Daisypath - Anniversary

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A Cover up.

On our long trip up from Crick to Tattenhall last year we both got extremely wet as the heavens opened as we cruised through Tixall wide. This meant frantically closing up the rear doors and pulling the hatch too to avoid getting everything soaked in the back cabin (AmyJo has a large wide hatch). This made access to the throttle more difficult and ended up with me soaked through despite putting on a coat and hat. I don't mind getting wet but when it is also cold I think you would agree it is no longer fun. 

With that episode out of the way we decided it was time to have a pram hood installed. After looking on tinterweb and visiting Crick show this year we bought a cover from Kinver Canopies.  Last month Stuart came along,measured up and installed the frames.

The Frames being installed
Templates being cut to size
 A few weeks later Tristan arrived with our new cover and set about installing it.  They managed to find the same colour material as the cratch cover so all matched up nicely.

First the roof panel is added
Then the removable side panels are fitted
Almost complete
and the finished cover.  You can see all the solar panels in this shot.
Originally I wanted a cover that could quickly be raised and lowered but still offer protection from the rain. Once installed I was not sure how easy our new cover would be to raise and lower when cruising so, last Saturday, we took AmyJo the short distance up the cut to the Cheshire Cat for lunch, winded then returned to the mooring in the evening. Wary at first I kept the cover down through bridges but using my arm to touch the underside of the bridges I estimated all but one would allow AmyJo to pass under with the cover up. The one I would have to lower the cover being the one just up stream of the marina entrance by the winding 'ole.

I found provided the side panels were removed the roof of the cover kept things sufficiently dry but meant the whole structure could be held up by just two pop studs which, when released, allowed a quick drop of the cover. Once clear pulling the cover up and snapping the studs back into place we would be covered again. We also found it offered protection against the cold wind if cruising into wind. Of course the intention will be to cruise cover always down unless rain becomes heavy but its nice to know shelter is to hand if needed.

An added bonus is that the back of the cover, when zipped down, over laps the hatch and although allowing air to enter it stops the draughts when the wind picks up which it turn helps to keep the cabin warmer. Storm Abigail is due tomorrow (Thursday) so we'll see what affect having the cover does when its really windy. 

 Here's hoping everyone has a safe mooring and weathers the winds over the next few days without incident.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Solar panels and top box.

Warning - a slightly techy feel to this post.

When Chris and I retire we want to go long term cruising and considered having Solar panels fitted to supplement our charging requirements for the batteries. 

Like most people we love our electronics gismos like mobile phones, laptops and such. All these take power and need charging so we knew AmyJo's power bank would need to be capable of supporting this. We had 6, 110ah batteries installed when she was built giving a total of 330ah of power at 24volts. Up to now this has coped quite well but we do spend a lot of time hooked up to the marina electrics to be fair.

Our recent trip to the river Weaver highlighted the fact that unless we cruise for at least 5 hours ever day our batteries last barely 2 days before running low even when we are carefull with consumption. Monitoring the consumption we reckon we are using roughly 4amps of power on average which is quite high. This is down to the 240volt fridge and our need to charge phones, the internet wifi router (on a timer) and laptop use (I confess we are heavy internet users to keep in contact with family and friends). We do charge everything whilst cruising and the engine running and do everything we can to minimise power use where we can when moored. If we decide to stay put for a while this would mean running the engine a fair amount to keep the batteries fully charged. 

We looked at Solar panels as an option at Crick boat show and eventually placed an order to have them fitted. We also concidered how they would be fitted as neither Chris nor I wanted to use the normal brackets and have a line of panels running along the roof. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that mind, its just we do not like that look. After much research we settled on flexible 100watt panels. We ordered four with a view to having them wired to give 200watt for our 24volt system. In actual fact fitting an MPPT controller meant we could have them wired up in series which is giving around 88volts on a bright sunny day and let the controller regulate the voltage to the batteries so 3.4amps has been achieved at times. I am now researching how I can set them up to pass the excess voltage to the inverter for mains use when the batteries are fully charged. That's a bit techy so I'll not bore you with that but it can be done with the Victron inverter assistant settings apparently.

