Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Christmas Ghost Story

Christmas is traditionally a time for ghost stories - I never really understood why.

We are home at the moment - the boat is iced in and under several inches of snow - she's not going anywhere in a hurry.

Ever since our cats were kittens, they have enjoyed climbing up inside our business desk in our lounge.

They climb up past the printer and get behind the three drawers that we have.

They then usually push out one or two of the smaller letter drawers from behind as they pass down or for a big finale, push the larger bottom drawer out, with them sitting in the bottom of it as it extends.
This then then enables them to go round for a second go.

As they have grown and got physically larger, it has become more difficult for them to do this, although not impossible as they are keen to prove occasionally.

Last night, we were watching TV (well the first mate was; I was watching the inside of my eyelids).

Suddenly, the first mate observed the top drawer nudge and then slowly come out about 6". The second draw nudged a bit and also came out.

The drawer slides are quite stiff - they don't run on bearings or runners and use wood to wood contact.

It looked just like a bit of "cat on drawer" action.

The male cat was asleep on his beanbag on the opposite side of the lounge.

The female cat was nowhere to be seen.

She waited for the big drawer to open, expecting to see the smug looking she-feline sitting there.

Nothing more happened. The big drawer stayed firmly shut.
She verbally encouraged the cat to get herself out of there, otherwise she would have to get up out of her seat and rescue her.

Nothing happened.

Irritated, she got up, walked across the room and opened the big drawer to get the cat out.

Our Tomcat even went across with her and curiously sniffed at the open drawers.

You guessed it - there was no cat inside - the desk was empty - all she saw were the usual letters, books, letter opener, pencils, etc.

After a quick search, she found our queen asleep in the bedroom upstairs.

I missed the whole thing, but it doesn't surprise me. We've had other instances over the years, usually around the first mate.

Just out of interest, the drawers were no more than 2-3m away from the first mate and in clear visual sight at all times.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

LineWatch - It Works !!

I've been struggling with the LineWatch.
It works fine in terms of the local alarm on board the boat, but I've been having problems getting it to text me when I'm not on the boat.

Firstly, the LineWatch was pulsing the SMS unit and triggering a text every five seconds.
Apart from my mobile vibrating like crazy, it quickly used the credit on the PAYG SIM in the unit.

So, I modified the circuit. Partial success, it would just send one text, but the system stayed locked on in the alarm condition.

Finally, today, I sorted it.

It now sends just one text. If the alarm condition persists (i.e. boat stays adrift and at distance from the sender), it will repeat the text about 45-60 minutes later.

I've now got all the various independent systems that I've designed and built, working together.

There are basically two modes:

Marina mode:

I receive a text on my mobile if:

- There is more than 5mm water in the engine bilge (also generates a local alarm on the boat)
- Somebody trips the shore breaker, so that my battery charger and anti-frost heaters go off

I can then choose whether I want to drive to the boat to check it out or just give one of the marina staff a call.

Towpath mode:

I receive a text on my mobile if:

- There is more than 5mm water in the engine bilge
- The boat drifts more than 5m from the sender unit (e.g. pins forced out by passing boats or boat set adrift by vandals, etc)

These events also activate different tone alarms onboard to wake occupants up.

The text message wording enables you to identify the different causes, so if you're sitting in the pub and can't see the boat, you will know what problem is being reported.

I don't think we are going to drift very far with this ice at present though !!!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cut Adrift - LineWatch

Well I've been busy working on a prototype and I'm pleased to say that it works.
The black unit is the receiver, which mounts on the boat. It operates from the boats 12-15V DC battery supply.
The white unit is the Wireless Sender Unit. Its splashproof and can be attached to a tent peg in the bank, hung from a low branch etc.
When the boat is moored safely, the Wireless Sender Unit is attached to a fixed point on the towpath or bank and is switched on. It runs from a CR2032 Lithium battery and will last for 160 hours on one battery.
The Receiver Unit is switched on with the little toggle switch and the red light flashes to confirm that it is operating.
The Receiver Unit will chirp a couple of times to confirm that it is communcating with the sender and then it will fall quiet.
If the boat is set adrift, accidently by a passing boat or deliberately, by a towpath yob, intent on cutting you adrift as you sleep, the two units will continue to communicate silently.
Once the boat has started to drift away and reaches a certain distance from the Wireless Sender Unit, the Receiver Unit will start to alarm.
An annoying integral buzzer will wake you up from your slumber, before you drift too far.
You can make your boat secure again. Once the original distance is achieved again, the alarm will stop and the system can continue on watch or you can recover the Wireless Sender Unit and move on to a safer berth.
If you are not on the boat e.g. down the pub enjoying a dinner or at home, the Receiver Unit will output a 12V alarm pulse which can be used to trigger a SMS Messaging Unit, which will text your mobile to tell you that the "boat is adrift".
I've called the system LineWatch and am not really interested in producing the unit commercially - not enough demand, I feel.
It was an interesting technical challenge though and I plan to fit it on my boat to test the system in real life conditions.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cut Me Adrift - The Solution

Well I was able to test the prototype gizmo today.

