Sunday, 20 August 2017

Electric narrowboat

Not long after setting off this morning we met Arabia, a shortened 1907 Josher. And very nice it looked.

We have seen a few boats called Black Swan; this is the first real black swan I can recall seeing.

It was at Horninglow Basin, where we'd stopped for water and Elsan.

We saw our friends Chris and Joy on Wrens Nest at Willington, so we tied up and Jan went for a cup of tea on their boat while I cycled back to Branston for the car. On the way I stopped to talk to the owner of this boat, which appears to be called Ovaltine but which doesn't appear in the boat listing. Neither does the registration number. (To the right it says "Bob up & down".)

Anyway, Ken was very happy to talk about his boat which has an interesting drive train. The clue is in the signwriting: "Drink delicious Ovaltine for an electric experience"(!) This is what caught my eye as we cruised past. Yes, the boat is electric, in that the propeller is driven by an electric motor. Where there would normally be an engine there is a large diesel generator; where there would normally be a gearbox is the electric motor driving the prop shaft via a belt with a 3:1 reduction achieved by the size of the pulleys. There are four crates of lithium ion batteries, each crate not much bigger than a conventional lead-acid battery. The batteries are what are used in electric cars. The motor runs on 110VDC. Ken runs the generator, a "site generator" only while the boat is stationary and only for about three hours a day. He cruises on battery power with just a faint whine as the only noise in addition to the prop wash. Ken has installed a multiplicity of meters to monitor voltage, current, amp-hours and temperature. And probably a few other things which I didn't notice. I'm afraid I can't remember the amp-hour capacity of the battery bank, nor the power of the motor - although I think the generator is capable of 5kW and the motor might be similarly rated. The motor, by the way, looked fairly insignificant, certainly compared with the vast generator. One thing which surprised me was the almost complete lack of solar panels on the roof. Apparently they would have introduced too much extra complexity to the charging system.

I'm sorry I didn't take any photos "under the bonnet". I suppose I didn't want to intrude. I'd never make an ace reporter.

Thank you, Ken, for taking the time to talk to me about it all.

Keeping with the electric theme, after I dropped the car off at Swarkestone, my route back to Willington took me past the former power station's old cooling towers. A notice states that permission was being sought for their demolition between January 2017 and July 2017.

Well, they are still there, still dominating the landscape. I think they should remain. The power station itself seems to have been reduced to a few lumps of concrete.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Balance beam causes loss of balance

More shower dodging today as we moved from Alrewas to Branston. We didn't get to Willington, as I'd planned, because we drove to Newcastle-under-Lyme to visit fellow BCF member Chris in hospital. In operating a bottom gate at a lock she had fallen down a six feet drop onto the ground and sustained some nasty injuries. I understand that she lost her footing trying to negotiate round the end of the balance beam where it projects beyond the masonry. She is likely to be unable to be boating for quite a while - a bit of a problem as she and Adrian are liveaboards. We were glad to be able to visit, and I think she was glad to see us.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were ourselves visited this morning, by Alan and Glenda on Tranquillity, also BCF members. After coffee we set off, descending Alrewas Lock onto the river section.

At Tatenhill Lock we passed Hadley in its idyllic-looking setting. Not quite so idyllic-sounding with the A38 dual carriageway not far away. I have left my camera in the car - this is an image from the timelapse recording.

At some point we passed another blogger's boat, or should that be former blogger? Yes, Granny Buttons was moored up in the locality.

I didn't have quite so far to cycle to retrieve the car - just six miles to Alrewas. My satnav doesn't have the new road at Branston, so I couldn't find how to get to the Bridge pub. In the end I picked Jan up from Morrison's and we drove straight to N-u-L from there. On the way back from the hospital visit we stopped off at the Wetherspoon's in Uttoxeter for something to eat.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A lot of effort for no gas

Our first task today was to get gas and diesel at Fazeley Mill Marina. We had overshot the marina yesterday so that we could tie up on the piling with other boats (and go for a curry at Kudos) - so we went to Fazeley Junction, winded and retraced our steps to the marina. Shared ownership boat Sorceress had just beaten us to it;' we had to wait while they had two pumpouts and a diesel fill. Meanwhile I opened the gas locker and removed all the things which are not supposed to be in there so I could get at the empty gas bottle. You know, the anchor with its chain and warp, the hose, an old barbecue, a hose reel, another old hose and a few spare pipe fenders. I undid the connector and lifted out the empty bottle. When Sorceress slid out we took its place and I told Jackie I'd like gas and diesel. Ah. She had sold her last gas bottle yesterday. Hmm. Now I had to put everything back and do it all over again when we found some gas. The moral of the story: check there is actually gas available before getting the old bottle out.

