Sunday, November 25, 2012

Our last day on the cut this year!

Friday was the day we had been waiting for. The wind was negligible, the sky was blue and cloudless, so we set off at 10:30 for our test run of Kantara. We heard and felt the difference immediately. The engine was quieter and smoother, and we had far less of the spurious vibrations which you get in boats.

We turned right out of the marina and headed north up to the winding hole just past bridge 28 and back, an 8-mile, three-hour cruise in which we only passed three other moving boats. It was a glorious trip, cold but a very enjoyable way to conclude this year's Kantara experience.

The canal was full to overflowing, and surrounding fields were badly flooded in places.

Colin's straightening of the engine mounting has clearly improved Kantara's running, and, contrary to his expectations, it seems that neither the prop shaft not the stern gland have suffered any lasting damage. The gland dripped only little, as it should, and the grease gun turned down firmly as it used to, where previously it had never felt tight enough. We were very pleased.

A kingfisher graced us with its presence, and stayed close enough for me to get some clear pictures.

Returning to the marina very happy, we started to prepare to go back to the house the next day. We almost finished the job on the Saturday morning - we had to leave one or two items behind for collection another time, the car was so full - and drove back to St Albans in the pouring rain. What a good job we had taken Kantara out the day before!

Today, Sunday, is Naomi's birthday, and Jess's is on Wednesday, so we all had lunch out together. Tomorrow. we'll go back to the boat, finish the job of winterising, pack the remaining pieces and bits in the car and return again to the house. We'll go back probably once a month to make sure Kantara's all right - particularly if the winter is hard. One year, we might just stay on board through the winter, just to see what it's like. For now, I'm glad we have the house, and the greater comfort it can afford, should the weather get really cold.

Until we get back in late February (probably), there will be little to post in the blog. Follow us on Twitter to get any updates until then.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Weather - again!

You all know the standard pictograms for weather forecast reporting...

...well I think they ought to be honest, and adopt a new one...

Yesterday, the forecast for today said that the weather would be good enough for us to do our three-hour cruise to test the engine. This morning it said otherwise, and we had torrential rain and strong winds. We have not seen the canal as high as this before, lapping the bottom of the supporting beams in the jetties. The boat had risen so high that she was pulling over on her bow mooring rope, it had got so tight.

So, no cruise today. Tonight's forecast says there will be no rain tomorrow, but 24 mph winds! Friday might be OK.

We shall see.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Plans changed

Well, things didn't work out quite as planned. Sunday's weather was sunny and bright, with little wind, and it would have been the ideal day to take Kantara out for the test drive we wanted to give her after her engine and prop shaft alignment having been done. But instead we drove to Herefordshire.

We have been searching for ballast for the boat. Ballast is needed to keep her on an even keel (well, if she had a keel!). It's placed around the boat, usually in the bottom of cupboards, under the bed, in lockers and so on, to act as a balance against the weight of the furniture and fittings in the cabin. Our ballast has been a large iron weight in the gas locker at the front, bricks under the dinette, and a huge 25 litre water container, full, in a space under the galley worktop. This container was taking up too much space, and we needed something much smaller, iron or lead, to replace it. Grace looked on the Internet and found various possibilities, but the best one was being sold privately on Ebay, a 56lb iron weight for pan scales...
...this kind of thing.

When she first saw it, the price was a mere 99p, and it remained that way right to the end of the auction. She contacted the seller, and he suggested we collected it the next day, Sunday, at 2:00pm. No time for the test drive, then.

The drive to and from Kington in Herefordshire was really pleasant. Traffic was pretty light, and the weather excellent. We found the guy's house easily, then took a short drive out of the town to Hergest Ridge. The ridge "is a large elongated hill which traverses the border between England and Wales between the town of Kington in Herefordshire and the village of Gladestry in Powys. Its highest point, which is in England, is 1397 feet high." (Wikipedia) And, of course, it was the inspiration for Mike Oldfield's second album, which he named after it. It's an awesome feature, with fantastic panoramic views (and a very, very cold wind!). I had not taken my camera, and the photo below is the best I could find on the web. It doesn't do it justice!
At the end of Ommadawn, Oldfield's third album, is a short song entitled On Horseback. The last lines of the song are, "So if you feel a little glum, to Hergest Ridge you should come. In summer, winter, rain or sun, it's good to be on horseback. (Hey, and away we go...)"

