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..