Sunday 29 November 2015

I confess, these storms are all my fault!

Wow what wild and windy couple of weeks we have had. Having got over ex Hurricane Abigail without too much problem her partner, Barney, hit us full force on the Tuesday evening grabbing hold of AmyJo and shaking and rocking her. The wind from Barney was so strong it sent our Satellite dish sliding across the roof despite its strong magnet. Chris's folding bike, in it's bag, would have been blown off the roof completely had it not been padlocked to the boarding plank support. I took the bike down and stored it temporarily in the cratch with the satellite dish for now.

The whole experience was somewhat sobering so I do so hope everyone has stayed safe, AmyJo was being battered in the wind, and we have the relative shelter of the marina! We could not help thinking of those moored on-line and/or on pins, we hope all were OK. The wind was so bad we even had white caps on the waves in the marina and these smashed into AmyJo's stern making booming noises as they hit. We were not too concerned about that but we did get a nice rhythm going occasionally :-) I checked the engine bay before retiring to bed and the draught coming in through the air vents was quite strong. There was a little water in the bilge that I can only assume was caused by either the wind carrying water in through the vents or, the heavy downpours of rain over filling the stern deck drainage channels. At least we know a good air flow reaches the engine.

I did wimp out and took the precaution of lashing down our new top box and was so glad I did. One or two of the other boaters woke up on Wednesday morning to find their wooden roof boxes had been blown off. I'm sure ours, being plastic, would have gone the same way had it not been tied down. To be fair the box stays put in fairly strong winds but Tuesday night's wind was so strong you could easily be blown of the jetty yourself in the gusts.

Today storm Clodagh is hitting us just as hard as Barney. As I type half of Chester is without water due to electrical failure caused by power lines being brought down at the water plant. Once again we have lashed everything down and hunkered down for yet another bumpy night. South-westerly winds are expected to reach speeds of 60-80km/h (37-49mph) with gusts of 100-130km/h (62-80mph) on the coasts hereabouts sthough slightly less in land it is still very still squirley out there none the less. I do hope you are all OK and safe.  You know things are getting worst as the UK met office has now taken to naming storms here in the UK as well!

On the differant note, last weekend Chris and I visited Fernwood Boats workshop once more to lend support at their now annual open day.   They had excellent support from many of the boat owners like us but more importantly plenty of prospective customers visiting. 

There seemed to be more prospective live aboard's this year and Chris was kept busy answering the usual questions new boaters tend to ask, and yes the proverbial loo type questions included.  She had thought to include photos of inside AmyJo as it is usually,  and this greatly helped them see what it's really like below deck of a live aboard narrow boat (she had tidied up for the photos I must add).

Some of the many visitor, including Jim Sparks from Alexander Boats on the Left (light blue jumper)
 It was great to see the Fernwood team and to meet other Fernwood boat owners once more.  This year was especially good as we got to meet Del and Al from Derwent 6 again who help to start us off on our dream.  We were also delighted to meet Carl and his wife again whose boat, WiFry, is in build at Ferwoods at the moment.  Carl took great pride showing me around her.  They came and visited us on AmyJo while we were at Crick during the show and have kept in touch ever since.  |It was obvious he was as excited as we were when AmyJo was in build.  We'll be seeing more of WiFry later.  We wish them all the best with their build.

An impressive buffet was laid on including this very detailed cake made by Peter's wife. Very tasty it was too!
 This year Steve and his wife from Willow Wren Training had a stall present and they were kept busy answering questions and even got some bookings for their helmsman's courses.  It was great to see Steve again too as he ran the helmsman's course Chris an I attended.  Steve showed me his photographs of the latest developments at their new training site.  They are presently excavating the old cement works arm alongside their training centre that will eventually be home to new moorings.  A serious amount of soil has been now been removed uncovering the old canal sides almost in tact.  When finished it will all be quite impressive.

More customers with Willow Wren stall left and Andy Munro himself on the far right.
 So now back to the title of the post.  

Yes the storms are really my fault.  You see, for a combined birthday and Christmas present, Chris allowed me to buy I bought a professional camera drone a few weeks back.  I've managed to fly it barely twice since because of the winds.  Once, when I got it and once whilst staying in a B&B at the weekend of Fernwood's open day.  Since then it been blowing a hooey nearly every day and the drone has had to stay in its box, so there it is, I own up to the storms being my fault.  

I'm hoping to use the drone to take ariel photos of places we cruise to giving a new perspective of the areas we visit.  On the bright side I did get this cracking photo of the marina with it on its first flight.

Drone photo of the marina.

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.