Monday, October 29, 2007

Stuck again!

The heading says it all! We have been 'hurrying' (as much we can at 4 mph maximum) since we left Blisworth on Tuesday 23rd, trying to get to London as soon as possible. Been making some quite good progress, too. 72 'lock-miles' in 2½ days averages out to over 28 per day, which represents about 7 hours' cruising.
It can't really feel like a rush at that speed, and it has been interesting to see the Grand Union in different mood from when we came north in early August. The days and nights have been colder, and now the evenings are dark sooner, but many boaters we have met have commented how much they like the canals at this time of year. We agree!

As we climbed the Marsworth locks on Friday morning, we began hearing stories of a broken lock gate further south. Estimates varied as to how long it was going to take British Waterways (BW) to fix it. We heard 3 weeks to start with, then a BW man was quoted as having said one day! We plodded on our way, still trying to make good time but uncertain whether it was going to be a little pointless.

As we came into Berkhamsted, the rumours began to firm up; there were BW notices on the lock gates saying that the canal was closed due to damage at Lock 60. Nothing about how long it would take to fix, though! Apparently one boater had phoned BW and been told 8 days – rather better than 3 weeks!

Our map showed us that Lock 60 is rather out in the countryside and, though it would be nice to be there for a while, we thought it would be more practical to stop just in Berkhamsted, where we could do any necessary shopping and also get to a railway station. So we moored up and did the shopping, then Dave got out his folding bike and cycled down the towpath to check out the situation. Lock 60 is festooned with warning tape, and a closer look makes it obvious that the lock gate is completely unusable.

In the simple engineering of lock gates, the top of the 'heel post' (where it 'hinges' with the lock wall) is held back with a steel collar, well greased and adjusted with locknuts. You can see the collar in the picture, but unfortunately you can also see that the wood it is supposed to hold has rotted right through – one very heavy wooden lock gate hanging off its top hinge!

By this time, late on Friday afternoon, it was too late to phone BW for more information, and their website said the lock was 'closed until further notice'. So we decided to get on a train down to see Shireen for a day or two.

As I write this, then, Val has gone with Shireen to a routine antenatal appointment and I am sitting in the kitchen of their new maisonette in Stoke Newington! I have phoned BW, who say that the replacement lock gate should be fitted on Monday November 5th, so we may be able to travel on the 6th. We aim to head back to Berkhamsted on a train later today or tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Mobile Internet Connection

We have updated this page (August 2012) as things have changed a lot since we first wrote it back in October 2007!  We have kept the old information – if you want to read it, just move down the page.

After more than 4½ years with a Vodafone 'dongle', in October 2011 we changed to '3', as we discovered that our '3' phones often had a signal when we could find NOTHING AT ALL with the Vodafone dongle.  Result – we are very pleased, with the added bonus that we now have up to 15 GB per month, which is five times what we had before.  We signed up to a business deal, as Dave really needs a good connection for the tools business, updating the business website, emails and blog, on top of the normal personal emails and this blog.  '3' seem to do some pretty good personal deals, too, and the coverage seems excellent.

As an extra boost to the dongle's effectiveness, we usually have it on the end of a 5 metre USB extension lead, encased in a sealed plastic bag fixed to the wind turbine mast on the roof.  Probably not often really necessary, as it always works fine when we just stick it in the boat window for a quick connection.

Some time ago, Jeremy helped Dave set up a 'peer to peer' network, which means that anyone who brings their laptop on board can link to the internet through our connection – very useful!

When Val got her own computer in December 2011, of course it was easy for her to get online by just connecting to the network.  Our lovely high monthly allowance means that we don't need to worry about going over the limit, though it might be a problem if we used online TV a lot!

We still use the DUMeter, but it is now more reassuring that we are nowhere near our monthly limit, rather than warning us of going over it!

We have turned off ONSPEED (see below), as the '3' dongle seems to work better without it, and will not renew our subscription.  It was quite helpful at speeding up Vodafone, though!

