Monday, 28 December 2009

Ware - Where ??

Guess who got a new camera for his Christmas present ??

This is the result of our post Boxing Day lunch walk along the River Lea in Ware, up to Hertford Lock.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Rabbit - An Obituary

Rabbit passed away this morning, aged 14 years.

He was a dwarf rabbit and had been my daughters pet since she was eight.

We never really agreed with rabbits living in a hutch, but it was kind of foisted on us.

Anyway, he was off his food yesterday (unusual for rabbit) and was a bit wobbly on his pins

Apparently, he perked up a bit in the evening and was moving around and took some fresh greens that were given to him.

This morning, he wasn't too good.

He was brought into the house and made comfortable on a bed of hay in a box. Rabbit was just laying on his side, snuffling and his breathing was laboured.

At least, he had human company and was stroked.
Apparently, Blue, our cat, just sat and watched him, as if he sensed it.

As Rabbit wasn't getting any better, they took him to the vets but he died in the car.

He was only a rabbit and rabbits get killed on the road every day or end up in the pot.

However, any life is precious and all animals leave an imprint on your heart.

I often used to feed him some greens or his favourite treat - rabbit yoghurt drops.

He was very tame and would let you stroke his back and ears while he ate them.

Rabbit will be cremated - no flowers please.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


RABBIT 1995 - 2009 R.I.P

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Inverted Thinking

Many boaters ask what the technical difference is between the more expensive Pure Sine Wave inverters and the basic Modified or Quasi Sine Wave inverters.

Of course, many know that a lot of the fussier mains powered domestic equipment on boats needs pure sine wave and won't run properly on MSW/QSW inverters.

However, few know why...

These are the waveforms that I captured from my two inverters.

This one is the output from the Mastervolt pure sine wave inverter on Willawaw:

This one is the output from a Maplins cheapy modified sine wave inverter that I use in the car sometimes:

Even without any electronics expertise, you can see that they are very different and the distorted (almost squared) waveform of the MSW inverter is a compromise between a reduced technical complexity, which allows it to meet the price target and its ability to supply many, although not all, mains appliances.

The pure sine wave from the Mastervolt is an emulation of the mains that you get from your household socket. It is achieved with a lot more circuitry, which results in the increased cost.

Most devices with motors or microprocessors, digital clocks, etc struggle with the outputs of MSW/QSW inverters.

As is usual with electronics, you get what you pay for.

If you don't want to spend all that money on a pure sine wave inverter, then the answer is to run as many appliances as possible from 12 or 24VDC and then just use a small Maplins type MSW inverter to charge your phone, camera, etc.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Bathtub Thought of the Day

One of my great luxuries in life is soaking in the bathtub.

I rate it so highly amongst life's little pleasures that we had a separate bath and shower fitted on Willawaw at build.

Whilst soaking, my mind tends to wonder to the weird and wonderful.

Heres bathtub thought of the day for today:

Will the archeologist's of the future end up excavating our landfill to learn more about the way we live ??

Most of the plastic items will probably still be there ?

Friday, 27 November 2009

Avocets and Constantan

As one gets older, you have to keep pace with the modern age (well at work anyway), but I have noticed that at a certain point, you start to take interest in old things.

By that, I mean articles from the earlier years of your life.

When young, its quite common to always be pitching at the latest fashion or the latest technology and to dismiss anything from yesteryear.

At a turning point in your life (and you never know exactly when this is), you suddenly start becoming attracted to "old stuff".

When I was 16, I went to radio college to learn about electronics.

For our practical work, we used a black box mystically called an "AVO".

The size of a small birthday cake and heavy enough to give somebody concussion when swung, the AVO was our constant companion and saved us from electrocution.

It's purpose was to measure Volts, Amps, Resistance and so on and it was the "Bees Knees" when it came to fault-finding. It was our shining knight in Bakelite.

30 years on, I still have one.

Its not the one I used at college - that never belonged to me at the time, but the one I have, is very similar. 

They were made in the UK by a British company called AVO Ltd and the Avocet bird was their company trademark.

Just reading the wording of the manual takes you back to the language of the empire.

It has been superceded by modern technology in all respects except class.

If you just want a meter which gives you fast accurate meter readings, then it would be far better to buy a new digital unit - I use several in my everday work.

However, the AVO is an antique and what's more, its an antique that can still be used.

In the same way that you see the guy driving to work in a restored 1970's MGB or a Morris Minor, its possible to get pleasure from using an antique.

There is a simple pleasure in using something that doesn't have PCB's and has CAM switches which make satisfying noises when moved (not electronic beeps).

Anything which uses Constantan and Alcomax in its consistency has just got to be fun.

Electronics in the AVO age was schoolboy physics.

Now its the work of the devil - you can't repair anything in the field anymore.

Unfortunately, I like collecting old electronics.

Recently, I nearly bought an RT144 "Sailor" VHF which is another favourite of mine.
Luckily, common sense, a lack of workshop space and the fact that the boat already has a Sailor RT2048 VHF prevailed.

At sea, one of my more modern ships had a Scopex dual channel 10MHz oscilloscope. I understood that.

Now, looking at the latest ones, they do far too much and are far too complicated for what I need.

I think I will get one, as they are very useful for a wide range of fault finding, but I will either get an old one from Ebay or buy one of the new handheld types.

I've obviously passed my turning point, but at least I can embrace the new with enthusiasm and an open mind, whilst still savouring the simple pleasures of the past.

To be locked into one or the other has got to be limiting and blinkered - surely its better to be balanced and have a foot in each camp ??

