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Monday, January 27, 2014

A Cargo of Sand

I remember first cruising through Leighton Buzzard some 8 years ago and wondering what these raised banks were used for. I of course guessed they were for loading something onto a

boat but had no idea what. At some point in time I discovered the answer having noticed the rails on one of the wharves. It`s all to do with sand. Not just the normal stuff but Silica rich sand famous for it`s quality all over the world.
There are three of these wharves, this one is the first as you boat into L.Buzzard heading north and was joined to Arnolds  Rackley sand pit.
Garside and Arnold were the dominant names in sand at L.Buzzard.

Arnolds had six horse drawn boats but gave up using boats in the 1930`s. Garside also had boats and in 1912 shipped 500 boatloads and still used the canal into the 1950`s. George Garside started his sand business in the 1890`s. Every Easter his wife would travel on one of the company boats to Paddington basin and distribute Easter eggs and oranges to the boat children.
Horses and carts plus steam lorries were the main transport for the sand from pits north of the town to transport sites be they rail or water in the south. The town centre was the main route and so much damage was caused to the roads that in 1919 the narrow gauge railway was created using a 2 foot gauge. Garside and Arnold set up the company called the Leighton buzzard light railway. At certain places the rails crossed the roads and today they still do but as a  tourist attraction. In the 1960`s a group of enthusiasts took over a section and run passenger trips. 

 On the map above;
A is Tesco`s
B is the loading wharf very top of page.
C is Brantoms wharf (features next blog post)
D is Grove lock.
E is the old railway branch to Dunstable.
F is bridge 110 (sand `ole) pictured in my last post. Arnolds boats loaded here from their pits at Heath and Reach.

On the right is one of the trains working in a sand pit.
Above is a 1961 map of just a small part of the extensive network of tracks. In the picture the tracks along the bottom are the main line to Dunstable with branches into the sand pits. The majority of tracks are the narrow gauge rails. This map shows just the pits south of the town centre.

Nowadays although the sand industry still exists signs of the pits has all but disappeared with some having been filled many years back with rubbish from London and now industrial estates cover the sites. Tiddenfoot Lake  was once a sand pit but is now a waterside park on the left as you enter L. Buzzard on the canal.

One hundred and fifty years on and sand still leaves L. Buzzard but road transport has now taken the place of rail and water.

Some links here and  here and here and here

Friday, January 24, 2014

Water, Wood and It's All Good!

“High technology has done us one great service: It has retaught us the delight of performing simple and primordial tasks - chopping wood, building a fire, drawing water from a spring” ~Edward Abbey (American environmental Writer)

   Look who's chopping wood again! We love to find wood as we cruise along. I help carry larger limbs back to the boat. Now Les feels well enough and strong enough to do a bit more on his own.
Happy as a puppy with two tails!
   We are blessed with such mild weather so far this winter and at last--at last we are moving again, albeit in a relatively confined area of the canal system due to waiting for word about Les' further surgeries. That's okay with me. His energy levels are on the rise and every day my husband is capable of doing something he couldn't contemplate three weeks previously. Les is still on the skinny side and his clothes hang off of him, but he is happy and healthier once more.
Les chopping wood we scored near Horton lock
   We received notice that Les' prostate surgery has now been scheduled for March 3rd at Watford General Hospital. He will back on level five which is where he was previously, so hopefully we won't have to break in a new staff regarding who we are, and our expectations for the level of care an NHS hospital and staff should be capable of providing to its patients. We will the meantime we will slowly make our way back towards Marsworth over the next couple of weeks, taking time to travel the Aylesbury arm which neither of us has done before.
   This brings Jo and Keith Lodge on NB Hadar to mind. They were on the Aylesbury 'round about March of last year and spotted the beginning of the rupture which closed down the arm for repairs most of last year. Hadar just managed to escape the arm before the closure. Now Keith is in hospital fighting for his life and Jo is visiting him every day. She is posting updates on Keith's situation on Hadar's blog (follow the link above) and keeps us abreast of her feelings about all of this on her blog Where I Belong. Sound familiar?
    They are experiencing some of the same issues we faced in October--frustration and a feeling of helplessness while one's life is held in the hands of others who too often treat it all as just one more shift at work. Our thoughts are with them both. We know exactly how it feels and I tell you now that while we are moving on with our lives as much as possible I am not looking forward to dealing with the bureaucracy and failures of the NHS through two more surgeries and recovery.

