 19th century cottages,


while the sky offered its own drama.


At Fazeley junction we turned right under the bridge (no incoming this time), and have moored up ready for the BCF weekend, behind Peter and Fran's NB Sonflower, and with David and Mary's NB Kew in the background.


Since I took that photo, others have also arrived. Promises to be a good weekend.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

After the storm

Storm Aileen left us unscathed. We were moored towards the southern edge of the amber warning area, and the winds were less strong than a little further north. Whatever we had, I slept through it. This morning we needed a quick trip to Rugeley's excellent fruit and veg shop before getting under way in the sun – that was not to last. Sunshine and showers was what they promised, and sunshine and showers was what we got, some of them heavy.

There was more traffic on the move than we'd expected, and we had an interesting moment under a bridge on a blind corner when the canal was so shallow that both Erin Mae and the boat coming the other way found it hard to stop in time, and even harder to manoeuvre back into position afterwards. You can never get a photo of situations like that, because you're so busy avoiding calamity.

At Wood End lock we found ourselves in a queue of four boats. It was drizzling, so we thought about tying up for some lunch. But we thought again, because we were bound to still be in a queue when we were ready to move again, so we just waited our turn and it wasn't long before the sun came out again. Then it was down the lock and round the corner to Fradley junction, followed by others who'd been also been queuing.


Fradley's helpful volunteers were helpfully volunteering, as usual.



Fradley itself wasn't exactly buzzing – blame it on the weather.


We turned right through the little swing bridge and, by the time we'd filled the water tank, decided we'd come far enough for the day. We found a spot at the end of the visitor moorings.


One of my mooring hooks is squeaking on the armco, so I shall sort it in a minute.


And then, I think, I'll light a fire.