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Boxes and Holes In The Ground

The politicians keep telling us that we are coming out of the recession.

I know that's nonsense.

"Are you a master of economics ?" I hear you ask 

"How do you know ?"  you say.

It's very simple.

A recession means that demand falls. 

People lose their jobs, they can't buy things.

Demand for luxury consumer products goes down.

This leads to more job losses and general insecurity on a global scale.

The harbingers of doom in the media who originally started banging on about a recession to match the great depression have managed to unsettle everybody.

Those that do have money, sit on it, to ride out the forecasted storm.

Demand falls further, factories close and the ships that deliver all the widescreen TV's with cinema surround sound aren't needed anymore.

The backwater ports get cluttered up with unwanted and  laid-up container ships like this one.

When this ship and the others like it get taken out of mothballs, I will know that things are getting back to normal.

In the meantime, the drydocks which are nothing more than holes in the ground, are largely empty.

I watched workmen working in this one and pouring cement into cracks in the ground, waiting for better times.

It seems that the only people who can afford a lick of paint and general wash and brush-up is the Danish royal family, who have their yacht in for some TLC.  

Dannebrog, built in 1932 is still the Imperial Yacht.

So, the Danish monarchs, unlike ours, still have their retreat. Mind you, the Danish pay a lot of income tax.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Under The Waterline

Today I got an invite down to the world of Hades from our Chief Engineer.

The subterranean (or should that be sub-mediterranean) engine room is a world I love to visit.

The engineers have been nagging me for a few days to connect up a rudder feedback potentiometer on the rudder stock.

This "pot" basically feeds details about rudder position, electrically back to the wheelhouse.

The steering gear was removed in the shipyard for an overhaul.

Ours is only a small ship of about 80m length, but the steering gear is the size of a smart car.

They cut a hole about ten feet square in the deck above the steering compartment, lifted the steering gear out with a crane and overhauled it ashore.

It was subsequently put back and the deck re-welded into place above it, once again sealing the compartment.

I love going down into the engine room through the watertight doors.

It is deafening even with only one Mitsubishi generator running.
We have two auxilliary gensets, two main engines and two shaft driven generators.

You wear ear defenders, communicate by shouting at each other or using sign language and they have all the tools, workshops and big machinery you could ever wish for.

The engines are started by compressed air, the cylinders are big enough to climb in and they have acres of computer monitors and instrumentation to watch in the engine control room.

The ship has to be largely self-sufficient when at sea, so they carry a full metalworking workshop, spares and a wide range of raw metals - a plethora of cables, steel bars, wood, plating and all sorts.

I really am torn between whether I like to play with electronics on the bridge or the big machinery like shaft generators and three phase switchboards down in the engine room.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Floating High on Tuborg

I'm currently working on a ship which is in a floating drydock in Denmark.

I don't ever remember seeing one of these floating drydocks on the inland waterways, presumably because they need quite a lot of water depth.

In essence, you float the ship above a larger "U" shaped compartmentalised vessel, called a floating drydock, which has already had its compartments flooded with water and partially sunk.

The floating drydock then has all the water pumped out of its ballast tanks, so it starts to become buoyant and rises.

The lifting action then raises the ship out of the water, literally, high and dry, so that it may be worked upon.

The advantage of floating drydocks is that they can be moved to where they are needed and don't need large amounts of earth to be dug out, so are advantageous if land is scarce.

 The ship is largely reliant on shore power and umbilicals for fresh water and waste.

As the engine and generators are raw water cooled, it's not possible to generate all our own power, although we can run the smallest auxiliary generator by using sea water cycled through the fire hose.

 As I've said before, life occurs in cycles and often has repetition and subtle links to it's past.

It doesn't seem that long ago, that we were cruising the Nene and passed the Carlsberg brewery at Northampton.

Today, Tuborg, who are part of the Carlsberg group,  officially release their Julebryg or Tuborg Christmas Brew.

Its supposed to be released on the first Friday in November, but in actual fact, it was released this year on Friday 30th October.

This is known as J-day and is usually the source of much rejoicing in Denmark.

Normally, as part of the promotion, the first "pint" is usually free in most hostelries.

The beer is only available for 6 weeks each year and is a strong Pilsner (5.6%).

For the beer aficionados out there, Tuborg Julebryg is a bottom-fermented, wiener beer brewed on lager, mĂĽnchener and caramel malt with English liquorice.

The beer is dark-golden with a fresh aroma of caramel, grain, liquorice and blackcurrant.

There, I'm glad I got that out of my system.



Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Show Me Your Leaves, Dearie !

Just a reminder that if you find that the wash behind your boat is a different pattern on the water to usual or is making a strange noise, it could be leaves.

At this time of year, the leaves fall off the trees (so that's why the US call it "the fall" ??) and land in the canal (can I say that ?).

The leaves then start to sink and often get wrapped around the leading edges of your propeller as you're cruising, spoiling its hydrodynamics.

This causes a loss of efficiency.

Its worth just putting the gearbox into neutral every now and again whilst travelling and giving the engine a burst in astern, to blow the leaves off.

Obviously, make sure you do this on a straight stretch when no other boats are around.

Its also quite refreshing to see the leaves come to the surface with the reverse thrust, confirming your diagnosis...

The pattern of the wash is generally very telling. Not quite like tea leaves in the bottom of a teacup, but it can indicate things fouling your propeller.

Large objects like mattresses, fleeces, whole tyres, etc have a way of announcing their own arrival - usually by killing your engine as you are approaching a lock entrance with a fair amount of way on.

