Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Smarten Up

After having fitted lots of other peoples boats, I finally succumbed and fitted my own Smartgauge.

Chris Gibson a.k.a Gibbo who created the unit has now sold his business to the Merlin Equipment business in Dorset and is retained as their senior R&D man.

This is why the Smartgauge unit now bears the Merlin name.

The main problem with batteries on boats is that most boaters hugely depend on them but don't really understand them.

What Chris has done is to break the mystique down to the essentials that most want to know.

How much power do I have in my battery bank ??

It gives a simple % reading - in the above photo, I have my bank 99% charged or 1% discharged.

I've heard it described as a fuel gauge for batteries.

We have a Mastervolt Amp-Counter for the domestic bank and a Victron one for the starter battery. I don't have a lot of faith in either and tend to monitor the voltage instead.

I have more faith in the Smartgauge which calculates the charge left in an adaptive way using a very accurate voltage reading directly from the battery terminals.

For £150 it does what I need.

It also acts as a display for the Merlin Smartbank system and is able to monitor the voltage of the start battery (already doing that), but an accurate % reading that tracks the batteries as they get older is enough for me.

The unit has changed very little over the years it's been available, but it now seems now that the membrane buttons aren't very positive in their operation - you have to push them quite firmly and don't always seem to get a connection first time. Might be an attempt to get the build costs down or hold them down ??

One of my gripes has always been that it has to be flush/panel mounted and there is no backbox option so it can be bulkhead mounted.

The word on the cut is that there is a Smartgauge 2 in the wings which will do lots more including monitor the charge/discharge current - rumoured to be a bit more expensive though !!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Mark and the Magic Torch

When our boat was built, we had a rechargeable torch mounted on the bulkhead just as you come down the aft steps.

It was similar to the aircraft emergency ones you see by the emergency exits on airliners.

Unfortunately, it has just given up the ghost after 8 years of valiant service.

Looking for a replacement, I was shocked at how expensive they are. The cheapest I could find was about £60 !!! :-0

It's not rocket science, but I've "devised" a small torch which sits in a charger on the bulkhead and runs from the boats 12V battery supply.

You just come into the boat, lift the torch out of its holster and use it to find all the switches, water cocks and so on, as you move throughout the boat.

When you've finished, you just put it back in the charger and it will be charged, ready for the next time.

It's also brilliant for the dark walk back to the boat from the pub - small enough to slip in the pocket (nobody wants a giant lantern on the table in front of them whilst supping a pint).

One charge lasts about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

I've connected it directly back to the domestic bank battery isolator switch, so its powered (charging) all the time (and protected by a small in-line fuse).

An added bonus is that it also fits in the cigar lighter on the car, so if I'm in the car it goes with me there and when I'm living on the boat, it goes on there with me.

The very neat feature I like is that when the torch is on charge, it has a little red light in the lens, which makes it easy to find when you're stumbling around half awake, at middle of the night o'clock, trying to work out whats thumping on the roof !!! - you can just see the red light in the photo above.

If anybody's interested, I bought two - am using one and have put the other on Ebay.

If it doesn't sell, some relative will get it as a present.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

Float Switches Don't Float My Boat

I've never been greatly impressed with the float switches that are used in conjunction with bilge pumps to give automatic operation.

Many older models use Mercury tilt switches inside them. These are usually a small tube with electrical contacts at one end of the tube. When the float tilts, the mercury collects at one end of the tube and creates a conductive path to complete the circuit.

Mechanically activated float switches, which are often advertised as Mercury-free, use a steel ball in an enclosed run. When the float switch is tilted by the water level rising, the ball runs to one end and operates a lever, which in turn activates a micro-switch and makes the electrical connection to switch your bilge pump on.

Anything mechanical will eventually give problems.

I am now using a solid state switch for my bilge pump switching and bilge alarm applications.

These operate on electrical capacitance and are VERY reliable. So reliable, they come with a 5-year warranty. An added advantage of these is that they are very small, don't actually float up and suffer from unwanted buoyancy problems (never a good feature on a water levels switch) and they don't get triggered by an oil leak (which would result in pumping oil into the cut).

I've used these for a while now and am very impressed with them.

So much so, that I've started using them on my Intelligent Bilge Alarm design (my Mk3 version).

I also sell my surplus ones (and the bilge alarm) on my family Ebay site.


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ebay Gum

Ebay, Gumtree, it's a different world.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I often produce interesting gadgets of a boaty persuasion.

You may remember my earlier post "Talking Bilge" about the Bilge Alarm shown above.


My workshop is getting rather crammed with pieces of boaty electrical equipment and finished projects, so in a tidying process, I've decided to pass them to my family who are keen Ebayers and have started an Ebay seller called Phoenix Marine as an outlet for my excesses.

Some of the equipment I have is still new in the original packing (I have a habit of buying more items than I need in case I need spares, etc) and some is what I suppose would be considered shop soiled in that they have been on my bench.
Anyway, one of the rules of Ebay is that it has to be clearly defined what is new and what is not - quite right too.
Although, they don't seem to have an intermediate condition for items that are new but have been gathering dust on my bench (classified by them as "used" I'm afraid).

I also have some very interesting items like clamp on, battery powered, LED navigation lights for when you take a narrowboat on a river and need lights just for a few hours a year (i.e. not worth the expense and trouble of running wires and fitting permanent ones).

Anyway, there might be a few interesting things coming in the pipeline..


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Alternative Little Venice

I've seen lots of blogs just recently, showing the same boaty pictures of the 2011 IWA Cavalcade at Little Venice.

To me, Little Venice is more than a line of massed reproduction working boats, flying bunting, with their owners Bolinder-waving to each other.

LV is a sub-culture all of its own, all year round.

It's an upmarket boating community - I guess it has to be with mooring fees being what they are, there.

It's one of the few moorings that I know, where all the boaters seem to have cut-glass accents.

In my eyes, these three pics portray the real spirit of Little Venice..

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Last Blog

Looking at the blogroll which shows the last post made by each blogger (on the lower, left hand side of this page), some haven't blogged for 2 years.

Whilst I'm sure that many just got bored or what seemed like a good idea at the time, lost its shine (the new fad became something of a fag), some have probably sold up.

Since my involvement in the netosphere aspect of canal boating (about 6 years), I've seen quite a few boaters come and go.

This is made quite noticeable by blogs, where newbie boaters spring up with their new blogs, full of enthusiasm, often looking for escapism and a new life on the canals of merry England.

At the other end of the "long cruise", boaters often have to give up due to ill health, financial problems or disillusionment with the way the waterways are evolving.

Inspired by the epitaph of comedian Spike Milligan, whose gravestone says in Gaelic "I told you I wasn't well", when I'm ready to hang up my windlass, I might be tempted to make one last blog:

"taking on water, am sinking slo"

The Biggest Big Top

We went to a Westlife concert recently at the O2 arena on the Greenwich peninsula in London.

It was our first time at O2 and we were quite impressed by the facility.

It's got to be the biggest "big-top" I've ever seen.

Not only is it absolutely massive, but its also a dream to reach and park at and there are lots of restaurants inside to keep you entertained, pre-show.

If anything, the facility was a little underused, as there are still large open spaces inside the tent and I'm sure it has untapped potential for the future.

I'm so glad they didn't demolish it after the Millenium celebrations.

P.S Sorry about the photo quality - I had my pocket camera with me and the light wasn't the best.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Sunk Without Trace

You may recall that we visited the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port a while ago. I was very impressed by the museum and facility, but surprised at how many wrecks were lying around on the bottom.
Now I know that with wooden boats, this is the best place for them if you don't have the money to repair them and return them to their former glory. However, I was slightly concerned that visiting boats were navigating around the various basins of the museum and the wrecks weren't marked.
To a mariner like myself, it would seem sensible and quite inexpensive to secure marker buoys to each end of the wrecks, so that boats who are quite low in the water themselves would see them.
A recent comment on the blog of NB Caxton suddenly brought my attention to this here:


Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Our Destiny in Lights

A narrowboater was lambasted for crossing the Thames to the opposite side of the river and passing through the main working arch of the Blackfriars Rail Bridge, nearly running into a passenger vessel coming the other way.

