Back to the Boat

November 30, 2009

Well we are back on the boat, and boy is it cold on here. I have lit the fire but I guess it is going to take a while to warm up, the temperature at the moment is 7 degrees, brrr.

We caught the train from Wolverhampton to Watford, cheap advance tickets, they do crowd the carriage. I picked up the new antenna I had ordered and brought back an extending pole we had which unfortunately has a minimum length of 6 feet. This was a bit awkward on the train and I ended up putting it on the floor below the food compartment in the refreshment area. I did ask permission, which was granted provided that I didn’t forget it.

It is good to get back on board although we did have a great weekend with the family, we did our duty getting up early with Ralphy to give his parents a lie in. Unfortunately Ralph decided to get up at 5:30 the first morning and it was downhill from thereon in, still we will miss having the little chap to entertain us at some ungodly hour.

Statistics so far:-

1065.10 Miles, 726 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

Not so Shurflo

November 27, 2009

Well the water pump leaked again, this will be the third time that I have had to tighten the screws on the front of the housing, I will have to get some loctite for next time it happens. There wasn’t much of a leak thanks to Frances’s keen observational sense and we got to it early. It seems to me that Shurflo water pumps have a major design flaw.

One of our burner controls on the hob has become stuck, so I will have to dismantle that and try to fix it, as things usually come in threes, I wonder what is next.

Well I have ordered another 3G antenna that I will be able to hoist up on high and will then be able to make a good assessment of Orange internet coverage, beginning with the Shroppie when we start to head back up towards Nantwich on Tuesday. I will have to pick the antenna up and try and come up with some mast arrangement before Tuesday

Orange provide a coverage map here:-

Orange Coverage

And I have extracted close ups covering the Shroppie from Brewood to Nantwich so that I can at least know what to expect as we travel along the canal.

The first one covers Brewood to Gnosall

Coverage, Brewood - Gnosall

Statistics so far:-

1065.10 Miles, 726 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

Computered out

November 25, 2009

Alan says he is computered out and has handed the baton to me today. It’s been a lazy day on Lazy days. We’ve decided that our Christmas card this year (sent to anyone that I like to write a letter to at Christmas, if not at any other time of the year) should be a rather gorgeous Autumnal evening picture Alan took from the towpath of the boat and I on the Stourbridge. So a pack of make your own cards have been purchased from Hobbycraft and the letters written to New Zealand and Australia. And this led to a review of every picture taken this year and the conversion to jpegs of all the pictures of family (well 90% grandson Ralph) and friends ready to be printed and put in photo albums. I had the deciding vote and did the choosing and Alan the converting.

After knocking the top of his head very hard in exactly the same spot three times over the past few weeks – this man is more accident prone than anyone you have ever met (how about Maffi-ed.) – Alan awoke yesterday morning to find that for the first time for weeks he didn’t have a headache. So how did he celebrate? You guessed it, whacked his head again because the back hatch had been closed because of rain (by him). And his headache is back. I am seriously considering giving him for Christmas one of those leather padded helmets some of the rugby players wear. But even that might not do the trick, he has impaled himself on bits of the boat even a contortionist would fail to reach. How many times does it take before there is permanent brain damage and will I be able to tell?


Statistics so far:-

1065.10 Miles, 726 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

Brewood in the wind

November 24, 2009

Today was without doubt the windiest that we have moved along on the boat, we moved down to the water point at Wheaton Aston and as soon as the boat entered the exposed winding point we were whipped sideways into a convenient mooring point behind a boat getting water. There are a lot of taps here and we really needed to be on the other side of the boat in front of us. Could we get off the side? No way we were pinned to the side and after a couple of half hearted attempts we decided to wait for the boat to move. Unfortunately it turns out he was going to reverse to the winding hole and turn, as we would have a better chance in the conditions going forward we thought it would be best for us to move first. And would you believe it the wind stopped momentarily for us to do this with ease and we filled up with water.

On to Brewood for the all important pump out and there is nothing more comforting than a full tank of water and a freshly pumped out black water tank, who am I kidding, but you know what I mean.

We are now moored up at Brewood and waiting for our cottage pie to cook. We bought the mince at the local butchers, who by the way are in a bad way due to the breach which drastically reduced the throughput of canal traffic and there business relies on canal traffic. It just illustrates the importance of the canal to local businesses.

We have 3G coverage here on both the antenna and the dongle in the window, yesterday it was GRPS on the antenna, I didn’t try the dongle in the window. When we turn back up the Shroppie I will do this comparison at all of the locations we stop at, so far I haven’t really bothered as life is too short.

Today we did 3.23 Miles and 1 Lock

Statistics so far:-

1065.10 Miles, 726 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

On the move again

November 23, 2009

When we came back to the boat yesterday the inevitable happened, the pump out light came on so as we know we only have a day or so of grace we are heading post haste (for us) to Brewood which is the nearest non BW pumpout station. We have been trying to get hold of BW cards but they are only available at Napton Narrow Boats at Autherley Junction and at the BW Office at Northwich, we may go down to Autherley and buy some for our stay on the Shroppie.

We waited for the terrible storm to pass over head before making the decision to move on, when it dropped down to light rain after lunch we decided that the worst was over and so set off.

Just before we were going through Bridge 28 the sky cleared and the landscape was lit up with the most glorious of light, as we had just had heavy rain I had the camera stowed safely away out of the wet. By the time I got it out I was under the bridge and on our way, I know that I was controlling the boat and could have stopped or even reversed but you always think that there will be another chance.

We are now moored up in Wheaton Aston.

Under the Arch

Bridge 28

Today we did 5.31 Miles

Statistics so far:-

1061.87 Miles, 725 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

Ralphy fix

November 22, 2009

We spent the weekend at Croxley having a much needed Ralphy fix. We had bought cheap train tickets and it only cost £23 return for the two of us. Not only that the bus took us from the boat to the train station at Stafford, almost door to door. There was a down side, on the return journey a bus went missing and we had to wait for over an hour for the next one. For your information – don’t bother ringing the help line at Arriva bus stops, the phone isn’t even answered by Arriva but some county council person who knows nothing about the buses and they charge you 10p per minute into the bargain.

N.B. Ralphy is our grandson

Statistics so far:-

1056.56 Miles, 725 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

Internet connection on a Narrow Boat Part 2

November 21, 2009

External Antenna

When we first got an internet dongle it started off in the window then we moved it under the cratch cover and when things were really bad attached it to a stick and hoisted it as high as we could using cascaded USB cables. Adequate for our internet connection but far from ideal.

So I started to look at external antennas. What I needed was something that could stay on the roof and not require any thought or action on our part, in other words something that just needed us to turn on the computer and go. Also it needed to be removable for low bridges and tunnels.

There are antennas specifically designed to plug directly into the dongle or some come with industrial standard type connectors like the SMA or N-type, the latter antennas are not a problem but you will need an adaptor cable to convert to the specific USB dongle that you have. If your dongle does not have an antenna socket you can get a cradle type adaptor which fits around the dongle, I cannot say how good these are but there will be some loss associated with the connection which will partially negate any gain advantage from the antenna.

A directional antenna will give the best performance but who wants to go hunting base stations, exactly no one. So the antenna must be omni-directional and cover all of the required bands, i.e. both GSM and 3G. Fortunately this is a common requirement although it still pays to check as I have seen antennas for sale that do one but not the other.

I bought an indoor magnetic mount antenna as it met our requirements, well except for not being outdoors, the build standard of the antenna is similar to what I have used as a mobile antenna on a car and thus far has proved satisfactory working outside on the roof of the boat. No doubt a similar outdoor antenna could be found and permanently fixed to the roof of the boat, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to get much improvement and so did not think that it was worth a fixed installation.

There is a further consideration to the antenna location, the canal is not called the cut for nothing and invariably the boat can be located below ground level and no amount of antenna gain will necessarily improve the signal strength, in other words you have to have a signal to add gain to. What is required here is height, you need to get the antenna above ground level which leads me to the second type of antenna worth considering and that is a pole mounted antenna with integral cable, I have one in mind but they are more costly and I thought that I would see how I went with the existing antenna and so far I am not sure if I can justify the additional expense as we have never been in an area without coverage.

Enough of this waffle, how has the antenna worked? Well apart from the convenience of having the setup ready and waiting for us to use I can say that we have seen a noticeable difference in signal strength. We have had two dongles both with orange on two machines and with the antenna we had 3G coverage but with the dongle alone it was GPRS, now I am not saying that this is black and white and will be the case all of the time because that is simply not true. For example I know that in some situations if I was to hoist the dongle up in the air on a long pole attached to a suitably long USB cable that this arrangement could out perform a high gain antenna stuck on the roof of the boat below ground level. On the other hand on an equal playing field the higher gain antenna must win.

I do feel that with the multi-terrain environment and remote location of some of the canals that we use that in an ideal world the two antenna solution is desirable. The magnetic mount on the roof for convenience and the pole mounted one for those remote areas with poor signal coverage, when we know that we just can’t live without internet access.

With the amount of interest shown so far I will attempt to put together a useful guide for both the 3g router and antenna arrangement. Any questions would be much appreciated as this will help with formulating a guide.

Statistics so far:-

1056.56 Miles, 725 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

Internet connection on a Narrow Boat

November 20, 2009

After reading Dots blog on Gypsy Rover yesterday I thought that I should share my internet connection solution, for those that may be interested that is.

A narrow boat is a large metal box which is a very good screen to radio waves, and as anyone knows who has a computer and goes on the internet on the boat it can be a right pain trying to get decent connection. The usual method for connecting to the internet is to use a USB dongle which can often be seen hanging in the window or in some cases on the roof in a plastic bottle. The problem with this type of setup is that you have to have the computer near the dongle, ok you can get longer USB cables, but you still have the computer tied to the dongle via its umbilical USB cable. So the computer location is determined by the dongle position and the dongle position is determined by the strength of the signal. Not a very satisfactory situation compounded by needing to connect more than one computer to the network, some could say that this is an extravagance but hey you would think nothing of doing this at home in a house.

So I have a two part solution to this problem.

1) A Wifi box which frees the USB connection
2) An external antenna which improves signal strength

First of all I must stress that I am no expert on computer systems and that there are more than likely loads of you out there with more knowledge and computer experience, having said that I also know that there are those that would like help in freeing their computer on board a narrow boat.

The first requirement is to obtain what is known as a ‘3g Router and Access Point’. This is a module into which you plug your USB dongle to provide internet access and it also includes a standard (802.11b/g) WiFi access point and means that you can connect any WiFi compatible equipment to it. We have two computers, a music player and a mobile phone connected to ours.

The one we have is ‘Edimax 3G-6200N nLite WiFi 3G Broadband Router’ which you can get from Amazon for £42.57 they do others at a range of prices but I cannot comment on the why’s and wherefores of choosing one rather than another, oh except for cost.

We also had a Solwise 3.5G router 3GWIFIMRW which you can also get from Amazon for £44.99 or direct from Solwise, this is a handy little device, but we had a problem connecting our Music player to the LAN port for internet connection which I was not able to resolve.

The setup for both these units was very straight forward, unless of course you read the instruction manual which in the case of the Solwise module is 255 pages in pdf format.

Seriously they were easy to setup, of course only after you find out what has to be done.
For 3G connectivity you need to enter the APN which simply stands for Access Point Name and there is nothing else to do. In the case of our provide Orange it was orangeinternet, what could be simpler? When I did this the first time it took me 2 hours to sort out that this was all that was required. So before you start you need to find your providers APN. When we received the Edimax I had it set up completely in less than 5 minutes.

The WiFi connection was just as simple but again only when you find out what has to be done, which is to turn on and set the security password.

I know that I may have grossly simplified things and that it may be different from computer to computer and that it is important to have the correct settings on the computer for example the PC LAN should be configured to obtain an IP address automatically…. Help, too much information.

I will leave it there and do the external antenna connection tomorrow. If there is an interest I will combine these things into a guide with a bit more specific detail and hardware configuration.

Boat Storage

November 19, 2009

We, well when I say we that should really read Frances. So Frances spent most of the day ringing around about our moorings that we require in the New Year while we are gallivanting around the Southern Hemisphere. The prices have been spread over an enormous range, mainly due to marinas not having the ability to separate facility and non facility requirements. Obviously being on another continent means we don’t want or need mains electricity, toilets and water.

I think that we are likely to use the BW moorings at Natwich, which positions us nicely for the Llangollen canal after the stoppages.

Statistics so far:-

1056.56 Miles, 725 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel

A day indoors

November 18, 2009

We had a bit of a battering last night with some fierce winds and plenty of rain. It wasn’t a day for venturing out too much so we stayed on the boat and did some house keeping.

The Navigation pub gave us a very warm welcome last night, I do like the pubs in this area very welcoming and cheap compared to the extortionate prices we have been paying in the south east. Of course now that we are not working we have to look out for these things.

I didn’t post any photos yesterday as I was just too tired and didn’t even down load them from the camera, well you have to get the cable out plug it in and turn the camera on and that’s before the real work of trying to sort out a decent picture. So here are three, one shows the repaired breach at Shebdon and the other two are from around Norbury Junction. The breach was really a leak and I believe they had time to move the boats out from between the two stop locks.

Shebdon – repaired breach

North of Norbury Junction

Dark clouds rolling in from the west at Norbury Junction

Statistics so far:-

1056.56 Miles, 725 Locks, 74 Swing Bridges, 48 Lift Bridges, 7 Tunnel