However, smaller objects like carrier bags, leaves, fishing line, can just affect performance and this is often where wake watching comes in.

Get used to your normal wake pattern for different speeds, so you recognise anything abnormal.

I find the wake has a habit of not flowing directly behind - it goes sideways slightly, which is usually a sign of fouled prop blades, which plays with the thrust.

Something to think about as you are chugging along.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Piracy and Death in Dubrovnik

I have just returned from working in the fortified city of Dubrovnik in Croatia.

It is believed that the trading republic sprang from the remains of the roman city of Epidaurum, in the 7th century.

Although now very much a part of Croatia, the ex-Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik has an air of independence about it.  

Originally known as Ragusa, it became a independent trading centre, heavily dependent on ships. 

At one point, it had 4000 sailors living there and laws were passed to stop them sailing away on foreign ships.

Today, Dubrovnik is a tourist haven and a centre for visiting cruise ships.

The ships anchor off and the passengers come ashore in launches, as can be seen here, just in front of the fortress of St.John.

I first went to Southern Croatia in the mid 1990's and the famous and much photographed walls of the city were pock-marked from bullets and shrapnel from the war with Bosnia.

Now, the damage is repaired, the sun shines and the tourists come again in floods.

Dubrovnik is watched over by its patron saint, St.Vlaho, who is to Dubrovnik, what St.Mark is to Venice.

A Jadrolinija ferry at Dubrovnik port on the Lapad peninsula, seen here under attack from a pirate vessel.

Still fishing in the same way as they have for centuries.

This is the mysterious island of Lokrum, just offshore of Dubrovnik.

The locals say that if you spend the night on the island, you will be cursed and die - nice..


Friday, 25 September 2009

Looming Large

Since I mentioned in passing, the other day, that some of my "large ship" work was drying up as a result of the global downturn in trade, I have had several people ask me about making wiring looms for their new boats.

For those of you that haven't come across this concept, its a spin-off from the wiring looms that are now standard in cars and production boats.

Like cars, production motor cruisers such as Princess, Sunseeker etc are not wired one wire at a time, as this would be too time consuming and therefore expensive.

The cabling for these type of boats is made to pattern and length, so that the boatbuilder can just clip one loom into place and connect-up all the loose ends.

Visually, a wiring loom resembles a fish bone, with a main spine and various offshoots coming off.

This practise has now caught on in the narrow-boating world.

Its very useful for people fitting out their own hulls or sailaways, as it saves a lot of fitting-out time, time wasted sourcing small quantities of materials and specification guesswork.

The cables can be made to order as a bespoke loom and delivered to the boat in one or more pieces, subject to complexity.

It means that the person doing the fitting out can spend less time working in a cramped hull (which is no fun in winter) or more time doing some other form of fitting out, like the plumbing or tiling the shower.

Normally, I either start off by visiting the boat to discuss the layout with the owner and make a pattern, or if the boats physically too far away, the owner can complete a diagram by adding dimensions and a few other necessary details.

I can then make the loom in my workshop at home (not on our boat - not enough room !! ).

The loom is made up of correctly dimensioned cables for the current it will need to carry and is supplied as a finished product with marked cables within the loom, a wiring diagram and a list of the conductors used and their specification.
Looms are cable tied and heat-shrink sleeve wrapped for strength.

When the loom gets to the boat, the spine has to be fitted into place (usually alone the centre of the deckhead or under the gunwhale) and the dimensioned tails then fall into place to line up with the switches and light fittings. The person doing the fitting-out then has to connect the 2-wire connections on the loose tails to the light fittings and switches and the other end of the spine is connected to the outputs of the DC fuse box or distribution panel.

Its also possible to split the lighting circuit so that a failure on one circuit (e.g. blown breaker or fuse) doesn't plunge the whole boat into darkness or even one end of the boat. The loom allows lights to be interleaved, so that every second light would stay on, etc.

I can also make up heavy duty battery cables (up to 70mm2), which can be supplied to length, for new inverters, battery chargers, etc.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Clean The Screen and Fill Her Up, Please

We all need a little bit of care and attention, sometimes.

Even ships.

After our race around the Med, we are back in the U.K

As jobs go, it's not been bad. Got the work done, got some sun and managed to see a little of the places we berthed in.

This Wightlink ferry is getting a wash and brush-up.

Look at how shallow her draft is !!!

If your only experience of taking on diesel has been at the filling station or, if on a boat, at the marina or from a trading narrowboat, check this out.

The orange/red hulled ship is a bunker barge.

She exists purely to refuel other ships.

She currently has a flexible hose of about 10" diameter pumping fuel oils into our bunker tanks, to replenish what we burnt dashing around the Med.

Fuel on ships is measured in tonnes, not litres and ships can typically burn 20-60 tonnes a day. Bring back sailing ships I say.

At the same time, we have a lot of windows that are now caked with salt from the spray.

So, the windowcleaner is lowered in a permanent cage and hoses them all down - what a cleaning round, eh ?

This is the final chapter of this particular book.

So to part, a shot of a shuffleboard deck, as we shuffle off with our tools and gear (and it was a shuffle too - where did all that extra stuff come from ? ).

Back home to Willawaw and a new chapter - the start of our Autumn/Winter cruise.

Catch you soon.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

And I Thought Stromboli was a Circus Clown

We crept through the Messina Straits under cover of darkness and cut a silent wash past a sleeping Stromboli, the island and volcano.

Welcome to a particularly volcanic part of the Meditearranean, or to be more precise, the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Stromboli last erupted last year, but tonight it appears to be dormant.