   We came back into Leighton Buzzard and spent one night moored up in town to access the library reference historical books and maps, stopping at a chip shop for a paper cone of chips with vinegar to munch as we walked through the High street. One night was enough sandwiched between two boats who totally disregarded regulation regarding running the boat engine after 8 pm. Given that we left Old Lindslade because our usual quiet country mooring spot quickly filled up with a raft of floating humanity all around us with some questionable looking characters wandering up and down the towpath, we were ready to find a spot with more quiet.
  How questionable you ask? Well we were traveling up a lock back into town and two men were moving a small, derelict looking narrow boat into the lock by hand. Les was with NB Val while I walked up to help with the lock. The blokes looked up from their boat hauling, red faced and puffed out. 
   "Have you got a key we can borrow? We don't have one," said the fellow who appeared to be in charge of this operation. I replied, "A key? You mean a windlass? You don't have a windlass? Why is that?"
   "We just bought this boat last night and they took the windlasses with them. We are taking the boat to the marina up ahead for work." He didn't meet my eyes. What marina, I am thinking...there is no marina between this lock and a long, long way...I quickly decided to keep hold of my windlass.
   "I'll set the lock for you," and I got on with it. As the men towed the boat out by hand after the lock emptied and I opened a gate for them, there was no "thank you" or "cheers mate." They pulled the boat to the bollards, got on, started up the outboard motor and took off. It made me wonder if there was a demolition or recovery crew waiting ahead.
   We cruised out of Leighton Buzzard the next morning in doubtful weather.  Soon the sky began to spit on us so we moored up in a relatively quiet stretch of canal. I made the acquaintance of the lovely chap aboard NB Welsh Wizard who was out strolling along the towpath later on. His thick Welsh accent made me homesick for a place I've never lived--Wales. I could shut my eyes and hear my Welsh grandmother Lilly George, talking to me as a child.
   Four days and we were itching to move again. We winded back toward Leighton Buzzard for a water top up and rubbish dump, winded again and I stocked up at Tesco. On our way to the service point we stopped and scored some more wood! YES!!

   While yesterday was blustery, it was cool, bright, and a fine day for cruising. We traveled through a couple of locks and found a quiet place with just enough room for one boat to moor on the short bit of skirting along the towpath. We are staying here for a few days, which provides me with the time required to address the issue of why I have been unable to post comments to a fair number of boaters' blogs for nearly two and a half months.
   In Blogger under Settings/Posts and Comments, a blog administrator has several options from which to choose when setting up the comment formatting for a blog: Embedded, full page, or pop up window. These choices determine how your blog's comments are displayed and how your readers will leave comments. 
   For some reason unknown to me, I was unable to leave comments on over a dozen boaters' blogs when their comment format was embedded or full page. A query to the Blogger help forum indicated the issue revolved around my refusing permission for third party cookies. I set up my Firefox browser so third party cookies were not accepted (I hate being tracked). It appears the non-acceptance of cookies interacted unfavorably with blogs whose comments are embedded or full page formatting, forcing me to reluctantly change my cookies setting. Finally I can comment again! So if I have regularly commented on YOUR blog in the past and appeared to stop, it isn't because I lost interest--I promise. I have been so frustrated by this issue but I didn't have time to suss it before now.
   Les has made short work this morning of the second batch of wood we picked up while worked in my Spring semester 2014 online courses, getting my students sorted. I've ensured they have the additional syllabus information, explained how a pass/fail course works, etc. I answered student questions, graded the first week's assignments and assisted a student who was late-added to one of my courses. Ray Charles cooes in the background " Your gonna love me like nobody's loved me come rain or come shine...I'm with you always rain and shine."
   In the peace and quiet of the evening dark we stretch out before the fire lit stove, side by side in our recliners while we read or watch the BBC's Hidden Kingdoms wildlife series. Invariably at some point every evening one of us reaches out for the hand of the other and says, "I love you," and "this life is so good. I am so glad I am sharing it with you."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter cruising into Leighton Buzzard

Leighton Buzzard was the chosen destination or at least just beyond to  Old Linslade where we would be far enough away from the hustle and bustle of a busy town. With no particular time table we split the 13 lock, 1 swing bridge and 10 mile journey into 3 cruise days with several days spent between each section.
This we find is the best way to deal with winter, short days of cruising but not daily. Look at the pictures, Blue skies and sunshine with fairly mild temperatures.
Just one view from a very remote mooring. Very quiet and no light pollution, recipe for a good sleep.

