She’s electric

(Bet you can’t guess which song will be accompanying this blog post.)

My first couple of weeks at Castle Marina were punctuated with intermittent loss of mains electricity. Being no stranger to having a part-time fridge and limited ability to charge devices, I did not leap into action. But when the battery charger started flashing red, I thought I had better do something. I took to the Internet forums.

This was not the positive, empowering experience I had hoped for. I described the problems as clearly as I could (and fully disclosed my novice status), but was met by more than one sniffy reply asking questions I thought I had already addressed, and then complaining that I did not reply quickly enough. (I was on night shifts. I was asleep. Sure, they weren’t to know that and only wanted to help in a timely fashion, but I felt righteous indignation all the same.)

I also talked to the marina chaps – I suspected my mains problem was due to a faulty connection at the post. After all, I had never had a problem with electrics at Sawley, but the day I move to my new home it all started playing up. We tried plugging into another post, but the mains was not magically restored. I unplugged the galvanic isolator and that seemed to fix things. Alas, it transpired this was not a long-term solution. The marina manager then replaced the socket on the mains post, and this also had a short-lived effect. But ultimately, I was still left with unreliable electricity and a mini disco in the engine room courtesy of the battery charger warning lights.

Back on the forums, it was suggested I might have a loose wire connection in the plugs. After a bit of web-based coaching I managed to remove the plug casings and check the wire connections. They were fine in the galvanic isolator. It was time to get in the pros.

Happily, there was someone on site with know-how and an available time slot to look at my electrical conundrum. Warren took a multimeter to every battery-related object and they all seemed in reasonable working order. He too was a little stumped. He methodically worked through the connections, including the plugs for the main electrical cable. Which I had neglected to check. One loose wire adjusted, and the low buzz of the fridge could be heard again. And the disco lights had disappeared. The party was over but the batteries were being charged.

What is the moral of this story? It could be ‘call the experts as soon as you have a problem’. (If so, I have not learnt from this – my diesel heater has been broken for at least two months now.) It could also be ‘if you ask for advice on the internet, then you should follow it properly and not get annoyed by a stranger’s lack of knowledge about your shift pattern’. (It may seem like quite specific advice, but I fear it may be transferable to many areas of my life.) But for now I’m taking it to be ‘appreciate a fully functioning fridge as you never know when your beer might get warm.’

This blog post was brought to you by ‘She’s electric‘ by Oasis. Predictability is one of my better traits.


Battle of the marinas

I am long overdue a good narrowboat blog list. Many of my favourite blog entries have been in list form (with the exception of the greatest toilet story ever told) and I am itching to return to the format. So to settle the long-debated question of whether Castle Marina is better than Sawley Marina (this ending a decades, if not centuries, old argument) I will draw up a list. Starting with one of my favourite topics.

1. Showers

Have I mentioned my love of the Sawley Marina showers before? That perfect combination of heat and water pressure? Even in my dotage (I am unsure at what age that starts, or, if I’m being absolutely honest, what it actually entails. But I think it’s something to do with being old.) As I was saying, even in my dotage, I will think on those showers fondly. The communal showers at Castle Marina , by comparison, are merely adequate. They get the job done but I have no wish to prolong the showering experience.

Sawley 1-0 Castle

2. Space

There is undeniably less space at Castle. Less space for manoeuvring (pity my neighbours as I take the boat out for the first time. Or maybe fear for them), less space for storage , less space for pontoons. I no longer have my own pontoon, which has necessitated the rear parking.

Sawley 2-0 Castle

3. Location

I have a 9 minute cycle to work. After a night shift I can be in bed at 07.40 (when previously at that time I would be trying very hard to not fall asleep at the wheel on the way back to North-East Leicestershire). Plus there are all the fast food outlets you can think of in the vicinity. And a plethora of pubs. A clear win for Castle.

Sawley 2-1 Castle

4. Laundry

Laundrette use was included in the mooring fee at Sawley, whereas it is not at Castle. However the machines are bigger and more efficient at my new home. And both come equipped with an excellent library. A score draw.

