Friday, 17 August 2012

Steep learning curve

Fine weather arrived just in time for Steve's open weekend at Glascote basin. Although he had generously laid on a fourth barrel of beer this year, they were all empty by midnight on the Saturday, attesting this was his most well attended yet.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived as planned the following Tuesday lunchtime bringing even better weather. After a quick briefing on lock operation (blind leading the blind) it was with some trepidation I cautiously backed Ecky Thump out onto the Coventry canal, immediately facing a drop through my first two locks. All went smoothly though and I was soon chugging, or should it be thumping given the distinctive exhaust note, towards Fradley junction.

My new crew chose to scout ahead on bicycles so I was left to myself as I made a pigs ear of passing through a bridge hole following avoidance of an oncoming boat, thankfully not repeated. Not wanting to tempt fate though I managed to tie the boat up by myself as we passed through Hopwas with its rather nice canalside pubs. A couple of pints and a home made pie my sister brought along made for a perfect evening.

A relatively early start with the vague thought of reaching Great Haywood junction was heralded by embarrassingly large quantities of smoke and soot from the exhaust. The JP2 had been running for several minutes before hand so not sure why this happened unless something stuck on the injection pump. Suffice to say the smoke haze, which almost obscured the front of the boat, quickly cleared and it hasn't done it since.

Fradley junction appeared just before lunchtime and a left turn was made without issue onto the Trent and Mersea, despite a boat maneuvering right on the junction. Rising through a couple of locks we squeezed into a barely adequate space for lunch. Still feeling a little stressed I had a quick nap before continuing. My crews scouting ahead worked well and they regularly rode back to advise of oncoming boats which helped this newbie no end. It was particularly helpful at the previous Armitage tunnel as we approached Rugeley. The roof was taken off some time ago to combat subsidence leaving a not particularly straight, narrow rock cutting. Negotiating this required some concentration but thankfully nothing coming the other way.

The night was spent on the north side of Rugeley, a sad town full of closed down pubs and shadowed by a huge power station. The good news was a five mile trip the following morning had us at Great Haywood with a mooring right by the entrance bridge to Shugborough park which we planned to visit. The weather got even hotter and below the ancient bridge over the adjacent Trent, children were seen paddling and swimming in the wide, shallow river.

After exploring nearby Shugborough hall, the following morning I made a half decent job of making the tight left turn onto the Staffs & Worcester canal. Rising through a few more locks we comfortably made Penkridge town and moored close to the Boat Inn which provided us with an excellent evening meal. As the pound was down a little I was encouraged to steal a little water from the larger one above. This at least allowed us to sleep with the boat reasonably level. Saturday and a couple more locks within the town had us at Otherton marina or should it be bird sanctuary.  My crew cycled off on Sunday and I returned to Essex the following day to commitments there.

Returning on the Thursday I started my first day of single handing rising through five locks in quick succession. Often if there is a boat behind you, their crew will help as its in their interests to have you through as soon as possible. Such was the case on this occasion, and I made Autherley junction by mid afternoon making a good job of the very tight turn onto the start of the Shropshire Union canal, but immediately faced with a stop lock and nothing to tie up to. Unfortunately a small hire boat the other side of the lock had no sympathy with my dilemma so had to wait until they were ready to pass through, when I backed out again. I was soon on my way though and made the beautiful but shaded moorings of Brewood cut that evening.

My plan was to do the full length of the Shroppie, 66½ miles dropping continuously through 43 locks to Ellesmere Port where I would visit the canal boat museum. With stops at Norbury junction, Market Drayton where I spent an extra day, Audlem and Beeston, I made the outskirts of Chester outside the neat village of Christleton by Thursday evening. After Barbridge and the turn off to the Middlewich branch all locks become wide double width and the previously narrow bridge holes open up.

Sadly the canal doesn't get much deeper though. I suspect my boat with its 15mm base plate is a little more than its quoted 27 inch draught. Apart from going aground occasionally, minimal depth can be felt as the steering becomes very heavy and often speed can be maintained or even increased by reducing engine revs allowing the stern to dig in less. With an inch or two under the keel though the boat steers well with just a firm occasional nudge to the right to combat the walk from the right hand prop, and three mph or more can be maintained easily. Reversing on the other hand offers little steerage, but I have found that using the bowthruster to get the boat pointing in the right direction will allow it to continue in a straight line.