We were glad we got diesel, though, as it took 82 litres. This meant that there had been only 18 litres left in the tank where I thought we had about 50 left. It must have been all the upstream river cruising we did since the previous fill.

Back at Fazeley Junction we turned left from the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal onto what most people call the Coventry Canal. It is, in fact, still the Birmingham and Fazeley for another five and a half miles, splitting the Coventry Canal into two chunks. On my cycle back to get the car I found the place where the "detached portion" of the Coventry Canal meets the Birmingham and Fazeley.

The plaque below the ancient-looking boundary marker talks of it being "sponsored" by the local branch of the IWA. Is it not the original boundary stone? It's obviously been remounted but it looks genuine enough.

A certain blogger was not in as we passed through Fradley Locks this afternoon.

A shame not to see you, Nev. Percy's paintwork is very smart.

We stopped at Alrewas where there was plenty of space. I counted 30 boats on the move that we met today, surely a record for us for this year. (I counted them on a replay of my timelapse recording - I've had the camera going since Droitwich. The uploads will have to wait until we get home, and I hope I can remember how to do it.)

My cycle back to get the car from Fazeley seemed longer and more arduous today. Perhaps it was the wind. Strong and wrong direction. Even the drive to Alrewas seemed far further than it should have been, but I kept a close eye on the satnav and the route was a sensible one.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A milestone reached

Yes, almost literally. But first to today's cruising.

At Minworth Locks there was work going on to improve the towpath for cyclists. As one who often uses towpaths for this very purpose I have to say that a wide metalled surface makes a huge difference. In all the car shuffling I've been doing this year I have so far cycled from Fazeley to Gayton Junction via Birmingham, Stratford-on-Avon, Tewkesbury, Droitwich, Birmingham again and Leamington Spa. All the cycling has, of course, been done in shortish stages and in the opposite direction to the boat.

I should have taken a photo of the finished path. It looks rather clinical freshly blacked (you'll have to take my word for it). More like a footpath in a brand new housing estate than a towpath, but it'll soon acquire a used look, I'm sure.

Speaking of which, just before Minworth Top Lock was a new housing estate. The building on the right is what's left of the Cincinnati Building. Just discernible on the faded huge sign are the letters (N)CI(N). It looks as though a new wall has been built where the building has been cut in two.

After a wet start the weather improved, with plenty of sunshine. It was a bit breezy, though. Here Jan is looking after Jubilee through one of the Curdworth locks.

Now to the "milestone". No, it's not my birthday. The Volvo 240 reached 200,000 miles on the clock as I was driving between Tyburn and Fazeley.

This is a mile later, where the numbers have more or less settled down.

We bought the car 20 years ago at 65,000 miles, so we've done an average of 6,750 miles per year. I do far fewer in the Amazon, something like 1,000 miles per year.

I suppose the next boat "milestone" will be 5,000 hours on the engine hours counter. Tomorrow we will put a few more on as we travel from Fazeley to Alrewas.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Busy, busy, busy on the BCN - and a picture teaser

We made a late start to our boating today as we went to the funeral of a BCF member three miles away in King's Heath. Being at the basin at the top of Camp Hill Locks was very convenient. I spoke to the person on the boat in the arm, to our relief he was very happy for us to breast up to him. We did not want to hog the water point.

After yesterday's lonely boating up the Grand Union to Camp Hill it came as something of a surprise to find we were in a queue of boats waiting to go down the locks. There were three ahead of us and one came along behind. Two or three boats came up the flight while we went down. I've never seen these locks so busy.

At Bordesley Junction we turned right under the towpath bridge in the photo below.

The Garrison Locks were quicker as the slow hire boat (two in front down Camp Hill) had gone on on the Digbeth Branch, leaving the shared ownership boat Wigston in front.

Here's a picture teaser for you, spotted as we did this section.

Around the Nechells area I saw these large things in a secure compound. At first I thought they might be something to do with bridge supports, but then I wondered if they are part of high voltage distribution equipment. The "danger of death" sign might be a clue.

We stopped on the bollards by Butler's Bridge, Tyburn, on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, having made the sharp right turn at Salford Junction. After a brief shower of rain I cycled back to Camp Hill for the car.

We have now booked in to the IWA festival at Ilkeston so that's where we're heading. Have I already mentioned that?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Cleaning up the side ponds at Knowle

From Kingswood Junction we took the alternative route into Birmingham, on the Grand Union Canal. This starts off pleasantly enough, but above Knowle Locks the canal is in a cutting for many miles.

The side ponds seem to be getting some attention at Knowle Locks; this one has scrubbed up well.

The long summit pound above the locks was 6" - 9" low. A better photo to illustrate this would have been an overspill weir, but I neglected to take one.

Nearing Camp Hill - and out of the cutting - this warehouse dominates the scene.

It's still in use for something, despite many of the windows being broken. A steel mesh covers both broken and unbroken windows now.

We stopped for the night at Camp Hill Top Lock, on the secure mooring by the water point. The only boat to have come past while we've been here hasn't wanted to stop, so we haven't been in anyone's way. We hope the same will hold for tomorrow morning, when we have to go to a funeral in Birmingham. In the morning I shall investigate whether it might be possible to moor in the arm behind the boat already there.

To retrieve the car from Lapworth I cycled back along the towpath. This started well, with a good surface, but it began to get dark at the same time as the surface got rougher and rougher. In the end it took me more than an hour and a half to cycle the 15 miles, so my average speed was less than 10mph. I've managed to park very close to the basin here. There should be some car news in a day or two.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Fender the offender

We drove to MK to visit Ally, Ben and Josiah yesterday, hence no blogging. This morning we set off reasonably early (0830) from Wootton Wawen to get some locks under our belt. The first few were against us, and then we were asked to wait below a lock while a CRT man fished around in a bottom gate recess with a giant aluminium and steel keb. That's it, resting on the wooden bollard.

The gate had been reported as giving problems opening sufficiently. All that was dredged up was a pile of twigs and a broken fender. A boater coming down the locks looked at the fender so I told him it was "fenders keepers". That's him, walking away on the left. He didn't want it.

Still, now the gate opened fine for us, so we were off again. Now we were catching up with a boat in front - all locks having to be turned until we started meeting boats coming towards us.

These sunflowers might look pretty at the lockside ...

... but not to a single hander trying to haul their boat in or out of the lock.

We stopped to chat to fellow BCF members Maureen and Peter on Blue Roan - thanks for the tea and lemon meringue pie. Then we completed the South Stratford Canal, turning right at Kingswood Junction onto the link to the Grand Union. We tied up, and I cycled back down the towpath to retrieve the car from the car park of the Navigation at Wootton Wawen.

This is Wootton Wawen Aqueduct from below ...

... with its fine plaque.

The drive back seemed to take just as long as my cycle ride and was rather less pleasant. I ended up parking at another Navigation pub, just round the corner on the GU.

We shall see if the trains passing overhead disturb us tonight.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Where's the balance?

We had a "day off" yesterday, i.e. the boat stayed on its pontoon mooring in Bancroft Basin, Stratford-on-Avon. We walked around the town dodging (other) tourists in the day, and enjoyed a more peaceful walk along the river in the evening.

This morning I took a photo of our spot in the basin after some boats had left, then we left too.

The third lock up, Lock 53, has an unusual bottom gate balance beam. Actually, that's a misnomer. The metalwork at right angles to the gate - to avoid fouling the bridge - hardly balances the weight of the gate at all, making it very hard to move.

We watered up and emptied the Elsan at Valley Cruisers. The boatyard seems to share the CRT facilities. Then we moved across to the towpath side where we tied up, had lunch and went to the nearby Aldi. When we got going again we caught up with a newbie hireboat crew attempting their first lock. They did quite well, getting through the lock quickly, but they left the top gate open and a paddle up. At the next lock they'd improved - they just left the top gate open. The locks were all in their favour, and against us, of course, so it took four or five locks before I could gently educate them in some lock etiquette. Above Lock 43 we were relieved to see that they were tying up. The next locks were now in our favour - hooray!

I tried a different shot of the Edstone (Bearley) Aqueduct.

Just south of Wootton Wawen a new marina is being dug out. Very red soil here.

The rain held off and some late afternoon sun lit the trees nicely.

We stopped at Wootton Wawen and ate in the Navigation Inn. I had a good mixed grill (steak done to perfection: a proper "medium-rare" resulting from the requested "rare").

Look up in the lobby by the loos next time you're there and you'll see this rather good stained glass skylight.