Our 100watt flexible panels are like this one

If you have ever researched solar panels the common advise seems to be they work best when tilted towards the sun, makes perfect sense to me. I took that into account and had two mounted on a home made top box to allow them to be tilted whilst the other two remained glued to the deck. This way when you see AmyJo you can barely see the panels unless the ones on the top box are tilted. Whilst not giving us 100% performance we still get good charging rates from them. We can also lift the deck ones onto another box later should we choose to do so at a later date.

The top box.

Our roof box, whilst admittedly not the cheapest to make, is, hopefully, almost maintenance free. Being made from uPVC soffet and fascia boards it only needs a clean now and again, with no need for painting or wood treatment. The inspiration for the box material came thanks to Barry on nb AreandAre. (click). He has made several storage roof boxes the same way and as we thought this was a great idea we set too to do the same. Thanks Barry for letting me have a look at yours. Being lightweight it remains to be seen how it fairs in strong winds but with the stuff we have put in it I doubt it would budge.

The boards were sourced from B&Q and are 1.2m by 440mm in size, used for the base and lids whilst one 2m length of 220mm fascia served for the sides. The good thing about the soffet boards are they have a 30mm lip at 90degrees to the surface which, when two boards are placed back to back, makes bolting them together a breeze. Two more boards were shaped for the ends at 900mm wide and their lips enabled them to be easily bolted to the base boards. The sides were then fashioned from the fascia board with 50mm X 50mm timber used as legs to bolt them to the ends and raise the box to clear the curve of the roof. An additional feature is the 30mm lip acts as a great drip rail for the outer lid which I purposely made wider to over hang the box sides by adding another 100mm length of board making the width 540mm for each lid.

The base of the box under construction and almost complete

The lids required a bit of thought and I confess not being an engineer, it took me a long time to come up with a working solution. I wanted to be able to tilt the solar panels but still keep the contents of the box secure. The answer was to have double lids each side. The difficulty was how to hinge them. The solar panels are glued onto the upper or outer lid and this is hinged to allow up to 60 degree tilt. A strip of 20mm aluminium angle drilled at regular intervals and rod at each end serves as the support and allows the tilt angle to be adjusted. The angle bar is mounted on a lower second lid that when shut can be padlocked for security. We found we could still open this even when the solar panel is raised and tilted which is a bonus. The box is secured by the padlock but being plastic could be easily broken into so only low value items like the washing line, folding chairs and fenders are stored within.

If I say so myself I'm quite pleased with the result.  I just realised these are the only decent pictures I have so will take some more for my next post

The finished box complete with solar panels, just need to tidy up the cables a bit more.

Panels in the tilted position, the bungee on left corner holds them in place to protect them from the wind.

The only down side at the moment is that to allow room to open and tilt the panels I have had to space them apart at the hinge side leaving a trough running down the length and at the top of the box. Currently I cannot think of a good way to make this water tight and still allow the lids to pivot but for now a good layer of white duck tapes seems to work well until a more suitable alternative can be found. Any Suggestions on this would be welcomed.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Holiday ends and everything hits us at once.

Hi all,

Sorry for suddenly dropping out of sight for a while. Since we got back from our River Weaver cruise everything has come at us at once so we have not had time to draw breath. To make matter's worse our bank manager has now taken us of his Christmas card list.

So where to begin.....

We left Middlewich and was surpised to find very few boats queuing at the locks for a Saturday only having one boat ahead of us but plenty coming the other way. As the locks were in our favour this meant we made Barbridge by 3pm and was lucky to moor outside the Barbridge Inn.  We booked a table for evening meal and spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning AmyJo.  During our meal that night the rain started and a spectacular thunder storm with lots of lightning passed through.  Note to self don't clean the boat again!

Our last day out, Sunday, started off fine but as the day wore on the black clouds became our companions.  It was not long before a heavy shower hit us.  As luck would have it we had just stopped at the Shady Oak, mooring right outside, and was inside having lunch.  Seems our run of good weather was over.

We made it back to Tattenhall to be informed by Amy that the builders we booked to do our front room wanted to start work as soon as possible i.e Monday.  They were taking down the ceiling, putting up larger rafters, plaster-boarding the ceiling, then plastering it and all the walls.  It was a case jumping straight into the car and off to the house to move all the furniture out of the room into our bedroom as quick as possible.