*    *    *    *    *
Here's the old post from October 2007:-

One of the questions that comes up as we talk to people in our travels is: "How do you manage to do your blog and have e-mail while you are on the move?" Here are some simple explanations:–

First, of course, we need a computer! We have a Dell Inspiron 630m laptop, running Windows XP. Even when we got it in 2006, it was probably not the very latest bit of kit, but it is fine and has more capacity than our desktop which we left in Lapford.
Then we needed some form of mobile modem. Most laptops in recent years have a slot for a PC card, and these are available from several manufacturers. (Left is a picture of Vodafone's model.) Our laptop has a slot for the newer (and smaller) ExpressCard socket instead.

At that time, ExpressCards (see right) were not very easy to find so we had to look for an alternative.

In fact, the alternative proved more versatile than the PC Card or ExpressCard would have been . . . read on!

Any card modem (PC Card or ExpressCard) would need an external aerial to be sure of working inside a narrowboat. That's fine, and cards and aerials are available from various dealers. You can find more information from the very useful BoatersPhone website.
The alternative we found is called a USB Modem. This is a Card Modem that plugs into the USB port of any modern computer (desktop or laptop) and comes complete with two short USB leads. What about the need for an aerial? The USB Modem doesn't have any connection for one, but there is a much simpler solution – we have a long (5 metre) USB lead and started by simply putting the modem out of the window and on the roof of the boat (in a plastic box to protect it from the rain). Now we don't even bother to do that, but slot it in next to a window (inside). Either way, it works brilliantly!

We got ours from Vodafone's online business shop but other providers have also started offering their versions – look around!
Then we have a useful bit of software called ONSPEED. This speeds up our internet connection by compressing the data that we send and receive. By doing that, of course, we are also using less of our monthly allowance. That was more critical when we only had 250 MegaBytes per month. Now, with 3 GigaBytes, there is not much danger of going over the limit, but the extra speed is worthwhile. A very useful upgrade if you haven't got Broadband, and added speed if you have. Their website says: "Using a unique and patented compression technology, ONSPEED increases Dial-up speeds by up to 10 times; Broadband by up to 5 times and Mobile connections (via GPRS/3G) by up to 8 times." To find out more, click here and you will be able to check all the details. If you should decide to buy ONSPEED through this link, we will get our subscription extended as a 'thank you' from ONSPEED – so 'thank you' to you too!

Another bit of useful software is the DU Meter. This accurately logs our internet usage, which was especially useful when our usage was more limited.

Hope some of these ideas may be useful for you if you need mobile internet connection, on a boat or anywhere else!

Monday, October 22, 2007


For a little while, we have been thinking of trying to collect together some pictures of those who have visited us on our travels since March 2007, so here we go! We are trying to include everyone – those whom we saw for a day and those brave souls who joined us for a bit longer!

First of all, our three 'kids', who have put up with (and even encouraged) their crazy parents in this wonderfully hare-brained scheme of exploring the British rivers and canals! Adam and Shireen came with us on our first little 'trial run' in the boat, we met up with Jeremy near Leamington Spa, and they have each joined us for a few days from time to time: Adam on the River Wey near Guildford, Jeremy down the River Nene from Northampton and Shireen as we chugged through London (and a couple of days on the Nene). Here they are helping us to celebrate our 35th anniversary in July, at the White Bear in Rickmansworth.
David and Mary, our friends from Okehampton, were the first (non-family) to join us as guests / crew when we went up the Llangollen Canal in April. They (and Whisk the dog) quickly adapted to canal boating. We won't say anything about the 'falling in' score, except to say that Whisk won!
Our next on-board visitors were Calvin and Miriam from Pennymoor. Partly responsible for re-starting us into boating in 2004, these two are 'old hands', taking their trailable boat to 'detached' waterways that Zindagi will never reach, like the 'Mon and Brec' in Wales. Travelling with them down the southern section of the Oxford Canal in May was good fun, though they found out the hard way that the towpath is not often good enough for cycling!

