Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Wind, hail and more on batteries

I managed to get some sleep last night despite the banging on the submerged ledge. Had we gone just a couple of hundred yards further yesterday we would have been able to tie up to some piling with some other boats. Oh well. We had to stop when we did as it was getting just a bit too dark.

This morning we got under way at about 0830, initially in sunshine, but the rain was never far away. This rainbow appeared shortly afterwards, and then came the rain and hail. The wind was pretty strong, but caused no real problems.

The sun did come out now and then, but I had to keep all my layers on at the helm.

The 180 degree turn at Sutton Stop onto the Coventry Canal started well, with the bow being blown the right way, but then the whole boat was being driven diagonally towards the narrows. A blast of astern sorted things out, and we continued to Bedworth where we were given lunch by Christine and Terry. That was very nice, thanks. Terry and I talked about batteries and power. He showed me his power meter, into which I plugged in our fridge to see what it consumed: 80W. This corresponds to approximately 8A from the battery bank, once inverter losses are taken into account. Given that the solar panels were charging at the rate of 9A when the sun shone, and much less when it didn't, it's clear that the fridge relies on the batteries being properly charged by the alternator when the engine is running. I checked the voltage with the engine running: 13.8V. This seemed a bit low - would the batteries ever get fully charged?*

I should have got Terry and Christine to wave when we departed. Perhaps next time.

We had planned to get to Atherstone Top Lock tonight, but I was feeling very tired. When the visitor moorings at Nuneaton came into view I pulled in and tied up just as more hail and heavy rain started to fall. After I snoozed for a while we walked into the town to check out the Maplin power meter Terry had used: £19.99. I didn't buy it. We did spend that much in Sainsbury's, though; then we called in on more friends, Les and Ursula, who are waiting for a crane to lift their boat, Clemency, back into the water at Boot Wharf (Starline). We arranged to return for drinks after tea.

This is when I decided to rewire the battery bank in the method suggested on the SmartGauge website
(thanks for the link, Martin). This ensures that each battery of the four in the bank is used and charged equally, cleverly balancing out problems of cable and connection resistance. I thought I'd have it done by the time we were due at Clemency, but I ran into a little difficulty when I discovered that one of the leads wouldn't reach the terminal it had to connect to. I could solve this by rotating each battery through 180 degrees, effectively making the +ve and -ve terminals swap sides. Too late to connect up - I joined Les and Ursula for a glass or two of wine. I finished off the job when we got back to Jubilee - all seems to be working again.

*Later I discovered that I'd missed off one lead when connecting up the batteries; the temperature sensor lead from the alternator controller. When I reconnected it and ran the engine the voltage went up to 14.1V, which is more like it.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Battery power restored, air ambulance called to the Oxford Canal and meeting a fellow blogger on nb Albert

It's very quick to buy a new set of leisure batteries. It takes a lot longer to wire them all up!

After much consideration I plumped for four sealed lead acid batteries from Wharf House chandlery at Braunston Bottom Lock. First we winded in the main entrance to Braunston Marina, then tied up alongside a boat being fitted out outside the chandlers.

I suppose I could have just lugged the new batteries on board, and then swapped them for the old ones at my leisure, but I wanted to get it done straight away. I therefore spent the next hour not shorting anything out (but getting slightly alarmed at the beefy spark when I connected one of the cables to the right place!) It's a good job I was still at the chandlers, as I discovered that the threaded posts (next to the conventional posts requiring a clamp) were of a different pitch to the threaded posts on the clamp fittings. I got about half way through explaining what the problem was when Mrs Wharf House handed me four bags of nuts and washers. Apparently they are supplied with the batteries but not everyone wants them - well, I did!

This is the new type of terminal post. New to me, that is. What a good idea; it makes multiple connections much easier.

At last everything was connected up. I changed the DIP switch setting for battery type on the Sterling alternator controller; I also changed the setting on the solar panel controller. I don't want the sealed lead acid batteries charging at more than 14.1V. Turning the battery isolator key I was relieved to see that the lights on the 12V distribution panel came on. Everything seems to be OK.

I reversed to the first marina entrance and winded; then we cracked on to Hillmorton and beyond (after a brief stop for water at the Stop House). Earlier, as we'd gone the other way to the chandlers, I'd spotted Steve and Maggie's boat Albert just back from where we were. When I'd finished the battery installation Albert had gone; but we passed them again at the bottom of Hillmorton Locks. I called out a quick "hello" and ascertained that we were both heading for approximately the same place this evening.