It works..

It has a little Wireless Sender Unit which is about the size of a 50p piece and which needs to be attached to a fixed object like the bank or mooring and a Receiver Unit which is mounted on the boat.
The "Sender" can be attached to a tent peg and pushed into the bank next to the moored boat or hung from a low branch on a towpath tree or bush.

The Receiver Unit is a small fixed box powered from the 12V supply on the boat and which has a little adjustment thumbwheel and an internal sounder/buzzer.

It's simplicity itself to use.

You switch the sender unit on with its mini-switch and place it in its waterproof capsule, before placing it in a hidden position on the bank. It makes no noise and would be difficult for a yob, intent on untying you, to detect.

You switch the Receiver Unit on - it beeps to confirm that it is in wireless communication with the sender. You rotate the thumbwheel back until it alarms and then reverse the wheel slightly until the alarm stops again.
The sensitivity is now set for the distance between your boat and sender.

If the boat is untied and starts to drift away, the alarm in the Receiver Unit will sound as soon as the wireless contact is broken with distance.

It's possible to set the allowable distance to about 3m for example (the distance between the "sender" on the bank and the Receiver Unit on the boat). As soon as the gap increases by another couple of metres (by the boat drifting), the alarm will sound.

If you are onboard, asleep, the buzzer will wake you and alert you to the fact that either your lines have been cut or your pins have been dislodged from soft ground by another boat passing etc.
If you plan to leave the boat unattended by going to the pub for the evening, the gizmo can be attached to the SMS Message Unit mentioned in my earlier blogs and it will text your mobile to tell you that the boat is adrift...

I will post photo's of the unit when I've finished tidying the prototype up.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Cut Me Adrift !!

Well the weather's bitter outside and confined to barracks, my little grey matter is still ticking.

My thoughts have turned to being cut adrift.

It's not an everyday occurence, but it's very irritating when some little herberts cut you adrift for a giggle in the middle of the night and you wake up to find yourself somewhere else.

Chains are a good protective measure, but unless you cover them with something they can clank and grind at night. Also, its not fun having to chain your boat up every night, just in case.

I'm thinking about a new "just for fun" gizmo that will tell me if we get cut adrift.

To be exact, a gizmo which will buzz as soon as the boat drifts a metre or two from where I tied her.

Hopefully, I can then go out in my pyjamas, scare the little herberts off and using the boat pole, push the boat back in and make her secure once more.

Much better than waking across a weir.

I've set myself another price target of £50 or less.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Boaters Fridge Pantry

I'm working on a new fridge for narrowboats.
It looks like a normal 12V fridge except it has two doors; one opening into the boat on the front and one removable one on the back.

The back matches a cutout in the boat cabin steel side and when the removable door is removed, the opening is covered in a mesh screen.

In summer, it works just like a normal fridge with both doors closed.

From autumn to spring, you remove the back door and store it somewhere out of the way.

Hey presto, no power consumption for half the year.

Another neat idea from Acme, the boaters think-tank - doh !

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Talking Bilge Again

Earlier this year, I built a Bilge Alarm and blogged about it - "Are We Going Down" (Jan 2010)

Problems like a weeping stern gland, a faulty weed hatch seal and rain water ingress (especially through a cruiser stern decking) can cause you to have water in your engine bilge.

Having once had a weeping stern gland, I used to lie in bed at night mentally visualising the drip-drip into the bilge. Logically, I knew it was a slow drip and the bilge area large and it wouldn't sink us overnight, but it used to bother me all the same.

It wasn't possible to repack the seal straight away (I wasn't confident enough to do it in the water), so I lived with it until the boat came out of the water.

A weed hatch that hasn't been replaced properly or which has a damaged or dislodged neoprene seal, can ship lots of water. Once the thrust of the propeller pressurises the water above it, the weed hatch can spurt water into the bilge at an alarming rate.

I decided an alarm that would sound when the unwanted water reached a certain depth might be a sensible precaution. Then, at least, I might get a peaceful nights sleep.

Looking around on the internet, I struggled to find what I wanted.

So I built my own - the Mk1 model.
It worked well.
Some other boaters were encouraged by what they saw and asked me to build them one, which I did.
That was all nearly a year ago.

Recently, a new group of boating friends asked me if I would build some more.

The problem is that the Mk1 version was very "hand-matic" - each one took me a day to build.

I decided to re-examine the design and see if I could reduce the component build cost and more importantly, remove the intensive labour content.

In parallel to this, I conducted some research to see how many boaters use or see any value in bilge alarms.
I initiated polls on two of the canal forums.
Response was poor on both - few people bothered to reply !!!
However, even with the relatively small sample taken, I was surprised to read that only about 30% of canal boaters had one.

Only about 28% of the sample were interested in having one.

The product description "used" for the purpose of the survey was a brandless bilge alarm that provided visual and audible indication of water in the bilge at a cost of less than £50.

Apparently, it is possible to buy a readymade off-the-shelf unit from Johnson Pumps at £47 (the Johnson Bilge Alert). One disadvantage I can see with this model is that its sounder is VERY loud.

