Monthly Archives: May 2020

painting tips for canal boats

painting tips for canal boats

expert advice from rylard paints


When choosing colours, ensure that comparisons are undertaken in daylight. It is always advisable to compare colours with a painted boat as it is difficult to appreciate the colour in large areas. Our printed colour charts have accurate colour rendition but the enamel will appear to be lighter when applied to large areas, especially when adjoining complementary colours.

Where possible, ensure that you have the same batch number for the finish coats.

rylard paints for canal boatsWeather conditions play an important part when painting outside. Avoid if possible painting in direct sunlight or when the boat is obviously warm to the touch. The ideal temperature for painting is between 12oC and 20oC. Higher temperatures could result in poor flow, rapid drying and loss of gloss. Windy conditions will lead to dirt pick-up and faster drying. Do not apply in damp conditions and aim at finishing painting by mid-afternoon, as overnight condensation may affect the finish.

Drying times will vary considerably depending on conditions, but at 20oC in still air, light touch-dry for both undercoats and topcoats will be 1 to 3 hours, and through-drying will be 12 to 24 hours. If possible, longer drying times should be allowed before overcoating as this will make rubbing down easier. Where low temperatures are experienced and there is little air movement, drying times can be as much as doubled, so take this into account when judging when to apply the next coat.

A dust-free environment is essential to obtain a really good gloss finish. The removal of dust prior to painting is essential, and dust and debris must be removed between the sanding of each coat and the application of the next.

Rylard Plus Enamel has a high pigment level and therefore thorough stirring is necessary. Best results are achieved with a wide flat-ended blade or a piece of clean, flat-ended wood. Screwdrivers are not efficient for stirring! It is advisable not to wear loose or woollen clothing when painting as this can contaminate the freshly painted surfaces.


Rylard paints bare metalBARE STEEL

Preparation: For best results, steel should be blast cleaned. This is not always possible, so alternatively mechanical cleaning by sanding and wire brushing can be undertaken to remove any rust.

Cleaning: The surface should then be thoroughly degreased using a water based or water dispersible degreaser, which must then be thoroughly washed off. Solvent cleaning is only efficient if clean wiping cloths are frequently replaced, otherwise the solvent just spreads the grease or oil around without removing it. Any remnants of grease or oil will affect paint adhesion and can cause slow drying and tackiness of the paint. Do not use diesel, paraffin or turps substitute for cleaning as they promote rust – white spirit is preferred.

Priming: The hull above the water line should then be coated with 2 coats of Rylard Zinc Phosphate Primer. If it is to be left outside for any length of time before applying finishing coats, 2 coats of Rylard Holding Coat are essential to prevent rust spotting.

narrowboats brightly paintedPREVIOUSLY PAINTED SURFACES
Rusted areas should be abraded down to clean steel and existing paint edges feathered to prevent ridging showing through. All clean metal areas should be patch-primed with 2 coats of Rylard Zinc Phosphate Primer.

Should rusting be extensive, consider having the boat blast cleaned and professionally repainted for long-term protection.

Where there have been feature lines, names, etc., ensure that these are completely removed to prevent shadowing-through.

If there is general unevenness and poor feathering, several coats of Rylard Primer/Filler should be used, abrading between coats to give an even surface. Rylard Primer/Filler can be used directly onto small patch areas.

Rub down the surface overall to an even matt finish using 320 grit wet and dry paper. If a colour change is to be undertaken, the relevant undercoat colour should be used.


Rylard Paints side of narrowboatApply the paint using a good quality 2½” to 3” brush. Gloss rollers and pads can also be used. To ensure even application, apply by crossing brush strokes before laying-off. On boat sides, always lay-off with vertical strokes. With large areas such as cabin tops, best results can be obtained by two people applying to prevent loss of wet edge – one person applying, the other laying-off. When brushing, it is recommended that the brush is held at 45 degrees to minimise brush marking. Where masking tape is being used, it is recommended that this is removed before the paint has reached a light touch-dry state, as this will ensure a smoother edge.

Clean brushes regularly (about every 20 minutes), to prevent thick build-up of paint in the brush. Stir the paint regularly during application.

Except for the primer, rub down with 320 or 360 grit wet and dry paper between coats, to ensure a completely smooth, even finish. When using wet and dry paper, always use it wet, and occasionally apply domestic soap to the paper, as this will prevent blocking and aid abrading. (‘Blocking’ is build-up of paint debris on the paper, which may cause scratching of the paint film).

Rylard PaintsWipe over thoroughly after abrading, as dust and debris will affect the final appearance. The smoothness of the finish is ultimately dependent on the preparation, especially for Undercoats and Primer/Filler. Where coarse profile steel has been used, or where underlying imperfections in the surface exist, extra coats of Primer/Filler and Undercoats should be used.

Under normal circumstances thinning of the paint is not necessary, but where application is undertaken at low temperatures, or previously used paint has bodied in the can due to evaporation, small quantities of recommended thinners can be used.

Rylard primers, undercoats and topcoats can be applied by air assisted or standard airless spray. Thinning may be necessary dependent on the spray equipment used, please consult the relevant Product Data Sheet.


red narrow boat Rylard PaintsNEW WOOD
Bare new wood should be sanded using either sandpaper or wet & dry paper, finishing with a 180 grit paper prior to applying the varnish. Ensure that all sanding dust is removed by either brushing or vacuuming before applying any varnish coats. The use of a tack cloth to remove any residual dust may also be used.

It is essential that any new oily wood, such as teak, is degreased using white spirit or cellulose thinners in order to improve penetration and adhesion. However, it should be noted that Polyurethane Varnish is NOT recommended for use on oily woods such as teak. The first coat of varnish should be thinned – 1 part varnish to 1 part of white spirit – and thoroughly stirred. Brush this coat well into the pores of the wood to ensure full sealing. After drying, sand smooth to remove the timber ‘nibs’ using a 320 or 360 grit wet & dry paper.

If the existing varnished surface is in poor condition and is showing flaking or other imperfections, it is recommended that it is removed back to bare wood (using either a proprietary paint stripper or sanding) and the timber treated as for New Wood. If the existing varnish is in sound condition, rub down with a 320 or 360 grit wet and dry paper and clean with white spirit.

To obtain a good depth of gloss on both new wood and existing varnished surfaces, a multiple-coat treatment is recommended, with a minimum of 3 coats, with light rubbing down between coats using either a 320 or 360 grit wet and dry paper. Note: Rylard eggshell varnishes are not suitable for exterior surfaces.

non slip tread paint on narrowboat roofRylard Slip Resistant additive can be used with all Rylard topcoats.

Thorough mixing must be ensured to obtain an even dispersion of the fine aggregate.

Care must be taken to ensure brush marks are not apparent.

All Rylard topcoats are suitable for sand-blinding, but care must be taken to ensure the sand is thoroughly dry.


painting tips for canal boats table 1


painting tips for canal boats by Rylard

  1. To obtain the cabin length deduct the length of the bow and the stern from the overall length of the boat
  2. Deck area should be approximate to window area and has been allowed for in the above calculations
  3. On bare steel 2 coats of Rylard Zinc Phosphate Primer should be used at a similar coverage rate to the topcoat
  4. All figures are approximate and given for guidance only

rylard paintsRylard Paints is a well-respected name in the supply of paints for canal boats, narrow boats, dutch barges and leisure craft. Through its Research and Development program Rylard continues to provide state-of-the-art products, manufactured in the UK to the highest Quality standards. We provide a range of coatings for canal boats, from blacking to topsides, anti-slip for decks and roofs, to brass lacquer to keep metal fitments glowing.

01623 510 585


splendid isolation

dawncraft chronicles

splendid isolation

This is a difficult article to write as like so many of us, I haven’t seen the boat since March the 23rd and obviously miss it. However, one thing I learnt racing boats for much of my youth plus a long spell in the prison service teaching horticulture, is rules are rules - and what you think is irrelevant, that’s what you have to do.

I am in a bit of a dilemma as my safety cert is due end of June. A helpful email from CRT reminding me that if I didn’t get it done I would face the wrath of having monthly debits etc suspended was almost and very nearly replied to with 'Thank you for your veiled threats but at the moment I am trying to stay alive which is a bigger and more realistic threat than anything you can dream up'. Another thing you learn in the prison service is how to communicate without causing a riot! Although I am pleased that CRT quickly stopped the automated emails and extended the certificates.

I don’t have a lot of worries about the certificate as I tend not to alter things on board which directly affect it. Indeed there are many things such as gas etc that we are best leaving well alone, for the safety of us and others. It amuses me that in some cases the moment the certificate is written, then back on board come all the portable gas heaters, generators etc and the odd dubious shoe power connection. Which goes back to rules are rules: break them if it gives you a sense of power and well being, but the moment it goes wrong  there are awful consequences. Sadly, on the River Avon in Bath a few years ago it resulted in two deaths from boats moored along side us at Saltford, where the occupants died in the most horrendous fire, possibly caused by candles and a leaking fuel line. It has stuck in my mind as we saw them leave that afternoon – worse still was that one of the boats was called Dawnraider and after it appeared in the paper many thought I had perished.

I sort of had an inkling that we were going into lock down two days before it was announced – driving tests etc being cancelled - so shot across to the boat and did what I could. First job was to disconnect the battery and bring it home, as although I only have a modest solar system enough to keep the batteries awake in the winter, having no draw and being continuously charged for the last 6 weeks would have boiled the electrolyte off and the ensuing possible explosion leaving more ventilation in the battery compartment than the examiner would wish to see.

I drained the water down because of frosts, and disconnected the fuel lines shutting off the air vent to the tank - its amazing how much petrol evaporates through this. Sadly if you are still running a two stroke then that seriously affects the mix and you end up with oiled up plugs – I actually ran my carburettor out of fuel when I finished just to make sure that that couldn't  happen. This was another one of these old onboard rules that I grew up with and remember so fondly! But it was there for a reason: namely seagull outboards which could have a mind and soul of their own. Sadly your 4 stroke isn’t immune as as the petrol evaporates, it leaves a varnish residue as does all petrol, which will block the carburettor 10 minutes after you set off.

