Andrew Gormley Sculpture for Stratford Canal

We have connections with Solihull, so it was with particular interest that we noticed in their local press that The Landmark Trust are planning to position an Anthony Gormley figure at the famous barrel-roof Lengthsman's Cottage at Lowsonford. The cottage lies alongside the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal by lock 31.
Lowsonford Lengthsman's Cottage

This is part of the LAND initiative that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the trust. Five figures are to be erected at a number of their properties throughout the UK. They should all be in place by 16th May 2015 and remain for a year.

A fascinating history of the cottage is given on the Landmark Trust website. It includes some evocative old photos of the lock, I presume from when the canal was close to abandonment.

We shall have to pass that way next year to see the figure.

Another Blog Milestone

Albert's blog has just passed the 100,000 site visits mark since I started the web counter back in November 2006. Albert's readership isn't particularly large compared to some blogs, but monitoring readership gives me comfort to know that what I write is, occasionally, read.

A blog milestone

I get the impression that the number of waterways related blogs may have peaked and blog readership may not be growing as rapidly as when I reported that the Albert site had broken the 50,000 landmark in February 2012. With on-line forums and social media being so convenient they appear to be taking centre stage and blogging is not quite what it used to be. However, because blogging is akin to publishing, I like the medium and I have no intention of giving up posting or migrating to another format. Maybe I have invested too much in it to change?

Our site has been part of the UK Waterways Sites ranking since 2009. It has rarely reached above the 30s in the ranking and it has mostly resides in the 40s, as today. The UK Waterways Sites ranking system, which by no means covers all bloggers on waterways subjects, now has 112 participants whereas it had 143 back in 2012. There are currently 71 blogs in the rankings but there were 90 back in 2012, indicating perhaps the declining popularity of the medium or perhaps just the ranking system. Albert is today sitting at 21 in the blogs' list after my recent posts.

Many thanks readers, wherever and whoever you are. 

Getting Mobile Internet On-Board

It is some years now since I started posting from Albert; it's almost a decade. Originally I sent emails via a mobile phone and they were compiled into a post, but images could only be uploaded from home where there was sufficient bandwidth. Eventually I bit the bullet and started posting via an on-board laptop. This brought many improvements and incorporating images directly into posts soon became routine. However, it was not plain sailing.

External Magnetic Aerial -used to improve signal strength

I had a mobile phone contract with O2 and decided that a dongle based modem was the simplest way to “go mobile”. Although it could work well at times it was an unreliable system since O2 didn’t (and still don’t) have a good reputation for coverage along canals and rivers. I would often log on to O2 and find that only GPRS was available which was only just fast enough for loading text onto BlogSpot but was useless for loading images. Even mooring up in the centre of small towns like Stone didn’t provide me with sufficient 3G coverage. I tried to improve matters by using a magnetic external aerial attached to the dongle via a sleeve, on the basis that getting radio signals in a metal box was likely to be difficult (a Faraday cage) and receiving a signal from outside “the box” must be better. However, the external aerial but did not improve coverage, it only improved the number of “bars” and certainly did not help “upgrade” a GPRS signal to 3G, my basic problem. 

Sleeve for USB Dongle with Aerial Connector

I then joined the gang. Nearly all boaters I talked to who were happy with their mobile internet coverage used the provider Three, particularly those continuous cruising and blogging. I bought a Three SIM, installed it into the “O2” dongle (actually an Ovation MC930D) and it was a revelation. I had 3G at most locations on the canal and when it was not available I didn't waste my time trying to manage GPRS. The best set-up I found was to use a remote USB cable connection, hang the dongle near the window and put the magnetic “booster” aerial out on the boat roof. It worked fine and I was content – my blogging was reasonably reliable and emails were perfect. 

That was until I discovered mobile hotspots and we started using more internet devices on-board. I got an IPhone, we “inherited” an IPad (what a wonderful device), and eventually Maggie got an IPhone 5. A discussion with Mike Kinnings of NB Blue Pearl led me to the mobile hotspot Zoom 3G router. It operates using a USB connection to a mobile internet dongle (or similar) and provides enough Wi-Fi coverage for the whole boat. I used the same dongle + magnetic booster aerial system that I had used before. It worked well and the extra freedom of having boat-wide Wi-Fi was a great particularly since we could use the IPad for web browsing. The only negative sides of adopting a router-based system is that monitoring SIM usage is not straightforward and devices on-line show excellent Wi-Fi connection (i.e. internal to the boat) but it cannot show (external) internet connection quality.

Zoom 3G Router/Mobile Hotspot with USB Dongle and Sleeve for Magnetic Aerial

Solwise 3G Modem/Router with built-in SIM socket

After around 18 months of using the Zoom router I decided that I wanted a better “engineered” solution. A cable going through the window to the roof aerial and a dongle suspended from the curtain rail, didn't look good. Also, untidy cabling can cause connection problems and they did occasionally happen. I therefore took the plunge and went for what I hope is a “proper” boat-based system Wi-Fi system.

I selected a router that could accept a SIM which removed the need for a USB dongle. I also wanted a “proper” external 3G aerial rather than a magnetic patch, so I went for Solwise 3G Modem/Router (3G-51R_EXT) with their matching external 3G 5dB Omni antenna. It worked well over the summer providing us with effective Wi-Fi that we managed to share with our visitors (Smart Phones etc). So to provide a more permanent solution, I recently rewired the cratch putting in a new conduit that could take more wires, including a cable to the 3G aerial. It was a bit of work but I hope it is worth it. I also installed an additional 12v power socket near the television point to power, for among other things, the FreeSat box.

Solwise 3G/4G 5dB Omni antenna 

Having just finished my rewiring project, I found that Graham Booth had just reviewed getting mobile internet in the December’s edition of Waterways World. Graham covers mostly laptop/tablet/modem issues so the thoughts and experience described above could be complementary to his article. I am glad he starts with premise that Three is the canal “standard” service provider.

Since purchasing the Solwise 3G Router I note that it is now discontinued but they appear to be offering another higher specification device, as always for a bit more money.

Back to Yardley Gobion

Yesterday we moved Albert from High House Wharf, where she was having some renovation of the bow decorations, to our home base - Kingfisher marina. It was a typical autumn day, chilly but occasionally pleasant in the sunshine. I took Albert down to Yardley Gobion with my friends Alex Kidd & Roy Healey since both had expressed a wish to travel through Blisworth Tunnel. Alex took over the steering for some of the trip and after some meandering managed to control Albert well, although I must admit to not letting him stay at the tiller for the tunnel. Just as well since we passed a boat just after we entered the tunnel and another about half-way through.

Just before the tunnel Alex and I noticed a strange sight - the water near Candle Bridge at Blisworth was very green. To both our eyes it appeared to have been coloured by fluorescein which is often used to trace water leaks. It could be that a pipe draining into the canal was being investigated or perhaps a leak from the canal into a culvert was being traced. Either way it was unusual to say the least. The dyed stretch was, however, only about 20 metres long.

Green Union Canal (geddit?)

 The tunnel transit was straightforward, and not too wet, but when we reached Stoke Bruerne the weather was decidedly dull and cold but we got a cheery wave from the Blacksmith Bob Nightingale as we left the tunnel. The first thing that struck me was that there were no boats moored up on the visitor moorings. None, that is, except a lone boat moored up at the only place where mooring really should not occur - opposite the winding hole! I wonder if the plonker was put off by all the signage on the visitor moorings which  threatens fines for overstaying and decided that the winding hole, which had signs just saying "no mooring", was a safer bet. Or perhaps he doesn't just understand the first thing about boating!

Plonker moored right opposite the winding hole at Stoke Bruerne

And yes there were yards and yards of empty moorings from the tunnel portal to the museum!

We broke for lunch at The Boat and I had a delicious beef stew and dumplings with a pint of Banks. What could be better on a chilly autumn lunch time.

Mike Partridge's Jubilee now converted with a full-length cabin.

After lunch, with fading light we made it down to Yardley Gobion. We moored up on our new mooring, having vacated the old one when we left for Stone 6 months ago. I noticed that NB Tacet has arrived on the on-line moorings - it appears that it has new owners Clinton and Sharon. I look forward to meeting them - perhaps at the annual marina fireworks and bonfire. I wonder if they will take up blogging like the old owners?

Eel Pie Island

We visited our family in Teddington on Friday. With the wonderfully unseasonable weather we visited Twickenham for their children's Halloween celebrations and couldn't resist a walk in the sunshine along the embankment near Eel Pie Island - Boating, Jazz and Rock & Roll memorabilia.

The tide was low but there was sufficient water for some boat movements. We started by looking at the interpretation board erected to recall Eel Pie Island's unique place in popular culture - the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Cyril Davis, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Ronnie Wood performed here early in their careers. I have posted about the island in the past when I reviewed the excellent book by Dan Van der Vat and Michele Whitby. 

Eel Pie Island Interpretation Board - looking across to the island

There are lots of historic details about the island on the island's web site including a facsimile of the board.

Thames Tug Teddington - moored at Twickenham

Moored up along the embankment was the tug Teddington which we last saw moored up just below Teddington Lock. As we strolled along towards the island bridge a very smart boat arrived at the wharf and dropped off some passengers. We couldn't resist a chat.

Motor Boat Windrush 46 at Twickenham

She was the Windrush 46, formerly the Thames Water Authority's flagship inspection launch which was built in 1989 and used for civic and Royal Occasions. When used by The Queen she was accompanied by liveried Queens Watermen. She is now available for private hire. The owner, who lives locally invited us aboard. She has a steel hull and is beautifully appointed and lined in teak. The twin six-cylinder Mermaid engines evidently give her a good turn of speed. I was shown their very neat installations.

Windrush awaiting passengers

 I took as short stroll across the bridge onto the island which is packed with interesting properties.

Lion Boathouse

It looked like the Lion Boathouse, which is clad in corrugated iron and decorated with enamel signs, was for sale. It appears that the old boathouse hides a luxury modern house that has four double-bedrooms and is on the market for  around £2m. As the estate agents details state "As to be expected from Eel Pie Island nothing is quite as it appears, and with Lion Boathouse the same holds true."