Crick 2013

Monday found us visiting Crick Boat Show. We couldn't go last year, when the weather was very bad, because we were in the north boating, so it was particularly welcome to visit the show on a Bank Holiday Weekend when the weather was fine and sunny.

View of the basin
It was a day of meeting up with people. Before we even got into the show we came across Colin Dundas' van. Signwriter Colin has always used his vans for advertising his skills and techniques and has just finished his new van. It is as spectacular as ever. I don't think there are many FIAT vans with gold leaf lettering on the side!

Wonderful sign-writing on Colin Dundas' van

There were the usual collection of trade tents and static (non-floating) boats at the heart of the show. We visited Bedazzled to discus LED lights and bought some cabin lace from Evelyn Booth of Lockside Antiques to replace some of the damaged lace in our back cabin. I took the opportunity to chinwag with Graham Booth on the stand. I also met up with Paul Balmer of Waterways Routes and get a software update for our cruising maps. We met Paul earlier in the year in the snow and ice in Birmingham. I have been using his maps on my iPhone since earlier in the year and found them very useful. I will post about them shortly. 

Historic Boats at Crick

Working Boat Mendip complete with Gardner Engine

The main interest at Crick is new boats and chandlery but there is usually some interest for lovers of historic boats.  Raymond and Nuffield were there. The steam narrowboat President and her butty Kildare were on also how and I was invited to tour the accommodation on the butty Kildare after Maggie signed me up for the Friends of President.

Adjusting the steam engine on President

President on show

Back Cabin and Range on Kildare

Tiller of Kildare

Bunk accommodation on Kildare

With so many modern-styled boats on show it was good to see a boat with a traditional engine (NB Emily) win "best in show" in a public vote. 

NB Emily with engine installation by Tony Redshaw

With Waterways World organising the event I had hoped to bump into Granny Buttons (Andrew Denny) who now works for the magazine. We did indeed bump into him at the children's tent where he was working hard photographing children enjoying themselves. Although we have passed Granny many times along the cut, this was the first time we had actually met Andrew. It was a pity he was so tied up with work. We also managed to meet Terry and Monica Darlington from NB Phylis May (Narrowdog) who were promoting Terry's books. Jim and Jess (the whippets) were also there; Maggie stroked them as I chatted to Terry about Llandaff Rowing Club. I coxed Terry's friend Dai Morgan and his elder brother when I was a young lad back in the 1960s. It was great to see Terry up and about after his health problems last year.

An exhibitor hard at work demonstrating his wares

Perhaps the most unusual exhibit I saw was just as we were about to leave. It was a cut-away section of a narrow boat on a trailer with a single cylinder Lister engine running inside. It was advertising the Riveted Narrowboat Company - and yes the rivets are real! Good luck to them reviving old construction techniques. They appear to be working on a  great project. Below is video from their website.

Lister JP1 running in a riveted hull (part)

Cornwall - boats and ships

We spent last week on holiday with the family in Mevagissey, Cornwall. It was a great holiday, despite variable weather; being grandparents is a privilege and and a joy. We stayed in Mevagissey just under two years a ago and enjoyed the trawler racing. This year, being earlier in the year it was much quieter but we did manage to visit Charlestown and take a trip to Fowey on the Mevagissey - Fowey ferry.

Mevagissey Harbour

Charlestown is the base for the Square-Sail Company who run several tall ships. We have visited Charlestown a few times before, notably in 2003, 2009 and 2011. In summer 2011 we actually passed Phoenix, the  two masted barque owned by the company, while we were on our way to Sharpness on Albert. Phoenix was on its way to Gloucester for a Tall-Ships Festival.

Albert passing Phoenix near Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal in August 2011

This time the dock at Charlestown was relatively quiet. In the past we have found three sailing ships in port but this time only the Earl of Pembroke was at home and ship tours were not being offered. It appears that the Phoenix is due to arrive in Charlestown from Gloucester next Friday. It would be great to see her enter the tiny dock at Charlestown because the entrance is very tight and set at a sharp angle.

Earl of Pembroke at her home port
At the moment Charlestown dock and the ships are owned by the Square Sail Company but they were up for sale last year. I don't know what the latest position is regarding ownership but I hope this wonderful little port continues to be a sailing ship base after the current owner retires.

The Mevagissey - Fowey ferry is a slick operation and very professionally run. The whole of our immediate family, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, went to Fowey for the day on the ferry. The trip takes around 50 minutes across St Austell Bay and on a a good day it provides good views of St Austell, Charlestown, Par, Polkerris and the Fowey Estuary. 

The Route of the Mevagissey - Fowey Ferry

On the trip over to Fowey it was calm and our granddaughter Amelia, aged three, took a turn steering MB Bessie James. Her Grandad watched on enviously.

MB Bessie James at Mevagissey Harbour

Amelia at the helm of MV Bessie James with an anxious skipper and Maggie watching on

Earlier in the week we had seen a cruise ship leave the Fowey estuary an travel towards Plymouth so it came as no surprise to see another cruise ship in port at Fowey - the MV Voyager. She stayed in port all day and we kept on spotting her crew around the town. There was quite tight security on the Town Wharf for passengers and crew with security guards using aircraft style scanners.   

Fowey Quay with MV Voyager
MV Voyager preparing to depart

We had a great day out around the town of Fowey and spent sometime on Readymoney Beach. The tide was out and sandcastle building was the order of the day. Just above the beach is the home of Dawn French.

Readymoney Beach and Poldrith Cove, Fowey
(Dawn French lives at the large house overlooking the cove)

Fishing Boat arriving at Fowey


Spring Cruise to Llangollen - the story so far

We shall be keeping Albert at Debdale for a few weeks whilst we wait to have her hull grit-blasted and blacked, so I thought I had better record our trip so far. We left Yardley Gobion for Birmingham via the Grand Union back in mid March and then got caught up in the snow and ice in Birmingham. After a few days back at home, while the weather improved, we travelled through Wolverhampton and up the Shropshire Union to Llangollen with our friends the Kinnings in Blue Pearl, mooring up in the town basin at Llangollen. Our return was via the Middlewich Branch and the Trent and Mersey, leaving Albert a few days in Aston Marina whilst we travelled home again. Our final leg was from Stone to Debdale going through Leicester.

All this was 345 miles and 310 locks with at least 20 moveable bridges, 78 small aqueducts and 16 tunnels according to CanalPlan AC. The highlight just has to be crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in glorious sunshine but with snow on the hills and towpath - just memorable.

Getting good TV Reception

When we first started owning a boat, back in 1996, we did without TV. We didn't have mains supply and portable TVs (not flat screen) appeared a bit of a hassle. We eventually succumbed but it took some time. Longer cruises and boating during the short days of early spring and late autumn influenced us.

When we bought Albert she was already was equipped with a decent mains supply and the previous owner has fitted her with a conventional TV aerial system because they spent some time living aboard . Because we had successfully used an omni-directional  aerial on our first boat, and we cruised  regularly, we dispensed with the large directional that came with the boat and used an omni-directional aerial with a matched amplifier (Maxview). This worked successfully for many years, particularly since the aerial was mounted on an extending mast and we could raise it quite some height to improve reception.

Omni-directional aerial and mast

However, the switch to digital TV in the UK started to impact on our viewing and the omni-directional started to become a problem; we found it increasingly difficult to get good signal, even after the analogue switch-off when there was a boost in digital signal strength. As a  result we began investigating other systems. We first went to an semi-directional amplified system.

Semi-directional amplified aerial
This was a little better than the omni-directional but having to orientate the aerial towards the transmitter was a a bit of a hassle. The next step was a log-periodic aerial, recommended by a retired TV engineering. Although this was fully directional I discovered the web site that gives direction and strength  information for Freeview. This worked quite well although finding your location postcode so the software could calculate our position, and therefore the direction of the transmitter, was a bit of problem. It was also difficult when the signal was relayed by a repeater because signal polarisation was vertical and we had to rotate the aerial. 

Log-periodic aerial 

Then finally this year we went for a satellite system, Freesat that is. Our friends, the Kinnings, recommended it for boating and we haven't looked back. We use Freeview at home and have resisted choosing satellite, but the difficulty of getting good reception on the move finally caused us to take the plunge. The system we went for is inexpensive and also easy to use. We purchased a Maplin camping and caravan system that was reconditioned. Earlier in the year they were retailing for £69 but they appear to have gone up slightly in price. 
Camping and Caravanning Satellite Suitcase System
Maplin Portable Satellite TV System

The system came in  a suitcase and contained a receiver and "set-top" box with a SCART interface. It was easy to install first time around and we have now got familiar with it. To operate the system you need to orientate the receiver to the 145 degrees azimuth for the Astra 28.2E satellite that transmits Freesat and then carry out some fine tuning using the set-up system on your TV (basically a combined bleeper and on screen bar-graph system). The instruction leaflet supplied explained the process quite well. 

Of course, you need open sky in the direction of the satellite - no trees or buildings. We didn't find this too much of a problem during our recent spring cruise, there was only one location where reception was not possible - a large warehouse was close by. We even managed to get suitable reception right in the centre of Birmingham, although we were a bit lucky with the location of tall buildings. It helps to have a compass to orientate the dish but I also found the DP Maps App very useful. Although the App is just a simple overlay onto a Google map of your local area, local landmark information is very handy particularly since a magnetic compass is difficult to use near a metal boat.

Maplin satellite dish (operating in the cold!)

We stow the dish back in its suitcase when cruising, which helps a lot. In use it is normally mounted on the former aerial pole fixed to the cratch-board. This means the dish can be raised to see over a hedge or bush. On one occasion we used the suction-cup mount supplied with the kit because we needed to avoid a tree and it was easier than moving the boat a few feet. 

If the boat is orientated in a general east-west direction the elevation of the dish can alter when the boat rocks causing the quality of the signal to be reduced. This means TV reception can deteriorate a little when someone moves around the boat. If the boat is oriented generally north-south then reception is very stable because it is insensitive to the skew angle of the dish. However, this problem and the requirement to accurately align the dish are minor difficulties compared to the problem of finding and getting good terrestrial digital TV on a boat. We are certainly glad we went down the satellite route.

Our Jinx Lock - Aston 3 Trent & Mersey

We rarely pass along the Shardlow section of the Trent and Mersey Canal but when we do we seem to have trouble at Aston Lock 3.

Aston Lock 3, Trent and Mersey

In the late 1990s we navigated the Leicester Ring in our first boat, Bertie. Arriving at Aston from Shardlow, that's going up the lock, we found a car parked directly on the lockside with the driver's door overhanging the lock chamber. The driver, a young man, was sitting inside the car with two teenage girls in the rear seats. He was on his mobile phone and sitting in the passenger seat. Not wishing to cause any problems I indicated to the driver that his door needed closing and I waved to him before gently closing it for him. This simple act caused  him to go into a violent rage. A torrent of foul threatening language followed. Trying to defuse the situation as we operated the lock I apologised for touching his car and tried unsuccessfully to explain that I was only trying to protect his property by closing the car door. This had no effect and he continued to rage against us, the boat, boaters, the canal and even the countryside! I was glad that I was standing on the boat and not on the lockside and luckily his anger was directed at me and not Maggie who was quietly operating the lock. What his car was doing in that position I shall never know, but eventually he left the scene driving furiously down the field track that connects the lock to the main road with a cloud of dust behind. Quite frankly it was the most unpleasant incident we have had on the waterways since we became boat owners 16 years ago.

So last year, when we went through the lock for only the second time during our Northern Cruise, we took particular notice of this lock. Unlike during the incident with the car owner, last year we were accompanied through the lock by another boat. All went well as we dropped down until we tried to leave the lock and I slipped Albert into gear. The other boat left without any difficulty but Albert was firmly stuck on the bottom! No amount of poling, or weight adjustment, moved the boat but we finally got out of the lock by opening all  gate paddles and riding out on a wave! It was quite spectacular. Albert draws around 30-31", which is fairly deep, but there are boats that draw far more so we were perplexed by our problem. As we continued towards Shardlow we found some BW staff sandbagging a small breach where water had run across the towpath. I told them of our problems and they indicated that they had dropped the pound by about a foot to carry out their work and maybe that was why we had difficulties. This appeared plausible so I took this explanation on board and put our experience down to perhaps a little bad luck.

With this background, this year we approached Aston 3 with even more interest than before. Again we were accompanied by another boat, and again I chose to use the right side of the lock (going down). As the water level dropped I recalled to the steerer of the other boat that had had problems the lock, but quite frankly I wasn't prepared for more . I was therefore really quite surprised when the gates were opened and I tried to move off, and just like last year Albert was firmly stuck on the bottom! The boat was level and there didn't appear to be any movable underwater obstructions, so just like last year we flushed Albert out using the gate paddles. When we were half way out, and it appeared we were going to make it, the gate paddles were closed prematurely.  This caused Albert to settle squarely onto the bottom again - indicating that the problem isn't just a small obstruction.

When we finally got out I checked the level in the pound from Aston to Shardlow. It appeared from the watermarks on the shuttering that the water this year was nearer its usual level, but it was maybe 6" down.

Water levels near Shardlow

Why we should get stuck in Aston 3 lock twice is difficult to understand. It appears that this lock is critical, so far as water levels are concerned, but that doesn't match with BW data. The shallow point on this section of the Trent and Mersey Canal is over the cill at Dallow Lock near Burton-on-Trent and we had no problems there. We have just travelled to Llangollen, which is notorious for being shallow, and had no problems; so why get stuck at Aston?

I have reported this incident to CRT but they can offer no real explanation except that maybe the lock needs to be cleaned out and they promised to monitor it. The local supervisor did thank me for informing them since, as they pointed out, it helps if they are informed.

The next time we pass that way we will be very wary indeed since so far as the Aston Lock 3 is concerned we appear to be jinxed.