The nights are drawing in…

The clocks go back on Saturday night and recently I’ve been noticing the solar panels haven’t been topping the batteries up fully any more, so I’ve been running the engine for a couple of hours each day. This may be because coincidentally, the dry, sunny weather we enjoyed for weeks this autumn disappeared at the start of October, to be replaced by some much murkier days. IMG_0448I did wonder if it was partly my own fault- I hadn’t cleaned them for ages- but I have done now and it’s not a massive improvement. They’re still brilliant, but we just aren’t getting the bright, long hours of daylight they really need for full effect.

We have had a lovely autumn so far. Gorgeous sunshine, beautiful colours; not much in the way of crisp mornings though. We’ve had the fire in during the evenings but not needed to keep it in during the day or overnight. Some lovely clear dawns; still days, good for boating- and of course a couple of named storms! Tom helped me attach some of my fenders directly to the corrugated steel bankside before Ophelia arrived, which stopped the worst of the bumping. After nearly losing my boat last time I was at Patch, back in the summer (thanks, cruisers… and strong winds) I didn’t risk pins but used my chains and metal hooks and so far they’ve worked well (touch wood!).

IMG_0398
Autumn dawn
IMG_0404
Breezy, cloudy, cool autumn day… rain on the air.

The rain which arrived on Monday has made the towpath muddy and all the gaps on the boat show up, as the wind blew moisture in under the witch’s hat on the chimney, in through the windows and vents… times like this I’m grateful for gaffer tape! I’ve also rejigged the interior a little bit- my sawing arm is getting good!

IMG_0512
Taking the chance to get outside on a rainy day…

It’s also been a fruitful season. The neglected allotment did me proud, with weeks of beans, several sweetcorn, little squashes, and loads of apples from the communal trees. Boat Girl and I have been baking and making chutney, jam, cake and biscuits. IMG_0424There’s something about autumn which inspires the domestic goddess in me, that sense of chill that you get on a damp day can only really be chased away by making the home warm, with appetising smells wafting around… mmm! This cake was a traybake from Good Food (I think)- it had four eggs in it, apple, pear and blackberry, but you could easily vary the fruit according to the season. I replaced some of the flour with ground almonds, and it was wonderfully rich and moist- I took it along the row of boats and it went VERY quickly (this makes me happy- I think I was made to mother a large family with food, but when it’s just Boat Girl and me that impulse doesn’t have much chance for fulfilment…

I also made a chutney using windfall pears from the towpath. They weren’t nice to eat so I hope they’ll be okay as chutney! I ended up staying up until midnight because it took so long for a ‘channel’ to develop (Delia’s signal that a chutney’s ready to go into jars…)!

What with Boat Grandmother’s productive garden and my allotment, we’ve done pretty well for veg. The last sweetcorn was eaten on Monday; the last of the beans the previous week; I have some beetroot relish from Mother in the fridge and she’s now digging carrots and celeriac, so hopefully some more soups in the offing! She also has chard, with its beautiful bright stems and crunchy green leaves. I had some in a pot on the boat earlier in the season but it bolted in the dry weather when we were in France. It makes a good substitute for spinach or kale, and is robust enough to stand up to stewing in soup or curry. IMG_0382IMG_0426

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the current DIY is finished, the next project will be clearing the allotment and covering it with manure and cardboard ready for the spring. I’m hoping to do a lot more with it next year- onions, more squash, leeks, beans, carrots, chard, kale or broccoli… it’s incredibly satisfying to gather food you’ve grown yourself.

 

 

Advertisements

A month on the cut

So on April 1st we left the marina and moved out onto the towpath. We’ve had a lovely month- we’ve made new friends, deepened existing friendships and really benefited from our floating neighbours. So far our travels have brought us to Purton, where the canal is very close to to the River Severn. It’s a beautiful area, with stunning views across to the Forest of Dean, and really only a few metres from the river itself. This area is famous for its boat graveyard, which helps prevent erosion of the banks which might otherwise threaten the canal itself. I must try to get some photos to include because it really is quite lovely.

We are very much enjoying life outside the marina. Each new place brings new views, new bird sounds (this canal is amazing for twitchers!), and new surroundings. The challenges are much less challenging now that the weather is a bit kinder, the days longer and the bridges open all week for ten hours a day. The solar panels work brilliantly at keeping the batteries topped up. The composting loo is easy to use and maintain. The only (very first-world) problem I’ve encountered really are that my fairy lights don’t like the 240V power coming through the inverter, and they strobe so that I can’t use them! And it’s a frustration that we can only get hot water from running the engine; I would love a solution for this.

It’s been fabulous to actually boat along, to remember that lovely sense of freedom and to smell the clean-water smell of the canal. We are looking out for otters now; apparently there have been several sightings and signs of them.

 

 

Spring!

Spring has really sprung the last week or so. The crocuses are all but over, the daffs are looking lovely, and I haven’t needed to keep the fire in overnight or through the day for ages. (As a result I’m burning mainly wood at the moment.)

image

Sitting out out on deck of a morning or evening, I reflect on how lucky I am to have had this chance, to make this choice. It’s one I can’t imagine regretting. Even winter-those short days!- feels a long time ago.

image

The composting loo is working well. Not smelly, not arduous; and Single Mum has offered me a third share in an allotment, so compost heaps will soon be mine! A moment of composters’ humour: to accelerate the composting process, I was advised to turn and mix the contents of the bucket. As a result I can now say that I stir shit; and have a shitty stick that I wouldn’t touch things with 😂

However, once the Heap is created I suspect the buckets will simply be emptied directly, to break down naturally. A food waste compost heap will be created as well; I don’t envisage using the Heap on my strawberries or potato plants 😱😷

There are lots of jobs to do, apart from breaking into the overgrowth on the allotment. I swept the chimney last week, and cleaned the cratch, but the deck rail wants sanding and oiling, and I really must get around to the rust patches on the roof. However, the bottom is blacked and I’m told she is in good shape down there, so I am pressing on with the kitchen refit. Ideally I would swap all the living spaces around, but unless the lovely B can’t do the smaller job this spring, I think I will let that idea lie for now.

The marina is busy at weekends now, with people filling up, running engines, ‘tidying things up’ after the winter. The rubbish area is filled with evidence of cleaning and clear outs- I took another four bags of books and clothes to the charity shop. Everyone is eager to get out onto the canal. Me too- this summer I must get to the far end and I also want to do my shopping by boat!

 

“Off the Cut” by Wendy Zakiewicz

I thought I’d link to this short film about the (ongoing) dispute between CTR and various groups of boaters. We’re leaving the marina for the summer (but we’re hoping to get back in for the winter!) so I’m keenly aware that I might struggle to move “15-20 miles” as that’s the length of the whole canal…

My own feeling is that CRT are on rather shaky legal ground, but of course so few people being pressurised have the funds to mount a challenge in the courts- and there is an argument to suggest that S8 notices are issued in a trickle for the very purpose of preventing people banding together to defend themselves as a class action.

There are also a couple of petitions doing the rounds- one about allowing boat children to stay in one area to attend school, and one to prevent the eviction of boat dwellers. Let’s not forget that S8 notices are designed for the removal of sunken or abandoned vessels- not people’s homes. Secondly, for most liveaboards, the boat is their home and their only real asset. Confiscation is a massive, massive step to take and it’s hard, in my opinion, to justify that move in the circumstances that we’re seeing in some of these cases.

 

 

Oops…

So I took the boat over to the pump-out station a couple of weeks ago, to empty the tank for the last time before we started using the new composting loo. L volunteered to help me: the weather was quite calm, but I hadn’t moved the boat since October and I find that I lose some of my confidence after a while. She was there to help cast off, moor up and to provide moral support. So I got everything ready (so I thought) and the tiller in place, the dog shut in, the engine on and the gears engaged; I cast us off at the stern and L at the bow, which was the end nearest the pontoon. As we reversed away, she said suddenly, “Did you unplug your shoreline?”

That moment when your stomach turns over and then drops like a stone. No. I hadn’t.

I put the boat forward back to the pontoon and L gathered up the lead, which had been pulled right out of the plug socket. We carried on with the job of steering across the marina, reversing into the service bay, sorting out the payments and so on; an hour or so later we were back and tying up (I reversed in this time, as it’s slightly easier to come out forwards than backwards. It also makes a shorter journey for carrying things in through the main stern door- though a longer trip with coal and wood, which both live in the well deck). When we inspected the electric bollard, we found that a large piece of the plastic had been ripped off, exposing the wires inside. Sadly, I’d just pushed my topup card in: the meter was reading an accurate total, but the plug itself wasn’t working at all. I covered the top of the pillar with a plastic bag to stop water getting in, tied it on with some string and nervously rang the office to confess what I’d done.

“You’re not the first,” said C, laconically. “And I doubt you’ll be the last.”

As a result I’ve been two weeks on battery power and solar power. It’s been fine. Small irritations, no more than that, but good to know before we go out on the cut in April:

  • there’s no way of heating water without running the engine, even though when it’s fine the solar panels keep the batteries nicely topped up- irritating because it’d be nice to avoid running the engine every day. Perhaps I should look at getting a generator- but I’m not sure that’s any better.
  • my fairy lights don’t like the inverter- it can’t be a pure sine wave one- and they behave like disco strobe lights when I try to use them.

Anyway, the batteries have coped well with the systems and it isn’t too arduous to make sure I run the engine each day. I’ll be glad when we can plug back in and use the immersion heater and the fairy lights in the lounge though (hmmm, priorities…)

The worst thing and the most annoying thing- because it was so totally avoidable- is knowing I’ll be billed for the new bollard. An avoidable expense. Grrrrrr.

 

 

The Gas Locker

My gas stove seems to be quite efficient. The first full cylinder I used lasted exactly three months, and we cook every day. However I’ve changed the gas twice now, and it hasn’t been me in either case. As I’m expecting that soft ‘pht’ which heralds the emptying of the cylinder at any moment now (probably before 7am or after 5pm, when it’ll be dark and even more difficult to do), I thought I’d look at the problems inherent in The Gas Locker.

First of all, there’s the design of the gas cylinder. You open the connector using a special spanner, but you have to turn it the wrong way. They are inevitably tightly closed, so you need a lot of force to do this.

gas locker close up.JPG
The gas bottle. Hard to disconnect and also hard to photograph.

However, at this point the design of the gas locker comes into play. Ingeniously stored in the prow of the boat, it is nicely tucked away and doesn’t take up valuable space elsewhere.

That said, reaching inside means crouching over the hatch, perched precariously on the prow yourself. While you want to have a good purchase and use your weight to open the bolts, you can’t because of your strange position. You want to be on a level with the gas cylinder but you’d be in the water. So you have your knees under your chin, you’re balancing so as not to fall, and you’re trying to turn a screw that’s below the level of your feet.It’s a horrible task.

gas locker from above.JPG
My feet next to the locker. You can see how little room there is to balance while you try to change the gas.

gas.JPG

The string holds the gas spanner, so that it doesn’t get lost inside the locker. There’s room in here for three bottles, but having three makes it even harder to manipulate them when you want to change them over.

This is a strong reason for reversing the layout (more on that another time) because you could have the gas bottles on the deck at the stern.