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Friday, July 10, 2015

Boaty Chores!

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing... about in boats — or with boats." ~Kenneth Graham's character Rat from The Wind in the Willows

     While many people who don't live on a boat think this life is one of endless idyllic, halcyon days, we can assure you that like all else in life, boats require maintenance, and unless you are independently wealthy or even moderately well off, life aboard a narrow boat will require you personally to engage in regular boaty chores. The engine oil needs changing every 300 hours, the batteries need looking after, the shower pump filter will clog up about every three months, requiring one to uncover it from wherever it lies buried; behind panels underneath the bathtub perhaps, like ours. I can always tell when the pump filter needs cleaning because the tub won't drain properly after a shower and begins to sound like a sick opera singer with a bass voice register and a really bad sore throat. Les takes it all apart and scrubs the filter with one of my old toothbrushes, puts it all back together and we are good to go again for another quarter of the year. 
     We use cocoa shell mulch for the dry mix in our Airhead composting toilet so it really does need to be dry, Sadly, garden centers don't understand that if a bag of plant material--which is what cocoa shell actually is---is left stacked outside in all weathers, it will inevitably get wet, and the composting process will begin in the plastic bag it comes in. You can tell your cocoa shell has been wet if, when you open the bag, you see chocolate colored shells mixed with gray, papery shells which resemble the paper in a wasp's nest. Cocoa shell should be a deep, rich brown color and smell like chocolate. If you use this product in your composting loo and your bag has gotten wet, it is imperative to dry it out so it will work properly in your loo, and so it cannot provide a haven for bugs that like damp, dark places to live. 
Drying a bag of cocoa shell mulch in the sun.
      I was emptying and cleaning our Airhead toilet last week, as it seemed entirely too wet, and was not composting properly. We also had a massive infestation of red spider mites. Now these plant bugs like wet, darkness, and moist heat--and our solids pan seemed to be their favorite place. The extreme hot weather gave them the impetus to attempt a take over of our bathroom so it was war! I tried drowning them all in boiling hot water with bleach to no avail. We thought they had arrived in a bag of wet cocoa shells some time back. Anyway, after thoroughly cleaning, disinfecting and putting the toilet back together, I realized our toilet fan had not been extracting the moisture from our toilet properly. Condensation was collecting in the hose pipe which vented the toilet via the fan through the roof to the outside. 
     I called Les to take a look and he figured something was blocking the fan, so off came the hose, and he unscrewed the fan housing from the roof to exclaim, "Look Jaq!! Spider mites! Millions of them! Sure enough they had made a happy home amongst the fan and in the housing, clogging it with friss (bug poop), and debris. So Les climbed on the roof and removed the mushroom vent--to find the inside caked with dirt and muck, as was the hole in the boat roof where the fan housing had been. 
The fan and its housing which connects to the ceiling in the bathroom. Nasty!!
     We set to work cleaning all the bits with surgical spirit and Que Tips or ear buds as they are called over here. Les cleaned out the mushroom vent, we cleaned the hole in the roof, the one in the ceiling, and Les washed out the hose in the cut. Then we put it all back together and what a difference! No more mites and no more wet, nasty toilet. Everything was clean, dry, and nice smelling once more and the loo fan was humming nicely. Job done! Onto the next thing which is....
Now that's better! Clean, dry and ready to put back together.
    ...painting the boat. After making countless passes on each side over the last four weeks, painting rust converter into all the bald, exposed metal which has begun to rust as our original thin spray-on paint job has faded and flaked, sanding it all, painting and filling all the spots and sanding again, we finally felt ready to begin painting. 
The black stuff is rust converter which is supposed to seal the exposed metal and convert any rust to an inert layer no longer eating at the boat.
Poor NB Val was pitted with rust spots and looked really tatty. These boats have many lips, edges, nooks, and crannies; you have to get into all of them to stop the rust and re-paint the boat.
After painting on rust converter and sanding, we painted on white primer and then sanded again, primed again, and sanded again...
...hunting down every spot of rust, every bit of exposed metal and every flake of loose paint. NBV looked like she had a bad case of the measles!
A good close up of before and after in one shot.
     This morning we rose early while the sun was still shining on the port side and we painted one coat on the starboard side. While we are not professionals, and we cannot achieve perfection, we felt chuffed by the outcome. This first coat was our "learning experience." We know now that we must be up at sunrise to finish painting the boat before the metal, the air, and the paint all grow too hot and too thick. We used a good, short napped roller and Les painted sections as I followed him laying it off using a brush. We thought it looked pretty good until we went to lightly sand it this afternoon. The brush left marks in the paint, so we have decided not to lay it off with a brush. That technique is for professionals--or those with better fine motor skills than the two of us! We will just roll it on evenly and let it dry. We also know now that we will be doing a minimum of three coats not two. 
"Look Jaq--I can see myself in the paint!!!
The front half of the starboard side of our boat with the first coat of new paint...
...and the rear half of the starboard side. Looking good!
Our table in the shade of an apple tree where we take our meals and wait for paint to dry!
     NB Valerie looks much prettier and fresher in a new coat of paint and updated color. Once the coach writing is done we think the boat will look quite smart indeed. Now if we can just get the Eberspacher (diesel and electric water heater) to work properly, life will be darned near perfect!!


