Friday 30 May 2014

Sorting out the bilge pump, changing the oil and worrying!

This post would work much better with photos, but they will have to wait until I get back home. Sorry. Anyway, we detoured to Braunston after our running out of diesel episode, and ate in the Boatman pub (two curries for £11 with drinks thrown in. No, that doesn't sound right: two curries and two drinks all for £11. Pretty good value, despite (obviously) not being up to curry house standards).

The next day, Thursday, we went back up the Braunston locks, through the kinky tunnel meeting at least three boats, and on to just before Norton Junction where we stopped for lunch. The sun came out (hooray!) and so I decided to do the overdue oil change. When I'd lifted the various deck boards I saw that the sump where the bilge pump sits seemed wetter than usual. Before doing the oil, then, I thought I'd better tackle the bilge. More than 24 hours later my hands are still dirty!

Before sponging out the water I scraped off the grease which had oozed from the stern gland. I could think of no better tool for the job than my fingers. An old kitchen sponge mopped up the water well, but the most difficult thing about the job was the incredibly uncomfortable position I had to get myself into. My right leg was being burned by the still hot coolant header tank; my left knee was kneeling on a deck board; and, most painful of all, my left elbow was supporting seemingly all my weight on the steel swim. During this process I lifted the bilge pump out, whereupon it fell to bits. The pump was bolted to a square steel plate which rested in the bottom of the sump directly below the stern gland. One advantage of the pump having come apart was that I was able easily to remove this plate, with the strainer part of the pump still attached, for cleaning. Large chunks of black corroded metal fell away when I dug at it with an old knife, until I dared not attack it any more. A shallow steel mesh dome rested in the strainer, which I cleaned with a toothbrush and canal water. Large quantities of old, hard grease coated the main part of the pump housing. I cleaned it up as best I could and then reassembled it. Turning it upside down caused the internal float switch to activate the pump, so at least I know that I have the main switch in the correct position (it isn't labelled).

There seems to be more water appearing in the bilge here than there should be, so a job for tomorrow will be to see if the stern gland can be tightened a little. I have never done this, so I'll be careful!

I've just thought: I can put a container under the gland to catch the drips. Then I'll be able to verify - or not - that the extra water in the bilge is due to a leaking stern gland. It's not gushing in, and I'm not aware of the automatic bilge pump ever having cut in.

Then, at last, with hands already nicely greased up, I changed the oil and filter. This was a much easier and cleaner job than sorting out the bilge, I'm glad to say. I discovered an empty 5l oil container hiding by the weed hatch, so I didn't have to resort to using old milk "bottles".

Another job "for tomorrow" is to replace the fuel filter. This is something else which I haven't done before, so I'm slightly scared. Will the fuel cutoff valve work? Will loads of diesel spill everywhere when I remove the old filter? Will it screw off just like an oil filter? Will the engine start again after I've done it, or will there be an air lock? Will I need the bleed the fuel system? Aargh!

Thursday 29 May 2014

Running out of diesel

As we approached Watford Locks on our return south from Crick I realised that the engine speed wasn't increasing when I opened the throttle. I thought I must have caught something on the prop, so I put it into astern to try to shake it off, but this made no difference. Then the deck board above the engine made violent banging noises, so I stopped the engine and drifted into the side.

Inspection of the prop revealed that it was clear. Then it occurred to me to check the level of diesel in the tank. The stick was wet only up to about half an inch. Oops! I was very surprised, as I remembered filling up recently, and I didn't think I'd done much cruising since then. At least I knew now why the engine had misbehaved.

In a jerry can I had a couple of litres of diesel, so I poured it in and we were able to get going again. The locks were only just round the corner, and we had an hour's wait, so, of course, I cut the engine as soon as I could. I considered cycling with the jerry can to Weltonfield Narrowboats, but then Mr. Echoes reminded me that Watford Gap services were close by.

Having descended the locks we tied up by the service station. Possibly the worst mooring ever! Still, I was able to hop over the fence and cross the lorry park to put ten litres in the can (it holds 20, but that would have been unnecessarily heavy. Have you ever looked at so-called white diesel? It's actually green. They did not appear to sell the red stuff. It was almost £1.50 per litre! Ouch! Still, it all went in the tank, and we cruised to tie up just before Bridge 3 for the night.

