Friday, August 23, 2013

A good week of work

We've been using the run-up to Michelle's visit, which starts tomorrow, to tidy up the paintwork on the boat's cabin. We washed her very thoroughly, especially the roof, which had been rather neglected over the past year, then sanded and touched up a number of areas where the paint was chipped or rust was coming up. We have a lot of the red paint for the boat, but no yellow, and the blue is fast running out. The problem is that these colours are no longer available, so when we run out, we have to choose something else as close as possible to the colour, or pay a lot to have a company mix them for us especially.

Having painted these areas, we wax polished the lot. It rained overnight, and it was rewarding the next morning to see the water in beads on the paintwork (except for on a few patches on the roof, where it had been difficult to see where I'd waxed and where I'd not!). I put the troughs of herbs and flowers back, having now to put them on non-slip mats because the curved roof is so slippery! More paint work was done on the taffrail, and that will be ready to refit tomorrow.

We went back to our house yesterday to collect a few things we needed, and we put the mooring ropes in the washing machine for a good cleansing. It's revitalised them nicely.

An impromptu barbecue and quiz was announced for the Bank Holiday Saturday, tomorrow, but was later postponed until Sunday because the local weather forecast says it will be raining tomorrow evening. This is a great shame for us, because Michelle will be with us on Saturday, and we were all looking forward to the event, but we'll be out on the cut on Sunday. Never mind - we're looking forward to the week's cruise, too.

A crew from the Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service came to the marina today, to give a talk about fire safety on boats, and to give free fire checks on boats. It was very successful. Eight boats were represented at the talk, with several other owners having arranged for visits at other times. The talk was informative, interesting, and delivered with a good dose of humour mixed with the seriousness of the topic. Yelvertoft had had a boat fire the year before we arrived here, and several of those at the talk, including the firemen, remembered it well.

We had Kantara inspected, and she passed with flying colours. We were given one smoke alarm, being advised that it would be best to have one in the bedroom. We already have one smoke alarm and two carbon monoxide alarms fitted, but the firemen came with enough of each type of device to be able to give them out as they deemed necessary. It was a very worthwhile event, and we picked up a good number of useful tips from it.

While we were painting, I turned my attention to the gangplank, barge pole and boat hook which are kept on a rack on the roof. There are all wooden, and painted, but yet again the paint had been applied over bare wood. Consequently, water had got through tiny cracks in the paint and, at best, the paint was coming off all over the surfaces. Worst was the barge pole - a three metre, two-inch thick piece of pine (not actually the best wood for the job) - which snapped very easily when I tested its strength. The boat hook was in need of complete stripping down and proper repainting; the gangplank, likewise. A much better alternative was to replace them altogether.

Aluminium is the alternative material used for the construction of these three tools, and we found on the web "The Canal Shop", a chandlery at nearby Hillmorton Wharf, where the manager makes folding, aluminium gangplank/rescue ladder combinations, and barge poles. We were most impressed when he offered to deliver the 10 foot pole to the boat, free of charge, and it was waiting for us on the roof when we arrived back home after the shopping trip.

We also bought a telescopic aluminium boat hook, this from Wharf House Narrowboats in Braunston.

Monday, August 19, 2013

For the record

I don't expect this post to interest our general readers much, but I include it here for my own record.

I stepped on the bathroom scales this morning to see my weight at 11 stone 9 pounds. That's a whole stone lighter than on the day we took ownership of Kantara. Now I know that some people lose a lot more than a stone in two years, but the thing is that I've not done this deliberately. It has happened simply as a result of a number of changes we have made in our eating habits, and of my exercise routine, aided to some extent by the physicality of life whilst cruising, with locks, walking and so on.