This is Church lock. It is in the hamlet of Grove just south of Leighton Buzzard. The church formerly known as St. Michael and all Angels dates back to the 14century. It was sold by the church in the 1970`s and is now a private residence although part of the graveyard remains under church control. Inside in the living room a medieval skeleton is set into the floor beneath a glass floor.

The last time we came across this wide beam boat was back in February 2012. (see left pic)
It had come adrift and there was no one on board. I spent half an hour getting it moored so we could get by. Robert the owner had been reading through some blogs and was surprised to see his boat featured on ours. He  e mailed his thanks for our help and so it was nice to meet face to face.
Notice the snow on the ground,  any bets on a repeat snowy February. My money stays in my pocket.

Robert is taking his wide beam through Grove lock. It was originally a lock keepers cottage but was converted into a pub/restaurant in 2001.
Not sure of the original building but I guess the first three windows was the cottage with additions to the side and rear being added for the pub development. Above the three windows is some fancy brickwork absent from the rest and I base my guess on this. I did try to find with no success some old pictures.

Just beyond this bridge is our destination and turning point on this trip. We have not decided yet but a trip back to Marsworth to turn down the Aylesbury arm might be our next move. Not knowing when my next little bit of surgery will be is keeping our cruising distance short.
Anyway this was our mooring for 4 days and as you see by the picture on the right it rained a lot. The river Ouzel flooded canal side fields and it seems some excess water found it`s way into the canal. This scene is very unusual because the canals by way of overflows  release excess water back into rivers at many points along their route and keep canals at a pretty even level.
The bridge was known as `sand `ole bridge` because of the sand pits in nearby Heath and Reach. The wharf in the upper picture was where boats would load sand for destinations all over the country. Now it makes a good car park for the many visitors to the area. The whole area of Leighton Buzzard was and still is known for good quality sand.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Functional Boat Galley: Jaq Answers a Blog Follower From the USA

"Good morning Jaq, I so enjoy following your blog. Lots of prayers for continued recovery for Les and strength for you. I have a question. So many wonderful things come from your kitchen, I am wondering what kitchen things you have when you have such a small space. I look at all the things in my kitchen and wonder if I really need so many kitchen gadgets, pots,pans etc. Odd question.....I hope not. Take care, Karren" ~blog reader. Lebanon, Oregon, USA

   It's always a treat to hear from our readers. I decided to answer Karren's query with a post and include some pictures, while Les works on research for his next historical canal post.
   In my previous life back in the USA I used to have a private catering business. It was one way I made extra money while earning my university degree. I used to cater private dinners for 2-6 people. I also used my culinary skills to cater university child care scholarship fundraisers for 50+ people each quarter.  And once upon a time, long ago in Alaska I contracted with local families to cook their holiday pies as a way to earn extra money. I also worked as a pastry chef at a lodge.
   My kitchen at Cloudhouse in Pullman, Washington was a cook's dream with a large U shaped space, double wall ovens, a cook top, a huge refrigerator/freezer with another freezer in the utility room, double sinks, a dish washer and a large counter/breakfast bar. It had oodles of storage space and a healthy sized pantry.
   Whittling down all of my kitchen ware to what was essential on a boat with a galley about 1/10th the size of my kitchen was tough, but I had a really good guideline to follow, provided by Fine Cooking magazine. I had subscribed to this magazine for fifteen years and saved all my copies. I like it because FC is a comprehensive magazine for those who love cooking. It provides fabulous recipes with easy to follow instructions and lovely photographs to illustrate each step. FC also explains the chemistry involved in cooking, i.e. food science. I couldn't imagine throwing away my collection: all those recipes and all that knowledge! So in addition to paring down my kitchen gear I also had to figure out how to bring the best of those magazines with me.
   I decided to buy a large, high quality, hard cover "empty" book into which I added tabs for each section and pasted the best recipes from nearly two decades of my favorite periodical, interspersed with my tried and true family recipes. It took me about four hours every evening for three solid weeks to complete my recipe book. Les has nicknamed it "The bible!"
  One of the many indispensable pull out guides in FC magazine was "100 Tools for the Well-Eqiuipped Kitchen."There are seventeen items on the list I do not have as they are not applicable to my life aboard a narrow boat. Otherwise I actually have a very well equipped, fully functional kitchen, also due in large part to my Best Beloved.
Fridge below the counter...
and after the move!
When I moved aboard the boat Les had already moved the refrigerator from below the galley counter to above it. Had he not done so, I would have spent a lot of my time every day, on my knees or belly trying to see what was 
 stored on the bottom shelf in the back of the fridge. Moving the fridge up gave Les room to move the washing machine into the galley underneath the fridge and opened up room in the wardrobe for my clothes. Basically though the galley was unchanged in function. Les stored food, pots and pans and dishes in one large cupboard with two shelves, next to the stove. For a bachelor this worked just fine!
   After my 640 pounds of worldly goods arrived from the USA in October of 2011, Les set to work building a tall, narrow cupboards from IKEA bookcases to house our dishware and glassware. He built a similar smaller cupboard for condiments, and took out the shelf in the large bottom cupboard next to the stove, building in two large sliding drawers for my pots and pans. These changes increased the functionality of the galley for me. 
Outside of the smaller condiment cupboard...
and inside!
Glass & dishware cabinet.
Bottom of this cabinet with dishes and larger pots/serving bowls.


The slide out drawers Les built for me with a lid rack on the inside of the cupboard door.
   The secret to making these drawers work on a boat? Nesting everything! In the top drawer I have:  9x13 and 9x11 glass baking pans, 2 loaf pans, four strainers of different sizes, 2 funnels, a large square Corning Ware baking dish with lid, two 9" glass pie pans, a meal steamer, an ice cube tray, 6 nested Pyrex storage bowls with lids and a wire cooling rack for baked goods.

   In this bottom drawer I have medium and small Corning Ware baking pans with glass lids, two 9" round cake pans, a salad spinner, a small Corning Ware saute pan with lid, a 10" deep sided stainless steel frying pan with lid, an 8" saute pan, 3 quart stainless steel pan with a lid, 1 quart pan with a lid, three Pyrex liquid measuring cups, a set of nesting dry measuring cups, a large stainless steel mixing/serving bowl, 2 glass mixing bowls, a serving tray, and the chopping bowl and lid for the immersion blender.

   In place of shelves Les installed wire drawers form IKEA to serve as pantry storage for food dry goods, baking sheets and large platters. I love these because they hold loads of stuff, they are easy to see into and to clean.

No matter where I cook I also follow three rules: 
   1. Never cook in a messy kitchen. I always run a sink full of nearly boiling hot water with some dish soap and bleach in it. I wipe everything down before I start cooking and put away everything that is not germane to my task at hand.
   2. Lay out all the ingredients necessary for a recipe. Measure it all out, slice it, dice it, and have everything ready. professional chefs call it the mise en place or "in its place." This saves time and keeps one focused on the recipe.
   3. Clean up as you go. As I move through a recipe, I stop for a minute, turn to my hot dish water, ring out the sponge and clean up. I put away all ingredients I have finished with and wipe my work area down, drying it with a clean dish cloth. Then I move on to the next step. If I am preparing an entire meal, I take 2 minutes here and there to wash up the utensils and dishes I've dirtied, rinse, dry and put them away. It is the only way to maintain order in a small galley kitchen. 
Ceramic butter keeper
Nesting doll dry measure cups
   The items I find indispensable are: a good quality chef's knife, three 4 inch paring knives, serrated bread knife, a knife sharpener, mortar and pestle, heavy duty Dutch oven, baking sheets, 9" spring form pan, immersion blender/beater/chopper, 2, 4, & 8 cup Pyrex liquid measuring cups/ nesting Matryoshka style dry measuring cups, hand held wire whips, spice rack, IKEA stainless steel bowl, kitchen timer, kitchen scale, salad spinner, strainers, 12 quart stock pot, stainless steel covered saute pan, and ceramic butter keeper. The butter is in the lid and the bottom holds water which insulates the butter keeping it at an even temperature--important on a boat where the temperatures inside can vary by ten degrees or more from early morning to early evening. 
   I also extend my cold storage space in late fall and throughout the winter by setting large pots of soups, stews and other items in covered storage bowls on the bow locker. I also store fresh greens, herbs, root vegetables, bread, and other items in the bow locker itself. This only works in cold weather though. 
   The things I find difficult: mainly the itty bitty boat oven! It is poorly designed and does not hold heat well at all. In addition if I want to put a covered casserole dish or pan in the oven I can only put small and mediums sized covered pans on the middle rack and large ones on the small rack--otherwise the pans won't fit in the oven. All the heat goes up to the top so this means it takes longer for things to cook and cooking temperatures have to be readjusted.
   For example, in my ovens at Cloudhouse it took 30-40 minutes to bake to 9 inch round cakes. In the boat oven it take two hours and I have to turn the pans every fifteen minutes due to hot spots; I also have to switch them from the top rack to the bottom rack every 30 minutes. I have baked a 9x13 pan of escalloped potatoes for two and half hours at 350F (gas mark 4), to find the potatoes in the middle were raw and hard. The same recipe cooked in the very same pan at 350F in my home oven at Cloudhouse would take no more than 45 minutes.
   I've also had to learn to live without a toaster. In the States the oven has a heating element on the bottom for baking and another element on the top for "broiling" as we call it. One would turn the oven knob to broil and the top element gets broiling hot! Hot enough to grill a pizza or sear a nice steak on the top rack of the oven.
   Over here cookers come with a separate section called the grill. Toast is made on this grill and bacon is browned on it. I've found it good for little else. One certainly cannot grill a tender pork chop or a steak on it--it doesn't get hot enough. It is a grand place to warm the plates though! 
   I love our galley aboard NB Valerie. If we were designing a boat I would change a thing or two, but overall I am quite happy with what we've got. As far as boats go, the galley design (two counters with cupboards and utilities on each side that run for a certain length with a walkway down the middle) provides the maximum space usage as compared to other designs such as a U shaped galley. I love that I can cook while visiting with folks because it is an open plan. I also appreciate being able to stand in the middle of the galley and basically reach nearly everything by merely turning around in a circle. Our galley is five feet, nine inches wide and 8 feet, four inches long. 
The condiment cabinet is to my right as I look down the galley. The grill/oven is underneath the cook top. The fridge and washing machine are to my left. The slim dish and glassware cabinet is just past the sink on the left, with the immersion blender unit mounted on the side.
Four IKEA spice racks mounted side by side near the stove top. The condiment cabinet is at the end of the counter.

   I hope that answered your question Karren. Thanks for following along on our blog. Feel free to email with questions, etc. any time. If anyone wants the list of 100 essentials for a well equipped kitchen, just email me and I will send it along.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Airhead Marine Composting Toilet--One Year On

“When you've finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care”~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    It was one year ago in October that we installed the Airhead marine composting loo in NB Valerie. Since we weren't cruising recently, we thought it time to provide a loo update for the curious and concerned. This will be a frank and open discussion of the use of this loo system so change blogs now if you are sensitive about bodily functions.
   Basically as we said in the first post about this (October 20, 2012, What Every woman Wants For Her Birthday), if this loo is being used daily the contents will only be half composted when the toilet requires emptying. The very bottom and middle layers will have begun the composting process but the newer layers will not be broken down completely. Nevertheless, there is no rank smell, and with a bit of planning and a well constructed  Army spade, Les and I managed as a team to clean the new loo once every six weeks. It took a total of thirty minutes and while not a pleasant chore (who can really call any toilet cleaning exercise pleasant?), the semi-monthly loo cleaning aboard NB Valerie was not awful. The scent of a peat bog or a cooking compost heap was the main odor--one Les never found offensive in any way and that was only when the toilet was apart for cleaning. Otherwise--no odor. We've never once smelled anything unpleasant wafting out of the toilet roof vent when we've been cruising, moored up, or when either of us have been up on the roof.

   When Les' colon literally went south this past summer as cancer took hold of him, very nearly blocking his rectum with a massive tumor, Les had to take Dulcolax stool softeners throughout every day in order to pass anything at all--and everything came out liquid with trips to the loo necessary as many as twenty times a night as his health worsened and months passed while we waited for the surgeon to book the operation.
   The Airhead tried valiantly to keep up with this. As anyone knows who has really reviewed this composting marine loo, it works so well because the liquids and solids are separated. From July until October when Les underwent surgery to remove the mass, we went from cleaning out the loo once every six weeks to cleaning it out every three weeks, then every two weeks, and finally once a week. The unpleasant whiff of soured chocolate (cocoa shells remember) that occurred then was only very obvious to me--Supernose. We had visitors aboard during this time who never had a clue what was happening or not happening under the toilet pan. 
   We cleaned the loo together the last time on October 14th--the day we locked up the boat and spent the first of two nights at the Watford Travel Lodge so Les could undergo the experience of a total bowel cleanse before surgery on October 16th. At this point it was only me using the loo so I cleaned it all by myself for the first time. 
   Now I empty it once every four weeks because that is what I am most comfortable with doing, but the Airhead loo could easily accommodate another two weeks. It still only takes thirty minutes. The process goes as follows: because we have a teeny, tiny postage stamp sized bathroom, I remove all towels, pajamas, robes, rugs, and anything else which could get in my way. 
   I set out a package of nappy wipes (diaper wipes), and a spray bottle of Flash cleaner with bleach. I get a large, thick black plastic bag and close one side of the opening in the two doors underneath the bathroom sink. This holds the large bag open and in place. I don a pair of plastic gloves and loosen the four wing nuts holding the top to the bottom, remove the top which is essentially the toilet seat compartment and set it upside down in the bathtub.
Folding 25" Army spade
   I get the spade which lives in a plastic carrier bag, discreetly tucked away outside on the bow and scoop the solids out of the bottom of the loo, disposing of each shovel full in the black bag. When the solids compartment is empty, I clean the spade with baby wipes and bleach spray and put it away in its plastic carrier bag on the bow.  I change my plastic gloves, and with clean ones on, I use nappy wipes to clean up the outside and part of the inner section of the bottom. I also use this opportunity to clean up the wall and floors around the loo of any accumulated dust and grime from the month. 
   I strip off the plastic gloves, fill the bottom of the loo with fresh cocoa shells and a Tablespoon of compost starter. Then I don another pair of plastic gloves and using the spray cleaner with bleach, I turn my attention to the top toilet compartment resting in the bathtub. Once that has all been wiped down clean, I set the top part back on the bottom section and remove my plastic gloves to screw the wing nuts back in place and re-attach the fan hose. The urine bottle is cleaned out every two days when we empty it. Job almost done!
   I tie up the black plastic bag and set it out on the bow for disposal. Then I clean out the bath tub, wipe down the sink and cabinets, sweep and mop the floor, hang all the towels, robes, and pajamas back in the bathroom and call it good. Thirty minutes from start to finish which equals six hours a year.
   The point of all this narrative is to say that while not pleasant, it is easy enough to do, offers me a chance to really scrub up the entire bathroom once a month and I only have to do this twelve times a year--not every two and a half days of faffing about with awkward shaped, fifty plus pounds of loo cassettes which have to be negotiated from awkward places aboard the boat, and which sit literally stewing into a nasty, bacteria breeding, stinking stew which then must be disposed of when we find a service point with an Elsan.
   Not only could I not lug the cassettes we used to have, but I couldn't maneuver them off and on their tracks while rooting around in a large, deep cupboard underneath our bed, and I certainly could not go anywhere near an Elsan, popping the lid on a cassette to empty it.
   If we had still had the cassette toilet system in place when Les went into hospital we would have been screwed to put a not too fine point on things. I would have had to find some poor bloke who was willing to come aboard, get on their knees, pull the full cassette out, put the empty cassette in place, and take the full unit down to the service point to empty--every two days!!
   Even now I make sure we go to the service point for water very early in the day before folks are using the Elsan services. The last time we got up there late in the day, some poor boater was in the process of emptying his loo cassettes as I rounded the corner to throw some rubbish away. The smell hit me like a punch to my gut. I dropped to my knees and puked up lunch while the bloke at the Elsan--oblivious to the odor of his ordure--stuck his head out the doorway to inquire if I was all right.
   We still love our Airhead loo and me even more so now that I am the one who cleans it out from start to finish. For Les, it means he no longer has to tackle the toilet chores on his own. For me it means independence. I can do it myself and we are not tied to Elsan points at least once a week to empty cassettes. Finally, we are no longer using our precious water supply to flush poo. We are also not contributing to the sewage plants of this country. Left to its own devices, the solids in the black plastic bag will compost and return to nature something that is useful and harmless requiring no sewage plants and chemicals.

   Different strokes for different folks. I do realize this system is not the choice for everyone. Recently in a surf through boater's blogs I came across one on which the boaters described their trials with the same toilet system we have. They quickly found themselves disenchanted with their Airhead loo. After several months use they found their loo smelled; unpleasant smells came from the roof vent and wafted back to the stern, and cleaning out the loo was a onerous task for them. We were quite surprised and sad to read of the problems these folks experienced because, honestly we haven't had any problems at all. 
   We tried to think of why they might have encountered problems and we decided to share the following:
   We've only had problems twice in just over one year. One month after we installed our Airhead, the fan for it suddenly quit working. Almost immediately I could smell the toilet. Now Les didn't smell it unless the bottom flap was opened but I could smell it out in the hallway when the flap was closed. A quick word with the UK distributor at Hillmorton and a new fan was dispatched without charge. In the meantime Les discovered that small, round computer fans will also work and we have an extra on hand in case this occurs again. To date the second fan is still working fine.
   About three weeks ago our toilet quickly developed an unpleasant smell like an over full cat box when someone came aboard and disregarded our instructions for the use of the loo. They urinated into the toilet with the solids flap open, saturating the solids compartment with liquid. Within 24 hours I could smell it and the loo had to be prematurely cleaned out and reset with cocoa shell and compost starter. 
So here are some tips we've found which ensure our composting loo functions perfectly: 
   1. Be absolutely religious about keeping urine and solids separated. For women this means after urinating, throw your toilet wipe away in a rubbish bin. This keeps the solids receptacle from filling up with soggy wads of toilet paper.
   2. Again mainly for women, since men have a longer urethra and a built in short term storage system, one must develop strong sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. If you are making a solid deposit and need to wee, you have to do one first and then follow up with the other. In other words, either go wee first so it all goes in the urine bottle and then open the bottom flap and get on with your solids business, or vice versa.
   3. When we purchased our Airhead, all the literature that accompanied the toilet recommended the use of crenelated paper coffee filters set in the toilet pan whenever one had to make a solid deposit. Lower the lever, the flap opens and the filled filter drops into the solids compartment; however Richard, who
sold us our unit, said after awhile one gets comfortable enough using this toilet to do away with the filters. Just sit, open the flap and go. The solids drop down and the bottom compartment fills less quickly and without the paper filters filling it up. This works fine for us but we keep the paper filters on hand for guests to use. If children visit the boat it is essential an adult accompanies them to the loo and explains how it works. Children are easily distracted and can forget one must "be here in the moment" and pay attention when using a composting loo.
   4. Churn it up!  It is essential for the composting action and airflow on this loo to crank the handle on the bottom solids compartment at least once a day. After every solid deposit is best.
   5. Every Saturday I add about one cup full of cocoa shells to the solids compartment. Even though there is no liquid going into the solids container,
human solid waste is still a bit wet. Adding in cocoa shells once a week keeps a very good balance between truly dry ingredients and slightly wet stuff, which is essential to any compost be it in one's heap in the back yard or in the composting loo. A 70 litre bag of Arthur J. Bowers Cocoa Shell lasts us one year and costs on average £12.99. 
   If you have just found this post and would like to read more about our installation of the Airhead with pictures, then please click on the bold title below and it will take you to the post titled, "What Every Woman Wants for Her Birthday." 
   You can also read an interesting article on composting loos in which ours was one of those featured, in Canal Boat magazine, September 2013. The link is available up on the right hand side of this blog. Just click the picture of the magazine cover. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Away from Marsworth