Having discovered that Ellesmere Port boat museum was open on Sundays, I left the heart of Chester on Saturday morning and was soon faced with the daunting triple staircase locks to descend. I eventually got help whilst in the last chamber but that only served to nearly flood the boat when the help overfilled the chamber above creating a serious waterfall in his impatience to prepare the locks to ascend.

Progress was a little slow on the second part of the nine mile section. Weed built up until it formed an almost continuous carpet across the canal. Apparently this often happens in the area during the summer months but given the exceptional wetness this summer was worse than usual. Folk had even mistaken it for turf and got themselves rather wet.
Amazing to see the Manchester ship canal just four locks below with a huge cargo ship filling the skyline as it passed by at maybe 10 knots. I  moored at the top though after winding through the weed in preparation for the return. Enjoyed the museum visit on Sunday after the weather had thrown a tantrum, before leaving late afternoon for Chester again. Not before removing huge clumps of weed from the prop though.

On the technical front, the engine and electrics have behaved themselves admirably. There are some oil and a diesel leak to be investigated, but Martyn from MPS has promised to give it the once over.  The engine starts easily and the sound of it ticking over at exactly 320 rpm then spooling up as it dumps torque into that huge flywheel always gets me.

The only electrical issue was when the 100 amp bowthruster charge fuse blew. I put it initially down to exceptional performance from the 90 amp alternator feeding it, but have since realised the smart splitter on the output has a finite time before the backfeed from other banks is inhibited. I was pleased to see the washing machine ran a cycle whilst cruising although the engine noticed the extra load. Powered by the inverter the alternators comfortably kept up with the power drain from the batteries, leaving them fully charged after it finished. I have yet to confirm the automatic  bilge pump works especially since it uses the same type of float switch that failed on my shower pump-out. Fortunately I specified a manual override which does allow the little water leaked by the calorifier pressure release valve (PRV), to be pumped out. This happens every time the water gets hot so maybe there isn't sufficient difference between PRV release and water pump pressure. In the meantime I've turned down the immersion heater thermostat a little.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The finished product

Well its been worth the wait although given the time in anticipation, the handover was inevitably a little of an anti-climax taking place in yet another downpour. Three car loads of personal items were installed aboard then numerous trips to local stores to add galley essentials and food stocks.

Ecky Thump moored in Glascote Basin during a brief spell when it wasn't raining. The device on the white pole provides a long range WiFi hookup to local household utilising BT's internet sharing scheme.

The finishing touches since its show debut include the Kardean flooring using re-claimed Victorian oak effect strips in saloon, galley and bedroom. It matches the real wood so well you cannot tell its artificial. In the bathroom, diagonal set marble effect square tiles are used with silver strips in between. Given the minimal length apparently only one tile didn't need cutting. All have been fitted to a very high standard though.

Galley now fully operational. Note expensive but superbly crafted custom spice rack. The half round breakfast table with bargain price gas strut stools from B & Q, are proving more useful than expected. Although compact, the saloon accommodates two swivel recliners plus a foot stool.

SMD LED lights have replaced most of the quartz halogen bulbs. Although difficult to match the light output of the original 20 watt ones, the power consumption will be a small fraction allowing them to be left on without concern. Given the price of metered electricity the Mikuni diesel heater is proving useful to provide hot water. Its controlled by a battery driven timer/stat located in the bedroom with two on/off cycles per day.
Recently fitted neat alternator mount ladder. Top 160 amp unit charges the service battery bank. The bottom 90 amp one feeds all three banks via zero volt drop three way selective splitter which can be seen top left in right hand picture. The fuse to the right protects the long charge cable run to the bowthrust batteries.

I measured 156 amps from the top one at 650 rpm engine speed whilst testing with a 3kW kettle. With the second alt helping we were only 25 amps short of matching the load from the inverter.
Although the mechanical standard of the electrical installation was excellent many minor issues were found requiring correction, although I think I've nailed them all now. Tony did point out it was the most complicated electrical fit he had ever done. A failed shower pump-out float switch created a minor drama when 9 gallons of water were found under the engine room floor, fortunately well below the electrics. It was soon pumped out and a new float plus a manual override switch I had previously supplied (but deemed unnecessary!), fitted the following day. Seems I am the only customer to have suffered this problem though.

