The water works!

November 28th, 2007

Just a quick update – this morning I’ve filled the water tank and after a little faffing to remove an airlock in the pump inlet hose, we now have water in the taps at a sensible rate of flow. And the hot water system now works properly and doesn’t give up when you try and mix hot and cold water. Now all I have to do is get some heavy-duty silicone sealant to stick the access hatch back down on the water tank so that it doesn’t get leaves and dirt blown into it.

Black bottoms and hot water

November 27th, 2007

This is the long saga of Innocenti’s recent trip to Earith for some maintenance work. When I bought the boat, the hull was quite shabby and the paint was scraped off in many places, and so I knew that it would have to be repainted fairly soon. This is quite a big job – the boat has to be craned out of the water – and so it’s also an ideal time to do other maintenance jobs that are best done by a boatyard. Anyway, on the advice of several of my boaty friends and neighbours, I booked in at Westview Marina in Earith, and took the boat down there two weeks ago. Earith is quite a long way from Waterbeach – about six hours cruising time – and with the short winter days it would be tricky to do in one go. On the outward journey I stayed overnight at Stretham.

The straightforward work was done pretty quickly. Innocenti was craned out of the water and then pressure-washed off before the old paint was removed with scrapers and then sanded down to give a good base.

The crane at Earith

hull waiting for paint
Scraped down and ready for paint

It was also clear that the anodes needed replacing, so the old ones were cut off and four new ones welded on. Anodes are lumps of magnesium which act as “sacrificial protection” for the boat’s hull – because magnesium is more reactive than iron, it corrodes away first, ensuring that the hull has a longer life.

old anodes
A heap of old anodes awaiting disposal

new anode and propellor
One of Innocenti’s new anodes

Another much-needed job was to clean out the freshwater tank. This is under the foredeck, and is integral to the hull. Every few years it should be cleaned out and the inside repainted. Judging from what Graham and his team found inside – lots of rusty sludge – this hadn’t been done for quite some time! Whilst cleaning out the tank (a horrible job in a confined space) was fairly straightforward, getting the paint to go on and dry in the cold and damp November weather proved to be virtually impossible. Graham wasn’t satisfied with the result, and said he wouldn’t try to do one again in wintertime – so the boat will have to go back in the summer for the job to be finished off properly.

Anyway, with this unforseen problem, the boat was in the yard for a week longer than planned. I made arrangements to go and collect it this weekend – and as it happened, I’d arranged for several friends to come and see me that weekend, so we planned a day out on the river to bring the boat back to Cambridge.

Things began to go wrong at this point. I got a cold during the week, and had two-and-a-half days off work being snivelly and wretched. By the Friday afternoon, when Chris came to pick me up (I’d been staying with Rob, who very kindly allowed me to occupy his spare room for two weeks) I was feeling better but still snorting and sneezing. We got to the marina and found out that with the paint still only tacky dry on the water tank, we were going to have to live off bottled water for the next 24 hours or so until the paint dried and we could fill the tank. Then the tank would have to stand for four hours (to soak off any nasty compounds from the paint used) and drained, before being refilled with fresh water.

At this point we went to Huntingdon to pick up Dave from the station, and elected to have dinner in an Indian restaurant rather than eat on the boat with no water. We spent an uneventful night on the boat, and then on Saturday morning Chris went to pick up Gemma, who’d driven up from London that morning and who was leaving her car in Waterbeach so that we could use it to collect Chris’s car from Earith later in the day. I went to pay the boatyard bill, got the boat going and filled up with diesel. At this point we discovered (having not actually checked, stupidly) that the Great Ouse (which is large and fearsome at Earith) was in full flood. Manoeuvring away from the diesel pump was quite exciting, but we set off down the river the half-mile or so to Hermitage Lock, where we could escape the flood of the Great Ouse and go down the much quieter and smaller Old West River. As we approached the lock the engine temperature gauge shot up. This is never a good thing! As the engine kept plugging on, we stopped at the landing stage, woke up Keith the lockkeeper (who hadn’t had a boat through for three days with the river in this state) and locked down into the much safer Old West River. At this point we stopped on the lock-mooring and looked at the engine. One of the rubber parts of the cooling system had split, and steam was escaping somewhat vigorously. This put an end to our get-home-in-one-day plan – even though I (fortuitously) had a spare part, by the time the engine had cooled and I’d fitted it it would have been too late to get to Waterbeach before dusk. So we drank tea, ate Jaffa Cakes and decided to go to Ely for a pub lunch (steak-and-kidney pie, mmm!) and a look around the Cathedral, which is pretty stunning.

Chris dropped me back at the boat later in the day, and everyone went their separate ways.

On Sunday morning I got up early and changed the part in the engine. This turned out to be quite straightforward, although to refill the engine needed pretty much all my bottled water, so it was fortunate that the ever-helpful Keith was able to refill them from his kitchen tap. I fired up the engine and headed off. An hour or so downriver, the temperature gauge shot up again. This didn’t look good. I managed (eventually) to get the boat in close to the bank on a slight bend, and it went aground. This is quite common – the Old West River is shallow at the edges and it’s often difficult to moor, even at some dedicated mooring sites.
Looking into the engine bay, I find that the lubricant I applied to the rubber part to make it go on easily has worked too well – the engine has shaken the part off again, and I retrieve it from the bilgewater. Now what to do? The engine is hot, I’m short of time and short of water. I refit the part again, and attempt to refill the engine using water I’ve heated on the stove (putting cold water into a hot engine can crack the engine block) as I can’t really afford to wait for it to cool down.

Off we go again, only to stop another quarter-mile downstream with an overheating engine again. Now I’m out of water completely, so I fill my rucksack with the empty water bottles and trudge off along the floodbank – the guidebook shows a small marina and a pub less than a mile away. In fact, just around the corner I see another narrowboat moored up – the kind people of “Straight and Narrow” take pity on me and fill my water bottles. They’re going back to Earith, so they say they’ll shout as they pass me on their way back and check I’m all right.

I go back to the boat, wait for the engine to cool down, and top it up again with cold water. It’s now 1530, and with the light fading, I attempt to motor on the short distance to the Twenty Pence Marina, where there’s an overnight mooring and water supply. On approaching Twenty Pence the engine overheats again, and I hastily manoeuvre into the bank, going aground at a rather jaunty angle and manage to secure the boat. A sign says “Overnight Mooring £2” and “Water 50p”, so I trudge over to the owners’ house to pay me fees. Apparently the water pipe to the riverside froze during the hard frosts and split, so there’s no water available, although he does offer to fill my bottles. I trudge back to the boat, cook some dinner and have a long ranty phone call to my parents about the possible problems with the engine…

On Monday morning I go round to the marina owners’ house for water. It’s deserted – they obviously work elsewhere – so I go round to another house nearby and fortunately manage to obtain some water there. I refill the engine again, this time taking note of some advice Dad had found on the internet: it’s very easy to get airlocks in the engine cooling, particularly if you fill it in a hurry. Once you think you’ve got the engine full, start it up in fast idle with the filler cap off, then watch and see what happens to the coolant level. Sure enough, it dropped off after about three or four minutes, and I topped it up again. Once it stabilised I put the cap back on and left the engine in fast idle for ten minutes or so to check it was happy. It was, fortunately, so I poled off the gravel bank I’d gone aground on and headed off home. I arrived back at Waterbeach at around 1400 on Monday afternoon.

Then came the water tank saga. I’d still not been able to fill the freshwater tank, so this morning I motored down to Cambridge and filled it up, then tied up on Jubilee Gardens before heading over to the local branch of HSS to hire a large water pump – thanks to the magic of Streetcar I was able to hire a car in central Cambridge for the hour or so I needed to pick up the pump and bring it back to the boat.
I did try turning on the boat’s water system briefly, and was somewhat crestfallen to discover that the water pressure was even worse than before the tank was cleaned – I’d hoped that cleaning the tank would solve the problem with the low flow rate through the pump.

This evening, having left water in the tank for the whole afternoon, I emptied the tank with the HSS pump and then clambered into the tank to investigate the flow rate problem. This isn’t fun – the tank is only about 35cm deep, and the access hatch is only just big enough for me to get inside. Anyway, I found that the outlet pipe was blocked with a plug of rust, and with much poking and scraping was able to clear it. Tomorrow I shall refill the tank and I very much hope to be operating at full capacity again. Five days on the boat without running water has been rather unpleasant.

It’s all been a bit of a long saga, but it was definitely character-building rather than enjoyable…