Sawley 3-2 Castle

5. Cost

My central Nottingham location is about £100 more per year than my rural one. But as I’m no longer using as much diesel, or paying for a work parking permit, Castle comes out on top. (Though it’s possible I am eating and drinking the saving away.)

Sawley 3-3 Castle

6. Neighbours

Double Fracture would no longer be afloat if it weren’t for the help of my Sawley neighbours. I may have been increasingly antisocial during my time there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate everything that was done for me, from fixing my water pump, to including me in the bulk coal order to making particular space for my bike in the bike rack. And all the little kindnesses in between too numerous to succinctly include. My neighbours here seem nice, though I’ve yet to meet many of them. In time they may prove to be as lovely as the previous lot, but right now it’s the Sawley bunch who get the point.

Sawley 4-3 Castle

On paper it seems like I made the wrong move. And yet, my mood has been a little brighter since I sailed down the river. I’ve spent more time outdoors and less time in a car. I’ve seen more of my favourite people. I’ve slept better. And so, with a dodgy penalty and an injury time winner, the final score:

Sawley 4-5 Castle

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Albert went out to see rock bands’ by Gavin Osborn.

So long Sawley

The car was packed. The coal was stacked on the roof. The parents’ bike shed was full of stuff I couldn’t fit anywhere else. My leftover washing tokens had been redistributed, and I’d left a bottle as a token of appreciation for my neighbours who have been so kind and helpful. I was ready to sail off into the sunset. (Actually into the clear blue skies of Saturday morning.)

My former mooring

The last time I’ll turn right out of the marina

The last crew out of Sawley.

The journey to the new marina took us along a tried and tested route. It was the overwhelming favourite of my trip options out of Sawley – first right out of the marina and then straight on till Sainsbury’s. There should be no surprises along this stretch of the river.

We got to Beeston to pick up our remaining crew without incident. There was a bit of a delay at the marina cafe as someone else took our toasted sandwiches but we weathered that catastrophe. We were minutes away from Castle Marina when I had an inexplicable lapse in judgement.

There were fishermen along the towpath – not an unusual occurrence. As a boat approaches they will customarily take their rods out of the water until the vessel passes by. I had no reason to think these fishermen would be any different; indeed the first two did just that. So why I decided to try to dodge the third line is anybody’s guess. As he removed the rod from the canal I realised my circuitous route around his fishing space meant I was about to crash into some boats moored the other side of the canal from the fishermen. I frantically threw DF into reverse and avoided putting a hole in the hull of the nearest boat. But this now meant I was wedged up against the wall of the canal, which makes changing direction very awkward. (At this point some of the younger crew tried to see what all the fuss was about, to which I could only squawk ‘go away’ in a high pitched voice.) To try to counteract this difficulty I pushed the tiller as far as it would go towards the left (aiming to swing the boat to the right and away from boat-mageddon). It was here I noticed the ledge built into the wall, which was a smidgen lower than the height of the tiller.

In the interests of accuracy, I will admit that I only noticed the ledge once it has ensnared the tiller underneath it and started to drag it backwards as the boat edged forwards. I couldn’t release the tiller (or didn’t want to try out of affection for the skin on my hands) so I just pushed on forwards. The good ship finally pulled clear of the wall and missed the moored craft by inches (with a little help from one boat woman pushing us away from her – her narrowboat had only been painted the day before).

I did fear that I might have lost all ability to steer, given the awkward looking angle of the tiller. (Had it been an arm I think amputation would be the only viable solution.). Happily I could still direct my lovely boat, though the range of the tiller had been altered by 90 degrees so turning right involved leaning directly over the rear of the stern to point the tiller completely backwards. It was with some difficulty (both physical and mental) I turned into the entrance of my new home.

Once paperwork was complete, the marina manager hopped onboard to help me moor up for the first time. I needed to reverse park as I had no pontoon to moor next to, and the back door would need to become the front door as a result. It did not go as badly as I had feared – certainly not as badly as avoiding the fishing rods. It may have helped having an expert on board to give directions, but I think it’s more probable that I am a natural reverse boat parker. However, as I never want to do it again, opportunities to test this theory may be few and far between.