Jubilee leaving Hillmorton Bottom Lock

The next incident of note occurred at Newbold. As we approached Bridge 50 we became aware of a very loud engine noise. Much louder than a boat. And then we saw it: just taking off was an air ambulance.

Immediately past the bridge there was a collection of ambulances and an incident support unit outside the Barley Mow.

A boater told us that a man had fallen from the bridge after apparently suffering a fit. He didn't land in the water, but on the steeply sloping bank on the offside. I don't know how the poor chap is.

45 minutes before Stretton Stop I saw Albert tied up, so I pulled in behind. Steve and Maggie invited us on board for a glass of wine (that slipped down a treat - thanks!) and a chat. We had not knowingly met before. We had, in fact, unknowingly met the previous evening as we walked down to Butcher's Bridge: Steve was taking a photo of the dramatic sky and we exchanged a few words. It was good to meet you two, and thanks for inviting us on your lovely boat (and for showing me the wonderful engine!)

Bearing in mind the weather forecast for tomorrow - more wind and rain - we pulled pins and headed for Stretton Stop, tying up in the almost dark about half a mile beyond*. We have a lunch date with friends in Bedworth; it would be nice to get there not too dripping wet.

Back to the batteries again: Martin left a couple of comments on yesterday's post with links to the excellent SmartGauge site. What I found particularly useful was the best way to connect four leisure batteries I have seen. Tomorrow I must slightly rewire what took me so long to do this morning! (My method was close, but can be improved upon.)

* I'm not sure we'll get much sleep tonight.  There is a ledge below water level against which the hull is being constantly thrown by the wind. Oh, and there's a busy railway line on the offside. I don't mind the trains, but I know from past experience that being jolted every few seconds is not conducive to eight hours of shut-eye.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dead leisure batteries and a Palm Sunday procession in Braunston

First the happier news.

We took part in a traditional Palm Sunday procession this morning, from the Wheatsheaf pub (well, all right, outside the Wheatsheaf) along the high street to All Saints' Church in Braunston.

The part of the donkey was played by a pony; we processed singing songs and holding up the traffic (not for long).

We were glad we'd organised this as a "rest" day as the wind grew in strength and there were several showers - but it wasn't the "solid" rain I'd been led to believe ...)

Now for the less happy news.

Oh dear. Our domestic batteries are holding very little charge. I suppose they don't really owe us anything, as they are now nearly three years old and have had no maintenance. And they are not "maintenance-free". Just now the two LED lights we had on dimmed as the inverter (powering the mains fridge) bleeped its low voltage warning and cut out. The lights hardly recovered their brightness.

This morning the water pump was taking ages to pressurise the system, so I looked at the battery voltage and was horrified to read 9.6V while the pump was running. I felt slightly guilty turning on the engine at 0820 to put some charge back in; the clocks have only just changed and there is a boat immediately behind us.

This afternoon I removed deck boards etc. so I could get at the batteries - v. difficult - and found that the little colour indicators were all clear, meaning that the batteries should be replaced (the other colours are green (charged) and black (needs charging). It's not easy to see from the photo, but the three connected batteries are under the inverter cupboard, making it just about impossible to top them up.

The boat originally came with five 110Ah batteries, which I felt was too much for our power usage; we have all-LED lights and a fridge. These, with water and shower pumps - and a bit for the DAB radio and phone/laptop charging - are all we use. No TV. I reasoned that five leisure batteries would take longer to charge than three, meaning that they might never get to the fully-charged state, and that three would be sufficient. As the former owner had given us three brand new batteries I simply connected them up and removed the three worst old batteries.

Can you have too many leisure batteries? We are moored in Braunston, convenient for the chandlery at Wharf House Narrowboats where I have had good service in the past. They will give 10% off if I buy four or more batteries, so do I buy four or five? And should I go for conventional top-them-up-yourself lead acid batteries or "maintenance-free" lead acid (£85 v £100)?

Tomorrow I feel a little wallet-lightening might be in order. Unless strongly advised here otherwise I'll go for four "maintenance-free" ones and hope they'll be all right. Now I'll have to work out the best method of connecting them up with the interconnecting cables I have.

Oh, and here is our mooring; just beyond Butcher's Bridge. We're the middle boat.

Here comes the rain again ...

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Stoke Bruerne to Braunston in the wind; unable to fix a fellow boater's alarming problem

We were up reasonably early this morning, so we set off up the remaining two Stoke Bruerne locks at 0810. Our locking companion of yesterday, Thump, was coming down the top lock as we waited to go up it.

