Randoms

How big is the DX Commander box?

I have custom boxes made that keep my shipping cost effective, staying under 1.2m in total length.

Kits are shipped in the oblong boxes and single poles in corrugated cardboard.

120cm box

Camdesk 1.2.1 Download

I notice that CamDesk is offline. This is my download which I originally deleted – but since I have discovered that CamDesk is offline, I managed to find it in my recycle bin for others to use.

This is a ZIP file. Obviously take necessary precautions when unzipping etc. I’ve had this installed for about 2-months.

NOTE: It’s a self executing program file. It doesn’t need DLLs and doesn’t “install” itself in Windows. It just runs from the install directory and you can move it around, say on a USB stick if you like.

Power Over Ethernet – Buffalo G54 – WiFi Antenna

POEI found my old article recently regarding my home-brew Power Over Ethernet Project. James and will shortly be putting internet at the Scout Hut around one mile away and having my router as close to the antennas as possible will be mandatory. Here’s an old project that I wrote up in 2009:

Using very high quality coax from my vertical antenna to a router in the shack is a very expensive option due to the very high losses at 2.4 GHz. We could use Ecoflex 15, but at £6 per meter and £9 for a connector, it’s a bit rich for a kids experiement.

Continue reading

Huawei E220 External Antenna Modification

Modern USB Data Sticks don’t seem to come with external antenna jacks these days. This is a real shame for geeks like me who want better signals and are prepared to procure external antennas to ensure high quality signals.

This project is to ensure that we can have 24 x 7 comms on the boat this summer without resorting to hanging USB modems out of portholes. Metal, as most people know, shields RF extremely well so external antennas are the only way to go. I have already made the necessary internal IT mods to the boat to ensure we have connectivity with a new Dell machine and a wireless router, shared on one of the ethernet ports. A second ethernet card connects to the router as a client to put the Dell back on the corrrect subnet as the rest of the wireless laptops (which are on the “wrong” side of the router). A spin off to all this is that our Orange Blackberry’s will connect to the router, delivering a UMA connection meaning that we will have at least four devices connected internally. Voice calls will be almost impossible via UMA unless we have a very smart connection.

Learning from a mutual friend of mine currently travelling from Alaska to Japan on his Nordhavn, we will share out our WiFi connection with our convoy and friends who we will meet along the way. And why not :)

Cellular and WiFi marine antennasOf course, I already have a good 2.4Ghz antenna for the reception of WiFi signals and this will remain connected to the Dell’s WiFi card if (and when) we manage to secure a good quality marina WiFi signal but the USB stick will supply almost as good as home broadband, depending on availability. Some people will know that I have a deep knowledge of WiFi security auditing and I will, as a matter of course “test” out the security of most of the WiFi hotspots we happen to come across as part of my learnings. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Anyway, I digress. What I needed was the facility to have good signal strength to the Huawei E220, hence this successful antenna mod.

If you came here from Google, you will want to know the ins-and-outs. I can tell you this is a genuinely very easy mod if you have prepared all your tools and have an hour to play with. Like all modification projects, the key is not to rush.

First, lever off the protective branded cover. I used a sharp knife to start breaking the sticky seal. Be carefull you don’t cut yourself. It comes off quite easily with a sort of unsticking sound. Ignore the little tab at one end, it’s only a positional tab and doesn’t do anything mechanical.

Next, observe the very small Torx style screw that holds the covers together. Initially, you might find they are covered in a sticky paper washer affair, this is just the remnants of the branded cover. Pick them out with a sharp knife.

Now, even my very tiny, small torx screwdriver didn’t manage to uncrew these torx screws, I reverted to using a tiny jewellers screwdriver which just managed to catch the sides of the Torx screw head and I carefully unscrewed it. I have read that some people have just snapped the case open but I wanted to keep it all in one piece. If you can find a teeny-weeny screwdriver, it is worth trying to get this out.

E220 Antenna Modification E220 Antenna Modification E220 Antenna Modification

Next, I took out the SIM card and put a very large screwdriver blade inside the opening and started to snap all the mechanical catches apart. Within a few seconds, I had this apart – it is not difficult. Just be careful and work steadily. You don’t need to be strong, just work slowly.

You will see when the device is apart, a weird antanna located opposite the USB connector built around some clear perspex type material. Again, this comes off with the same tiny screwdriver you managed to open the case with via the two torx screws each side of the antenna. I suppose if you had to, you could break this antenna off to do this mod but frankly, if you are a technical sort of person, you should have a teeny screwdriver capable of fitting this torx screw. They came out pretty easily.

E220 Antenna Modification E220 Antenna Modification E220 Antenna Modification

For the technical antenna people reading this, I found this antenna really cute. A quarter-wave at 1.9Ghz is around 4cms which is precisely how big the main element is however there seems to be a matching stub or similar very close to the main element. To start with, I thought this was a separate antenna similar to a fan dipole but the jury’s out since this would mean it also operates at around 4 Ghz, way off I think. Upon reflection, the design seems to be a folded monopole fed against the chasis ground – although the smaller antenna next to the main element is a bit weird. If you know how this works, I’d be keen to understand. Please let me know. The only thing I didn’t work out is the soldered ground I used. Is the ground tag that I soldered actually connected to the chassis ground? I don’t know. Perhaps I need to make some checks. If you know, please contact me with details.

