Monday, 14 December 2009

Marine Spanner

sparkless, allegedly
Received this helpful advice from 'Keeping Up' on the boating forum. With the amount of hot tea and coffee we both drink, I expect to be changing bottles quite regularly.

The arrow on the auto changeover valve shows red when the bottle that it is pointing to has no pressure, it shows white when the bottle still has pressure.

The usual way of using it, is that you start with two full bottles both turned on; whichever way you turn the valve it shows white. When it turns red you have an empty cylinder but the valve automatically starts to take its supply from the other cylinder. At the first opportunity you need to change the empty one. You wait until you have the chance to change it, then you turn off the empty cylinder and rotate the switch which should then show a white arrow.

It is then safe to disconnect the pigtail from the gas bottle (an anti-clockwise thread); there should be non-return valves both in the changeover valve and in the pigtail, so you can leave the unused one dangling until you connect the new full cylinder.

Tighten it up and turn it on, then listen to make sure there's no obvious leak. Do not touch the auto changeover valve, which stays white until your second bottle becomes empty and you repeat the process with that one instead.

Sorted. The whole process is much less unfathomable and intimidating now.


our illegal bendy pipe with corroded clips
Asking for advice about how to change the gas bottles, it was pointed out that dogma's current gas installation would fail a BSS examination. The bendy orange pipe with the corroded clips should not be there. It's a bodge. But it was obviously there in June, when the boat was signed off as safe to live on for another 4 years.

We based our purchase of dogma partly on the fact that she had a valid British Safety Certificate that was good until 2013. She was safe. And the hull integrity was the only unknown (which is why we got that professionally surveyed). We've been urged to contact the BSS. As they (sometimes) want to hear about things which been passed, but really shouldn't have.

On the upside, a new set of flexible pipes and the manhours to fit them, won't be a tremendous expense. We were going to do it anyway, for peace of mind. But we feel let down by the British Safety examination process. An online boater remarked "its not worth the paper it's written on". Coupled with Steve the mechanics comments about how easy it is to circumvent the electrical side of BSS, it does look like a very flimsy piece of legislation.

The insurers wanted to see it. So did BW, and EA. but it was almost completely worthless. Just a rubber stamp, a fee, and a shiny hologram which keeps officialdom happy.

how it should look

Mystery Solved

bolin pump
Some helpful boaters on the 'Canal World Discussion Forum' solved this one in under two hours. They were full of useful advice about how to replace the fire rope and cracked glass too. Fire Rope?! Yes... It forms a seal between the stove body and door, which helps stop the fumes escaping back into the cabin. Ours is solidified, crusty and seen better days.

It turns out that the red LED switch activates the pump, which circulates hot water through the two rads. The mystery 'radiator cap' with trailing wires is the pump itself. A Bolin pump, apparently. 155 quid. it's so tiny! and silent. not at all what you would expect "a pump" to look like.

thankyou boaters.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


Gearbox sounds good when underway. Gearstick works fine. Forward, Reverse, and tickover. With varying degrees of power inbetween. Everything we need. But the housing is cracked, and lets in the rain. The previous owner had taped over it. The starter panel (and big red stop button) is also dangling by two screws and in need of some love. A job for January, when dogma is next out of the water.

Eco Friendly Fridge

Check our superduper energy efficient low cost fridge. It may not be such an effective strategy in the summer, but right now it's working fine.

The previously mentioned 'jaunty whistler' lives on the expensive looking boat moored behind us, The White Widow. Judging by his whistling, he must be a very happy chap. But as we've just moved here, we've not yet had the pleasure of meeting him.

More Gas

bottle 1
Couldn't figure out how to light the cooker and boil up the kettle. It's fitted with a flame safety device, which i haven't mastered the knack of yet. Guessed the gas supply had probably been isolated somewhere too, but couldn't find the switch. Or maybe the bottles had been caned, and not replaced? Still not sure. but I felt brave enough to make my first foray into the storage bins to investigate.

Took these pics, so I can ask other boaters for their advice. Steve, the marina mechanic is going to make sure everything is safe with the gas installation, before starting on the other electrical work. Which is a relief, and a big peace of mind.

So, I went without coffee for two days, and drank a lot of fruit juice instead. Which is probably for the best.

bottle 2


dogma is 100% registered, insured, and legal
888 pounds. 888 is allegedly the kabbalistic number of Jesus. Which is precisely what was exclaimed when we found out how much a gold licence would cost us. With this piece of paper, we can legally travel anywhere on the canal and river network. From that fee, British Waterways gets a very reasonable 223.90 , while the greedy Environmental agency snatches away 664.10 (for us having the audacity to scuff up the thames with our scraggy boat, i suppose).

We figure a one off "go anywhere" payment is better than trying to figure out EA's insane 'per cubic meter of boat' pricing method. That, and we still don't know which way we're going. Upstream, Downstream. Onto the Kennet and Avon. Or up to Oxford. So many choices. We're not really sure yet. At least now, we're covered.

Morso Mystery

big red valve
It had dropped to 3 degrees outside, when i lit the stove. Quickly established that the big red valve controls the heat to the radiators, which made the boat nice and warm inside. The copper pipes that run down the length of the boat all heated up, making one super long heat source. Great. The red LED light above the stove turns on and glows nicely. But i have no idea what it actually does. So i turned it back off.

the mystery valve
The radiator cap with wires attached, remains completely mystifying. Absolutely not a clue what it does. So i left it well alone.

Taking on Coal

fire one
There was some coal left in the bin. Unusually large potato sized lozenges, which were very light, almost porous. I didn't hold out much hope when I first fired up the stove. But they were great. They caught fire quite fast, provided gratifying heat, and glowed very nicely.

Having to buy kindling was a bit galling.
But it worked brilliantly.

Fire 1 was a big success.

Decided to fill up the bin, and lugged a sack back from the Shell garage. But those were much smaller, denser nuggets, and more egg shaped. They were also very wet, and took an age to get going. It depleted a load of the kindling before they eventually caught. But when they did, they lasted longer than the bigger chunks. Heat for heat it's hard to judge between the two. But for ease of use, the big ones were best.

Fire 2 was also a success. It heated the boat, and was very nice to look at. but it wasn't so economical to run.

Kept sticking my head out of the rear hatch to make sure it wasn't me that was causing the river mist, but everything was fine. Even when the stove was full on inside, what was coming out of the chimney was pretty discreet.

fire two


Oh dear. The red inverter light powered up enthusiastically enough, but then it faded instantly. No Power. Started to wonder if the battery was completly flat, but the cabin lights worked, and I noticed that there was a brown lead dangling out of a junction box, misplaced, and clearly where it shouldn't be.

"Get yourself an insulated screwdriver, and the worst that can happen is that something will go POP", declared my mate Webby. So I did. The brown wire sparked nicely (reminding me that brown is live), but I managed to reattach it without blowing anything up, or getting zapped in the process. Restored 230AC back to the boat. Result. Thanks Jim.

Steve, the marina mechanic took one look at the bodged installation, and whistled through his teeth. "What normally goes on", he said, "is that people just fit the inverter, THEN get the examiner around to look at it". "There's nothing there for him to fail it on, and so the boat passes". "When he's written out the certificate and gone, all sorts of unofficial bodging goes on", he explained. Then continued, "As you can see", whilst rolling his eyes in the general direction of the floor spaghetti. The phrase "trip hazard" came into mind, and the thought of all that exposed wiring being dripped on by the rain (or condensation) sent shivers through the both of us.

Lifting up the rear deckboards and rummaging around in dogma's bilges, we discovered that a) the exhaust is cracked (soot everywhere), and b) there is enough space for 4 leisure batteries. So hopefully soon, we shall have a much safer electrical installation and a charger that will see us through 2 to 3 days of careful usage, before needing to run the engine and top the bank up.

The New View

oh yes
Peter said we'd have a better view here, and he wasn't kidding. The best part of being on the outer mooring is that you get an unobstructed view. The second best part, is getting wobbled about by the wake from passing boats. I haven't been "wobbled about" for many years, and it felt really good to be fluid again, not fixed in stone.

About one in the morning, i heard something running down the river ?! It was a swan. Took about 3 or 400 paces before it was airborne.

Had the two best nights sleep of ages. It's a beautiful and tranquil spot here. The ducks whizz by the windows at 7 knots. The hustle and 60mph bustle of commuter life goes on two streets away, but it doesn't intrude at all. 4 hours just vanished, looking at the flames flickering in the stove.

In the mornings, when i heaved back the rear hatch, it was briskly cold, but sunny. So I sat out on the deck drinking fruit juice, and waved at passing boats. Just two today, Dutch barges. The crews looked really happy to be underway. They waved back. The bloke in the boat behind me was whistling jauntily. The postman was doing the morning riverbank delivery on his bike. people walked their dogs. All utterly normal, and commonplace, but it made you feel good to be alive.

Deepest Green

Elsan Organic Green Gunk
Witnessed dogma's first, second, and third pump outs. The tank is now squeeky clean. And the whole process only took about 10 minutes. A miracle of modern science.

