Tuesday 31 May 2016

Trabecular meshwork

I suspect that few boating blogs will have ever used the title of this post. It's not part of the system for filtering out diesel bug, nor does it refer to silencer insulation or the screen over the side-hatch. It's found in your eye, facilitating the draining of fluid from the front part into Schlemm's Canal. Let no one tell you this blog isn't educational.

Now, as it happens, long-sighted people (like yours truly), with our slightly shortened eye-balls, have a sharper angle between the iris and the cornea, just where said meshwork sits. That means it has a propensity for clogging up, especially (ahem!) in those no longer in the first flush of manhood. And that can lead to acute glaucoma, which sounds distinctly unpleasant. This was all explained to me by the ophthalmic consultant in Christchurch hospital this morning, and our mutual conclusion was that I should undergo a procedure to fire a laser at my iris(es), creating a small hole which will allow the fluid to drain away from the front part of the eye, should my trabecular meshworks ever get clogged.

This has little to do with Erin Mae, of course, except in the circumstance that I be struck by an episode of acute glaucoma in the middle of Harecastle tunnel, or when encountering an ex-working barge coming through a narrow bridge round a blind corner. Under such conditions I'd regret not having had the laser treatment.

So that's done with the penultimate appointment currently keeping us from boating. The last (something to do with my best beloved's canals or roots or something) is tomorrow. Then we shall be free to head out into the wild for a while to see whether all my 12 volt machinations on Erin Mae enable me to sleep at night, content in the sure and certain knowledge that my batteries are having no greater demands made of them than is right and proper. I see that Halfie has been moving in a similar direction.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Furzey Gardens

Being in the south for the weekend, we drove over to Furzey Gardens, in Minstead in the New Forest.

I'd left my camera behind, so experimented with using my best beloved's phone to capture the azaleas. It was odd when I came to work with the photos to have to deal with a different aspect ratio from what I'm used to.

It was the first time we'd seen examples of Primula beesiana, a type of candelabra primrose.

The gardens are beautiful – a real haven of peace in the New Forest. They are closely linked with the Minstead Training Trust, a charity which works especially with people with learning difficulties. Many vulnerable adults are involved in the activities of the gardens, and the whole project is a model of its kind. It's not the first time we've visited and we will probably do so again in July when our grandchildren are over. We were sufficiently impressed again today to take out membership.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Test run

As we started out from the marina yesterday the batteries, naturally enough, were full. But we'd stopped before lunch, relaxed in the sunshine, watched a bit of TV early evening, charged our devices  and generally done what we usually do. So the question was – what state would the batteries be in by the morning? That, after all, was the point behind Erin Mae's 12 volt revolution.

By the time we went to bed the SmartGauge was showing 94%, and that was encouraging. I woke at 5.15, and the SmartGauge said 91%. That was extremely encouraging. I went back to bed until about 8, by which time the SmartGauge was reading 90% and the solar panel was already providing enough current to offset the drain from the fridge. Now this is only one day's test, since we have to travel south by car tomorrow for the weekend but, as first indications go, these have been good.

So we travelled on, down Colwich lock, and stopped at our favourite local diesel supplier, variously known as the Taft Wharf or the pig farm.

These days they stock more than pigs and diesel. Not sure whether this is an alpaca or a llama…

Warm and woolly, a sheep on stilts. In the Great Haywood area there are stocks of sheep with mostly variegated brown colouring.

Whether or not it was the prevailing wind, they were nearly all facing the wrong direction for a decent shot.

What makes some mottled, some all white and some all chocolate I have no idea.

Time to turn at the winding hole half a mile beyond the diesel, re-trace our route and stop for lunch just short of yesterday's siesta spot. Since it was cold today, we had hot soup inside, and I noticed that Andy Murray was just starting his 2nd round match at the French Open. We rigged up the aerial for a little bit of tennis, and found ourselves spending most of the afternoon watching him struggle to overcome the 164th best player in the world. Rather more than a test run for him.

That meant we got back to the marina rather later than intended, but it doesn't matter. It's late May, but it's raining and it's cold, so we've lit the fire.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Out and about

We could have spent the day cleaning and tidying and I don't know what, but it was time to get going. The engine started without a hiccup after its six-month lay-off, and we strolled gently along the T&M to Haywood lock.

A GRP queued behind us as we helped the boat in front and another coming up. We haven't done this since last October!

A pair of proud parents were also out on the water.

So how far would we go? We'd often thought the stretch between Haywood and Colwich locks was a nice place for boats to moor, but never done so ourselves, since it's only just down from our marina berth. So we thought we'd tie here for lunch in the sun.

Very nice it was, too. So we sat, and read, and sat and read and then decided to stay the night. One mile, one lock – that's about the shortest day's cruising we've ever done!

Monday 23 May 2016


Well, here we are back up again. Plan was to come up to Great Haywood last Thursday – which, with a thing or two, turned into Friday. Until, on Thursday evening, I was gently moving a delicious piece of post-prandial chocolate around my mouth, and felt something hard in it. My first thought was that product quality control at Cadbury's had gone to pot. My second thought was – "surely not another piece of tooth broken off!" It was indeed a broken filling – I think I'd rather it had been Cadbury's at fault. A phone call on Friday morning fixed up a dental appointment for today, so we stayed over the weekend and travelled up to Erin Mae once Caroline had finished her repair work.

The marina is very calm tonight as the sun sets and we've settled back in quickly. And we have plans for tomorrow! We're hoping to take Erin Mae out for the first time this year. We shall only have a couple of days as, yo-yo-like, we have to get back to the New Forest on Thursday, but that should be long enough to remind ourselves of what a lock does, and to fill up with diesel. It will also be a little test in the wild for the 12 volt electrical stuff that we've been putting in place.

More appointments next week and then we hope, belatedly, to be able to get out for about a month before the grandchildren fly over from Norway to visit.

Monday 16 May 2016

Travelling in the sun

Once the sun came out, it was a wonderful day for travelling. Unfortunately, Erin Mae stayed in the marina, while we journeyed along the motorways, back to the New Forest. Appointments and things over the next couple of days…

But there were compensations. We got to listen, on the radio, to a discussion of why Poland got one of the highest popular vote scores in Saturday's Eurovision song contest, in spite of having come nearly bottom after the jury votes. Some of the data apparently suggests it was down to all the expatriate Poles in around 10 European countries. I'm not a particular fan of the contest, but I love that sort of analysis. I wonder if one of the sides in the referendum will make use of it.

Better still was that, in the garden, some grass seed I'd sown is coming along nicely to repair a patch, and our first rose is out.

Sunday 15 May 2016


Chasewater reservoir, to the east of Cannock, was created at the end of the 18th century, to provide a water source for the Birmingham Canal Navigations, with the water feeding out from the dam into an open channel.

Trouble with the dam led to the reservoir being drained in 2010, and expensive repair work followed, at which point ownership passed from Lichfield District to Stafford County Council, because of the resources required. By 2013 the reservoir was full again, and acting as a centre for water sports of all types.

In the "Innovation Centre" we chatted with a Ranger and learned a bit about the complexities of funding, managing and maintaining a facility of this sort, and the uncertainties they can create for the staff.

The light railway has to pay its way…

and there are many other businesses dotted around this very pleasant site, not all directly related to the leisure industry.

We enjoyed our afternoon wandering around, though we couldn't make up our minds about the extent to which we appreciated the kazoo band rehearsing loudly in one corner!

Saturday 14 May 2016

Staffordshire wildlife

The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust has a very active project just across the Trent from the T&M at Wolseley Bridge (NÂș 70). We've visited on a number of occasions, and did so again today.

Some of the residents were preparing…

some had already been productive…

while yet others were thinking and singing about it.

The azaleas in the sunshine brightened up the scene,

and as we walked on round we could see across the river and the line of the canal to The Taft,

where there have been many gatherings (and barbecues!) of the Boaters' Christian Fellowship.

Not an arduous walk, but very enjoyable.

Friday 13 May 2016

Battery balancing

For those who have the inclination and the patience, the SmartGauge website technical pages are a good read, even though they haven't been updated in years. I first came upon discussions about the SmartGauge on the CanalWorld forums. It excited a lot of debate between those who simply knew that it couldn't possibly work, and those whose experience had shown that it did. In the end I read most of the content on the website, quite enjoying the fact that Chris Gibbons never presented himself as a detached observer. He argued his case(s) passionately, sometimes rudely, and always with an eye to selling one of his products!