The weather yesterday and today has been awful, with rain driven by a strong wind, but the forecast suggests it might be a lot better tomorrow, so perhaps we'll take the boat out then for a few hours. Then it will be back to St Albans the next day... or Friday, or...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Back home for a few more days

So we returned to the house on Thursday, and went to see Said the Maiden doing their two 40-minute sets at the folk club at the Pump House Theatre in Watford (the grotty Watford, not the Watford with the Locks!) They were absolutely fabulous, and the audience loved them. I've never heard them so good, honestly. Seventeen songs, several of them being performed for the first time - brilliant!
We came back home this afternoon. It was really cold in Kantara! The weather tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, so we'll take her out for a few hours, largely to test the engine now that it's been realigned. Monday may well see us driving to Herefordshire for the day - more of that later, if it happens - and then we'll winterise Kantara and go back to St Albans for the winter, probably Tuesday. It's going to be very odd, living in a house again!

I know that I published a number of sunset photos this time last year, but humour me, eh? We have fabulous sunsets this year, too! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Getting ready for winter

We're going back to St Albans today for a few days, mainly to see Said the Maiden at their big headline gig in Watford, but we'll also use the trip to take back some of the content of Kantara which we want to protect from the winter. It's easy to say "going home to St Albans", it slips off the tongue because of many years of usage, but it's true to say now that we feel Kantara is actually our home, and the house is our "home from home". We've now spent 12 of the past 15 months living aboard, and the house does feel strangely alien when we go back to it. No disrespect to our "kids", of course, with whom we love to spend the time! Alien, they are not!

We'll be back next week for as few days as we can manage, using the time to load the car with the last of the stuff we need to take back, and winterising the boat. Then, apart from monthly visits to check all is well with her, we won't see Kantara until the worst of the winter is over.

We saw "Looper" at the cinema on Tuesday, an excellent film. The cinema's most luxurious screen had no more than about thirty viewers for this late showing, and Grace and I were the last out of the cinema as it closed at around midnight. The film hadn't been showing for long in Rugby, and this was its last but one showing there. I can't imagine why it hadn't been more popular.

Chatting with Neil from Moody Cow the other day, he told me that he had been a few days behind us as we passed through Cropredy back at the end of September. Speaking with someone in the local shop, Neil happened to tell them that he was based at Yelvertoft Marina. The other person remembered another boat had passed through, also from Yelvertoft... erm, "Calamari" was it?? It turned out to be Kantara!

We bought an electric kettle this week, to use while we are in the marina - gas rings take so long to boil kettles! A simple, cheapest we could find, automatic kettle. Put water in it, switch it on, pour when it boils and switches off. Simple. But it comes with a 7-page Instruction Manual! With a diagram that tells us that the thing on the top which hinges back to reveal the interior of the kettle is the Lid, and also tells us which part is the Handle and which part the Spout. Of course, without the arrow pointing out where the On/Off Switch is, we just wouldn't be able to use it.
There follows a section on "Filling", which usefully reminds us to open the lid at the start of the procedure, and close it at the end. Then comes "Switching On", a complex process involving plugging the Mains Lead into the mains by means of the Plug on the end of said Lead, pressing the On/Off Switch downwards, and observing the illumination of the Power Indicator Light. "Switching Off" is easy, the reader is glad to note, since the kettle does this bit all by itself. However, we are told that we can switch the kettle off at any time by lifting the On/Off Switch. Oh, and the Power Indicator Light will go out.

The list of 21 Safety Warnings is somewhat daunting, but is essential in that it tells me important things such as... that the outside of the kettle gets hot when it has boiling water in it, that I shouldn't open the lid while the kettle is boiling, and that I should prevent children from pulling on the mains cord or knocking the kettle over.

