2016 06 20 Newsletter – Engine Leaks, Barbed Wire and Lost Data


Please accept my apologies for the missing newsletter last week, and the lateness, brevity and lack of photo’s in this one. I’m in the village of Westenschouwen on an island on the Netherlands north west coast fifty miles from Rotterdam. I’ve been battling with technology again and losing.

I’ve just transferred livingonanarrowboat.co.uk to a more reliable and lower cost web host here in the UK. The transfer has taken a great deal of effort over the last week so, coupled with preparing for our imminent wedding, I haven’t had much time for anything else.

To add to my frustration, my carefully researched internet connectivity plans have failed. I should be able to connect to the internet through my Three MiFi dongle, but I’ve run out of data. The problem has been caused by using the device abroad, but according to Three’s website, I should be able to use the service as normal.

Topping up my data usually involves simply logging onto Three’s website and parting with some cash. Because I’m in the Netherlands, the system appears to have failed. I will have to phone them today to sort it out which, as usual, will involve talking to operators on the other side of the world. In the meantime, I can only connect to the internet when I’m on a campsite. We are trying to avoid spending money on sites wherever possible, but the expense is a necessary evil at the moment.

Anyway, that’s the current situation, so on with my brief newsletter. I promise to do better next week.

I completed the last of my June discovery days on Thursday. I thoroughly enjoyed two weeks of gentle cruising too and from Braunston, and chatting with a diverse group of boating enthusiasts as we travelled.

The journey can be very different depending on the time of year, weather and public and school holidays. During the winter months we rarely pass another moving boat over our seven hour cruising day. In June, the story is very different.

There are over 2,000 boats moored in ten marinas within a ten mile radius of my base at Calcutt Boats, and there are an additional 200 hire boats in the area. The summer route is as busy as it is fascinating, especially at the weekends when many novice hire boat crews venture onto the cut for the first time.

On one cruise last Sunday we were on the home stretch a quarter of a mile from Calcutt Top lock. Calcutt Boats give very thorough instructions to their hire boat crews, each lasting between an hour and an hour and a half. These instructions include essential engine checks, internal cabin equipment operation, weed hatch operation and safety and, finally, actual helmsmanship and lock negotiation as they are guided through one of the locks either side of Calcutt Boats’ wharf and then, if they are heading towards Napton junction, three hundred metres of boat steering. The helmsmanship training might not sound enough to equip holiday hirers to safely handle twenty tonnes of steel, but it’s more than most hire companies offer.

Unfortunately, hire companies don’t have the resources to take longer with each instruction, not that more time would be of much use. Holiday hirers have often driven for three or four hours after a very early start before they arrive at their holiday accommodation. They’re often tired when they arrive, so they aren’t in the best frame of mind to focus on what the instructor has to say. The more information they are given, the more they appear to glaze over.

On Sunday, I saw one such travel weary and novice helmsman steer across the canal to the towpath to let the instructor in his high visibility yellow jacket step off. He then stayed on the wrong side of the canal and headed straight towards me.

My helmsman’s first instinct was to swerve onto the opposite side of the canal to avoid the oncoming boat. I told him to maintain his course so that the novice helmsman quickly approaching us would learn which side of the canal to drive on before he progressed any further down the cut.

The hire boat continued heading towards us before violently swerving back onto the correct side of the canal. As the puzzled middle aged man drew level with us, he asked us what we were doing. I pointed out that, on the waterways, we drive on the right. He looked at his wife for confirmation who shrugged her shoulders. A sheepish grin and he was on his way. This time firmly on the right side of the canal.

Over the last fortnight I’ve welcomed two different sets of South African guests on board. As usual with anyone from that part of the world, especially if they are from Johannesburg, they have tales to tell of life behind bars in secure compounds and high crime and extreme violence on the streets. Robbery at gunpoint is common and carjacking is an everyday occurrence. Car owners leave spaces between their vehicles at traffic lights to facilitate a speedy escape and windows are wound down slightly to prevent them being shattered by the spark plugs that many car jackers carry.

Crime is rife, but the culprits aren’t always human.

One guest told me how useful my newsletter had been several years ago when I wrote about my ongoing battle with Canada geese.

Canada geese are a nuisance. Each goose eats four pounds of grass every day. Each goose drops three pounds of it from their rear end. A large flock can make a very unpleasant mess in a very short period.

The newer of Calcutt Boats’ two marinas, Meadows marina, is a perfect haven for these birds. There are six quiet acres of water with a half acre island covered in succulent grass. Over one hundred birds landed a few years ago and refused to leave.

I tried everything I could think of to drive them away. I used a narrowboat we kept on the marina for winter ice breaking to chase them. They simply swam out of the way or waddled out of the water on to the island. I tied the boat onto the island jetty and ran screaming through the island trees to scare them off. The birds simply waddled back into the water again. I even plucked the horse chestnuts off the island trees to throw at them. The geese weren’t bothered at all.

I considered using a variety of bird scarers to drive them away, but I didn’t want to drive away the marina’s established coots, moorhens, grebes, swans and mallards. I even considered shooting the geese, but that suggestion didn’t go down too well with the marina management.

Russ, one of Calcutt’s fitters, suggested an effective solution. He told me that he’d heard of carp fishermen frightening geese away from their bait using laser pens.

I ordered a military grade green laser from a Chinese seller on eBay. The device had a range of up to a mile so I was warned to be careful where I pointed it, especially if aircraft were flying overhead.

On a cold October evening I stood in the dark on the end of my pier with my fully charged laser pen. A quick button press sent a line of brilliant green light flashing across the marina. One hundred geese honked nervously and instantly took flight, heading for nearby Napton marina.

The laser pen never failed on dark winter nights. It wasn’t quite so effective during the lighter summer months, but as the main geese influx was during the autumn, summer scaring wasn’t really necessary. The laser pen was a very effective and harmless deterrent.

My South African guest also had a problem with unwanted visitors, but they weren’t geese. He had monkeys invading his garden. They stole everything they could carry away with them, including items from his house. He purchased a laser pen similar to mine in a desperate attempt to chase his tormentors away. The deterrent worked perfectly. His life is now monkey free.

I had a couple of boat based problems to solve at the end of the week. I had two separate engine room leaks.

The first was a steady trickle of water from the stern gland which remained regardless of the grease I pumped into it. I tried tightening the coupling, but it wouldn’t move. The stern gland needed repacking, but I didn’t have the tools to do it myself.

The stern gland was last repacked in May last year, but after 1,400 hours cruising since then, it needed doing again.

I also had an engine cooling system leak. I steady drip was emptying three or four litres out of the system during each discovery day. Topping the header tank up every morning was no problem, but the leak had resulted in me losing all of my anti freeze. I suppose I could have tried to deal with it myself but, again, I didn’t have the tools or the confidence to attempt the repair myself. I had visions of pulling the pipe off completely and dumping my keel tank contents into the bilge.

I have been very lucky in the past with the service given to me by Calcutt Boats. They often struggle to fit me in for non essential additions and modifications, but they have always managed to accommodate me at short notice if I have an engine problem.

Back in the marina on Thursday morning I drove my boat to the back of the engineering workshop on my way to work. I was back there for a day before setting off to meet Cynthia in Calais the following day. By lunch time both leaks were cured so I could relax while I was away from the marina for a couple of weeks.

I spent my first and last day working at the marina moving boats and doing a host of little jobs which makes earning a crust at Calcutt Boats so enjoyable. After work I began the laborious job of transferring all of life’s essentials for a two week stay away from the boat.

At the crack of dawn on Friday morning I headed south to Folkestone and my appointment with the 11.35am Eurostar train to Calais. This was my first trip through the channel tunnel. I was able to appreciate the vehicle holding area for an hour longer than usual due to stringent checks being carried out on English football fans travelling to the continent. Much as I enjoyed the view from the car park, I was pleased to be called for the train queue.

Have you been on the vehicle transport chunnel train? It’s quite an experience. Vehicles enter from the rear of the train, then drive forward from carriage to carriage until the train is filled. The train is so big I felt as though I was driving through the tunnel itself.

The journey is both smooth and swift. I barely had time to settle down with a good book before the row of vehicles in front of me moved off.

The security measures on the French side of the tunnel are as impressive as they are an eyesore. Miles upon endless mile of high barbed wire topped fencing stretched into the distance. The terminus has more of a feel of a prison camp than a gateway to Europe.

My first and most important task on French soil was to pick Cynthia up from Calais Frethun rail station. I had checked my TomTom sat nav the previous night to make sure that it had the station listed. It did. I was a little nervous for a few minutes when the sat nav directed me onto a series of motorways for the four mile journey, but I was parked in the station car park within ten minutes of setting off.

Earlier in the week I posted a query on a popular motorhome forum. I wanted to know if I would be able to park the motorhome close enough to the station to collect Cynthia. I was assured that the large car park there would be mostly empty. It wasn’t. The car park was packed and, because the French pay lip service to motoring rules and regulations of any kind, the car park was a free for all. Vehicles were jammed into spaces barely large enough for a supermarket shopping trolley. More cars were parked on the pavement than in dedicated parking bays. When in Rome…

I left the Hymer almost out of the way of oncoming traffic for the ten minutes I took to find Cynthia. Fortunately both Cynthia and the train were on time. Fortunately because neither of our phones worked even though I thought I had altered the settings for working abroad.

To be Continued…

I had much more to write about this week, but I’ve run out of time. It’s 5.30am on a rainy Monday morning. Cynthia and I have to meet Cynthia’s brother Jeff at 11.00am fifty miles away in Rotterdam city centre. Our phones aren’t working properly and we don’t have an internet connection. We don’t know where we can park, or how to get in touch with Jeff if he’s not at the agreed meeting point. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll let you know how we fared next week.

New Web Site Hosting

I’ve written many times about the cost of hosting this site and the problems I’ve had with a variety of well known and well respected web hosts. The fees charged by my recent host were just too much to bear. Following extensive research and one or two recommendations from tech savvy site users, I’ve moved the site to a new host.

The new host has a reputation for reliability and excellent technical support. The site has now been transferred to the new server here in the UK, so you should find that it loads much faster.
There may be a very brief problem with data loss over the next twenty four hours as the settings which display the site in your browser take effect. You will only be affected if you add posts to the forum either today or tomorrow. Other than that, the only difference you should notice is faster page loading. If you do experience any problems, please let me know.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

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For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

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Each time I write a newsletter, I tick another subject off the list of things which those new to boating have told me that they want to read about. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content for each issue. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.

Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.

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Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.