Oil under the fingernails

The engine is serviced and ready for summer adventures.  And I have had a workout better than you get in any gym.  It’s just as well that servicing the engine only needs to be done annually, or I would be in serious danger of developing some upper body muscle tone.

I cannot take all the credit for the engine being serviced – I was supervised by a professional (to the relief of many of my family members).    It was a job I suspect he found slightly frustrating – tasks he could have completed in a matter of minutes were painfully slow.  On several occasions I stubbornly refused his offer of help (he called it chivalry, but I think he just wanted to get home before sunset).  And thus I changed the oil in the gearbox and engine, changed the oil and fuel filters (and cleaned another fuel filter – on my weekend course we were told not to touch this one as it might be beyond beginner capacity, so I am somewhat suspicious that it appeared so easy a job), checked the anti-freeze (though I don’t really understand the gadget for that job or how we came to the conclusion that it was OK), changed the air filter, and then there is the piece de la resistance.

I replaced the stern gland packing.  Of all the tasks, this was the one I was most nervous about.  On the engine maintenance course we were told that the stern gland would leak a little while being repacked, and that it would take about two weeks for the boat to sink at that rate of leakage.  Given my track record so far with holes and leaks on Double Fracture, I’m sure you can appreciate my apprehension.  I nervously loosened the screws, and then tried to slowly pull back the lump of metal I’m going to refer to as the stern gland (but this may be playing fast and loose with the technical terms).  Pulling the stern gland back slowly didn’t work – it needed a lot of oomph to get moving at all, and then shot to the back of the shaft.  I braced myself for the Victoria Falls of leaks and stage four panic. Nothing.  The only water to find its way into the engine bilges during the operation were the beads of sweat from my forehead whilst struggling to remove the old packing and squeeze in the new (the packing consists of a fat bit of string saturated with engine grease).  Piece of cake.  Bring on next year’s (unsupervised) service.

Things I learnt during the process:

  • The white shirt I planned to wear to my friend’s house that evening was never going to survive the morning.  I should have known better (and yet I never seem to).
  • Equally, a skirt is not a prudent choice of clothing, especially if the engine servicing is a two-man operation.  (I can picture my mother with her head in her hands at reading this.)
  • A nail brush would be a wise investment.  It has taken a severe nail clipping to de-grease my hands.
  • A magnet on a stick would also be a wise buy.  I’m clumsy, I drop things, and the floor under the engine is just beyond arm’s length.
  • All future ice cream eating events will be brought to you by Walls.  The definitive ice cream tub for catching oil and fuel spills.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Hush‘ by Kula Shaker.

On a completely unrelated note, I had cake this week that was just too good not to share: http://www.food.com/recipe/orange-and-almond-spanish-cake-75916  – the brilliant buddy who made it will be henceforth be referred to as Cake-Baking-Goddess on the blog.

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre?

As with all good holey stories, fixing the engine turned into a saga. But to cut a medium-length saga into one long-ish sentence, after problems with missing parts, wrong parts and ill-fitting parts were rectified (which entailed a last-minute trip to Daventry), Jim repaired the engine last Thursday evening. Which was just in time for our driving lesson on Friday.

Dad, Martin and I had started a helmsman’s course a few months previous, but high river levels meant we couldn’t attempt a lock. But sunshine and a non-flooded river on Friday meant conditions were perfect for messing about in boats. 

I’d read some of the course book prior to our excursion, and the diagrams explaining locks seemed daunting.  But to me, it did not seem illogical that a system that allows you to go uphill on a canal might be a bit complex. Much to my relief, locks turned out to be brilliantly simple.   They need a bit of elbow grease, but not a degree in physics. And the elbow grease is not necessary on the electric locks – just a key and the ability to push buttons in sequence. And even a button-pushing index finger is surplus to requirements when there is a lock keeper on hand. Locks are not the scary proposition I thought they might be.

Manoeuvring the boat, on the other hand, is rather more challenging. As a mediocre driver of cars, with an inability to parallel park, it is not surprising that this is the aspect of canal navigation I struggle with. Pootling down the river was not a problem (though admittedly Dad and Martin drove the more twisty-turny sections of our trip), and turning round was manageable. Getting in and out of my mooring, however, was a real challenge. I’m not sure how many times my lovely neighbours will put up with me interrupting (and spilling) their lunch as I bumper-boat my way back to the bank.

Our driving was good enough to pass the course (although no driving qualification is mandatory for sailing narrowboats – any uncoordinated, spatially- challenged idiot can take one out). Practice is now the name of the game for this uncoordinated, spatially-challenged idiot, and a week’s sailing is on the cards at the end of the month. I think it’s time I got breakdown cover.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Drive my car‘ by the Beatles.

Happy (belated) birthday

There is date scratched into the fuel tank – 8 April 2004. This is the pressure test date of the tank, and thus my boat’s birthday. A good owner would throw a surprise boat party, complete with boat-shaped cake and boat balloons. A good (crazy?) owner would have sung happy birthday. A good owner would at least have realised the boat had a birthday. It didn’t occur to me till the engineer pointed it out, two days after the event. 

So happy 11th birthday (and four days) Double Fracture. Next year, I promise, we will have the boat party to end all boat parties.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘In da club’ by 50 Cent.

Today is the first day of summer….

….so we had lunch on the roof. 

Over the beautiful Easter weekend, garden furniture has been emerging up and down South Bank.  But there are no table and chairs outside Double Fracture (now added to the to-do list as long as my 57 foot boat) and it seemed a shame to sit inside with the sun shining. The Tomlinson-Smiths were in town and Little Miss Tomlinson-Smith seemed especially keen to explore the roof, and thus inspired the boat picnic idea. (Her ingenuity did not end there – she used one of the mushroom vents as a table – the perfect height for a toddler.)

The lunch was not only experimental in location, but also as far as the cooking was concerned. The menu (toad-in-the-hole with mash and veg) may appear bog standard, but I am discovering that every bake is a foray into the unknown with my gas oven.  It is an unpredictable beast, which burns or undercooks one side of a dish on a whim (fan ovens have been added to the list of things I have come to appreciate since living on a boat, though running water still has a firm grip on top spot). However, the oven seemed to know that I wanted to impress with this meal (I never get anything less than mouth-wateringly delicious chez Tomlinson-Smith) and let me have a small victory today. I’ll be paying for my well-risen batter with burnt scones for weeks now.  

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘That’s all’ by Genesis.

An upcycle project

The front cover of the engine has been removed, and I’ve decided it is far too valuable to just chuck out. It has thus joined my small, but growing, collection of things that have broken on my boat that I can’t bring myself to get rid of. Other exhibits include the broken water pump (I might one day take it apart and learn how it works) and the broken, rusted screws from the mushroom vents (I need one so I can get the right sized replacement. I probably don’t need six). I think this lovely piece of cast metal must have an upcycling use – perhaps I could indulge my inner artist and transform it into abstract art? A bit of cleaning and it could be a receptacle for crisps and dips? Maybe it will turn out to be just the right size to become a funky new cupboard cover? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Any suggestions?

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Lola’ by The Kinks (and also my neighbour and his guitar).

Holy canalboats Batman

A boat hole update…..

So engine hole was supposed to be fixed on Wednesday, and to my relief the work had been contracted out to Jim of Jim’s Mobile Marine Services. So far so good. Except he had no idea the alternator bracket was the thing that had caused the hole in the engine front plate, and that the bracket also needed replacing as did the bolts holding it onto the engine. (I’m pretty sure the engineer told his office all of this originally, and took photos which I’d presumed he’d forwarded on, though they may have been for a personal collection. The information certainly hadn’t been forwarded to Jim.)  The upshot is my engine is still hole-y and in pieces in the engine room, and become a bit more expensive to fix.  But I’m hopeful (as is head-office-man) that the spare parts can be acquired on Tuesday, engine fixed on Wednesday, giving me a day’s grace before driving lesson number two on Friday.

A couple of new leaks have been discovered in the bathroom. One is on the toilet – probably the second most-feared place to find a hole after the hull.  My plan is to use a bit of tape to fix that one. (Which is recommended by the reader’s digest book from the library. They seem like good people; I will find out if they are good boat people presently.)

And there is a leaking vent in the bathroom. Long-term listeners (who would also be welcome as first-time emailers) may remember I had a similar problem in the dining room, which became my first boat DIY triumph.  This vent is slightly more complex as it houses a light and a fan, and it transpired, unlike the first one, it is screwed into the ceiling (explaining why it took so much more effort to rip it out of said ceiling). I decided to put some sealant over the screws on the outside of the vent in case they had rusted and ceased to be water tight. Now the vent still leaks, and it looks like a seagull has defaecated very precisely on the roof. So I have thrown more sealant at the problem and await the next rain shower with trepidation.

This blog post is brought to you by ‘Blame it on me‘ by George Ezra. Because sometimes only George Ezra will do.