Anonymous said...

Wow the two of your are working together like a well oiled machine And with No indication of ill health on other of your parts. Yea!!!

NB Valarie with her new paint job looks glorious.

Having lived on a sail boat for 10 years I know about the endless maintenance but it's worth it and necessary. So carry on to the fun stuff.

Hot and smokey in Pullman.

Anonymous said...

Think we might know something about the cocoa shell ... Still, it looks as if you have had excellent drying conditions for it...
What a fantastic job you are doing with the boat painting. We remember the agony of reprinting Cleddau while at Willowbridge in July 1996. Hope the weather aids the rest of your painting. I bet it seems like a Forth Railway Bridnge job!
Love and best wishes,
Sue /. Boatwif / nb Cleddau

Jennie said...

Wow Jaq and Les, she is looking good. It was interesting to read about your red spider mites. We will watch our loo and hope they don't take up residence. We are off up Caen Hill tomorrow. Jennie and Chris

Bryce Lee in Southern Ontario,Canada said...

I'm green with envy!

Assume you have parked in a location where you don't have to move Valerie for a few days.

So after the starboard side is more or less completed does Valerie then go a bit further along to the oppsote side of cut and you then do the port side?

So how do you paint the stern and bow areas? And when did Les last give NB Valerie this form of complete repaint? Twenty years prior? As you mentioned, the previous finish had been spray on so am thinking quite some time ago.

And the order the lettering....

Carol said...

Looking good! You’ve been working so hard - it is all in the preparation! Are you doing the lettering too? So pleased that you’re able now to get on with life on the cut, miss you both. xx

Carolyn.Carapace said...

Hi Jaq and Les
Good to hear you've solved the spider mite issue. We are still trying to install our composter loo. Have only just managed to find some one to drill hole in the roof. But, we CANNOT get cocoa shells in this area. Our garden centres will not stock it as it goes mushy underneath when spread as mulch on gardens and attracts mice infestation! ( Aparently????) We have now been advised to buy Irish coir, which we have done in preperation for the install. We have been advised if the solids become too wet to drop used coffee grounds into the mix. Will give it a try when up and running! Painting looks very good too. You are both very good at DIY:-)
Carolyn. Carapace

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Karen,
Yep we both feel good and we are pleased to be able to get on with things. Les has one more RFA procedure to undergo on July 30th but then fingers crossed we will be free and clear.

I hope you and Jim are holding up okay in the terrible heat we've been reading about. did it reach 108F in Pullman?
Love JaqXX

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Oh Sue, your comment about the forth Railway Bridge made me belly laugh!! It does seem that way at times. It sure feels good to finally get crackin' on the paint job. We had hoped to do it last summer.

Laying the cocoa shell out on a tarp in the sun works a real treat. :)
Love to you both,

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,
We will turn the boat at some point when we are ready to begin painting the starboard side. Les has touched up the paint over the years but has never actually painted the boat before. A professional paint job--which is what most boaters opt for--costs about £6,000.00 and now that we've put two coats on NBV we can see what they charge such prices and why folks willingly pay it.

A good paint job can last ten or more years if the boat is polished on a regular basis. Les gave up polishing NBV because her original paint job was rubbish to begin with. It was just a couple of thin coats sprayed on.

We will hire Becky who did the original sign writing and she will drive to wherever we are and do the coach painting. That will be a happy day indeed!
Love JaqXX

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi John,
Thanks indeed for that tip. I'm off to find some!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carol,
We miss you guys too. I can smell the delicious scent of one of George's BBQs from here!

You are absolutely right about the worth of all the prep work. It was tedious but we had great weather and all that sanding and filling really did pay off.

A woman by the name of Becky did the original singe writing and we will hire her to do it again.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carolyn,
We've heard there is a dearth of cocoa shell for a variety reasons; apparently it isn't good for dogs. But someone told me Richard at Hillmorton chandlers was gong to stock it so you might check with him.

We will be keen to hear how Irish coir and coffee grounds work!

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Doing a good job, biggses. Sorry not been in touch - I hadn't realised how much I rely on the Mac Book Air and how much I don't like the iPad ...
We are just below the Calcutt locks aiming for Warwick by Thursday.
Biggs hugs to you both and hope we bump in to you soon, M&Dxox

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Marilyn,
I think we just missed each other! We stopped for water below the Calcutt flight yesterday and then winded to moor up near Napton hire base as we have friends who work there and we always visit them whenever we are nearby.

We will be headed toward Rugby after Tuesday. Les has decided Rugby is a good place to catch a train to Euston for the next procedure at the end of the month.

After Les is mended enough to do locks we will turn around and slowly make our way back to Wigram's turn and up to Warwick. We fancy visiting Stratford-on-Avon in September or so--after the crowds have gone.
Love JaqXX

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs