Tuesday, 22 May 2012



Impulse, according to my research, is the first viable fully solar powered narrowboat (meaning it doesn't employ an auxillary power supply).

I began developing the idea over the last few years whilst reading about advances in electric cars; it's clear we have passed the peak in world oil reserves and fuel will only get gradually scarcer and along the way more and more expensive. We also of course need to do all we can to reduce carbon emissions, so it seems obvious that some sort of similar solution for boats is necessary for the long term enjoyment of the waterways. 

 I'm employed in video production these days, but trained originally as an electrical engineer, and my motivation was not so much to acquire a new boat as to see if I could dust off my old skills and make the notion work in practice.

The idea continued germinating while studying developments in both electric vehicle and solar technology. Recent advances in fitting panels to houses has led to rapid development of solar panel efficiency. One afternoon, while looking at a house roof recently fitted up, it became clear to me that the standard size solar panel (about 1.5 x 1m) is pretty well suited to a narrowboat roof, which (dependent on its length) provides space for quite a few. I began to research what might have already been done in this regard. Lots of boats are now fitted with solar to help recharge batteries for domestic arrangements of course, but what about propulsion?

I found plenty of references to small solar powered leisure boats, and there is even an electric boat association. There are some diesel-electric hybrids that use electric propulsion and a diesel motor to generate that electricity, but scant information on full size liveaboard boats that worked effectively through solar generation alone. The realisation I wasn't finding clear references to fully solar powered narrowboats that work well in practice led me to conclude there must be some inherent problem, and I began to realise that main issue for current technology must be the relatively massive weight of a traditional steel hulled narrowboat


All that dense metal leads to a huge moment of inertia and requires fairly massive energy to get the bulk moving or slow it down. That would eat away hungrily at any stored electric energy and seems the reason why narrowboats generally depend on high torque multi-cylindered diesel engines – despite all the disadvantages of mechanical problems, (cost, maintenance, noise and fumes).

I began to come to the view that for the idea to work with emerging technology a much lighter hull would be required. In mid 2011 I spotted a suitable candidate. The boat I later named ‘Impulse’ was a 32ft narrow-beam hull launched in 2010 and built by small Lancashire boat-builder Blondboats employing GRP construction. Inspection showed her to be a sturdy craft but in GRP light enough to propel easily and just the right dimensions. Facilities included a forward cabin sleeping two, a main cabin - with four seats and two tables that converted to two more berths, a well-appointed kitchen area with fridge, cooker and sink, and a bathroom with fitted shower and cassette toilet.

Using fibreglass for narrowboat has the additional advantage that the lower weight means a smaller draft, so they do not often ground and get stuck where steel boats do, or when water levels are low. They are plenty strong enough for marine use, as evidenced by the considerable number of 30 or 40 year old GRP boats you see on the waterways.

The boat already had a small solar panel fitted (80 watt) but this would be nowhere near adequate to power the boat (it would probably take several weeks for this to generate enough power for a day’s cruise), so this would be best left devoted to the lighting and other domestic arrangements. I was already fairly certain that a pretty significant array of panels would be needed for drive purposes.

Impulse also came with a mount for fitting a conventional fossil-fuel outboard motor to the stern, but although one can easily be retrofitted, I had the bit between my teeth now and didn’t want to fall back on one at this stage, - so into storage it went. My committment needed to be to full solar power so that I wouldn’t be tempted to compromise. It was going to be quite a challenge. Let the calculations begin!

The first problem was that I had no body of other people’s experience to fall back on. How could I work out how much energy an electric motor would need for an average cruise? And how many panels would be required to supply that? I realised the battery bank was not the main issue, so long as it was big enough to enable a decent cruise, the limiting factor would be how much energy could be harvested over what period of time to replenish it. Although the larger the battery bank the better, as then it doesn’t involve running it to as low a state of discharge and so the batteries will last longer. (There is a direct link between D.O.D. [Depth Of Discharge] and battery life cycles). 

