Seren's Route to Llangollen

Seren’s Route to Llangollen

I’ve spoken to a few people recently who’ve expressed surprise that it’s possible to get from the East of England to Llangollen by inland waterways. If you want to check out just how extensive the network is, click here.

That map is provided by the Canal and Rivers Trust that took over from British Waterways. CRT manage the majority of our rivers and canals and the map shows both theirs and others.

If you want to plan a route, or see how I’m doing then try this link. CanalPlan covers all UK inland waterways, you can input a start point (Tempsford Bridge South for Seren) and end point (Llangollen Basin) and CanalPlan works out the route. Unless I fall behind schedule I’ll probably deviate from the quickest route through Brum in favour of the ‘Old Line’ as it’s said to be prettier. If I’m way ahead nearing Llangollen then I’ll detour down the Montgomery to Maesbury and back.

Seren has IT Onboard

Blogging last year’s Crick trip was a pain. I took an old Galaxy Tab and cheap Chinese keyboard that got more and more dodgy as time went by. In the end I did a few notes using the on-screen keyboard then gave up.

This year I need better IT. Apart from the blog I have a magazine to edit! I joined the Great Ouse Boating Association (GOBA) in 2018 because most of the river banks down here are private – there are not a lot of places to moor. GOBA negotiates deals with landowners and provides free moorings for members. Then like a fool I volunteered to edit GOBA News.

GN is thrice-yearly glossy mag for members and editing it isn’t too onerous, but this summer’s edition is complicated by my being away on my trip to Llangollen at the crucial time. I’ve done as much as I can prior to leaving but a lot of copy will arrive on (or after) the June 10 deadline.

I did some research into the best (ie cheapest) way of providing reliable wifi on a boat. And settled on a basic mobile WiFi gadget from Amazon and a 4G data SIM from 3. Most data ‘bundles’ from most phone companies expire after 30 days even if you’ve hardly used them. Not ideal for me as I can be away for a few weeks on Seren and need a lot of data, then not use any at all for months. The 3 SIM lasts two years.

The rest of the IT system consists of my phone and an old laptop. It all works well at the moment in the boatyard, I and hope it holds up under pressure.

Never one to waste an opportunity to make a few quid I wrote a piece for Waterways World about IT Afloat. It’s available NOW.

Seren 2019

Over the winter 2018-19 I’ve done a lot more work on Seren, fitting new propshaft bearings and couplings, replacing the rear deck, finishing the WC/Shower, installing a proper hot water system and recycling a daughter’s old kitchen units.

There was a plan to take Seren out of the water in the spring for a thorough clean underneath and repaint with anti-fouling and to polish up the battle-scared hull. The guys at the boatyard assured me they could put Seren on a trailer and drag her up the slipway. No crane required. After an hour of trying the strap dragging Seren on to the trailer snapped and she slid back into the river. Seems she’s heavier than the more modern GRP cruisers.

Next winter I’ll hire a crane and do it properly. Meanwhile we’re off the Llangollen in time for the International Eisteddfod. I’ve got a ticket for Jools Holland on Monday 1st July and I reckon it’ll take three weeks to get there so to be on the safe side, and possibly allow myself a little R&R and sight-seeing on the way I’m leaving on Tuesday 4th June.

Seren (more backstory)

Once on the Great Ouse we had to register the boat with the Environment Agency who control the various Anglian waterways. We took the opportunity to register her under a new name ‘Seren’. One day I’ll get around to making new name plates.

We did few local trips on Seren in 2017 then I set about improvements for the 2018 season. I’ve seen a lot of people completely gut an old boat determined to renew everything, then run out of money, energy or lifespan. My plan is to do as much as I can over each winter and have Seren usable by late spring.

If you scroll down this blog back to early 2018 you’ll see how that went. The wood stove went, the WC/shower was re built (but not finished) and the DIY hot water system failed spectacularly. Nevertheless I made it to the Crick Boatshow over the late May bank holiday. Unfortunately Linda has trouble with muscular/skeletal pains and now finds sleeping on Seren impossible, so I went by myself and she came over for a day in the car.