So, on to the next volcano, Vesuvius. This is a bit more sleepy, but blew its top in the last 100 years and spectacularly in 79 A.D when it killed over 10,000 people in the much televised destruction of Pompeii. I know all about this because I used to watch Frankie Howard - Titter ye not.

Anyhow, the entrance to these delights is Naples.

Italy is a stylish place.

They don't do much and there was always the famous joke about the World War 2 Italian tank - it had one forward gear and three reverse gears. However, what they do, they do with incomparable style.

They shrug, they pout, they play with their sunglasses and the men can't pass a mirror, without pausing to reflect.

It always makes me smile when I fly into Italy and the police and customs at the airport always seem to be fiddling with their little white bags on their belts or brushing a stray hair off their face whilst looking in the one-way glass.

I've often wondered what the mens toilets must be like in an Italian nightclub.

I can imagine a line of men at the washbasins, applying their make-up and working hard at that manicured look.

Even their cruise terminal is chic - I kept expecting to see Sophia Loren at any moment.

You can tell I'm not envious - after all, who wants to look like a male model without even trying - I don't - bah.

Anyway, as is my habit, I digress.

Naples or Napoli now that I'm here, is a busy little port.

How's this for a mooring ?

So, when in Rome - sorry, when in Napoli, it's off to Amalfi for ice cream and more sunglasses.

The roads are very windy and narrow on the Amalfi coast and driving is a tad hairy.

Its interesting watching trucks and coaches weave along roads probably made for donkeys.

Full marks to the Italian drivers though, they get past other vehicles with a centimetre to spare.

and if they don't, so what, more shrugs and sunglasses on heads for eyeballing contests.

It's got so bad, that the government employ these little men to contraflow the traffic.

Its very clever, they come in little rectangular grow-bags (see his on the lamp post).

You pour agua minerale on the bag and hey presto, miniature traffic marshalls.

What ? you don't believe me ?

Okay, doubting thomases, here is conclusive proof, snapped by a concealed camera.

Here is the home of the Italian leprechaun, now gainfully employed on the Amalfi coast road:

Amalfi is beautiful - what can I say.

Andiamo (lets go).

Job done, we cast off the myriad of lines that secures us to Italy.

A quick surge on the bow and stern thrusters and the ship is once more, a living, moving thing of beauty. 

Next stop, home.

She glided out of Naples, past these very stylish commercial warehouses.

Just because they hold warehouse type things, why can't they look good, ciara.

Ciao baby. 

Thats what I like about Italians - appearance is everything.



Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Cure Thyself

Istanbul was brilliant.

It's one of my favourite places as it forms a "bridge" between Europe and the Middle East.

Stomped through by many different civilisations, it now stands as a mix of many cultures.

Irrespective of your thoughts about organised religions, you can't help but marvel at the effort that man makes in building great buildings in honour to his creator.

No visit to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the Blue Mosque (one of only two mosques that, at the time of building, had as many minarets as the mosque in Mecca - six).

This is Hagia Sophia, built as a church, converted to a mosque and now a museum.

Nor would a visit be complete without a walk through the alleged 1200 shops of the Grand Bazaar with a little friendly haggling for some unique Turkish craftwork.

On the way down the Turkish coast, we anchored off a little fishing village for a day and took the launch ashore. We managed to get to Pergamon, which although now in Turkey, used to be a Greek city (moving borders you see).

Below is a photograph of the Asclepieion or healing temple. It was the forerunner of modern hospitals dating back over 2000 years. 

However, unlike modern hospitals, they did not let you in, if you looked terminal.

Dying patients made their success statistics look a bit sick !! -

mmm well, maybe not that different then ?

If you were unfortunate enough to die in their care, they apparently had a habit of disposing of the body when nobody was looking.

"Nurse, nurse, where is Mr.Papadopoulos - he looked very sick when I did my rounds yesterday ?"

"He checked out, Doctor - thought he had left his back door unlocked or something"

"Oh well, another success for the medical staff - at least he walked out himself"

I wonder if the medical students could see the operation from up there ? 

"Speak up, did you say gut or cut ?"

In the words of the infamous Monty Python, "and now for something completely different".

From Ancient Greece to Art Deco.

This is the ships atrium - a Latin word, not a Greek one.



Sunday, 20 September 2009

Those Hard To Reach Places

Well done to the engineers. We reached Istanbul on schedule.

Like narrowboats, ships need touching-up every now again.

Unlike narrowboats, you can't just kneel down on the marina pontoon and slap some more blacking on.

Istanbul is a lovely city, but they don't have proper mooring fenders.

Most ports have large pneumatic fenders as shown below. I've often fantasised about fitting some ballast on the bottom of one for stability and making a real boat out of one (Little cabin on the top ?).

Well they're big enough (look at the man on the quayside for scale) and you couldn't damage one by hitting things with it, could you ??

Istanbul only has tractor tyres and these left lots of black rubber rings on our lovely white paintwork.

With this is mind, we had to put the painting crew down in the next port.

The ship is largely self-sufficient and maintenance is no exception.

An aluminium raft with an electric outboard is kept onboard for those little waterline tasks, like slapping white paint over dirty fender marks.

When its all done, there's nothing else for it, but to fold the raft up and get it back on board.



Saturday, 12 September 2009

I'm More Important Than You

Well the fuel pump is up the shoot !!

It takes the engineers 6 hours to change and while it's being changed, we can only run on the remaining engines.

There is always rivalry between the three main departments on a cruise ship.

The Deck department think they are the most important because they steer the ship from port to port and stop it hitting icebergs.

The Technical department believe they are the most important because they keep everything working.

Without them, the ship wouldn't be going anywhere.

The hotel department know they are the most important.

Without them, the ship wouldn't make any money.

Without them, the company wouldn't be able to pay the poncy navigators in their whites and Ray-bans.

It wouldn't be able to pay the pale-skinned troglodytes who spend their time in that hot, noisy cavern of an engine room.

Anyway, the Ray-bans are chewing their pencils nervously, the engineers are up their elbows in heavy fuel oil and the hotel staff just smile and amuse the passengers by wiggling to the B52's around the pool.

That didn't work, so they got the passengers to whack the hell out of each other over the swimming pool. Everybody was amused by the violence and the blood didn't show because it was diluted by the water in the pool.

If we are not in port by 0700 tomorrow, the proverbial will hit the fan and the Company will not be pleased.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Schedule

Still at sea on the White Whale.

Today, the fuel pump packed in.

No biggy - got a spare !!

The engineers will change it.

Most of the people that go on a cruise have no conception of the medium.

They think of a ship as a moving hotel. A top class hotel where the scenery moves overnight.

They have no particular love or even an interest for the sea.

Loosely termed a cruise, it is in fact, more of a high speed dash.

The ship's top sustainable speed is 24 knots. We need to maintain an average of 22 knots betwee ports to maintain the schedule.

Severe weather, having to change course to avoid other ships and God forbid, having to heave to or divert to rescue poor souls in distress, all take their toll on the schedule.

As one Greek captain said on our little sojourn through the Corinth Canal, "No Man at Sea and no entering the boats without the Captains say-so".

I think he meant no man overboard and if we have to take to the lifeboats, wait for his approval as he wants to go first.


Sunday, 6 September 2009

Currying Favour

One of the beauties of having a Goanese crew on a ship, is the fact that they make excellent curries.

Goa is an ex Portuguese colony off the coast of India and their largely Christian population have been the source of crew for some companies for many years.

Being the owner of one of the select breeds of curry-loving cat, I'm rather partial to the odd "Ruby" (sorry - Cockney rhyming slang alarm - Ruby Murray = Curry).

We even have our own Tawa, which is a type of flattened griddle, used for making Chapati's.

I like to eat my curries without rice. I prefer Chapati's and choose to eat them with the fingers by wrapping the curry in the Chapati and devouring the lot - the original way; clean fingers and no utensils needed.

Everybody has their own definition of paradise. Their own version of desert island discs !!

Mine is travelling the world, whilst being able to eat a different curry every day.

I have a pact.

I have to stride up 7 decks, several times a day, so that I can sit out on one of the aft decks, eating a bowl of curry, al fresco style.

Unlike dinner, I eat alone and in silence.

Tomorrow, we're due to be off Sicily, but more importantly, it's Lamb Bhuna day.

The thing about modern ships is their speed. Even without any wind, a passenger ship will make its own by the sheer exertion of forward movement.

So, a 25 mph wind across the deck is no bad thing.

1800 people on Lamb Bhuna could be more noticeable than being downwind of a cattle ship. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A Canal with a Difference

We finally arrived at Piraeus in Greece.

Piraeus is the seaport for the Greek capital city of Athens, which is just up the road.

Being the archetypal canal anorak that I am, I did what any self respecting waterways freak would do and set off for the Corinth Canal, about an hours drive away from the docks.

The Isthmus of Corinth is a narrow piece of land which separates the Peloponnese of Greece, a peninsula in the extreme South of the country, from the rest of Greece.

As long ago as 602BC, the Greeks considered cutting a canal to avoid the long and often dangerous sail around the Peloponnese.

Work was started as early as 307BC and was then stopped and started through the ages.

In 66AD, the Roman emperor Nero actually managed to get his engineers to cut a 3.3Km long 40m wide ditch, but work was halted again.

The ancients often hauled their boats and cargoes over the Isthmus, to avoid sailing round - slave labour was plentiful in those days.

It wasn't until after the Suez Canal was opened in the 19th century, that work began in earnest at Corinth.

In the end,  the Corinth Canal was dug out between 1881 and 1893, by a Hungarian contractor.

The final version is 4 miles long, straight and lockless.

It has a depth of 8m and a width of 24.6m.

There are various overhead high level road bridges connecting what is now an island, to the rest of Greece and Europe.

At each end of the canal, there are two low level road bridges.

These bridges are quite unusual in that, when boats wish to enter the canal, the spans sink beneath the waters and let the boats pass over them.

Apparently, when they surface again to allow waiting traffic to cross, fish are often found on the emerging road surface, giving the bridge controllers their lunch.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Quoits Anyone ?

The centre of any passenger ship society has to be the dinner table.

Over the years, the starched formality of crisp white "bum-freezered" officer uniforms has softened to a formal informality.

It has now been downgraded from Formality Level 10 to a 6.

If this was an American ship, I'm sure that it would be portrayed in colours as security levels are in the U.S.A

It could be downgraded from a red to a more subtle, orange.

The thing with "passy" ships is that you are marooned on a table with strangers for the entire voyage.

It really is a test of social survival.

Considering that dinner lasts for anything up to 2 hours, as courses come and go, thats a big chunk of anyones life.

On the first night out from the U.K, you get the initial surprise.

You either arrive at your allocated table in the dining room to find a solitary, empty chair, surrounded by a circle of expectant faces or, if you get in first, you choose your seat and have the faces arrive around you.

As I was eating with the passengers, my table was a complete surprise. The chair next to me, was removed by the waiter.