I got some Elsan Green organic gunk to test out, should the noxious niffs reappear. but for now we are going to try au-natural, and see how we get on. Our initial excitement with the macerator toilet appears unfounded. On christening the throne, I discovered we have the 'dump through' variety onboard. Which is one step away from a medieval privvy or cesspit.

Thankfully, when you depress the foot pedal you don't get to view the previous months jobbies directly, they are mercifully shunted off to one side, before being dumped into the tank. But because muggins didn't know how to operate the flush pump, I had to use bottled water to banish them away.

"We pour perrier on our poos in Bucks", joked Sheena.

Steve pointed out the obscure place where the pump actuation lever is. Stashed discreetly 20 feet away, on the wardrobe steps, by the bow doors. doh! But now we have a fully flushing toilet, and water comes out of the (leaking) taps. Hooray!

First Cruise

hello new neighbours
Got the chance of spending a couple of nights onboard dogma. Knew that it might turn into an extreme camping endurance test. But went for it anyway. We had to check that everything was floating, and that water wasn't getting in anywhere unwanted. But it all looked good on arrival.

With the river flowing at approximately 7 knots, and our engine capable of 3, the marina manager was obviously reluctant to let my novice self steer 12 tons of steel around some very expensive plastic boats. So Richie took the helm for my first river outing. 300 yards upstream from the pumpout pontoon!

The engine performed really well, and we made good headway on barely more than tickover. We were both impressed.

With Peter stationed down river in the tug (on standby should our engine fail), Richie then pulled off the most skillfully executed bit of boat parking i will probably ever witness. He managed to squeeze us into a space barely longer than dogma (to the inch). And he said it was the first time he had ever steered a boat of this size.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Toad in the Hole

oh yes With roasted onion gravy, broad beans and mashed potato, this was delicious. Can totally recommend this recipe if you like a nice bit of batter. We didn't have any of the expensive (bourgeois) stock to hand, so we just bunged in an oxo cube with the mustard/flour/onion roux and everything tasted fine. The whole meal took less than an hour to prepare, with the minimum of fuss. Top tea!

Thanks Delia.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Gas Bottles

Great. Bread, rolls, cakes and pasties can be baked. But we're not looking forward to changing the gas bottles. Fear of gas leaks has been drummed into us from an early age. We're assured that (handled properly) they are perfectly safe. And there's an autoswitcher between the bottles to minimise hassle. But this is definitely something we are going to need help with.

A whole lot of Chintz

We must have looked at a couple of thousand narrowboats in our search for a new home. but none of them had the feeling of interior space that we wanted. There was either too much dark wood (which the sellers wanted an obscene amount of money for), too much light wood (which the sellers wanted an obscene amount of money for) or an overabundance of small/tiny compartments the seller had knocked up themselves. Any of this would have led to a claustrophic submarine type feeling, and eventual cabin fever.

We did spot a couple of boats we liked, but they vanished off of the market before we were in a position to put in a credible offer on them. And some sellers couldn't even be bothered to respond to our emails. It was very frustrating.

What first attracted us to this boat in particular, is the fact that it is minimalist, light, uncluttered and airy in design. There are large windows. But not so many of them, that'd we'd feel like we were living inside of a goldfish bowl with people able to gawp in at us all the time. It's inevitable that the canals will be much busier than the rivers. But we think this boat strikes a good balance between sanity and privacy.

sheena says kitchen, i say galley

Most asked Question

we designed this
When solids have left our bodies, we have no wish to ever view them again. Some people don't mind (most notably the Dutch), but we are not of that mindset. When we heard that some boaters have to slosh suitcases full of excrement down the towpath to a disposal point, we were utterly mortified. Hellenistic culture invented the flushing toilet several millenia ago, so that's the system we wanted.

the boat throne
(For our friends) No, they don't go straight into the water. The 1's and 2's are pumped down a tube, where they are shredded by whirring macerator blades and shunted off to a steel holding tank. we were thrilled that the stuff really does hit the fan. But not so thrilled that the whirled jobbies would be stored directly under our bed.

Naturally, we have been reading up a bit on the 'science of poo', and treated properly the black tank (euphenism for ton of shite) should not stink very much, if at all. Without nasty detergent chemicals, the live bacteria allegedly seal in the gunk which contains the smell. The paper and stuff is eaten by these friendly non smelling bugs, and reduced to a gloop, which then gets sucked out through a big (hermetically sealed) hose every six weeks. Depending on how much food we eat, and the amount of tea we drink.

