Tuesday 25 October 2016

Tacho techie talk

Steve the tachometer technical support guy was back at his desk this morning, so we had a good chat about wiring the new one to the old harness. He said they'd never had a problem with the adaptor, and confirmed what I'd thought I'd been told by the supplier – that the old connector should simply unclick from the back of the existing instrument and plug into the adaptor.

Very usefully, he emailed me a PDF of the fitting instructions for the old model, and the diagrams there certainly match those in the engine manual. But playing around in my mind with the orientation of the adaptor and socket wiring, I still can't see how the wires are going to align correctly, and he wasn't able to enlighten me.

We hope to go up to Erin Mae at the start of next week, and then I shall be able to see exactly what's what. Steve is very willing to talk about it again once I have some field experience!

Sunday 23 October 2016


It being the sabbath day, we took a break from tachometers and went for a walk this afternoon in the New Forest. As we were getting ready to leave, this chirpy chappy turned up in our back garden.

The book says that green woodpeckers commonly feed on the ground, and this one was going to it with a will – digging right down to about the death of its beak to extract some juicy morsel. Once (s)he'd left, so did we, to Linford Bottom, one of the places we used to take the boys when they were young. Not much sun by the time we got there, so the autumn colours were not at their best. But the animal beauties were out and about.

The horses and ponies in the New Forest are mostly shades of brown – I wouldn't know the correct terms. This one stood out with her beautiful dappled grey colouring.

This pony was more typical, but seemed proud to display the contrast with the general tone of her coat of the white socks and the lighter mane and tail.

It's been a very enjoyable autumn day.

Friday 21 October 2016

Tacho photos

Halfie suggested that my comments about Erin Mae's new tachometer would benefit from a photo or two. Since I'm sure that, even so, they're not every reader's cup of tea, I've taken the photos against a different background. If you get to the end of this post, you can see whether your guess as to what it is matches the final revelation!

The back of the new tacho has two sockets. The one with 8 terminals carries most of the connections. The one with 14 terminals uses only three for this application – two to connect to button switches used in setting it up, and one for an output for a warning buzzer, should the engine exceed a user-defined maximum speed. That's not going to happen, so Ive asked technical support if I can just remove the 14-terminal connector once configuration is complete.

The top two bundles are the 8- and 14-pin connectors with their wires. The one at the bottom is the adaptor for connecting the 8-pin socket to the existing wiring harness. Erin Mae's current tacho has a large whitish connector on the back and I'm meant to be able to disconnect it and plug it into the adaptor's white socket. That's where things get interesting. Here's the diagram from the engine manual showing the existing connections.

If I position the new adaptor to align its green signal wire with position 4 on the diagram (where the alternator lead is to be attached), it looks like this:

However, that leaves some of the remaining wires apparently not connected to anything, which won't be right. But it's a bit complicated by which way round you're looking at things – back or front of the plug, etc. So that's the substance of my main question to technical support, who hopefully will be back from holiday on Monday. If need be, it looks as though I could re-arrange the positions of some of the terminals in the adaptor plug. But I can't do anything until (a) we get a response from the, hopefully, helpful techie, and (b) get back up to Erin Mae to look at it all in situ.

Now for the background revelation:

It's a table cloth made from PVC-ish material from John Lewis. Some of the map elements are in English and some in German or Dutch. It's quite good fun to plan impossible routes as you eat your lasagne. I've invented a game in which you have to pick two towns / cities with the same initial letter and the greatest ratio between the real distance between them and the distance on the map. So far I haven't found anything to beat Rio and Reykjavík.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Tacho ups and downs

Erin Mae's new tachometer arrived this morning – that was speedy, and very exciting (if you like that sort of thing). However, there's little photographic excitement to be had from a rev counter sitting on the kitchen table – photos will have to wait until installation.

I spent a couple of hours (such is retirement) examining the instrument and its various connectors. It had come with a wiring harness to connect it to the old system, so I was busy comparing the wiring diagram in the manual, the wiring diagram for the old tacho in the engine manual, and the actual wires in the bits and pieces they'd sent. The more I looked, the more confusing it was – there seemed to be a lack of logical consistency in it all. I rang the supplier, but they didn't know. However, they did give me a name and number for technical support from VDO – something I'd searched for in vain on their website. It turned out he's on holiday till Monday, but an email was a good way of getting it all put down in black and white anyway.