So I’m tied up in my new home. Let’s hope the grass really is greener as I can’t face driving somewhere else with this tiller.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Living Thing‘ by ELO.

Three happy boating years….but it’s time for a change

Happy third anniversary Double Fracture.  It has been 36 months filled with learning points, toilet problems and mishaps.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But over the last few months I’ve been getting itchy feet.  It’s time to move on.

(The aim of the first paragraph was to get a collective gasp from you, my lovely readers.  Am I over living on a boat?  What on earth is happening?)

Panic not my friends, this is not the end of crew duty. (In fact I’m considering introducing mandatory service for all those over the age of eight.)  I may be moving on, but DF will be moving on with me.  After a couple of weeks in my favourite holiday spot outside Sainbury’s, I wondered if it need only be a vacation home.  I recently met a boat-dwelling couple at work who lived off grid, and had inspired me with their talk of multiple solar panels, generators and forklift truck batteries.  But I quickly realised that in the short term, I am not currently set up for off grid living.  Man cannot survive on three hours fridge time a day.

So I made a couple of speculative phone calls.  One to Trevethicks, who have so far catered for all my hull-blacking needs and also offer on-canal moorings.  No room at the boatyard inn.  And another to Castle Marina – the place I thought I would live when I first looked into life afloat.  Every time I had enquired previously, they had been full to the brim, but that day was my lucky day.  They had a spot, and it took me approximately ten minutes to think it over once I had been for a look round.  I am on my way.

I will miss Sawley.  I will miss my neighbours.  I would not have lasted three weeks on board, let alone three years, without the kindness of other boaters.  And I will miss the shower.  Maybe most of all, I will miss the shower.

So today, in celebration of our three moderately successful years together, I am packing up.  I won’t have a storage locker at Castle Marina and so all the things I have accumulated outside need to either be disposed of, stored on the roof, or (my personal preference) at the parents house.  I may have moved out, but they will never be rid of my clutter.

(In clearing everything out, I realised I have cultivated a lovely bug garden within the bags of coal.  There were huge spiders, with bodies the size of 50p pieces, lots of woodlice, a centipede and some worms.  As well as a very dopey wasp.)

The big move is on Saturday.  Cannot flipping wait.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Moving on up‘ by M People.

Steaming up the windows: the sequel

Over my three-year tenure on Double Fracture I have dabbled with secondary glazing options. Mostly this has taken the form of double-sided tape and cling film. But last year I didn’t bother with anything; it wasn’t markedly colder, but there was a lot more condensation. This year, I have got ambitious with my windows.

It had been suggested that double glazing could be made by screwing Perspex onto the window frame. The suggester quickly found himself roped into an evening of sawing and drilling sheets of plastic – probably not what he had in mind when he offered his helpful tip. So armed with pizza and cider, Richard and I set about unsteaming the windows.

There are two options for cutting Perspex down to size – scoring a line with a knife and then applying pressure to break the acrylic along that line, or sawing the extraneous bits off. We started with the scoring – trying to achieve a cleaner line – but quickly resorted to sawing when the scoring and breaking proved to be time consuming with a hint of jeopardy. Unfortunately, the sawing brings with it plastic sawdust which sticks to everything and spreads itself far and wide. Two weeks later and I am still finding it on the underside of my socks.

Beautiful rectangles of plastic cut, the next job was to drill the holes for the screws. An electric drill would be no good apparently – I would met the plastic with all the friction. Luckily Richard had come prepared for this with a hand-powered drill.

I’m not competitive. Much. I celebrate the achievements of others. And occasionally I want to be better them. Drilling holes in plastic was one such occasion. It drove me mad that Richard could get through the acrylic in a couple of seconds and it took me minutes to break through. I tried different techniques, different speeds, standing vs sitting, and in the end had to concede that my double glazing partner in crime was just better at it than me. Not an admission I make lightly.

