Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Engineer says "I don't want to see you again."

Friday 27th and Saturday 28th August 2010

Jan phoned the rescue service as soon as I'd found the propeller on the river bed so that they could stand the diver down. Like many people, they could scarcely believe it. The photos time the find at 1016, by the way.

While I was still trying to warm up David drove me to Lechlade (why was I still so cold? Because David had the wretched air con on). The purpose of the visit was to locate a slipway, or a boatyard which could lift the boat, or, at least, the back end of it, so the prop could be fitted out of the water. After much searching we found the people we needed to speak to in The Swan pub. One said that his access bridge wouldn't support the weight of a crane; the other said that for a craning-out he would charge £450 + VAT; the same for putting the boat back; and that he would allow it only if the money was there on the day. In cash. He also talked about overtime for the crane operator etc. etc.

We left them to their beer.

On the way back to the boat I spotted a slipway at Radcot, by the Swan Hotel (swans are popular round here). The Swan was about a mile upstream of Radcot Lock, and would be a much better place to be than the lock landing. Jan had already organised a "tow" through the lock, but the boat concerned wasn't very happy about towing another mile.

David dropped me off at my bike at the end of the track to the lock. He went on to Greenbelt; I returned to Willow, and asked the next narrowboat if they could get us to Radcot.

Rob and Mary on Adagio agreed, and we had a very pleasant breasted-up journey to the moorings outside The Swan. We got on so well that we agreed to eat together in the pub that evening. Thanks for your help, Rob and Mary, and we look forward to meeting you again.

But I've jumped ahead. After phone calls to and fro I established that the person refitting the prop would be Paul, who fitted it in the first place. The nut and washer, which I didn't find in the river, would be picked up from Middlewich by the MD of the rescue service and taken to the IWA Festival at Beale Park. Paul would collect them from there on his way to us.

He arrived at about 2030 and set to work again, fitting the prop through the weed hatch, as before.

But there would be a big difference.

The Vetus propulsion system doesn't use a conventional castellated nut, split pin and hole in the propshaft. Instead, the tapered shaft has a keyway; the prop slides forward over a metal key; the prop is held in position by a large brass nut. And here's the vital component: between the prop and the nut there is a soft metal washer. This has a tab which, as I understand it, engages in the keyway and thus cannot but rotate with the propshaft. Now, to prevent the nut from spinning off in astern, the washer has to be bent over one or both flats of the nut. Owing to incomplete instructions from Vetus, apparently, this is what wasn't done the first time.

(But when, eventually, I talked to the boys on the Vetus stand at the Festival, they maintained that the tab in the washer did NOT fit in the keyway; and I got conflicting advice from the man on the King's Lock (Vetus specialist) stand.)

Paul left us at 2340, promising to return the next morning. He'd fitted the prop, but it needed to "rest" for a time in the water before the final tightening. It was too late for a test run anyway. Rather than the horribly sticky black mastic for the weed hatch, this time he put on a more "domestic" sealant which was left to dry overnight.

Saturday morning. Sunny. The first full day of the IWA National Festival, 50 miles and 18 locks away. Weed hatch sealant still sticky.

Paul arrived at 0735 and checked the tightness of the nut. Then we put the weed hatch cover on and ran the engine in forward only. Time to open the weed hatch (sealant stuck half to cover and half to box) and knock over the edges of the washer. This was much trickier than it sounds, as the edge of the washer is initially flush with the end of the prop. Paul used a thin chisel to prise the washer over. (Chisel dropped in water; recovered with Sea Searcher.)

After much banging and quite a long time, Paul announced that it was done. Time for a test run. We took the boat upstream though the bridge, winded, and came back, having done some high revs in astern to prove that the prop wouldn't fall off. The immediate need for a slipway seemed to have evaporated, but I'm sure it would be a good idea to check things out of the water some time soon.

At last! We said goodbye to Paul. He said, cheerfully, that he didn't want to see us again. We said the same to him. Waving to Rob and Mary we left Radcot at 0915, heading downstream now. It was galling for me not to have made it to the head of navigation, just six miles and three locks in the other direction, but I was determined to get to the IWA Festival before it was all over. I'd paid for it, after all!

view from Willow of Radcot Bridge


VallyP said...

What a performance. I'm so glad the story had a satisfactory ending, but ti must have been all the more galling that after all this trouble, cost and adventure, Willow isn't even your boat. I'd want to keep it after all that!

Halfie said...

You're right, Willow isn't my ideal boat, but I feel I know it quite well!