We left the reservoir
mooring on Sunday and the first stop was Marsworth yard to fill the water tank and dump the rubbish. This gave me a chance to go up on the bridge on a non working day to get a close up of the work being done. Ok so perhaps I was scaremongering  by saying the next blog might be one of the bridge collapsed etc. I am happy to report the drilling was away from the centre span and was in fact into the main supports resting on each bank. One side already dug out shows a thick slab of concrete exposed that has obviously been there some time. I assume the work they are doing will tie into this slab.
With the tank filled we set sail under a cloudy sky within our winter cruising time of 11am till 2pm. This is generally the warmest part of the day and besides who wants to cruise more than 3 hrs in winter.
 Just past Pitstone this wooden hull has given in and water has taken it to the bottom.
 Jaq is on steering duty as I swing open the bridge that is only there because a public footpath has been crossed by the canal. The size and strength of the bridge and the five bar gates each side suggest the farmer also has right of way for his tractor.
As usual Jaq and I share the boating duties and now she is on shore duty while I steer.
A couple of locks further on and this is the sight that greeted me next to the lock. We moored up just across from here as the time dictated our day had been long enough. The evening discussion was about that wood pile and I decided that on the way back and after I tried starting the chain saw we would stop and load up. Having done a few locks and with no strain on my mid section I think the 1/2 pulls to start the saw will be within my ability. If the wood has gone then so be it but there is a lot more out of picture so there is plenty to go around with the few boats that are moving.
I meant to have put this on the last post. Always nice sunsets over the reservoir. Might have been better if I had gone up the grass bank and got the water in the pic.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A look around Marsworth

Two or three days here is like being on holiday. Not new walks but certainly ones we have not walked for quite some time. We have this stretch almost to ourselves with just one other boat out of sight around the bend. The reservoir on the right is almost full and plenty of water is passing down the lock flight via the old side ponds. Tring high street is a 40 minute walk between two reservoirs and along the roads one of which passes over the Wendover Arm.
Behind me as I take the above picture is the bottom lock of the Marsworth flight. The old working boaters called it `Mappers`. Below is a picture of it in about 1900. The White Lion pub, still empty, has lost a couple of chimneys on the right but gained a window top left. Developers are trying to turn it into residential units but a recent application has failed.  about 1900
What else is different in the picture?. Jaq is in the lower picture but there is no sign of the horse and cart that is in the older version. More trees? No telegraph wires?  You can`t miss the difference, follow the bridge across. Yep you got it, the traffic light outside the pub, not in the old picture is it!
 Anyway enough of the spot the difference quiz it`s history time. At one time there was a single lock here built in addition to the original double locks. Sorry if you spotted that difference but you must shout louder. In 1838 it was decided to install an extra single boat lock from here as far north as Stoke Hammond. Six bridges had to have an extra arch and a total of 23 extra locks were installed. The idea was to speed up the single boat traffic as the large number of these boats passing through was such that they were made to wait for a boat to share the double locks so as not to waste water. Remember this is now a downhill section and most of the water comes from the reservoirs and the summit level.
 Extra reservoir capacity, pumps at some locks and the change to boats working as pairs put an end to the single locks.
A lot of the extra lock locations are easily spotted and of course the bridges are still there.

Further along the development on the old British waterways yard at the Aylesbury arm junction has not progressed. More about the proposals on an earlier blog post HERE. It all looks just the same with the exception of the road bridge that will be the main access to the site. Contractors are strengthening it with reinforced concrete. Now I am not sure but seeing as there is not one piece of construction material on site I can only assume they have to do the bridge work as part of planning permission before work starts.
As I took the picture all I hoped was the guys with their pneumatic drills know something about working on 200 year old bridges. Looking from below my feelings are mixed, did they cause that crack or at least are they aware of it, for sure the drilling caused dust to fall into the water and for me to move away real quick. Perhaps my next blog will feature a canal stoppage and the rescue of 3 men and accompanying machinery. If you look at the picture over on the right you will see that the original stonework has no depth in the middle. The newer brickwork in both pictures gives an idea of how deep they are drilling. Where they are drilling is just left of the centre of the arch, fingers crossed they don`t go to deep.

 Above two pictures of the Old manor in church lane just up from the bridge. It is listed and the original house dates back to the 1500`s. Later additions were made in the 17th and 18th century's. I did submit my photos but not sure how long it takes for them to be checked. I have in the past had photos published of other listed buildings so perhaps they will appear sometime.

All Saints church in the village has a modern day connection with the canal when it`s bells were transported by canal. Click on the pictures in this LINK to enlarge them and you will see the loading was done at Marsworth yard. It looks like a fuel boat was perhaps used as a large amount of coal is in the hold.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs