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Sunday, 19 August 2007

How do we get electricity?

Boaty info:- Earlier inland boats just took a lead from the engine battery to run a light bulb, then people wanted more, so extra batteries were fitted. The trouble was sometimes people ran the batteries so low that they wouldn't start the engine. The solution was to split the batteries, one battery solely started the engine, the others did the domestics and a simple relay switch split the charging process.

Things moved on, boats got longer and more complex. The longer the boat, the longer the cables, the greater the voltage drop, so thicker cables were needed. But equally, more and more sophistication meant more and more power was wanted, and also people wanted more domestic appliances. Voltage drop is reduced if you double the voltage, so many boats now use a 24 volt system, Lily being one. Most lorries use this voltage so there are many parts that can be used from their parts bins, and the amount of current needed for a given wattage required by a lamp or motor is halved, greatly reducing the cable size required. But we still want home comforts, so we need 240 volts, and the alternating current needed to drive them, so the modern inverter was designed.

The inverter multiplies up the voltage to 240 volts and then magically makes it alternate from positive into negative. Unfortunately more modern equipment needs more than just an alternating current to make it work, it also needs it to be very close to the sine wave profile of the standard mains voltage. Clever engineers have mimicked this almost exactly and now electronic equipment works happily on the current modern inverters generate. Lily Pad has what is known as a combined inverter/charger and this wonderful device generates 3.5 kW of AC power, but also, when we get back to base and plug into the mains, also charges up the battery bank and keeps them in perfect condition.

Ah, batteries! There are all sorts of batteries available. Normal car batteries are fine for starting engines, but they do not like being heavily discharged. Domestic use in boats will tend to do this, so slightly different types are made to be leisure batteries. These come in all sorts of sizes, and at the Loughborough Boat Festival this year I saw a boat take delivery of some enormous batteries, heaven knows what they weighed but I know I was very glad I didn't need to move them into position. On Lily Pad we have a battery bank built up of 12 individual 2 volt cells, supplied by Harborough Batteries. These are similar to those used on electric milk floats and they are set in a metal locker on the starboard side of the rear deck and I think they weigh about 1/4 ton.

First Week of boating life

Monday 13th August We left Debdale after a fraught morning with both our cars playing up. We ended up leaving Carol's wheel at a garage to have a new tyre fitted, whilst my thing refused point blank to start even with jump leads or a tow. It could be an interlock that operates on the clutch pedal, whatever it was I ended up pushing it to a remote spot until we return.

As a result it was around 13.10 when we set off, pleasant weather but not hot. We meandered northwards along the long pound to Kibworth top lock. As we were about to leave this a boat arrived, crewed by a couple who used to on a knitwear company on the floor below ours! We also had an interesting chat with a British Waterways man at the next lock. He was painting non slip paint on the balance beams so that people walking across to work the lock did not lose their footing.

The Kibworth Flight is four locks arranged over a length of about 1/4 mile and which lower the canal by some 32 feet, and form the first of a total of 21 locks that lower the canal from Debdale Wharf to that of the river Soar. All these locks are double width, being some 14 feet wide and about 80 feet long.

One more lock saw us down to the level of our first night's stop overlooking Wistow Church, just before Newton Top Lock. This is a lovely spot, much loved by boaters and dog walkers with open fields and a quaint little church set amongst trees. I include a picture with Lily at her mooring, Wistow Church is set off to the left of this view. The only slight drawback here, as is the case with many canals, is that the Midland Mainline railway running from London to Sheffield runs fairly close to the canal. In fact a few hundred yards further on the railway embankment is right alongside the canal towpath with trains hammering past perhaps 15 feet from the cruising boats.

Interesting fact, as we cruise later into London along the Regent's Canal we shall pass just below these same trains as they complete their journey.

Our cruise this day took us only 3 1/4 hours and we cruised a magnificent 5 miles and worked 5 locks!