The penultimate Safety Warning is the most important.
"This appliance is not intended for use by persons (including children) with reduced physical, sensory or mental capabilities, or lack of experience and instruction concerning the use of the appliance by a person responsible for their safety."
Frankly, anyone needing this manual must surely fit into at least one of those categories! Are people really this stupid??


Sunday, November 11, 2012


We came home from St Albans on Tuesday, bringing with the electric drill and jig saw needed to put ventilation holes in the storage under the dinette seating. There is no airflow down there, and we find that things - largely bedding - get damp and mouldy. We bought brass grilles to put over the outside of the vents, and a couple of drill bits, and set to work.

It wasn't a difficult task, but we took the opportunity to roll back the carpet to look for removable panels which would give us  a view into the bilges at that end of the boat. There were none. But we did spot an area of the floor in the saloon of which the surface was damp, giving us reason to think that there might be excessive water underneath it. However, the wood surface dried fairly quickly, and we were left thinking that it had had water spilled on it some tine ago, which had not had the opportunity to dry, being covered by heavy rubber-based underlay and a thick, woollen carpet. We let it dry for a few hours, then covered it back up again, and we'll leave it exposed again right through the winter. We'll be considering new carpet for Kantara in the Spring, too.

We saw the new Bond film, "Skyfall" one afternoon during the week, at a cinema screen attended by the biggest audience we've seen there. It was a good film - if you like Bond!
Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. Whilst MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

One night, sitting at my laptop computer for a couple of hours, I felt a pain growing in the left side of my ribcage. By the time I had logged off for the night, I was in agony, and thought that I must somehow have broken a rib - I've experienced that before. Sitting down, standing up, lying down, lying still in bed, all of these were unbelievably painful, and, rather than going to bed, I took painkillers and settled down on the sofa to read, finally getting into bed at around 3:00am, and getting a couple of hours sleep. The pain was, strangely, a lot better when I woke, and I knew then it couldn't have been because of a cracked rib. Perhaps it was a pinched nerve or strained muscle - I'd been doing a lot of chin-up exercises over the weekend. It was fully better the next day - very odd!

The weather today was fantastic. Clear blue skies and a bright sun after a very clear, cold night; so we took the opportunity to go somewhere new for a walk. We drove to Delapre Abbey in Northampton - bless them for having a dreadful one-way system, and NO signs for the abbey until you get right to the gateway into the site!
We had lunch in the tearoom, then spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds, beautiful in the sun and the autumn colours.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Halloween party

The weather has continued to be abysmal, with just the occasional couple of hours on some days being mild and sunny. So we've managed a few walks and shopping trips, but otherwise we're content to stay inside.

It was the occasion of the Halloween party last night. The day started – in the pouring rain and strong winds – with a coffee morning in aid of MacMillanCancer Support, and a good number of wet folk turned out for that. We bought seven DVDs and a really smart, new, boxed pair of packs of high quality playing cards (we play RummiKub a lot, but with cards rather than tiles!) from the bric-a-brac stall, and enjoyed coffee and cake there. At the party in the evening – which started in similar weather – there were raffles, auctions and cake sales to raise more money for the same charity. £500 was raised last year, and Carol, the organiser, was hoping to top that this year.

The party was good fun, needing two adjoining marquees to accommodate the crowd, much bigger than last year. The ground was sodden, with puddles actually inside the marquees in the morning, but the farmer owners of the marina had supplied loads of straw, and by the evening the ground was covered with a thick layer which stopped the water from being a problem. There was live music provided by a number of the moorers, a quiz (in which our table came second of seventeen), and Indian or Chinese food delivered from local take-aways. A number of people were in fancy dress. Unfortunately, some of my photos suffered from poor lighting where I used zoom, and the flash didn't illuminate the subject adequately, but I include them anyway, for the record. The best fancy dress in my opinion, but not according to the majority, was a pirate, but my photo of him really was too bad to keep.

We left the party at around 11:00, and the skies had cleared to leave a very clear, starbright sky, and it looked very likely that we would have a hard frost. However, we woke this morning to more heavy rain. We're going back to St Albans today, probably until Tuesday. It'll be good to see the “kids” again! It's an opportunity, too, to take stuff back for the winter.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Another week at the marina

The weather's been against us for most of the week, with often torrential rain and very strong winds. So walking has been out of the question - good for the health, but very dispiriting! We've got on, then, with hobbies and little jobs that needed to be done around the boat.

Colin came on Monday, serviced the engine, replaced the igniter in the Alde boiler, discovered and fixed a connection problem with the bowthruster, and solved the problem of the dripping stern gland. It seems that the engine was not sitting straight, so the prop shaft was out of alignment, causing wear and allowing the excessive dripping. We wonder if this happened when Kantara was dropped around 18 months ago.

The previous owner had had Kantara taken out of the water for work to be done on the hull. When they came to put her back in the canal, the brakes - on the cables being used to crane the boat - slipped, allowing the bow to fall some six feet back onto the railway sleepers from which she was being lifted. Fortunately, Trevor Whitling was on the scene, the man who later did the survey for us, and looked over Kantara for damage. Finding none, he wrote a letter for the owner, reporting in some detail what had happened, and stating his belief that no damage had occurred. This was handed to us before we bought the boat, and subsequent discussions with Trevor put our minds finally at rest over the matter.
Anyway, the dripping stern gland problem is solved now, at least for the time being. We can look forward to the engine being even quieter, probably, and more fuel-efficient, but the wear has been caused, and we might just have to get a new, automatic bilge pump to deal with any excessive dripping. We'll see when we start cruising next year.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Winter's here?

We couldn't have timed our painting trip better. Since returning, the weather has been quite unfit for painting, with several days of fog, or drizzle, or rain, with some of the strongest winds we've encountered here. Oddly, the wind has turned 180 degrees, and is bringing in some very cold weather. We really need the Alde gas boiler to warm the boat and the water quickly in the morning, but that won't be fixed until Monday.
(not ours)
The diesel "Bubble" stove is excellent for day-long heating. In fact, we often have to turn it off for an hour or so during the day because it's so effective, but it does take quite a while to heat the radiators and the water initially.
The undercoating of the port side still has to be done, and can be done here in the marina - given the weather. If we can't do it before we return to St Albans in a few weeks' time, it can wait until the spring. The primer will be adequate protection against the weather.

Of course, it'll all need washing and sanding first!
The Rolling Stones film premiere last Thursday, Crossfire Hurricane, was excellent, bringing back loads of teenage memories, but only attended by about thirty people, all about our age. 

It began with live broadcast from outside the Odeon, Leicester Square, with a huge crowd, and the Stones and various other celebrities coming up the red carpet. The film itself was broadcast to 300 cinemas around the world, and shown concurrently with the Leicester Square Odeon. It was a very good evening.

Bill Wyman was there, too, but seemed to keep away from the others
I've busied myself for a couple of half-days, tidying up the marina lending library. With well over a thousand books, and many that had been returned untidily over quite a long period of time, the shelves really were in a mess, and I actually enjoyed sorting it all out, along with the piles of CDs, DVDs, games and jigsaw puzzles. It's a terrific facility for the moorers, and well worth the time spent.
The library, smaller a year or so ago
As I type, two marquees are being erected outside the moorers' lounge, in preparation for the Halloween party next Saturday. A much larger number of folk than last year have signed up for it, and we all look forward to a live band, quizzes and competitions, good food and, of course, fancy dress.

We return to St Albans on Sunday, for a few days. We'll be back there again for November 16th, when Said the Maiden will be performing two 40 minute sets, with supporting acts, at the "Folk at the Pump House", at the Pump House Theatre in Watford. We wouldn't miss that for anything!
Hannah, Kathy and Jess - "Said the Maiden"
After we return from that, we'll be preparing Kantara for a winter without us, and going back to our St Albans home for Christmas and the worst of the winter. But then, who knows what the weather's going to be like?