In the month or so that we spent on the Thames, we only had a couple of visitors. Jenny came with us for a few days upstream from Marlow and then down to Maidenhead, where this picture was taken with Val and Jenny's sister.

Then, while were waiting to go up the River Wey, Neil and Jenny joined us for an afternoon 'spin' down the Thames from Shepperton to Taggs Island and back.

Once on the Wey, we had Adam with us for a few days and a little rush of visitors at the same time!
First Mike and Kerstin joined us at Guildford and brought Divakaran with them, an old friend from India. Somehow Mike avoided being photographed!

Then Terry (Val's brother) and Di also joined us for a meal in Guildford. Not enough time for any travelling afloat, but we did have time for a 'cuppa' on board together!
Brian (Di's brother) and Diane cycled along the towpath to meet us at the top of Deepcut locks on the Basingstoke Canal, and we enjoyed a couple of days with them, shopping and eating out . . .
More family visits as Shireen (complete with 'bump') joined us in London on our way out to the River Lee and Stort, and Peter (Dave's brother) and Joy came with us from Sheering Mill Lock to Bishop's Stortford and back – a good day's distraction from their busy lives!
Then, on the Lee, we met up with Jenny again, and Polly, another of Val's college friends who lives in Hertford.

Alan and Barbara were the only ones of our Romford friends who could make it over to the Lee while we were there. As a former Chief Engineer, Alan has been used to much larger vessels!

Back west of London, before we headed north on the Grand Union, just time to fit in a day with Paul (Val's nephew) and Caroline, Billy and Tom.

Just 'up the line', we met up with our Indian friends, Sam and Sumana, who were staying with Jeanette in Rickmansworth. Jeanette joined us for a few days' relaxing (?) boating after they left.

Jonny and Sue came with us for a week's trip from Norton Junction up to Leicester and back. In this picture, is Sue checking to see whether Jonny is steering straight?

Various visits from Adam, Jeremy and Shireen as we travelled through London in November, but we didn't take any photos. Our new grandson hadn't visited the boat yet, but he made his appearance before too long!
We had a very welcome visit from David and Gwenda at the end of November, when they nipped over from Romford to see us on the River Lee at Dobb's Weir. Again, we didn't take a photo then, but here's one of them on board our 'share' boat back in March 2005.

Our onboard family get-together in Berkhamsted on 27th December didn't feature turkey or Christmas pudding, but we did all enjoy a Chinese takeaway!

. . . and of course the star appearance of 2007 was our grandson Thor, who arrived on 12th November and has already visited us on board a couple of times – with Shireen, of course!

We expect to add to this page as we meet up with more friends in our travels. We look forward to seeing all these faces again, and some more fresh ones – yours, perhaps?

And, just in case you've forgotten what we look like, here's a picture of us that Shireen took back in July 2007.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Still waiting . . . not much longer !

We are still 'stuck' here in Blisworth, but we are glad that we chose to stop here and neither further on nor further back. There are obvious reasons:– Blisworth has a Post Office and general store, it is not so canal-tourist-conscious as nearby Stoke Bruerne and we thought it was probably a bit more accessible for the washing machine engineer!

Less obvious are the good bus connections to Northampton and Towcester, a very helpful boatyard and (best surprise of all) good fellowship at a lively Baptist chapel in the village.

Not expecting to be here so long, we had not reckoned on having to fill up with water and diesel, nor on needing to do another 'launderette wash', but all of these have proved possible at the boatyard – though the wash was more of a personal favour by the lady in charge – many thanks!

The bus took Dave into Northampton to replace our defunct microwave, and we used it again on Thursday to go to Towcester for a bit of supermarket shopping.

We visited the Baptist chapel here and were made very welcome, at both the Sunday morning meeting and the Tuesday night Bible study. Three different sets of people have offered us the use of their washing machine! As they have said (and we agree) 'we hope your washing machine is fixed soon, but we won't be too sorry if it isn't, so you will be with us a bit longer!' Even if we DO move on soon, we shall probably see them all before too long when we head north again.