Tuesday 14th was wet at the start and we only planned to cruise 3 miles and 7 locks to a meeting point with the grandchildren that evening. We shared the journey with a charming lady on Grace, a boat about 57 feet long. Elsewhere in the country the night of 17/18th August was wild and Clare, our youngest daughter, rang to say their first ever camping holiday had ended just after 3 nights when the gales and torrential rain had smashed their tent at around 9 am this morning. Fortunately no-one was hurt, but it had been a brand new tent 3 days earlier!

During our short cruise of just under 4 hours we passed about 7 or 8 boats going the other way, and we were following closely another two boats. At Kilby Bridge there is a popular pub, the Navigation, and also a set of services for boats. These include water points, toilets and shower and an elsan disposal point. Lily Pad has her own very good shower, just the same as we have at home except it is better as both hot and cold water is pumped, almost like a power shower.

As to the toilet, on boats there is the choice of either elsan type " bucket & chuck it" type as used in caravans, or else what is known as a "pump out" system. With these the waste is collected in a large holding tank and when this is full the boat goes to a boatyard with a "pump out" facility where the waste is sucked out into the sewer system. On Lily we use the elsan type and despite having a spare toilet cassette we need to empty these about every 4 days, or more often if there are more than the two of us aboard. I might revert to the reason for our choice later.

Sam and Hannah joined us at 7pm and we went to the pub for a meal. Carol had a very acceptable Chicken Madras, though it was not as spicy as some, I had the excellent Steak & Kidney pie whilst the kids had Beef Stroganof, which they enjoyed. The Pedigree bitter was well kept.

Wednesday morning it was late when we rose, we woke the kids after 8.30, and it was a fine morning. We set off at 9.45, but unfortunately we were not able to team up with another boat, Grace's owner had said she would wait for us at the first lock, but paired up with another boat that had reached there already. Two other boats followed us, but they had made a previous agreement to continue the arrangement to work together that they had made the day before. So we worked our way through, picking blackberries as we went. The day clouded over and around mid day the heavens opened and we had a torrential downpour, we were glad to stop for lunch! The soup Carol had made was much appreciated.

We restarted around 14.00 and had some more heavy rain. At least it was mild so we all wore shorts and proved our skin was waterproof and dried easily! Sam is a very competent lock operator now and fully able to work them, though he might have a problem with heavy gates and paddle gear, especially in the new year wen they have not been used for a while. Hannah pushes the gates open and shut well, and I'm sure that she will be able to handle the paddle gear on narrow locks. Sam is also a wonderful helmsman. We cruised onto the river Soar and through 3 more locks, stopping for supplies at a Sainsbury's on "The Mile Straight" in Leicester, before moving on to the secure moorings at Castle Gardens in the city. These moorings are within 200 yards of the clock tower in the city centre.

During this day we did 12 locks and 6 miles.

Thursday 16th dawned bright but cool, it was 9am when the kids woke. We went into Leicester to see things I hadn't seen for many years, visiting the Jewry Wall museum of Roman remains, going on to the Cathedral ( too new to tickle my spot ) and then tried the ancient Guildhall. It was unfortunately closed but is well worth a visit. We used to hold many meetings of the Leicester Textile Society there, in fact I was made President there. We then went to St Mary de Castro church, which we had never visited before....................why ever not? It is a wonderful church, started in 1107 and still showing lovely Norman features. We had a very interesting talk with the vicar, David Cawley, who explained certain features and made us very welcome, and invited himself to see Lily at a later date! We were fortunate to find it open, we had tried to look into St Nicholas Church, the oldest in Leicester and built with many Roman bits and pieces, but it was closed. If you are visiting Leicester, do try to see them.

St Mary de Castro is by the Leicester Castle. This is not a castellated building, but a large Medieval hall that has been changed and adapted over the years. Sadly it was not open to view, so we went to the Newark Houses museum nearby and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits and activities there.

After lunch we set off at 14.20 and cruised to Mountsorrel, seeing several herons and kingfishers. We had several short showers on the way, but arrived alongside Wasp in Mountsorrel at 18.20. 9 miles and 7 locks.