Rafters to be added to beef up and straighten
the sagging ceiling

New electrics and fire place going in

Hall re plastered

The end result in the front room

and hall

Whilst this was going on you will recall our batteries were having problems holding a charge.  I managed to get a load tester and found four of the 6 were no good.  Nothing for it but to order six new ones.  We decided this time to upgrade to AGMs.  The cost meant no Christmas card for us this year from the bank manager but never mind.  We think what happened is the batteries were discharged too low as we were not cruising more than 2 hours every other day and they did not recover from that.  An expensive lesson learned.  Monitor my battery state more closely!

To add to this our solar panel fitter announced he was fit for work at last and could he come and install the solar panels which he did on Tuesday.  This meant I had to finish off the top box to take two of the panels.  I'll post on this later.

On 7th October AmyJo was lifted out of the water and we spent the week having her bottom blacked and a few other jobs done.  We have also had a bracket welded on the stern to allow a car tow ball to be mounted.  This will facilitate a bike rack to be set-up.  I don't like the bikes on the roof as Chris cannot see over them.  At the same time I touched up the gunwales and tunnel bands plus a few minor rust spots here and there.

AmyJo's hull after power washing.  Not too bad but plenty of bare steel

Blacking begins

Dave hard at work putting on the second coat of blacking

Gunwales sanded and ready for a coat of Epithanes

Freshly painted Tunnel bands and the new Bike rack bracket welded in place

All spruced up and ready to go back in
Back to the batteries.  Whilst replacing these with Rolls AGM 115AH ones, I took the opportunity to upgrade our blue VE.Net display to the new colour control GX as this allows the Solar controller to be connected to it so the charge from the panels can be seen on the display.  The new colour control needed a different battery monitor to the blue panel so one of these was also to be added.  This will upgrade AmyJo's electrics to the latest Victron control systems and add the solar panel display so we'll be able to report back on their output.  One good outcome of all this is I'm getting to know exactly how AmyJo's electrical system works.

The batteries arrived a few days later so we arranged to move AmyJo onto the visitors mooring.  The reason was the batteries were delivered to the house.?  At 72lb (30kg) each they are heavy to carry so we loaded 3 each into our cars and transported them to AmyJo, having only a short walk to get them to her stern.

I then removed the old batteries 2 at a time replacing them with two new ones.  It was time to reconnect everything up and it was then I hit a snag.  The pos and neg posts on the new batteries are slightly further apart and this meant the cables were too short.  The solution was to turn every other battery round 180 degrees so its neighbour's post was closer.  AmyJo has a 24volt system so this meant wiring 2 batteries as a pair together in series then each of the 3 pairs in parrallel ( sorry for the techy explanation here).

The new batteries in place

Eventually, after all that heaving and cursing and huffing and puffing, I turned the isolator switch on and AmyJo burst into life with everything working fine.  Final job was to hook up the invertor via the USB interface to my laptop and calibrate it to charge AGM batteries instead of lead acid ones (not for the faint hearted and done with Fernwoods electrician on the phone to assist).  If you are not electrically minded I would not recommend doing this on your own.

We're now monitoring the voltage and once the batteries have had a good charge to settle them in we'll disconnect the mains and let them discharge as recommended by the manufacturer.  This helps improve battery efficiency and prolong their life.

The last job to do was to replace the VB.net blue controller display with the new colour display so we can see the solar panel performance as well.  This was delayed as I found out our current battery monitor is not compatible with the colour display so had to order a new later version.  This duly arrived so I got on and replaced everything.

The new display shows the output from the Solar panels nicely
I wonder, is life as hectic when you retire? I do so hope not.

Thats all for now.  Next post I'll update you on our solar panels and the other new addition added to AmyJo.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Weaver Trip Day 12 - High speed washing machine man.

We definitely know we're back on the canals as we moored up at 4pm as boats were still passing as late as 9pm.  Our mooring overnight was OK but I broke our club hammer (or thumping thingy as Chris called it) banging in the pins so a new one needed to be sourced.  Likely our axe has a hammer top so that was pressed into service.

