Thursday, 7 June 2018

Spectacular days

What with one thing and another, Erin Mae has been left lonely for the last two and a half weeks while we've been in the south – apart from a nice visit on Monday from Chris (NB Wren's Nest) who dropped in to pick up the old set of batteries from where we'd left them on the cruiser stern. Meanwhile we've watched a royal wedding, joined in a thanksgiving service for a former colleague who died of cancer a few weeks ago, and been to Norway to take part in the very happy confirmation celebrations of our oldest grandchild Elissa.

Then it was a waiting game – Daughter-in-law Sarah was due to give birth last Saturday. We thought Erin Mae would understand if we hung around here until our fifth grandchild made his appearance. The warmth and sunshine led to a great barbecue with friends in our garden on Sunday and, yesterday, to a visit to see the roses at the National Trust's Mottisfont Abbey. Wow! It's a special collection of old roses that flower just in June, and they were spectacular!

Bushes and standards and climbers and ramblers. The world and his wife was visiting.

It was while I was still lamenting my technical inability to capture with the camera the full impressions that the eye was getting that the message came through that we'd missed a phone call from the expectant parents. Mottisfont is a pretty dead spot for mobile signals, and we had to take advice and walk a few hundred yards to get in touch. It was great news – though we only got the whole story when home in the evening.

Sarah's labour had started in the early hours. About 7 or 8 a.m. the contractions were getting serious and then the waters broke and Junior started to appear without further ado. While paramedics and a midwife were on their way, Nº 3 Son started helping with delivery on the bathroom floor, one hand holding the phone through which he was getting instructions from someone at 999, and the other stopping the baby's head from coming out too fast! It was relief when the super-competent midwife appeared to manage the final phases and everything turned out well. To the point where Nº 3 Son was able to go and do his gig last night! Well, as the Tesco ad says, every little helps.

So in the last wee while there have been all sorts of celebrations – for a birth, a confirmation, a wedding and for the life of a gracious and gentle man who died too young. We wouldn't have missed any of it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Never that simple! (Part 2)

Friends who know nothing about narrowboats are often amazed when we describe Erin Mae. They are surprised that we have a shower, a flushing toilet, a proper oven, grill and hob, not to mention a washing machine. When we tell them we have radiators as well as a solid fuel stove they're ready to move in!

The radiators are powered by a small Webasto diesel-burning unit that sits in the engine compartment. We have to use antifreeze / coolant rather than just water in the pipes and radiators, and that was replaced two years ago. I noticed that it needed to be topped up so we dropped into Halfords in Stafford – which was when the fun started. "Which car is it for, sir?" They have their databases and charts and can tell you what you need for a 1987 East European banger or a 2009 Audi, but they somehow didn't include a narrowboat central heating system. I knew enough to know that there are problems with mixing different types of antifreeze, but even that seemed to mean I knew more than the staff serving me.

I rang the boatyard who'd put in the antifreeze and found out what sort it was (Rock Oil Red), then started my research on the web. The Rock Oil website said nothing about antifreeze so I gave them a ring. The receptionist promised to find out all the details and email me a data sheet. I'm still waiting. The Wikipedia article was very informative in a general sense, but of course said nothing about Rock Oil Red. It did say enough to emphasise the dangers of mixing types. Various sites and forums added to my sense of the complexity of the topic, without giving definitive information pointing to what I needed to buy. The blurb on the antifreeze on sale in our marina added little – but it was blue and with a 2-year life expectancy, rather than red with a 5-year life expectancy.

It became clear that the main issue is around the corrosion inhibitors the antifreeze contains. Different types don't play well together. Some last longer than others. The type is colour coded with a small amount of added dye, but the coding is not entirely consistent. In the end I found an online supplier of LandRover spares selling Rock Oil Red for a reasonable price, rang them up, and it should arrive in a couple of days. Meanwhile, my education proceeds apace.

So if you want some interesting info on organic acid corrosion inhibiting technology, just get in touch. Erin Mae probably doesn't know how blessed she is.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Never that simple! (part 1)

When I installed the new engine starter battery on Saturday, I found that the two threaded studs were of different sizes.