The LMC electric motor fitted at the stern

Some thought needs to be given to weight distribution. Impulse uses two battery banks, one in the stern, near to and feeding the motor, (Four Numax Marine 95ah batteries) and to counterbalance that weight, I constructed for the domestic power supply two additional battery boxes (each taking three batteries), that doubled as seats either side in the bow cratch area. By way of compensation for the weight of the batteries, we would be doing without the much greater weight of a diesel engine and gearbox.

These boxes would also serve as somewhere to sit up front as well as house the batteries supplying the domestic arrangements (lighting, water pumps, fridge, entertainment, phone charging and bilge-pump). Impulse was already fitted with Halogen cabin lighting. Although these were ample (a dozen fittings), I changed them all to LED lights for efficiency (each LED bulb uses 5% of the power of one of the halogen lamps), and added a LED fitting to the stern area for sitting out late, and two bedside LED reading lamps for comfort. I also added a power source for the sound system and two 12v power sockets to the front cabin to supply laptops, charge mobile phones etc.

Fitting the front battery box that will also double as a cratch area seat.

The 80-watt panel was fixed transversely at the bow end of the roof to charge the domestic battery bank (to be located in the bow area battery boxes). I would have preferred to use a larger panel, but needed to use a slim panel to retain maximum space for the main solar array that would supply the traction power. No matter, as panel technology improves I should be able in a few years to replace this panel with one probably double the output yet still the same size.

I calculated the maximum I could probably fit on the roof would be approaching a kilowatt of energy for the main solar array, so finally settled on 4 Sharp panels providing a total of 880 watts. There are many cheaper panels available, but I wanted quality and assured output and most of the advice I gained referenced Sharp as the best available.

Mounting arrangement for solar array

Much thought went into engineering the mounting system. I ascertained that solar panels should not be mounted horizontally (not least to allow for rainwater run-off), they are of course much more efficient if they can be angled towards the sun.

I settled for engineering a system to hinge them centrally on alloy mounting bars that are firmly bolted through the main centreline of the boat roof. The bars allowed for a small amount of rise at the centre, and that combined with the fall-off of a curved roof allows them to be tilted quite considerably towards either side of the boat. Of course I couldn’t stop there, not with the potential for high winds catching them, so I engineered a system of sturdy alloy braces that could be simply swapped from one side of the boat to the other as required.

When the boat is mainly travelling East to West or vice-versa; I figured they could all be tilted to the South. When the boat was travelling mainly North-South I could tilt two towards the morning light and two for maximum benefit during the afternoon. Note the Torx security fittings that need a special tool to operate.

Solar panels actually generate electricity under any amount of light, even under moonlight, but the yield massively increases under the sun -  and if they can be angled towards its area of the sky. Of course, unlike a house, a boat changes direction frequently, and this arrangement I thought would give maximum flexibility to deploy the panels according to the main direction of travel. I could tilt them all one way for mainly east/west travel, leave them balanced out if direction is going to vary often, or even set them flat if so desired.

Front Cabin, with doors to bow cratch area

The two single berths slide easily together to form a double if required, and you can see the low level reading LED spots installed and part of the bookcase that I fitted in. There are plenty of useful storage drawers underneath the beds and at the front.

Although 'Impulse' is a futuristic boat in most ways, we hung the classic 'Roses' mirror you see on the right as a homage to narrowboat tradition.

I am currently back home again to catch up with work demands. The project is proving a very real (but enjoyable!) distraction. Impulse is moored near the Liverpool end of the Leeds - Liverpool canal, so that is where all the work needs to be done, quite a bit of driving is involved in shuttling back and forth at the moment (late 2011). I reassure myself this will eventually be outweighed by the promise of cost and pollution free cruising ever after.

Not only will cruising be free but I've decided heating will too – though we’ll sometimes have to choose between that and traction power. I’ve located a source for new 24 volt fan heaters, - normally used by truckers to heat the lorry cabin on overnight stays. This I’ve fitted in the main cabin and wired up to the 24v battery bank. In poor weather you can choose to stay moored, switch it on and use the energy harvest to heat the boat instead of to cruise. In very hot weather you can even use it as a cold air fan. I’ve also acquired a 24 volt timer, which will  allow it to come on automatically for a period each evening, when the boat is left moored and unattended, thereby using some of that day’s free energy harvest to warm or ventilate the boat and keep condensation (the bane of many a boat) at bay .

I’m pleased these developments are turning ‘Impulse’ into a very low cost live-aboard as well as cruiser, and one with a negligible carbon footprint.

The Marina, Autumn 2011

Between these engineering works the boat is being painted externally (recently built, much of it remains in primer grey). Other additions are also being made, such as a small wardrobe to maximise storage space, pictures hung to make it homely, shelves added to the kitchen cupboard and conveniences like a foot-operated switch for the bathroom tap installed.

Now for some electrical engineering.

I knew I would need a solar controller to sit between the solar panel array and battery bank. Many are available, but research began to reveal that not all are equal. Having studied electrical engineering helped immensely here. With much reading I worked out that certain types of modern solar controllers, called MPPT (Multiple Power Point Tracking), could yield as much as a 30% greater energy harvest from panels as their output varies across the day, - in comparison with standard controllers. When it comes to interfacing with your batteries, the other desirable feature is PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) charging algorithms – and you need a sufficiently varied range of these to cater for the various battery types you might employ. Battery types vary immensely and they all benefit from a charging routine tailored specifically for them. Despite the far eastern solar controllers all being much cheaper, I eventually settled on the Tristar, a western controller with a reputation as a rugged and reliable no-frills device, easy to monitor but with everything needed to do the job properly.

The Tristar

Here is the write up for the technically minded:

TriStar: Solar Controller with Maximum Power Point Tracking

Morningstar’s TriStar MPPT solar controller with TrakStar Technology is an advanced maximum power point tracking (MPPT) battery charger for off-grid photovoltaic (PV) systems up to 3kW. The controller provides the industry’s highest peak efficiency of 99% and significantly less power loss compared to other MPPT controllers. The TriStar MPPT features a smart tracking algorithm that maximizes the energy harvest from the PV by rapidly finding the solar array peak power point with extremely fast sweeping of the entire I-V curve. This product is the first PV controller to include on-board Ethernet for a fully web-enabled interface and includes up to 200 days of data logging.

The Sigma Drive (and dust from drilling its mounts!)

The LMC motor is built in Devon and is used in fork lift trucks, elevating platforms and such like. Directly connected to the propeller shaft it needs no gearbox (one of the beauties of electric drive) but prefers 24v DC and needs heavy duty cabling to handle the high currents involved. It usually interfaces with a box called the Sigma Drive designed to handle these currents. Essentially the Sigma Drive converts low current DC signals from the forward/reverse control and accelerator to the high currents the motor needs. I found a suitable cabinet to safely house the Sigma Drive, shown above during installation. Note the battery isolator key fitted below and the circuit breaker, which acts as a fuse and kicks out if the current drawn exceeds a fixed value. It is easily reset but acts as a useful reminder of current draw as well as a safety device. I am using a 50 amp version here, well within the motors limits, but high enough to allow bursts of power for manouvering. I am basing my calculations on around 30 amps draw for normal cruising.

Main Solar array now fitted

The motor controller required some inventiveness. Fork Lift Trucks, Electric Cars, and Golf Carts: - all use a foot-pedal for the accelerator,  which is hardly appropriate for a boat. A simple rheostat (variable resistor such as volume control on an amplifier) would suffice to send the variable speed signal to the Sigma Drive, but the only one we could find that matched electrically took 8 rotations from end to end! To gear this down to half a turn and create a more boat friendly lever operated speed control we used nylon gears in a wooden case:

The motor controller

On the right you can see the black control box with forward /reverse switch. The colour coded cabling was protected by heat shrink then connected to a multi way plug allowing ready disconnection from the Sigma Drive in its case. The lead allows the control box to be quick release mounted at the side of the seat where you sit whilst helming, and then easily unplugged and taken away or locked in the cabin when you are leaving the boat. A simple arrangement, but all the more effective and reliable for that.

The Sigma drive also has a connection for a 'Deadman' switch. This is normally connected to a pressure operated seat switch on a fork-lift or buggy, so that if the driver falls or is knocked off, the motor is automatically cut out. I wired this to a small jack socket on the black box and constructed a leash that fits over the helmsman's wrist and plugs in the socket. If the helmsman falls over, or in the water, the plug will pull out and the motor and boat should stop pretty swiftly

At this point I decided the boat needed further refinements. I wanted to replace the complicated bracing for the stern cover with something that doubled as a stern rail and seat mount as well as canopy frame; Making it easy to fit and remove the stern cover, as well as provide seating and a backrest for two people at the helm. This is the arrangement I designed:

Casting around locally I'm lucky to find a Lancashire artist who specialises in metalwork, likes the project, and is willing to fabricate to these specs. Job commissioned, off he goes to begin construction. Meanwhile I'm preoccupied with final fitting up and testing of the charging and drive system.

How to wire the panels to the Tristar bemused me initially, series or parallel? Series has the advantage that higher voltages mean lower currents so less loss through the wiring; (not that this was a major consideration as I was using the professional cable specifically designed for solar arrays).  However four Sharp panels in series produce around 145 volts and the Tristar is rated at 130v maximum input. I decided to wire the panels in series pairs and parallel them together into one feed to the Tristar. Each pair would produce about 72 volts, and this has the advantage that they can be spread in pairs, so one of each pair is angled for morning sun and one for afternoon when travel direction is mainly North –South or vice versa.

It’s not a good idea to connect panels under load. Four large Sharp panels produce a considerable amount of electricity, and too sudden a surge of power is the likely result. You can either hook up at night or do as I did, cover the panels with a large piece of opaque cardboard (from the packaging the panels came in), wire up, then remove the cardboard creating a false ‘dawn’. I wired up the first pair initially late in the afternoon, went up and removed the covers then hopped back down to check the Tristar. This clever piece of kit was going through its start-up routines beautifully and all was correct according to the instruction manual. I then did the same with the second pair of panels, hooking them in parallel to the first pair. Soon the battery voltage indication was rapidly climbing, even faster than I had hoped, and by the following lunchtime the drive battery readout was blinking green happily, indicating the batteries were already in 'float' state.

It was a windy day, but the sun was shining, and we couldn’t resist taking ‘Impulse’ out for a trial run. Exiting the marina under our own power was exhilarating and soon we were cruising down towards nearby Liverpool. First impressions exceeded all expectations. The electric motor was extremely quiet and we were able to purr along almost noiselessly, relaxing at the stern with not a hint of fossil fumes. This was what more than half a year of work was all about and we basked in the rewards. All this energy we were using was absolutely free and harvested from the benevolent sun.

A few hours cruising south near the Lancashire coast was enjoyed before we decided to return to base. I couldn’t find a winding point so decided to make a turn mid canal. I was surprised how easy this actually was. Not quite a three-point turn, but still not too taxing. An advantage of a 32 ft boat compared to the 70 ft giants. Soon we were making our way back to the marina.

Unfortunately the wind was by now picking up considerably and when we reached base it was gusting very strongly! Here came our problem of the day. I was keeping a tight line on the tricky 90-degree turn under a narrow bridge into the marina, when at that moment a large gust hit us and the motor simultaneously cut out so we were helplessly blown right by, - much to my chagrin! Use of the pole enabled a soft landing on the bank so we moored up and I began looking for the motor problem. Luckily the wiring layout is fairly straightforward so it was soon located. One of the push fit connectors to the speed potentiometer had simply worked loose. These would be soldered permanently the next day, but pushing it back in place temporarily allowed us to negotiate our return, despite the wind, and we cruised into base happy with our experience.

A place to relax.

That good weather day was unfortunately  not typical of late March in the north west of England. Many days are wet and windy and this has been slowing up our work on the outside of the boat. We had planned to get away and start cruising in April, but although our metal artist has now fabricated the stern rail, we can’t even find a good day to have it fitted. At last the weather forecast indicates a reasonable day so we arrange and have the rail fitted, then attach the pre-prepared wooden seat assembly to the adjustable brackets provided for it. The seat could do with being longer if you wanted to seat three or four at the stern, but can be easily replaced and will work perfectly well for two of us

We have now decided the boat deserves a new stern canopy to match the new stern rail. The old one is heavy duty PVC, very bulky when removed and PVC doesn’t breathe, so quite a bit of condensation builds up under it at times. Unfortunately as far as I was aware to this point, the choice was either that or canvas which is not as strong and eventually needs re-waterproofing. A visit and advice from a boat canopy specialist yields new understanding  and leads us to order a custom canopy made of a newly developed top-line material called Weathermax. A (very) expensive, but strong material highly waterproof yet still breathable. The best of all worlds. Our design allows it to be in two halves, a lower wrap–around ‘skirt’ that we can leave on if the day is iffy or there is a cool wind, and top cover or ‘roof' for the stern area.

The next day we finally say goodbye to the boat’s winter home, and set off cruising. The new canopy will need to be fitted ‘en route’. We are overjoyed to be finally on our way, though we can’t go too far as the canopy still has to come to us. We cruise a few miles up to New Lane, but find we don’t have a British Waterways key for the swing bridge, so moor along the towpath for the night. 

I was really pleased to find the batteries were back up to full by mid morning, but we were waiting for British Waterways to arrive with a key. After their prompt arrival we were sorted for that, but still couldn’t go too far as the canopy had to be delivered. Out came our folding bikes and we spent the day cycling around the area and exploring.

The following day we decide just to move a little way. One of the advantages of canal cruising is that the pace is so leisurely you really do get to know the immediate area well, and cruising so gently there is time to look at the landscape and wildlife. The banks were full of new duck and moorhen families, and we were pleased that our quiet progress didn’t seem to be disturbing them at all. We move up to the Farmers Arms where the canopy maker can get his van nearby and moor up in anticipation. After a phone call we learn delivery cannot be arranged for today, so out come the bikes again and local exploration begins anew.

Laid up at the Farmers awaiting the stern canopy

Amtrim arrive the following morning and all day was spent fitting the new canopy. By afternoon they realise an adjustment is needed and so the job can’t be completed. Away went the canopy for some evening sewing and they return early the next day when we get a perfect fit.

The day is still young and the weather fair so it seems time for a decent cruise. On to Burscough, where we refill our water tanks, on past the Rufford Junction, through Parbold and on to Appley Bridge it was to be – just over six miles in total, at a leisurely enjoyable pace around walking speed. We enjoy the sights that drift past. Waterside sculpture gardens, farm workers harvesting asparagus, old flour mills, rolling meadows – all unfold before us like a slow cine film. Often we are bouncing comments from towpath walkers who are interested in the boat. One thinks we must have a big TV to have so many panels! But others cotton on and ask if we are solar powered; - they seemed amazed to have it confirmed, as if they couldn't quite believe it. Some, like the woman on the bridge as we pass under, comment: “That’s a quiet boat”. -  “How wonderful!” she responds, when we explain why. Mostly however no one is around as we purr through the countryside, so we are able to concentrate on enjoying the view and our quiet, fume free progress across the surface of Lancashire.

As evening draws in and with the battery level reading yellow (around 50% down) we moor just before the deep lock at Appley Bridge, and settle in for the night in a lovely spot with natural beauty all around.

We woke to a beautiful morning with our panels soaking up the sun and went off to explore. Returning around lunchtime I find to my delight that the battery level is right up to green blinking already (over 90%) This is better than expected. I had worked on the basis that it would be fine if we could cruise every other day and recharge on that and the next. Two days charging for one of cruising would suit us perfectly; after all, we want some time to explore the new area we have moved to. It’s now clear that in good weather, you can be recharged again by the following lunchtime and so cruise every afternoon if you want – all without paying a penny at the pump! Everyone seems to agree that its not the point of boating to move continuously anyway.

Appley Deep Lock is our first lock, and it feels cavernous cruising the boat into its empty depth. A boater moored nearby comes over to help and oversee our novice working of it, and we emerge happily to cruise on until we can tell we are on the outskirts of Wigan. Time to lay up.

Another sunny morning followed and the batteries were again up by lunchtime so we cruised down through Ell Meadow and Pagefield Locks and right into the centre of Wigan past the famous Wigan Pier, once a coal wharf, which gained notoriety through George Orwell’s book ‘Road To Wigan Pier’.

       Cruising into Wigan

We moored up for the night at the British Waterways Offices near the centre of town, where they thoughtfully provide a few 48-hour visitor moorings. Awaking next day to wet and windy weather, we decided to leave the boat moored and go and explore the town. We are fortunate enough to happen on the Trencherfield Mill with crowds of people going in. Right on time to see the mightiest mill engine in the world being fired up, (A steam leviathan with two gigantic cylinders named 'Helen' and 'Rina' - no doubt the mill owners daughters), and what a spectacular sight it is. Browsing exhibits, shopping and a Classic Car show take up the rest of the day.

Wigan Pier

This evening we have a decision to make. Do we turn south and head down the Leigh branch? Or turn north and continue on the Leeds and Liverpool for a long climb into and over the Pennines? We decide that while we have the chance and are in the area we ought to explore more of the Leeds and Liverpool (Britain’s longest canal), even if we don’t have time to travel it all. The fly in the ointment is that immediately in our path lies the legendary ‘Wigan Flight’ of locks: 23 locks in quick succession! The ‘Wigan Flight’ is as notorious as the ‘Devizes Flight’ down south on the Kennet and Avon, and we are absolute rookies! Boldness prevails and we decide to tackle the flight.

The following morning we read in our canal guide that British Waterways assistance is available on the flight, so I go in the office to see if as novices we can arrange it, but it turns out to be old information rendered obsolete by recent funding cuts. Funnily enough this doesn’t change our commitment and we shortly sail past the Leigh junction and into the maws of the ‘Wigan flight’. 

Here we are temporarily tied up after the first couple of locks.

After climbing through seven locks we realise that though we are managing it, due to inexperience, stuck paddles, heavy gates etc we are rather too slow. The boat is no problem at all. It’s us. Can we climb all 23 locks before dark? - No-one is not supposed to moor for the night part way! Just then our Good Samaritan arrives. Adrian is walking the canal, he has a boat, but not with him – it's moored a dozen miles further up. He insists on helping, and my are we grateful. His knowledge and help enables us to lock fast and soon we are climbing away, and we reach the top with daylight to spare.

One of the bonuses of this adventure is the lovely people you come across in the waterways world. Adrian is a delightful character who during our hours together regales us with tales of growing up in Wigan as a teddy boy (even down to his pride in the gold silk lining in his favourite suit). A tinge of sadness is introduced with the details of a long happy marriage recently ruptured by his wife’s terminal illness.

The following morning is not particularly brilliant weather but the batteries are well up even after such a busy day yesterday, so we decide to cruise on. I have found I need to go back home to do some work soon, so we want to get in as much cruising as we can before then.

Cruising with the panels set for North. Two of the main panels are angled for morning light and two for the afternoon.

We pass through the Haigh estate and wonder if we will catch a ball from the golf course. I worry a little about the panels in this regard but then remind myself they are toughened glass, strong enough to walk on and anyway they are well covered with the boat insurance. No ball alights on us and we pass by.  On under beautiful bridges, on through delightful spring woodland until we reach Red Rock and decide to moor as the weather is beginning to deteriorate. An evening of rain follows but we are snug inside our cabin.

The following day is mixed with scattered unpredictable showers, so we decide to get the bikes out, go exploring and catch up with some shopping.

The next day is more promising, so I am still deferring the need to go back home for work. We cruise up to Adlington, moor next to a few other boats and go for a walk around town. After a hearty brunch in a local cafĂ© we return to the boat and continue cruising for several miles past moored boats of all sizes and shapes. We discuss their respective merits, and confirm we are more than happy with what we have, especially considering how far we have been able to quietly come without it costing a penny.

View from Bridge while cruising

After a few more miles we reach Chorley, meet up with Adrian again at his mooring, take a look at his boat, a sixty foot steel giant compared to ours, and then moor our own nearby. We are going to leave ‘Impulse’ here for a few weeks while I return for commitments.

Bathroom with cassette toilet and shower. You can see the hot and cold shower taps on the wall, but hot water from the hot tank is currently via an immersion element and so only available when the 240v mains hookup is used. Low voltage DC elements are available, but I'm in no rush to change to one and we are using the hot tanks as extra cold water tanks, and boiling a kettle when we need hot water. Inside the bathroom, to the right, out of view, is a snug corner basin for hand and face wash. The Bathroom is surprisingly spacious once you are inside.

The new ‘Weathermax’ stern cover. You can remove just the roof on indifferent days. As you can see we've managed to get more painting done by this stage and the tiller bar is no longer in primer. Its now early June and we've managed to find time to return to boating for a few weeks. We arrive at the boat mid afternoon and leave Chorley and cruise up to Botany Bay where we moor for the night. The weather is poor the following day with gusty showers seemingly every ten minutes. Whilst its perfectly possible to cruise along on a rainy day with the right clothing, we don't see the point - we're in this for pleasure! So we lay up for a day of staying warm and dry in the cabin and get some reading done.

Next we climb Johnson' Hillock flight of locks heading north again and cruise on to Blackburn. We intend to see as much of the Leeds and Liverpool (up to nearly the highest point of the English canal system) as we can before we decide to come back down through the country. There are lots of interesting features to report along the way: The Burnley 'Straight Mile' for example is spectacular, a mighty aqueduct carrying the canal high across the town; but this could easily turn into a blog about cruising, which is something many people already know about. So my posts will probably get fewer on that score.

The central cabin. These seat cushions form bunk beds on either side. The table lowers into place and the cushions slide on top.

When there is a fine day we try to both get some enjoyable cruising done and also spend a couple of hours finishing off the paintwork, which is now almost complete, so the boat is now also looking a lot smarter than in the early photographs.

Here you can see the stern rail made for us by the steel artist mentioned earlier. (and after a month in primer we have finally got a coat of paint onto it!) The design works really well, providing a sense of security with something you can lean back against, and a mounting for a seat plank to add comfort during hours of cruising. It also, as intended, provides a framework for supporting the Weathermax stern cover. The only improvement I would make is not to the framework at all, but at some point I would like to fit a wider and deeper seat board. You can currently seat two, but I see no reason why a full width one can't be fitted. This would be quite easily achieved as the board is simply screwed on to the height adjustable mounting brackets. The motor speed controller can just be seen attached to the side of the seat. It mounts to the seat side on quick release brackets and plugs into the drive controller through a multipin socket, so is easily detachable each evening for security.

Here is another interesting solar boat project: http://www.marinewiki.org/index.php/6.2_m_Solar_Boat

This started as a blog on making a narrowboat work under solar power. Now I have to say - it simply does. As soon as dawn arrives the panels start pouring energy into the batteries. When you cruise the electric drive whirrs along happily, only needing an occasional application of grease to the propellorshaft. 

A friend said to me he'd like to visit and 'see all those solar panels in action', but to be truthful, there really isn't very much to see. They make no song and dance as they draw down almost a kilowatt of power every hour and you can't exactly watch the current as it goes down the wires to the battery bank! All you get to see is a nice boat purring almost silently along the waterway.