A reader quickly realises that, while it's a promotional website, it also has many pages that are simply interesting (if you like that sort of thing) technical info. On one of them I found a discussion of battery wiring and its effect on battery balancing, and the calculations made a lot of sense. This is the wiring that results:

With this configuration, each battery is connected to the charge sources and loads via one short and one long lead, and all charge sources and loads are connected to the same point. If you're interested in why this matters, see the discussion.

Erin Mae's batteries were connected to each other the more "obvious" way, with links straight between batteries 2 and 3 in the diagram. In addition, I found that the charger / inverter and the 12 volt systems were attached to opposite ends of the bank. I decided that no harm could come from re-jigging the wiring, and that anything which benefited the batteries in the harsh environment of a narrowboat was bound to be a Good Thing. So that was one more job completed over the winter.

It looks a bit more complicated than it did, and the various sensor cables add to the confusion. Chris Gibbons says: "I think I am right in saying that this is the only example I have ever come across where doing something the correct way actually looks less elegant than doing it incorrectly."

Thursday 12 May 2016


Wanting to make the most of a day of sunshine, we went for a walk. Since we're rather out of condition, we chose Shugborough as the place to go, and discovered parts of the estate we'd not seen before.

There are various Greek temples and classical follies dotted around in best 18th / 19th century fashion…

and "The Lanthorn of Dionysius" caught my eye on the map. Off we went in what seemed to be its general direction, but we never actually found it. What we did find was a nice stretch of the River Sow with a bridge in the distance.

Across the bridge is an island between two channels of the Sow, with a section known as "The Wilderness". Dotted along the path were occasional sculptures,

a horse chestnut in bloom,

and various information boards about the Shugborough herd of English Longhorn cattle.

As boards go, they were very informative, and we learnt a lot about the Longhorn – mild-mannered, resilient, slow-growing, intelligent, fun-loving. In fact it sounded like a description of my best-beloved until we came to the bits about living out in the grounds all year round. Eventually we passed by some of the herd, enjoying the sun just across the water from the ornamental gardens.

These days, apparently, in contrast to the past, they leave the horns to grow in whatever direction they fancy, so every animal has a unique set of appendages.

We found that the path leads round the island to another bridge…

which brought us back to near where we'd come in. Overall, a very pleasant day in Great Haywood.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

12 volt electrics, continued

Some of our friends wouldn't dream of having a TV on their boat, but there's the most wonderful summer of sport coming up. Erin Mae came with an LG 26" analogue TV, all nicely framed with shelves for, among other things, CDs (remember those?). At the time of the digital switchover, our not-so-youthful eyes were beginning not to see all the detail on our 26" Sony TV at home, so we bought a new one, and installed the Sony in Erin Mae. The two flies in the ointment were (1) the variable signal from the omnidirectional aerial; (2) it's a mains model, and so needed the inverter on – the downside of which I described yesterday.

We decided over the winter that, if we were going to have a TV, it should be a 12 volt version, so the Sony went home and we bought an Avtex. It's a bit smaller than the previous occupiers of this space but, with a suitable bracket behind, is suspended nicely in the air.

A small piece of oak-veneered something-board left over from my wardrobe doors nearly 30 years ago covers lots of holes and wiring. Just behind the set, top left, can be seen the 12 volt socket that we installed for power.

When we came up after the winter the aerial didn't seem to be functioning at all, though we don't yet know whether that's just Great Haywood's reception problems. We adopted a multi-targeted approach. I had a spare wideband aerial, and rigged up a frame with some magnets for it to sit on the roof. That's working well – the best reception we've ever had here. The trailing lead in through the window can be seen in the photo, but we're hoping this will be a temporary / occasional arrangement. Since the TV also has a satellite input, I've acquired a satellite dish for areas (we've encountered a few) where Freeview just doesn't work, usually in those places we've reached just as Wimbledon starts. I suspect it will prove quite a hassle to get it set up – I'll be asking people we meet along the way for advice.