Neither of us is on "a diet", but we have changed the way we eat. For a start, we have changed to eating organic food as much as possible. This is often noticeably tastier than conventionally grown foods. Fruits and veg are not prone to contamination by pesticides or manufactured fertilisers. Meat is free from the antibiotics and chemicals often found in animal feed. We are careful about what we eat, but not faddy. We eat less meat, and more vegetables and fruit, lightly steaming the veg, and often adding them raw to salads. We avoid polyunsaturated fats, and replace them with butter, coconut oil and cold-pressed rapeseed oil. Much of what we do food-wise has been evolutionary, because it felt right, not always because of conscious decisions. But we have been very influenced by one Dr Joseph Mercola, whose web articles on health matters are very convincing, and backed with considerable research.  We still eat out fairly frequently, eat chocolate, drink wine. We usually avoid eating biscuits, cakes and other sugary foods simply because we usually don't feel the need for them. On the occasions we do, we don't have guilt trips.

My exercise routine has changed over the past year. Where I used to do a 15 to 20km cycle five days a week, I now do 10km twice weekly, and High Intensity Interval Training on the other three days - on the exercise bike, a 5 minute warm-up, then 6 repeats of 30 seconds of intense cycling followed by 90 seconds of "normal" cycling. The whole routine takes just 17 minutes, plus a few for muscle stretches and "warming down". Taking expert advice, I do no special exercise for the remaining two days.

This has resulted in a number of changes. It has improved my metabolism, such that I continue to burn calories at a faster rate for some hours after my exercise, especially after the HIIT. It has increased my stamina, and built muscle. It has lowered my resting heart rate to about 60bpm, and my blood pressure to around 120-125 over 62-68. My acid reflux condition has improved to the extent that I have stopped medication, and I have had no colds or flu for the whole two years.

I do need to build some strength training into my routine, and more limbering.

I went to see the doctor when we were back in St Albans the other week. For over a year, I had experienced occasional swelling of my feet and ankles. I had asked the doctor about this, and she said it was because I wasn't walking as much as I had been when I was teaching - and this was true, despite my habit of taking occasional long walks. But lately, I had noticed that the swelling was mostly in my right foot, and I was concerned that this might be symptomatic of something that needed treatment.

When I walked into the doctor's surgery, she said, "My goodness, you look well! What can I do for you??" 

The swelling of my foot turns out to be because of the presence of some small varicose veins, the result of years of ignorantly rubbing my legs in the wrong direction when drying them.

"Younger Next Year" had a profound effect on me, and I continue to follow its principles, although my exercise routine is now different from that of the author. I certainly do not feel my 62 years! and I'm told I don't look it.

I think a lot of how I feel is down to being retired, not having the stresses of work. But I think also that for us it's a lot to do with the change to living on the boat, a major change in our lives, doing something new. The change itself has been, is, beneficial to us physically and psychologically.

It's not everybody's idea of a way of life, but we recommend it!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Getting on with the jobs

We have quite a long list of jobs to get done by the end of this week, and we're doing quite well so far. We've been a bit hindered by a number of days of rain, and wind - yesterday very strong and gusty indeed.

Colin came on Friday and fitted four new domestic batteries to replace the three defunct ones.

Yes, the stern deck needs repainting, too!
At long last, now that the painting has been done, we were able to stick the step mat onto the very front of the bow. Unfortunately, however, the mat on the opposite side had got partly pulled off whilst doing a new manoeuvre with Ray on our BWHC course back in June, and that needed to be completely removed, and the damaged paint dealt with before we can refix the mat. And the weather's not since been conducive to external painting.

One mat replaced...

...and the other removed!
When the paint on the taff rail (the "seat" at the very stern of the boat) started to peel off, it came as no surprise to me to find that the wood underneath was bare. No primer or undercoat had been applied by the previous owner when he painted over where the original varnish had weathered away. The wooden seat had to be removed, then, stripped down and properly treated before we apply new topcoat, which we'll buy tomorrow. Also unsurprisingly, the metalwork onto which the wooden seat is fixed was badly rusted, and this, too, had to be dealt with. The surface had had Red Oxide primer applied before the wooden seat has screwed on, but the person who did it apparently didn't know that primer is not waterproof, and needs undercoat and topcoat.