In the meanwhile, going on waiting for the engineer, we have continued to enjoy this village, with its enormous canalside mill (now flats),

the Royal Oak pub (good Sunday lunch) and its characteristic ironstone and sandstone houses.

Any hope of getting to London by the 20th or so has obviously evaporated! If Shireen needs her urgently, Val could always hop on a train. Seems like we may be most useful AFTER the baby has been born, in any case. Shireen seems very relaxed about it!

GREAT NEWS! We have now been told that we will be getting a replacement washing machine delivered on Tuesday morning, so we hope to move on later that day or Wednesday, trying to cover the distance to London as fast as we can! As far as we can see, it is about 70 miles and 77 locks to 'Bull's Bridge' at Southall on the edge of London, then about another 13 miles (0 locks) in to Paddington Basin. 160 'lock-miles' – should take about 8 days or so, maybe less if we can chug along all day, every day!

In the last few days, the weather has changed and we have been glad of our little woodburning stove and the central heating system. It has been nice and snug in the boat but getting more wintry outside – just the opportunity to share with you some of the beauty of the canal on a misty autumn morning!
Sue of 'No Problem' has passed on a way to get the British Waterways map to work, so that is operational again. Thanks, Sue! See her blog as well!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Technical Question Time?

It was only when we had moored up in Northampton that we realised that we had just gone through our 1000th lock. Something of a milestone, perhaps?

We found the much-needed launderette, did the necessary and started out on our way again. The washing machine engineers' area included the whole of Northamptonshire, so we could travel quite a little way down the Grand Union towards London before Tuesday, the earliest that we could expect to hear that the replacement motor had arrived. What had seemed like a fairly leisurely trip down to London was already beginning to get a bit tight!

So, after almost exactly 2 weeks on the River Nene, we set out under Northampton's South Bridge to rejoin the canal system and climb up the 17 locks and 5 miles of the Northampton Arm up to Gayton Junction on the Grand Union. Coming back to 'the system' always feels like coming home to familiar territory.

Better still, the narrow locks are much easier to work and close enough together to be able to start emptying the lock above whilst still filling the lock the boat is in. We were even faster up the hill than we were coming down a fortnight earlier – but still not FAST, as our 'record speed' was the staggering 6.55 lock-miles per hour! We usually add the locks and miles together, as it takes about as long to go through a lock as it does to travel a mile. Our overall average speed to date is 3.72 lock-miles per hour, so you can see that 6.55 l-m/hr really felt pretty quick!

This climb up to the 'main line' took us under the M1 and past some restored lift bridges and we moored overnight half a mile before Gayton Junction to avoid the worst of the noise from the nearby A43.

Then left at the junction to head towards London . . . BUT we were still waiting for the washing machine engineer, so we couldn't go too far. We settled on stopping at Blisworth, just north of one of the wettest tunnels. A much quieter village than Stoke Bruerne (south of the tunnel), but with a Post Office and general store – and still within Northamptonshire!

You may remember that we have had the occasional battle with our diesel-fired hob, as it has been sooting-up more and more frequently and we have had quite a protracted 'conversation' with the dealers about trying to resolve the problem. Well, at last some good news! The dealers agreed to replace the hob with a new one, but we still have to resolve whether the pipework was incorrectly installed and contributed to the failure. If so (and it seems likely), it will mean that we have to re-install the pipework to the proper specification. We have the new hob now, but have not connected it up to the old pipework until the questions are resolved.

More good news on the technical front. The receipt for our (now defunct) microwave finally arrived (no thanks to the postal strike, but with real thanks to Shireen), so we were able to take microwave and receipt on the bus in to Comet in Northampton, returning with a brand new replacement.

So, once the washing machine is fixed and the diesel hob questions completely resolved, our technical delays should be over and we shall be able to 'speed' down to London, hopefully arriving before our first grandchild does!

More technical problems, though! It seems that our useful link to the British Waterways map doesn't work as it should. We are not alone, other bloggers have found the same. We have e-mailed British Waterways about it and hope that they will be able to resolve it soon.