That's just about it for 12 volt devices. The list of what won't work includes the electric toothbrush, my own ancient mobile phone and two nice little reading lights from Ikea – I haven't yet found anything that might replace those. The automatic lighting for oven, grill and hob needs 230 volts but the oven and the hob, though not the grill, will work once lit.

Now we have to get out and about to test it all in the wild. Unfortunately, the weather has been miserable and we have things that require our presence on the south coast at regular intervals. Some day soon…

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Electrical action part the enth

Actually, part the nth, but it seems you can't do superscripts in a blogspot title! Part the first was 25th November last year. I expected part the second to follow quickly, but delays in the work and other issues meant it never materialised quite as intended. Other posts since have occasionally included something about the electrics, so part the nth it is for this one.

It's always been a frustration that we couldn't moor Erin Mae up for long without worrying about the batteries. It's no way to treat your engine, running it just to charge them. I'd be thinking about them overnight, and then checking them first thing in the morning. As often as not they'd be down to half-charge, and I'd have to start the engine. That would strike us as a waste of diesel, and we'd feel the pressure to cruise for a few hours. So, in addition to the battery worries, we'd be moving when we hadn't really wanted to. So much for this relaxing life-style!

Part of the problem was that I couldn't rationalise the drain on the batteries. Measurements with meters gave only half-helpful figures. I suspected that the main problem was the fridge, which needed the inverter on 24/7 to provide it with 230 volts. In the end I tested it by turning the inverter off overnight, hoping the milk wouldn't be sour in the morning. The drop in consumption was dramatic. Significantly, just turning off the fridge while leaving the inverter on achieved little – the inverter itself needed to be off.

So this got me thinking about eliminating dependence on the inverter, so it could just stay off most of the time. The washing machine and the Dyson vacuum cleaner seemed reasonable exceptions, since they would be used just occasionally and (especially the washing machine) only when cruising. But my computer, the mobile broadband wifi router and my best beloved's phone and iPad can all be run from 12 volt outlets. I also found a suitable AA / AAA battery charger for my rechargeables. So we've installed two 12 volt outlets in what will hopefully turn out to be a sensible place, at one end of the kitchen area.

The one on the left will be permanently in use for the mobile broadband / wifi. The other is easy to reach for charging various devices. I've put an Ikea spice rack just above, to carry splitters and cables and the chargers for computer and rechargeable batteries. It was an obvious choice, since I've just fitted a couple at the other end of the kitchen for their proper purpose.

Ronseal satin "natural oak"woodstain matched them up nicely with the interior panelling. Meanwhile the new 12 volt fridge has fitted in a treat. It may have been expensive, but it's much better than the old Daewoo.

Most of the smaller devices actually run on USB voltage (5v, I think), and so appropriate cigar-lighter type plugs have a USB socket as their output, and an internal circuit to drop the voltage. That means they're on when in place, even when nothing is plugged into them. The draw will be minimal but it will be good practice to remember to remove the whole plug when not in use, not just the USB cable.

Tomorrow, part n+1th, but how I'm going to put that in the title is as yet not certain!

Monday 9 May 2016

Delays and developments

We had only a few days on Erin Mae in mid-April, and various commitments kept us in the south for longer than expected. But we were able to come up a couple of weeks ago for a few days, and again on Saturday, continuing with preparations for this year's travels.

My research into under-sink water filters was interesting and successful. I found a supplier with the exact model of the casing I had cracked. That's now properly installed, and the water flow is as fast as it's ever been – so fast that I even went back to my research to check I was using the correct filter element.

We've almost completed the conversion to 12 volts of all possible systems. The first indication that everything is going to be hunky-dory came following what could have been a calamity. During the winter I'd left a small heater on anti-freeze duty, only to find on our first spring visit that it had used up all the mains electric from the meter. We arrived too late in the day to get a top-up from the marina office, but the SmartGauge showed the batteries were fully charged anyway. One up for the solar panel! We had some perishables with us, so we decided to turn on the new 12 volt fridge and see how things went overnight, with just the batteries for power. In the morning the SmartGauge showed 85% – under the old regime with the inverter running a 240 volt fridge the batteries would have been well down by the morning.

I think technical reports are best in small doses – so I'll continue the 12 volt saga tomorrow, as my blogging gets up to speed for the season.