Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wintry Journey to Oxford

All the time we had been stuck and/or delayed by ice, Dave had been checking the Thames website regularly to see whether there were any 'Strong Stream' warnings. It had looked good, if only we could get out of the Kennet and Avon in time! Our licence for the Thames ran out on 31st December, and of course we had planned to get off the K&A and up to Oxford long before then.

And then there were lock closures to consider! A couple on the Thames, and one at the junction of Thames and K&A. It was all getting a bit tight!

Then, not long after we 'escaped' from the broken swing bridge, the 'Strong Stream' warnings started appearing on the Thames! Was it worth travelling down to Reading, only to have to turn back and spend the rest of the winter on the K&A?

We began to look for alternatives, and made some enquiries about mooring up for a couple of months on the K&A near Aldermaston or Reading. Two possibilities, two vacancies, so we opted provisionally for one of them, and were about to move back up the Kennet towards Aldermaston when . . . the stream on the Thames began to diminish again !!
Hasty phone call to the first lock on the Thames! The lock-keeper at Caversham Lock said she thought the stream was likely to go on decreasing, and thought we should be OK to come out of the K&A and moor up next to Tesco's on the river, and wait there for the stream to go down some more.

So we did just that! Coming down the Kennet, we found that the flow there was fairly strong too, especially through the Oracle shopping centre in Reading! No problem; we had psyched ourselves up for a really bumpy time, but we had a smooth ride and got through Blake's Lock onto the Thames just a day before it was due to close for maintenance.

Mooring outside Tesco's was easy enough, and we certainly didn't seem likely to run out of food! Water was another question, though. Since before Reading, we had been trying to fill up with water, but the taps are very well spaced out, plus we just couldn't find one that was supposed to be there, so we were in danger of running out.

Tesco's filling station had a tap, so it was possible to fill up our jerry can and take it back to the boat, but it was quite a laborious process. We went on limiting our water use as much as possible – and then the tap froze up! This was the big freeze, after all!
There was another tap, with HOT water for the carwash guys working in the car park, and they said it was OK for us to use it, so we changed to that instead.

Three days after we arrived, the Strong Stream warnings started coming off the Thames, just as the rest of the UK ground to a frozen halt. At that stage, there was talk of a thaw fairly soon, so we made our move and started upstream. The guy at the boatyard where we bought fuel said that he thought we were crazy, but sold us the diesel anyway!

These photos, by the way, start from Reading! Our first day's travelling upsteam brought us to Goring, just arriving in the evening twilight, through scenery very different from when we last saw it with Jeremy in October.

So far, we had seen NO OTHER BOATS MOVING! Most of the locks were on self-service, but sometimes the off-duty lock-keeper would pop out to see who was crazy enough to be travelling in these conditions, and usually lend a hand. They were all really helpful, alway advising us to be careful on lock-sides, where the snow was thick.

We developed our own modified Thames lock technique, with Dave taking the boathook with him when he got off to operate the lock. Then, when the lock was ready and the gates open, Val brought Zindagi in and Dave carefully hooked the (frozen) rope off the bows and tied it securely to a bollard, then hooking the stern rope from Val before taking it round another bollard and passing it back to her. Dave then closed the gates and filled the lock, while Val controlled the boat by taking up the slack in her rope. Minimising danger, but always being VERY careful!

Seeing the lock-keeper's cottage at Goring in the early morning was like looking at some imagined winter scene – they do say that this stretch of the river is one of the most beautiful!

Everything else all around was frozen solid, but flowing water doesn't freeze (well, not until it is a lot colder!), so our passage actually on the river was straightforward, just a little more flow than sometimes, but nothing worrying. The Goring lock-keeper told us that the night-time temperature had dropped to minus 18ÂșC! Just a little bit of ice to break up in the lock itself, and we were soon on our way upstream again.

Not very far upstream, just after Cleeve Lock, we came across an enormous flock of birds, mostly seagulls of various sorts, including Great Black-Backed Gulls, usually a coastal bird but also 'locally inland in winter' according to our bird book. We are used to seeing the much smaller Black-Headed Gulls almost everywhere on inland waters, but this large flock was quite a surprise.

Sorry to labour the point, but it continued to amaze us that there was nobody else around to enjoy the Thames in these surreal conditions. There WERE two canoeists ahead of us near Wallingford, and one of the lock-keepers said he had heard there was another boat coming up some way behind us. News of our travel upriver was being phoned through as lock-keepers kept in touch with each other, so we were sometimes greeted with "so you're the ones who are trying to get up to Oxford, are you?" Anyone who has travelled on the Thames in the busy summer months, especially on a sunny weekend, would hardly recognise this delightfully deserted river. Just look at the glorious light – what a privilege!

As we ended our second day's travel upstream, we were approaching Culham Lock. According to the published schedule of closures, this one was due to have shut for works to start on 4th January, with 'weekend passage available with care by prior arrangement'. We phoned ahead to try to arrange passage and were told that we could come anyway, as work had not started yet, even though it was the 7th! The next day, we saw that work was being re-scheduled for February.

On the last few bends before Culham, Didcot Power Station seemed to change its position all the time, but it certainly made an unusual sunset scene!

Culham lock has a half-mile-long 'cut' above it before it rejoins the river, so we crunched our way out of there the next morning, soon passing through Abingdon and on up towards Oxford. That was not to be our only ice of the day, though! Sandford Lock had 100 yards of 2-inch thick ice (or maybe thicker) above it, and the lock-keeper thought we might not be able to get out. Well, we did, but only just, after quite a bit of bashing with boat and pole. We moored up, had lunch and resigned ourselves to being there for a few days, taking the opportunity to top up with some more water from the local pub. Then later that afternoon, the lock-keeper told that we were in luck: a much bigger boat was coming upstream. Maybe they would be able to crunch through the ice that had defeated us?

Sure enough, just before 4, as Dave was collecting another jerry can of water, the 'Caversham Lady' approached the lock, came up and duly crunched her way out. Needless to say, we followed!

We didn't get much further that afternoon; just below Folly Bridge, near all the University Boat Houses, where we had needed to stop for the rowers back in May 2007. There was another boat moored there, so we just pulled in behind it and moored up for the night.

Next morning, as we were about to start off, the bloke on the other boat popped out and asked if we could give him a tow, as his gearbox had died. You know us – of course we did, but it was really heavy going through some of the narrower parts of the river. We made VERY slow progress as one engine was JUST managing to take two boats against quite strong flow. We were quite glad that he didn't want to go very far!

We knew there were good moorings between Osney Lock and Osney Bridge, just before the link through to the Oxford Canal. Talking with the lock-keeper, he confirmed our thoughts that this would be the best place to moor up and wait for the Oxford Canal to thaw. So, here we have been since Saturday lunchtime! A local pub has been helpful with water supplies, and Oxford's shopping centre is easily accessible on foot or by bus.

And the canal? Picturesque but frozen solid! We shall most likely be here for a few more days!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Frozen Progress!

After Hungerford, we started to encounter more ice ON the canal, not just on slippery towpaths. Kintbury was fine, as we were moored in the river section, but the canal to the lock was iced over, with fine icicles hanging from the bottom lock gates. From there on, we tended to be crunching our way along, leaving a trail through the iced-up canal. We shall definitely need to re-black the hull this year, as ice is very effective at removing protective black bitumen!

And so it continued as we made our way towards Newbury. Six locks and 5½ miles would normally take us about 3¼ hours – this took us 4¼, and the ice was getting thicker as we went along. The Saturday afternoon walkers got some extra entertainment!

Just before Newbury, the river joined back in to the channel, and we had welcome relief from the constant crunching as well as the possibility of mooring in an ice-free section near West Mills. We wanted to avoid our previous experience of Newbury and were glad to be outside the town centre.

Walking on through the town, it was easy to see that our ice problem was going to continue. Greenham Lock was frozen solid with ice about an inch thick. Worth waiting another day to move on, but we couldn't delay too long. It was 20th December already; we had planned to be through Widmead Lock as soon as it re-opened after 18th December (though work had actually been finished early), plus we had arranged to have a pallet of tools from Switzerland delivered to the marina which was just below Greenham Lock. We could hardly come and ask for it in the middle of their festivities!

So the next day saw us bashing our way through the ice with boat and pole! We eventually made our way down Greenham Lock and called in to the marina for the pallet. Thanks to Pete, Steve and Stephanie at Greenham Lock Marina for their really friendly help and welcome!

After that, we were on a river section again and were able to cruise and moor without ice for a short while. Through Widmead Lock and on to Thatcham, through a mixture of clear water and ice.

All the time, we were checking the Thames river conditions on the internet to make sure that we would be able to travel up from Reading to Oxford before some MORE locks closed for maintenance. There had been 'Strong Stream' warnings for a while, but now they began to be taken off. It was beginning to look hopeful, just so long as we could get there in time!

Now it wasn't just ice on the canal to contend with – the hand-operated swing bridges seemed to suffer from icing-up too! After clearing away as much ice and snow as we could, it still took two of us to persuade them to open. Sometimes it was two pushing, sometimes one pushing and one shaking the bridge to loosen it, and on two occasions we had to ask for help from people working nearby!
Even the electrically-operated swing bridges were not immune! We got through Woolhampton Bridge OK, but then it jammed with one of the barriers down, so the traffic couldn't pass and we couldn't retrieve our key. An engineer came out to lift the barrier manually, but we had to abandon our key – it was still stuck! This was December 23rd, and the country was shutting down for the holiday as well as the snow. Happily, we had a spare key!

We crunched our way through Aldermaston Wharf and under the lift bridge, though we were told that it had failed the day before! As we battled on through Padworth Lock, we had to start 'taking a run' at the ice in order to break it, so progress was becoming less and less possible. We finally had to admit defeat just before Padworth swing bridge. You can see how thick the ice was.
Not quite where we had expected to be on 24th December! Instead of joining us at Theale or on the Thames at Reading, Jeremy took the train to Aldermaston and walked along the canal to find us. We hadn't filled up with water at Aldermaston Wharf (the next water point wasn't far ahead!!), so we had to find somewhere to get some more. The caretaker of Padworth Village Hall, just 200-300 yards away, very helpfully let us fill our jerry can several times. Many thanks! The nearest 'shop' was a petrol station half a mile away!

Next morning, Dave went for his customary morning walk along the canal and came to the next swing bridge at Ufton. Just to see that all was OK, he put the key in to turn it on. Nothing happened, except that the key was held in again! We were really stuck, as we would need a key to get through Padworth swing bridge before we got to Ufton. Time to call the BW emergency hotline and, yes, there was someone there, and they would be able to send someone out in a couple of hours!
When the BW guys arrived, they could do nothing to get the bridge working or rescue our key and phoned their boss to tell him. He very kindly asked them to give us a spare key, and phoned Dave back to say that specialist contractors would be there to fix it on Sunday morning at 9 am – two days away!
Adam and Rachel joined us on 26th, together with their pet rats, so the boat had a full crew, even if it was immobile! Actually, we HAD moved about a mile, as the ice had melted enough, and we thought it was worth having the boat actually at the bridge for when the contractors came on 27th. We enjoyed a good time together, aided by the mulled wine we had bought in Newbury, the ample supplies of cheese which Adam and Jeremy had brought with them, and a meal out at the Blue Cobra (Thai and Bengali restaurant) in Theale.
On Sunday morning, the contractors came, went straight to the power supply and turned it back on! Apparently BW staff were not allowed to touch it – good old Health and Safety! We were free to move on, AND had our key back!

Eastward Bound!

Heading back from Bath again, we aimed to stop at Dundas aqueduct again but, before we got there, we found ourselves in a traffic jam! It didn't last long, but it's not that common a sight to see two wide-beam boats almost blocking the canal, so here it is. Wide-beam boats (over 6'10" wide) can't go on the narrow canals as the locks are only just wide enough for a single narrowboat, but here on the K & A there are quite a number. Nice big accommodation inside, but they can't travel the whole network like we can!

Then, when we got to Dundas, we found the whole basin and surrounding area absolutely choc-a-bloc with moored boats, so we moved on and moored at Avoncliff instead. We wanted to be there for Sunday lunch at the Cross Guns, anyway. We had eaten there at least twice before, but years ago. We were not disappointed this time, either. Good food and LOTS of it – apparently not many people manage to clear their plates, but we did, just!

As we came through Dundas on the Saturday, we had another interesting development – a phone call from the battery people! As we had provided all the information they needed to replace the batteries (as far as we knew), and had heard nothing back, Dave had been writing e-mails from time to time, describing our dire situation with no power, heating or refrigeration and urging them to get moving.

This phone call was their reaction! A very gruff voice told Dave that they were getting 'very fed up' with all the details of our life story, and they needed warranty paperwork before they could do anything. We had already told them that the details could be provided by Classic Narrowboats, and had suggested that they check with them. Evidently they hadn't read our e-mails properly! At the mention of Classic, the tone changed completely. Friendly and helpful, first name terms! If Classic could fax the details through on Monday, we could have new batteries on Tuesday. WOW! Progress! Dave e-mailed Classic and asked them to do it on Monday.

Meanwhile, the field path between Avoncliff and Bradford revealed yet more spindle berries (sorry, are you getting fed up with these?) and the old Packhorse Bridge at Bradford-on-Avon showed that the Avon was still flowing pretty strongly.

We needed to continue heading eastwards, so we chugged on from Bradford and through Hilperton towards Semington.

On the way, we saw another not-so-timid kingfisher who allowed us to get this photo before he flew away. Is it our imagination, or are the kingfishers on the Kennet and Avon just a bit less wary of human company than their cousins on the other canals?

When we arrived at Semington, we found our progress blocked by a team of British Waterways guys working on the bottom lock. Fortunately, the work would only take the rest of that day, but it was completely unscheduled, not on the BW winter stoppages lists, and not even notified to us on the email stoppages update system. We had no choice; we just had to stay there . . .

The next major feature of our journey east was the 29 locks at Devizes, especially the main 16 locks of the Caen Hill flight. We hoped that there might be another boat going up so that we could share locks again, as we did with Tony from Bath on our way down. We got up the bottom 7 (Foxhangers) locks and moored up at the foot of the Caen Hill 16. There was no other boat there, and we hadn't seen any others moving that way, so maybe we would be on our own after all.

The next day dawned cold, icy and wreathed in fog, with Caen Hill disappearing into the mist above us. These teasels, with frosted cobwebs, give you some idea of what the morning was like.

This turned out to be the last photo that Dave took with this camera, as he slipped on the icy edge of the first lock and took an unplanned dip, taking the camera, his new mobile phone and his pocket notepad with him. Dave was fine – a hot shower and a change of clothes, and we could carry on. The camera and phone never worked again, despite many days of drying out. The notepad disappeared without trace, presumably now at the bottom of the lock, only to be discovered when BW next drain the lock – if then!

Having set out at about 10 am, we arrived at the top of the flight of 16 locks in time for lunch at 1:15. Not bad progress, especially allowing about half an hour for unscheduled swimming!

From Devizes, we needed to move on, not least because (at long last!) we were about to have some new replacement batteries delivered. We have done another post about the whole battery saga, so won't go into more detail here – just follow the link. In the end, we arranged to have them delivered at Pewsey Wharf, where we had also fixed to meet up with Dan again. He arrived just as Dave had connected the new batteries.

Dan had some free days and fancied some winter cruising, and soon got into his new role as helmsman. Here he is, with the 17th-century Brimslade Farm behind. We were making our way up the last few locks before we reached the 'summit pound', passed through the short Bruce Tunnel, and started the long descent towards the Thames at Reading.

Meanwhile, the weather was getting increasingly wintry, and there was snow and a little ice as we came down the Crofton locks. At Lock 60, in front of the Pumping Station, Dan and Dave needed all their combined strength to open the top gates, as there was still only one top paddle working and the bottom gates were leaking water OUT faster than the single paddle could let it IN! BW know about it, and hopefully will sort it all out when the flight is closed for maintenance in January. Meanwhile, any single-handed boater passing through is VERY likely to get stuck.

Here we are, chugging along AFTER lock 60, Dan at the helm, Pumping Station as the backdrop and a train on the line next to the canal. We reached Great Bedwyn that evening and enjoyed another excellent meal at the Cross Keys – thanks, Dan!

As we moved on towards Hungerford the next day, the weather got snowier and the forecast was predicting worse to come, especially for the London area. Dan wisely decided to catch a train from Hungerford and successfully got through London before it ground to a halt!

We chugged on, and our progress became crunchier as we encountered more ice . . .

Our Battery Saga

Some of you MAY be interested to read this, others will find it boring – no pictures, after all! If so, please just pass it by and get on with the next episode!

On the other hand, this is a true story and it HAS a happy ending! So read on if you want to, and do leave a comment if you have something to add!

In some ways, it all started when we took over our boat in March 2007. Classic Narrowboats had fitted three 'Elecsol' 220Ah leisure batteries to power our domestic circuits. For the next 2 years and 7 months, we had good service out of them, and I even said so on an internet forum on 25th July 2009 when the subject came up: "For what it's worth, we have Elecsol batteries on our boat, chosen and fitted by the boatfitter, and we are very happy with them. We have been living on board more or less continuously for over two years, so it's a bit early to know how long they will keep going satisfactorily, but they do carry a 5 year warranty."

It wasn't until October 2009 that we began to notice problems. The batteries seemed to lose charge faster than usual, and when I checked the electrolyte levels, they were dropping faster than they had before. But then, after topping up and charging, the voltage seemed to hold up a bit better, so we just carried on – until it happened again! Topped up and charged again, voltage OK, but for a much shorter time. Can't remember how many times we did this, but a few!

So then I e-mailed Elecsol, on 8th November. After descibing the history as above, I said:

"Recently, we have found two unwelcome effects: 1) The batteries seem to hold charge much less effectively than previously, and 2) The electrolyte levels seem to fall faster. When we have topped them up again, it takes several days to a week for them to come up to full charge. We run the engine for a minimum of 2-3 hours each day, often longer when we are travelling.
Obviously we are concerned that the batteries may be failing and at (or approaching) the end of their life. How should we go about checking this, or perhaps seeking their replacement under the 5 year guarantee? We do not have any original paperwork which you may have supplied with the batteries, and assume that any there may be is with Classic Narrowboats. I am contacting them to see whether they have any such details on their records.
I look forward to hearing from you soon."

I also emailed Classic to put them in the picture and ask if they had any warranty records for the batteries.

Silence! Not a word, so I wrote to Elecsol after two days saying that I was disappointed not to have heard from them. The next day, a reply that was brief but to the point:

After that length in service they will need an equalisation charge charge at 25 amps each battery for 24hours and everything should be fine
team elecsol"

I emailed them back, thanking them for their response and asking for advice whether to approach a boatyard or a car battery dealer. No response for a day or two, so I looked on the internet and phoned around. No boat yard could help me, but I found Lee at Earlam Auto Electrical, who was very helpful.

As we have already told you, Lee came and took the batteries, charged them and brought them back, but saying that he thought we would go on having trouble with them, as they were not testing well.

Two days before the batteries were back (18th November), Elecsol replied suggesting that a boatyard was probably the best solution. Once the batteries were installed (22nd November), I replied:

"Thanks for that.
In the meantime, I have rung around and the most help offered was by a mobile auto electrics specialist. I took the batteries off and he then put them on charge as you suggested, 25 amps each battery for 24 hours. The batteries were installed back on the boat yesterday.
I shall of course need to see how the batteries function in the next few days, but the auto electrics guy said he thought they were still not right and that we would most likely go on having trouble with them. Like us, he found that they did not hold charge and suggested that we get back in touch with you.
If you have any further advice, please get in touch. Otherwise, I shall contact you again after a few days, when we have been able to assess whether the batteries are performing any better than before."

By the next day, though, when we started cruising again, it was obvious that all was not well with the batteries, so I emailed Elecsol again.

"We returned to the boat today to resume cruising. Despite leaving the batteries trickle charging since Saturday with a solar panel and wind turbine, the voltage when we returned today about 12.30 was below 10 volts. This after having been charged as you stated and reinstalled on Saturday. There has been NO load on the batteries since they were installed.
I have been running the boat engine continuously from 12.30 pm to 8 pm, in the hope that the batteries would recover. During that time, there has been some load, but almost all the time my voltmeter showed a voltage of 13.9 to 14.2 volts. The time is now 9.15pm and the voltage has dropped to 12.26 volts. I would normally expect it to be above this level in the morning, after an evening of TV watching and occasional firing of the boat's central heating system during the night. At the present rate, the voltage will be too low for the heating to fire at all, so we shall be very cold on board.
It seems that the charging which you recommended has not improved the batteries' condition at all, and may in fact have worsened it considerably.
As we live on our boat full time, the prospect of battery failure to this degree is catastrophic, especially at this time of year and with the present weather conditions.
Please can you contact me URGENTLY to arrange for the batteries to be replaced under the 5 year guarantee, as it seems that there is little prospect of their restoration to effective use. We are currently moored up on the Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Bathampton.
I hope to hear from you VERY soon. Thank you in anticipation."

No response for two days, so I emailed them again (25th November), with a copy of my last email. "I am disappointed not to have heard from you in response to my email below.
Our present situation is very uncomfortable and entirely due to the lack of proper battery function as detailed below. In addition, we are expending considerable quantities of diesel to attempt to keep a reasonable voltage on board, though this rapidly drops as soon as the engine is stopped.
Please contact me urgently."

Meanwhile, I wondered why I hadn't heard from Classic. Simple answer – I had used an old and obsolete address for them! So I wrote to them again on 25th November, getting an immediate and helpful reply.

"Hi Dave and Val,
Sorry to hear you are having problems with your Elecsol batteries. If there are any problems elecsol will usually ring us for purchase date, so we can confirm the batteries were supplied by us and when. We have no records from Dave’s time, when he closed down he took all records with him, but if you can tell me the date of collection of your boat, I can confirm the date to Elecsol. This should sort out any warranty problems, they are usually very good with their warranties. When you hear back from Elecsol please let me know and I will see what I can do.
Yours sincerely
Bill Southworth"

Good old Bill! We had seen him and the rest of the team when we called in on our way through Wheelton back in July 2008, and could see that Classic was in good hands after Dave retired. I replied:

"Thanks, Bill
That's great. I have just checked our records and see that we made the final payment on 25th March 2007, so that is the best date to work to, I guess.
I hope to get some contact with Elecsol today. They seem to be slow to reply to emails, so I shall try phoning them a little later. Hopefully they will be happy to refer to you for confirmation, as you say.
Thanks for your help."

I phoned Elecsol later that day (26th November) and left a message on the answerphone. Then phoned again later and made this note of the conversation:

Spoke to S**** at Elecsol 16:55 on 26/11/09. Says not full guarantee for narrowboat use, but will replace where there is a dead cell or give significant discount on replacement battery.
He will now look at my earlier emails and send a reply.

Time went on ticking by, the weather was getting more wintry and our battery situation was getting worse. I emailed again on 28th November to remind Elecsol that our situation was urgent:

"I continue to wait for any response to my earlier emails (see below).
On Thursday afternoon at 4:54 pm, I phoned Elecsol on 0800****** and spoke to S****. I had earlier phoned and left a message on the answerphone, to which I received no reply.
S**** gave me some general information about guarantees being limited when the batteries are used on narrowboats, which I had never heard or read before. He also said that he would look at my earlier emails and send me a reply. To date nothing has arrived.
The state of the batteries is so bad that, even after several hours of charging immediately before, and with the boat engine still running to charge the batteries, a very short load from our washing machine to bring the water temperature up a little caused the inverter to warn of low voltage and threaten to cut out.
I am now running the engine for up to 8 hours each day, whereas normally 2-3 hours running has been sufficient to keep the batteries charged, and still they lose charge so badly that the voltage has always dropped to 10 volts or less by the morning, and no appliances will work properly until the engine is running. The refrigerator shows its low voltage warning light and the cabin lights dim dramatically when the water pump runs.
I accept that batteries will gradually lose effectiveness over their life, but they should still remain fit for purpose. Ours are not, and show signs of continuing deterioration.
We need a meaningful response from you VERY SOON, with a definite plan of action to remedy the situation. Your suggested remedial action seems to have made the batteries worse, and your 5 year guarantee is beginning to look rather meaningless.
If you need to confirm the date of purchase of our batteries, please contact Bill Southworth at Classic Narrowboats on 01254 831444, who will be able to confirm that we took delivery of our boat on 25th March 2007, complete with these Elecsol batteries.
I note from your replies to my earlier questions that your computer seems to be working to an American date format and time zone. Is this a mistake, or is this correspondence actually taking place across the Atlantic? If so, presumably Steve who answered my phone call on Thursday is either based in the USA himself or will be given access to this correspondence in order to reply.
Please give this matter your urgent attention.
I await your reply."

Three more days went by. This was late November, cold and wet, and we were spending a small fortune in diesel running the engine to keep the electrics on board alive. It didn't help that we were also a little stuck at Bath because the River Avon was in flood, so we couldn't do more than potter about until we could start our return journey eastwards. It was beginning to look as though all the negative comments about Elecsol and their warranty that I had read on the internet were VERY well founded, and that we would need to start looking around to find some new batteries elsewhere – not cheap!

In the course of enquiries about some new batteries, I asked an online battery dealer

"Please can you say how comprehensive the 3 year guarantee is on these batteries? I am having trouble with the manufacturers of my present batteries, who seem to want to wriggle out of their responsibilities! Just want to check what Numax may say. Thanks."

Their reply was revealing!

"You have no need to worry about the Numax warranty. If you are having issues currently, I guess you have Elecsol batteries..? They have a 5 year warranty; year 1 being with the retailer (where there are no problems) and subsequent years being with Elecsol direct where people have reported problems. We stock these purely as people are blinded by the 5 year warranty and will take nothing else." Interesting!

I was already starting to work out how to fit the new (and different-sized) replacement batteries into the space occupied by the Elecsols, but thought that it might be worth making a last final effort to get Elecsol to honour their warranty, so I wrote the following to every single email address that I could find on their website:-

"As I have not been able to obtain any response to my urgent enquiry over a period of more than a week, I am sending this to all the email addresses which you list on your UK website, in the hope that someone will be prepared to take some action.
Please read down for all the background to our situation. I have spelled out the continuing and escalating problem and stressed the urgency of it. To no avail!
In brief:– We live on board our narrowboat and are totally dependent on the batteries to run the electrical systems on board. We currently need to run the engine for many hours each day, simply to get some charge into the batteries. Even then, the voltage drops substantially overnight, without any use of the inverter and minimal use of 12 volt appliances such as refrigerator and lights. The heating system is turned off, as it uses some power and when we tried leaving it on through the night (on thermostatic control), it simply failed in the early hours of the morning due to insufficient voltage. All of this started to develop some weeks back, and was the reason for my initial enquiry (8th November). The performance of the batteries has become substantially worse since following the advice given in your email of 10th November. Since that date, no one at Elecsol seems prepared to take any action, not even acknowledging my emails, let alone replying to them.
You may be aware that the very poor reputation of both Elecsol batteries and the (lack of) customer support has become well documented on the internet, perhaps especially on canal boating forums such as Canal World ( http://www.canalworld.net/forums/index.php? ). I am sure that you would not wish this to continue but, while you continue to treat customers as you have treated me, you can only expect it to not only continue but also increase exponentially.
In fact, when I recently asked a national battery supplier about the warranty on Numax batteries and said that I was having difficulty getting the manufacturers of my current batteries to honour the guarantee on them, the response was "You have no need to worry about the N**** warranty. If you are having issues currently, I guess you have Elecsol batteries..? They have a 5 year warranty; year 1 being with the retailer (where there are no problems) and subsequent years being with Elecsol direct where people have reported problems. We stock these purely as people are blinded by the 5 year warranty and will take nothing else. " Speaks for itself!
If you are prepared to honour your much-trumpeted 5-year warranty, then I shall have no hesitation in passing on the good news in Canal World and other forums. Equally, if you persist in your current attempts to ignore my situation, I shall not hesitate to pass on the information to as many as possible, and reserve the right to pursue the matter legally.
I trust that I shall receive at least one meaningful reply from you without delay."

Next day, a reply – RESULT!

Please return your proof of purchase and guarantee card and we will replace the batteries.
team elecsol"

Brief and to the point again,but they evidently hadn't noted what I had said earlier about how to contact Classic and get purchase verification from them, so I replied:

"Thanks for your reply, with the very welcome news that you agree to replace the batteries.
As explained before (see below), we have never had any paperwork regarding the warranty on these batteries. They were supplied new with the boat which we purchased from Classic Narrowboats on 25th March 2007. If you contact Bill Southworth at Classic Narrowboats on on 01254 831444, he will be able to confirm that we took delivery of our boat on 25th March 2007, complete with these Elecsol batteries. He tells me that he will be happy to confirm the date of purchase of our boat and " This should sort out any warranty problems, they are usually very good with their warranties. When you hear back from Elecsol please let me know and I will see what I can do."
I trust this will be sufficient for your requirements. If you need any further information from me, please do not hesitate to make contact."

Despite the misunderstanding about contacting Classic, perhaps we were actually getting somewhere at last?

Two more days went by with no response, so I emailed again:

"Another two days have gone by without any further response from you.
In the meantime, we continue to need to run our boat engine for 8 hours or more each day, just to have a little charge in the batteries. Under British Waterways guidelines, engines or generators should not be run after 8 p.m., so that is when we turn it off. By 10 p.m. or shortly after, the voltage is well below 12 volts and the heating system will not fire. The boat therefore gets very cold and the heating cannot be re-started until 8 a.m., when we are permitted to run engines again.
The refrigerator (with small freezing compartment) also fails overnight every night and we have needed to throw out any frozen food as unsafe to eat. In the mornings, the refrigerator itself is little colder than the rest of the boat.
This morning there was ice on the outside of the boat and on the inside of the windows. There could hardly be a worse time for us to be without effective batteries.
You have all the information you need to proceed to replace our defective Elecsol batteries without delay. I find it very hard to understand why you are apparently making no effort to speed the process along.
Your email of Wednesday 2nd December (below) clearly indicated a readiness to honour your 5-year warranty. Please do not delay any further."

Next day, another result! A phone call from S**** at Elecsol. Here are the notes I made at the time:

"12:14 pm. Phone call from Elecsol (?S****?) on a mobile number. Said they were getting very fed up with my emails telling them my life story every day or two. I said I was only emailing because of lack of reponse from them. He said let them have the paperwork, guarantee card, etc and they can replace the batteries. I said already told them that we have no paperwork but that Classic Narrowboats fitted the batteries and can confirm it, as I had already said in emails.
He said, OK, if Classic will let them know in writing, confirming their sale to me of the batteries, with dates, etc., they can go ahead. Total change of manner at this point, starts calling me 'Dave', much less annoyed. He suggests that Classic fax them the details. "If we get a fax from Classic on Monday, we can replace the batteries on Tuesday"
Thanked him, verified that fax No is as on website – he confirms. I said I will ask Classic to fax them on Monday. All OK"

WOW! Now we were really getting somewhere. I had no doubt that Classic would be helpful as ever, and emailed them straight away. This was on the Saturday. On Monday, I sent another email to Elecsol:

"Further to earlier email correspondence and our telephone conversation on Saturday 5th December, I have, as agreed, asked Classic Narrowboats to fax confirmation to you that they supplied the 3 x 220 Ah Elecsol batteries to us in March 2007. I understand from our conversation that this will be sufficient for you to arrange replacement of the batteries under the terms of the 5-year warranty.
Please contact me on 07792 592068 to arrange delivery of the new batteries, or if there is any other information that you need to check.
Thank you for your help with this."

Next day, Tuesday, I phoned them again. After all, S**** had said that if they got a fax on Monday, we could have the batteries on Tuesday! Here is my note of the conversation:

"Phoned at 09:57 and said who I was, and that hopefully they would have received faxed confirmation from Classic Narrowboats. Somewhat gruff reply, but said that they were 'processing the claim' and would contact me."

OK, fair enough, we could wait a little longer, but I phoned again the next day:

"Phoned Elecsol 14:37. No reply, left message. At same time, S**** phoned me back from mobile number. Missed the call, so phoned him back 14:40. Friendly again, calling me Dave. No problem with validating the claim, but they don't have the product in stock, so cannot deliver until Monday. He suggests I phone on Sunday afternoon on the mobile number, to give him our expected location for delivery on Monday. Agreed to do that."

That was all fine, but on the following Thursday my phone and I took an unplanned dip in the canal and, although the SIM card worked fine in our spare phone, the mobile number for S**** must have been on the phone's own memory, so I couldn't find it! I tried phoning and leaving messages on Elecsol's answerphone, but ended up sending an email and then phoning on Monday morning.

I got S**** again (is he the only person working there?) and gave him the details of where the batteries should be delivered.

PROBLEM! He hadn't realised that we were so far away from their base in Cheshire, so delivery would have to be by carrier, not one of their own lorries. I gave him a different address where we would be the next day.

Next day, as arranged, THREE NEW BATTERIES ARRIVED! Hallelujah! The delivery guy was very helpful, and was also able to take away the old ones. Excellent!

Today, 31st December 2009, just over two weeks later, the batteries are performing well and we are able to enjoy a much more normal way of life on board again. What a relief, after all that!

So, in summary:–

Did Elecsol honour their warranty? Yes, they did, eventually!

Advice to anyone thinking of buying Elecsol batteries:– It seems that Elecsol WILL honour their warranty but, as you have read by now, our experience is that it takes a LOT of persistence to actually get them to do so. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!