The negative terminal had a thread identical to the that on the battery I was removing, but the threaded stud on the positive side was larger. The battery came with two wing nuts, as shown in the photo. I managed to adjust the battery wiring so that there was room to screw the wing nut down tight. However, the terminal at the positive end of the domestic battery bank has a significant number of heavy cables attached to it – and good wiring practice means they'll stay there.

I didn't think it would be easy to connect anything to the threaded stud of that terminal with a wing nut, especially as, on the new batteries, the stud is 90˚ round from its location on the current set. A normal hexagonal nut would be easier to fit, so I had to work out what size it should be. The battery seller's website gave mixed information, with one suggestion being a US 5/16", which is supposed to be the equivalent of the metric M8 size. I took battery and wing nuts to a local hardware store about a mile from the marina, to see what they could do. They certainly were not M8, and an M10 nut, which looked the right size, had the wrong pitch to the thread, and wouldn't screw on.

Grr! I'd really been hoping to install the set today.

I rang up the firm and got an answerphone. Rang back later and got a bloke who didn't know much about anything, except that I ought to ring back on a different number. I did and eventually spoke with a techie who at least knew what I was talking about. He said they it looked as though it was a new arrangement that not even they had been told about, but he promised to send some sets of nuts post haste. Unfortunately, because this had all taken time, post would be less haste, but they should arrive on Wednesday.

Ah, lack-a-day. At least the weather's great!

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Starting up

Halfie isn't the only one to replace an engine starter battery –  Erin Mae needed one too. However, it was back in 2011 that I last paid out for starting security, so that seemed reasonable. As my best beloved and I chatted about such things, we decided it we should replace the domestic battery set as well. That had two consequences. Firstly, a financial hit that I think we'll pass over quickly. Secondly, five batteries delivered to our home that needed to be driven to the boat. Not only did they take up considerable space in the car, but their combined weight was the equivalent of having an extremely large front row forward or heavyweight champion in the back seat! The domestic set of four being replaced is still in good working order so I've put them on eBay, if anyone is interested.

So, the season has started, though it's going to be a bit patchy until we can get out cruising in June. For the moment we're stuck in the marina, but we got a nice walk out through Great Haywood this afternoon. The junction was quite busy.

A number of traders catering to the towpath trade were moored close to the junction, one or two in spaces that looked as though they were really for boats waiting to turn. There was a sweetie tuck shop, a café / bar (not sure about the licensing regs there!), an ironmongers, and one or two others. Quite the little high street! Then we walked on towards Haywood lock. The water level must be high, because there was a fair old flow going down the chute at the side, even while the lock was filling. The Trent itself was running fast. We pushed on for a stroll around the grounds of Shugborough, now completely in the hands of the National Trust.

The wisteria was out, but the sun was not, and I'm afraid my photographic skills weren't really up to the task of creating anything memorable.

It's nice to be back on Erin Mae, even if only for a few days. Hopefully, the start of something good.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Coming apart

We managed to pack up Erin Mae on Saturday and head off south in the car mid-afternoon-ish. For some time the car's warning system has been subjecting me to occasional fake news – saying that I need to check the tyre pressures. When the problem started I did. Then I realised it was a faulty sensor system, and I didn't bother any more. So when the warning came on as we approached the big roundabout where the A446 joins the M42, I paid little attention. Half way round, however, the wheels felt rather rumbly, and as we joined the slip road down on to the motorway it was bad enough for me to stop and check. Sure enough, the left rear tyre was in the last phase of going flat.

If you've ever transferred the moveable contents of a narrowboat to a car, to transport them home for the winter, you'll have an idea of how much gear was stowed in the rear of our Focus estate. And where do they keep the spare tyre? Underneath the floor of that compartment! So it all came out on the hard shoulder. Fortunately the lights on the roundabout release the traffic down the slip road in batches that are not going too fast, so there wasn't too much danger as I changed the wheel. Of course, the wheel was one of these slim-profile jobbies that have a maximum speed of 50 mph, so that was the speed at which we completed the remaining 150 miles of the journey, with hazard warning lights flashing for those sections where we thought other drivers might be surprised by a vehicle going so slowly. It was frustrating to find that the service station at half-way where we were hoping for a restorative coffee had a fire alert, and no-one was allowed inside. All the way home without a coffee was something of a first. And the stuff on the radio (all channels) was mostly rubbish (IMHO).

