Wednesday, 29 April 2015


I'm sure a proper electrician could have installed it in one fifth of the time. But I managed it in the end. The solar system is up and running!

We fed the cables from the solar panel through one of the mushroom vents. It's 6 mm squared cable, which equates, as it happens, to about 6 mm diameter. It doesn't flex willingly but, what with me pushing from above and my best beloved pulling from below, through it came. I ran it in a groove in the ceiling T&G, but my first attempt at holding it in place with a strip of hardwood profile didn't work out, as the cables sit very slightly proud of the groove. In the end I secured the cables with some short Nº4 screws. They sit between the cables with the countersunk head providing support. No doubt very bad practice, but it was what I had to hand, and an examination of the cable construction has assured me I'm in no danger of cutting the insulation and causing a short. I'll have to see whether I can think of a more sound solution, and also how to cover the cables neatly.

The positioning of the devices has worked out well. The Tracer charge controller sits beside my Stirling AB gizmo, with short leads running from the Tracer's output to the lugs on the Stirling from which heavy cables run to the battery bank. There's a small recess in this cupboard between the gunwale above and the curve of the swim below, so the units are nicely back out of harm's way. A 30 Amp circuit breaker sits neatly in the +ve line.

At the top of the cupboard I've mounted the MT50 meter for the Tracer, and I've fudged a mounting for my new SmartGauge.

In the absence of a suitable instrument box, I notice that the foam in which the SmartGauge had arrived was a snug fit and very resilient. So I cut out the section, glued it to a piece of thin ply, and screwed that to the back of the cupboard. The gauge fits very well without any screws. The manual says it should be connected to the battery bank with minimum 1 mm squared cable. I found the most cost effective and practical solution was mains flex from B&Q – the wires have a 1.5 mm profile. I've managed to push it through the hole where all the cables go to the batteries from the Stirling gizmo.

But connecting that is a job for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

New arrival

I'd rung yesterday to check that my solar panel would be delivered today, and ensured they knew Erin Mae's name and location. In the event we got a phone call from the marina office to say that the delivery people had turned up there and offloaded it without any attempt to find out where we were. So we took the car round to the office and squeezed the panel into the boot. We were concerned about the damage to the cardboard.

It was easier to manhandle than expected and together we got it to the jetty and up on to Erin Mae's roof before opening up.

It got more exciting as we began to remove the packaging – a bit like Christmas Day!

Finally the panel was revealed, and didn't seem to have suffered in transit.

I decided that getting it set up took priority over internal electrics – they're promising rain for tomorrow. The strong wind caused an alarum or two, and I had to drive to a hardware shop for some extra washers, but in the end it went on nicely.

My scheme for using car roof magnets to attach it worked out quite well. The combined height of the magnets and the stainless steel brackets give the whole construction just a few millimetres of clearance across the centre of the roof.

I copied Halfie's trick of using non-slip stuff to further protect the paintwork.

I'd thought, from the panel's datasheet, that it would have some holes on the shorter side that I could use for mounting, but there weren't any. This means the magnets are a little further out across the roof than intended, and therefore having to cope with a slightly greater angle. I've not yet made any attempt at adjusting this. It means that only the higher edge is in contact with the roof, but they still require a reasonable pull to detach them. I may consider doing without the non-slip, or devising some way of introducing a tilt. But for the moment everything is in place and we're well content.

Of course, it may not work when we connect it up!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Back on board

You pile everything in the car and clean one abode from top to bottom, with a good toxic spray to keep the carpet moths at bay. Then it's a sizeable journey before unpacking the car again and cleaning the floating abode from front to back. We bought a ready-to-cook lasagne from M&S on the way, but by the time we were half-settled in we were in no mood even for that simplest of tasks, and drove to the Ash Tree on the outskirts of Rugeley. It's canalside, and they do a permanent 2 for 1 offer on main courses. We weren't in the mood for experimenting, so had the same as last time – lamb shoulder for my best beloved and a chicken, blue cheese and wild mushroom pappardelle for me. We'd got the Squirrel going shortly before deciding to go out, so kept our eyes open for flames on the horizon as we returned, but just found a nice toasty boat.