It is a bit niffy at the moment. Sheena reported a noxious blowback waft on her first encounter with it. We suspect the previous owners used chemicals, and at the next pump out we'll flush it through thoroughly. 'Biomagic' is the stuff we need, apparently. And we hear that Lemon juice is good for masking any lingering bowl smell. We shall be buying a sack of them.


Morso Squirrel
As well as toasting our toes, this solid fuel stove heats a backboiler, which in turn heats the radiators along the length of the boat. We hope to add a calorifier to the circuit for some free hot water when the stove is on, or the engine is running.

There is no backup diesel heating onboard, which we're grateful for. We may not be quite so happy about that in the depths of winter when it comes round to relighting the fire, or scavenging for kindling. But, Sheena's great-grandfather once wrote a book about how to start a perfect fire. So, for now, we're glad to be free of the additional expense.


Oh dear. We've got a 600W alternator, and one battery for our 'leisure purposes'. Guess what dogma's getting for xmas?

Good Boy

We've taken him on trains all over the country. Stayed in centrally heated and stuffy hotel rooms. Travelled to cities packed with more stressed out hurrying commuters than he's ever seen. Into marinas with cranes, boat engines and all sorts of strange noises he's never heard before. And he's behaved impeccably. No barking at all. And he didn't jump in the river, or fall off of the pontoons once. We're impressed. His weight is down to near perfect, as recommended by the vet. So he's a very fit, healthy and happy lab.


Looking down the roof, you think "ha, that's fine, i'll be able to handle that". But then you remember that there's six feet of welldeck hidden up front, where you can't see it.

Suddenly 54' seems very long indeed. Twice the length of our old house, in fact. "Try getting that round a bend in Manchester", somebody joked. And magically, rivers are much more appealing than they were before. But we will try to get it around some bends in Manchester. Definitely. And we'll have fun doing it.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Crane out and Survey

54ft and 12 tons
big ass crane
Chris the Surveyor gets busythe bent skeg
80 ton crane turned up at 7.30am. great.
But with no strops!! very bad.

Four hour wait ensued while correct strops were dispatched from West London. The wind was whipping down the thames at a fair old rate of knots, chilling our bones and making our knees knock. The offer of hot coffee and warm hospitality in the Marina office was gratefully accepted.

Chris, the marine surveyor, spent two hours crawling around underneath to determine the hull thickness, and if she would float. He had a few minor concerns, especially with the tiller being out of alignment, and a badly bent skeg. He surmised that somebody had most likely banged down on a lock cill somewhere.

The seller was furious with our first offer. And didn't want to budge from their original asking price, despite the surveyors recommendation as to the boat's true worth, and the subsequent work we'd have to do. We were prepared to walk away at this point. a painful and costly decision staring us right in the face. Eventually the seller calmed down, and we were able to work out a mutually beneficial deal. We then parted with some cash. Thanked everybody for their time and trouble. Handshake. She was ours!

Steve the marina mechanic was able to affect a miracle cure with a well deployed sledgehammer and some muscles. Mercifully, we didn't witness this. And returned from the pub, to discover a fully working rudder. Thankyou Steve.

The ineptitude of the crane company, meant our plan to transport her by road to Reading went pearshaped. So we are stuck on the thames until Jan 29th, waiting for the lock maintenance to finish. Our consolation is that this marina is very friendly, and works out cheaper than the one we were going to be transported to.

We're not going to turn our blog into a list of adverts, but these people went above and beyond the call of duty to help out a couple of boating neophytes. We're very grateful to them, and can recommend their services to anybody.

Bourne End Marina
Chris Holmes, Surveyor


Big Red Engine

2 cylinder Bukh marine diesel engine
We have a Bukh engine. The operations manual is 2' thick.

The manufacturer's website was quite helpful. So now we can authoritavely state that it has 2 cylinders, and is capable of delivering 24 horse power under full load. Which (given the length and weight of our hull) translates to a massive 3 knots of forward propulsion! To say we're slightly underpowered would be an understatement. This engine has to propel us up the Thames to the safety of canal land, so we're hoping the river gods will smile on us and not impede progress with any fast flowing currents.

The propeller turns clockwise, we are reliably informed.

Door needs love

We adore the improvised security feature the previous owner installed. but we are hoping to replace it with kickproof steel at first opportunity.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Cash Money

The seller was understandably wary of us sailing off into the sunset with their boat, and wanted some security. Cheque was unacceptable. And a bankers draft would take 5 days to clear the system. We wanted to conclude the sale with a handshake, and that be the end of it. So a large amount of cash was needed at short notice. Not enough for a major corporation to worry about, but enough to raise eyebrows at a local branch.

It took a phone call on the previous day.
12 forms of ID, including photographic.
an extreme scrutiny of my mashed up RFID passport.
a hurriedly convened backroom conference.
and a call to head office.

before the bank would let us have our money.

The staff were friendly, and apologised profusely for the delay, but we left the bank pondering on the system's extreme paranoia about money laundering and the black economy. it was carried in a backpack through the nightclubbing streets of Reading without incident.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Rogue Herries

Uncle Millican
Our little journey into the unknown is inspired by, and in memory of :- Millican Dalton, Oliver Dalton, and Nicholas Dalton. If we can dare to experience 1/1000000th of the freedoms, adventure and excitements they enjoyed, we will be very happy indeed.

So small is the extent of this country that the sweep of the Eagle's wing caresses all of it, but there is no ground in the world more mysterious, no land at once so bare in its nakedness and so rich in its luxury, so warm with sun and so cold in pitiless rain, so gentle and pastoral, so wild and lonely; with sea and lake and river there is always the sound of running water, and its strong people have their feet in the soil and are independent of all men.

Rogue Herries ~ Hugh Walpole
complete book

Friday, 13 November 2009


the jurassic coast
Staying near Lyme Regis. Walking a lot with Sumo. Trying to get used to being out in the cold weather a bit more, and gradually familiarising ourselves with sloshing about in brown mud (it's red in Devon). Varying combinations of wet weather gear and hats. It has chucked it down with rain recently. Sumo likes the ocean, and the waves crashing on the beach. but the undertow is too ruthless to let him to swim in it here. Big pebbles too, which are nasty on the feet.

Lots of signs with "Private Land ~ Keep off" written on them.

Rambling around on the local footpaths, it's a shame to see that some of them have been fenced off to within an inch of their lives. and others have been neglected to the point that they're barely usable anymore. Out on one walk, we had to tunnel through some dense brambles and gorse, only to discover that a horse farm had annexed the path. Lifting 32kg of Sumo back over the blocked off stile wasn't easy. Thankfully, he didn't squirm about too much.

I don't suppose many people ramble around down here.
And the local council are short of funds.
etc... etc..

But down in the town where the tourists go, everything is manicured neat. Without somebody tackling the new growth regularly, I think many of these beautiful public walks will eventually dissapear. Which would be a great shame.

where's the beach?

Sunday, 1 November 2009


annoying pampus grass

It wasn't the Devon of our youth anymore.

It was becoming too rundown, too expensive, too petty and too bitter. And there were too many cars. We were both fed up of small town politics, and of heroin addicts stealing from the charity shop where Sheena worked. the nature and wildlife around us was great, yes. our proximity to the sea and a dozen beaches, wonderful. but the neighbours cats constantly dumped in our garden, and there were too many stairs for Sumo to climb. it was time to move on. We had some great times in Torbay, and some not so great times. it was sad to leave some of our friends behind. but other people we were glad to see the back of. Sumo got attacked by unruly dogs twice in one week, and we were then 100% certain we'd made the right choice.

sunny aspect

There is only one canal in Devon, and it's 13 miles long. A ship canal, on a tidal estuary. Some people do live on it, apparently. And no doubt it is idyllic and tranquil. but we want and need to explore a bit more of the network than that.

goodrington cliff walk

Eventually sold our house to a nice couple, full of youth and enthusiasm. We hope they'll both be very happy there. Took a year to sell it, due to the slump in the housing market. Several times we thought we'd die of stress. We came soooo close on one occasion, only for it all to fall through, with us having to return to square one again. Think we had about 50 viewings in all, and only two firm offers. Which translates to a large waste of our time, and a lot of un-necessary duster wielding. Quite an emotional rollercoaster ride, which we're both glad is over.

garden flowers

When packing time came around, the removals company were very friendly, helpful and professional. Which made the process a whole lot smoother. They didn't grumble at the fact we lived at the top of a steep hill, and they provided a fantastic selection of boxes to put all of our stuff into. the first time we've ever been excited about cardboard before.

the showhouse

The transition from "home" to "house for sale" was not so bad, because there were 1001 things to do and organise. The utility companies were highly sceptical that somebody would not want reconnecting in their new home. but we managed it. When we closed the front door for the last time, and handed in the keys at the estate agents, there was no sense of regret. it all felt good and proper, like the right thing for us to be doing.

Next thing we know, we are huddled around a laptop, looking at boats for sale.

We'll miss Devon, the South hams, and Torbay.
But we can't be in two places at once.


torbay sunset