Well, we made it safely without any further alarums, and the weekend was going well. We met up with our friends at church for worship on Sunday, went down to the Toby carvery for lunch, and then Son and Daughter-in-law Nº 3 arrived on their way back from Weymouth, along with Bram.

"Your cupboards need re-arranging, Gran. Don’t worry - I’m on it!"

That was very pleasant and, when they left, we settled down to a light supper – those Toby carveries are very filling. That was the point at which my best beloved felt the tooth/bridge to which the dentist had paid attention a fortnight ago become rather mobile again. These things are not meant to come loose, and this is the second time. But when we rang this morning, they said to come along this afternoon and she would be fitted in somehow. That's what we did, and now the object in question is cemented back in place for the third (and hopefully the last) time of asking.

Which just leaves the tyre to be sorted. They couldn't do that today – short of staff for some reason. But we confidently expect to be capable of more than 50 mph at some time tomorrow. Hopefully that will be the last thing to come apart unexpectedly for a good, long while.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Home again

We had one further call to make before returning to the marina. NB Dexta at the Taft wharf sells diesel a great deal cheaper than anywhere else around here, and since we needed a fair amount it was worthwhile coming on past the entrance to our marina yesterday, mooring up in the lower reaches of Great Haywood last night, and going down to pick up diesel this morning. It was a great decision for another reason as well – today was a great day for cruising.

My best beloved also enjoyed time at the tiller.

Anxious not to get home to quickly, we stopped for lunch, virtually in the place we'd moored up last night.

But we couldn't delay for ever, and eventually were snug back on our berth. It's been a really enjoyable few weeks of autumn travel. We'll head off south tomorrow and return to winterise Erin Mae at some point over the next month.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Too much excitement

Coming down the top lock in Stoke on Tuesday, we had somehow omitted to close one of the top paddles. At the same time, having opened one of the bottom paddles, I got back on board, made sure Erin Mae was tucked up snug at the front of the lock and went below to attend to something (I won't go into detail!). The next thing I know, I see through a window that we are moving backwards and there are various bangs and thuds.

Rushing up onto the cruiser stern, I found that we were right at the back of the lock, and I couldn't tell whether we were getting caught on the cill. I engaged forward gear and Erin Mae didn't move. I pumped up the revs and still no movement. We were stuck, with water streaming down from leaks around the gate, currents swirling all around, and I yelled to my best beloved, at the top of my voice, to drop the bottom paddles quickly. Of course, this would be the one lock which uses a special gear mechanism, meant to make operating the paddles easier. In this case, it meant it was really hard to drop them swiftly. I climbed as fast as I could up the lock ladder to open the top paddles, in order to get Erin Mae off the cill. It was at that point that I found one of them open already, and realised what had happened.

Thankfully, it seems the currents from the top paddle had dragged us backwards after we had already dropped below the main part of the cill, so we weren't hung up on it and no damage was done. It had been the strength of those currents that held Erin Mae back, even with so many revs engaged. Once we'd dropped the top paddle and I was back on board, everything proceeded as it should have done – except for one of the bottom gates being extremely hard to open. But we could have done without the drama – a salutary reminder always to keep your wits about you.

Today, the excitement was of quite a different sort. It's obviously half-term for some of the schools, and we've met many boaters out with groups of children, all of them having a ball. One woman, who sounded a New Zealander, had her daughter and seven other 9/10 year olds out for a birthday jaunt. The kids were loving it and helping, responsibly, in every way imaginable, even when they were stuck across the cut trying to wind above Sandon Lock (this was a 60/70 footer, not a day-boat). We had a great chat when I walked back to help. They pointed out I had a very large spider hiding under the lapel of my fleece – and I got a very nice piece of flapjack for my trouble.

Now that's the sort of excitement I can cope with!