Part of the towpath between Stoke Bruerne and the tunnel is being resurfaced; here is the team working on it.

We saw no other boats in Blisworth Tunnel, and it was much drier than our previous recent passages were. After a brief stop at Blisworth for Jan to walk to the Post Office stores for milk and a paper we carried on. The plan now was to try to get ahead of ourselves as the weather forecast for tomorrow is dreadful: gusts of 48 mph and heavy rain.

We had quite high winds today, and when these carried a shower of rain we stopped to let it blow over. When the rain stopped we got going again, through Bugbrooke, Nether Heyford and Weedon.

The flag at Nether Heyford is just about staying attached to its pole.

As we approached Buckby Locks we could see a boat waiting for us in the bottom lock. The approach to the bottom lock is dead straight - you can see a boat coming for about half a mile.

In a lock half way up the flight the boat, Rusalka (?), had an engine temperature alarm sounding. The couple had borrowed the boat from the father of one of them; while the young lady phoned her dad I had a look in the engine hole. Jan took a shot of my backside.

There was nothing obviously wrong: all belts present and correct, no "hot smells", no steam, no real heat. Their dog had got into an electrics cupboard just before this - the feeling was that the canine had disturbed some wiring and set off the alarm. This seemed to be confirmed when the engine refused to start after being stopped for a couple of minutes. There was something to be reset inside - I didn't get involved. Anyway, the engine started again, but still with the alarm sounding. We left them discussing the possible problem with the father and continued on our way.

Above the top lock we saw a very familiar boat.

Our former shared ownership boat Shadow was looking good. We noticed new roof furniture (and the old armchair/beds inside!)

We entered Braunston Tunnel at about 1715 thinking we'd stop above the locks unless there was someone going down we could share with. In the event we cracked on down the locks anyway, on our own. Well, we're very efficient lockers with me on my bike. We tied up just beyond Butcher's Bridge at 1900, just before dark. Phew! Rather more hours than we'd originally planned, but we can now sit out the (forecast) bad weather tomorrow.

Some boats keep an anonymous look (like ours, still, I'm ashamed to say*). Some, on the other hand, have their name in huge letters. Here is Aylestone at Gayton.

*I might have a go at signwriting Jubilee myself. Haven't told Jan yet.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The long "summer" cruise begins with a short hop to Stoke Bruerne after a minor plumbing problem. We encounter a complete shambles.

We arrived at the boat yesterday afternoon to prepare to begin our extended cruise. We plan to be on board for six months, with the occasional return to our house (to collect post, mow the lawn and satisfy the conditions of our house insurance).

Since we were last on board, at the end of January, I had been slightly worried that I hadn't switched off the gas and electrics. I knew I'd switched off the water and drained down the shower mixer taps, and I'd left a thermostatically controlled fan heater in the cabin to prevent things freezing up too much. I was relieved to find Jubilee as we'd left it - with the (not un-pleasant) "boat smell" to welcome us!

When I switched on the electrics for the water pump, though, the pump made a strange noise, higher in pitch than the usual vibration, and nothing came out of the taps. Oh dear. Had the water pump failed? Fortunately I had a new one still in its box on board, so I read the instructions while Ally and Ben fed us at their house. Back at the boat after the meal I lifted the mattress out of the way (the water pump is situated under the bed) and had another look before actually doing anything. The first thing I noticed was that the new replacement was a different make from the one installed. Hmm. Then I checked yet again that I'd actually opened the stop cocks either side of the strainer under the well deck. I'd already checked twice.

Well, what do you know? One of the stop cocks was still closed! I opened this and switched on the pump. Still the same ineffectual noise and no water. Ah - but I'd also closed the stop cocks either side of the water pump. I opened these and - yes! - water came out of the cold tap.

There was still a problem with the hot side, though. Nothing came out of any hot tap. When I checked in the engine room, where the calorifier is situated, I heard a thin trickling water sound coming from inside the calorifier. From this I deduced that there was rather more air there than desirable. But how was I to get the air out and water in? First I exercised the pressure relief thingy on top of the calorifier. When I did this there was a hiss as air moved - but was it going in or coming out? I had no idea. After a lot of water pump operation and a bit of fiddling with the pressure relief thing the system eventually built up pressure and the pump cut out.

