Monday, 27 February 2012

Fitting out

After a 24 mile bike ride this morning to help prepare for my Scotland trip, Kay and I went up to West Row to catch up on progress.

Mick has really moved on with the fitting out. His skills as a  carpenter (not to mention engineer, painter, plumber, electrician, etc, etc) are obvious. The bedroom wall was in (I really must start calling these walls 'bulkheads') and both the wardrobe and bed were complete. The two metal front doors had also been welded into place.

Without a wide angle lens it's difficult to get much in to each shot but this shows the wardrobe at the foot of the bed. The steps into the engine room are to the right but this will soon be closed off with a door. More painting awaits me.

The bed base is in. It's got four sections enabling access to loads of storage underneath. We will take the memory foam mattress with us next time and see if the bed needs a short extension flap along this right hand side so we can move the mattress away from the outside wall. Gena says the wall can become quite cold but I'm not convinced - not only is the wall well insulated but the central heating pipes are located right below that edge. We will probably leave it in this simpler form and see how we get on. The front end of the main bedroom will also have a door. The only other door inside the boat will be the one to the toilet and shower room.

Further along the boat we came across this interesting piece of carpentry. It is where the last wall bulkhead is located between the toilet/shower room and the dining room. So what's going on?

After a bit of leg-pulling, Mick explained this is how he forms the exact size and shape of the bulkhead before marking it out on the final piece of ply. Crafty or what?

While going through this process, he discovered that Skylark is about 50mm taller (from floor to ceiling) than the last boat he built. He's not sure how this happened as the ballast and insulation is the same depth so he guessed it happened at Graham Reeves' workshop. This is good because it will not only give us a more spacious feel but will hopefully make the purchase of the shower door easier. Apparently, most doors are 1800mm high which would have been a bit of a tight fit. With an extra 50mm to play with this should not be a problem now. 

So, it's all starting to fall into place and we are geting a real feel for what Skylark is actually going to look like. Fortunately, she is looking just as I imagined. So long as we keep this up, we should get exactly what we want.

I have to say, the process we have bought into is not at all like buying a new (off the peg) or second hand boat where you can see exactly what you are buying. If you end up with something that is not right, then you only have yourself to blame for not seeing it earlier. 

When building from scratch, it's all about having a vision, doing your research, putting that vision on paper and being able to communicate it, getting the detailed specification right, budgetting carefully, finding the right builder (one that you not only trust and respect but also someone you like and can communicate with - vital ingredient), and regularly supervising the build to make sure your original vision is turned into reality. I also think open-mindedness and flexibility are vital. As we have moved through this process, we have learnt what works and what doesn't. Mick's knowledge of narrowboat building and life on the cut is vast. His advice and opinions have been sought after and more often than not taken. He has also been tollerant of our requirements and we have worked through our ideas in a very profesional and workmanlike way. Like building a house from scratch, our plans have had to change a bit but the overall vision and our 3 principle aims of quality, simplicity and traditional character have guided us. Fingers crossed that we can keep this up!

Later this week, Mick aims to clear the deck of all his stuff, and bring in the cooker, fridge, sink and stove so we can make sure they all fit in together. We'll discuss the detailed design of the kitchen cabinets and work tops, and whether there should be an additional porthole above the sink. This process is vital to get right because it's all very easy to sketch this out on a 2 dimensional A4 plan but getting it right in 3 dimensions and in actual size is a whole different ball game. I certainly don't want to start changing things too much once it's all in place - I'm happy to repaint areas that need it but I certainly don't want to move wiring, stove pipes or portholes!

We were pleased with progress and Mick and Gena are still confident of compleing on time. It's also good that they are finding the build satisfying. They appear to like the design and are even considering transferring many of the design principles into their next boat - a compliment indeed!

Now, I need to lie down as my legs are aching!!!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Scotland to Suffolk (S2S)

I have now booked my one way train ticket to Edinburgh (Kay, don't start spending the pension pot, I will be back).

I have been thinking about taking a long bike trip since I saw Matt Baker (the good looking presenter on the One Show) ride a rickshaw from Edinburgh to London for comic relief. He was supported along the way by a slick team of BBC people and was given considerable encouragement from local people cheering him on but you could see it was not easy. The bike was heavy, the gearing was poor and he rode all day and sometimes into the evenings to keep up the blistering schedule. He completed the ride in 7 days a stone lighter and with bandaged, aching knees but had raised over a million pounds in sponsorship. Not bad really for a telly luvvie.

My trip is not for fund raising, just pleasure (ha!). I will follow a roughly south easterly route from Edinburgh back to Suffolk - about 400 miles - avoiding main roads where possible and taking in the countryside a bit off the beaten track. I aim to visit interesting towns and villages along the way together with larger places like Newcastle, York and Lincoln. Unlike Matt, I'm riding unsupported, with nothing much more than a light sleeping bag and tarp, and I will 'wild camp' along the way with occasional B&B stops as the need takes me. Food, drinks, snacks, etc will be bought on the hoof to keep the packed weight down. I'm hoping for dry, warm weather with, preferably, a constant, brisk north westerly and for all the route to be downhill (I can but wish).

I'm already well into my training regime, riding most days between 10-20 miles and in the next couple of weeks I intend to increase the mileage so that I am prepared for riding an average of 40 miles a day. If I can keep to that average, the trip should take about 2 weeks. If the daily grind drops below 40 miles (I may have to take a rest day or two) it will just take a bit longer. I keep telling myself it's not a race. I just hope I listen.

My trusty steed is a Kona Dew hybrid, made by an American company that specialises in fairly high end sports/mountain bikes. This bike is at the commuter and touring end of the market but is ideal for what I'm planning. I like the fact that it is well made, is light, everything works well and nothing rattles or vibrates - even when I change gear. This gives me a great sense of confidence that it will all hold together on the 400 miles back from bonny Scotland.

So what does the bike look like?

I've gone for the flat touring handlebars and an extra soft gel seat cover. Since I took this photo, I decided that, as the seat cover seems to shout 'wimp', I have taken it off and bought a proper pair of cycling shorts with a gel insert - highly recommended though a slightly odd feeling when one first steps into them). 

The bike has the distinctive Kona sloping frame (not that I would have known that if Kona had not mentioned in on their website). It's got a whopping 21 gears from the high speed Tour de France selection to the low speed 'Granny' gears. So far, I have only needed to use the middle range as all my training rides have been in Suffolk but once I get off the train and hit the southern hills of Scotland, I may have to drop down a gear or two. I may even have to adopt the GOAP technique (for those of you unfamiliar with bike touring, that means - get off and push).  

The panniers are from another American company, Bontranger - is there nothing on this bike from Europe or the far east? The bags are really well designed with a top (expandable) bag and two fold-away side bags. It even has a nifty spring-loaded attachment system that is very strong and literally only takes a second to apply and disengage. The little yellow button on the back is the release catch - much simpler and better than your average high street option that uses straps and buckles. I'd even go so far as to say it's fool-proof but we'll see.

The front end has a hybrid lamp by the company Cateye which has a small solar panel on top. It gathers sunlight during the day which charges the internal battery. That will last for about an hour at full blast - more on flashing mode. If I then need further light, I just switch over to the back up AA battery (or the other way round I suppose).


I've also invested in a new pair of tyres as the treads on the present ones are wearing thin and the walls look a little rough. The new ones are called Marathon Plus made by Schwalbe and are as puncture resistant as you can get. They do this by having a rubber strip like Kevlar welded into the tyre along its whole length which can repel things like nails and glass. All the reviews I have read are very good - they are not too heavy, ride well and punctures are virtually unheard of so these seemed like a good thing to have - we'll see. I'll still take the spare inner tube and puncture repair kit but hope not to need them.
So those are the technical bits. The rest of my kit is fairly routine - 3 layers of light clothing with a wet weather outer layer (all light, breathable, waterproof and durable as used on my long distance walks), a 600g DD tarp, a self-inflating sleeping mat, a summer Cumulus sleeping bag in a Rab waterproof bivvy bag, first aid kit, mobile phone, navigation kit, etc, etc.

The tarp will be interesting. I have used it many times when treking, utilising my walking poles as extendable tent poles but on this ride I will only have the bike and maybe the odd tree or wall to attach it to. If I am unable to find another fixing point, I thought I ought to practice setting up with just the bike. So with the bike resting upside down on its handlebars and saddle, I found it's easy to stretch the tarp over the two wheels to form a ridge. Once the corners of the tarp are pegged down, it's as firm as any other set up I have used.
So that's it. Just as the world and its finest athletes are (apparently) counting down the seconds to the start of the 2012 Olympics, I'm packing my panniers and getting used to wearing shorts that make me walk like a character out of Planets of the Apes (and if you see me along the route, no, I have not pooed myself).

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Full steam ahead

It's been 3 weeks since my last post because nothing much has really happened in that time. I have paid the second stage payment, Mick has completed the fit out of his new workshop including new electrics, it's been very cold everywhere and I have booked the train to Edinburgh for my epic return journey by bike (more about that some other time) but there's not much to see on the boat.

Kay and I went to see Skylark today and found the engine boxed in and the control panel fitted. The washing machine is in place and the first bedroom wall has been installed. Mick has also completed the t&g walls to the engine room and tidied up the edges to the rear door hatch so I shouldn't be too disappointed with progress. He tells me that he will be working on the boat pretty much full time from now on in order to complete on the provisional date of 9 April.

A few of the latest photos...

Looking towards the stern, the main bedroom wall is in place. This will form the back wall of the wardrobe, with a door filling the gap between the 'sleeping' area and the 'working' area. I was pleased to see Mick had used a substantial thickness of ply (18mm) to make sure the walls don't wobble or creak. They should also help to absorb any sounds from the adjoining rooms. In fact the whole fit out is proving to be very solid with no weak joints or wobbly bits (Kay to take note).

The engine and utility room has been fully clad in t&g boards to give it a traditional engine room feel whereas the rest of the living area will be panelled between the gunwales and ceiling. The t&g that forms the ceiling throughout the boat and the proposed laminate flooring are expected to tie the whole thing together.

The controls are fitted on the starboard side of the rear door. All the controls are in place: engine control panel (top right), the gear/accelerator lever (middle), inverter (bottom right), main fuse box (top left), 12v/230v selector (middle) and individual fuses (below). As you can probably see, the wires are yet to be connected. I'm quite impressed with the way Mick has designed this to be compact and functional. I have seen many boats where the controls are far too complicated and strung out over a wide area. Skylark is being fitted out to achieve my primary aims - a boat that is good quality, simple and traditional looking. I'm pleased so far and everything is on track.

On the port side of the boat, the exhaust pipe is fitted and insulated but needs to be boxed in.

The portholes are letting in loads of light. At the moment we don't have the brass fittings in place but I don't think they will make too much difference. The light colour scheme helps I'm sure. And doesn't that paintwork look professional!

Over this next week, Mick aims to complete the engine room and start moving into the bedroom. If all goes according to plan, he should complete the boxing for the wardrobe and bed. We should see some significant progress when we visit next Sunday.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

This made me laugh

I've found a very useful forum for narrowboaters. It seems to have been going for quite some time judging by the number of topics and comments people have listed. It's called Canalworld and to log in involves a quick and simple on-line registration. 

I found a very funny list prepared by a lady called Starcoaster. Her list covers all the things that happen to people who liveaboard their boats. Rather than just reproducing it word for word, I have taken the liberty of deleting/adding a few bits and pieces. So, many thanks to Starcoaster - if she takes offence to my reproducing it or changing bits, I'm happy to change it back or delete it - just let me know. So here goes...

The Facts of Boating Life.

Starting out…
• When you start out with your boat, you will have a list of about five things that you need to do, buy or sort out. However, due to a phenomenon called ‘boat mathematics’ you learn that for everything you cross off the said list, another two appear. Three months down the line, your list has increased to about 30 items, and your disposable income for the next few years is already committed to things like food, moorings and other essential running costs. Oh well, spaghetti hoops on toast again for dinner.
• Also when you started life on your boat you may have been given or even worn a novelty neckerchief, captain’s hat, or pirate’s eye patch and you wore them just as a joke. By your third week, you have discovered they burn quite well on your stove and you roll your eyes and tut derisively at the fresh faced wannabe’s who have taken your place in committing the aforementioned fashion faux-pas.
• You soon learn that you have to dump any of your former friends who order “a pint of lager, please” in the pub, and you’re okay with that, actually.
• Upon hearing ‘man overboard!’ you immediately swing into ‘rescue’mode. When YOU fall in, after the laughter has faded, there’ll only be a group of camera-snapping Japanese tourists left, and your unassisted efforts to climb out of the cut will be on YouTube within the hour.

• You stop thinking to yourself, “there’s some funny people on the cut” around the same time you realise that you are one of them.
• All your clothes, will soon take on black smudges, regardless of how careful you are about keeping them away from the stove, engine, or anything else coal or oil related.
• Every single item of clothing you own will have a hole in it - even the posh non-boaty stuff.
• You remember, with affection, the ten big thick jumpers you used to own for winter use. Now you only have two and you continuously wear them both. They occasioanally get a squirt from a bottle of Febreeze.
• All of your clothes will smell of wood smoke or coal, regardless of time of year or how recently you washed them. Initially this is just an inconvenience but eventually you come to rather like it.
• You start to identify other boaters by their smell. Your discrete attempts to sniff people at the bar often cause offence.
• You take a bag of washing when you go visiting friends and family for the weekend. You may even actively select holiday cottages or campsites based on their laundry facilities.
• If you go anywhere posh in anything approaching smart casual, you will have a pair of boots ‘for the journey’ that are generally covered in orange clay-like towpath mud, and also a pair of ‘smart shoes’ that are clean. You will have a bag to keep each pair in, separately.
Your stove…
• You become obsessed with finding stuff to burn in your stove - large, unwieldy, flammable objects of rubbish will all be graded highly.
• It seems perfectly normal to have both the stove and heating going full pelt, and all of the windows and doors open.
Personal stuff…
• If you can’t manage to have a shower, a shave and a shampoo in under four minutes, you have failed as a boater and should probably consider taking up something else.
• If you work in an office, or visit a friend in a house, or have cause to use a pub or hotel, you take a carrier bag to haul along all of the things you want to charge up from their mains while you’re there.
• You will grow a beard. This is not negotiable or gender-specific.
• Your hands and nails will NEVER be clean, no matter how much you wash.
• You will never pass an opportunity to utilise a public toilet. You will consider a quick hair wash in a public loo if the coast is clear. You will often chose/rate a bar or restaurant by their toilet facilities.
• When visiting another boater, it is uncouth to ask to use their toilet, unless you are at least a fifteen minute walk from another WC facility (for women) or a bush toilet (for men).
• If you have boater visitors over for more than four hours, you spend the rest of their visit thinking (a) surely they must need ‘to go’ soon? (b) is your bathroom so nasty that they are too scared to use it? and/or (c) how much more tea can you ply them with as a kind of pseudo-scientific experiment, just to see what they’ll do in an emergency?
• Don’t discuss the pro’s and con’s of ‘Pump out’ versus ‘Cassette’ – just don’t.
• Rosie and Jim are not real people so don’t talk about them as though they are.
• ‘Townies’ fill gaps in conversation by talking about the weather. ‘Boaties’ fill gaps in conversation by talking about water levels and stoppages.
• It’s okay to insult a man’s wife, children, career choice, hair, or dress sense. But engines must always be coo’d over and spoken of in hushed approving tones, regardless of their size, condition or make. Shhhh! She’ll HEAR YOU!
• You can only sensibly answer the question “is it cold on a boat in winter?” about ten times, before deciding to mess with people by saying, “Yes, it’s terrible, I've nearly died of hypothermia twice this year already, and I don’t know how I’m still alive.”
• Sharing your opinion about Ecofans is mandatory. Owning one is discretionary.
• Portholes or windows? Don’t bother.
• Everyone knows that irons, microwaves, hairdryers and hoovers are all for posh people, so do really want to spend your hard earned beer money on these?
• You will win mega brownie points when you can prepare and serve a full Sunday roast for four people, using just two gas rings and a kettle (and not feel the need to boast about it).
• You can now tell all your froends (if you still have any) you thought you’d save money in winter by using the open bow as a fridge/ freezer for your food - until you realised just how much beer you could actually store there if you stacked it all up right.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Stuck in the mud

As it's been a couple weeks, I was intending to go over to look at the boat today. I also needed to pay the next stage payment as set out in the contract.

I rang Gena and Mick to check they would be in. Gena picked up and confirmed they would be in but, as there there has been no progress on the boat, she suggested my visit could wait. I just have to keep my fingers crossed that this short delay will not cause a delay in the completion date. When I go over there - next week - I will check on the timings.

I needed to let her have the second stage payment but I agreed to send her a cheque in the post, which I did this morning.

Hopefully I will be able to report some progress next week.