A middle aged lady and her husband arrived. She was wheelchair bound and unable to speak or cut her own food up.

They were accompanied by another couple from a different part of the U.K, who all meet up once a year to cruise together. They originally met on another ship and now maintain the tradition.

The lady in a wheelchair has a machine to help her communicate. She types in what she wants to say and the machine speaks the sentence for her. Unfortunately, nobody can hear her over the din of inane smalltalk, the clattering of knives and forks and the sound of dentures chomping.

"Looks can be deceiving".

I'm ashamed to say that I'm fallible and often forget to obey that well-worn idiom.

Another one is "to err is human".

As I write this, we have been at sea for 5 days and I've discovered a very special lady and her devoted husband.

Stricken by a severe stroke, a perfectly able and intelligent woman is now constrained by her own body of short circuits.

I've heard it said that people only see the wheelchair and not the person in it. How very true.

Their seemingly normal looking companions have proven to be initially pleasant, but internally flawed. Increasingly so, as the voyage deepens.

Some ten hours of dinner talk later, the seething bed of psychological baggage is starting to rise from the depths of the beautiful couple. Obsessions about looks, money, status, all rise to the top.

The wit and bravery of the lady without a voice and her down to earth and hard working husband totally eclipse the beauties, like shining beacons on a sea of white linen.

Her humour which is shown on her LCD display for my eyes only, is rapier-like and keeps me calm and composed, in the social battlefield of lunge and riposte.

Ah well, its early days. 


Monday, 24 August 2009

Bangers in Chlorine Sauce

At sea again !

The photograph below shows the Jubilee Sailing Trust ship Tenacious at anchor off the Isle of Wight. She flys the signal flags RY which requests other vessels to minimise their wake.

Not surprising considering that the ship is equipped to carry a number of wheelchair users.  

I'm on another passenger ship, bound for Turkey.

Only this time, they made the serious mistake of letting me loose on 1800 fare-paying Brits.

That's like letting a fox loose in a chicken coop. Only chaos can ensue.

As we steam eastwards, 24 miles off the Algerian coast, the Brits play as only the Brits can.

It's still school holidays, so the normal geriatric complement of passengers and walking wounded is generously sprinkled with younger people and families.

Midlands and Black Country accents seem to be the most prevalent. 

I don't know if that's because they are numerically superior or just the most noticeable.

Looking down on the outdoor pool, out on the sun deck, the water is sloshing from end to end as the ships pitches into the easterly force 5.

Any stationary swimmer is moved two feet one way and then, two feet the other, just by the surface effect on the mass of water.

I've always wondered; are swimmers still swimmers when they stand stationary in the pool ?

Isn't floater a more accurate description ?

Probably, this is where the verb "to bathe" comes from.

Notices request that people shower before entering the pool.

In countries like Germany and Scandinavia, this is a way of life.

In the UK, Brits take no notice and just get in, after sweating it out in the noonday sun and liberally anointing themselves in factor 30.

A coconut oil slick adorns the surface of the pool.

The passengers stand, frying and sizzling, like bangers in a 30ft chlorine-filled frying pan, as the Mediterranean sun barbecues them golden brown.

Their ship-induced sloshing movement reminds me of the movement of the empty coke can, assorted bladderwrack seaweed and ripped Tesco's carrier bag that you always seem to see bobbing around the corner of any tidal harbour, the length and breadth of the U.K.  

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Blogs - A Plague of Frogs

Blogs have been very topical recently, with quite a few boaters starting them.

I don't know whether its something to do with the disappointing weather or whether its the latest internet phenomenon, as Facebook and Twitter have been.

Some people do it as a form of therapy, some do it to be entertaining and lets be honest, some do it to make money from the Google adverts, which then offsets their boating costs.

I have always made a point of openly listing other boaters blogs on my blogroll, over there to the bottom left of this, but I refuse to promote those that have the dreaded Google ads.

I was approached by one well known blogger, asking why I had neglected to include theirs, when there were so many others included. I had to respectfully point out and explain my dislike of Google ads, which was taken well, as it happens.

Have you ever noticed how the G.adverts adapt to the subject being discussed ??

If you write about solar power, adverts will appear, advertising solar panels, etc - spooky.

I've just found a new blog in the ether, in the shape of NB Gemma Joy.

For some reason, John, her owner, has elected to do it in the form of a website.

The only problem with this is that the automated feeds and readers which can be used to alert you to a new post on the blog, don't recognise the format.

In many respects, thats why its better to use Google Blogspot or Wordpress.

I've added Gemma Joy to my blogroll, but it just sits lifeless and unloved at the bottom, together with Wiccan Warrior.

Food for thought if you are considering starting one !!!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Silly Waiter

We were invited to a wedding at Down Hall in West Essex.

I'm sure the name itself means nothing to you, but if I say it's the place where the terminally ill Jade Goody got married a few months ago, you may recall hearing about it before.

Whatever your views on Jade Goody and I have my own, Down Hall is a beautiful country house set in a 10 acre estate near Hatfield Heath.

Many people belittle Essex and it is the butt of many jokes. However, Essex is a very large county, stretching from the Thames up to Felixstowe on the east coast. Many think of Essex as the stereotypical Essex boy and girl, Darren and Trace, with the estuarial accent, Ford car with furry dice and who do their shopping at Lakeside, near the Dartford tunnel.

I always remember working with a "Trace" some years ago, who when asked where she was going on holiday, replied "I'm going Cancun".

Essex has many faces. It is not just the flat, featureless, industrial landscape that you see near the Thames. The border with Hertfordshire is very hilly and North Essex has farmland, market towns, open country and local accents quite similar to the Suffolk accent.

Down Hall is a very pretty venue and although not far from Stansted Airport, is surrounded by picture postcard villages, parish cricket teams and pretty pubs and churches (the two always go hand in hand).

The wedding was a lavish affair.

Every feature and move had been planned to perfection. More like a military manoeuvre than a wedding. The knack with weddings is to make them look relaxed, carefree and flowing, whilst underneath the surface, there is a metronome dictating every move.

The marriage itself was a registry office "do" in one of the beautiful drawing rooms, which had been licensed for the ceremony.

After the civil service, guests funnelled out on to the lawn for drinks.

As we passed through the hall, there was a crash and commotion. One of the waiters had dropped a tray of drinks and was being helped, hobbling, by two of the ushers, out into the garden.

The waiter, who was a "Bobby Ball" lookalike was obviously in pain and was making a great deal of noise. When he got out on to the regal, covered porchway, the ushers released him and he went over again, down the steps.

Was he drunk on duty or just a mental patient who had escaped ?

The Master of Ceremonies (MC), resplendent in his red jacket, tried to collate people for the photographs in the grounds. The silly waiter re-appeared and started running up and down like a human sheepdog, shuffling and berating people. He picked on the pretty tattooed blonde girl, making comments about her dark roots and Essex girls, he picked on the old man with the lamb-chop whiskers and Meerschaum pipe, confusing the smell of Kentucky Gold tobacco with Kentucky Fried Chicken. The MC was clearly irritated with the shouting and interfering of this irritating little waiter. As the photographer started organising his subjects in to order - tall people at the back, children at the front !   the silly waiter suggested that it might be better if the ugly people stayed at the back, shouting the mantra of "if you can't see the camera, you won't be in the photo - might be a good thing for some of you".

The guests' faces started to relax. What started out as a rogue waiter about to ruin the brides special day, became a prank set-up, designed to amuse the guests.

The silly waiter went on to appear between each course of the meal, blackened and charred after cooking the main course, covered in cream after preparing the dessert, dragging pre-arranged targets up to carry out silly Men in Black and dance routines, much to the delight of the bridge and groom, who got their revenge on those friends who took advantage at their respective stag and hen nights.

Mark Howard was the silly waiter. In reality, a professional actor who has worked for many famous people, as well as receiving accolades from the great, late Jeremy Beadle, who employed him for his daughters wedding.

The question is, would you dare to let the Silly Waiter do his stuff at your daughters wedding ?

It certainly needs a degree of trust, but the Silly Waiter pulled it off superbly and the guests were suitably warmed-up when it came to the dancing in the evening. I've never seen so many people on a dancefloor at a wedding !!!


Friday, 31 July 2009

Hot Towels Sir ?

There are two types of canal boating; soft boating and camping on water.

Personally speaking, my days of sleeping on camp beds and wearing fleeces indoors are far behind me.

Sometimes, I see people cruise by in sailaway narrowboats. The inside of the boat is just one corridor, with a plywood floor, no partition bulkheads and a Black and Decker Workmate for a table.

I appreciate that people need time to fit out their sailaways and often the temptation for a cruise on a sunny day is too much. However, I'm talking about that small band of hardened souls who are continuously cruising whilst barn-camping inside. You know who you are !!

Power to their elbow - I'm too old, soft and southern for such boating.

I like my creature comforts and one of my top priorities, especially in the damp of, well, every month except possibly August and September, is the hot towel.

I absolutely abhor reaching for a damp towel when I get out of the shower.

Willawaw has a large calorifier (the boaty term for a water immersion tank). This can be heated by the engine coolant, the Eberspacher diesel heater or an electric immersion heater when we are on shore mains.

Our interior boat heating is by radiator and these are heated by the Eberspacher. We also have an independent solid fuel stove, which burns coal or logs.

We have just finished our refit in drydock and the boat is looking pretty good. She was getting a bit tired and she now has a nice new paint job, new fenders, all her woodwork varnished or painted and so on.

The canals get a bit manic for us during the school holidays, so we tend to do repairs in the summer and start cruising in earnest just as the kids are going back to school. September and October are some of the best boating months, in our humble opinion.

Anyhow, I digress yet again.

Now, sorry to talk about those colder, damp, autumnal evenings in the middle of your summer holidays, but you have to think ahead on boats and it's not really that far away.

When we cruise in the darker, colder months, it can get quite chilly inside the boat during the day and we have to run our Eberspacher or solid fuel stove at the same time as the main diesel engine.

The former provides the heat and the latter is driving the boat forward. This is a bit wasteful, as it burns two lots of fuel, but it is necessary to stop the boat cooling down inside.   

However, this week I was given an idea by another boater.

In essence, what he was advocating, was a modification to the pump within the Eberspacher heater.

When we are cruising, the water in our calorifier gets heated by the engine and the heat will naturally transfer from the engine coil in the calorifier through the calorifier itself into the second dedicated coil for the switched off diesel heater.

As the radiators are connected to this second coil, if we could pump the water round, with the heater still OFF, we would effectively get hot radiators from the conducted engine heat, even though there is no direct connection between the two circuits.

This means there would be no need to use extra fuel for heating when cruising in the cold weather.

Whilst I applaud the notion, I'm not keen on modifying the internal pump circuitry in my Eber, BUT it would be easy to fit a second 12V pump into the pipe circuit !!

With this is mind, I plan to fit a new pump in parallel to the Eberspacher, together with some one-way check valves in the HEP plastic piping, so that the pumping pressure of the Eber when thats running can't short circuit through the stationary new pump and miss the radiators out completely.

I have ordered the HEP parts and a Jabsco 59520-0000 ecocirc pump. The pump is designed for hot water use and has a brushless motor with a magnetic drive, so it should run forever and as it has no seals, it shouldn't leak this side of doomsday.

I have also found a 12V supply on my alternator controller which will automatically run the pump only when the engine is running.

This is necessary because if you have the pump manually switched and you forget to turn it off when you stop cruising for the day, all the heat from the radiators will flow back in the reverse direction and keep the engine warm when it gets switched off, which is  counter-productive.

Anyway, bottom line is that it gives us warm rads whilst winter cruising, without burning extra diesel and just as importantly, it means that I can have just the towel rail on whilst summer cruising.

So, thanks to a bright idea from a fellow boater, I can now pat myself on the back for being eco-friendly and use a fluffy, hot towel to do it !!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Sleeping With Strangers

It occurs to me that I waste quite a lot of my life sleeping with strangers.

I have always had the ability to sleep anywhere.

The mere motion of a plane, train or automobile, sends me instantly into a deep slumber.

However, my tendency to fly with budget airlines often tends to leave me sitting in a very uncomfortable, upright position.

My Turkish flight had me sitting in the emergency escape aisle, which is always good for legroom, but the seat didn't recline at ALL.

As soon as the plane starts speeding down the runway, I'm off into the land of nod.

V1, V2, Rotate - the nose lifts off the tarmac and the aluminium monster is suddenly airborne at 200 mph and climbing.

I'm pushing zzzzzz's, but its no problem at all, because the "nose-up" attitude of the plane means that my head is forced back into the seat, sticking me to it as if by magnetism.

However, when the plane levels out, the problems start.

The cranial magnetism disappears and my head falls forwards, causing me to wake myself up with a jerk.

I subconcsiously bring my head back to vertical and doze off again.

Some inmeasurable time later, my head goes forward again and I jerk awake, once more.

"Nodding dog" syndrome is no laughing matter and steps should really be taken to prevent this dangerous condition on all airlines.

Normally, mostly strangers get to sleep with me, so I never find out what they think, as they observe the secrecy of the cabin, but on the few occasions when I travel with company, they tell me that its very amusing to watch me try to nod my head off.

The sheer oppulent luxury of aircraft seating is so appealing, the owner of this Cork hotel decided to fill his restaurant with it.

Minutes before the photo was taken, the child in the picture was enjoying eating from the lowered seat tray that you can see on the middle seat back.

I wanted him to have the full airline experience, readying him for all those Easy-nair flights that he will take in the future, so I sat in the middle seat and reclined it fully and quickly while he was eating, causing him to ingest his bread roll.

He can now tell his parents that he has been through the induction course to be a seasoned traveller.

Its very hard to be a stranger in Ireland.

Irish jokes are legendary and the Irish are always portrayed as being thick.

In my experience, they are quite the opposite.

I have always found them to be very good negotiators.

They have a very lateral train of logic and this is often interpreted as being slow on the uptake.

In my opinion, they just approach a situation from a different direction and this flair for the lateral enables them to think up all kinds of variables when haggling over prices and terms.

This means that I have to think very carefully when trying to initiate a negotiation. The approach is very different from the norm.

For example, when we in the UK ask for directions, we typically stop the car, wind down the window and shout "excuse me, can you tell me the way to XYZ".

This doesn't work well in Ireland.

They always start such proceedings with verbal foreplay.

For example, "ah thats a fine display of roses you have there. I'm just on my way to visit my aunt/cousin/favourite donkey. Have you lived here long ?".

It's also essential to leave your car in the middle of the road, unbuckle your seatbelt, get out and walk across to the person concerned.

The conversation then rambles on until you can get it round to "I was wondering if you can give me some directions".

Of course, even this approach isn't guaranteed.

I once stopped and asked somebody in Ireland if they were from around here (another rather direct English way of asking for directions).

"No", they said "I don't live around here".

"Oh", I said, disappointed. "So where are you from ?" (another fallback attempt at opening conversation).

"Over there", they said, pointing to a group of buildings about half a mile away.

I once stayed in a lovely place called the Candlelight Inn at Dunmore East, near Waterford, with a group of ships captains.

On the morning of my departure, I was having a rather fine Irish breakfast with the Captains, when the owner of the hotel suggested that I let the hotel courtesy bus take me to Waterford Airport for my morning flight home.

I thanked him for his hospitality and finished my breakfast.

I collected my bag from the room, checked out and went outside to locate the courtesy bus.

There was no bus, only an ancient Morris Traveller with a little old lady wearing a chauffeurs hat,  sat in the driving seat. 

"Excuse me", I said. "Can you tell where the courtesy bus stops ?"

"Ah, ye'll be wanting me" she said "are ye for the airport ?"

Surprised, I nodded, but accepted - this was Ireland after all and nothing should be allowed to faze you.

I said my goodbyes to all at the hotel, jumped in the back seat of the Morris and we were off.

Waterford Airport is 4.5 miles from Dunmore East, as the crow flies.

About an hour later, we were back at the hotel.

"Forget something, did ye ?" said the proprietor to me.

"No", I replied "your courtesy bus couldn't find the airport and I've missed my flight".

She was obviously not from round there. 

Friday, 24 July 2009

Cats and Seagulls

The canals are far away.

A rather surreal evening sitting on the foreshore, having dinner in Turkey.

The cats fight the seagulls for scraps of fish from the table and the shipyards are in the distance.