The boatman's cabin looks more the part now with the addition of a suitable quantity of canal ware. Val's relief was palpable, although I thought it looked rather nice previously decorating her fireplace. The three gallon Buckby can I acquired on eBay now needs repainting to match the boat. Note also the superb opening cabin stool, a Christmas present from Val, built and painted by Terence Edgar.

The thick carpet was custom knitted by Val from North African wool ribbon using giant wooden needles. She also threaded up the ribbon plates recently purchased at the Crick show.

So after a prolonged build I'm finally ready to go cruising - except the rain won't stop!  In fact since Steve's open weekend is only a week away I will probably stay based at Glascote Basin armed with a catering size can of Brasso. The following Tuesday we finally depart with my sister and brother-in-law as crew. Can't wait - more to follow when I hope to report on the boats performance.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Work of art

Very close to finishing now. Ecky Thump is in dry dock, the bottom is already blacked and the chunky 24" x 22" Crowther prop fitted. Although this will load the JP2 nicely, I would have preferred a larger diameter with lesser pitch, but the modest draught Steve now builds his boats to,  with good reason given the lack of dredging on many canals,  precludes such.

A stationary boat in the covered area of the dock lends itself to having the external artwork and signwriting added as well. Not surprising then meeting Kevin, a thoroughly nice chap that Steve employs to do this skilled work. Born in the same year as myself, Kevin is very much old school with forty years experience, and it shows.

My take on an Old Thumper beer bottle label celebrating the engine and painted between the cabin portholes, is left until last, but as can be seen the majority of the work is already done and will be completed early next week.  Inside roses and castles already adorn every spare space, on the inside of exterior doors, cupboard doors and BMC table. In the picture of the rear doors, you can just make out on the right a slot above the interior decoration for the marine VHF radio. Above that are the bowthruster controls.

Given the time constraints, whilst Kevin weaves his magic outside, work continuous at a frenetic rate inside.

The engine installation is near completion although time hasn't allowed the alternator mounts to be tackled yet. Nevertheless I was told the engine had started first time the day before once a bit of red diesel was bled through. It was a proud moment when Tony gave me a quick demo. Hardly a half turn of the flywheel before it fired and settled into a steady slow thump. Almost an anti-climax, it was though it had been there ever since it was built nearly eighty years ago. If they still made threepenny bits, I swear one would have balanced on the rocker covers such was the smoothness. Note the neat oil tank installation mounted on a custom bracket, exactly as I had hoped, allowing easy draining with access to the underfloor area below.

Whilst there is no engine charging yet, the fruits of of Tony's continued work on the electrics are a complete working bow thruster installation. Two batteries located in the forward part of the starboard well deck locker power the Nobels 9 hp unit. As usual the cabling hooking it up via isolators, fuses and shunts is to Tony's high standards.

Both stoves are now installed and in the bathroom the quadrant shower, loo and finally the vanity basin tap are fitted. Still awaiting a matt black towel rail, but that is work in progress.
At 24 inches this is the largest prop that can be fitted comfortably between uxter plate and rudder stay. Note long swims, a Hudson trademark.

As Steve was having trouble obtaining an appropriate gas solenoid valve, with more time on my hands I managed to source a "CE" approved one with the ½" BSP fittings to accommodate the piping demanded by the BSS examiner. This will allow me to remotely turn off the gas supply in the bow locker, failing to off, prevention being better than cure.

A small re-think on the service battery circuits adds a substantial 600 amp BEP isolator for all the devices that need access to the batteries even when unattended.  I also won't have to worry the chargers and alternators have a load whilst functioning since this will be normally left on. The original smaller BEP isolator will now control the feeds to the main distribution panel. This allows complete isolation when needed to attend the batteries themselves. Since this will involve replacing the existing isolator with  the larger one then finding a new space for the former with attendant cable changes, Tony nodded politely to my request with a sigh - whoops!

As alluded to in previous postings, there is a prior commitment requiring  Ecky Thump to be positioned elsewhere for a few days. Remaining work is essentially the alternator and the Mikuni diesel heater installations, plus heating hook-up to the engine. Although this will require a further two weeks work, she will at least look complete by early next week and be able to make the appointment under her own steam. It will also provide an excellent opportunity for snagging any last minute issues.

I can now reveal that Ecky Thump attended the four day Crick boat show as one of S M Hudson's three exhibits. The 52 mile 28 lock journey was made in just two days without issue. I was lucky enough to assist in the return journey also made in two long days. A very instructional exercise despite the miserable weather on the second day. The engine sounds fantastic and the boat steers well, although I'm definitely in need of close quarters handling experience. The 11 inch Francis searchlight performed well illuminating tunnel sides superbly as the beam was flooded, especially the infamous 1800 metre Braunston one.

Completion and handover will be within three weeks to allow for some minor snagging. There will also be another visit to the dry dock for a second coat of blacking and touch up of minor scrapes received during its trip to Crick and back, one of which was attributable to me - whoops!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Get the motor running

Well it seems the majority of the AC and DC electrics are installed and working, batteries charging, AC available via battery or shore power and we now have lighting throughout the boat - yipee! Focus has now switched to the engine installation, the two main areas being mechanical and electrical. Tony has already hooked up the engine start panel and installing the alternators will be next.

Various dark green painted tanks matching the engine, are looking pretty mounted on the shiny engine room bulkhead and will look better still with a few judiciously placed Lister decals. Most of the plumbing to/from them in shiny copper is completed, and its now possible to draw fuel from main to day fuel tank (top of picture) using that nice big waggle from side to side hand pump. Not sure how long the plastic sight tube will remain visible but there is a vent/overflow back to the main tank, so no harm can come from over enthusiastic pumping. The feed from this tank to the engine will be via an additional fuel filter with Lexan see-through bowl. Mounted on the side of the cupboard are the header tanks for central heating and engine below, the latter being already plumbed in. Sitting very comfortably between all these is the huge oil pressure gauge, with unions added to feed the smaller one on the roof for the benefit of the steerer.

The various connections to the main fuel tank including draw and return pipes to/from day tank, spill rail return from engine and feed to Mikuni diesel boiler which is still to be fitted. The fuel tank level sensor can also be seen. To the rear the horizontal calorifier is in place just awaiting plumbing.

On the engine panel, turning the key and pressing the big red start button produces a satisfying churning noise from below and an enthusiastic leap of that huge flywheel.

Much head scratching has been given to shoehorning the two alternators into the rapidly diminishing space in the engine room. A ladder shaped mount to sit sideways astride the flywheel, has been sturdily fabricated from 6mm steel to take the larger 140 amp one on the lower step, with the smaller immediately above. I say smaller but noted it has grown to a 90 amp unit, although not complaining. It may be pushing the envelope to expect this to be driven by a single belt, but as Steve provides positive belt adjustment, there won't be a belt tension issue.

Placement of the ladder mount firmly bolted to the engine bearers will also help protect passers by from the spinning flywheel, as well as providing easy access and simple removal of both alternators to allow work on the engine.
Most of the switch panel is now connected and installed in the upper cupboard with remote control panel for the Combi above and an immersion heater switch below. The service battery monitor is working as are both tank gauges, but still awaiting the bowthruster batteries so no indication from that monitor yet. They will be remotely and automatically isolated via a cunning relay operated motorised isolator which mimics the service battery one. In the lower cupboard keeping the AC and DC systems essentially separate, is the neatly installed small consumer unit for AC distribution and circuit protection. A multi-colour LED shore power polarity indicator has been fitted within it on the left. Galvanic isolator connections can be seen at the top.

Proving that Tony isn't just an electrics wizard, he was fitting the traditional push/pull control linkage to the hydraulic gearbox whilst I was there.

The Spinflo gas hob has been fitted and another of Steve's workforce was preparing the matching oven/grill for installation, whilst seemingly seconds later fitting the stern nav light in the continuous drizzle. Water pump with inlet filter and pressure accumulator have also been fitted, sitting immediately in front of the water tank, with easy access from behind the cabin steps.