The bridge has five arches; three were closed, one was open with lights and the remaining one was unmarked.

The boat apparently crossed over to the wrong side of the river and passed through the lit one. Lights are the key on the Thames Bridges and your destiny can be easily reshaped if you fail to understand or obey them.

http://www.pla.co.uk/News/index.cfm/fla ... /site/News

The upshot of this is that the PLA maintains that when there are “no lights or signs showing” this indicates “an arch available for navigation by vessels when height of tide, draft, air draft and good seamanship permit”.

Okay, in smartass hindsight, he should have known this and he should have radioed VTS to request permission to cross the river, but it’s easy to be clever after the event.

I have just written a post on the canal forum www.justcanals.com/forum on this subject and included a complete set of photographs covering the pilotage of the tideway from Tower Bridge to Lambeth Bridge.

As you can see below, quite large vessels use the side spans sometimes.

In fact, the PLA recommend that recreational vessels use the side spans of Tower Bridge. Photo above - The lights on the centre arch are flashing in isophase, indicating a large vessel approaching. You will notice that the trip boat has noticed and is taking the side span, to keep out of the way. The RNLI station pier is now located underneath No.1 arch of Waterloo Bridge. Strangely, it is still known as Tower Pier, probably because that is where it was moved from a few years back. This is Cannon Street Railway Bridge looking downstream.

You will notice the Rubbish facility on the North bank of the river, where the cities' rubbish is transferred to barges in small containers.

These are then towed downriver to be dumped at Mucking.

More information on this subject (and a lot more photos) can be found at:


Saturday, 26 March 2011

James Bond, Towers and VHF Parrots

I passed the Maidens Tower in the Bosphorus.

I remember this Istanbul tower from the James Bond film, "The World is Not Enough".
In the film, a submarine enters a subterranean cavern under the rock that the tower stands on.

For several years, I imagined that the water was very deep around the tower, as the Bosphorus is very deep.

Considering that the waterway is only half a mile wide at this point, the deeper parts in the middle are over 150ft deep.

Although I knew that the cavern was fictional, I was disappointed to learn that the water around the tower is just a few metres deep and the shelf that falls away on the outward side of the tower is only about 35ft.

Not deep enough for an atomic submarine, I'm afraid, M.

Movies - pah..

I love Istanbul.

It has all the ingredients that I adore - water, boats, cats galore and the exotic food of the east.

Its harbours always bustle with a myriad of different vessels, bobbing in its deep, choppy, fast flowing currents, which teem with fish.

This is the ships radio station - a modern GMDSS system with DSC and satellite.

On a VHF radio, it's very easy to miss somebody calling you or some other vital piece of information.

These VHF sets record whatever is received on the channel and the sound message can be played back on demand, by pressing a dedicated playback button.

The recording is done on an internal solid state integrated "chip".

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Ciao Cio-Cio San

As long-standing Puccini fans, you can imagine how excited we were to discover that his opera, Madam Butterfly was coming to London.

We used to play the soundtrack often in our old apartment and its famous aria is our favourite classical piece of all time.

I was very fortunate to get tickets for the opera at the Royal Albert Hall, coinciding with the first mates birthday month.

The Albert Memorial in Hyde park - 176ft tall and erected to the memory of the late Prince Consort at a princely cost of £120,000 (1896)

Needs no introduction - well okay then - it's the Royal Albert Hall..

The oriental and opulent set is a Japanese water garden containing some 15,000 gallons of water, which can disappear into concealed tanks in a thrice, leaving a brushed gravel Japanese garden.

I was impressed as to how many Japanese visitors made the effort to attend - many in national costume and complete with cameras hidden in the folds of kimono.

The wedding photograph as Cio-Cio san marries the imperialist US naval lieutenant, Pinkerton.

Once he has had his wicked way with the geisha, he trots back to America and marries his second wife, leaving Cio-Cio with child.

Needless to say, it ends in tears, both literately and literally.

Cio-Cio commits hari-kiri when they try to take her child from her and she is disowned by her own people.

Asako Tamura, who played and sang the lead, ended up with the mascara running down her face as the audience gave her a 5 minutes long standing ovation.

Absolutely brilliant.

What has this to do with canals - unadshamely nothing at all - Puccini did have a dayboat called "Butterfly" on the lake at Torre del Lago.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Outward and Homeward Bound 2

It's like the old joke -
You know the best thing that comes from Liverpool -
The road home - boom boom.

Only joking.

Well in this case, it's the route home.

The Salthouse Dock, Liverpool

Wapping Basin, Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Marina with Coburg Dock in the background

Brunswick Dock

The Sea Lock - Brunswick Dock

The Lock Chamber - Liverpool Marina

Entrance to Liverpool Marina from the Mersey

A Tanker discharging at Tranmere Terminal, River Mersey

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Outward and Homeward Bound

"An' when we gets to the Liverpool docks,
The pretty girls come down in flocks,
One to the other you can hear them say,
Here comes Johnny with his three years' pay,
Hurrah, we're outward bound.."

A Sea Shanty often sung on clippers trading from Liverpool................

Salthouse Dock and the largely empty BW pontoons for the boat show that won't happen.

Oh, I can feel the urge to reach for my concertina for a little shanty..

This wall was built from the remnants of one of the old dock warehouses.

Happy Days

A monument to all the families who emigrated and never saw Liverpool again

Capstan Full Strength ?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Saying Goodbye to Ellesmere Port

Well who said that all boats in a museum need to be in pristine condition ?

Seriously though, it is heart rending to see these old boats in such a state, but it's still possible to appreciate them.

I think this must have been a tug of some description judging by the size of the prop that it could have turned.

This is another view of "Ferret".

What museum could be complete without their own Bolinder ?

"Regulus" is a butty, built by W.H. Yarwood & Sons of Northwich in 1935.
She was reunited with her original motor "Radiant" in 1994.

This is the Whitby lighthouse at Ellesmere Port. It was designed and built by Thomas Telford in 1829 to guide vessels into the dock complex from the River Mersey.

When the Manchester Ship Canal reached Ellesmere Port in 1891, vessels had to enter at Eastham and the light was no longer needed.

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Road To Eastham and the M.S.C

This blogpost explores the passage through Ellesmere Port from the Shropshire Union and out on to the Manchester Ship Canal.

The National Waterways Museum offers moorings for 7 days (and free entrance to the museum) for the normal price of an admission ticket.
There are no facilities on the moorings, but there is a single water point, which you can see outside the reception building (on the right of the photo below).

The photograph below shows the museum reception building and the free short term 48 hour moorings on the right (where the narrowboat is moored).

Boats coming from the Shropshire Union into the port enter from right to left. The far lock is the Whitby Top Lock.

Looking down towards the lower basin, you can see that the functioning Whitby Locks are on the right whereas the left side locks are being used as an impromptu drydock for the trip boat.

In the photograph below, you can see the Whitby Lower Lock on the right, the lower basin (wider expanse of water) and then in the far distance, the last narrow lock which separates the lower basin from the Manchester Ship Canal. Note the funnel from the sunken boat, sticking out of the lower basin.

A close-up of the wreck is shown here. Whitby Lower Lock is off to the left and the last lock is out of shot, to the right. The channel ahead shows the route through to the lower basin moorings and Raddle Wharf, so named because it was originally used for the handling of red ochre associated with ore. It is also the route to the wide lock shown further down below.

The sunken boat is something of a navigation hazard for a longer boat trying to enter
the final lock - the submerged hull sticks out quite a way !!
She is ex Admiralty Harbour Launch Diesel (HLD) No.39461. She was largely exposed last year when the water level in the basin was lowered by about 5 feet.
You can see that a swing bridge straddles the lock.
The local council have to be called out to swing the hydraulically activated bridge for you and they need 8 hours notice.

This is the view from the final lock, looking down into the ship canal basin, currently occupied by a Dutch tug.

Out past the tug and the lighthouse, into the Manchester Ship Canal.

If the other route is used, past Raddle Wharf, the ship canal can only be accessed via the wide lock, which looks like it hasn't been used for a while.

This is the view on the ship canal up towards the Weaver.

This is the view towards Eastham Locks and the Mersey.