Holes drilled, we were ready for fixing the windows in place. Definitely a two man job (volunteers will be needed to help take them down come spring), but so satisfying once they were up. It may be a crowning boat DIY achievement to date. Really, these things are quite beautiful (for sheets of Perspex).

It almost doesn’t matter if they solve the condensation problem.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Songbird‘ by Oasis.

The proof of the pudding is in the burning

My attempts at baking are wildly unpredictable.  Some are delicious, and make me think that Bake Off is a real possibility.  But then some come out sludgy and undercooked.  (Soggy bottom doesn’t come close to being an accurate description.)  And other projects come out as hard as stone and as black as a raven.  Consistency of bake is not my thing; suffice to say Paul Hollywood would not be impressed.

On a seemingly unrelated note, my coal bucket is now full of coal dust.  You can put a sprinkling of briquettes on top but they would not make much of a fire.  My neighbour had suggested some months ago that I make new briquettes out of the dust so it is not wasted.  Martin thought that mixing the dust with a bit of cement would do the trick, but I didn’t have any cement and was a bit reluctant to shell out to make half a dozen bits of coal.  A little internet research suggested plaster of paris could also do the job.  And further googling revealed that home-made plaster could be fashioned mixing flour and water.  And thus I had a coal recipe.

I expected it to be a messy affair, and so put a few pieces of paper on the floor.  Preparation is key.  The online recipe called for 12 parts coal dust to 1 part plaster. Measuring so exactly seemed like a sure way to inadvertently spread black and white powder all over the kitchen.  So I made up some flour paste, added it to the coal dust and repeated until the dust all stuck together.

Moulding into individual briquettes also struck me as a time consuming and possibly highly frustrating endeavour. So at the suggestion of the internet, I moulded the coal putty into empty egg cartons and loo roll tubes, and then put it outside to dry for a few days.  It was a good evening’s crafting.

But the real question was, would it burn?  Or would it just crumble and clog up the air vent at the bottom of the oven?

There was an air of anticipation as I lit the first fire of the autumn. The firefighter caught, slowly followed by the kindling. I tentatively added some genuine coal briquettes, which  started to glow after a few minutes. It was the moment of truth. I added the egg box.


This is a story with a happy ending.  The coaldust coal burnt, and the first fire of the autumn warmed up the living room.  I will be open to coal dust donations all winter.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Detectorists‘ by Johnny Flynn.

Boating can be a drag

A few boat trips ago, I met a boater who had spent several years sailing around the canal system by himself.  I asked him what his tip would be for a novice single-hander as I have travel aspirations beyond Sawley to Nottingham.  He replied that he used the centre-rope to pull the boat in and out of locks, as this saved him having to jump on and off the boat.  It was a lot quicker, he had found.

So I decided to give it a go.  On my preferred Sawley to Nottingham jaunt.

The first thing I realised (that should have been obvious to me sooner after trying to push DF out of a sand bank) is that my boat is heavy.  Dragging it along the towpath is no mean feat.  It takes a lot of oomph to get my home moving.  But then once she is on the move, I’m not sure I have what it takes to stop her quickly.  I can neither confirm or deny that the lock gates at Sawley aided with an emergency stop.

And then there is steering.  Or the lack thereof.  For locks like Sawley and Cranfleet it was not so tricky as it is a straight course in and out of the lock.  But with Beeston you need to turn a corner from where you moor up the boat to prepare the lock round to the actual lock itself.  My approach to negotiating this obstacle was to bounce the boat off the walls to get her to turn.  There was no way I could do anything more subte from just pulling on the centre rope.

But it was, in the end, all in vain.  There is a small weir-like construction by the lock that sucked the good ship onto the wall and wouldn’t let it go.  After a small amount of heaving, I jumped on board, gunned the engine and took the old-fashioned approach to boat maneuvering.  A rudder will get you round corners a centre rope can’t touch.

I am will be sticking to the jumping-on-jumping-off approach to single-handed boating in future.  It’s much better for agility training (and I may be beyond hope when it comes to strength training).  After three years of boating, I am already stuck in my ways.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘2, 4, 6, 8 Motorway‘ by Tom Robinson Band.