Despite this activity there is still an awful lot of work to complete not least the sign writing. On first impression then during this visit, I was doubtful the boat would be able to move under its own steam before the end of this month. However I'm assured it will although final details like the bowthruster itself and the diesel heater installation may come later. In fairness many missing bits are already pre-fabricated and will be fitted soon with little further effort. Can't wait for next visit in about three weeks.

Friday, 13 April 2012


The electrical installation is now well underway. Living on a boat for twelve years has given me a clear idea of what I need in this area and what works, for me at least. Consequently this electrical fit is well above the one Steve normally provides.

Tony has been busy in the engine room. The service battery box to take five 110 amp hour batteries has been constructed and located to the rear of the engine room. To the front woodwork has been added to support the Combi charger/inverter, a second battery charger, isolators, fuses and shunts. All neatly concealed in the well vented underfloor area, although the Combi will have a remote control sited above the main switch panel.

The engine start battery will be located the other side of the engine room adjacent to the Mikuni diesel water heater. Final decisions have been made on the location of AC and DC electrical outlets, with back boxes being fitted during my latest visit. Where possible, dedicated AC outlets and TV aerial sockets have been hidden in cupboards with just general utility outlets visible using flat Vantage faceplates for sockets and light switches.

All Tony has to do now is wire according to this diagram.
Easily said I know, and this just covers the main wiring features, not the routine cable feeds. I had intended to install the electrics myself but this proved impractical. If Tony's previous work is to be judged though I won't be disappointed.

He has already made a start as this wiring mayhem shows. Hope he's not colour blind. It will all be hooked up to this panel

The control panel for the horn, tunnel and navigation lights has been neatly installed under the ticket draw. The Francis searchlight and Klaxon horn will be relay operated, taking power from the nearby bowthruster batteries. On the opposite side of the rear doors, the bowthruster control panel and marine VHF transceiver will be fitted for easy access from the steering position.

Although the covers for the well deck lockers have been added, little other work has been completed since my last visit. I'm told we are still on track to have a boat that will move under its own steam and look finished before the end of May though.

Next visit will hopefully show the engine installation well under way if not actually running. Then there is a visit to the dry dock to be scheduled for blacking plus fitment of the prop and bowthruster. The artwork, sign writing and detail paintwork will also be completed at this time.

Couldn't resist adding a couple of external photo's, one of the bow showing the sharp pinch at the water line and also the stern showing off the paintwork in the sunlight.

Steve took the arrival of several of my family in his stride, as we had arranged to meet at his yard for a nearby family commitment later that day. It did give them an opportunity for a sneak preview though.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Home stretch

Finally get the chance to see the new paintwork in daylight. Windows and portholes are back in, hatches replaced plus a few extra bits of brassware. The painted pigeon boxes were also spied in one of Steve's storage containers awaiting fitment.

Work can now start in earnest adding fittings such as the diesel water heater, calorifier, stoves, loo and kitchen appliances as the home stretch approaches. Then there are the boat electrics to be hooked up. Five service batteries plus a starter one in the engine room and a further two in the starboard well deck locker for the bow thruster. The DC switch panels have already been built and will include a visible engine start panel and a helm panel by the rear doors as well as the main control panel which will be hidden behind decorated doors in the tall engine room cupboard.

There will also be considerable work hooking up the engine life support systems as well as two alternators. Four tanks need to be accommodated in the engine room. Central heating and engine cooling header tanks, engine oil tank and the gravity feed fuel tank filled by hand pump from the integral main one below. I understand most of this work will be completed last though.

Although I was expecting to discuss the electrical installation at a later date, Martin, Steve's second in command seemed keen to get it sorted now. To this end Tony the electrician had been busy retrieving all the electrical goodies I had dropped off over previous months and laying them out all over the boat. Over two hours were spent with the two of them identifying the components, discussing their layout and how they related to my AC and DC wiring diagrams. Although a few we don't normally do it that way comments were made, it was generally agreed that the electrical installation could be completed to my requirements.

Pleased to see the tile grouting has now been completed, with the mosaics in the bathroom particularly eye catching against the bumpy white tiles.

Glossy BMC and rear of engine room as paintwork preparation continues.

Neat plumbing below galley sink.