Being at home, I can't simply get on with taking the old one out and seeing what works. I would also rather be safe than sorry – don't want to blow anything by mistake. It's not as though I haven't got anything else to do – there's all that accumulated mail from two months of cruising waiting to be dealt with…

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Circuit diagrams

I've always loved circuit diagrams. As a teenager I used to draw out circuits for radios, both valve and transistor, and other electronic stuff. It almost mattered more to have a perfectly balanced diagram than to actually make the item thus represented. All part of the fascination with patterns. So I was delighted when Erin Mae came with a set of wiring diagrams, and that the manuals for the Isuzu 42 engine also showed how it was all connected. Not that I was expecting or hoping to do anything with them – but I like to know.

When the tachometer (rev counter) and the warning buzzer failed a few weeks ago I pored over these diagrams to see whether there was any indication that the two could be linked. Events since have only added more layers to the question. Replacing the ignition switch seemed to resolve some of the issues with warning lights, but I can't see why it should have done if the engine itself was starting and functioning normally.

I 've realised that the whole thing is complicated by having had a battery charging control device fitted three years ago. I'm very pleased with how it works, but I know that installation entailed moving some of the alternator wiring around, and I haven't yet looked down the hole and traced exactly where some of the connections run. So I'm currently not quite sure of the relationship between the diagrams and the reality.

I've bitten the bullet and ordered a new tachometer – an updated version for considerably less than I was being quoted for the original. When I come to fit it I may just find that giving the wiring a good old rattle as I do so sorts the buzzer out once and for all!

Monday 17 October 2016


We haven't put Erin Mae to bed for the winter – in fact she hasn't even had a proper bath. But we needed to leave her for the moment for one or two things back home, and found that our trip south coincided with Nº 3 son, wife and babe stopping off in our house on their way to Cornwall for a week.

He's just over two months old, so we're all in new baby mode.

He enjoyed singing with his Gran. And, boy, did he enjoy his bath!

I'd never seen a baby bath like this one before, but he loves it. Even coped with his Grandfather taking over for a moment.

All good things come to an end, and sleep follows at regular intervals.

Not necessarily, however, during the night. To give him a feeling for proper patterns, his Gran had been busy with the crochet hook. One for the push chair…


and one for the carry cot.

To pre-empt two questions: No, it's not a 3D blanket – that's just the pattern. And no, that's not a grease stain from Erin Mae's engine hole – it's just a shadow from the way the blanket was lying by the window.

So Bram has to get used to the patterns of life, especially the ones that involve sleeping at night. And Erin Mae will have to get used to not necessarily being the centre of attention all the time.

Friday 14 October 2016

Three score and ten

Years, that is. Since my mother (of blessed memory) gave birth to her third son at twenty past four in the afternoon and, as she put it, had a nice cup of tea afterwards. Little sign, then, of all the grief he would cause later on!

Now I'm not very good at birthdays, neither my own nor anybody else's. The combination of event management and creative purchase doesn't seem to fit particularly well. We have something special planned for next year as a joint celebration, and a sudden fit of inspiration led to an idea in which Sons One to Three will also take part – but that's for next month. Today saw us merely planning to cruise something under a mile back to our home base in Great Haywood Marina.

My best beloved decided this was inadequate, and invited me out for breakfast. The last time we'd been to the café by Haywood Lock they had a good and attractive fire going, so we cruised down, moored up and walked across. Alas, the fire is long gone, all bricked up and closed in. It didn't feel very cosy at all, so we decided to walk down to Shugborough instead. That took us across the Trent,

all sparkly in the morning sunshine,

though the one heron on view looked distinctly chilly.

Down to the entrance to the estate – only to find that they've already closed up for the winter, with various refurbishments in hand before they open again next spring.

Breakfast out was looking less and less likely, but we decided on a stroll down to the Canal Farm Shop café near Haywood Junction. On the way we encountered a CRT work-party.

My first thought was "What on earth are they doing with a lock gate beam down a hole in the ground?" Then we realised that it is in fact to be a splendid new signpost for the junction.