Whats wrong with that, you say ??

Well it's good in one way - if it sounds while your boat is in the marina and you're not, then everybody in the marina will know that your boat has a problem.

However, if it's the middle of the night, your boat is moored to the towpath miles from anywhere and you are onboard, curled up and in the land of nod, a 100dB alarm might actually make you wet yourself in shock...

The other thing is that it is designed to operate at a maximum voltage of 14.4V - some canal boats with wet lead acid batteries have battery charge controllers that output more than this.
I'm sure the 28% and probably many of you reading this, would be quite satisfied with this product, but something stirred restlessly within me.

I quite like the thrill of the chase.

So, I decided to make my Mk2 version.

A couple of things still bothered me though about "soft" or "loud" sounders.

A soft sounder will be fine to wake you from your slumber or even break you out of your trance at the tiller, but if you're not on the boat at the time ???

A very loud alarm will alert the marina, but will it do you any good ??

The occupants of other boats probably wouldn't know what it meant or what to do - do you leave your phone number with every other owner - can you rely on somebody calling you ??

What if you're moored online on 14-day moorings, surrounded by open space or strangers - what then ??

Mmm - dilemma.

So, my decision was to build the Mk2 Bilge Alarm for less than £50 with a soft sounder.

My unit has the ability to work on a voltage range of 10-15VDC and it can be mounted at any depth - some boaters want to know about ANY water and some just want to know when it overcomes their bilge pump.

The added option of a loud switchable 100dB alarm would be an extra £5-10 (could be mounted in the engine bay with an external switch that allows it to be armed when leaving the boat and switched off without marina staff having to enter the boats cabin).

A possible way round the dilemma is to also use an SMS Messaging Unit with the standard "soft" sounder bilge alarm system.

I blogged about this before - "My Boat Just Sent Me a TEXT" - (26th March).

The bilge alarm goes off on the boat, waking you up if you are onboard. If you're not, it triggers the onboard SMS Message Unit, which it is hard-wired to.

The message unit then automatically sends a text to your mobile telling you that the boat is taking on water.

The unit that I have created will not only tell you that the bilge alarm has been activated, by texting you, but it can be connected to one other input such as a burglar alarm and will therefore text you saying a door has been triggered.
So, this is how it works in the boat to boater direction.
It can also be used the other way i.e. boater - boat - it can be asked to remotely switch something on from your mobile.
For example, you can switch your boat fridge on, long before you arrive at the boat.
You can switch your heating on in advance, so the boat is toasty when you get there.
Finally, it can text you and tell you the state of charge of your batteries.
If your batteries have discharged because you have:
- bad electrics
- someone left something on
- your shoreline has tripped on the pontoon, turning your charger off
You will know !!
You will get a text from the boat telling you the exact voltage of your batteries whenever you ask it.
All sounds good doesn't it ?? - we live in an SMS text age.
Unfortunately, this option costs £150 - the price of this technology is not really coming down in monetary terms - the processors just do more and give you more bang for your buck.

Happy pumping.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Victor Meldrew Forums and Egg-berts

I've come to the conclusion that canal forums are dominated by predominately old men (or young men who can't wait to be old men) who just want to repeatedly talk about toilets, the astronomic price of red diesel or argue the rights and wrongs of galvanic isolators.

If the Egg-berts are not ego point-scoring, putting members down in ways that vary from sarcastic to just downright abusive or arguing that black is blue, they're moaning - largely about how inept they feel BW is.

A boating friend, David, once told me he bowed out when he realised that they just keep discussing the same subject over and over again in varying ways.

All in all, it's rather negative and ground-hog day-ish in a cyber kind of way.

The sun has finally emerged from behind the cloud - there is a lot more to life and I'm not quite ready to turn my toes up yet and turn into one half of the old gits.

It's a new dawn, we're moving on from our summer berth, leaving the folk singaround group behind as well.

The silver lining from this particular journey are the musical instruments - they're staying - we enjoy those very much.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Melofluidic Wotsits

Well, with the decision taken as to what second instrument to play, I've taken the plunge.

It's a Melodeon - it seemed a complimentary instrument to the concertina (well its got buttons and bellows). Actually, my choice was steered by the lovely rich, melodious sound that it makes.

Being physically larger than my little 'tinas, its use on the boat might be a bit limited.

The Melodeon is a very popular instrument in Morris groups, but I've always found "Morris" to be a little sinister and scary. This may be as a result of being in Whitby as the same time as their annual folk festival a few years ago - the number of people patrolling the streets, in strange clothing and with blacked-up faces was quite intimidating and I've been sleeping with the light on ever since.

I tend to play Irish Traditional Music on mine and particularly like the names of Gaelic tunes that I can't pronounce.

At the moment, I'm practicing old wartime tunes like "its a long way to Tipperary" in honour of Rememberance Sunday on the 14th.

Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye, won't you !!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Beat of the Shantyman

I have a lifelong love of sail - to be specific, tallships and in particular, 19th century clippers.

Since being bitten by the concertina bug back in July, I've been eyeing 19th century concertina's on Ebay.

