Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mmmm ... pie and peas

As I will shortly be leaving Huddersfield, last night I took all my favourite colleagues out for a slap up dinner. Well, OK, I stood them pie and peas at the brilliant real ale pub The Star - under fifteen quid for nine of us (Jim had two). Pie and peas in The Star will be one of my fondest abiding memories of Huddersfield. It's the only food they do, and they only do it on Wednesdays, but if you're lucky you do get a choice of cheese and onion, beef, or pork. Yes, as in a pork pie, but served hot and sitting in a sea of peas (mushy, of course. None of your poncy petits pois here). You douse the lot with mint sauce and eat it with a spoon. Naturally on first arriving in The North I was rather sceptical about the attractions of this, but bravely plunged in, thinking 'when in Rome etc'; by the third time I was looking forward to it all day. The Star is about ten minutes walk away from the canal, but totally worth it if you have the slightest respect for beer - they always have loads of different real ales, always very well kept; no TV, no music, just a rather sweet dog. I shall miss it greatly.

My second favourite Huddersfield pub is the Albert, in the town centre. Recently reopened, and newly listed after a worrying few months at the beginning of the year, they now do food (which I haven't tried) and a decent pint (which I have, often), but the main attraction for me is the stunning Victorian interior, particularly the bar, all marble, mahogany and mirrors.

Nearer Aspley Basin is the New Wharf, which proudly advertises that it's been given an award for its food ... by the Huddersfield Student newspaper. When I ate there, admittedly about a year ago now, the food was average but edible, but the beer was dire. When I went back a second time, both food and beer were worse. So I've not been back a third time. Pity, as it has a nice eccentric, eclectic interior and a nice feel about it. Right on the basin of course is the Brewers Fayre (why, just typing that made me feel a bit queasy) 'pub' The Aspley. Just don't go there. They don't need your custom. There are enough people with no sense and no taste and no idea to keep them full every night of the week.

Oh dear, this seems to have turned into a pub review - well, I did try to relate it to the canal.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bits and bobs

I'm dead chuffed this morning to find nb Warrior on Granny Buttons' blogroll. I am steeling myself to have another go at setting one up here but I am so technologically challenged in this area it may take some time yet. Advance apologies - it will be a bit quiet here for the next week or so: I have to go to a conference in Nottingham next week and then we'll be back at Stretton with Warrior the week after that. Over the weekend I shall be trying to set up a photo website(see above for caveats). I'm thinking of using Webshots - it's less glitzy than Flickr but it looks simpler, and you get to post more photos on the free account (240 as opposed to 200). Any other suggestions?

This afternoon Andante should finally go back to her own spot on the towpath at Aspley (Huddersfield). Just before our epic trip at Easter we got a call to say she'd been broken into (in the middle of the morning! Big lump of stone through the window, followed by a couple of skinny herberts - must have been skinny to get through the window. Nothing taken (nothing to take) except an aging gas lighter, and blessedly no gratuitous damage done, just glass everywhere and a chunk out of the woodwork where the stone landed) so we made a detour to replace the window and fit security bars. At this point she'd been moved into the basin for security and someone else had nicked her towpath spot, so she's been sitting in the basin ever since, right up against the pub car park. Which is really no fun. That is, until I turned up on Monday to find her gone - moved round the corner to make room for a new boat. So this afternoon reinforcements are arriving to fight our way back onto the towpath somewhere. First off though a well deserved pumpout and watering should see her sitting a little less drunkenly. You were right Mike - those tanks are enormous. We emptied Warrior's water tank in three days and couldn't work out what had happened, we've been so spoilt.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A grand day out

Braunston: beer, beanburgers, boats - what more could a girl want?

Lots of other things that don't alliterate satisfactorily but were also present: sunshine, friendly people old and new, engines, morris dancers (OK, I can take or leave them), teenagers scarily good at handling boats; boats and more boats (although perhaps not quite the numbers they were hoping for? I confess I didn't count). Well worth the 320 mile round trip and £10 car parking charge.

