Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Monday, 29 July 2013

A Weekend Away - A Prelude To Our Main Holiday.

We have just returned from our long weekend away, where we entertained friends to our now usual short cruise to Wrenbury and back, (2.5 hours each way on a good run). This time we travelled there alone on Friday morning in glorious sunshine, and then spent the next day there, again in sunshine, chatting to some of the motor-home owners that were at a rally weekend behind the The Cotton Arms. (I quite fancy buying a motor-home to spend our Winters on the Continent, but I have yet to convince Margaret of the benefits of my plan apart from using up yet more retirement cash). After heavy overnight rain, our friends joined us on Sunday, and we cruised back in fair weather laced with the odd shower.

One of the Baddiley locks has been causing problems recently in that the top gate won't quite open fully, and the top hinge bracket bolt systematically scratches the full length of the boat as you exit the lock. Although, as far as I am aware, this has been reported, it caused exactly the same problem this weekend, but, being aware of it this time, I managed to avoid the offending hardware for most of the exit, resulting in only a minor scratch as I started to turn to avoid waiting boats on the lock landing.

A further problem on the way back on Sunday, to another of the Baddiley Locks, was that an obstruction had lodged between the cill and the top gate, stopping it from being closed fully. Apparently, as we arrived, the lock had been closed for several hours, and a lock-keeper had been despatched. The obstruction turned out to be a tree root ball, and although still there, the 'lockie' had managed to re-locate the obstruction so that the gate could be closed, and we went through without problem.

We enjoyed two overnight stays at Wrenbury before we cruised back on Sunday, making sure not to miss sampling the excellent guest ales that are available at the Cotton. However, this brought its own potential problems to us. Kelly Louise, although designed as a live-aboard, having a large stainless steel fresh water tank, large fuel tank, a very large black-water tank, and a fairly large Sterling inverter, was purchased by her original owner, the one before us, as a partially completed boat from the builder. She was fully fitted by a cabinet maker, but had yet to have her batteries and ancillaries installed. The first owner went on to install a shower cubicle, a Morso Squirrel stove, and re-arranged the galley, to remove a dinette, that was obstructing, (in his opinion), the saloon area. What he didn't do was continue the live-aboard theme, and only installed two domestic batteries of a total capacity of 220ah, with a Sterling PDAR to maximise the charge, and minimise the charge time from the engine alternators, but with no built in mains charger as such. I think costs had much to do with his decision, and his plans at that time were to use the boat to live on at its home mooring, with mains, rather than go cruising with it. He never intended it to be a cruising live-aboard. This of course greatly limits how much electricity can be used between running the engine while out and about, and in practice, renders the boat as being suitable only for weekends and holidays away from shore power, with approximately only 100ah of battery resource available for use.

Care should be taken using petrol generators
This weekend was a test of new equipment and living methods for our coming holiday. We now use a small digital TV that was designed for a caravan / motor-home when we are travelling, as opposed the the mains flat screen domestic one. Not only does it have a digital tuner with a far superior 'gain', which helps enormously when using a portable aerial and amplifier, but it also has a minimal 12V power consumption. I then experimented with lighting. I have tried the odd LED in the past, in place of the standard 15W filament bulbs, of which there are 16 throughout the boat, but wasn't too happy with the effect. I have now deployed a floor standing mains fitting with up to 3 X 9W low energy bulbs. This provides as much light as necessary for constant use in the evening, and my thinking is, that even taking into consideration the current that the inverter itself draws while in use, the lights will be more energy efficient than the filament bulbs.

This seemed to prove correct, as this time we enjoyed our overnight stays without running out of power, charging the batteries back to full, (as shown on the charging scale of our C-Tek M100 charger ), by using our small Suzuki generator for 5 hours during the following day, taking care that we were not annoying others while doing so. This of course also enables all the boat's facilities such as the fridge, to be run off mains while this takes place. Mooring in open country for overnight stays would also ensure that using the generator wouldn't cause annoyance to others. Great care should be taken when using generators and that the exhaust is directed well away from the boat's interior, so that invisible carbon monoxide doesn't become a problem. Also the generator should only be used on a deck that is drained to the outside, in case there is any fuel spillage. From an electrical point of view, it would probably be better to have the generator placed ashore, but that brings with it other problems, such as obstruction and the possibility of theft.

The other alternative of course would be to 'finish' the boat with a very large, modern, leisure battery bank complete with a suitable built in inverter / charger, but, that would also prove too costly for us, and in the way we use the boat - not strictly necessary. 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Are We To Face A £25 Fee To Use Our Credit Cards?

No sooner have I finished writing (yet again) about being ripped off in Britain, than I find another ugly plan about to come out of that increasingly bureaucratic nightmare we have found ourselves associated with - The European Union, or in this case the European Commission, the body responsible for proposing legislation.

Their latest plan could soon have bank customers having to pay up to £25 a year just to use their debit and credit cards. The reason for this? In their usual little thought through infinite wisdom, the powers that be in Europe have just published a plan to limit the amount that banks charge retailers for transactions - a move sure to please them, but leave their customers seething.

What are known as 'interchange fees' imposed by card issuers, to cover the cost of the processes of card payment and fraud protection, cost retailers £billions every year - in the region of 10p per debit card transaction, but much more for credit card transactions - the reason why major retailers such as travel agents often levy a surcharge to their customers when using a credit card to pay for a sometimes already heavily discounted item. The Commission says that fees are currently too high, and has proposed a maximum charge of 0.2% on debit card transactions, and 0.3% on credit card transactions.

This will save retailers around £2 billion annually, which could be passed on to customers by way of lower prices, (:-) seriously?), but guess who is likely to pick up the tab for the costs of running the system? Research conducted by one of the major card providers suggests that the customer would be charged up to £11 annually to use their debit card, and £25 for their credit card if the legislation goes through.

Britain's consumers currently hold over 56 million credit cards, and over 88 million debit cards, making the possible additional charges to use them around £2.5 billion annually. Of course, a change such as this would affect every EU member country, but the change would be felt the most in good old Blighty, (no surprise there then), because we are used to free banking.

Time to get the biscuit tins out again! (For those not old enough to remember - to store cash under the bed).

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

UK Passengers Are Still Paying The Price To Cruise!

Oriana in Mexico, 2012
I decided it was time to think about what we might do again over our cold winter months, after our Australian friends contacted us with the message 'What do you fancy'? - P+O Cruises Brisbane to Singapore, 28 nights for AUS $2800, (£1686) or Southampton to Brisbane, 44 nights for AUS $4225, (£2544).

Regular readers will know that we have completed two P+O world cruises in the past with our Australian friends, in 2010, and 2012, and although we enjoyed both, we were a little disappointed about what happened to us on the 2012 one, where we discovered that not only had the cruise been sold on the Australian market for approximately 1/3 of the price we paid, which resulted in the ship being half full of Australians at that price level, but the quality of the cruise was also perceived by us to have been reduced to accommodate this, even though we had paid a more 'normal' price. To cap it all, while all those Australians were aboard, P+O directed an exclusive offer to them of much cheaper future cruises for 2013, which our friends took up, and when I tried, was not allowed to, because, being from their British market, our price was much more expensive.

I wrote all this up in our cruise review here: 2012 world cruise review of P+O Oriana.

I started to research prices here for 2014, using the prices our friends had sent from their Australian agents. The first thing I discovered is that P+O here still appear to be restricting their commission to UK agents to a flat rate, that doesn't allow them to make further cuts in their price offerings. All prices here appear to be very similar across the board, with Iglu Cruises being one of the cheapest, as theirs also includes a return flight from Brisbane.

P+O's website for Australian access shows the Southampton - Brisbane cruise currently at $4359, (£2613).

Fares from

CabinCruise only
Per person based on two people sharing a cabin
I tried to include a link to this, but it simply re-directs to their website intended for UK access from here, so here is a screen dump of the Australian website prices. Their website intended for us here in the UK is priced at £3829, click here to look. That, if my maths is correct, is around 32% more expensive to book here in the UK than in Australia for exactly the same cruise off the same company website. Try to book off the Australian version, and they won't let you if you don't have an Australian postal address. It is also a devious use of technology to have the same cruise on the same website, that is priced differently depending on which country it is viewed in. The URL's are identical, the only apparent difference being that the Australian version doesn't have a 'Price Protected Promise', with no *'Vantage Fare' available. The UK version for the Brisbane to Singapore cruise shows a price of £2719 for the 28 nights HERE. An increase of 38% for the UK market over the Australian agent's price.

I did a little more research here by logging on to Google Australia, and found this Click here for Australian travel agent, offering the Southampton - Brisbane cruise for $4333.62, (£2609.53), approximately £1220 per person cheaper than I can book the same cruise for here!

More research found this Cruise Critic Article describing the reasons given by cruise operators as to why cruises are offered at different prices in different countries. Their answers didn't cut it with me though, as my examples show exactly the same product - just very much more expensive here.

*See BBC Your Money Their Tricks a survivors guide to cruising, for a description of the so called 'Vantage Fares'.

You may want to buy a cruise sector to escape the winter here, but being ripped off isn't where I like to find myself. So, until I am allowed to buy off the Australian agent, and at their price, we won't be going anywhere soon.

All currency conversions and website prices were correct as of 10am on Wednesday 24th July 2013.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Enjoying Our First Summer In years!

Enjoying the sun at our home mooring this weekend before taking friends for a day cruise next weekend. Then we will be pointing the right way for a planned three week cruise in August. Four Counties ring is the current plan - heading south on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Mags hasn't done Harecastle yet, so a new experience for her there. I have no doubt the unusual summer weather here will have broken by then, so we have a Spanish plan B set up for when we return!

The boat is desperately in need of a wash. In these conditions I think it will have to be in the middle of the night.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal - Update.

Today continued to be warm and sunny, with Margaret at work and me home alone, I decided to make the short trip by car to the playground of my youth - the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal - together with my camera, to record the progress of restoration of this once proud canal. What more or less closed it was a serious breach in 1936, close to Nob End - yes you heard me! The embankment had given trouble before, and had been strengthened using railway line in the 1880's, but on this occasion, the damage proved fatal. The stretch between Ladyshore Colliery at Leadbeater Fold, (Lebbety Fowt to us locals), and Bury continued to be used to transport coal for a while afterwards, but by the time I became interested in it in the late 1950's/60's, it was derelict. The area around the breach had been de-watered, and the line terminated at Hall Lane, Little Lever, en-route to Bolton, when the aqueduct was demolished for road widening in the early 1950's, although this stretch to Bolton had been disused since 1924, and had been officially abandoned by 1941. The aqueduct over Radcliffe Road, Darcy Lever, close to its Bolton terminus, was also demolished in the 1960's. To put the final cap on it, the road bridge at Water Street, a main road through Radcliffe, was renewed and widened, and the canal beneath culverted, on the Bury line, making full restoration difficult. If that wasn't enough, the final run into Bolton is now occupied by a dual carriageway called St. Peters Way. The canal surveyors, as always, got it right first time as roads and railways follow the route of this canal throughout. In fact, as the canal was in decline, before the adjacent railway was built, the company even considered running the rail line along the canal bed. Luckily the idea was dropped and it remained in use. It was intended to link the original Lancaster Canal, now the Leeds and Liverpool Canal section at Aspull, via Westhoughton, to take trade from the numerous coal pits in the area, but this plan also never took off due to cost and the onset of the railways. However, the abandoned spur, where this would have happened, is still visible to the right of the top lock of the Wigan flight. This is the link to the MBBC Society website: with their photo gallery here, where many interesting old images can be found. There are also several interesting images to be found on Bolton Museum's Flickr site here: Bolton Museum photostream.

The 1936 breach into the River Irwell below.
The breach site today, showing railway line used in previous repairs.
The breach site from the canal bed
The middle of the breach to the Irwell from the canal bed
The left side of the breach, where the coal boat was overhanging above.
The remains of the lock flight at Nob End
The site of the uppermost gates
The recently built 'Meccano' bridge at the top of the locks. When I was a lad the bridge here had just its girders left, with gaps between, which of course tempted us to dare each other to walk across.
Looking down the lock flight. A little disappointing to see them overgrown once again, after much recent work by volunteers to clear the undergrowth.
Site of one of the middle gates
Well worn steps
Looking up the flight
From the bottom, looking towards Prestolee on the Manchester branch is Seddon's, or Silver Hill Bridge, crossed by James Mason in the film 'Spring and Port Wine', which used many locations in this area. The film crew based themselves in a bungalow on Boscow Road nearby while shooting footage around here.
The aqueduct over the Irwell at Nob End
Lower entrance to the locks. Rising 64 feet over 200 yards, the locks were arranged in two staircases of three, with a passing basin between.
Lower lock basin. On the left ahead, you can see the remains of the spur to what was once a dry dock, still visible when undergrowth is low, and then Rawson's Prestolee Chemical Works, established by Benjamin Rawson in 1805 to make chemicals for bleaching and printing. The site was taken over by Edward Wilson in 1844, but the works was closed by 1875. The area has been cleared, but during production, much alkaline waste was tipped, and due to this some very interesting flora now thrives, including rare orchids. It is now a site of special scientific interest.
Looking up the flight. An old image, including the now demolished lock cottage is HERE.
All that is now left of the old lock cottage on Prestolee Road, between the canal workshops on the main line, and the lock flight. This road pre-dates rail transport to Manchester, and was covered, to allow passengers from packet boats to walk from the main line, down the locks, to pick up the boat to Manchester, thus saving water.
An old image of the cottage can be seen on the MBBCS website
Access to the flight is now restricted. We played here in the 1960's
Prestolee Road from the main line towards the Manchester branch. There was a cast iron road sign attached to the wall in my youth - now gone, as are all the diamond trespass warning signs on the canal bridges, that bore the logo and initials of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway company, who once owned the canal. I wish I had taken one myself now, when they were unwanted.
The main Bolton-Bury line at Nob End. As a child I remember a sunken boat here.. It had a cabin, and was Jo Lansdale's workboat. Jo of Wellfield House was the last surviving MBBC boatman. He can be seen on the right of this 1950 image HERE.  There was another sunken, but visible, coal boat in the basin at Hall Lane. All now gone forever, back to nature.
Wellfield House by the canal. Trivia: On 29/06/1929 John Barret Lansdale, 29, boatman,  of Wellfield House, married Margaret Alice Hargreaves, 29, of 76 High Street, married at St. Mathews church, Little Lever. Father of the groom was a farmer.
Canal Cottages at Nob End. In the gap at the end of the cottages here stood a now demolished shed, which was a boat repair yard, can be seen HERE. Also disappointing is that the workshops are now demolished. The restoration plans had these earmarked as a visitor centre.
Although boats were also built at a wharf closer to Bolton at Top O'th Lodge, which is located at the bottom of Melrose Road now, now a road to a modern housing estate using the line of what was Top O'th Lodge Road, see a historic boat launch at the site of this image HERE. It is taking place where the gap is at the left of the cottages.
Main line looking towards Bolton
Main line towards to Bolton from cobbled towpath
At the junction to lock down to the Manchester Branch looking towards the Canal Cottages and Bolton. Lock mooring bollards and rings still present and in good condition.
Wellfield House. This became derelict in the 1980's after the death of its occupant, a Lansdale. It was boarded up and had suffered vandalism when it came to market. We considered buying it, but even in the state it was then, it was still out of our budget range at that time.
A bridge requiring assistance, from the canal bed near to the breach

From the canal bed at the breach site towards the Meccano Bridge at Nob End
The top of lock junction. Main Bolton-Bury line to the right, lock flight to the Manchester branch to the left. 
Complementary picnic furniture at Nob End. This location was used historically to rest groups of horses after bringing boats up or down the locks.
The new 'Meccano' Bridge

From the Meccano Bridge towards Bolton. To the left of the cottages was the boat building yard at Nob End
Now a private house and cattery, this - believe it or not, was the Nob Inn. Located at the top of the locks, was still in use as a pub in my childhood. See it as it was HERE. There used to be a row of terraced cottages immediately to the left of the building facing Wellfield, known as West View.
Meccano Bridge
From Meccano Bridge, now a picnic site. There is an old photo of horses tied  here to rest, which can be seen HERE along with other old images. The lock entrance is to the right, the main line to Bury goes off to the left.
The now dry canal bed, due to the 1936 breach
Behind the modern pipe bridge is an ancient stone packhorse bridge over the River Irwell. Taken from the canal aqueduct
Pack horse bridge over the Irwell. In mediaeval times the predecessor of this bridge formed part of the main route from Bolton to Manchester, when pack horses were the only form of transport available to the up and coming industry of the area.  

Although work to restore this canal is very much still in the early stages, part of it at Salford is once again navigable, with new locks, constructed during the re-generation of the area.

An interesting photo slide-show of MBBC memorabilia can be seen HERE. 

An interesting walk of this area is described HERE by Paul Hindle of the Manchester Geographical Society in conjunction with members of the MBBC Society.

That was a nostalgic day out.