Modern instruments are fine, but unless you spend a small fortune on custom built ones (£2500 and up), modern concertinas are "hybrids" - they use accordion style reeds.

The older concertinas have the real thing and sound slightly better (you probably would never notice unless you heard both, one after the other).

Anyway, I've been lusting for a while and by a quirk of fate, secured this beautiful example.

The photograph doesn't do it justice, but it was manufactured in London around 1873, a hansom-cab ride from the Wapping and Limehouse Docks where the clippers used to discharge tea and other cargoes.

To put this timeline into perspective, Cutty Sark was built in 1869.

The fretwork ends are Rosewood and the bellows are green leather.

Ironically, the leather is the same colour as a settee that I once saw in the panelled masters dayroom of a sailing ship in a museum.

The instrument has been refurbished with new straps, pads etc, but I believe the fretwork, bellows and steel reeds to be the original ones.

Anglo concertinas tended to be owned by the lower classes - English concertinas which are a very different design were more the squeezebox instrument for the middle and upper classes.

My anglo, which is quite a basic one, would have cost its original owner around 30-40 Shillings - a lot of money then (about 770 Pounds based on todays earnings).

It still plays bright and clear..

There is a shanty called the "Old Fid"

The words go:

"To a melody sweet with a shantyman beat,

Don't ask me where I've damn well bin,

Don't ask me what I did,

For every thumb's a marlin spike

and every finger's a fid"

Regular blog-spotters will know that my revelation passages are often circular.

Fids are used to make narrowboat fenders..

Happy boating..

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gadzooks, its a Xaphoon

Well, I've always wondered why many musicians play more than one instrument.

I thought they were just show-offs, but actually, making music is quite addictive.

The "buzz" of creating your own sounds is enhanced by using different instruments and therefore different timbres.

I've just bought this for the first mate.

Its called a Xaphoon - it comes from the US and is the size of a recorder, but sounds like a cross between a clarinet and a saxophone.

Invented about 20 years ago, it seems to be a great way of having a portable sax - it uses a tenor sax reed but plays like a whistle.

One thing we have discovered is that its very loud for its size and the blowing technique required is very different from the low D whistle.

Now, I've just got to decide what my second instrument will be ???

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

That X-Factor Moment

Well, we've passed a landmark occasion for two reasons:

Firstly, I played and sung at the same time, for an audience.

Secondly, the first mate and I played our first public duet.

Playing and singing sea shanties to yourself is one thing; playing to an audience of singers and musicians is something else.

People are so used to programmes like X-Factor these days, where everybody is encouraged to be a critic, I'm sure that 21st century Britain has an expectation of being entertained to some sort of professional standard every time somebody performs in front of them.

However, if this is the case, the group are very good at masking their thoughts.

One thing I've learnt from this journey is that if you even make one mistake when rehearsing, its going to be ten in front of a group.

Never mind, its a closed room and the natives are friendly.

There must have been something in the air last night as many of the more polished regulars were forgetting their words.

One interesting twist was the introduction of storytelling.

One (new) person told tales - it doesn't take much imagination to think of tribes sitting around the fire in a long hut on dark nights listening to tales of stormy coasts and cold, deep scottish lochs, while the wind rages outside.
Personally, it reminded me of being back at primary school (in a nice way !!).

Ah well, this is getting a bit like Scheherazade and the tales of the Arabian Nights - we aren't getting much boating done.

Somebody asked me the other day why we cruise so hesitantly and slowly.

I replied that there is more to a journey than notching up as many lock miles as possible.

When I was at sea, I visited many places for a day or two and foolishly thought that I'd seen that country.

I don't intend to make the same mistake narrowboating and we find that sometimes you have to hang around long enough to absorb the character of an area - after all, theres no hurry...going back to my original introduction to this blog, in Ely, all those light years ago, it's the quality of the journey itself that counts - not the destination or the speed that you move at.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Free advice, Freely Given

What is it with people and forums ??

Internet forums are very useful resources for tapping into knowledgeable people and getting advice on a variety of subjects. I use them for a variety of different things.

Asking for an opinion is one thing, but what is it about people who think its quite acceptable to ask experts how to do a job that they would normally be paid for.

Would you phone a car mechanic and say "hello, I have a problem with my car. Its not starting. I don't want to pay you to fix it, as I think its something I could cope with myself and I'm a bit strapped/tight (delete as appropriate) at the moment.
Could you tell me, stage by stage how to fix it, so I don't need to employ the services of a professional like yourself. It will only take you 20 minutes to talk me through it and I know that you've probably got nothing else to do".

The noise of a disconnected line would be deafening.

Actually, it could be the basis for one of those candid camera type programmes.

For example, ring up a professional and see how much you can get him or her to tell you for free before he realises you are taking the proverbial and puts the phone down on you.

Whats really worrying is that this request for advice often revolves around tinkering with mains electricity when the person is barely able to wire a plug.

Recently, one boater wanted me to explain to them how to construct a longer shoreline out of assorted plugs, extension cable and pieces of flex. They weren't prepared to buy the correct connectors and 20m of Arctic mains cable (far too expensive).