Today we joined our occasional friends at Stafford's Wildwood church, and found that most of the people who were meant to be leading the service had gone down with the flu. The result was something very different, impromptu and spontaneous. That's something they're quite good at – we've enjoyed our periodic contacts with this group of nice people.

Back on board, I had to ring AutoGlass. Over the last couple of days the car has acquired a large / long crack in the windscreen. They can't do it until the middle of next week, just when we're planning to be away with Erin Mae getting one of her windows fixed. So I had to put it off until a day when I think we might have returned.

We came away for a break, but so far it's felt like pretty hard work!

Friday, 24 April 2015


We bit the bullet today and joined River and Canal Rescue – the AA of the waterways. It's basically breakdown provision, but includes replacement cover for certain parts. However, that only kicks in after you've been a member for a month, so we wanted to get on their books, just in case.

Meanwhile the last piece of the solar jigsaw (except for the panel itself) arrived in the post – the MT50 meter for the Tracer charge controller. Its delay meant we've stayed a few more days at home, but that at least gave extra time for getting the ranch cleaned up before travelling up to Erin Mae, to my best beloved's delight. She'd been prevented from doing some of the tasks she's best at by the large bandage on her finger, but the stitches came out on Wednesday and she's been exploring what she's able to do.

So we're planning on making the journey tomorrow, and are again facing the task of packing the car – this time trying to make space for the gas barbecue. The back of the car is looking very full!

Monday, 20 April 2015


Another sunny day took us over to Poole Quay to see a sailing vessel of a different sort.

Kaskelot (which means "sperm whale") was built in the late 1940s as a cargo ship for north Scandinavian waters. But without the masts – they're a much later addition, when she was bought in order to be converted and given a "traditional" rig. I think it was the wooden hull that attracted the new owners.

She served as a sail training ship for a number of years, and featured in films such as Treasure Island. In 2013 she had a major re-structuring, and now seems to earn her keep as a bit of a show-piece. The cordage (several kilometres of it) is pretty impressive, but I'm glad Erin Mae doesn't have this amount of rope to think about.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Poole boating fraternity got on with fraternising.

On the side of the jetty just behind where this boat was heading was a sign I only noticed later once the pictures were in my computer.

Now that's enough to make a narrowboater feel at home!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

BBQ weather

We saw a picture yesterday of one of the boating bloggers with a barbecue on the bank. I've hesitated taking our gas-fired Weber to Erin Mae. It's bound to take up a bit too much space, and it's bound to get stolen, and it's bound to be difficult to get the gas cylinder into the gas locker. But we've hardly used the barbie since we bought the boat – we've tended to be away cruising during BBQ weather – so I felt bound to get it out this weekend and think again.

Confounding the weatherman, it stayed sunny and relatively warm. The food was delicious and the Weber worked a treat. So perhaps we'll take it to Erin Mae for a trial during the three weeks before we have to be back home for a weekend event.

Sitting there with a well-satisfied stomach, I thought I'd test out the panoramic function on my new TZ70. I just panned around from one side of the garden to the other, with the following result.

I don't have a clue how it kept level when I'm sure my hands were wobbling up and down, but it was very impressive. So we went over for a closer shot of some of my best beloved's tulips.

That's all very nice, but even more impressive was going back indoors and using both the telephoto and the shoot-from-behind-glass function.

I can't think how it does this given the size of its sensor, about which I blogged yesterday. But so far, so good. Let's hope it continues to impress when the weather is not so barbie-hot.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Linford Bottom

Taking photos while cruising on Erin Mae has been tricky at times. My camera is a Lumix G2, one of the early four-thirds bridge cameras that Panasonic and Olympus developed. I've really enjoyed it, but switching between the standard and telephoto zoom lenses while steering threatens to land me or a camera part in the canal, or Erin Mae on the bank.

So I'd been looking with increasing interest at the "travel zoom" camera that Panasonic make – this year's model is the TZ70. The attraction for me is that it's pocket sized, but has a zoom that is 24 to 720 mm (35 mm equivalent) with no swapping of lenses. However, I was shocked to see, on Wikipedia's camera sensor page, just how tiny its sensor is compared to the G2, so we visited the camera shop in Ringwood. The helpful way they responded to my grilling about the effect of sensor size convinced me they deserved the extra £10 over the Amazon price, and I came away with one there and then.

Today was the first real opportunity to test it in the field. Among special locations in the New Forest, Linford Bottom is one that we used to visit regularly when the lads were growing up, and that's where we went walking this afternoon.

There is a stream running through woodland and sandy terrain. 25 years ago its channel would have been a torrent in winter and very full in the summer. 10 years ago it seemed to be permanently dry. In recent years it's had enough water for children to play in.

Today it was warm enough for some to have barbecues.

Few leaves yet on the trees,

but, underfoot, the wood anemones and the celandines are looking up at the sun,

while a bee busies herself foraging for nectar in the violets.

Scented differently, but just as attractively to my best beloved, is the gorse.

There was acres of this around the cottage at Ballymastocker bay in Co Donegal where, as a child, she spent most of the summer holidays. There it's called "whin".

I think the combination of new camera, sunny day and a beautiful spot was what you might call a whin-win situation!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Solar schemes

Being at the BCF spring conference in Fazeley yesterday gave me the opportunity of inspecting Halfie's solar installation on NB Jubilee at first hand, and comparing it with what I'm intending for Erin Mae. Thanks to Halfie and Jan for a nice cuppa before we all went out for a curry in the evening. They also introduced me to Peter, who lives on a boat whose electrics are entirely powered by solar energy. I have no such pretensions! It was also interesting to see that Halfie had wired his new batteries in the way devised by smileypete from Canal World Discussion Forums and recommended by Gibbo on the Smartgauge website.

It was nice to check how all our own solar gear is going to fit. Although I haven't yet got the screws to secure the hardware, it looks as though it will go in a treat. The magnets seem to give just the right amount of grip on the roof for when we finally get the solar panel delivered. I also found that two 6mm solar cables will fit very neatly side by side in the rebates of the T&G ceiling as they run from a mushroom vent back to the cupboard where the controller will be. I should be able to make a nice job of covering them with a strip of wood. Pictures when I've done it!

So that's all coming together. Our main concern with Erin Mae is to see that the wood surround of one of the bedroom windows is showing definite signs of a leaky frame. We got a window leak repaired very successfully at Mercia Marina two years ago, and may think in terms of going over there again for this one. The windows are definitely one of Erin Mae's weak spots. For me, they include the worry of thinking about the painting that has to ensue.

Sunny days instead of the constant drizzle are currently very desirable.

Friday, 10 April 2015


For a while my best beloved has had some funny bumps on a finger that have been a particular source of concern while working locks.

Although most of the time they didn't hurt, they felt as though they were vulnerable to knocks. The surgeon diagnosed the one on top as a fluid-filled cyst, which could be treated, and the one on the side as an arthritic joint about which not a lot could be done. Yesterday we went to get them processed at Royal Bournemouth Hospital.

Once she began to work on them, the one on top turned out to be rather more solid than liquid, so needed a different sort of procedure, but it also proved possible to do something with the other. It all took rather longer than anticipated.

No more locks for a few weeks! But today we were able to come up to Erin Mae for the weekend, in order to be at the BCF Spring conference at Fazeley tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Charge controller

As promised, the solar panel charge controller arrived today, along with a 30 Amp fuse/circuit breaker and some cable cut to size and with some lugs attached.

Also included, though not in the photo, was several metres of 6mm cable to connect the solar panel to the charge controller. Those nice people at Bimble Solar had attached the necessary MC4 connectors. Still to come is the meter which is the sensible interface to use for setting up and monitoring the controller.

I'd decided on the new 30 Amp Tracer BN series controller as having the right performance/price combination, though it's a bit annoying to have to pay extra for the means to configure it. It will fit in a cupboard next to the Stirling alternator/battery gizmo, with the cables running to the gizmo's output lugs, from which heavy cables run to the battery bank.

So now we just need to order the solar panel itself. We've delayed on that until we can ensure we are on Erin Mae when it's delivered, in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Today it was the turn of the brackets for the solar panel to arrive. It's amazing how exciting you can find the presence in the post of four pieces of stainless steel and a few nuts and bolts.

They'll fit neatly on top of the magnets that arrived yesterday, allowing for adjustment in the positioning. It will lift the panel up neatly to clear the curvature of Erin Mae's roof and provide some ventilation underneath, though it might need just a bit of extra packing.

We'll have to experiment, once everything has arrived, to see which of the panel's mounting holes the four brackets should be attached to, to give the best stability. I think we should be able to fit them so that the magnets are largely out of sight and away from feet, underneath the panel.

Progress! And today I've had an email promising more goodies tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


After what seems like years of deliberations, I've taken some final decisions about solar power for Erin Mae and started ordering. The first bits arrived today – four of these:

They are car-roof magnets, normally used for attaching signs to a car roof, but I did my calculations and reckon they should do just fine for attaching a hefty solar panel to Erin Mae's top. Each is 53 x 79 mm, with an M6 bolt. The 12 mm magnet is covered in polyurethane, which both protects the paintwork and increases shear force.

From the start of this project I'd been nervous about drilling the roof to attach the panel, even though many boaters will have done that with great success. When I mentioned to a solar panel supplier what I was hoping to do, he expressed some surprise, because he'd never heard of anyone doing it before. I hope eventually to report that the experiment has been a complete success.

We shall see! Meanwhile it's nice to have my hands on the first parts of the system.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter moments

There were several memorable moments over the past weekend.

A 7 a.m. Easter sunrise celebration on the beach at Steamer Point near Highcliffe for 50 or 60 of us, followed by hot drinks and bacon butties from the beach hut of one of our church families. An opportunity to use my piano accordion for the singing, even if we surprised a few early dog walkers. Then back to our village for 10.30 service to continue celebrating the resurrection in an all-age-friendly format. It rocked!

A despairing tugging-of-the-hair moment as I read David Cameron's re-working of the Easter message and the real meaning of the Christian faith, miraculously filtered and re-interpreted to sound just like Tory election sound-bites.

An even louder gasp as I read the Guardian's response to our dear PM. I have never seen the Guardian quite so on the ball about anything Christian. The Guardian! I don't think Polly Toynbee could have got anywhere near this article.

And then, today, we went over to Studland Bay for a walk up to Old Harry's Rocks. We ate our sandwiches looking across the bay from above Middle Beach.

The stacks were looking great in the sun, and the boats were all rather different to Erin Mae.

Then we walked down and around and up and joined a good many others enjoying the splendid, dangerous scenery from much nearer. On top, but a few feet back from the edge.

This really is a spectacular spot. I lay on the grass, on my back, in the sun, closed my eyes and re-worked in my head the calculations about how many Amp-Hours my new solar panel for Erin Mae might deliver under radiation like this.

Then it was time to leave. We decided to go home via the Sandbanks ferry, and sat in the car-queue for about an hour before it was our turn. It was still probably quicker than negotiating the roads out of the Studland peninsula and round the north perimeter of the Bournemouth conurbation. As we waited, we got to listen to an anniversary edition of Radio 4's "PM". To make our day, they played the old signature tune that they ditched a decade or more ago.

A good weekend.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


At the end of a quieter, more reflective day yesterday, I was reminded again why Fauré is one of my favourite composers. Drinking a cup of tea before bedtime we listened to a wonderful CD of Pascal Rogé playing a selection of his solo piano music. Fauré has an incredible knack of making melodically, harmonically and technically complex music sound simple and straightforward, and an absolute delight to the ear. He ranges across the whole of the keyboard, and creates some wonderful effects without ever showing off. He has a particular skill in getting three things going at once – a lower part underpinning it all, a top part rippling around the upper octaves, and something in the middle that is integral to the whole, complementary to the other parts, and shared between the two hands of the pianist. Rogé's skill in making completely transparent the transitions between the two hands takes my breath away. I know how difficult it is because I've tried it. Fauré's genius lies, at least in part, in writing music in which a trained ear can relish the complexities, while the less trained finds something supremely enjoyable without necessarily understanding all that's going on.

When we were buying Erin Mae, we found the original owner had specified some extras, including a semi-decent sound system. What we didn't know then was how much power such luxuries consume. With battery charge an issue every cruising period so far, electronic pleasures have been limited. This year we have hopefully sorted out the batteries, and are about to treat them to some solar-derived power – the planning is done, and we're in the process of ordering the bits. So when we're up on the Leeds and Liverpool, and at a polite distance from the neighbours, we may find we've enough electrons left over to provide us with some auditory wonders from time to time.