Friday, September 30, 2011

One month in! (24 miles, 0 locks)

Four weeks to the day since we took possession of Kantara, Grace and I did another seven hours cruising today.  All right, it was largely the return journey to Yelvertoft, but the return is often very different from the outward because of the new view it affords, and, again, the weather was fantastic, and the countryside beautiful. I have had more kingfisher sightings in these past two days than in all of the canal holidays we have had in previous years.

The problem with boating is that may not get enough exercise. There are canals, of course, and stretches of this one - The Grand Union - which have lots of locks, but the land is pretty flat in this part of the country, and I have yet to operate a lock. I am mindful of how much a week of lock operating and the frequent walks between locks have in past years resulted in a healthy weight loss, and increased muscle, but this just isn't happening at the moment. So today, I jumped off the boat as we passed underneath a bridge, and I did some walking along the towpath while Grace continued with Kantara.  This is something I'm going to have to do a lot - and I'll have to let Grace do her bit, too!

What a day!

Despite our slight anxieties about running the engine continuously before it has its thorough service, we just had to come out for a bit of a cruise yesterday.  The sky was blue, there was not a cloud in the sky, the water was still and the countryside, beautiful.  In the entire day, we saw no more than a dozen other boats on the move.  We moored in the middle of nowhere, watched the sun go down across the other side of the canal, and were amazed by the myriad stars just before we went to bed, stars in a totally clear sky, with no light pollution to spoil it.  This is what boating's supposed to be like!

For those of you who know little or nothing of canal boats, let me make something clear to you.  We travelled for around seven hours, including a stop for lunch, but only travelled about twelve miles, from bottom to top of the picture below.  The slow pace is all part of the enjoyment, giving us time to look around, and to relax at the helm.  If we had had any locks to go through, then it would have reduced the distance travelled in that time by about one mile per three locks.

We're currently right at the top of the picture...

Today, we awoke early to a beautiful, misty morning.  One boat has passed us.  It is very peaceful.  I can quite get used to this!  We will return to the marina today.  We have to go into Rugby to collect a rug we have ordered, and I need to prepare for the barbecue tomorrow evening.  I got volunteered to sing at it!  I have my guitar with me, but absolutely no music or lyrics (and, to be honest, a voice which is very much out of practice!), so there is some work to be done there!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The problem with such good weather... that the level of the canals has now reached low, and we are seeing each week a growing list of canal and lock closures.  Boaters who have ventured out of the marina have returned with tales of running aground, of fearing to go through locks, in case they are closed by the time they return, and they become stranded.  Well, we will go for a few days of cruising tomorrow, but we will not aim to venture too far north, because that's where the locks increase in number, and thus the danger.  Our galvanic isolator is fitted, our noisy water pump corrected (it was leaning against the stainless steel water tank, which amplified the sound very effectively), and our water tank filled.  Tomorrow, the cut!  But what a day for hot weather this has been!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where are we?

Several people have asked where we are currently, so here's a Google map to give you some idea.  If you look closely at the satellite image of our location, though, you will see no marina, because Google's image pre-dates the building of it.

Click to enlarge (a bit)

It's another lovely day...

 ...and I'm not in the classroom!  The sky is blue, the water is flat, and we might just get out for some cruising this week.  We've been a bit lazy for the past couple of days.  Having been home again to pick up various things for the boat, we've ordered an "oversized armchair" to replace the two leather chairs we gave away, wired the boat tidily for internet connection for both of us, tested the antenna mast extension almost to full height (and, my goodness, it is high!), and shopped around, unsuccessfully, for a rug.  Any excursions in the near future will be on a one-day basis.  We are having the galvanic isolator fitted tomorrow, the engine serviced some time soon(!), and going to the marina barbecue on Saturday, a big event by all accounts, and an opportunity to meet more of the boaters here.  Each day, Kantara feels more and more "home", and we're loving it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's a lovely day!

I awoke this morning, my 60th birthday, to a beautiful clear blue, sunny sky, three weeks into our Kantara adventure.  We may venture out today, but we're now being a bit cautious since discovering that the engine has not been serviced for some time.  It's an eleven year-old engine with over 6,000 hours on the clock - not excessive for an engine of this quality - so we need to be sure that it's been professionally serviced before we entrust our cruising to it.  So we await the arrival of an engineer "some time in the next week or so" to do the work.  I look forward to being able to ply him with questions about an engine which is largely a mystery to me at the moment.

We now boast what must be the tallest 3G mast in the marina.  There is already on the roof of the boat the mounting for a Sky dish.  We have taken the dish down for the moment, but could always replace it or another service dish at a later date.  But the mounting looked just right for the task of housing a telescopic mast for our 3G antenna.  It did need some modification, though, so we drove around to a boat-builder's yard, where a young man cut and welded the housing, to produce exactly what we needed, charging us a mere £2 "to cover the electricity".  A trip to a caravan accessories shop resulted in the purchase of a telescopic mast - extending to over three metres if we wish - and then back to the boat to mount it.  The mounting unit needs sanding and a couple of coats of paint, but the antenna is now held aloft to grab our 3G signal from the air!

Many thanks to Bob Blues for recommending the kit we are now using for our Internet connection.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Decent Internet connection at last

Having replaced a short cable which we lost somewhere in the move to Kantara, I was able today to link our antenna to our router to our laptop computers... and it works a treat!  The signal strength at our mooring fluctuates about 5 dBm, but even at its lowest it's fast, so we are well pleased.  I fitted the antenna on the short mast to which the Sky dish had been fixed, but I'm going to get someone to modify it so that it can be extended a further couple of metres when necessary.  If we get Freeview, as we are considering, then we will be able to attach the dish to the bottom of the same mast.

Yesterday evening was fairly chilly, and it gave us the chance to use the oil stove properly for the first time.  When we were considering having a boat built to our design, we always said that we would not have a stove, and we've always been surprised that so many people have them in their boats.  Now we know why.  This little stove burns a steady, small dribble of diesel oil, and heats three radiators and water in the hot tank.  On its lowest setting last night, we were too hot, and had to open some windows!  It burns with a lovely red glow, and really makes the boat feel cosy.  I'm going to light it again after I post this!

It's been very windy again today, and only one couple had the courage to take their boat out onto the cut.  The thing is, once you are on the canal, the wind is not often a problem, but the marina is rather exposed, and the entrance/exit of any marina is only one boat's width.  Anyone pointing their bow at the exit here gets hit by a strong side wind, and is driven sideways away from it. Likewise, anyone coming into the pound is immediately taken sideways across the marina - it can be quite amusing to watch, but not too much fun for the helmsman!

It's cold and dark out there, and warm and cosy in here - I think I'll pour myself another glass of wine!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things to do - always things to do!

We've at last settled to the idea that this period before we overwinter at home is the time for preparing for proper cruising next year.  Unrealistically, I at least had expected to be able to cruising for longish periods this month and probably October, too, but that is clearly not to be.  At the moment, there are always things to do.  We installed new 240v lights inside the boat yesterday, collected from home over the weekend, only to realise we had no light-bulbs for them.  Returning from a shopping trip for those, we started to vacuum clean, and the vac died noisily, so we have to go shopping again today.

One major problem at present is the inadequacy of our Internet connection.  The installation of the new router and antenna we bought has been hindered by the loss of a very short but all-important cable, and our inability to decide where best to fix the antenna mast - and to find the right mast for the job.  We hope to get that sorted today, and then we won't have to rely on the marina wi-fi, which is good at times, but very unreliable.

So, we do... things! Patiently!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chairs for free

This post is basically for moorers at Yelvertoft Marina.  Without a printer to create a notice to put in the Moorers' Lounge, it is the only way I can get a picture out of the two chairs we need to get rid of.  If any other readers would like these chairs, then you may to come and collect them, either from Yelvertoft or St Albans.  Add a comment below if you'd like them, or phone or email if you have those details.

FREE - two black, leather-upholstered , swivel chairs, with footrests.  Very comfortable, and in excellent condition, but just not right for us in our boat.  Please come and see us in Kantara if you would like them.
(The chairs have now gone to a new home!)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two weeks in...

Two weeks ago today, Grace and I brought our newly-acquired Kantara the mile or so from Crick Wharf to Yelvertoft Marina. Today, we took her out on the canal again - for just six hours, but it was our first real boating time since we bought her. And it was good! Very good! The water system works properly, and so does everything else. We were very chuffed when I got an email from Colin, saying there was no invoice for the work done, because he and Trevor would sort that out between them. Clearly, two men who take great pride in their work, and who value their customers. We are both very grateful.

We've now asked Colin to fit a galvanic isolator on the boat. The problem here may be us having to be in Yelvertoft, or at least fairly close, on his next available day for fitting. But we'll not let that bother us. It's important we get it fitted.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"At last!"

I received a text message from Trevor this afternoon. It said, simply, "At last!".

Having heard nothing from Colin all day yesterday, I rang him this morning to find that he was ready, finally to fix our problem, and that he would ring me back to tell me when he could do it. Because of poor mobile phone connection, I also managed to fail to chat with Trevor! In due course, Grace and I set out for an hour's walk, but were stopped just yards from the boat by a call from Colin, saying he would arrive within fifteen minutes.

Indeed he did, and he fitted a new pump. We tested it all, tried to get the PRV to open, and it was silent. We assume it is fixed. We are wary enough now to give it all a good 24-hour testing, but we feel pretty confident that the problem is over.

NOW perhaps we can start a bit of cruising!

The photos on this post are of the sky over the marina yesterday - with no post-processing. The colours really were like that!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What a beautiful morning!

It was very windy again last night, but we awoke this morning to a beautiful blue sky, warm sunshine, and far less wind. It's on days like today that we remember why we wanted to live on a boat. We've had a slow, problematic start, but our problems have been fairly mild in themselves. It has just been unfortunate that they have stopped us from being out on the cut... but then again, as I have said before, the wind has been prohibitive anyway. We are told Colin has bought the necessary parts to fix our water system problems. Once fitted, we will need a time of trial before we can be sure that all the pressures are acceptable and that the system will work without further error. Then we will be able to relax and use Kantara for what we bought her for.

In the meantime, we shall go for a long walk today. We've been rather too sedentary for a couple of weeks now. I would have hoped to work off a few pounds by now, had we been boating.

Oh! Kettle's boiling - time to do the washing up!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Let's have another go, shall we?

After a long weekend at home, we returned to Kantara yesterday - and with NO problems on the M1! We had a car full of various bits and pieces we needed for the boat, and it took us a while to get that lot brought aboard and put away. There was still washing-up to be done, since we had left in something of a hurry, with no water with which to do the job, so we boiled the kettle, made ourselves some tea, and got that done.  Now down to the water system...

I had spoken with Colin, the plumber, just before we left home, and lined him up to replace the Pressure Relief Valve (PRV) this morning at 8:00, so there was nothing we could do about the situation yesterday, apart from look into the bilges and breathe a sigh of relief that there had been no further leakage.  So we went to bed again without water or heating (though it wasn't a particularly cold night), and set the alarm for 7:00... which time we awoke this morning, to greet Colin at 8:00 as arranged.  It was a matter of moments to fit the new valve, and it tested fine. Gladly, we switched on the water pump, fired up the heating, did last night's washing-up(!), and showered. At which point the PRV opened and started pumping water into the canal. This stopped when the pump was switched off, but... there is obviously still a problem.  Ho-hum. I'll post this, and phone Colin.

The weather is still not good for boating, though. Yesterday was positively warm, and very sunny, with a beautiful, clear and starry night sky.  And today is shaping up to be the same, but it is still very windy, and not at all suitable for cruising. The wind was far worse yesterday, whipping the surface of the marina pound into quite a fury. I spoke with a boater who had just returned from a week on the cut, and she spoke of the winds being so bad that she could not steer into locks, nor avoid running into other boats. She had had to navigate the Watford Flight of locks, and regretted it. This was the day when parts of the UK were suffering 80 mph gusts. I think we wait! We have enough to do here, and the water system has to be right before we venture out.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pause for breath

I write this from home in St Albans.  Late Thursday afternoon, Grace had just finished having a shower, and the pressure relief valve opened as it had never opened before, and water was pumped from the system into the canal.  And it pumped, and it pumped and it pumped, until I stopped it by switching off the water pump, by which time it had half emptied our cold water tank.  So now we could use no water - for drinks, washing up (and we had a big backlog!), the loo, or for heating.  We sighed, cooked without water, had supper, added to the pile of washing up, and went to bed.

Friday, we came home. We had things to do here anyway, and needed to collect things here to take back to Kantara, but the water situation decided for us that we should come back at that particular time.  Calls to Trevor and the plumber have been made, and we hope to have the problem rectified - a NEW valve! - on Monday, so that we can return and continue our boating. We still have some cruising to do before the weather turns against us.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Is Kantara Kantankerous?

Eleven years ago, a boatfitter, in a moment of carelessness, fitted a pressure valve to Kantara's calorifier (think "hot tank") the wrong way around.  Eleven years later - the day before yesterday in fact - the pressure in the calorifier rose to a level which it had never reached before, albeit a perfectly safe level, and the valve failed to open, blowing two hot water pipes apart.  This morning, a local boatfitter responded to our call to come and fix our piping.  He pushed and he pulled, and he tested all of the joints in the appropriate pipes, took his fee and left.  Less than two hours later, Grace and I heard a very steamy, gushy sound that suggested that all was not well in the water system, and we ran to the bed, underneath which the same pipe had been blown off again, and hot water was running out.  Grace shot off to turn off the water pump, and I dived in to reconnect the pipe - successfully this time.

A call to the aforementioned boatfitter contained his observation that he had noticed that the pressure valve was fitted the wrong way around - he did not say why he had done nothing about it.  He promised to come back later to fix everything.

Later, we were visited by Trevor, the one who had done the survey on Kantara, to check that all of the necessary remedial works had been done in order to satisfy compliance with the description of the boat before sale, and with safety regulations.  All was well.  He had been speaking with our plumber not long before, and had heard about our problems.  He looked at the calorifier, its pipes, the wet flooring around it, and remarked on the incorrectly fitted pressure valve, explaining to us how the system had survived the last eleven years on lower pressures where the valve had simply not been needed, and how our different usage had resulted in ... Oh well, you know the story.  And the story finishes with the plumber returning, replacing the joint of the pipes which had failed, refitting the valve the correct way around, and refunding the money we had paid him earlier.

By the end of today, Grace and I had removed over fifty gallons of water from the saloon bilge.  Does the boat not like us, or is she just Kantankerous?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Boats have water outside. If the water is inside, it's a saucepan!"

We had something of a baptism into canal life late last night when I noticed that the water pump had been running for a while, and shouldn't have been.  The water tank had a lot less in it than it should have done - we'd filled it earlier - so the next suspect was the calorifier under the bed.  A hasty dismantling of the bed revealed a pipe which had disjointed itself from a neighbour, resulting in a wet floor, and water in the saloon bilge. There is no plug to pull, valve to open or pump to switch on in such a situation, so, having switched off the water pump as soon as we had realised there was a problem, all we could do was to put the bed back and get into it.

The night was incredibly windy - are we now suffering the tail-end of Irene? - so what with that and anxious thoughts of the hull full of water beneath us, we both slept badly.   A boat without water is a challenge - no washing, no loo, no heating, no washing-up - so we were both glad to avail ourselves of the marina's facilities early this morning.  A quick look on the Internet at the stock of various nearby chandleries prompted us to drive off to Midland Chandlers in nearby Braunston to buy a hand pump and a couple of metres of plastic hose.  Returning to Kantara we spent ages pumping 40 gallons of water from under the floor.  It was a blessing that the water had not risen above floor level, so there was no damage to anything except the woodwork around the offending pipe under our bed, which was wet, and needed a lot of attention from Grace with her hairdryer.

Finding that the joint was still leaking, despite my attempts to tighten it, we called for a local plumber - recommended by ABNB through whom we bought the boat - and set about emptying the water system altogether.  Colin, the plumber, will be with us early tomorrow morning.  We are thankful that the flooding was not worse, and that we have learned some lessons from this about the workings of the boat.

The title of this post is a quote from a contributor to a thread on the Canal World Discussion Forums on the web.  We were gratified to read there that such bilge flooding as we had is a common experience.  Let's hope it's our last, though!

Monday, September 05, 2011


Believing that Yelvertoft might have been a medieval Jewish settlement, I was surprised to learn that the name is not Yiddish, and the village has a very different history from the one I imagined.  Yelvertoft Marina, less than a mile outside the village, is lovely... but very windy. Seventy-foot "Jasmine" arrived next to us late yesterday, suffering so badly from the strong winds across the pound that she crashed into the back of Kantara in their attempt to moor, and damaged the bicycle rack. Owners Nick and Margaret were most embarrassed and apologetic, and very relieved when I told them I was removing it anyway. Other boats have been finding it hard to get in or out of the narrow opening onto the canal, and we haven't bothered to try to move at all.  Instead, we finished getting our things out of the car and into a suitable place in the boat. We never thought that we would ever say this about a boat, but we actually have plenty of storage space.

Yelvertoft Marina is not the cheapest marina in the vicinity, but we chose it very particularly because of its remote setting - which not only means no road noise, but also greater security - and its open, spacious layout. It has a full complement of services, too, and an excellent moorers' lounge with comfortable seating, free tea and coffee, and an enormous collection of books, CDs, and games for moorers to borrow.  There are photos on the wall of social occasions which they've had here over the year or so they've been open.  It all adds up to something rather more than a place to have your boat.

We'll probably go home tomorrow for a couple of days to pick up a few more things we need here, and then we'll have a few weeks of cruising before going home again for the winter.  Perhaps we'll have Christmas here with the family!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Now we REALLY start!

We could actually have hoped for a colder day yesterday, the day Kantara was handed over to us.  We allowed two hours for a one and a quarter hour journey, and it took three hours, a large chunk of which was spent sitting in a jam on the road from hell - the M1 - in very hot weather.  So we arrived late at Crick, to meet Bob, the last owner of Kantara, a lovely man who had lived with his wife full-time in the boat until poor health had forced them to sell.  He clearly loves Kantara, and his greatest wish now for her was that someone else would love her as much, and be as happy in her as he had been.  We think that describes us well.

Bob spent a good deal of time with us, explaining all sorts of details, and making sure that we had all the information we needed to get the best out of Kantara.  After he left, having given us his contact details and assured us that we were to feel free to get in touch with him if we needed any help, we drove to Yelvertoft Marina, left the car there, and walked back to ABNB in Crick to collect Kantara and sail her back to the mooring we had booked at Yelvertoft. It was a good feeling, knowing that she was now actually ours.

Then began the process of unloading the car, and getting things into the boat, listing the things we had overlooked and would need to pick up from home the next time we return. Time flew, and we realised we had not eaten since we munched a sandwich on the M1, so we had to stop to prepare and eat a meal, drink a bottle of wine Bob had so kindly left for us (along with some port and a bottle of a fiery spirit we had never seen before), before falling into bed, exhausted.

We awoke late this morning, to a dreary and windy day, but still warm, and the day was spent shopping for food, tidying our things properly into the many cupboards in the boat, and sorting out a few technical problems, most of which were due to our ignorance, and were solved by reading the manuals. One needed Bob's help, and he was onto it like a shot.  We are so grateful to him for his promise of support on such occasions.

And here we are, 10:20 on Saturday evening, sitting in the moorers' lounge in the marina - the best place to connect to the wi-fi - a lot closer to being ready to cruise a bit. We are in no special hurry. We want to be as comfortable as possible when we start to cruise, and not be irritated by some detail we have overlooked. The biggest challenge at the moment is getting our 3G router and antenna set up properly, so that both of us can get the best possible Internet connection for our laptop computers. I tried this evening before we ate, but I think I was just too tired, and I had to give up. But there's time to do that - I don't go back to school on Monday! 

Here's Kantara in her new setting...

And this one's for Rhea and Kate, who will find the name very much funnier than the rest of you.