But, I hear you ask, what about the National Paint Colour Mystery? It deepens (or lightens). Apparently it should be neither bright green nor dark green, but according to someone who ought to know (just what is the protocol on naming people?) 'a sort of dirty lime green with black in it' and 'really horrible'. So horrible that it seems no one has attempted to reproduce it on a rebuilt engine. The colour he picked out on our chips was more what I'd call a sort of darkish eau-de-nil - a good thirties colour for a thirties engine. So what we need to do now is to track one down (possibly our own) with some original paint still on it and try and find a match. It might be argued that it really doesn't matter - people could paint their engines any colour they liked and it needn't try to look as if it's straight out of the box. But if we're going to do it, why not try to get it right - tracking these things down is so much of the fun of it. Of course, that might not be the last word on the subject - someone else again might have other ideas about how it should be. Anyone got any ideas of other ways of finding out?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Green paint

Just a quick post today - firstly thanks to Mike for picking up on yesterday's rant and making me feel like part of the blogging community! Secondly, if anyone ploughed through the post about Warrior's engine and thought they detected the odd schoolboy (girl?) error, well all I can say is hopefully they're gone now.

We're off to Braunston tomorrow, armed with a set of paint colour chips in various shades of mid to dark green which we will be holding up to any National engine we can get near enough to. Warrior's engine is currently painted quite a dark green, and a cursory examination hasn't revealed any other shades underneath. While at Daventry we saw two engines - one RN and one National - nearly completed and both painted the same shade of what I think of as 'park bench' green - lighter and brighter than Warrior's. It seemed to me that it would be a bit of a coincidence for a separate company, having licenced the design from RN to make under its own name, to paint its engines exactly the same colour - surely National would already have their colour schemes established?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Why do so many people want to buy new boats?

This is a subject that's been exercising me for a while, particularly given the preponderance of stories recently about the pitfalls encountered by the buyers of new boats - poor steelwork leading to sinking; builders going out of business owing customers tens of thousands of pounds; the near impossibility of getting moorings, plus smaller scale local stories about a new boat that's on its third engine, for example ...

Sometimes people buy a new boat because they have very specific requirements, and want a boat built to meet these exactly. This is a reason often given by people whose boats are reviewed in the glossy mags (and frequently make a second appearance in the brokerage ads a year or two later). There are hundreds of boats for sale in Britain at any given time - 378 on Apollo Duck alone yesterday, many of them no more than a few years old - is not a single one of them suitable? Have these people even looked? (Possibly not; I remember reading a review a few years back of a new semi-trad. The owners were very pleased with their boat, but said that had they known about the possibility of having a trad with a back cabin, they would have preferred that.)

But anyway, while it may be true that some people have very specific needs or wants, and have a boat custom built to meet them, that doesn't account for all the bottom end boats sold off the peg with little scope for customisation and even less character or aesthetic appeal. The longest queue I saw at Crick was for the New Boat Company's boat. What's with these people? Even if they can't afford a boat by one of the 'top' builders exhibiting there, aren't they even interested in looking? I'm not saying no one should ever buy a new boat - I don't want to see high quality bespoke builders and fitters running out of work; I don't want to see the supply of good quality boats dry up. But in terms of numbers, we are talking increasingly about boats being made on production lines in Poland and Morocco, and even China (max length 48' to fit in a shipping container). Surely in many cases the same money would buy a much nicer boat that's a few years old.

Lots of people, it seems, simply never as much as consider buying anything 'second hand'. These are the people that buy a new car every three years and whose complaints about said cars fill the consumer and motoring pages of the press. The sort of people who buy a Barrett home because they don't like the idea of having a second hand toilet (I have seen that cited as a reason!) I would never buy a new car, or a new house - let someone else have the inevitable teething troubles, and pay extra for the privilege. But then as far as possible I don't buy new clothes, or furniture, or anything where I can utilise some one else's cast-offs, save money, stop something going into landfill and end up with better quality stuff to boot. But to many people, that seems to be a completely alien world.

Back to the problem of moorings: of all those hundreds of boats currently for sale, most are taking up a mooring somewhere. In many cases they haven't moved or even been visited for years. That's a complete waste of a mooring. Add to those the hundreds more (at a wild guess) that aren't currently for sale but whose owners don't or hardly use them and would sell if there was a buyer. If moorings owners, including BW, allowed moorings to be transferred with a boat this could provide a significant incentive to buy an existing boat rather than add a new one.

Building new boats uses resources and fossil fuels (OK, marginal amounts in the scheme of things, but everything we do as individuals is marginal in the scheme of things, it doesn't mean it's not worthwhile). If a beautiful, well made, loved and used boat is the result, then that's arguably a good use of those resources. If it's an ugly tub that causes its owners so many problems they give up on boating altogether, then that's a wicked waste. Especially when there are so many (potentially) nice boats out there just waiting for someone to love them.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A trip to Daventry

We took a brief day trip yesterday to Daventry, to visit (aah!) Warrior's engine where it sits in the workshop of the Russell Newbery Diesel Engine Company. This trip was to find out their first impressions of what sort of state the engine's in, and also do do a bit of bridge-building, having got off to a rather shaky start with one of the RN mob who, let us say, hasn't exactly been to the Dale Carnegie school of customer relations - although, to digress here, as I am wont to do, I'm not entirely convinced that it's a bad thing that there are genius engineers (for such, we are told, this person is) out there who don't subscribe to the bland 'have a nice day' approach. Anyway, yesterday we talked mainly to the bearded contingent (David and Ian) who were very nice and helpful; Ian in particular is very good at explaining things, without even seeming to notice he's doing it. So we are now committed to Warrior's engine receiving their expert care and attention, having been told by everyone we've talked to about it that they might be grumpy and miserable, and they might be slow, but that nobody will do a better job.

So what was the verdict? Well, no nasty surprises, at least as yet. The block seems to be in good shape, full of rather frightening sludge, but David says that's normal. The pistons are in OK shape, but we will probably replace them anyway - they need new rings, and they're cast iron, which means they shouldn't be used above 800 revs, which apparently we would want to do, so we will replace them with alloy ones. The crankshaft is going to be thoroughly inspected and sent off to Guildford for an x-ray (aah again) but on cursory inspection looks to be OK. The camshaft is going to be remade on a special machine they have for the purpose (they have a lot of old machines).

We will have a new alternator as supplied by RN. The starter motor, while not original (the engine was originally hand start) is an old and repairable CAV one, in pretty good nick, so that stays. The water pump is a bit more of a poser - the previous owner noted that water pumps were constantly wearing out and it turns out that this is because they were attached to far too large a pulley, making them run about six times as fast as they should. There's no space at the flywheel end to add a smaller one, so we are left with two alternatives. One is an electric water pump, which we'd like to avoid for authenticity's (and reliability's?) sake. The second is that on the front of the engine there is a cover, which apparently covers a spindle that would originally have been used to drive a water (presumably raw water) and bilge pump; it may be that this can be adapted for the purpose provided it won't protrude too far into the gangway. We won't need a fuel pump (it previously had an electric one fitted) as we are having a gravity system installed - they've already made the day tank, although we haven't seen it yet.

The gearbox was quite a nice surprise, in that it turns out to be quite sound. It is (we're told!) an early Bruntons box, 1:1, all metal parts, very simple. It looks like it might require a slight modification to the propshaft to allow some backwards/forwards movement, and this may be why it wasn't engaging effectively before. The gearbox does sport a National plate with the engine number on, which is what led us and previous owners to think it was a National box. We're still pretty sure it's the same box the engine has always had, but was the plate put on by an owner, or were these Bruntons boxes badged by National?

After this successful visit to Daventry we went on to Whilton to have lunch at the garden centre at Whilton Locks, and then we made a move for home - all in all the round trip took from 0730 until 1700 - and we weren't more than an hour at RN. We'll be doing pretty much the same trip on Saturday when we're going to go to Braunston - I've volunteered to drive, as long as my beloved Bluebird is back on the road by then. The cars are another story, but when Warrior news is slack I might get round to it!

Will try to add an engine-in-bits photo later, but I haven't yet joined the world of digital photography so have to wait till I've finished the film and got the pictures back!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What sort of a boat is Warrior?

What Warrior looks like - but ignore the paintwork - that's going! (Believe me, it looks worse close up)

Last month in Canals and Rivers magazine, Phil Speight was expostulating about the way any old (or new) boat with a bit of a curvy fore end and/or a few washer rivets gets sold as a josher - and it's true, you only have to look at the ads. His point was (I think) that this devalues the skill and effort of those few people who build/built faithful josher replicas, as well as rendering the term itself - which should be very specific - pretty much meaningless. He also had a few digs at boats that are called tugs because they have a longish foredeck and portholes.

It is into this latter category, of course, that Warrior falls. I don't have much problem describing Warrior as a 'tug-style narrowboat' (it's a fairly widely and consistently understood term), but a tug it definitely isn't. Although, with the engine it's got, I suppose there's no reason why not! Looking at real tugs, their proportions are noticeably different; generally, more foredeck, less cabin, and less length overall (Warrior is 54'). After all, generally speaking they neither carried goods nor were lived on; apart from the engine, what did they need space for? (Not a rhetorical question, I would actually like to know.) There are some leisure boats about that do suggest those proportions more accurately, but at the cost, obviously, of accomodation.

Warrior has a fairly distinctive fore end, more suggestive of an icebreaker than anything else, I think. I've asked John Shotbolt (the builder) whether the design is based on any particular boat or style of boat, and the answer was no. That makes Warrior a real one-off, as it was the only tug (-style narrowboat) he ever built. An interesting, characterful, nice looking and well built one-off. And that's before we even start talking about the engine, which is, as far as we know, unique on the British inland waterways system. That'll do me.

Having said all that about how Warrior doesn't really look much like a real tug, that is how we're going to paint it, when the time finally comes. We might even attempt a bit of tromp l'oeil to make the cabin look shorter, at the very least keeping it very plain toward the front. All part of the compromise inherent in canal boating between history and practicality.

Returning to my starting point, why even try to ape the shape, style or appearance of old boats when we all know it's fake? Not to recreate history, create a floating museum, or romanticise life on the working boats, but quite simply because those old boats are the most beautiful. And if you're going to do something, then you should do it the very best you can.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

He, she or it?

Some random ramblings this time ...

We're used to referring to boats - right up to bloody great warships - as 'she'; it's a courtesy we're taught to extend them from an early age. But does this apply to canal boats? After all, much of the maritime terminology that worked its way up the rivers wasn't traditionally used on the canals: 'in' and 'out' (or right and left), not port and starboard; fore end, not bow, and so on. Having diligently learnt the nautical terminology on first taking up boating, those of us who want to get it 'right' are then faced with unlearning it and learning a whole load of new terms. (Whether it's more pretentious to try to get it 'right' than to merrily get it 'wrong' is another question I might come back to. I'm not so much motivated by a desire to 'get it right', as to know what is right, just for the sake of knowing.)

And it's amazing how ingrained those terms have become. Mind you, port and starboard are such useful concepts that I've taken to using them when talking about cars, and unlike near- and offside, they're international. Only understood by boaty types though, unfortunately. We also habitually characterise our cars as female, 'she' and 'the old girl' (or is that just in my household?).

But is Warrior conceivably a she? Not a problem for Helyn - clearly a river boat. Not really a problem for Andante - obviously female (don't ask how I know). But somehow for Warrior it doesn't seem to fit, even as a courtesy title. One likes to think, perhaps, that canal people were less sentimental, or maybe less superstitious, than their seafaring peers, and for that reason less likely to anthropomorphise the lumps of metal and wood on which their livelihoods, if not their lives, depended. But try referring to a boat as 'it' - it feels awkward. I find myself avoiding pronouns altogether when talking about Warrior. Hmmm.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Shamed by my boring blog

Yes indeed, I knew I'd been a bit lax with the updating, but I reckoned that as no one was reading it anyway, it didn't really matter. But I've just been totally put to shame by this new(ish) blog It's the work of Mike Beveridge, who I've kept in touch with since he sold us our first narrowboat, the dear little Andante, and it's interesting, informative, frequently funny and above all a pleasure to look at. Well, I can't compete with that - for one thing, I'm not an IT professional, and for two things, I don't live on a boat in the sense Mike does, so have rather less material. But there's enough going on at the moment with Warrior to make that a pretty feeble excuse. And that will be in another (or many other) posts, coming soon, I promise.

Two other hindrances - some other blogs go in quite a lot for giving out information and advice, and I don't really feel up to doing that. Sure, in my own mind I think I know lots of stuff, but there's a rather ingrained aversion to possibly being, well, presumptious. Another blog stock-in-trade is moaning about people/companies/BW, etc etc. I could certainly do that too - just try to shut me up in person! But again, there's something inhibiting me from putting it down in potentially permanent black and white. What if I turn out to be wrong? Or regret upsetting someone? Maybe it's a girl thing.

Still, with those excuses given in advance, I really will make more of an effort to post at least every couple of days now, and then I can actually start telling people that this blog exists! And next time it shouldn't take me so many attempts to remember my password.