Our mooring last night near Marbury.
 We are beginning to wonder if summer is over as the leaves were starting to fall and trees are changing colour.  This morning AmyJo was covered in leaves.  Are we in for a winter like that in 2010 I wonder?

Our trip down to Middlewich was pretty non de-script except for a few instances.  The first was a near head on collision at a bridge 'ole.  We were just going through slowly when we heard a horn and a bow appeared.  Another boat was streaming straight at us coming round the bend and just stopped in time. 

Many boats lined to tow path making the going slow.

These old posts went on for some time and must have been part of an extensive wharf
Next we passed through a very industrial section with the processing plant both sides of the cut and pipe bridges everywhere .  The smell was non to good neither.

Large works span the cut and yes this boat did want all the canal swerving out of our way at the last minute. her crew scowling at us as they passed.  We managed to squeeze through the gap as they passed.
 Continuing on we passed these two cute little boats.  The larger had church window styled side doors or were they windows?

This one could not be more than 12 feet long

Quaint looking boat with the church windows
 For some time the boat on the right in the picture above had been following us but chasing us to go faster by motoring up close then dropping back.  I was not going to be intimidated by this and carried on.  Why people have to be in so much hurry bemuses me.  Each time I went to offer him to overtake he had dropped back.

Eventually he signalled he wanted to overtake so I slowed and allowed him.  As he passed he stated, looking at his watch, that he "had to keep the revs up as the washing machine was on".  New one on me that, either it discharged into his waste tank or the outlet was blocked as for some time there was no sign of it discharging but hey ho.

Lovely looking place to stop but not for us today.
Not long after we came across the site of a new marina being built.  Looking at the jetties its going to be extremely tight to get in and out and the legs of the jettys do look a bit spindly to me.

New Marina not yet in water
A little further we came across this boat with a novel way to locate solar panels.  There were so many on this boat I reckon he is self sufficient and has power over to run an electric engine.  Have to admit it looked quite good as the panels matched the window heights perfectly.

Nice styling for the solar panels

One of the "wides" on the way to Middlewich
 IN the next photo washing machine man had harassed this old boat for some time to get past.  We spoke to the chap on the larger, old boat and found she was built circa 1910.  He was clearly in no hurry and moaned about washing machine man as he had caused him to run aground in his urgency to pass but as we had taken an interest in his boat was happy to let us pass too which we thanked him very kindly.  His boat had an unusual counter at the stern more akin to a launch than narrow boat. Looking at the photo one cannot help but think its two boats welded together.  His engine chimney was interesting too, wander if he has trouble with it at bridge 'oles.

Hare and tortoise come to mind.

Very narrow aqueduct.
Strangely just after the above aqueduct washing man stopped and waved us to overtake which we obliged.  It was only after we rounded the corner past this pair of breasted boats did we click why he had wanted us to go past.  Big lock was coming up and we guessed he hoped we would set it for him, cheek!

These lovely boats looked well cared for.

Great to see a fully laden work boat leave big lock

Big lock set against us as boats come down.
 Now what washing machine man had not reckoned on was we needed water so we stopped at the water point just below the lock.  He cruised past and stopped asking if we wanted him to wait for us.  I informed him yes if he wanted to but the water pressure was low.  He had not realised we were topping up with water.  With that he dejectedly had to turn the lock himself.  

Moored just upstream of Big lock
 As it was lunch time we locked through with another boat and found some empty mooring rings so pulled in.  We then had a super lunch for £5 in the Big lock pub.

To walk off the lunch we then walked to Tesco's for some necessities then on to Kings lock Chandlers where I managed to buy a replacement thumping thingy.  Having walked up a sweat we could not resist a quick pint in the Kings Lock pub  before returning to AmyJo.  A pint of Valour went down very nicely.

Kings Lock pub is right near Middlewich Junction.

Total distance:7.88 miles Elapsed time:4h0m0s Locks:1 Bridges:27 
Average speed:1.97 mph (2.22 lock/mph) 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Weaver Trip Day 11 - Anderton and New Recruits

Despite being near the salt works that are worked 24/7 we had a surprisingly quite night so we both slept well.