We still have to get the fasteners fitted to the cratch cover and hull, so that the cover can be fixed down firmly along its bottom edge. In an attempt to stop the cover sagging under the weight of rain or snow, or the strength of the wind, I cut two wooden supports which will lie under the top of the cover where it is stitched to the sides, running from the front of the cabin to the top of the window panels at the very front of the cratch. These still need to be varnished, and I need to find a way to stop them being moved when the cover gets moved by the wind. All in good time!

I finished scrubbing the roof, which was very dulled from tree sap and dirty rain, and the whole boat is now ready for a thorough washing and waxing - except that we still have to finish the small touching-up jobs on the paintwork first.

While I'm painting the taff rail seat, I'll treat the gang plank, bargepole and boathook in similar fashion. They, too, suffer from having had top paint applied onto bare wood or damaged old paint.

We've hardly ever watched TV on the boat. We have a perfectly good TV/DVD player combo on which we've seen numerous DVD films. We also have a FreeSat satellite dish plugged into the TV - which has a FreeSat receiver built in. But FreeSat has not been working for us for some many months now, and we've had no idea what needed doing to put things right. You can imagine my glee when I found that someone on the marina was giving away a complete FreeSat kit pretty much identical to the one we have. So today, we swapped out various parts of our system for parts of this newly-acquired one, and found that the problem had been with the dish itself, which must somehow have become misaligned with the LNB unit which points into the front of it. Once the new dish was installed, the receiver was able to tune in to all of the available channels, and we can now watch live TV!

Friday evening was beautiful, warm, bright and sunny, and a lovely time to be up in a hot air balloon. This one, however, found staying airborne too challenging. It approached the marina very slowly indeed, losing height all of the time, despite the pilot's frequent blasts of flame into it, until finally making an unscheduled but gentle landing in an adjacent field, watched appreciatively by a large proportion of the marina population.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Painting finished!

With the weather forecasters apparently more confused than we are about the weather, we took our chances with it yesterday, and set out to Bridge 27 to finish painting the starboard side of the hull. Strangely, although it still had the patches of undercoat which we applied last year, there was very little new damage to the paint – not nearly as much as on the port side.

We arrived in time to do all of the preparatory work before lunch, then applied the paint in the afternoon. At least, Grace did. I've got a bad back - goodness knows how - so wasn't able to do too much bending or kneeling. I was able to get on with a few jobs, however, so didn't get to feel too useless. I even prepared supper!

With our all-but-dead domestic batteries, any attempt to use the inverter to generate 240v would have undoubtedly drained them in no time, as happened last week. They did support the 12v TV and DVD player however, and we spent the evening under a single light, watching "The skin I live in" – very odd!

We returned to the marina this morning, very glad that we got the job done, since the weather is now very windy and looking increasingly as if it will rain.

On the way back, I had to get off the boat to help out a guy in a hire boat with his small son. We had just passed a boat coming in the opposite direction whose crew had just helped this man to get his boat back to the bank. A mooring had come adrift, and the bow had swung out into the middle of the canal. He was struggling to get it back on his own. As we arrived alongside him, we saw why it had happened; he was using the mooring hooks completely wrongly, and it was no wonder that he had had problems. I showed him how to use them correctly, and walked briskly to catch up with Grace and Kantara at the next bridge.

Mooring hook

Now it's back to the little jobs around the boat, with the batteries being fitted on Friday.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A trip out for painting

There are stretches of rural mooring just north of Bridges 23 and 27 on the Grand Union which are absolutely ideal for boat painting. In both cases, the metal mooring pilings are very low, close to the water, and allow easy access to the whole of the hull above the blackened area. Ironically, we stopped off at Bridge 23 at the start of our Leicester Ring cruise back in June, and finished the painting on the port side which we had started last autumn. We had intended to find a suitable mooring on the cruise at which to complete the job started on the starboard, but didn't get around to it.

Ironically, after the cruise, the paintwork on the port side (and, no less, the starboard) needed further attention, so yesterday we drove the boat out to Bridge 23 again, intent on completing both sides in two or three days. The port side was relatively simple; just a matter of sanding the scratches and scrapes, then cleaning and painting them.

We adopted a new policy which is going to affect us a lot as long as we have the boat. It is normal practice to apply a primer and an undercoat wherever the paint has been removed to expose bare metal. However, since this is going to need to be done after every cruise we do, and since the topcoat paint is the only one which is actually waterproof, we will in future do as we did yesterday; that is, to apply topcoat only. Any rust which may appear under the paint will show up on the surface long before there is anything worse than surface corrosion, and it will be a quick and simple matter to deal with it again. "Little but often" is the motto.

So, the port side was finished in the afternoon, and it looked good.

Job done!

Part of our plan for the days out was to check just how reliable our batteries are now. We had concerns about them while we were hooked up to the landline in the marina, inasmuch as the battery charger just kept charging, hour after hour, refusing to let the battery voltage drop even a couple of volts. This is unusual behaviour, and sounded alarm bells to me.

As we settled down to our evening meal, the batteries measured 13.2 volts, with little or no load. They were still the same at around 8:00pm when I turned on the inverter, and we both started to use our laptop computers. The voltage dropped very quickly to 12.1v. Not good! Continuing to use the inverter was out of the question. This in itself consumes around 5 amps, added to the 14 used by our laptops. We would expect to start an evening of computer use with the batteries reading around 12.8v, which would drop to 12.4 in a couple of hours.

We spent the evening with one small light on, watching a DVD on Grace's computer, off its own battery power. When that battery went flat about ten minutes from the end of the film, we used the battery-driven TV and DVD player to watch to the end, but the batteries were very low by then, and we went to bed using as few lights as we possibly could.

It rained hard overnight. The paint was unharmed, but the weather looked very unsettled (despite the weather forecast, which promised clear sunshine), and it rained again briefly a couple of times before we got on the move again. The plan had always been to move from Bridge 23 to the winding just beyond 28, then back to moor at the low bank below Bridge 27 in order to paint the starboard side. Please note that the whole journey from the marina to the winding and back is just seven miles - around two hours travel.

We passed the first painting spot, considering the weather to be too windy and uncertain to risk doing any painting. Arriving at the second spot, the sun was out, but the clouds still threatened. So we continued back to the marina, arriving back in time for lunch. We'll have a go next week.

I texted Colin, and booked a day for him to replace our three dead batteries with four new ones. We know the several reasons why this first set - new when we bought the boat - have not lasted as long as they should. We are wiser now, and the new batteries will be maintenance-free, meaning that we will never run the risk of their electrolyte getting too low, as happened a few weeks ago. The new ones will last much longer.

An unusual craft, pushing a butty.

A very small tug

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Back to Kantara

After a good ten days back at the house, we returned to the boat yesterday. It was a useful time, too, with dentist and hygienist appointments for both of us, a visit to the doctor for me, and lots of hedge cutting in the gardens. It was great to see the kids, too, and Naomi prepared a superb three-course meal for all of us in celebration of Grace's 60th birthday on Saturday. We came back to the boat with arms full of wonderful flowers. The smell of the lilies fills the cabin!

Judith from NB Clancy J kindly watered the flowers, herbs and tomatoes on the roof while we were away, and they're doing really well. The tomato plants are heavy with fruit now, and we'll be eating some of it today.

We arrived yesterday as the skies started to look very stormy, and there was torrential rain for a while later. Judith told us that there had been a fair few heavy downpours over the last week or so, and everywhere is looking very much greener than it was before we left. Things are looking good for water levels on the cut.

Today we're settling back in, sorting out cupboards and drawers, and shopping. The cupboards are bare. The weather for the rest of the week looks favourable, so we may well get out for a couple of days to finish the hull painting. It'll be good to get that done at last.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Our week (or so) in St Albans

Back at the house, we were straight down to various jobs that needed to be done. The Saturday wedding of Gemma and Tom was a great occasion, and the promised rain even held off for them.

After that, doctor's appointments, dental checks, hygienist visits and having the car's aircon recharged with coolant (which process failed because they discovered that the pump is "lazy", and not doing its job properly. They only wanted £1600 to replace it for me. I declined.

More bad news came in an email from Sam Matts of Foxton Services, about the 240v generator on Kantara - that's right, the one that blew up.

He wrote...

As you are aware I have removed the belt driven 240V generator, complete with control box and loom, from your vessel 'Kantara' Index N°504459 and sent it for investigation into the reason for its further breakdown. I now have the results back and they have shown the following:-
The controlbox failure has been caused by either an excessive load being drawn from the unit and/or insufficient engine rpm to deliver the load being requested of it. Although an increase in engine rpm will help, it will not be a cure unless the power requested from the generator is not dramatically changed. 
There is no easy solution for this as, due to the age of the unit and the fact that it is now obsolete, the repair will not only be costly but unless changes are made to the usage, then further breakdown is inevitable. I have looked into replacing it with a similar modern unit, however, this type of engine belt driven generator would still not supply enough power for the same application that you have been using. Therefore the only feasible solution is to either place the generator with a much more powerful model or ensure that no more than 3,500 watts are being drawn from the unit at any one time. 
The generator unit has failed due to the ingress of oil mist. Due to its age and the hours run, this is most likely to have come from the engine breather tube. The  tube on this engine is not only open to all of the engine compartment but it is fairly close to the generating unit itself. It is not possible to divert this tube to the air intake, as the modern engines now do, but if the pipe can be either extended or contained to restrict the oil mist from the engine compartment, then this will reduce the amount of oil that is exposed to the generator. 
The cost of repair to the control box is quoted at £585 plus vat.
The cost of repair to the generator is quoted at £270 plus vat.
The cost of changes to the oil breather pipe will depend on your decision. 
As a gesture of good will I am willing to refit both of these units at no further cost to you, however, I would like to re literate that unless changes are made to the usage, then the same problems will arise again in the future. Serious consideration will need to undertaken to prevent further failure and costs to yourself.
I have tried to explain the reasons behind the failure to the best of my ability, however as my role was only to remove and re-fit the unit,  then I feel you may benefit from speaking with the repairers directly should you wish to seek any further information. The managing directer, Ken Cox, has been dealing with his on your behalf and can be contacted on 01827 712097. He will happy to speak with you should you choose.
I would appreciate if you could let me know which option you decide in order that we can move forward and resolve this issue for you once and for all.
Needless to say, I was unimpressed. I wrote back...
In view of the apparent facts, we've decided not to have these units reinstalled. Thank you for your offer of free reinstallation, though.
I am amazed at the report you have given me. On the occasion when the unit failed, the status lights on the control unit all indicated green - I looked at them frequently. That it then broke down - after the washing machine had finished its cycle, not while it was drawing current - because of insufficient input from the generator is beyond belief.
That the generator itself was damaged by oil mist is equally amazing. It had only been installed for 13 months since a "complete overhaul", and we've only done a few months cruising since then.
However, I realise that I am in a no-win position with it now, and I'll have to write off the hundreds of pounds it cost me to "put right" last year. I cannot afford to go any further with it. I would, however, appreciate you returning the units to me the next time Sam is in the vicinity of Yelvertoft.
I am not in any way holding Foxton Boat Services responsible for this serious failure, but I have to say that the company who have dealt with our equipment have left me feeling poorly served at very high cost.
In my first week of ownership of Kantara, a fellow moorer told me that BOAT stands for "Bring Out Another Thousand". Hmmmmph!