The river is getting badly affected by an invasive weed from the USA , Floating Pennywort, and in several places it stretched almost wholly across the river. It was introduced into the river accidentally by people emptying pond plants into the river, and with British winters being nothing like as severe as those on the Great Lakes, the weed grows almost non stop. It has very major implications for all waterways users, it kills fish and aquatic plants by preventing light from reaching them. It clogs waterway structures and could easily cause flooding by blocking weirs and culverts. The apparently solid mat it forms looks like any other area of green countryside, but it gives way when an animal tries to walk on it. All of us need to help prevent its spread, especially as only a very short piece of stem can propagate into another raft of weed in only a few weeks.

The kids ate with us that night before being collected by our daughter Sally and son-in-law John.

On Friday, we stayed put. I walked up from the river to visit my mother in the care home nearby, and then tackled a nasty smell of diesel from the engine. Sally dropped by with a bit of post, including a terrible phone bill, I set to sorting out a better tarif. I have been able to get a fast internet connection through my Vodafone USB modem ( 3.6 Mbs ) in Leicester and Mountsorrel which is very satisfying.

Saturday morning we set off into Loughborough. We passed through Mountsorrel Lock and onto the Services at Barrow upon Soar where we filled up with water and emptied the loos. We shared Barrow Deep lock with a family just setting out on a 2 week holiday. The next lock is a flood lock and these are normally left open during the summer, but the weather this year has been so bad that the gates were shut, but only held back about 2" of water. We stopped in Loughborough having covered 5 1/2 miles and just 2 and a bit locks.

We then did something I have not done for over 40 years, went to Loughborough Market. This is a full street market and is bigger than I recall from the days when I was at school here, though I was
at school on Saturday mornings. The rain started as we bought fruit and veg, so we went to the cinema to watch the latest Harry Potter film. The last time I went to this cinema it was called the Essoldo and only had one screen, now it had at least 5. We enjoyed the film, Sam said we would, he is a great fan and has already read the last book in the series.

We have also had a floppy Sunday, not moving again. We went to a laundrette to wash the bedding. We have slept on water bed for many years as these give Carol's back great relief, she has had 2 spinal operations and needs all the help available. With a water bed there is a quilted cover to the mattress and this rather overfills a domestic washing machine, so when available we use these commercial sized machines rather than the machine we have on the boat. It threw it down with rain again as I walked to get some bits from B&Q so I got wet again. We have needed to run the engine to recharge the batteries as we use quite a lot of electricity.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Monday approaches and we will leave Debdale Wharf Marina to start our cruise. Canals and rivers interconnect to cover much of the country in navigable waterways and our first post retirement cruise is to be what is known as "The Leicester Ring". Some people cruise it in 7 days, our previous navigations of this linked set of canals and rivers has taken around 9 days. This Lily Pad has never cruised it, and we intend to go very gently around it, stopping on the way wherever we wish and going up the length of both the Coventry Arm and the Ashby Canal. We could even pull in the Shackerstone Canal Festival in September. Everything is planned so that we go as the mood takes us.

On Tuesday evening our two oldest grandchildren will join us for two days, they are very useful at working the locks, as well as being great fun to have along. I'll scan in simple plan of the network and find how to give you a link to the Inland Waterways Association site as both of us have been heavily involved with this association for many years.

It is approaching a year since we were at the Association's National Festival which was held at Beale Park near Pangbourne on the river Thames. On the Saturday, just after lunch, Carol had gone to see a cookery demonstration and left me finishing eating an orange. About 20 minutes later she was hauled out of the demonstration to be told I had suffered a serious accident. The poor love waited petrified for about an hour before I was brought into the First Aid centre by the paramedics. She knew nothing of what had gone on and was wondering if I was dead, instead I walked in wet and holding my right arm. I had fallen from the roof of the boat and crashed into the top edge of the roof of the neighbouring boat, hitting it just below my shoulder. I then fell down between the two boats and into the river. I think I must have shouted as others came around to my aid, I was a bit worried about what I had said as they were members of the Boaters Christian Fellowship!