The next day (Wednesday) we called in at Weltonfield Narrowboats and filled the tank. It took just 83 litres. Another surprise. This meant that the capacity was only about 96 litres or 20 gallons. Now I know the capacity I will be careful not to let it get too low in the future. I hate to think how much crud is now blocking the fuel filter. Better change it very soon, I think.

Oh - the fuel from Weltonfield was the most expensive I've bought on the waterways at £1.00 per litre base price. Self declaration was allowed, though, and it got us out of trouble, so I'm not complaining.

And the reason for running out? Aside from the unusually small tank - I believe most narrowboats are built with 200 litre tanks - I had neglected to take into account the diesel used for heating. I'm now sure that no-one had stolen any, which was my first thought. (Must get a locking fuel cap.)

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Crick 2014 - being there

Last Saturday Jan and I drove down to West Sussex for our nephew's wedding. It was an excellent occasion, and we left at about 2030 to drive up to Crick. The obvious route involved a lot of motorway driving, which is not my favourite. My heart sank when the sat nav indicated, once I'd turned onto the M1 from the M25, that it was to be 58 miles before the next instruction from it, but at least the roads were clear. One advantage of going at that time on a Bank Holiday weekend.

We parked up on the verge opposite the short track to Bridge 15, took our things, and walked to the boat, getting there at about 2330.

The next day, Sunday, we both cycled along the towpath in warm sunshine to the temporary footbridge. The towpath was rather muddy and slippery in places - we learnt that Crick had received a battering from hail while we were enjoying ourselves down south. (We had rain there, too, but no ice.) I locked our bikes under the bridge and walked into the show site. Everything was laid out as in previous years, so we were able to go straight to the beer tent where the Boaters' Christian Fellowship service was about to take place. I went on stage to play my recorder as part of the band, and Jan hovered just outside the marquee to give service sheets to people coming in. The service went well, even though I had to give up trying to play as I couldn't hear myself above the rest of the band. (Hmm. Perhaps I can rig some sort of personal foldback via headphones next time. I'll have to experiment.)

After that we went to the BCF stand to do a stint "on duty". In the afternoon I was pleased to spot the Herbies, and very pleased to be invited for tea and cake, and even more pleased when they said that the TV would have to be on for the Monaco Grand Prix. (Kath, I hope our presence with the inevitable social chit-chat didn't spoil your viewing too much. I know what it's like when you're trying to concentrate on something and you can't.)

In the evening we were invited for a meal with Adrian and Chris on board Bendithion. Thanks for the fellowship and food. Later I went to the beer tent for some beer this time, and to catch the last of the Big O and the Traveling Wilburys (I think the American spelling is correct). The Herbies' granddaughter Grace was enjoying dancing with Kath (I didn't see Neil on the dance floor, though). They went as soon as the band had played their final number, and then I joined Charles and Carole from BCBM for a bit before they, too, disappeared. I got the message, and went back to Jubilee.

At some point over the weekend, I think it might have been on the Sunday, Jan tripped over a tree root on the towpath going back to the boat with a couple of bags of shopping. She hadn't fancied cycling again, even though the towpath had dried out a bit. She went flying - fortunately not into the cut - and bruised her ribs. Ouch. (This is still painful three days later.)

On the Monday the weather reverted to form. Rain. Sometimes heavy and sometimes light, but a marked difference from Sunday's sunshine. I managed to look round a few stands, buying oil and a filter, but not buying all that I should. I looked at some Hotspot products for the stove, went to a rival chandler's for comparison, and then completely forgot to buy the stove paint, stove polish and flue cleaner that I wanted. Lots of people came away from Crick with free large magnetic "Tick over" posters for their boat. I'm not a fan of that, nor other similar exhortations to reduce speed stuck to boats. Yes, people should pass moored boats slowly, but will such signs really make a difference? I think not.

Towards the end of the show Jan and I looked round a few of the boats on display, including the peoples' favourite, Shackleton with all its (24V) electric gizmos. On one cupboard if you touch the metal hinge a light comes on.

We both said, when we came back to Jubilee, how much we prefer our boat, though!

In the next post: our eventful journey back from Crick.

(Sorry for the lack of photos).

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Crick 2014 - getting there

I haven't blogged for ages - very remiss of me. I came to the boat last Monday, arriving at Wolverton Station on a delayed train at 1410. After a brief visit to Tesco for essentials such as milk, bread and Cherry Bakewells I cycled on to the marina. Once I'd made a cup of tea I disconnected the shoreline and untied Jubilee, setting off towards Crick. I was pleased to see a boat preparing to enter the bottom lock at Stoke Bruerne just as I got there; we shared all the way up the flight. My partner boat was Etoile du Nord, a Dutch barge-style boat which had hydraulic steering controlled by a wheel. At the top of the locks I tied up and went to The Boat for a tasty "Bruerne Chicken".

Following us all the way up were Alder and, er, I think it was Emu. I joined the crews of both boats in the Navigation for a post-prandial tipple later. Sarah had very helpfully accompanied us up the locks setting them for us and working gates etc.

I awoke early the next day and set off at 0600 just as a thunderstorm passed overhead. Fortunately I'd dressed for Blisworth Tunnel in that I'd put on my waterproof jacket. Just as I entered the tunnel there was a flash of lightning and an almost simultaneous crack of thunder. I was glad to get into the relative dryness of the tunnel! Yes, it was actually drier in the tunnel than outside. About half way through the change of air pressure caused by an oncoming boat (towing a butty) created a dense wall of fog, making it quite difficult to judge my position. In my rush to get out of the rain I'd neglected to switch on any lights inside the boat, so I wasn't sure quite how close to the side I was getting. We passed each other without touching, but I managed to catch the rubbing strake on the wall. It's what it's there for, so I wasn't worried. Just pleased that it wasn't the top of the cabin.

I emerged into much lighter rain the other side, and this dwindled to nothing by the time I reached Blisworth. Here I stopped to nip up to the shop for some cheese to go in my lunchtime sandwiches. Why didn't I buy it in Tesco the day before? I forgot. I made myself a coffee, put my sandwiches and a cherry Bakewell within reach, and got going again. My original plan was to stop in the vicinity of Bugbrooke so as to get to Crick on the Wednesday, but it was becoming clear that I could well make it all the way from Stoke Bruerne in the one day. This change of plan was helped when I paired up with another boat for the Whilton/Buckby flight. This boat was Sola Gratia, crewed by my BCF friends Tracey and Tim. They believe they are the only continuous cruisers assisted by a guide dog. Tim steers while Tracey and Oakley work the locks - an amazing sight. Sorry about the pun.

At the top lock I stopped for water and to empty the cassette while T+T continued up the Leicester Section to get a pumpout. I went past just as they'd finished, so we were together when we got to the bottom of the Watford Locks. Here we had a bit of a wait while boats came down; and there were three or four boats in front of us going up. One of these was Bendithion, crewed by Adrian and Chris - more BCFers.

Once up the locks it was an easy run to Crick. I had hoped to tie up immediately after the tunnel, but there were already three boats there, and the moorings from then on were reserved for those who had booked (and paid for) moorings for the boat show. I hadn't booked a mooring, so I continued to where the signs ran out, just past the winding hole between bridges 14 and 15. It was tricky getting in to the bank as it was shallow and a bit overgrown, but I managed it in the end. I banged a couple of pins in, tied up, and hopped into Ally's car. She had come to pick me up to take me back to her house for a spot of painting and decorating. Well, just painting, actually. In my rush, not wanting to keep her waiting too long, I probably didn't check that the mooring pins were secure enough. When I returned to the boat, with Jan, I discovered that one of the pins was now in a slightly different place, and the centre rope was loosely chucked onto the roof. Oops. The back end must have come adrift and a helpful fellow boater must have resecured it for me. Thank you, whoever you are.

But I've jumped ahead. I'm at Ally and Ben's house, painting skirting boards, door and window frames. After two days of this I caught my train home on Thursday. I'd planned to go and vote (in the European Election) late that evening. The train was due to get into Wymondham Station at 2123, giving me enough time comfortably to cycle the four miles to the polling station at home. Unfortunately this train, too, was delayed. It got in at 2140. I had just 20 minutes to cycle the four miles on a heavy folding bike with a rucksack on my back. In the rain. I pedalled like fury, calculating as I went that if I averaged 16 mph I should get there with five minutes to spare. I arrived at the polling station at 2155. I had my five minutes and I cast my vote. They weren't very busy.

That's enough for now, especially as there are no pictures.

Time for bed (said Zebedee).

Sunday 18 May 2014

Foxton Inclined Plane: upper arm

As Ray correctly identified, yesterday's photo was of the stop gates on the upper arm of Foxton Inclined Plane.

This is the view of the upper arm on the right, with the top of the Foxton Locks on the left.

And this is the view from the other end of the upper arm, where a bund (in the foreground) stops the water cascading down the hill.

Looking the other way from the bund this old boat is lying on the approach to where a caisson would be ready to receive it.

Top Thirty, 2014 week 20

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking (top thirty-six places) as it stood at 2210 on Sunday 18th May 2014. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 CanalPlanAC (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Living on a Narrowboat (=)

5 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

6 UKCanals Network (=)

7 Retirement with No Problem (=)

8 Water Explorer (=)

9 Towpath Treks (=)

10 Waterway Routes (=)

11 boatrent (=)

12 BCBM Ltd (+1)

13 boatshare (+2)

14 nb Waiouru (=)

15 nb Epiphany (-3)

16 Canal Shop Company (=)

17 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (+1)

18 Narrowboat Dreaming .... Parisien Star (+3)

19 NB The Manly Ferry (=)

20 boats and cruising (=)

21 Narrowboat Briar Rose (+1)

22 Narrowboat Chance (+1)

23 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (-)

24 Halfie (=)

25 Boats and Canals Forum (+3)

26 Seyella's Journey (=)

27 Narrowboat Harnser (-2)

28 Skippy's Random Ramblings (+1)

29 Contented Souls (-12)

30 Boat Build Blog (-)

31 Adventures Aboard AreandAre (-)

32 freespirit (-5)

33 Milburn Boats Ltd (-1)

34 Google Earth Canal Maps (-4)

35 Onboard Solar (=)

36 The Real Life of a Narrowboat Wife (-2)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart;
(-) denotes new entry or re-entry into the chart;
(=) denotes no change.

There are 112 entries, up from 110 two weeks ago.

Saturday 17 May 2014

What and where?

Where is this?

Answers on a postcard in a comment. No prizes.

Friday 16 May 2014

Passing historic boats at Foxton

16th April 2014

As soon as we were back on water at Debdale Wharf we headed for Foxton where we were to meet Ally. We turned left onto the Market Harborough arm and started passing a few early arrivals for the HNBC gathering of historic boats. We were to see quite a lot of Crane later, when we made our way back south after the weekend. In front of Crane is Enterprise.

Boats have to be kept in tip-top condition, even when tied up on the outside.

Bath completes this brief collection of boat photos.

Back to the present, and I shall be single-handing Jubilee up Stoke Bruerne locks late on Monday afternoon; then up the Buckby flight on Tuesday afternoon; and up Watford locks on Wednesday morning. That's the plan, anyway. There may be boats to share the first two set of locks with - if not, I shall take it slowly.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Back in the water

While Jubilee was at the boatyard we were able to carry on sleeping aboard at night. It was weird being so high up (about six feet from the gunwale to the ground).

On the Tuesday evening we walked across the fields to the Black Horse pub for a drink (and a game of darts!) We returned to Debdale Wharf along the towpath. Here's the Bridge 61 pub at night:

I couldn't find any paint the right shade of red for the lower tunnel band, so I blagged some from the boatyard. I refreshed the dollies at the same time.

So, freshly blacked, Jubilee is ready to be dropped - sorry, gently lowered - back into the water.

One man from the boatyard did all the work, Dean, who did a sterling job. Nicky Goode in the office was most helpful too. The whole thing went without a hitch.


I'm not going to be precious about the fresh look: I shall continue to cruise with the side fenders up, using them only when moored. After the 31 locks on the way back to Thrupp Wharf I suspect there are already one or two slightly less black bits.

The next major change in Jubilee's looks will be the signwriting. We haven't managed to sort this out yet: my preferred choice of signwriter is proving difficult to book. Perhaps we'll find someone at the Crick show.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Applying the blacking

There was one other pressure washing photo which should have gone on the last post: the weed hatch plate was given the same treatment as the rest of the hull.

After a bit of pressure washing the concrete that was it for the day, and the boat dried overnight.

At 9 o'clock the next morning Dean got to work with the Rytex bitumastic blacking, using a long-handled paint roller and tray.

It's easy to see what's been done. I had not realised before that the baseplate bends upwards at the bow. Is this a common feature on narrowboats?

When we bought the boat new anodes had been fitted, but the old ones, with a bit of life left in them, were left in situ. Now there wasn't much left, so Dean cut two of them off with an angle grinder.

Baseplate before blacking ...

... and during blacking. It's a lot easier with the boat on its high supports. About 30 years ago I was lumbered with blacking the bottom of Savoy Hill, the BBC Club's narrowboat at the time. It was in Bulbourne Dry Dock, and I had only just enough space to squeeze underneath. I think it was the filthiest I have ever been. (The word "dry" is rather optimistic, and the bitumen was more interested in gravity than sticking to the baseplate.)

No such problems for Dean here, though.

The hull sides were given two coats and the bottom one thick coat.

Next post: going back into the water.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Pressure washing reveals pitting

As soon as the fenders had been removed Dean got on with pressure washing Jubilee's hull.

While the boat was resting on the timber baulks and the lifting straps relaxed, Dean was able to wash off the muck from behind the straps.

Then the boat was lifted again and positioned over the narrow channel. The pressure washing continued, with the gunk returning to the water from whence it came without creating too much mess on the concrete pad.

I suppose it would be possible to wash the hull with a scrubbing brush, but this is a lot easier if a bit noisy.

We had a convenient seat from which to gongoozle in the sunshine.

With the algae gone, along with some of the old blacking, no doubt, it was easy to see where the hull had pitted. Corrosion has eaten away at the steel leaving a bright, slightly hollow area. Actually, lots of bright, slightly hollow areas. Better get it covered up with fresh blacking as soon as possible!

Although I had asked for just the hull sides to be done, Dean washed off a test area of the baseplate so we could see what condition that was in. The photo also shows just how rusty the area around the waterline had become. Perhaps I should have rust-treated this before the blacking went on. Oh well - too late now.

There was enough pitting there for me to ask for the baseplate to be washed and blacked too. This would add to the cost, but as Debdale Wharf is one of the few places to offer such a service I thought it best not to skimp on an important bit of maintenance. Dean reckoned that treating the baseplate every four years would be enough - I intend to black the rest every two years.

I'm hoping that the pitting was caused by a few years of being connected to a shoreline with no galvanic isolation (before we bought the boat). One of the first presents I bought for Jubilee was a proper isolation transformer for when Ally and Ben were marina-dwellers.

Next post: applying the blacking.

Monday 12 May 2014

Hull blacking: the lifting out. With pictures.

As promised, here is an account of Jubilee's hull blacking process at Debdale Wharf Marina - this time with pictures.

It was on the Monday afternoon that we were told to enter the narrow channel.

Once we'd stopped and cut the engine, Dean from the boatyard pulled Jubilee forward over the straps which were resting on the bottom.

And then, in no time at all, Dean was pressing the button energising the motor to begin the lift.

One slight readjustment ...

... and Jubilee came clean out of the water, perfectly level.

It could have been a scary moment, but I felt totally calm, trusting Dean and his straps completely. It helped to have witnessed several lifting operations that morning where the boats before us were being taken to the covered sheds. (Now, that was scary. The boats were put onto a trailer with squishy tyres which was then hauled, lurching, up a steepish slope at the start of their journey. That will have to be another post.)

This was my first look below the waterline, and it wasn't a pleasant sight. Two years of mostly marina-dwelling had taken its toll.

There's plenty of life in the sacrificial anodes. I hope they've been doing their job.

Before the pressure washing Dean removed the bow and stern fenders.

To my untrained eye the prop looks in good shape.

It's reassuring to see the nut and split pin.

Next post: the pressure washing.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Hairy monster on canal

I saw a lot of these gonks lurking at the water's edge on our Easter cruise.

I was half expecting them all to rise up at once and do evil things Doctor Who monster-style. For all I know, as soon as I was out of sight, they stood up, emitted sinister cackles and continued plotting their dastardly deeds ...

Friday 9 May 2014

Bridge and road number the same

Here is Bridge 5 on the Grand Union (Leicester Section).

It's functional rather than pretty, but the interesting thing is that it carries the A5. (It's just below Watford Locks.)

Are there any other bridges on the system where the road number is the same as the bridge number?

Thursday 8 May 2014

Discouraging speeding cyclists on the towpath

Herbie Neil blogged about his volunteering work at Little Venice yesterday, handing out leaflets to towpath users. This has prompted me to share my idea about how to control the speed of cyclists, some of whom seem to treat today's better surfaced towpaths - especially in urban areas - as high speed link routes.

Now, I have nothing against cyclists using towpaths. I cycle on them myself. But I always pass pedestrians at slow speed, having given due warning of my presence if approaching from behind.

So what's my idea? When a towpath is resurfaced, rather than make the full width a smooth metalled track, make the smooth bit no more than two feet wide and lay it in a series of curves or zigzags wandering from one side to the other. The rest of the towpath should be a slightly rougher surface such as crushed concrete, but not so rough as to make pushing a baby buggy, say, difficult. I know that, when I'm cycling, I always try to find the smoothest course for my tyres. On a towpath such as that which I have described, I would tend to follow the curved smooth part. Not a problem for reasonable speeds, but were I to try to go too fast I would have to accept either a disconcerting series of transitions between the smooth and the rough, or a wildly oscillating course, both of which would tend to slow me down.

My solution would not attempt to segregate cyclists and pedestrians, and there would be no "right-of-way" for cyclists on the smooth curvy section.

There are bound to be drawbacks, but this is just my idea.

While I'm on the subject, this is a portion of my inner tube after the latest puncture from a thorn on the towpath. There's another patch further round. And, yes, it's from the back wheel.

After I repaired this we passed a couple of coppers - well, a policeman and a PCSO - cycling down the towpath below Stoke Bruerne locks. At one point they'd stopped for a swig from their water bottles and I got them to pose for a photo.

A bit later on, after they'd overtaken us, we caught up with them again. This time, one of their bikes was upside down with the coppers scratching their heads, metaphorically at least.

This is where I stopped and supplied them with a patch, sandpaper and rubber solution.

(The contemporaneous account is here.)

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Does this remind you of anything?

We saw this on our walk in north Norfolk on Monday.

It's part of the structure of the gazebo on the edge of Sheringham Park.

Yes, it's the same technique as used on the Anderton Lift.

Take it from me: the above photo is looking out from the Anderton Lift (in 2005).

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Model boats at Sheringham; and a proper locomotive on the North Norfolk Railway

We saw this lifeboat on the water at Sheringham in Norfolk yesterday.

As we walked alongside the boating pool the man controlling the boat, on the other side of the pool, caused it to come right up to us. There was an impressive sailing boat too, which you can just see in the next photo.

One of the reasons we came to the north Norfolk coast was for me to get my fix of old railway stuff. It happened to be "Thomas" day (as in "the Tank Engine") so Weybourne Station was swarming with young children and their parents/grandparents. Not as pleasant a place to be as usual.

But - hooray - towards the end of the day's timetable a diesel loco was put into service.

That's more like it!

A few minutes before I took the above photo we saw the same train coming up from Sheringham. Yes, that's the sea in the background.

And to show that I have nothing against steam, here's the same coach set pulled by a steam loco (with a silly "Thomas" face on).

If you click on the last photo to enlarge it you might just be able to make out the wind turbines of the Sheringham Shoal wind farm.