Soldering the RG174 was pretty easy and after I had created a cable exit route with a small heated screwdriver that melted the plastic, everything came together. In the end, I didn’t use the torx screw to put it back together. Instead I just used the clips which will mean if I have to maintain this in the future, life will be a little easier.

E220 Antenna Modification

The outcome is good although I have not used this on the right frequency antenna yet. On the boat, I have a dual band cellular antenna which is 60cms long and will display enormous gain (considering a quarter wave is 4 cms). Working through HSDPA specs, I will achieve almost a perfect match with my transmit signal at or around 1.9Ghz and my receive signal, at just under 2.2Ghz should be a fairly easy trip (HSDPA had uplink and downlink frequencies).

My cellular antenna will therefore be transmitting perfectly although receive may be slightly attenuated due to the narrow bandwidth these cellular antennas display.

However, here’s the worst case scenario: Tonight, I used a WiFi antenna as a benchmark and achieved 2 bars using the T Mobile (Huawei provided) software. Considering that a 2.4Ghz antenna is a terrible match, I am happy that this will perform as planned on the boat.

Before I sign off, I hear you ask; “Where did you get the RG174 and matching N-Type”? Seemples; I bought an SMA to N-Type pigtail and cut the SMA off.

All in all, a successful project. I’m very pleased.

(2 days later: I’m currently on the boat connected via this external antenna pigtail to the dual-band cellular antenna, connected at 3.6Mbps. I’m very pleased!)

C.

More on Narrowboat Design

(This post aimed at our US friends).

NarrowboatI get an email at about once a week from various members of the NordhavnDreamers group asking me more about our narrowboat which we use on the Inland Waterways of the UK. I find myself repeating myself every couple of weeks, so perhaps a high-quality post here will put your taste buds at ease.

Our boat conforms to a 350 year-old 6 foot 10 inch UK canal barge spec. Actually, they were originally 7 feet wide but some locks have subsided by an inch or so over the last couple of hundred years and a 6 foot 10 inch spec has now been agreed.

History is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_British_canal_system

We have a 50 hp Beta Marine engine driving an 18 inch three blade prop via a 2:1 reduction gearbox on a 70 foot 23 ton boat. It’s made of mild steel, built on half-inch base lowering to a quarter inch thick on the top deck. The engine supplies 12v to our 4 x 110 ah house batteries and one starter battery via a pair of alternators and we also have something called “Travel Power” which is a bloody great big belt-drive alternator, supplying a 5kW 240v mains device at the flick of a switch (again off the main engine). When I flick it on, I normally have to hit the throttle a whisker to compensate. The throttle is “analogue”. We don’t have a wing or a generator but no switch = no Travel Power (and when it’s on, it’s clearly sucking up power from the engine). This is supplemented by a 3kW Victron inverter. This means, we can have the kettle and toaster on in the mornings when I’m driving along and it also means that the inverter thinks it’s seeing Shore Power and drives the charging flat out. I can achieve a battery “float” after about 12 hours solid charging which lasts us about 18 hours when we’re “on the hook” (mostly fridge, freezer, Sat and TVs). Washing machine use is restricted to when we’re moving and Wendy checks I have the Travel Power “on”. We don’t have an anchor (well, we do but only for river emergencies), we just stop whenever we feel like it and enjoy the view, the wildlife, whatever. Of course, sometimes we can stop right in city centres.

The sound proofing is nothing like a Nordhavn, there’s just an inch thick ply panel between the engine and the master bedroom so it makes a bit of a racket. We have an 8hp electric bow thruster which isn’t proportional but it hangs off a really massive battery (I forget the spec) and it’s very loud with the steel sounding like a bunch of cymbals going off. I can reverse quite easily by using the bow thruster as a steering device, as long as I don’t go too quickly. Apparently the bow thrusters should not be used for more than 2 minutes in any hour. Very occasionally, I think I might be getting near the thermal but so far, never have (does it work..? More questions than answers as usual). I don’t have staged throttle controls, I’m either in neutral or I’m revving the engine for power (or in gear too). I would love a two or three stage idle, as per Ken’s (and David’s) 68, but eventually you have to realise that we’re only doing 4 knots here and the shore is normally within about 12 feet(!), so not much can normally go wrong bar ones ego!

Narrowboats, by their very nature have a number of compromises. For instance, the master bed is only a 4 foot 9 inches wide. This means that we get real cosy watching late-night TV or I sleep in the saloon on an extra large double bed pull-down thingy (she kicks me when I start snoring!). 70 feet long is the absolute maximum you can have on the Midlands and Southern Canal systems. Up “north”, they have wide but dumpy locks. This means that to travel absolutely everywhere in the UK, you need a 58 foot regular-width narrowboat. This is too small for us since we have 2 kids, hence the bunkroom with playstations etc and lots of toys (Ken and John would certainly approve!).