I think my first job when I get back is going to be to ditch the water in the tanks as although it has chlorine tablets in, by now there is a chance that there is the corona virus cousin living in there – if not legionnaires !  ( Run the shower head through - that’s the worst offender) Then a coffee in my beautifully stained tin mug followed by start that engine – A little carb cleaner through the air intake first and leave it for ten minutes. Then I think I will pump her out - mercifully it has been dry for the last 6 weeks , the chemical toilet will need emptying and cleaning – luckily I have been using WD40 to help lubricate the seal so it should be reasonably odourless on board. Hopefully the cluster flies have gone!! And some fresh water down the bilges though I kind of miss that reassuring smell. Its such a shame that lock down came so quickly as we would all have grabbed bits of boat and made new bits at home.

So, I am sat here like so many on social media, waiting for Sunday and what if anything will change. There was a time when tuning the boat's old Roberts radio into the world service and then shipping forecast could guarantee you were up to date with reliable facts - now I am afraid it's leaked documents and speculation which doesn’t help anyone. Indeed one could go so far as to say it taunts one to almost breaking the rules. A recent email from CRT had a survey on how we intend to use our boats is a stark reminder that this is not going to be over anytime soon and suddenly hundreds of boats descending the flight into Bath isn’t going to help the social distancing bit. And perhaps no pubs, restaurants or canal side cafes open as a point of destination will have us all wondering where to go and why.

But for those of us who did our duty no matter how painful, and stayed away, I for one salute you. Meanwhile all we can do is remember happier times – I apologise in advance for quality of photos from 12 years ago !

natalie & harry woollen

featured author – summer 2020 – irfan shah

featured author - summer 2020

Irfan Shah

cyclist in the cut - front cover“In Rodley, the barges huddle, moored tight against the towpath alongside small wooden huts and deck chairs and sleeping pets.”

So begins the short story, ‘The Cyclist in the Canal’, a few pages that tell of an imagined encounter between two couples and a less than considerate cyclist on the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

The story grew from the hundreds of walks I have taken along a particular stretch of pathway going out from Leeds city centre to the small Yorkshire town of Rodley. This stretch passes a few features that have become as familiar as friends to me – boat parks; painted murals on Victorian brickwork; the wonderfully named Oddy Locks and a sign painted upside down so that it can only be read by looking at its reflection in the water:

“The remains of a wooden icebreaker lie submerged.”

Leeds & Liverpool canal
reflected sign

Out of this familiarity came a desire to capture the stillness and restorative beauty of the area in a story that was slightly comic and, I hope, unexpected.

irfan shah, authorI’d become used to writing non-fiction before I wrote ‘Cyclist’.

In fact, in 2014, I was involved in the filming of a documentary about the inventor Louis Le Prince who, believe it or not, shot the world’s first films in Leeds in 1888; the crew had shot some scenes at the wonderful Armley Mills Industrial Museum, which lies on the banks of the canal about half an hour’s stroll out from Leeds.

As the director looked about for interesting shots, I was able to take him to the ‘upside down’ sign, at which point it struck me that I was showing the crew around what was effectively my own backyard; a space that I had grown to know in great detail over the years and that I had returned to, for respite and calm, again and again.

narrowboat by lock and footbridgeThe canal-side is a shared space that is open, equally, to everyone. It serves as an escape to the country for city dwellers and after these strange days of lock-down, I hope that people will return to it with a renewed love and appreciation for what it offers us.

And while my short story is told from a ‘land-lubber’s’ point of view, you should know that all you boaters were a source of inspiration for the story, for every canal boat – whether bought at the point of retirement, or out of an impetuous decision to leave the rat race behind – represents to me, a small adventure in someone’s life.

*                            *                                  *

Just as buying a canal boat often represents a change of direction in life; so too does the story of Open Space Books. My partner, Tracie, had for years worked in the trade fair and marketing industries, industries which evaporated overnight when lock-down was introduced.

Instead of becoming despondent, we decided to use the change as an opportunity to chase long-held dreams and so, Tracie’s company, Open Space Exhibitions, was repurposed slightly to incorporate a small (very small) publishing wing, and so Open Space Books was born. And what a defiant name for a company in lock-down - Open Space!

The Cyclist in the Canal can be ordered for Kindle on Amazon

waterways chaplaincy (not) in lockdown

our waterways chaplain

waterways chaplaincy (not) in lockdown

The Waterways Chaplaincy has not shut its doors! Indeed, many of our chaplains have been exercising on the towpaths near their homes or boats and that has enabled them to keep aware of needs arising among the boating community in many areas.

They keep in touch by phone and WhatsApp is a wonderful thing...

CRT’s guidance rules mean that at the time of writing, continuous cruisers are not allowed to move their boats. I am also aware that in a number of areas, crowding of towpaths has been a real problem to liveaboard boaters who know themselves to be vulnerable. They feel ‘crowded’ by insensitive towpath users and cyclists. Sadly, there’ll always be some individuals who won’t fall in with the rest of society, and they are indeed deeply frustrating.

steamboatAt a personal level, amongst other more important jobs there has been time to prepare the steamboat for when the river is once again open. A couple of weeks ago I lit the fire to try things out and sat aboard in my front garden with smoke and steam pouring from the funnel and the propeller going round. I live on a fairly public corner and was rather aware that people might be thinking that having experienced a plague, clearly this madman thinks there must now be a flood on the way: I hardly liked to tell them that this year there are more tadpoles in the garden pond than ever before...

