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 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 (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…

Day 2. Hardly boring at all.

Last year we brought Seren up the New Bedford river partly to save time,  we’d had enough by then,  partly because I’d missed it 30 years previous due to tides and a lock keeper who didn’t think we’d want to go that way. It rained the whole way and yes the NB is boring, especially the lower half. Today was different.

Left Earith at 10.00. Turned into the NB in the teeth of a strong northly wind. About 10.10 the engine overheated due to a leak in my DIY hot water system. Stopped the engine and pointed Seren at the bank. Not that I needed to, the wind spun the boat round and held it tight on the SE bank. I let the engine cool while I disconnected my dodgy plumbing, then refilled it and restarted it. Lost a few minutes but no harm done.

But the wind was holding us tight against the bank. Very tight. All my work with our lightweight boat hook got me about 10 metres along the bank but no further away. Then the prop fouled with weed. Cleared that and tried again until one last move brought us alongside a load of debris which miraculously included a 2.4m long pole probably dropped by a boater in similar straits. Almost makes up for losing the key yesterday. With a lot of punting I eventually got free then had fun trying to turn into the wind. So it turned into an hour delay.

The wind was hellish, on the exposed stretches, most of tne NB, it whipped up some fair waves and being gusty it made steering difficult.

Near Manea I stopped under a bridge and tied the front rope to a bridge support. Stopping anywhere else was impossible. Grabbed a sandwich I’d made earlier and made a coffee. Went to untie the rope and the very end got snagged leaving us blown backwards dangling on the end. At which point the engine control vibrated loose. So no power. It’s just a nut on the end of the cable, but what a time to choose. I found a spare and fitted it OK while we bounced around on the waves and swung on the rope.

Carefully motored forward and freed the rope. Pressed on, saw most of my coffee had slopped out of the mug. Next stop Salter’s Lode.

Got there at 3.30.Unbelievably calm in the lock after all the buffetting on the river.

Still cold and windy on Well Creek, not as bad as NB but bad enough. Stopped at Outwell for the night. Early start tomorrow the only time the lock keeper at Stanground will let me through is 2.30 and it’s quite a way from here.

Day 1

Long day. I left Kelpie at 09.00 and had one of those days. Every lock set against me except St Ives. Two were even worse than that because a bunch of young lads in a day boat kept leaving the slackers (paddles) open. Then I lost my EA key, probably at Houghton lock.Realised when I gotto Hemingford. Fortunately a couple I’d met at Houghton locked through with me and I got to Jones’ in time to buy a new key. Ten quid!

Still, made it so far. Just the New Bedford tomorrow and only one lock at Salters’ Lode. Time for dinner…

Update after dinner: Hot water system fail. Barrel gets hot but when it cools the water contracts and the barrel is squeezed out of shape. Then the lid’s seal fails and it leaks. I thought the pump would allow water to be drawn in but it doesn’t. A centrifugal pump might be better. And a stronger tank. Version 2…