The really, really worrying thing is that when I refuse to get drawn in to it, (on safety grounds, let alone any other reason), they seem to be able to find some idiot who will tell them how to do it.

A lot of internet sages are currently advising new boaters to buy a secondhand boat rather than considering new (due to the problems with boatbuilders going bust and the fact that there is a plethora of secondhand tonnage around at the moment).
What they don't say is that in about half of those boats, they were wired by aspiring DIY carpenters, welders or plumbers and the wiring is not always top notch (that's me being polite).

The 12V side should be covered to some degree by the Boat Safety Scheme survey but the AC/Mains wiring is a free for all.

Would you buy a house that was rewired by somebody who can barely wire a plug ??

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Kaval on the Canal ?

I've been working in Turkey for the week.

Following the thread of my recently renewed interest in folk music, I set out to explore the world of Turkish music.

Trudging the streets of exotic and mystical Istanbul, I ignored the modern music shops with their electric guitars and saxophones to seek the Mr.Benn-like smaller shops (BBC "Watch with Mother" reference probably lost on anybody not between the age of 45-55).

The beauty of Istanbul is that they still have a Bazaar mentality. Streets are dedicated to products.

For example, you can find one street that only sells power tools.

Similarly, there is a music street.

Walking along this twisting and narrow street, it didn't take long to find a shop which was festooned with oddly shaped wooden instruments, hanging from the ceiling, like vegetables in a greengrocers.

Initially, I was interested in an Ocarina, a small wind instrument shaped like a sweet potato.

However, discovering that this is not a Turkish instrument, my interest was diverted to an assortment of wooden flutes and whistles and a gift for the first mate was sought.

Eventually, I narrowed my search to a selection of Kavals, which are a traditional shepherds flute.

With the assistance of my very good Turkish friend (the shop assistant spoke no English), the guy in the shop played each one and let me hear the musical range that they played.

I choose a long, low pitched one that through translation, I believe starts at A.
A price was negotiated, 30 Euros was parted with and I returned to the hotel, wearing the Kaval, across my back, like David Carradine walking the wilderness.
Wikipedia says that the Kaval is a chromatic end blown flute associated with mountain shepherds in the Balkans and Anatolia.
They are often played in pairs, with one person playing the melody whilst the other plays a drone harmony. The unusual thing is that the Kaval has odd holes along its length which seem to be designed to be left uncovered.
Another interesting instrument is the Cigirtma, which is traditionally made from the wing bone of an eagle - not surprisingly, the shop was fresh out of eagles wings...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Black is the new - eh - Black

Well as I said last time, I have discovered something of a new world.
Being able to play on a concertina, has gained me an entrance pass into the new world of folk music and singarounds.
What started off as banging out sea shanties to let off steam and gain relaxful enlightenment, on the mooring, has mutated into driving around the countryside with a little wooden instrument box that reminds me of the priest on the exorcist.
The thought of little old me walking along a foggy, wet street with a little box, my heels clicking on the slick, shiny cobbles as I stride; knocking on strange doors, to exorcise good music from within, makes me giggle.
Singarounds are groups of like-minded people who meet regularly to practise and keep alive, the tradition of folk music.
Usually accompanied by pints of real ale, the turn goes around the room and each person gets the chance to play something, sing something or read a poem. Some shamefully talented people write their own songs so get a hat trick.
One thing I discovered is that a mediocre rendition of "New York Gals" gains you the opportunity to hear 15 other talented people play a myriad of instruments and sing brave new songs.
Beer and almost free music - can't be bad.
I just need to achieve my half century ambition of being good enough to play for free beer, now..

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Honky Tonky Tina

Well I've been absent without leave for a while.

Haven't done much boating since before Brazil, but have discovered a new love.

Tina is always there when I need her and falls readily into my willing hands, for a quick squeeze.

One day I woke up and thought to myself, wow I'm nearly fifty.

What do I do, get a sports car, buy a Harley ?? - nah..

I thought its time to set myself a new challenge - something to stir the brain cells.

For some unknown reason and I mean, unknown - its a bit like somebody else put the idea in my head, because it crept up on me from nowhere, I decided I was going to play the concertina.

You didn't think Tina was another woman now, did you ???

I have never played one, nor do I know anybody who's got one.

Anyway, long story short as one of my friends is fond of saying, I bought myself a cheap Anglo Concertina and taught myself.

Its taken me a couple of months and I need to read the dots (sheet music) because my memory is incapable of storing the myriad of tunes that I play, but I can play it.

I spent much of our hotter summer days, swinging in my hammock in the saloon on Willawaw, with every window and hatch open, playing sea shanties.

We are not inconsiderate people and we took the boat along the canal to isolated towpath locations, so the only people I tormented was the occasional walker or cyclist.

I have discovered several things as part of this little musical journey.

1. I can still read music from when I was 12
2. Its incredibly relaxing and de-stressing to just play whatever tune comes into your head
3. I have discovered a whole new raft of friends in the music world

I've always thought of people that like folk music as bearded with tank tops (and thats only the women)..
However, I heard a group playing the "Leaving of Liverpool" at Crick this year.

This obviously triggered something off in me, which has culminated in this..

Anyway, no longer content to just play to the towpath, I set off in search of bigger audiences and wow - what a brain blower that turned out to be !!!!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Boys From Brazil are Back

Chatting to the fishermen on Copacabana Beach, I see that they catch all kinds of fish that I cannot even put a name to - well with the exception of Espada (A.K.A Black Scabbard fish), which I've seen in Cape Verde and Madeira.

What puzzles me about the fort at Copacabana is that although its function was defense, somebody went to a lot of trouble to also make it decorative.

Even the soldiers bathroom has very ornate wroughtwork.

This photograph (below) reminds me of an old sea movie - I keep expecting Gregory Peck to appear in an 18th century captains uniform, clearing his throat, in a Hornblower-esque manner.

21st century Brazil has a number of technical refinements. The cycle station below allows you to phone a number on your mobile, in order to hire a bicycle.
The cost of the hire is charged to your mobile phone account and once the payment is cleared, the bike is remotely released from the rack, for you.

This display board tells you which sun factor suntan lotion you need to use on a given day for a particular skin colour.
It also tells you if it is safe to swim off the beach or not.

Tchau from Brazil.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Boys from Brazil

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of its features is that each seemingly unconnected post has a gossamer thread linking each subject.

This year has been a busy year for travel and todays blog finds me in Brazil - Rio to be exact.

The photograph below shows Ponta de Arpoador - or Harpooner Point, in the background.
This is the piece of land jutting out into the sea, where the original Brazilian indians and Portuguese settlers used to harpoon whales who came too close to shore.

Beyond and hidden by the point, is the famous Ipanema Beach.

The next photograph (below) shows Copacabana Beach. Just above the line of luxury hotels on the beach is one of the many Favela's in Rio. These are basically, slum housing. Many these days are ruled by drug lords and are no-go areas for ordinary folk. Tourist companies make deals with the rulers of these mini-kingdoms and take in small buses of tourists, to see what life is like in the favela.

The BOPE or special police are high trained in urban warfare. I hear that there are plans to clear the favela's before the world cup comes to Brazil in 2014.

I saw one of these BOPE patrols next to us at traffic lights. They were driving a matt black 4x4 which reminded me of something out of the "Mad Max" movie.

The occupants were dressed in SWAT gear, wearing body armour and the muzzle of an automatic weapon was resting outwardly through the open front passenger window, with the barrel in the crook of the driving mirror.

Late at night, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between the sound of gunfire in the favela or the bangs of firecrackers, which denote the latest drugs delivery.

The photo below shows some of the guns on Copacabana Fort, which was built by the German arms company, Krupp, for the Brazilian Army in 1914.

The guns have mainly been fired to suppress or support internal uprisings.
In 1922, the fort was controlled by army rebels and fired at their own battleship, which returned fire and with 2 direct hits, forced the rebels to surrender. The largest guns have a range of some 14 miles.

Copacabana Beach is a beautiful beach of some 4Km in length. The sand is clean and fine. I was there in the southern hemisphere winter - the daytime temperature was about 28 Degrees C.
I'd hate to think how hot it gets in summer !!
This advertisement hoarding hosts a secret:
In the edge of the hoarding are green buttons. If you press them, a cool, hydrating water mist is emitted, which you can bathe in, to rejuvenate you after time spent in the hot sun.
At a distance, it seems quite weird to watch people standing, waving their hands around themselves as they bathe in the invisible mist.
On the left of the picture, you can just see the famous Pao de Acucar, or Sugar Loaf mountain.

One of the strange things about Rio, is the way that the ultra poor and super wealthy, mix.
Copacabana is not a particularly safe place, especially at night.
Walking the beach in daytime, will see you stopped by beach vendors trying to sell you drinks, t- shirts and so on.
Locals build sand sculptures and every photograph you take, will cost you.
It is recommended that you wear cheap beach wear and don't show watches or cameras.
I was advised to carry about 10 Brazilian Real (about £3). They said "if you get mugged, just give them the ten - don't refuse or give them nothing, as if you are unlucky, they will stab or shoot you without remorse".
Mugging seems to be readily accepted by the Brazilians as a kind of poor tax.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Getting Canned in Stavanger

Well, we eventually arrived at our destination, Stavanger.

Here we unloaded lots of specialist oil exploration equipment and very nice it was too.

Not a lot of people know this, but the man who invented the sardine can key came from Stavanger.

Once a principal fishing port, Stavanger conquered the world with its canned brisling - 50 million cans went out in one year alone, in its heyday.

We managed to eat brisling that had just been smoked. They put skewer like pieces of wood through the eye of the fish and hang them in wood smokers. Beautiful..

Stavanger was (and to some extent still is) the heart of the Norwegian shipping scene. This is a replication of a ship owners office from the early 20th century.

This is the "nosy mirror", allowing you to see what is going on in the street, without being observed yourself.

Old and new - a viking longship overtakes an oil rig undergoing repairs at the offshore base.

Our first sight of Norway - the Norwegian pilot trying to board us in a stiff breeze - sorry these aren't in a sensible order..
And so, this brings us to the end of the voyage.
I flew back to the UK from the modern Sola airport at Stavanger.
Where are we going next ? - no idea..

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Boys Icelandic Road Trip

Is Iceland, Greenland, and vice versa ?

The islands were definitely wrongly named.

From my perspective, Greenland is icier and Iceland is greener - silly Vikings.

Well, we had a few technical problems on the trip back from Greenland and had to put into Iceland. The pale skinned trogs got busy in their boilersuits in their +40 Degree C engine room
and the bridge boys went on an Icelandic road trip.

Can't remember or pronounce where we went, but the views were breathtaking.

Exhibit A, m'lud is an example of a seriously breath sapping waterfall.

We exhausted all the geezer (geyser) jokes, but here is a shining sample of a diamond geezer.
They wheeze asthmatically and bubble like a pease pudding junkie in the bath (probably smell similar as well)..

and then they go - whoosh - sorry didn't get enough vertical zoom out on the top of this one.

This is the Strokkur geysir (no nudge nudge jokes please - the lads have done them all).
It erupts every ten minutes or so and shoots up to 90ft in the air.
It caught me out every time and the water feels like it comes from a kettle.
I touched the run off some way away and it was still so hot, I could only keep my finger immersed for a second or two.

This is why nobody wears whalebone corsets anymore - this is a creepy old Icelandic whaler.
You can't see it with your naked eye, but the funnel bears the motif of a blood stained whale - complete with red paint - urggh .. I can think of nicer things to show on a funnel.
Don't dress things up, these Icelanders.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Hunt To Live

There is no doubt, Greenland is an inhospitable terrain.

We visited in June, in perpetual daylight and during a Northern hemisphere heatwave.

In winter, its nearly always dark, with howling winds and freezing sub-zero temperatures.

We saw what looked like a metal garden shed, which is used as a winter morgue (they cannot bury the deceased in winter because the ground is frozen).

The sub-zero temperatures keeps the bodies until spring.

In the summer months, the children play, the men hunt and the women make beautifully decorated clothes.

Seals are still hunted for meat and skins, although with rifle and outboard these days, rather than kayak.

This is the local fish market. Greenlanders were happy to let us try raw seal meat.

The black object at the back of the table is a seal flipper. The rest of the meat is assorted parts of seal.

Cold water fish are also plentiful and I couldn't name all the species.

Even the children play at hunting; in this case, trying to hook crabs.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Closing with the Natives

And so, we closed with the natives of Greenland.

Pretty terrifying, aren't they ??

All joking aside, they were very nice people. The local kids spoke Greenlandish (or is that Greenlandic), English and Danish. Obviously brighter than me who only speaks English, a smattering of French and Anglo-Saxon.

Its not often that you arrive somewhere and the locals aren't trying to rip you off and sell you things within minutes.

The inhabitants of Greenland appeared genuinely interested to meet visitors from Europe, although the crew of our ship would have put the crew of Johnny depp to shame on the Black Pearl.

We had a Scottish captain, Croatian chief mate, a bluenoser second (from Newfoundland) and an Irish third mate. Jolly the bosun is from one of those head hunting islands up Borneo way and the engineers ?? - no-one knows or cares - they are all pale skinned troglydytes who don't see enough daylight.

It was nice to see that the Greenlandish still use traditional forms of transport - these girls probably wouldn't have been allowed to paddle these inuit kayaks in the good 'ole macho hunting days.
In the 21st century, the boats are made of GRP rather than sealskin. The days of being stitched into your boat and relying on the "eskimo roll" technique with those thin paddles, to save your life from a capsize (few inuits could swim - well would you want swimming lessons with icebergs ?) might have gone, but I noticed a small animal skull on the bow of the black to ward off evil..

This is an Inuit menu for the local take away - do you want whale with that sir ?

Little fishing boats and bigger fishing boats..Greenland style.
Seals are still hunted for meat and clothes but more of that in the next death defying episode.

Monday, 12 July 2010

It's Obvious Really

Life is funny - sometimes obvious things stare you in the face and you don't see them until you trip over it.

My day job is designing, servicing and installing electrical equipment and systems on ocean going ships.

The hourly labour rates for that sort of work are quite high, so if something needs to be installed on a ship which will involve long-winded labour-intensive tasks like running long cables, penetrating steel bulkheads to get the cables through etc, the people who own the ships will generally pay labourers (at a lower hourly rate) to do that work and then hire somebody like me to design it, draw it, connect it up, set it up and so on. This keeps my chargeable time to a minimum.

This has been the accepted way in my business for as long as I can remember.

Coming back to the subject of canals, when I talk to fellow boaters and they tell me in passing that they have installed a new inverter or similar, but its not working properly as they've used the wrong cable or its not got adequate ventilation etc, I often ask them why they didn't pay a professional to do it.

The answer is always the same - we couldn't afford it.

It occurs to me that the electrical needs of the shipowner and narrowboater are similar - get a good job done, but at minimal cost.

Many boaters are quite capable of the DIY skills needed for 95% of the installation.

They sometimes just need a little help and guidance on the difficult electrical bits.

Experience often means that I can see an easy way of installing something that will save a lot of work and unnecessary parts. Often I can save them money by knowing where to use the more expensive components and where the cheaper components will work fine.

I've been doing bits and pieces on narrowboats for quite a while and of late, I tend to follow a set pattern.

I tend to visit the boat initially to do a site visit, make a drawing of how it needs to be done on that particular boat layout and "spec" (and sometimes obtain) all the bits that are needed in the form of a kit. Often the boater will buy the parts themselves using a shopping list that I provide - this saves them money.

The boater then does all the time consuming parts at their leisure according to the plan, like mount the units, run the cables in, etc.

If they have a question - they phone or e-mail me. A lot can be resolved by digital photos etc.

When they are ready, I go back to the boat once more and wire up what they have done, carry out any specialised bits like making up battery connectors etc and commission the installation.

This way, the cost of all-out time consuming labour is avoided and the boater gets a properly designed and specified installation for a few hours paid labour.

By the way, I don't and couldn't charge big ship labour rates to inland waterway boat owners, but it helps to keep the wolf from the door between deep sea jobs.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hummocks, Bummocks and Bergy Bits

In the Arctic, icebergs originate mainly in the glaciers of the Greenland ice cap which contains approximately 90% of the total land ice of the Northern hemisphere.

Due to the prevailing currents, many drift down the east coast around Cape Farewell, which is the Southerly-most tip of Greenland and then head North up the Davis Strait, which is the other side from Iceland.

A much larger crop of icebergs come from glaciers in Baffin Bay - it has been estimated that more than 40,000 icebergs are present there at any one time.

There are many types and formations of icebergs - they almost have their own language, which is where todays blog post title comes from.
Hummocks, Bummocks and bergy bits are all formations of ice.

After leaving British waters (we last saw the West of Scotland a long way off), our first landfall was just North of Cape Farewell (Cape Greeting or Cape Hello might have been a more apt name).
Not very friendly these Greenlanders, when you've only just arrived.
Better than Cape Sod-Off I suppose.

Anyway, we soon started sighting icebergs in the distance.

Greenland was said to have been discovered by the Vikings and has had an on-off relationship with the Scandinavian countries ever since.

Technically, it is currently a possession of Denmark.

Most Greenlanders speak Danish as well as Greenlandish and the Danish Krone is the coin of the realm.

They have their own parliament, have been allowed to call all the settlements by their native names and receive a lot of money from the Danish crown.

The Danish aren't silly, especially if there really is a lot of oil and minerals there.

Anyway, the icebergs gradually got bigger as we got further North.

We motored up and down for a while, but eventually decided we needed a few fresh items and decided to close with the natives.

After so much sea and wilderness (we had hardly seen any ships since we left the Irish Sea), it was exciting to watch the coloured dots of a distant settlement growing larger in our binnoculars, until eventually you could make out people and cars moving (well - what did you expect ? - huskies).

Getting as close as we dare in the sheltered fjord, we eventually dropped anchor, parted our hair, brushed our teeth and launched the rescue boat.

NEXT - Trading with the locals

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Northward Bound - Cobh

I haven't blogged for a while - sorry.

I wanted to fit Willawaw with some solar panels to help charge the batteries when the boat is left unattended, so ironically, I left her at a boatyard for safe keeping and got a short contract at sea, to earn some money.

It came to pass that I was soon winging my way to Cork in Ireland to join an offshore oil supply vessel, which was bound for the Arctic Circle.

A U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that some 50 billion barrels of oil may be found offshore of Greenland.

The portion of the Labrador Current flowing through Davis Strait off western Greenland is known as “iceberg alley” because huge chunks of ice that calve from the northern glaciers make their way into the northern Atlantic along this route.

Ironically, global warming, which has melted some of the Arctic glaciers, has made offshore drilling in these waters more feasible.

My ship was due to work on the coast of Greenland, to further this end.

It was a further irony that our sojourn into the icebergs should start from the last port of call of the RMS Titanic - Cobh (or Queenstown as it was known in 1912).

This pier could well be the last earthly point that her passengers touched.

There is also a rather gloomy memorial to those lost on the Lusitania when she was torpedoed in 1915 by a German U-Boat off Kinsale Head with the loss of nearly 1200 people.

Its not that Cobh is a sad place - quite the opposite and Kellys Bar on the waterfront at Cobh went a long way to make up for it, with copious amounts of Guinness, Smithwicks and Jamiesons chasers being consumed prior to sailing for Greenland.

Obviously, too much was drunk as I could have sworn that the local Garda police station looked like an aircraft carrier.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Crick 2010

The Crick Inland Waterways Show is held every Whitsun Bank Holiday at Crick Marina

It's not only boats that are sold at Crick..

The entertainment was also pretty good..

and not all Gardner engines were on boats !!

More photographs about the boats and equipment on display can be seen at: