Making the Most of a Minimal Budget. Contact me at: or on Twitter: @skintsailor

Monday, 30 June 2014

Messing About with Water Wherever you are.

If you like messing about with water, if its in your DNA, you'll find a way of getting your fix despite your location.

When I was a kid, being in land-locked Lancashire the sea wasn't an option until I got transport. So, I found the next best thing in the local canals.

When I was five, I used to go down with my friends to the canal and try and float on any old bit of wood we could get to float. If we found big enough chunks of polystyrene, or barrels that could make a serious raft  then we were even happier! I learned to swim at six. My mother had already recognised my predilection for water and decided that at the very least I'd be able to survive if I fell in!

Then when I was six or seven the canal was started to be cleared out and restored. I remember watching the guys push a monorail dunp truck along the towpath. At the time it fascinated me. Over the years the canal was cleared which brought more rafting opportunities as well as Stickleback and Newt fishing.

By the time I was 14 the canal had been fully restored and there was a festival to celebrate at Portland basin, which was where two restored canals met. A narrowboat hire company called Wayfarer Narrowboats had just started working from Portland basin and I persuaded my father that it would be fun taking one of these out for a week. And so, one sunny day during 1976 we started our journey along the Peak Forest canal, hoping to get round the Cheshire ring.

All I can say is we were a bit ambitious, mainly because those of us that lived through 1976 will know we had a severe drought on that year. So severe, that cruising on the canals had to be dramatically restricted to preserve water levels. So flights of locks were actually locked with a chain and padlock very early in the late afternoon/ evening (I seem to remember 5pm being the time). This restriction and an unreliable engine (which meant a call-out to Wayfarer twice in the week) meant we didn't complete the Cheshire ring that week.

My father hired another boat from them the following year and we did complete the ring and he went on the year after that to buy a small cabin cruiser, which is where I got to know about outboard engines, lugging petrol cans from petrol stations, etc.

Anyway, this week I was back in my home town so I took the wife down to Portland Basin so she could see where I was talking about. Here are some pics:

Portland Basin Looking Towards the Ashton Canal. Peak Forest canal on the left.
Portland Basin Looking Towards the Huddersfield Narrow canal.

Portland Basin from on top of the bridge over the Peak Forest Canal.
As the Peak Forest canal leaves the Basin, it goes over the river Tame on an aqueduct:

The aqueduct narrows so it can be blocked off in case of a leak.

The river Tame. No Lancashire landscape should be without a chimney.
As you can see there is industry right alongside water and trees. Its a huge kids playground.

There is a very small linear marina up one of the small arms of the canal:
Portland Basin Marina. No yachts in sight!
The area is looking a bit run down from its heyday. The Canal Festival ran every year until 2008 and the area reflects its lack of attention. Almost back to the days when I was a kid. The place is home to a huge flock of Geese that don't seem to mind the odd human passing by, but I assume are largely unmolested.

Geese. Less of a flock, more like a swarm...

They to fly down to Langstone and eat some of the weed that gets in the way when rowing.

You can be in the middle of town, but nature is all around
River, canal, railway... All together to serve Victorian Lancashire Industry.

Today's guide is.... yours truly.

More nature, more Geese.

I put the pictures up on Facebook this weekend and all everyone can mention is back when I was 15 or 16  I built a Canadian Canoe and used to paddle it up and down the canal.

Its a shame kids these days miss out on all this, I loved getting outside.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Two Lost Weekends.

I had to work last weekend so I missed out on boating activity and this coming weekend I'm off to see my family. My stepdad is 98 and isn't in that good health. My mother isn't one to give things away but I can tell from the tone of her voice that this weekend may be the last time I get to see him. I was planning on going up there in August, but we've brought the visit forward a month.

So two weekends lost. But the first one pays for the second one, so all-in-all the cost is neutral.

As with everything that happens with the boat when I can't get on it, new jobs keep stacking up.

I've now got a transducer for my depth sounder head. Both were cheap on eBay, mainly because they were offered separately. Neither is much use without the other. I did try the depth sounder display head with the transducer in the boat but the display is a NASA one and the transducer is a Seafarer. They are incompatible so the NASA transducer should get things working.

I also have some varnish to finish off the locker tops, as the wood stain finish doesn't seem so durable. The varnish should seal the surface and provide a longer lasting finish.

If the depth sounder works then that should be the last important thing in place. Obviously the windows need doing at some point, but that isn't an essential job. I can get on and do some sailing!

I'm already looking at the tide tables and making plans in my head. Probably a long weekend beckons at some point, to see how far I can get in a couple of days.

I really need to get things booked as now we've had the longest day, the days are only going to get shorter. Plus half of August is out due to work colleagues having a week off each and half of September is dodgy as I have another weekend show to attend with work. Holidays are restricted the week before and the week after. So, July looks to be the best time and thanks to the tide its either going to be the 10th to the 13th or the 21st to the 24th. The first period seems to be the best as it incorporates a weekend and saves me a couple of days holiday.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Father's Day Sail.

Today I finally took Sprite II back out into the Solent. The last time we were outside Langstone harbour was when I picked her up and brought her round from Chichester harbour.

I was going to do it yesterday. I had a half day off work on Friday to get the engine in place and get everything ready for Saturday. Then I noticed the tiller pilot wasn't working. Bummer. Yesterday turned into a trace the fault and sort it day.

The fault turned out to be a corroded wire that had parted from a connector block which was located under the port quarter berth. I didn't think the wire from the switch box was thick enough, so I ran new thicker wires from the switch and fuse box under the berth and reconnected everything with a fresh connector block. I also made sure the connector block was secured under the berth out of any dampness in the bilges.

Job done, but it took over an hour to sort out.

Anyway, on to today. I got down to Eastney really early: probably an hour before I needed to, but Sunday traffic is always a pain as Eastney is on the route for the Southsea seafront. Luckily the grey cloud had subdued the beach-goers, so I got down there about 10am, and waited for the water to cover the mud so I could row out. There was about 6 inches of water over the mud, Sprite hadn't even righted herself.

I climbed aboard and started sorting things for the journey. Then Jim arrived and I ferried him over to Sprite. By the time we were shipshape and the dinghy had been tied to the mooring chain, Sprite was free of the mud and swinging in the wind. I started the engine to warm it up and fitted the rudder. Then I chucked the chain over the side and we were off!

Timing the tides is critical at Langstone, because the harbour entrance is very narrow. A lot narrower than Chichester harbour. So the flow through the entrance can be phenomenal especially with Spring tides like today.

We plugged the outgoing tide and to be honest we'd timed it just right. We just about kept moving forward. Any later and we'd have been going backwards! On the Portsmouth side we normally keep inside the yellow can mooring buoys, but there was a boat in the way this time, so we had to go outside the cans at one point into the main tidal flow.
The tide was coming in but this boat was side-on to the tide. How does that work?

Keeping to the sides of the entrance in the slower flow worked, but there is a bit on the Portsmouth side where a jetty and an outfall pipe marked by a red pile force you towards the middle, which is where we slowed down to a crawl. As you can see by the photo, the water nearer the shore is calmer than the water to the left of the jetty.

Coming up to the jetty and outfall pipe.
Rougher faster flowing water to the left in the centre of the channel.

Me being a very happy Captain.

Eventually, 30 minutes after setting off we were in the Solent with all the big boats!

Despite the weather, looking around I could easily see over 100 sails out on the Solent today. Mind you is was good sailing weather for the bigger boats, they just hooned along. When we got the sails set right we went along quite well.

Jim had a turn at the helm while I pratted about doing various things:

Coming out of Langstone we had a Northerly wind pushing us out, so I tried the whisker pole Pam gave me the other day.

The foresail was flapping about in the light following Breeze, so...

I fitted the whisker pole. We instantly gained speed. Very nice.
We almost got to Horse Sand Fort before we had to turn back I wanted to make sure we weren't plugging a massive tide. Because it was a 5 metre tide today the run through the entrance out to the Solent is worse than the incoming one. Its so fast it drags the yellow can mooring buoys under the water!

On the way back in we had to use the engine because we were nose-on to the wind so I put the spray hood up for shelter and seeing as it was about time for a brew I tried out the tiller pilot.

Jim was impressed with the amount of shelter the spray hood gave:

The tiller pilot worked a treat too.

Just a quick snippet of video I did as the tiller pilot did its thing and Jim was sending his pictures to Facebook:

All in all a very rewarding day.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Public Service Day

Today was a public service day because I did more for other people than I did for myself. If it was up to me, I'd have been on my way out into the Solent on the ebb tide and have spent the day sailing to Cowes and back. I mean, I got down to the boat and was greeted by weather like this:

But I'd promised to do some jobs and a promise is a promise, so I stayed here.

Over the past few days I've been hopping onto Sprite during the neap tides to do odd jobs. It only gives me about 1 or 2 hours on the boat maximum, before the tide goes out so far I have to drag the dinghy over a mat of seaweed, which I try and avoid.

The things I've been doing are small things. The other day I put the spray dodgers back on and today after dropping the wife off at work I got down to Eastney at 7:30 to do a bit more.

I fitted the freshly stitched spray hood and fitted a double block on the main sheet to match the triple block on the boom. I managed to get the spray dodgers on pretty tightly, so no unsightly flapping about. Pam emailed me this week saying the block on the transom was to allow you to fit the boat's table onto the pushpit. I tried it out and yes, it works! It needed a bit of thin rope and a screw in the table leg to hold it all secure, but I sorted that out and then had a well deserved brew, placing the cup on the table!

The old girl isn't looking too bad:

So that was the early morning taken care of. I came off her at around 9:00 by which time Jim had arrived.

As you can see from the picture, the wind was negligible so I persuaded him it was about time we dropped his mast and repaired his jib furling system.

So we dropped his mast.

Once we got the mast down it was apparent that the top section of the furling foil had lost the insert that joined it to the section next to it. I had a brainwave and nipped down to B&Q for some pipe from the plumbing department. I cut a 6 inch section and then cut a slot in the side of it, to match the slot in the foil. To my surprise it fitted a treat! To make doubly sure the sections didn't come apart we stuck some tape across the joins.

Then we hauled the mast back up. It was then we noticed that the jib foil had come away from the forestay. There was nothing for it but to haul the jib sail up and hope it pulled the foil and the forestay together. Luckily it did and I rolled up the sail.

Taking the mast down, nipping to B&Q through seafront traffic, having a brew, fixing the jib and hauling the mast back up had taken us until 2:30. But then I had to leave as I'd promised to do some work at the care home for people with learning disabilities the wife works at. Mainly clearing out their fish pond and selecting a filter for the pond at the local aquarist centre. So I left Jim tightening up the rigging and re-routing the lines.

Just like Langstone Harbour, their fish pond has become overgrown with hair algae. I'm not sure why hair algae is so bad this year, but in Eastney pool, most of the pool is so matted with swathes of algal growth it makes rowing the dinghy almost impossible in places. So I spent the next few hours dragging green hairy goo out of the pond whilst avoiding dragging the newts and fish out as well.

With the pond cleared, we could see that it being choked with algae hadn't harmed the fish: there were about 30 baby fish in there! I filled the pond with fish from freecycle a couple of years ago and they certainly seem to be doing well.

Anyway, that took me up to 6 o'clock, so it was time to head back to Eastney so I could help Jim move his boat off the beach and back onto his mooring. While I was waiting for the tide I epoxied a crack in the dinghy hull that had opened up and started weeping slightly again. I then rowed to Jim's boat and we fitted his boom back on the mast while waiting for the tide to lift his boat off the beach.

Because the wind had dropped to nothing I row-towed Jim's boat to its mooring. It was quicker than setting up the outboard. We spent an hour or so securing the mooring and generally nattering, before heading home.

So as you can see today has been a bit of a public service day. I've done some useful stuff helping other people and I ache again.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Culinary Corner (2 of a very Occasional Series)

As an avid bargain hunter I'm a regular customer of the Lidl supermarket chain.

I've bought a few items for the boat from them like the Fire Blanket, the multitool I use on board and a few other bits and bobs.

However Culinary Corner is about food on board, so here is my recommendation.

Lidl large tin meals.

The one on the right, the meatballs and pasta has been taste-tested by myself and Jim and found to be really rather good. Its even got vegetables in the mix, so its partly healthy too! Easy to cook: just lob in a pan and bring to a simmer and serve when hot enough. They even have ring pulls on, so you don't have to remember the tin-opener!

The tins are big enough to provide a meal for two people and are a bargain at less than £2 each. The Coquette meals are £1.59 and the Chilli is £1.89. But still good value.

I will be bravely taste testing the Chilli and the Pasta Spirals in Tomato Sauce over the forthcoming weeks and will be reporting back. This evening I checked another tin of meatballs while on the boat and can confirm its still tasty.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

More jobs off the list

I went a bit mad today with the wood stain.

Last week i got the second locker top fitted and today I gave both of them a few coats of teak stainyness.

They came up rather well.:

I also stained the wooden block on the transom the purpose of which I have no idea. But it got coated anyway, to make it match with the locker tops.

The originals did need replacing:

But then again talking to Pam this week they are about 30 years old, so its no wonder they were a bit past it. They lasted well, but the spanking new ones look the business.

While I was on a roll I stained the handrails as well. I prefer the finish from oiled wood, but as soon as they were exposed to the weather they went grey again. Hopefully the stain will prevent the grey returning.

So I can cross the locker tops off the to-do list now.

Before I went mad with the woodstain, Jim came across from his boat and I made a spot of lunch. I brought a huge tin of Lidl's meatballs and pasta. I'd never had it before, but I can thoroughly recommend it. It was pretty decent and fed both of us even though it was only £1.59 for a tin. A couple will be returning to Sprite along with the other flavour varieties. When I get another tin I'll post a picture under one of my gourmet recommendations.

The to-do list is shrinking quite well, although the items on the list look to be the most difficult or most expensive. Hull cleaning and anti-fouling won't be cheap. There is a guy that has a stall at the boat jumbles selling paint and he's relatively cheap, so the next one I go to I'll hunt for him. I think I might be asking for anti-fouling paint for my birthday!

The window rubbers aren't cheap and to be honest the rear windows have so many cracks in that they may not survive the transplant. They may need replacing, adding to the cost. I'll have to cross that bridge later.

I've also got to figure out how to get up the mast safely to change the light bulb. double/triple blocks and a home-made bosun's seat may be the way to sort that problem.