Down the Nene to Peterborough – and Back!

We could subtitle this chapter as 'The Mobile Washing Machine Repair' or 'Hunt the Launderette', as we are still without a functioning washing machine. As promised, the repair man came to us at Norton Junction on the 21st and identified the problem – or so he thought! He needed to order a new circuit board, and his firm would phone us when it was in. All we had to do was stay in the area they covered! We were planning to go down the Nene towards Peterborough, would that be OK? Yes, no problem, so off we set!
A couple of years ago, when our 'share' boat was based at Gayton (near Northampton), I (Dave) had wandered down the first few locks of the little 'Northampton Arm' of the Grand Union for my morning walk. Narrow locks – always my favourite and a welcome change from the wide ones on the Grand Union 'Main Line'. So now we were on our way down them and planning to sample the unknown territory of the River Nene!

Meanwhile, Jeremy had a few days' leave after a busy trip to Africa, and his birthday was imminent, so he decided to cycle down to Northampton (from Coventry!) to join us for a few days. Adam was going to be away, but Shireen had a couple of days to spare and arrived in Northampton on the same day.

So, four on board and on to the Nene! First of all, we discovered that its name is different depending on where you are. Spelt the same, but pronounced differently. On the western bit, until roughly the town of Thrapston, it is pronounced 'Nen' (to rhyme with 'hen'). Further east (and everywhere else it seems) it is pronounced 'Neen' (rhyming with 'green').

And then the locks are different. The top gates look much the same, though they often have excess water cascading over them. The bottom gates are replaced by a single steel guillotine gate on a high steel framework. These all used to be manually operated with a hand wheel (see Jeremy at work) but now most of these have been replaced with electrical (but very slow) machinery.

And then there are all the mills along the river! Some are modest, some are grand, but certainly most of them are interesting. Here is one at Doddington and another at Oundle.

We could also do a series of pictures of the various church towers and spires – Northamptonshire is apparently known as the 'county of squires and spires'! – but we'll just give you the most well-known one, Fotheringay – more like a small cathedral!

. . . and so on down to Peterborough, where we were able to moor right on the embankment – and found a launderette! We had a look at the completely different appearance of the Nene east of Peterborough, just a few hundred yards from our mooring: bleak and bare, just a flood water drain to the sea, not the lovely wooded river we had been enjoying. Quite an amazing change! Another branch can take you to the Rivers Great Ouse and Cam – maybe another time?

Time then to head back to Northampton, and hopefully to catch up with the elusive washing machine repair man! We had covered the last few miles down into Peterborough quite quickly in the pouring rain, so a welcome change in the weather meant that we could now take our time and enjoy the riverside scenery in autumn sunshine. At one of the locks, we even had to share the landing stage with the local Morris dancers!

There are some really beautiful places along this river. We couldn't help making comparisons with the Rivers Thames, Wey, Lee and Stort. Yes, there are similarities, but each one is unique. We have enjoyed the old bridges, like the Nine Arches at Thrapston, and the long lines of poplars which feel almost like something out of Rick Stein's adventures in France.

And then, suddenly, a phone call from the washing machine people! The needed circuit board had arrived, so could we make an appointment for Mark the engineer to call? It had just worked out well, so we chugged into Wellingborough on the Wednesday morning in time for our afternoon appointment. He came, fitted the new board, and found that the problem was elsewhere. We needed a new motor! So he phoned his office. 'No problem', his colleague said, 'we'll order one up and it should be here by Friday'. So, we said 'See you Friday' to Mark and went out into the countryside for a couple of days. Back early on the Friday, waiting for the phone call to say that the part was in – nothing! So we phoned later in the day and asked what had happened. 'Oh, there was no chance that those parts would arrive by today. It will be Tuesday now'.

So all we could do was try to find a launderette again! We never expected the internet to be so useful for laundry! There were a couple in Northampton, so we could stop there on our way through and still stay in the firm's area for Tuesday. The saga continues . . .