We rose at our usual time of 8.30am and prepared AmyJo for her trip up the lift.  Chris tidied through inside as today AmyJo was taking on 4 new recruits for the day so the boat had to be clean and tidy.  Meanwhile I cleared the well deck and packed away as much as I could into the bow lockers to give more room to sit out then prepared AmyJo for cruising.

We were booked on for 12:50 so had been told to be on the holding pontoon at 12:20.  At 12:10 we cast off and moved the short distance to the holding jetty.  Here AmyJo's new recruits in the form of Corinna,  her hubby Andy, and their two little boys Lucas and Nathan joined us.  Corinna works with Chris and her 4 year old Lucas really wanted to ride up in the lift.  As they live nearby Chris arranged for them to join us for the trip as a treat for him.

Having ascended this boat moved out onto the Trent and Mersey

Waiting for the signal to enter the lift
 Once everyone was aboard a lock keeper informed me that when the two boats come out onto the river from the lift we could move into the caisson that was waiting to receive AmyJo.

Making our way round to the lift

The iconic view of the lift as we approach

The port hand Caisson and guillotine door in the open position.
 We had to wait in the caisson for some time while two boats entered the other one above us.  The lock keeper apologised for the wait adding the other boaters were a bit slow getting ready and into their caisson.  We said we did not mind and this gave us the opportunity for a little photo shoot.

Boxed into the lift waiting to ascend

Our new recruits left to right, Andy, Nathan, Lucas, Corinna and yours truly.

The mass of gears and other caisson towers overhead.
 Finally with a very slight judder the lift started to lift us up.  The slow movement is so smooth and surprisingly quiet.  The views as we got to the top were stunning.

Start of the lifting process and we just clear the walling.

Passing the other caisson on the way down.  If felt like they were not moving and we were.

View from below the upper level, you can make out roof top and the foot of the picture

and below from the limit of the lift.
 Once we reached the summit the doors were released and we moved out onto the holding trough high above the ground.  This holding area has a second gate at its exit to stop the canal draining away if the lift has a severe leak or maintenance work is required.  Its a mammoth peice of engineering in its own right.  The gears in the earlier picture would have been used to pull the horse drawn boats into the lift along this section.

The upper holding trough with doors lowered

Caisson door lifts allowing AmyJo to exit the caisson onto the holding trough.

We were moored just in front of the boat seen below

Witth the caisson door closed and sealed the canal door can open to left us out onto the canal.

The exit onto the Trent and Mersey.  Be prepared to get a soaking as you pass under the door.

The lock keeper checks the way is clear to proceed and we thank him as we leave.
 Now we're back on normal canals they seem so narrow but, with the help of able seaman Lucas, AmyJo could work her way along with no problems.
AmyJo's youngest helmsman, Lucas takes charge
Assisted by Capt'n Steve the hat
 By now the weather had deteriorated and a drizzle had worsened into rain.  The crew retreated inside whilst Cap'n Hat took the helm.
Now now, I know what your thinking and its hat not pra.....

Leaving Anderton heading for Barnton Tunnel and a winding hole
We decided to give the boys a little more adventure and pass through Barnton tunnel then wind and retrace our steps back to Anderton to drop off the crew so they could go home for tea.  Young Lucas loved every minute of the trip and gave Chris and I a big hug and thank you as he left.  He may only 4 but already is such a gentlemen.  We really enjoyed having Lucas and his family on board and as he loved it on AmyJo we have promised him another trip and a visit to "our" ice cream farm at Tattenhall.

We then carried on in the rain for a few miles then called it a day near Marbury Hall footbridge just outside Northwich.

Coal boat Halsall passes just as we moored up but I was too late to stop him for a top up as I was down below.

Our mooring for the night
Total distance:0.32 miles Elapsed time:1h19m10s Locks:0 Bridges:1 
Average speed:0.24 mph (0.24 lock/mph) 

Total distance:1.53 miles Elapsed time:0h46m56s Locks:0 Bridges:6 
Average speed:1.95 mph (1.95 lock/mph) 

Total distance:2.74 miles Elapsed time:2h18m51s Locks:0 Bridges:12 
Average speed:1.19 mph (1.19 lock/mph)