Crick is just over an hour along the A428 from here. Or 10 days by boat. I blogged the outward journey (scroll it’s still there) but not the return. The trip to Crick was ‘enlivened’ by a host of disasters but the only real breakdown on the return was my old Galaxy Tab, so no blog.

Coralita 2017 (more backstory)

Coralita 2017 (more backstory)

I looked at a lot of boats online. We like canals more than rivers and many of them are narrow so a narrowboat would suit us very well. Unfortunately new-ish ones are expensive and old ones need a lot of work. Narrowboat-style cruisers are built of steel and steel rusts. Boats old enough to be cheap enough are going to need patching or even completely re-plating.

So we looked at GRP cruisers. Many of them are built as river cruisers capable of going down estuaries and even out to sea. Accordingly they are wide and deep and no use at all on a narrow canal. Small cruisers are available but often short as well as narrow, intended really for day trips or occasional overnight stays.

Eventually we found Coralita a 40 year old GRP cruiser built for canals. She is 8m long 2.01m wide and has a very unusual layout. Most boats have a cockpit about two thirds of the way back, or right at the back. Traditional looking narrowboats just have a rear deck and a tiller. Coralita has a front cockpit with a sliding roof. Normal cruiser cockpits are too high for canal bridges and tunnels, Coralita has a low roofline and with the cockpit up front you can cruise with the roof shut during bad weather. Though they view through ancient Perspex isn’t great.

Coralita was for sale at Pershore on the river Avon, so we bought her are brought her back to the Great Ouse via the Avon, Stratford Canal, Oxford Canal, Grand Union Canal, River Nene, Middle Level (fens) and on to the Ouse near Denver. It took 16 days and we spent a lot of time debating improvements (read on…)

Voyage to Llan (the backstory)

Voyage to Llan (the backstory)

During the late 70s and early 80s we lived in Blackburn, Lancs and we (I) wanted a boat. So I built one. It was cheap and rough and intended to be upgraded as time money allowed. Then we moved to Cambridgshire where a cheap, rough home-made boat stuck out a bit amongst the floating gin palaces on the Great Ouse. And then some fool put the mortgage rate up to 15% and even a cheap DIY boat was an unaffordable luxury so we sold it.

I always intended, sooner or later, to build another but in 1999 we found ourselves living in Llangollen and taking on the restoration of a crumbling ruin and an enormous, but very steep, garden. No place for boat building and little time or spare cash either.

In 2016 we left Llan to spend more time babysitting our grandchildren, both our daughters having settled close to the area where they grew up. One in Cambs and one in Beds. We live in Potton, Beds about half way between them.

Coralita
Coralita on the Avon

I don’t have the energy to contemplate building a boat from scratch once more, so in 2017 we (I) bought a cheap old GRP cruiser that went and was just about habitable with a view to improving it over time. (Read on…)

Decking Seren part 4)

Decking Seren part 4)

I’m a bit late posting this as I actually finished it more than a week ago. It took a while because the gas locker sits on the deck but the gas pipe goes under it and once the deck is in place you can’t get to the pipe easily. So I laid the deck boards temporarily and put the locker in place. Screwed the locker to the superstructure then removed the deck from under it while I did the pipework. Then out the boards back and screwed them down (with stainless steel screws naturally). Finally fixed some rubbing strake around the edge. Looks OK I think and feels solid to walk on.

Photo before the rubbing strake was added
Decking Seren (Part3)

Decking Seren (Part3)

I shouldn’t be so cynical, Amazon is still not my favourite retailer but Dino Decking is OK. It’s taking a long time though due to delays caused by weather, family commitments and laziness.

Framework for the new deck

The framework is made from Dino’s joist material. As you can see from the end nearest the camera it is rectangular with two almost square holes running through it. That makes it tricky to join so I made hardwood plugs to fit into the ends and glued and screwed them using Gorilla Glue and stainless steel screws. More glue and screws fixed the frame to the GRP superstructure.

I’m doing the decking now but that has been complicated by having to fit the gas locker on the port side of the deck and run the gas pipe under the deck and into the cabin on the starboard side. Three planks fit from cabin to transom then two cunningly shaped ones will overhang at the stern and stretch right across to the transom corners to make getting on/off as easy as possible. I’ll post more soon.

During the recent rainy season I’ve been getting on panelling the ‘wetroom’. There’ll be a post on that too when it’s finished.

Looks like the trip to Llangollen will start Tuesday 4th or Wednesday 5th of June…

Decking Seren (part 1)

Decking Seren (part 1)

It appears that the Trentcraft 25 was available with outboard or inboard engines. The outboard version just has a well at the stern and a door for access to the engine only. Seren has an inboard engine (in the front cockpit with a long propshaft in the keel). In this version the well is decked over (in GRP) and the deck extended beyond the hull making it easier to get on and off the boat, especially on canals where the towpath is normally about 150mm above the water.

Seren with deck removed

I think Seren has at sometime been shunted from behind because the deck was damaged and bodged with wood and car body filler. As you’d expect the filler cracked and the wood rotted so I’ve removed it all. The photo shows Seren without her rear deck. The lump in the middle is concrete ballast intended, I assume, to compensate for the lack of an outboard on the transom and the presence of a Perkins diesel up front.

You can also see that the original central door has been replaced with a double door which is quite a good idea but not well done. A job for next year. What you can’t see is that the roof has been cut away above the door to enable a sliding hatch, but then someone changed their mind and bodged that with more ply and filler. So add that to the list for next year too.

Meanwhile, the next task is to replace the deck. Having pondered wood (it rots) and GRP (expensive and difficult) I had a brainwave. Make the deck from ‘decking’. Composite decking planks and joists are made from a blend of wood fibre and recycled plastic. They are water resistant and don’t need maintenance beyond an occasional wash.

Got to get on with it because the rear deck is the only BSS-legal place to put a gas locker and I’m off to Llangollen in June…

Amazon-azing

I try not to deal with multi-national tech giants if I can help it, but sometimes Amazon seems to be the obvious choice. Until it all goes wrong.
My boat, Seren, was built in the UK about the time UK industry was shifting to the metric system, but the design predates that and so do many of the components used. The propshaft for example is 1″ in diameter. I’ve replaced the propshaft bearings and was able to buy them locally with no trouble, but the couplings that join sections of the shaft together were loose and I couldn’t find replacements anywhere in the UK. Plenty of metric ones but none with a 1″ bore. Even Ebay couldn’t help.
Eventually I found them on Amazon UK, though they were listed by Amazon US where of course they still use inches.
I ordered them in December. Delivery was estimated at 3 weeks or so. I waited, then around the time they were due I got a delivery.
Not a box with two heavy couplings in, just a lightweight padded envelope. Which was split down one side and empty. The label (from Yodel) looked odd and said it was a reprint. Under it was another label, presumably the original, obviously cut from a carton. I’m guessing someone opened the box, or it was damaged in transit, so they put the items in a ‘Jiffy’ bag and sent them on. But the bag was nothing like strong enough for the items so they fell out.
After explaining all this to Amazon customer services they gave me a refund and suggested I re-order. They gave me a cock and bull story about how they couldn’t replace them because they, ie Amazon UK, didn’t stock them. So I reordered.
And followed the ‘Track your delivery’ page for three weeks until they too were declared lost.
This time I got very cross with customer services and was transferred to a guy with a soothing voice and calm manner. He too refused to replace the items but once again arranged a refund. He also suggested that if I re-ordered immediately while he was watching my account I could opt for fast delivery and he would refund that too. I went to order and noticed the price had increased (Brexit, exchange rate, who knows?) so he made another refund to cover that.
So it all ended happily? No they just got lost quicker. This time I just took the money.
Fortunately someone in the US is now offering similar items at a lower price. If they get lost I might find an engineering company to bore out a pair of Ø25 couplings to 1″. Or buy a lathe and make my own.