I’m a vulnerable person: a neurological condition called Myasthenia Gravis retired me a little early so I’m being protected by my wife. I can’t go into shops, for example, so she ties me to a bollard with a piece of string, where I howl piteously and have an occasional slobber in the stainless steel water bowl left outside, I guess, for people like me.

We have to smile in situations of adversity, and this Covid-19 crisis has been a wake-up call for a lot of people. It has raised anxieties, highlighted vulnerabilities, caused real deprivation for some and distressing bereavement for others.

I said the Chaplaincy isn’t locked down. Well at some levels it is because a lot of us are not having much physical engagement with the waterways, and nothing is moving on the water as I write this apart from some bemused ducks and happily untroubled geese. Yet we still remain busy.

waterways chaplaincy logoEvery Chaplain’s background task is the business of prayer as we seek to align ourselves with what God might be seeking to do in any given human situation. That’s a big thing to say, I know, and begs the usual questions like ‘how can there be so much evil about if a God of love is supposed to be in charge?’

Well, Christians believe that God is indeed fully aware of the stresses and horrors of human life and we don’t need to tell Him to get on with His job! We are not puppets: we have freewill to live and make a mess of things and He lets live, nevertheless we are keen to align ourselves with his purposes. That means that where possible, we can seek to be active in helping to ease some of the challenges faced by the people we meet.

A very little can go a long way and, aware of that, the Waterways Chaplaincy communication network sets our phones twinkling very often, sometimes late into the night when my wife will sometimes whisper... ‘Your phone just beeped, I guess about Boater F or Boater T’. And she’s usually right.

So although things are different they are by no means closed down. And neither is God himself locked down.

yorkshire bespoke tiller pins

yorkshire bespoke tiller pins

the story from the very beginning...

Pennine Cruisers, SkiptonThrough odd canal holidays, trips on the rivers and being fortunate enough to have friends on the canals as a child, I eventually caught up with our fantastic inland waterways and the lovely people that live, work and holiday on them. We found a fantastic company to hire from, Pennine Cruisers. A Skipton based company on that lovely Leeds and Liverpool canal. This company soon became the key to the start of Yorkshire Bespoke Tiller Pins. As the article goes on you will see why. All staff and owners, over many trips with them, soon became what me and my wife class as our Skipton family.

I had decided to make one of the staff there (and now good friend) Wayne a gift. At this stage I really didn’t know what. He had just finished off his boat that he had recently moved onto, having built it from a bare shell. Back home I was in my workshop wondering what I could make him. I knew it would be for his boat.

On rummaging around, I found an old piece of round brass stock, along with a solid piece of aluminium from my workshop stock. Straight away I knew I was going to make him a tiller pin. The two pieces of material had caught my eye, even though they were both very dull. I thought that if I could use the two pieces together, the result would be quite unique. I began looking at new ways on how to work and join the two pieces together. I also knew when they were machined, they had to give a flawless impression as though they were all from one piece. I eventually found a way to do this and set about making the blank into an attractive eye-catching shape. This just seemed to flow and sooner rather than later, the tiller pin was made. I was unsure if I was on the right track with it all, so for a bit of confirmation I sent a picture of it to ‘Our Zoe’ at Pennine Cruisers to ask her opinion. I was expecting some changes may be needed, but all I got from Zoe was ‘Wayne is going to love that!’ It was buffed, polished and ready for our trip up to Skipton for our next of now many boat trips.

We got up to Skipton for our week’s break, and as we were unloading, I presented Wayne with his gift. He was delighted and said, with a smile on his face, he had never seen anything like it. Job done; off we went for our week’s cruise. My wife Jayne stated as we were cruising out of Skipton towards Gargrave ‘I got the impression he was over the moon with that!’. I agreed.

Halfway through the week we had winded round and got back to Skipton as planned to spend the night around the town catching up with our Skipton ‘family’. Of course, this meant a night with Phil before heading towards Bingley in the morning to achieve a bit of east and west. As I went into various pubs on our evening out, it seemed like the whole town knew I had made Wayne's tiller pin. I was introduced as ‘that’s that fellow who made that tiller pin’, all with lovely comments and positive feedback. I was chuffed but didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t till Jayne and I were back in the Boat House that I realised people were being very serious and even suggesting I should continue to make them.


By our next visit 6 weeks later, now October 2019, I had come up with 4 new designs all combining brass and aluminium. However, one of these was clearly turning heads: Tiller Pin Zoe (all my pins are named after the staff at Pennine Cruisers). Tiller pin Zoe was a little different, because I had incorporated a recess in the top to house an enamel Yorkshire rose.

I had taken a total of 16 tiller pins up - 8 given for the shop, and 8 to go on a craft boat which goes around the network (a good friend of Wayne’s).

The positive feedback and interest were increasing, and all seemed to be going well. We soon arrived back at home; it was clear that I may be busy out of work hours.


In the middle of November I had the unfortunate, very poorly timed news, that after 11½ years I was to be made redundant from my place of work. To be honest it was no shock: I was the last of four employees to go. The firm had hit problems and that was that chapter over.

I was now out of work with time on my hands and a new venture that was not yet established, still in its infancy, but with an interest growing. The product was there - just not known. I now started to use my redundancy to pay myself a basic wage to cover my bills. I soon started altering the workshop to accommodate much needed machinery tooling and workspace. This took around a month, and while my tidy lovely workshop of many years was in bits, I couldn’t work in it. However, it was eventually completed and workable – but without work.

coal miner tiller pinI started getting odd jobs - repairs, lathe work brazing and odd bits. Then people started sending me brass items that they wanted me to turn into tiller pins. Many were hollow and could not accommodate a good thread for the actual pin itself. So, I would machine a solid brass boss, then tig braze that to the hollow cast body. This was becoming a popular request, and other work started to flow in. Praise for my work was building and it was common for customers to say they were told that what I managed to do couldn’t be done. I suppose wrong advise from wrong person scenario.

One afternoon my oldest son and I were having a drink in the workshop after a day of help from him altering the workshop again. I got a very lovely comment (beer may have been kicking in) he said, ‘you are a very clever very multi skilled talented man, but you are not known enough, and word of mouth is going to be very slow’. He suggested that I speak to my daughter in law Sammie and ask for help in getting myself known, joking that I am useless with computers and social media. The next day I took my son’s advice and asked Sammie if she would be interested in helping me out. Sammie was over the moon I had asked her.


The rate and pace to me was exhausting. Sammie was relentless. Left no stone unturned. Within three days Yorkshire bespoke tiller pins had a running Facebook account. Had a web site not only built, but up and running. Had a PayPal account set up etc. Groups were getting in touch from our posts asking us to join. I had picked up my first big order thanks to Finesse boats who were very helpful and encouraging. This led to me finding a Sheffield based enamel logo and badge place. Which led to a local material suppliers Avus Metals. The snowball effect was starting to happen. New customers from the website and from Facebook were steadily on the up. Comments and positive feedback were a massive incentive for me to carry on. What really hit home was just how willing the much bigger companies, boat builders, marinas online canal merchants were to get behind the little firms. It really felt like big brothers were keeping a look out.


variety of tiller pinsIt is very early days. I have a range of tiller pin bodies now and there will be more designs in the future. All named after Pennine Cruisers staff. There are now many other material options available and body material combinations. I am passionate about brass ware and love to repair figures that are broken – it gives them a second chance with a fantastic view from the tiller for their retirement. I find it very warming to know I have turned a personal object into a lovely tiller pin for someone. I now incorporate and work with more enamel options in my own tiller pin range along with boat name plates. I’m also venturing into other things for my growing customers, the cards are still on the table, but I believe they will be something to consider on your boat.


file and tiller pin
array of refashioned and hand crafted tiller pins


As for many this has just wiped out the order books. I have not been idle – I have spent time making special tools to assist me in my work. I took delivery of a lathe which is much larger than my original one. Now I am able to work the two in different rolls, which will be helpful.

This was in the pipeline when things were advancing forward. It has pretty much broken me financially, and I feel the timing couldn’t have been more wrong. To help keep things going I am currently working early morning starts in a supermarket, picking online orders. I am hoping to do this as well as my tiller pins. It is do-able. I believe hard work pays.


yorkshire bespoke tiller pinsStephen Johnson is the owner and creator of Yorkshire Bespoke Tiller Pins. 'We are a new small family business, created in Skipton.  Our Handcrafted tiller pins are made to suit you, different designs are available. Reliable, friendly service. Please send us a message if you have any enquiries. We are willing to help with any further questions. Thank you.'

Tel: 07775 593 852  Visit Website  Follow on Facebook

horse shows

tales from the old cut - 5

horse shows

This strange year has cost our country many things so far. By no means the most important loss, but one that shouldn't be overlooked, has been the country shows that have been cancelled in their droves.

It might seem a trivial thing on the surface, but for the exhibitors it's a heavy blow. Months of preparation wasted, prestige for their businesses lost, and of course the social occasion that for many is the only respite from a relentless and sometimes lonely job.

horse shows - Albert Osborne 1934Boatmen 100 years ago would have related to this very well. They were no strangers to competing against each other for the swankiest turn out as a distraction from the grinding pressure to get 'em ahead. Long before the advent of the show, christenings, weddings, even funerals would see the boat drawn by an a horse in full turn out, and May Day for one had been traditionally a day when “more brass than 'oss” would be presented to the world regardless of where you were. Indeed it could be profitable exercise even if there was no show to attend, as one man at Cannock Chase had a hobby of giving 10 bob to the horse he felt was the best turned out that day.

Of course today's shows are heavily biased to livestock, but 100 years ago the horse was still at work; a common sight on our streets and, more importantly for this magazine, on our towpaths.

Given how many miles of canal grace Birmingham, it will not surprise the reader to learn that horse shows in Birmingham had a high proportion of canal horse classes. The West Bromwich Horse Show held at Dartmouth park on Whitsun was a popular one for 34 years from its inception in 1905 as a sideline to a charity fete.

West Bromwich Horse Show 1927As with the heavy horse shows today, judging for turnouts involves a parade of the participants; but unlike today where they're confined to a show ring, the West Bromwich horses took a turn around the entire borough.

We may not have a photo of them, but we can picture them non the less; powerful animals, eyes bright and ears pricked, held in check by practised hands as they stepped out with muscles rippling like frogs in oil beneath coats as fine and gleaming as spun silk.

Harness catches the afternoon light, blinding those unfortunate enough to look directly at the shining brasses and glinting chains, and the ground trembles as mighty hooves shod in iron clatter on the cobbles and heavy oak wagons rumble behind.

You, reader, unless you are familiar with a stable of heavy horses, may be a little overwhelmed. The smell of hot horse alone may surprise you, but the noise is tremendous. Leather creaks, chains jingle, men call in broad accents and clear voices, their charges answering back with high whinnies and baritone whickers, and the improbably delicate tinkle of terret bells lays over the scene like a fairy herald.

Horse Parade, 1925It's affecting to look at the newspaper reports and see the names of horses long past; in 1927 for example, Fellows Morton & Clayton's “Duke” won 3rd prize in the Heavy Cart Mare or Gelding (radius 7 miles from Smethick boundry), while Cooper & Co took first place in Cleanest & Smartest Canal Boat Horse with “Snowball”, Leonard Leigh's horses “Prince” and “Toby” taking 2nd and 3rd respectively, Hingley & Son's “Blossom” taking 4th and Midlands and Coast's “Jack” taking 5th.

Shows like these gave the boatmen a rare holiday and an opportunity to really show off. Their womenfolk would send the horses off with a new set of lovingly made lace ear caps and the men with a colourful spiderweb belt, and children would have been set to cleaning every inch of the harness. Not only were there there their fellow boatmen,  the judges and the RSPCA officers to impress with their horse but the boatmen's company was invariably were too; as today, a prize at a show was a little mark of prestige a business could use to its advantage- Midlands and Coast, for example, managed to bring home quite a lot of prizes in its short life and successfully held an excellent reputation for the welfare of it's men, the education of their children and cruelty prevention for the animals within it's reach for its entirety.

Some companies offered a small cash incentive to the boatmen who successfully brought home a prize to make sure they had a decent shot, and a few even shuffled their stables round to make sure the best looking horse was available for the class.

Horse Parade, 2017Disagreements with the judges happened then as now. Cooper & Co (who cleaned the table in the 1927 show) entered “Roger” in the 1925 Cleanest & Smartest Canal Boat Horse class, and after he'd successfully gained 2nd place from the judge, he had a fit, collapsed and had to shot. To add insult to injury, they then gave the second place to another horse on the grounds of breathing being a vital part of the turnout. This shouldn't have caused as much friction as it did at the time, Cooper's having already secured first place with a different horse anyway.

The war saw the end of the shows. 1939 was the last West Bromwich Horse Show, and quite possibly the last time there was a dedicated class at all for boat horses.  At the end of the war the West Bromwich Show resurfaced as a horticultural show, and staggered on for another 23 years in that format until 1968 when it was finally cancelled. Other shows embraced the heavy horse following the war, recognising that the days of the working horse were numbered and they needed to be protected, but the boat horse fell through the cracks and the boatmen clung to motor boats in the vain hope of keeping the trade.

how to wire a narrowboat – part 1

how to wire a narrowboat - part 1

wiring my boat’s domestic DC – where do I start?

where are things going to go? - the drawings

The start is not what batteries you are going to have; it would be lovely if it were. That would make it too easy and this is a boat and boats are rarely easy.

The starting point is with the electrical items and where they are going to go. How we connect them to the batteries that are going to supply the power needed.

Begin with a scale outline drawing of the boat. Mark in where the cabin walls are going to go, doorways and what the rooms are. Then mark the drawing in 1 metre sections stern to bow. If you have a side view also mark that in 1-metre sections vertically from the base plate up.

wiring a narrowboat

Now breathe and make several copies of the master diagram. It is now is the time to involve the other half.

Starting with the lighting, mark the positions of the lights on the diagram, giving them a number etc. Don’t worry about cable routes etc just mark the lights position. Where their the switches are going. Mark the switches in someway. Do not forget about wall lights. Lights over the cooker and kitchen sink, Bathroom sink lights etc in the bathroom.

Also mark on the drawing where you would like 12vDC table lamps and standards lamps. Again mark and number. Join up each light that will be operated by the same switch/switches and link to the switch/switches and you end up with a diagram like this.

wiring a boat 2

Using another boat outline, mark where the water pump is going and its local switch so it can be turned off when the tank is empty. Same with the shower pump and it maybe a good thought to think about the shower pump being an automatic pump so only one hole is needed through the hull. But this may not be possible if the kitchen is on the other side of the boat.  Don’t forget about the Bilge pump it needs to draw its power from the Domestic bank not the Starter battery. Remember to give them an identity.

Now the bit I find the most difficult, where to put the 12V power points. Think about where you want 12V power points for charging etc. Mark them on the drawing then add where you want USB charging points and mark them.  Then go back and look, have you put one in the kitchen area? If not I would suggest add a 12V power point and a USB. Think about someone cooking from a recipe online.

Bedrooms, I suggest that you make sure both sides of the bed have access to a USB charger for the mobile phone, and Kindle. Do not forget the navigation lights. I know they are not a requirement on the UK canals but rivers etc require them. Regardless of that a red & green light come towards you at night gives you the beam of the boat and its outer edges. It making it a bit easier to pass in the dark.

Below my version of the outline with the sockets etc marked and numbered if more than one.

wiring a boat 3

Now is the time to think about how you are going to get the cabling from the stern of the boat to the bows and everything that needs power. Do not just think about the 12V DC cabling but also the AC mains cabling. There are various ways to do this, some people make a duct under each of the gunnels to take the cables. Others put a duct down each side of the boat in the ceiling. Along the edge where the ceiling meets the sidewall. You will also need a route from Port to the Starboard side of the boat. You also need to think how you are going to get cabling up and down the boat vertically. For switches this can be done inside some conduit behind the panelling. Once you have decided how and where it is going to go, mark it on the outlines.

The next stage is building the circuits, adding the cabling. But first you have to decide where the electrics cupboard is going. In it or adjacent will go the 12VDC Fuse board (Distribution Board) any inverter, charger etc. So don’t skimp on its size 🙂 Mark the fuse board on all the outlines.

Now the next thing to do is to draw the electrical diagram. Lets start with the lights, first split the lights up roughly into two halves or even three or four if there are a lot of lights or long cable runs; so that each fuse has lights from every area of the boat. The each section will run from its own fuse, i.e. Lights 1 fuse and Lights 2 fuse. Doing it this way means that if one of the lighting fuses blows there is still lighting available close to hand and one does not have to stumble around the boat looking for a torch before the lights are back on. Then you can sort out what caused the problem and sort it out.

To draw the electrical diagrams it is easier to use one of the free drawing apps. I use draw.io, all the drawings in this article, as well as the ones I put on the group are drawn on draw.io. It allows for a clear simple drawing that can be altered and bits moved around with no problems.

wiring a narrowboat 4So lets get started; the first thing I do is a symbol chart for everything that is going to be on the drawing, switches of the various types, the different types of lights etc. No complex electrical symbols that you do not know or understand just simple symbols. A Symbols list is to remind you what they are and what they do. Do not worry if you cannot think of everything you need or you miss some. They can easily be added to the Symbols list as you go on. But do it and do not rely on your memory. When you have to find faults the drawing becomes the map of what is there. Also when you come to sell the sell the boat the new owners will be impressed that there is a set of electrical drawings. It could get that sale, where it was only 50/50 in the buyers mind before. It shows that care has been taken of the boat from day one. How often do you hear boaters grumbling that all they have a jumble of cables and no drawings to tell them what should do what, please make sure you do Electrical Drawings for your boat, it is not difficult and will make installing them easier as well as fault finding is easier for whoever follows you.

So lets start with Lighting one. I normally start at the stern and work my way forward doing a separate section of the drawing for each fuse. I split the lighting into two or three sections so that the volt-drop is at a reasonable level and never less than two sections. Then if one lighting fuse blows there is light in every part of the boat albeit reduced. This is going to need to be three sections to keep the volt-drop to reasonable limits.

wiring a narrowboat 5

Start with the two rear deck lights. The most complicated electrical circuits that you will encounter in the whole of your wiring of your boat. There is the need to be able to switch them on and off from two different positions. If it is confusing I have written an explanation of how it works in the Appendix of the article.

Label each of the cables, as an example, the positive cable from the Lighting 1 Positive busbar to the common of the first of the two-way switches. I have called it L1P1 as it is for the first lighting section on the drawing.

wiring a narrowboat 6

Having drawn the first of the lighting diagrams you need to work out how long those cables are. Remember if the boat is a Narrow Boat, it will have an internal beam of 2 metres approximately.  Your drawing will have marker lines spaced at 1 metre apart. Using these to measure the L1P1 cable from the switch the through the cable ducts back to fuse board, which is where the Busbars will go measuring the distance, mark the distance on the cable on the drawing.  Do not forget the ups and downs the cable has to travel. Now continue to measure and mark the length of every cable on the drawing. Label the cables from the lights to the Busbars both negative and positive and you will end up with a drawing that looks like this.

wiring a narrowboat 7

©Graham Mills, 2020

potholes – a thing of the past?

potholes - a thing of the past?

Engineers from the University of Leeds mechanical engineering department have recently developed a robotic drone that boasts of being able to repair potholes in roads in just sixty seconds.

After being awarded a £4.2 million grant, councillors want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have roads fully maintained by mechanical robots by 2035.

The idea is the drone scans the road / motorway for potholes from the air, once found the drone will descend over the hole and spray a 3D printed asphalt compost into the crevice, preventing the hole from getting bigger.

The whole process takes less than a minute and has been developed by experts who hope by using this new technology they will reduce the need for sprawling road-works which blight the country by causing traffic congestion.

According to the experts, the best thing about this experiment is that it can be undertaken at night when the streets and roads are empty. It will be tested over the next two years.

Professor Rob RichardsonProfessor Rob Richardson, the operational director for the robotic element of the project said

We see the drones as similar to urban foxes, we know they are out there, but you don`t see them on a daily basis; there are not going to be machines flying over your head constantly.

"You will see them at particular times in certain places, but not all the time, making them less invasive.

 “Unfortunately at this present time, if you get a pothole you need people and large vehicles to address the situation, which causes disruptions and road closures, and which leads to frustrations and anger for the motorists and residents alike.

 “We want to change the way repairs are carried out by causing the least amount of upheaval possible, by using the drones we can help prevent the potholes becoming worse.

"If you have to close roads for long periods of time not only does it cause the pollution levels to rise by idling vehicle`s but also delays travellers on their daily journeys."

The vision is to have these kinds of technologies in place in the city by 2035 and by 2050 the whole of the UK will have self repairing schemes and projects in place.

Experts from University College London have helped with the development of the 3D asphalt printing technology which can be flown by a drone, with work already underway on the robot's scanning device and decision making capabilities.

Highways England which oversee the motorway and the A road systems are also looking at hi- tech ways to fix Britain's ageing network.                                                        

gone to pot!

UK road worksThe government owned company presumably predict future cars will be able to pinpoint potholes on motorways and instantly alert the officials on the whereabouts of the hole ready for repairs.

The future for Britain's drivers looks promising, as potholes and traffic delays are one of the biggest gripes that motorists have. A recent AA report stated that 1.91 million drivers were stranded in the early part of 2018, with a fifth of them being delayed by damage caused by potholes or similar: 8% up on the same time as last year. Over 10,000 potholes have appeared in the past 3 years.

One spokesman said “Why does Britain have third world type roads when we have a first world economy?"  In response to this, Town halls have claimed that they are £556 million short of the money that is required to fulfil the needs and carry out the repairs successfully.

A Department of Transport officer said that they are providing locals councils with £6 billion towards the upkeep of our highways.

Potholes cost British drivers up to £1.7 billion in repairs and cause serious problems for cyclists having to swerve to avoid them on every journey.

There is also the disruption that road works cause for residents, especially if there is a queue of idling traffic sitting outside your home, causing pollution and congestion.

pot holesRecently drones have had a bad publicity with all the scandal concerning flights of illegal machines tormenting Gatwick and Heathrow which, according to speculation, cost the airports £10 million in lost revenue.

Unfortunately the machines get the bad press and not the idiots who control them, the thing to remember is that drones do not fly themselves.

When you look at all the drone stories that are accumulating around the world, these pieces of wonderful technology are absolutely vital to some people, whether it be through drone farming, medical supplies being delivered, or for animal conservation. Search and rescue operators would find their roles a lot harder without these pieces of equipment. Companies like Bearingtech can help maintain these machines by supplying the parts and accessories that keep them airborne.

The next time you switch on your television and wonder at the marvellous pictures you are witnessing from the top of a mountain or on seeing a pack of elephants roam across the plains, remember how that is achieved: yes by drone! And if through drone technology they can succeed in reducing road works and congestion, then everyone will benefit greatly whether driver or pedestrian.

From an environmental point of view the less pollution the better.

Watch this space literally upwards!

aqueduct marina returning to work

aqueduct marina

returning to work

After a company decision for some of the team to return to work Aqueduct Marina’s Marina and Operations Director Phil Langley outlines what the executive team has experienced to get to this point and what the future looks like for the marina.


Aqueduct Marina - the team

Following the government lockdown announcement, we split our engineering operation into two teams working on a rota basis to protect staff and reduce the risk of spreading COVID 19. This, along with strict social distancing rules, worked very well but after a week it became apparent that the supply chain issues meant we could not continue to operate. Working with an already reduced team due to some staff having to self-isolate we then made the difficult decision to furlough the remaining engineering team.

We looked at our engineering schedule to assess the workload and what was deliverable, we also then took into account employees personal situations and risk assessed who were higher and lower risk. The main reason we have chosen three team members to return at this time is because this number allows us to safely monitor and implement safe systems of work on a manageable scale. We also wanted to do as much as we could for one particular staff member who only started working for us the week of the lockdown and did not qualify for furlough so has been unable to earn for the last three weeks.

Aqueduct MarinaStaff who are placed onto the governments furlough scheme have to be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks and we always planned to use this time to take stock and risk assess our operation in order to get staff back to work as soon as safely possible, which is what we are now doing.  

Now strict social distancing rules have been put in place and the engineers will be working alone. We have also closed all shared areas such as the engineers welfare building (brew room). And staff are to bring their own food and drinks which is to be consumed in isolation.

We have new specific COVID-19 related risk assessments which has helped to reduce the risk for staff. All the engineers have their own sets of PPE which as per normal rules isn’t to be shared and they have all been given hand sanitiser to use and carry around with them. Staff have been asked to wash their hands more regularly and government hand washing advice posters have been put up in the toilets. Disinfectant spray is also supplied to clean door handles etc across the site and staff are encouraged to use this.  

Aqueduct Marina - cafe and office areaWe are extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team at the marina and all the staff have been very understanding during these times. The engineers are indeed pleased to be back at work and back to some form of normality during these uncertain times.  As a leisure business we have qualified for a full rates relief, Cheshire East were very quick to implement our application. The furlough scheme was easy to apply for and paid out promptly, the bank was responsive to our request to put the loan repayments to interest only for three months.

We will continue to monitor the current working group and then look to safely introduce more staff members back into work. We aim to work on a 12-18 months plan that enables the marina to operate as we move into what will be a different environment in the future. Each area of the business mooring, caravan site, café, chandlery, brokerage and boat repairs will all have different obstacles to overcome. We understand that there will be challenges ahead and will continue to follow government advice as well as seeking support from trade bodies such as British Marine in order to first and foremost ensure a safe environment for staff and customers.

Irfan Shah

Irfan Shah

“In Rodley, the barges huddle, moored tight against the towpath alongside small wooden huts and deck chairs and sleeping pets.”
So begins the short story, ‘The Cyclist in the Canal’, a few pages that tell of an imagined encounter between two couples and a less than considerate cyclist on the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.
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