Small Things

Some basic services I have taken for granted most of my life need a little more effort on a narrowboat.  Most of the plumbing issues are sorted using tanks.  We have to move the boat to get them filled or emptied, otherwise the plumbing feels pretty standard.  The electricity supply also feels very normal, even though it is all supplied by batteries.  At some point though I realised that almost all of our “mains” electricity usage is in the kitchen.

Lights and pumps on board run directly off the 12v supply.  The inverter that delivers the 230v supply uses about 50 watts when it is on.  Over a day that adds up to over 1 KWh of power.  On a good summer day, we might get over 5 KWh from our solar panels, but a more normal amount is half of that.  In other words, over half of the power we collect off the roof is being used simply to keep the inverter running.  I’ve been making gradual small changes so that we can spend more of the time with the inverter off.

One of the things we have on a lot of the time is music.  This is played from a Raspberry Pi via a soundbar.  I’ve been trying to get them both powered directly off the 12v supply.  I’ve had a number of setbacks, mostly to do with cross-talk between the two resulting in irritating humming noises from the speakers.  I thought I had it all solved last month, but each flush of the toilet caused a voltage dip which meant the Pi rebooted.

On our recent trip to Edinburgh I picked up a large number of small items (getting small electronic items delivered is another one of those things one can take for granted).  The forecast of thundery showers yesterday suggested it would be an ideal day to try to get some of them in to service.  The first job was to take the radiator off the wall. 

Removed radiator.  The side wall of a narrowboat with brackets for mounting a radiator.  The radiator is lying on the floor beneath.  A man is sitting near the radiator, his crossed bare legs are visible.
Contemplating the Demounted Radiator

When I installed this radiator last year, I didn’t have a suitable tool to tighten the tails.  I did my best, and it seemed to be a reasonably good job at first.  Over the winter, leaks at both ends have slightly worsened.  Now I had obtained the small tool required to tighten the tails, so I got Clare to help with demounting the radiator.  Experience from last time meant we managed it without spraying very much water around.  Removing and resealing the tails didn’t take long, but while the radiator was off I took the opportunity to make changes to the wiring that runs behind.

I had to take the tandem out on to the stern deck to allow access to the wires.  I tested out the new 12v UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply).  This is basically a battery wired up to sit between the 12v power supply and the equipment it serves.  With this in the circuit, the music system is now protected from power dips.  I’ve also bought a few USB fast chargers so that we don’t need to rely on the ones built in to the 3 pin sockets.  Mounting those properly is a job for another day.

Electrical work.  A man is pointing a hair-dryer at a wire he is holding.  Various tools and a sheet of newspaper are scattered around.
Specialised Heat Shrink Applicator In Use

During the afternoon I noticed a blackbird behaving strangely on the towpath.  We soon realised that it was feeding a baby which was at ground level in the hedge directly opposite our side hatch.  After a few visits in that location, Mum coaxed the baby further in to the hedge, but we could still hear it cheeping.

Baby blackbird.  A hedge with a small gap in it reveals a baby blackbird.  The bird is very well camouflaged making it easily missed.
Baby Blackbird in the Hedge

My recent purchases also included a couple of temperature sensors.  These are battery operated plastic discs about the size of an Oreo (other snacks are available) that can communicate with the boat’s control system.  I have put one in the cabin, which I hope will give us better thermostatic control when we next need the central heating.  The other is in the fridge so that I can monitor the temperature in there.  Leaving the inverter off overnight revealed a morning temperature that was higher than we would like.

I have now programmed the boat to shut down the inverter when the amount of power being used is very low.  It also switches it back on again once the temperature inside the fridge gets too high.  There’s a manual switch on the control panel at the back of the boat too.  The power stays on while we’re cooking, boiling the kettle or watching TV.  Otherwise, once the fridge thermostat has switched off the inverter will go off again.  When we have a stationary day, our batteries often end the day lower than they started.  I’m hoping that this regime will reverse that.

It was another showery day today, but I managed to cycle in to Daventry without getting wet and stock up at the supermarket.  We had sat for two days on a two day mooring, so after lunch, we waited for another shower to pass and set off up the remaining lock in the Norton Flight.

Lock worker. A man in red shorts and jumper is crossing the head gates of a lock.  The roof of the boat rising in the lock is visible in the foreground.  The sky is mainly blue with light fluffy clouds.
Shane Operating Norton Top Lock

At Norton Junction we turned away from Braunston this time.  We are finally heading northwards as planned.  Less than a mile further on we found a pleasant mooring.  Any further and we would be in the noise from the nearby motorway until after the locks and tunnel ahead – they can wait for another day.

After dinner we were visited by another family of swans.  Some swans can be very demanding, but these seemed content to sit in the water next to the boat showing off their brood.  The youngsters kept very tightly together and largely ignored us.

Eight cygnets.  Two adult swans swim either side of a group of eight cygnets.  The cygnets are fluffy with tiny wings.  The blue sky is reflected in the water.  The light clouds have a hint of red to them.
Proud Parents of Eight Cygnets