Suffice to say I had shattered the ball at the top of my arm. Reading Hospital was fantastic, but it was not an emergency, they strapped me up & told me to come back in 5 days. They kept waving needles at me and I kept fainting ( I hate needles ) and my blood pressure fell through the floor, so they kept me in coronary care overnight, but went back to the boat the next afternoon. It was a long saga and our waterways friends were fantastic in how they helped us out getting us home at first so I could get treatment in Leicester, in sorting out somewhere to moor the boat until we were able to sort out a crew to get Lily home and then in the actual help on that return trip. Everyone was fantastic and it just went to show the tremendous comradeship that exists in this boating community.

This accident brought to the fore our thoughts about going cruising and, along with actually finding a buyer for our home of 30 years after over 2 years on the market, brought this great day forward. We have now lived on the boat for over 4 weeks and are loving it. I mentioned yesterday that the boat had a bit of a list, well 120kgs of lead have sorted that out, along with a bit of readjustment on loading. I'll describe more about Lily shortly, here is a picture of her decorated up for our Leicester Boat Festival this June.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Getting Started

In the Beginning

In 1989 we bought our first narrowboat. Carol told me to come home from work early as we were going to look at this boat. She said I was spending so much time at work it was either get a boat or else she would install a bed down at the factory. A brief test run & we made an offer & just over a week later, having cruised about 100 yards of canal beforehand, we set off to get this first boat back to Debdale Wharf Marina where we had booked a mooring. More of this later, perhaps.

The boat's name.......................Lily Pad

4 years later we had our second boat built to our design, we were hooked. The first boat was 30 feet long and we had greatly improved her over the time we had her. The second boat was 45 feet long and was built at Nimbus Narrowboats at Thurmaston Marina, to where we had moved. In 1993 we took the new boat to the National IWA Festival at Peterborough where she was entered in the best boat competition. She didn't quite win, but it was close.

The boat's name......................Lily Pad

In 2001 the factory died, making knitwear in the UK was almost impossible. We went off on Lily Pad to lick our wounds and spent nearly 6 weeks cruising down the Thames and other waters. By this time we had decided we loved boating so much that we wanted to try living aboard our boat, but this 6 week cruise showed she was not quite right for us for

We sold her in late Summer 2002 and commissioned our next boat.

We had moved back to Debdale Wharf Marina again and started discussions and drawing up designs for the next boat. We wanted her to be 58 feet long so we could cruise anwhere, in the UK all the locks are at least 58 feet long, but we couldn't fit what we wanted in this length. We fiddled around with bits, as most people reckon you can get a 62 foot boat through nearly all locks, but still we could get in what we wanted. Lots of head scratching, and then we said "What the Hell" and went for a full length 70 foot boat, knowing that to cruise some canals we will have to hire or beg/borrow a boat.

The die was cast, the final layout agreed, the finer parts were argued, the order placed, and the people at Debdale started work. It took a long time.................but in the end in September 2003 she had er Boat Safety Certificate test and she was handed over to us for the final soft furnishing fittings. A later sub article will give details of her design and features.

The boat's name.........................................Lily Pad

We believe there are three boats called Lily Pad on the inland waterways network, two of them built for us. We loved our first boat so much and loved her name too and thus there are now three.

Now Ian has retired and we are just about to cast off. We have downsized our home, and have actually let our new home. Everythng is in store. The boat is well loaded, slightly to one side so we have a bit of a list!! On Monday we set off for a gentle three month cruise, the first part of what we hope to be a 5 year sojourn around the waterways of Great Britain. We haven't burnt our boats, we have the option of moving back onto land, but if we don't have a go at this we will always regret it.

Come on the cruise with us, We'll learn how to add photos, give you our thoughs on designs and options and bring you news of things afloat. Things seen will be brought to your attention, ell, you might want to try the life yourselves.