On a bit, over the road and into the café, where we ate a very good breakfast – though by now it was rather late to be going by that name. Before walking back to Erin Mae we popped into the farm shop itself and bought, among other things, a most excellent pair of Bakewell tarts which we have just consumed with a cup of tea. Tonight I shall cook us a perfectly adequate birthday dinner with some of Morrisons' pork loin medallions.

Birthdays come and go, but anything over the three score and ten is a happy bonus. My best beloved will now spend the next few months reminding me what a young thing she is (well, she won't hit this landmark till next June).

Thursday 13 October 2016

Four counties

In reaching Great Haywood today, we formally completed the circuit known as the Four Counties Ring. Our cruise had taken in rather more than that, since it started with a trip to Fazeley and back for a BCF weekend at the beginning of September. It took in a few days' diversion up the Macclesfield Canal. And it has ended with us overshooting the terminus, in order to fill up with diesel at the Taft wharf, before putting Erin Mae to bed for the winter.

I puzzle a little over the four counties. Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire are straightforward, but Wikipedia has West Midlands as the fourth. That's correct – Pendeford at the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and the Shroppie is certainly in the West Midlands. But West Midlands as a county came into existence in 1974, and I wonder whether the ring's name didn't exist before that. Perhaps it is more recent, since it would seem to be a tourist / leisure industry appellation – a route that holidaying boaters can take. If the name existed before 1974, however, it must have had a different county as the fourth. But Wolverhampton, of which Pendeford is a suburb, was historically in Staffordshire, reducing the number of counties to only three! Maybe it used to be called "The Three Counties Ring".

We've encountered some groups doing the ring in a week. I expect they've had a lot of fun, but they must have had limited time to explore anything along the way. Our own trip, since we left Great Haywood junction, has taken us 36 days and has been very enjoyable. Only during the last couple of days have we got a bit wet and cold. And we're virtually home. We're back a little earlier than originally planned, but needs must, as they say.

And if anyone had the solution to the Four Counties conundrum, I'd be glad to hear it!

Wednesday 12 October 2016


Another day. Another lock – Aston lock, as it happens, which is normally the most pleasant of places.

Except for another detestable object round the prop, just like yesterday. That was a woven nylon sack, this was a dark blue sweatshirt. Exactly the same scenario – going into reverse briefly to manoeuvre for the lock landing. And then that sinking feeling as the engine and the steering fail to respond as they should. Fortunately, it was also a similar outcome. A quick trip down the weed-hatch to sort it out, and we didn't even lose our place in the queue.

Earlier, we'd seen the boat from the incident in Stoke go past. We decided to delay our departure a little, so as to give no cause for stirring up any feelings in yesterday's steerer that might be excited by encountering us again. Well, wouldn't you know? We eventually passed him, moored up, just before a bridge on a bend. I slowed as we approached, and saw that another boat was just coming into the bridge-hole from the opposite direction, and there was another behind. That meant completely stopping, and we all know what happens when you do that (for those who don't – you can't steer!). So now I was perilously near to yesterday's acquaintance, with not a lot of control over Erin Mae. Fortunately the two oncoming boats were both extremely short and going at a reasonable speed, so I didn't have to spend too long doing my balancing act. In the event, I'm not sure that the occupants of the moored-up boat even noticed – I think they were inside having lunch.

As the man said, it was deja vu all over again!

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Beneath the surface

I've been down the weed-hatch occasionally this summer, but mostly just-in-case. I can't remember having to clear anything serious. Until today. I was manoeuvring to get into the second lock at Stone (coming down), went into reverse briefly – and felt it! Into forward – yes, definitely something there, and clearly something that would prevent us getting out of the lock should we enter it. We thought it good practice to deal with it immediately.

It turned out to be a large woven nylon bag or sack of some sort, complete with zipper. Fortunately I'd resisted the temptation to do anything violent with the throttle in an attempt to dislodge it – I'd had the feeling from the start that would only make things worse. In the event it took only a few minutes to pull into the side, lift the deck, get down the hatch and pull the offending object clear. We didn't even have to cope with anyone else wanting to use the lock while we were marooned on its bollards. There was a CRT disposal point just below the lock, so it all ended well. But it's not always that way…!

Yesterday I found myself in one of those situations I had in mind when I blogged about the BCF sticker on our boat a few weeks ago. As we joined a small queue at Stoke top lock, I did a manoeuvre that I thought was perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, someone it affected slightly didn't agree, so I was subjected to a certain amount of abuse. I naturally thought this was unreasonable, but it was clear that I could have avoided the whole situation by doing something different. So I spent most of the rest of the day examining my feelings about being reprimanded for (probably) being in the wrong. Cruising long sections of canal with no locks and little going on doesn't provide the distraction to take your mind off such things. And being the person I am, introspection is the name of the game. There's a lot going on beneath the surface, that most others aren't going to see. But if something is dragged up to foul the propeller, it's as well to clear it up ASAP.

It's just not very nice getting down the personal weed-hatch!

Monday 10 October 2016


As we pulled in to moor up for the night just south of Trentham lock, we thought it would be a good idea to have the second half of the cream tea goodies from Tesco's Saturday offer. I secured the lines and came inside, and my best beloved said "What about lighting the fire first?" She was quite right, of course. The thermometer in the cabin was reading 16˚C. But, oh, those fateful words!

I emptied the ash tray, put in a firelighter, laid some kindling around and over it and then carefully arranged some Taybrite ovaloids on top. The last few days have suggested I shouldn't try to put to many on to start with. Lit the firelighter, shut the door, made sure there was air getting up into the firebox, and sat down to watch the heat develop and enjoy our tea (and the scones and cream were exceedingly good!). Flames soared up, the kindling seemed to catch, but over the next few minutes everything dwindled away to virtually nothing. I tried again – in fact I tried several times. More kindling poked in, another firelighter, juggling of the grate to remove any obstruction to the air flow. The wood would catch, the Taybrite would glimmer…and fade.

I remember watching my mother kneeling in front of the fire at home with a double page from yesterday's Daily Telegraph held across the front, to get a good draft flowing up and through the coals. It was extraordinary, and a bit scary, to see the fierceness of the flames through the paper. You had to get the fire to draw, she said. It's what they say about good chimneys, isn't it? I suspect that my own difficulties may be a combination of the characteristics of Taybrite, Erin Mae's rather short chimney, and the colder weather which means there is less of that magical "draw" going on.

Eventually I treated the fire like a philosopher – de-constructed everything and re-built it in line with a new set of principles. Whether it was better technique, or just that the fuel now had some residual warmth to help it get going, I don't know. But at last we have some cosy glowing. The thermometer is still reading 16, and my best beloved is still wrapped up in a blanket, but there is the promise of warmer things to come.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Tunnel vision

We visited St Thomas's church in Kidsgrove again this morning. This time we made use of our bus passes to avoid a long walk in, but came back along the tow path – the church building is very near to the entrance to Harecastle Tunnel. By the time we got back to Erin Mae, it was also time for a quick lunch, and then we untied and said farewell to the Macclesfield Canal.

It's been a very nice few days re-visiting the lower part of this canal, and the weather has been kind. Coming out onto the Trent and Mersey and turning right for the tunnel, however, everything seemed to get a bit gloomier. Perhaps it's just the cutting in which the tunnel entrance sits.

We didn't have to wait long for the single boat coming in the opposite direction to emerge, and there were just three of us in our own convoy. As ever, CRT Derek was very friendly and helpful, for casual visitors as well as boaters.

He made sure we'd get through the tunnel without damaging anything on the roof, asking us to take off Erin Mae's chimney. I think we'd have probably been OK, but it's as well to be sure. He also asked if we'd enjoyed the tunnel on the previous times we'd been through. Hm … not sure "enjoy" is quite the right word. 40 minutes in a small hole underground is not really my idea of fun. I've never minded the London tube, but canal tunnels seem different. I lock the panic away in a deep pit somewhere inside, and concentrate on not hitting the walls – or the roof with my head.

We've lived to tell the tale, and have tied up in virtually the only remaining space at Westport Lake. It's a good local resource for Stoke-on-Trent, but you get the impression that boaters don't linger – it's more of a stopping point as you go somewhere else. Yesterday we were persuaded by one of Mr Tesco's offers to buy the wherewithal for a cream tea, and we might have had it on the grass or nearer the lake. However, it's just begun to drizzle, so we're inside for the duration. Erin Mae's interior space is considerably smaller than that of a tunnel, of course, but it's cosy not claustrophobic.

Saturday 8 October 2016


We moored up here once before and it's not a bad spot.

It's still on the Macclesfield canal, just short of the aqueduct where it passes over the Trent and Mersey. A few yards later it swings round to the left, runs parallel with the T&M for a couple of hundred yards, and then does a final left hand bend to join it at Hardings Wood junction – the T&M having been brought up to the same level by the last couple of locks.

At the aqueduct there's a long flight of steps which we walked down today, to take our rubbish to CRT's Red Bull services. After a visit to Tesco we came back up by a slightly different route, which entailed using the footbridge in the picture. It also meant I had to drag our shopping trolley up a series of bumpy slopes, which may just have been better than lifting it bodily up 20 feet of steps.

Mobile broadband reception here is fine, as it was down in the valley below last weekend. Down there, however, there was no TV reception whatsoever, and we were hoping for something better today (England are playing!). Last night I found I could get BBC and some other stations, but no ITV at all. So today, having examined the trees through which the signal would have to pass, I pulled Erin Mae down to the next set of mooring rings. It was only 6 or 7 yards, but what a result! The ITV signal is coming in, apparently good and strong. Let's hope the same can be said for the England football team in a few minutes' time!

Friday 7 October 2016

Signs of the season

Yesterday we were colder. I was still in shorts but had my body-warmer on. The sun shone (mostly), but was devoid of much warmth. We decided that the moment had finally come to head for home. The timing had nothing to do, of course, with the fact that, about a mile ahead, were a set of 12 locks we would just have to come back down again should we decide to proceed for a few more days.

Today the wind was less chill, but the clouds were out in force, and there was some drizzle in the air. The guy who did a pump-out for us at Heritage Narrowboats said he'd just packed his shorts away for the winter. As we came back down the Macclesfield we decided to call on BCF members Roy and Audrey, who live by the canal. When we'd come up, their boat Rosie was out, but today it was moored up outside the house, so we thought we might pay a visit.

There are plenty of welcoming indications on the outside, and the sign over the top is wonderful!

Unfortunately they weren't at home – perhaps they were out re-stocking after being away on a cruise. So we made our own warming cuppa and continued. There's a garden just along from their house with lots of Autumn blooms.

I wanted to hop off to take the photo, and the boater from this boat came and offered to take a line – getting into the side is a serious bit of work along most of the Macc.

He had his fire going and it was only mid- to late-afternoon. But the days have been getting chilly and our own fire has been very welcome. The Met Office forecast for the next few days doesn't show any rain, but it shows precious little sun – mostly cloud with occasional glimpses of Sol. I fancy I won't be in shorts for much longer.

Thursday 6 October 2016

Secret water

Saturday was our last water-stop. We know Erin Mae's water-tank is pretty capacious, but we don't have a gauge to tell us how near to disaster we've come. Some people seem to go for ages on a tank-full, but we like our showers and we have a washing-machine on board, so getting on for six days was a bit worrisome. Nicholson's guide said the next water-point was at the top of the Bosley flight – six miles and twelve locks before we could fill up!

And then Ken and Sue from NB Cleddau came to say hello before they walked down to Little Moreton Hall – turned out they'd moored just in front of us last night. The topic of the water came up, and they told us there's a water-point unmarked by Nicholson's. So we cruised on and, once through Congleton, kept our eyes peeled for the old BW wharf they knew about. Sure enough, about a mile after the aqueduct, there it was, though we had to work a bit to draw in alongside.

True to what they'd said, the pressure was really good – so good that it pushed the nozzle out of the port, sprayed water over everything in the cratch and filled it to the depth of an inch before I'd noticed (I was having a restorative CuppaSoup at the time).

So, for both good and less-good reasons we shall remember this place and can pass on the secret to other users. It's now well marked on our guide. Arthur Ransome's Secret Water, as I recall, was mostly about mapping uncharted territory.

Not now needing to ascend the Bosley locks for any reason except the sheer pleasure of it, we decided to tie up for the night in advance of the last winding hole before them. It's a fine spot.

The countryside to the right is dominated by a hill known as "The Cloud".

Everyone (including Ken and Sue) says the view from the top equals that from Mow Cop, up which we walked yesterday. After that exercise, however, we probably need a week's recovery before attempting some more of the same, especially with the wind being what it is. We feel we're probably at the point where we're going to turn around and drift back to home base, before this cracking weather breaks up on us.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Mow Cop

Today the intrepid explorers set out to finally visit Mow Cop. "Mow" rhymes with cow, though when the locals say the word it seems, to my southerner's ears, to be somewhere between that and the verb "mow".

The path up the hill is part of the South Cheshire Way, and a long, steep, muddy section led through  the woods to the east of Bridge 85 and the hamlet of Kent Green, finally emerging onto some gentler slopes near the top.

There are some stunning views from up here, looking out over the Cheshire plain, with what I take to be Jodrell Bank observatory standing proud, even on this slightly misty morning.

If that is the observatory, I cannot imagine how it got it's name – doesn't seem to be much of a bank around there. We, on the other hand, continued the tramp up our own, and before getting to the "castle" found ourselves passing the "Old Man of Mow".

From this angle it looks as though the Philae lander should be in a crevice near the top. A local man couldn't tell us why the gritstone quarriers would have left this bit sticking out, and I'm not enough of a geologist to know – perhaps it's not itself gritstone. Meanwhile the "castle" was just around the corner.

The path up was quite steep but the main hazard today was the wind.

At the top it was blowing a gale, but it was worth the effort. It's not a castle, of course, just Randle Wilbraham's summer house, built (in 1754) when such follies were fashionable. Mind you, I'm not sure that from within the "keep" you'd actually get much of a view of what you had presumably come up here to enjoy.

The site is also notable for being the birthplace of the Primitive Methodists – it's hard to imagine anyone giving a new movement a name like that these days! No matter how back-to-basics you thought you wanted to get.

Well, after all this exercise it was back to basics for us. Having done our internet research we'd planned to have lunch in one of the two pubs in Mow Cop, but finding them was more complicated than expected. On asking directions we found that one had closed permanently and the other was only open at weekends – information their websites had neglected to provide. We were given directions to another pub in "the lower village", which had "very good food" and set off down-hill. After a mile we found the Crown, but that was only open in the evenings. Our last hope was the convenience store and Post Office just along the road. An inquiry about the chance of getting a coffee somewhere in the village (non-existent!) led to an offer from a customer in the shop to drive us down to the canal, which we accepted. She dropped us off at Bridge 85 again.

Marion, you're a star! What a result! Not sure my best beloved's knees could have coped with much more downhill walking, especially given the detour that the map later showed us we had taken. The pub lunch will have to wait for another day.

Tuesday 4 October 2016


One man didn't go to Mow (Cop) today, after all. As I brought in the smokeless cobs for the fire yesterday afternoon, I realised we'd pretty well run out – just one more day's worth. I rang a couple of local coal & diesel boats, and they were coming along some time around the end of the week, but I judged we'd be frozen in place by then. There was nothing for it but to turn around and go back a mile and a half to the Heritage Narrowboats marina. Two bags of Taybrite later we turned again and came back up rather less distance to the oddly named Rowndes Nº2 Bridge (Bridge 86).

There are a few permanent moorings one side of the bridge,

and a 48 hour mooring on the other, where we tied Erin Mae.

It's a great spot, one we'd noted in passing yesterday, and we're glad to have the opportunity of this view through the side-hatch.

As it has turned out, retracing our steps to pick up the fuel will benefit us tomorrow, when we do intend to climb the hill, as we're much nearer to the start of the path. This afternoon we went for a stroll to find it – over the bridge, up a path to Station Road, back towards the hamlet around Bridge 85. There we spoke with Bob, working in his garden.

He pointed out the path we should take tomorrow, and assured us he'd had his 4 year old grandson up there a week or two ago (though he confessed that said grandchild had vowed he was never going up that way again!).

Tomorrow looks as though it's going to be nice and sunny, so we shall use the 48 hour allowance, stay in place and finally visit this landmark that has been with us for nearly a week.