Hooray! Water now came out of the hot tap! I could, at last, switch on the immersion heater - and wash my hands. At least we had been able to fill a kettle - one of the advantages of a marina mooring.

But now we have a marina mooring no longer. I untied from our berth at 1520 ...

... and here is where we were.

Earlier today I drove from Thrupp Wharf Marina to Fazeley, where we'll be in a few days; parked up; and got the train back to Wolverton from where I cycled to the marina. I was glad I'd gone the whole way on the good old A5 - when the train crossed the M1 near Northampton the northbound carriageway was at a standstill.

The nearest station to Fazeley is Wilnecote. As I had time to spare I had a little look round, and spotted this former Mines Rescue Station (on the A5 Watling Street).

Now I know this is old hat to lots of you, but today I saw - and heard - my first lambs of the year; by the canal at Grafton Regis.

After sharing the first five locks at Stoke Bruerne with Thump we tied up in the Long Pound and went for a two-for-£10 meal at the Navigation. We then wandered across to The Boat for another drink in a "proper" pub, and ended up with a Complete Shambles. This is an ice cream/cream/toffee/Mars Bar/chocolate confection which looked very enticing on the menu. I won't have it again. The atmosphere in The Boat was good, though. We chatted to a couple who had just been served the most enormous bowl of delicious-looking chips.

Tomorrow we intend to get to Bugbrooke or Weedon. The weather is not looking good: rain and wind. Today we had lots of sunshine which made up for the chilly breeze.

Friday, 20 March 2015

... but the sun is elipsed by the moo - oo - oo -oo - oon.

The roof on our outbuilding is finished at last, and it looks good.

While the roof was being reconstructed we took the opportunity of putting some roof windows in.

This is what it looked like as the old roof came off.

The timbers had decayed - and so had most of the tiles. One end of the roof had failed completely, leading to the collapse of one end wall. Now that has been rebuilt, and the building should be good for another hundred years.

The scaffolders came to remove their scaffolding today (hooray!), just as the clouds thinned enough for us to see the partial solar eclipse. The white cloud cover was too thick until about 1015, when I took this photo.

This is the best photo I got. At the maximum we were outside but could detect only that it had got quite gloomy, and possibly a touch cooler. Difficult to tell as there was a chilly north wind. (I did note some actual temperatures during the morning which seemed to indicate a drop of a degree or so.)

Jan took some photos on her telephone.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Shirt sleeve order and clay lump repairs

The outside thermometer was reading 15.8˚C at one point today; the warmest it's been for quite some time. As I was working on the scaffolding Jan mowed the lawn, giving it the first cut of the year. It definitely felt spring-like.

OK, Jan is not in shirt sleeves here, but I was. Today's task was to nail chicken wire to the block work in order to give the render something to grip. I'm not convinced it was absolutely necessary as the blocks themselves are grippy. Oh well - the builder said to do it. What the builder didn't say, though, was to use clay as a render. I've been breaking up some of the clay lump which fell down, mixing it with water in a bucket, and smearing it onto the new blockwork with a gauging trowel. When dry, I'll coat it with tar as per the original. The builder's scheme was to use a weak mortar mix, but I'm reluctant to combine an unbreathable cement-based render with the clay lump which comprises most of the building.

I omitted to take a photo; I'll try to remember to redress that tomorrow.

Now I have a bit of canal planning to do ...

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Roof repairs

No, not on the boat, nor, for that matter, on the house, but on an outbuilding.

The roof had been steadily collapsing over many years, and I was finally spurred on to do something about it when a wall fell down. The walls are clay lump, a traditional old Norfolk construction, and one end just couldn't absorb any more rain.

Trevor, our builder, patched up the wall with Thermalite blocks (yes, I know it's not ideal, but we had to do something quickly) and has completely replaced the roof.

Here is the roof before work started ...

... and here it is with new rafters and "felt" roughly battened down.

Rather than reconstruct the hips Trevor formed gable ends to make it easier. When it's rendered and painted black it will look good.

Today I painted my hands with black woodstain. Some of it went on the undersides of the rafter "feet" and boards visible from below.

More reclaimed pantiles are coming tomorrow, then Arthur, the roofer, will nail the battens in position and hang the tiles. Oh, and do the ridge. This will, apparently, take a huge amount of mortar. I had to buy five bags of cement (and a ton of sand). I hope the walls will take it!

When it's all finished the roof will be much better than it ever was. The original had no felt under the tiles, so it was always draughty and a bit damp up there. And now all the cobwebs have gone too.