Heating is by a) diesel (furnace) Webasto making hot water which is pumped around a skirting board radiator system. Waste engine heat is dumped over the side on a keel cooling section of the hull. I’m currently talking to the yard to salvage the waste heat and dump it back into the living space in the winter (complimenting the Webasto) since it’s pretty silly to dump heat on the one hand and make heat on the other. B) We also have a couple of electric heaters since we have lots of electricity we can use if required (a novelty on UK canal barges by the way). C) We have a log burner. I’ll often stop the boat in the winter by a large oak tree and salvage some wonderful seasoned dry oak which burns long and hot. Condensation in English narrowboats though is a bit of a problem. The portholes, for instance, do not have a thermal barrier between the outside of the brass and the inside. The consequence is that it will act like a cold beer, water will collect and drip. The only way out this problem (and many boat owners know) is to open all the windows and let the heat out! I vicious circle. However, I’m sure I could have paid even more and gotten around this issue with expensive windows, but we only use the boat in the winter for maybe four or five days so it’s really a non-issue.. Maybe our MkII boat will be better (don’t they say that you always have three boats before you get the spec just “right”..?).

We’ve made a few alterations since the main photo-shoot (the kids bunk room is much better now), but it’s still fitted out in the same European and American oak veneer. Apparently over the next 20 years, this wood will darken. Oak-with-narrowboats are very customary in the UK and it’s difficult to get builders to consider anything else.

The helm is outside, on the stern and we have a long brass tiller extension.

Sorry for such a long post.

Cheers,

C.

Narrowboat Design

A couple of years ago, I designed a narrowboat using Visio, down to the inch. Visio is cooller than you imagine and can be used like AutoCad as a 2d drawing tool (although AutoCad can do much more). I designed many layouts until I came across the standard called the “floating cottage” design. I had this design made for us. In the UK, narrowboats are only 6 feet 10 inches wide, however it’s amazing how much you can squeeze in.

Narrowboat Design

My friends in the USA can’t imagine what it’s like to travel on the UKs inland waterways where everything was originally designed for a 7 foot width. Canal travelling in the UK is a sociable activity and we meet lots of people every day. Often the locks are double width (14 feet) which means we will share a lock with another boat and their crew. Locks are often in “flights” which means we’ll get a few in a row. The ladies tend to work the lock paddles and gates (with the kids) whilst the men tend to stand on the back of their boats and talk turkey to each other.

I am amazed at how detailed some men can talk about the differences between such esoteric nonsense technical drivel. Many are consumed with amazement at all my antennas. Narrowboaters haven’t worked out yet that they can improve their cellphone or wifi with an external marine-grade antenna.

At the end of the day, the family all comes back together and we share a bottle of wine and discuss all the people we’ve met that day. It is very amusing.

Of course, we also get lots of onlookers. They are called “gongoozlers”. These onlookers can be very funny and they ask lots of questions. Many think we might live on the boat permanently and that we’re some kind of pre-historic or romantic throwback to the canal trade. Others think we’ve hired the boat for a day out. Many are very envious of the laid-back life-style of the canal boat holiday feel. Even funnier, some think that my 28 foot HF SSB antenna (ham vertical antenna) is a sail-mast. Great fun!

C.
Narrowboat Design

How to make an electric fence for chickens

A number of regular readers have been wondering when my next update was to be uploaded. Sorry guys, I’ve been snowed under, mainly with the arrival of four chickens. This is Wendy’s new pet project to deliver about 1,200 fresh eggs every year. I’ve no idea how we will manage chickens whilst we’re on the boat other than the fact that there’s a place near Tamworth where you can take your chickens and put them “on holiday”. Boarding for chickens! Whatever next.

To keep them safe, I have built a one-meter (three foot) fence out of 2×2 wooden postswith 2 inch square galvanised live-stock wire. The chicken coop (house?) was made from a small, single bicycle shed from B&Q (home-improvement store to my US friends!) at a deal price of £83. A few sections of spare timber later and the whole things was a tidy chicken house complete with a fold-down rampart, a-la-English Castle style. Very neat.

The first night, looking for somewhere to bed down for the night, the chickens flew over the fence! A few minutes later and after much laughter, we had ushered them into their new home successfully, however the second night they did the same. By the fourth night, Wendy was becoming slightly impatient since she just wanted them to go back into their little house without prompting. I mean, how the hell are we to get someone to baby-sit these creatures if every bloody night, they have to round the blighters up off the lawn?

Electric Fence EnergiserTechnology came to the rescue. I found on ebay a most excellent toy, a 12 volt electric fence energiser that delivers 1,200 volts in 1 second intervals as well as an instant shock the moment you touch it. All I had to do was design the fence so that only the top was electrified (live). This was slightly complex since to make any sort of circuit, one needs a live and an earth. I ran a new earth line right across the top of the fence posts as the earth and then just above that (about an inch), I ran a clean live wire from the energiser, insulated from earth. Bottom line is that tonight, they finally all went into the house, but not before they had most enthusiastic sing-along as they tried in turn to do their usual trick of flying (jump-flapping?) up to the fence. Every second, the energiser blasted out a little wiggle of electricity and each time, the chicken’s feet got a little blast and they squawked (loudly) before jumping back down to the ground. Well, in the main that’s what happened but two of the birds jumped down wrong side, but we’ve “cured” them without resorting to 6-foot fencing which would look out of place in out trim and tidy English lawn.

C.

Easter 2009 Narrowboat Trip

Stratford Upon Avon Canal MapWith the kids having a couple of weeks off, we thought up a new trip and ventured from Calcutts to Stratford. We didn’t make it all the way back and have dropped the boat down by Knowle locks for a few days whilst I work out when I’m going to take it “home”.

The weather was pretty kind to us, managing to rain mostly at night. When the sun did come out, we had fluffy white clouds and large gaps of blue sky. A very English weather for a very English part of the countryside. It must have been relatively sunny since I’ve clearly caught the sun on my face. I have a healthy glow without the radiation treatment that they get “down under” when exposing bare skin to sunshine.

We managed to squeeze in three main meals at three different well-known canal pubs in the first three days of the tip. All come recommended; The Waterman at the top of the Hatton Flight, the Boot at Lapworth and ther Fleur de Lys at Lowsonford. Actually, it all gets mixed up here because one day I managed to squeeze in 6 pints of Guiness spread across two pubs and for the life of me, I can’t remember which one and which day! Yes, I remember now.. the Boot for lunch and the Fleur de Lys for dinner. Thirsty work being a narrowboat driver. We were also lucky to meet Mike and Jackie again on the Narrowboat Wordsworth. A cracking couple and we love them to bits!

Although this trip is full of locks and I counted nearly 75 just to get there, it didn’t seem too bad, although Wendy’s elbow seems to flare up on the really big days. Stratford locks are tough for little ones too. You would expect them to be soft like the Oxford but someone forgot to grease the lot for the last 100 years. I was hauled off a number of times to lend a hand and my woolly mammoth strength to the padddles – or the gates. However a very pleasant journey all the same. I did find the Stratford canal locks tighter than the Oxford too. They are certainly a whisker smaller and a couple of times, I nearly got stuck. I’m in need of a bit of paint now since the rubbing strakes are down to Jonathon Wilson’s bare steel (sorry Pal!).

Ian Lockkeeper from British WaterwasyWe had one incident with the last lock gate on the last lock on the Stratford. The bloody gate wouldn’t close completely. I sat there in the boat waiting for Wendy to open the gate and nothing. I shouted across the pound what was the problem. She just said it filling slowly. Clearly there was an issue though since it just wouldn’t fill and when I decided to pull over, I was grounding – an indication that we’d nearly emptied the damned pound! A good old-fashioned leap from me and I was on dry land, investigating the issue. Yes, the last lock gate was jammed open and water was pouring through it. We’d never be able to fill the lock, it was like trying to run a bath with the plug out. A bystander came up with the idea of flushing the lock. In other words, try and fill it but with the front gate wide open for a few seconds. That might shift what ever it was. We tried this and then I realised out boat was worse off, sitting at an angle dry land almost, with the keel exposed – I could even see the propeller!

After a bit of hydromatics (new word, I just made it up!), we agreed to call British Waterways and they turned up fairly rapidly to see what they could do. A longer wait and mega-man Ian turns up. Blimey, he’s a strapping bloke this Ian! Massive. He ends up in the drink with his dry suit on and finds a log jamming the gate. Eventually we’re on our way again.

So, after three days in Stratford, moored next to Mike and Jackie – and having dinner with Marcus and Tracey and the following night with John and Lutty, we untied and went on our way. However not only had my mascot duck been kidnapped (which is rather funny and I got it back) we had to endure a bloody racket from some Univerity students who had drunk far too much. They were still dancing on the roof at 4:30am in the morning. One even went to sleep up there. We followed them home for a while back up the lock system. They were still partying!

Just before leaving on Sunday, we managed to grab a quick pump-out, fill with water and cruised up the Avon for 20 minutes. Finally at about 2:00pm, we made our way through the first dozen or so locks, leaving us with one big push on Easter Monday where we managed to get all the way to Knowle locks.

In terms of engineering issues this trip, the bloody toilet seems to get stuck on every second flush or so. I’ve no idea why. I did find some wire shoved up the kitchen sink drain-away pipe, there was some plastic bag ties pushed hard up the pipe. I’m wondering if the breather pipe for the black water system might have been tampered with too which means that maybe the tank gets put under pressure and it doesn’t want to accept any more debris until the system has equalised. I have just thought that first flush of the day normally works. I think I’m on to something here. I’ll work out a way of checking this.

There’s still an odour from the master bedroom. This is where we had the leak last year. It dried out but still causes this stale smell. I wonder how long it will keep up?

I want a battery management information system. I have little idea about power consumption because I don’t have a power meter. Victron Energy do a really cool meter called a BMV-600 with is just ideal. It has a programable relay so there’s some interesting thoughts working in my head about starting the engine automatically if the house batteries start to run dry. Watch this space.

Cheers for now,

C.

Kef 104/2

Kef 104/2 104-2 104.2If you have never heard about the Kef 104/2 (104-2) loud speakers, you have missed a life-time treat. I am lucky enough to have the gold plated, bi-wired version. In fact, I had the factory make these for me in the mid-90s, nearly three years after production ended since I missed mine so much. They really are the last pair of 104/2s ever made. Kef upgraded all the components for me and made me brand new Rosewood shells from new veneer. Fabulous looking.

Now. There was originally a weak point with these speakers which was the tweeter. It wasn’t the speakers fault, but the user. I used to blow the tweeters on my first pair of 104/2s too regularly, however replacements were about £15 each so I just used to order a new set and start again. Blown tweeters normally happened when the amp would clip over a long period of time and gradually heat up the tweeter coil. Two things might happen. The cylinder would either warp or the coil would melt. This was not a speaker issue but the user. Basically, turn the volume down. Easier to say than do since mid-party in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to over drive stuff (hence why I now run a 3kW rig, just for party nights – it’s true).

Anyway, let’s correct a couple of worries out there on the internet to do with the replacement tweeter issue. Last year, I thought I had lost a tweeter and called the factory. Contrary to popular opinion, Kef have sourced a fabulous replacement tweeter and they sell them in pairs very ecconomically for 104/2 speaker systems for about £30 a pair. I ordered them up and fitted them. It transpired that I hadn’t lost a tweeter, it was my graphic that had gone AWOL, however the new tweeter is better for a number of reason – not only do they sound great but apparently have better resistance to warping and coil metdown. These days, I just tickle mine with a Crown K1 and they sound marvelous. I ran them as a spare pair at a party last month in the conservatory at half-volume and a couple of people remarked how enormous they sounded.

If you want a speaker to sound four times the size that it really is, buy a pair of these, massive sound stage, big presence and even vertical sound balance. I have no idea how this happens but it does. Stunning. Did I mention massive low frequency response? Amazing for films and rock. Amazing for anything actually! You can pick up non-bi-wired versions from as little as £300 on eBay. The bi-wired versions were essentially upgraded versions with a bi-wire system which I call the Mk2s. These retailed for £2,000. Massive price back then! Starting price for used versions of the Mk2s will be around the £450 mark, perhaps up to £800 for top condition Rosewoods. Always check for matching serial numbers.

POST SCRIPT

I sold these speakers a few months ago and it appears that the foam that held the bass cones to the basket had deteriorated completely and essentially fell off. He sent me the pictures. He discovered a man who rebuilt these at a cost of £85 each (x 4). I paid for them to be refurbished, otherwise the speakers would have been scrapped. They are now (apparently) as good as new. Now then, it appears that almost every 104/2 in the world will have the problem. What a disaster! Same with 105/3 and 107s too. A complete mess.

Half-Term Narrowboat Trip

Wherethehell-Rwe Narrowboat TripThis trip was all about discovering the North Oxford canal via Braunston. Family rules dictate that we were to turn around when we get bored – which we did pretty quickly because there’s nothing to see up the North Oxford! We did a U turn on the morning of Day 2 and spent a pleasant 6 hours cruising back to Braunston, booking a table for 4 at the Old Plough.

During the trip, a couple of interesting moments are worth mentioning.  We stopped just after Hillmorton Locks (I’ll have to check this name but I don’t have the navigation book to hand) to fill with water and just as I was leaving, a hire boat came bombing past. Most hire boats are in a rush so it didn’t bother me. I’ve rarely been held up by one. However this one was different, he kept crashing into the banks! Had it not been dangerous, it would have been very funny! Luckily, narrowboats are made of steel that bounce rather well but it just amazed me that this guy kept getting his lefts and rights wrong. This is quite possible to do of course, but most people’s brains switch pretty rapidly so that their tiller arm becomes second nature. He was sharing the responsibility of getting this right with his teenage son and they both kept getting it wrong. His son would drive towards the bank and his Dad would intervene and make it worse! In the end, I made my excuses and asked in a loud voice if he would allow me to pass. He politely smiled in a way only an embarrased chap could and I skirted around him.

We run a walkie-talkie system on the a boat. I have the TS2000 permanently plumbed in at the helm and I leave a number of rechargeable PMR446 hand-helds lying about the place inside. Yesterday after giving a running commentary to the crew inside the boat I waited on a response and got nothing. I gave another shout and then another. I was asking them for my gloves that I had left on the well-deck (bow) when we filled up with water but I soon realised that someone had switched the radios off so I started using the air-horns. Beep Beep. Nothing. Normally, I get a head out the bow doors looking back at me asking what I want. Ziltch.

Then I had a brain wave. I had recently taught Emily her radio exam (which she passed) so I thought I’d put some morse code into the horns, she’d know that! Bip Bip Bip – Beeep Beeep Beeep – Bip Bip Bip. Yes, I was transmitting SOS on the horns. After the even louder set of blasts, I was worried that some old 2nd world war veteran from the Royal Signals would hear me and call the police so I snapped into reverse and stopped the boat in the middle of the channel and made my way inside. Wendy and Lochlan both had headphones on either watching TV or playing computer games so they didn’t hear but Emily was up and about. I asked her why she didn’t come and see me after hearing SOS on the horns? She said that she just thought I had a lot of boats that I was having problems with. Agh!

Later, we met a boat in the middle of the channel. I kept to the right and finally he kept to his right too. As we crossed paths, he asked me, “am I correct in thinking that we keep to the right – I’m new to this”? Cor blimey, a bit late to discover that!

In the afternoon of day 3, Emily and I were on the stern happily driving along chatting away. We turned a corner and spotted a small 20 foot fibreglass cabin cruiser coming towards us with a little outboard aiming for the centre of a bridge driven by woman who was visibly puffing and straining. She had right of way since she would have been first to the bridge. I dropped to dead slow, my 23 tons to her few hundred pounds. Eventually I was just sitting there at a stop as she came through the single-pass bridge and then aimed at a nasty low tree on my port side – even though there was space for her to come much closer to me, by about six feet. She preferred to aim her cabin cruiser (with brand-new immaculate pram-top roof) into the horthorn tree which nicely scratched her new roof. Swearing and blowing, as she scratched past, she scowled at me in a way only a pretty woman with a damaged ego could, “you could have f*cking moved over a bit!”

Her little husband kept his mouth shut and averted his eyes as I did one of my special anger management situation demonstrations – but failed to cope this time and gave her the war that she wanted. I would have preferred to put a couple of shotgun shells at the waterline to give her something to scream at! Can you imagine?

Harry the narrowboat cat

One experiment this trip was taking the three kittens with us. They’re not kittens anymore of course, but more like small tigers. Two of the three are extremely docile and follow Wendy about like a dog (really!) but the third is a throw-back to the wilder side of cats and longs for freedom even though all our (five!) cats are neutered. We have decided next time to only take the two docile ones and leave the third at home with his two older sisters. We are confident that once they understand, we’ll be able to let them wander off for a few minutes at a time which is what they do at home.

On our last night, we went for dinner at the Folly, bottom of the Oxford flight of locks. If you know that area, I turned around at the winding point (turning place) and reversed 300 yards down the canal using the bow thrusters as a kind of rudder. This is way cool since narrowboats don’t have any steering at all in reverse. See http://tinyurl.com/cfjnpe to see where we turned – and as a guide to our size, our 70 foot boat only just clears this turn by a few feet. The chef at the Folly is very funny. She’s got a nick-name of Tick-Tock. I’m not kidding. Her flat-mate in the village is a little Philipino girl and they call her Tic-Tac. Crazy girls.

A couple of issues this trip. First one was condensation on the stainless water tank. I’ve never noticed before but sticking my head inside the well deck, I saw a little bit too much water lying around and dripping off the tank. I confided in the Narrowboats Yahoo Group and David came up with the idea of sticking cork tiles or similar over the surface. The trouble is I can only get to around 30% of the surface area of the tank because it’s supposed to be maintenance free and you just can’t squeeze inside to do these things. So although it’ll probably work, it’s impractical. He’s since thought that I could use spray-foam. This is a permanent solution and if I get it wrong will be a bloody nightmare to remove, if not impossible without cutting the bow off! However, done properly – this would be an amazing solution and would cure the worry of having a frozen tank for good. Allan suggested shoving loads and loads of Rockwool insulation into all the gaps. Builders use this for attic insulation and cavity wall insulation. I believe this might be a superb solution and I’ll look into it, thanks Allan. I’ll report on this another day.

Lastly, I managed to temporarily block the toilet at the same time as everyone else needed to go. Typical. There’s too much detail to go into here so I’ll leave much of this to your your own imagination. The toilet is one of those propeller chopper-upper toilets with the sucker noise. Sounds like an aircraft loo. I don’t know the name of this damned expensive thing but too much debris in one flush seems to cause it all sorts of issues and it stops working. It still makes all the fabulous sucking and spinning noises, and you still get all the water but nothing happens, it just fills up with more water (and debris!). I found a plastic drinking glass (tumbler) and used it like an old fashioned plunger whilst at the same time hitting the flush button. This eventually cleared the issue but I had a heck of a lot of lumpy water that wouldn’t go down the toilet each flush, growing each time. I hit on the idea of taking a glass window out of the port-hole next to me and chucking pints of trashy water out the window. I laughed out loud at one point, considering visions of some poor chap on an old boat getting a lump of sh*t on his head! It was a seriously nasty morning. Anyway, it’s fixed now and seems to flush everytime at the expense of emptying my water tank and filling my toilet tank!

Callum.

“Milamba IV”

Milamba IVI like to keep my eye on my old host, Milamba IV, since renamed to Lady Andrea.

Yachtspotter.com have a page for this little ship that is periodically updated, depending on who sees the old girl.

The page is here:

http://www.yachtspotter.com/ysp2_ycard.php?foo=20090628

I notice at the end of last year, she’s moved across to Fort Lauderdale. I wonder when she’ll be seen again?

If you do see this girl, please drop me a mail and a few pictures, thanks.

Callum.

The earth, the moon and the sun

Tonight, my Cubs are doing the “Astronomer” badge. I thought it might be rather nice to give them an idea of the local solar system before moving on to the Big and Little dippers – and of course, how they can find the north star, Polaris.

For reference, I thought I would stick a British 2p coin on the wall as the Earth, and work out towards the sun via the moon.

2p coinIt turns out (and I didn’t know this) that:

  • The Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter
  • The moon is around 2,000 in diameter
  • The Sun is about 850,000 miles in diameter

The long and short of it is this: If I stuck a 2p on the wall, the moon would be 78cms away away (about 2’6″) and the size of a pea. The sun would be 310 meters away, and 2.6 meters in diameter (7 feet or so).

Good, eh?

It was a good night. If you fancy doing this badge with your cubs, let me know. I have some flips you can have. If you are local, I also have an overhead projector which is great for displaying “real” stars on the wall :)

Callum.

Wherethehell-Rwe 2009 Calcutts to Braunston Return

Wherethehell_Rwe Toy DuckThis weekend, we took the boat out for the first time as a family since the summer. Each time we have previously tried to take the boat out, we seem to have hit various mechanical snags and had to return home. This time it was the weather that nearly pushed us home. However my long lost genetics of the Outer Hebrides encouraged me to continue.

On Friday afternoon, we motored Wherethehell-Rwe out the marina via half-inch thick ice and up the three locks outside the marina. Luckily the ice finished at the canal. We stopped discretely opposite the tow path between Calcutts and Wigrams turn conveniently between two trees.

I have recently done some fault-finding with our marine TV antenna. This is the flying-saucer style one from Shakespeare Marine. I have raised it up 14 inches from the deck with their smallest custom extension mast and it’s made a fantastic improvement. I’ve also got a 4 foot extension mast too. It only takes a few minutes to add the large one when we’re moored up for even better signal quality. I’m extremely pleased. It means that in the main, each TV can now receive the big digital channels as well as Sky. Last summer, we only had Sky which was pretty annoying as we all had to watch the one Sky channel across all the TVs. Experiencing proper TV now on each telly has made a terrific improvement for all on board – and it even possible to receive TV whilst on the go! We can’t have Sky whilst moving though. I did look at it but it’s pointless for narrowboats because of the bridges, cuttings and trees etc. It would be forever losing signal.

I digress. By 6:00pm, we had the wood-burner flat out, the central heating on and a 500 watt electric heater in the back bedroom. We could only just keep the temperature up as the ice formed around the boat and dumped the overnight temperature to nearly minus 10 degrees centigrade. Not good for live-aboards I fancy. I have a cool electronic weather station at home that I have never put up, I might use it on the boat instead since it’s got a computer interface etc. It could be an interesting addition. I’ll let you know.

Wherethehell_Rwe Toy Duck Nearly an inch of ice had formed on the canal surface during the night which surprised me. I didn’t think it could form that fast. It certainly made a bloody racket though. Everytime you moved, it would scrape and groan on the hull.

We had a laugh as I zoomed blocks of ice up the canal for hundreds of yards, listening to the tinkling of the blocks skittering across the surface. We waited and waited for someone to be bold enough to come down our bit of the Grand Union canal but nobody did. Finally I asked a dog walker what the conditions were up at the Oxford junction (600 yards ahead) and he confirmed that boats had already broken the ice ahead. Wendy encouraged me to make a run for it, so at midday, we gingerly set off, my first ice-breaking adventure.

Getting out of the overnight berth was a problem and it took a bit of diesel to get the momentum and turning correct to actually leave the overnight berth and get the boat into the middle of the channel. I certainly left half a pint of paint on some of the ice plates. Wendy and the kids were quickly up in the bow watching splinters of ice flying out in all directions as we crunched along, virgin ice-breakers. Finally, we reached Wigrams turn and we could followed the tracks of previous boats.

It’s three or four lock-free hours to Braunston from Wigrams – probably less. In the main, it was an uneventful journey other than the tight bridge turns where the stern would catch on thick plate-ice and restrict my turning ability accompanied with a horrible paint-stripping sound as the stern dug deeply into the plates, shuddering against the boat.

Braunston Mooring

By 2:30pm we were at Braunston and after turning around by pushing our nose into Braunston Marina, we stole the visitors mooring directly outside the Millhouse where we received a great Satellite signal but no Digital TV (the pub is right in the way). Once moored up and the fire re-fuelled, we popped into the pub for a coffee (I mean Carling!) and watched the kids mucking about in the play area. I squared it with the barman for us to moor up but it turned out that they had a kitchen problem and advised us of a 45 minute wait for a plate of chips so we bailed out and strolled up to the village to check out the pubs and get a spot of shopping. We found the Old Plough in the High Street and promised to check it out later that night. It opens at 6:00pm.

That afternoon, Wendy and I crashed out – completely knackered because the previous night’s strange noises that had kept us awake as the ice froze all around the hull, however we soon had a second wind and took in the delights of the Old Plough. This is a pleasant pub but remind me to book next time, they’d had a rush on the place and we had to start our meal in the public bar where a skittles match was about to take place. Luckily, a table by the fire became free in the restaurant and they invited us to move back.

Once settled, Wendy started scribbling on Emily’s notebook. After a minute or two, she showed me what she had written. It went along these lines: “The woman right behind you rolled her eyes at her friend when she saw you come in to the bar. I caught her eye and she knew that I had seen her. She went scarlet red with embarrasment“! I immediately turned around to see for myself but the lady kept her head down very low all night in fear of what I might say. Ah-ha! The fun of having a leopard-skin print Mohican hair-cut!

Sunday morning was again very cold. This time without sun and it remained below freezing all day. It took me longer than usual to get some heat back into the boat. I switched on the 500 watt electric fire, sucking the batteries dry for an hour. Eventually at 10:30am, the mains tripped off as the Victron inverter shut down due to lack of DC available. Our four 110Ah batteries were almost out of real juice. This was my signal to start the engine and get the 5kW generator running. It’s also a reminder to get four additional batteries installed!

Luckily for me, a boat called Xenia came past as as I was preparing to cast off. They shouted over that the Oxford had already been ice-broken by someone else. Great! We needed to get back as the kids started back at school in the morning.

Wrapped up with two pairs of socks and a couple of heat jells on standby for heating up my hands periodially, we left the mooring at about 11:00am with a freezing wind on my cheeks. Wendy came to join me on the stern as we turned at the Oxford, west-bound for Calcutts. Nothing to report on the return journey other than the continuing amazing sights of the large sheets of ice up to an inch and a half think that would move out the way -or get snapped as we motored past. I kept the throttle a hundred RPM less than normal at around 900 so we made marginally slower time. I stopped for lunch at about 2:00pm which helped as the cold was starting to drill into me, however it turned out that we were only fifteen minutes from Wigrams Turn and the three-lock flight back to our marina.

As a coincidence, we shared the first lock with our marina neighbours, Muchgiggling who happened to be about 5 minutes behind us. They had been out since Boxing day and had had 12 boaters on board for New Years eve. Bet you they got plastered! They stopped for a pump out but warned me of a possible icy time in the marina. You bet.

Little prepared me for what I found in the marina. The outer marina was navigable like normal and just under the bridge to the new marina was also navigable. But clearly we were the last boat to have motored on this since Friday. I could just see our tracks in the ice from our departure. Nothing had moved since then. The ice was between an inch and maybe two inches in places and half-way across the new marina, it stopped us in our tracks. I reversed and applied full power and made efforts to keep the boat pointing approximately in the right direction. At full power and already going maybe four knots, the ice brought us to a stop – even with our 50hp Beta at nearly 2,000 revs. A single sheet of ice, thousands of tons in weight had us by the short and curlies. As a concerned skipper, I could only continue repeated attempts at the ice breaking to get us closer and closer to the pontoon, 2 meters at a time – and had it not been for a chap called Steve from a boat moored near our friends Graham and Jo, I don’t know how I would have managed to get moored up. Tony missed the fun, they arrived 15 minutes later not realising the seriousness of my predicament.

Anyway, a successful and enjoyable trip. I look forward to some more sunshine next time along with an early blacking!

Callum.

Email from Scout Camp

Dear Mum and Dad,
Ted, the Scout Leader told us to email you now from the village in case you saw the flood on the TV and were worried. We are okay! Only one of our tents and 2 sleeping bags got washed away. Luckily, none of us got drowned because we were all up on the mountain looking for Adam when it happened.

Ted asks you to call Adam’s mother to tell her he is okay. He can’t use a computer because of the cast. I got to ride in one of the search and rescue jeeps. It was great! We never would have found Adam in the dark if it hadn’t been for the lightning. Ted was really mad at Adam for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Adam said he did tell him, but it was when Ted was dancing around the fire with his beer so he probably didn’t hear him. Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas will blow up? It’s amazing. Ted showed us after we tried his malt drink. He calls it fire-water. We discovered that wet wood doesn’t burn, but the tents do and also some of our clothes! I can tell you, Matthew is going to look really funny until his hair grows back.

We will be home on Saturday if Ted gets the minibus fixed. It wasn’t his fault about the crash, the brakes worked okay when we left. Ted said that with a bus that old, you have to expect something to break down. We think it’s a cool bus though and he doesn’t care if we get it dirty either. When it’s hot, he lets us ride on the bonnet! And it’s pretty hot with 24 people in a bus made for 18. He did let us take turns riding in the trailer until the traffic policeman stopped us and talked to Ted.

This morning we were all diving off rocks into the pool by the trees near the rapids. Ted wouldn’t let me because I can’t swim, and Adam was afraid he would sink because of his cast (it’s concrete because we didn’t have any plaster), so he let us take the canoe out instead… It was great fun. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood. Ted isn’t fussy like some of the Beaver Leaders we used to have. He didn’t even get mad about the life jackets. He spends most of his time clearing up the bottles and lying in the bus.

Guess what? We have all passed our first aid badges. When Andrew dived into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works! Steven and I threw up, but Ted said it probably was just food poisoning from the left-over chicken. He said they got sick that way with food they ate in prison. I’m so glad he got out and became our Scout Leader. By the way, what is a pedal-file?

I have to go now since we’re going to buy some more beer, rizzlas and air pellets then head back to camp!

Love,

Jimmy xx