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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Thirty Five Liters of Blue Water!

"Flutter your wings frail bird and rise an inch above the impossible." ~Anonymous

     After spending four days writing this post Blogger hiccuped and it was gone--lost in virtual reality somewhere beyond my reach. Already fighting a daily battle with depression and anxiety and all the other vicissitudes of life, it was like a lash across my writer's heart. I gave up on the blog to concentrate on other stuff. Staying moored up in one place for too long is anathema to me. I find myself sinking into a morass of unwelcome thoughts and feelings. Obviously it was time to move.
     Having done so, I am moored up--not in a beauty spot--but at towpath moorings in a place called Henhull, just north of Nantwich. There is a very busy road bridge and a roundabout nearby. It doesn't exactly feel safe either but I know that has more to do with me than with the mooring spot. I can stay here for two weeks but I will only be here for five days and then I will head back into Nantwich, top up the water tank, dump the rubbish and moor up in town for 48 hours while I attend to two appointments on Thursday and Friday. Then I'm off again towards Hack Green for five or six days.
     I will attempt to bring you all up to date on the past three weeks in a briefer format than I had originally written. I realize this sounds uncharacteristically like me, but I haven't the heart to reproduce the long, detailed blog originally written.
This is a shot of the Shropshire Union Canal at the bottom, winding through Nantwich. The lime green trail on the left is the way into town most boaters know: down the steps to Welsh Row and up Welsh Row to town. The pink trail on the right is a far more pleasant rout I discovered when moored beyond the aqueduct, towards Audlem. Leave the towpath at the children's playground. Turn left on Marsh Lane and just opposite the sign on your left saying Canal Close there is an unmarked footpath between two fenced yards with hedges. (Note: Images on Google maps were taken in 2011 and the new houses on Canal Close were not built yet but they are there now just next to the playground) Turn right onto the footpath. Cross Gerard Street and walk through the lot with all the storage garages on your left. You will come out on Meeanee Drive. Turn left and a McColls shop will be just up the street on your right. This is an easy walk for a weekend paper or a pint of milk. 
Here is the trail from the towpath past the playground, down the footpath, across Gerard St. through the lot with the storage garages and left on to Meeanee Drive. the red dot is the McColls shop. If you continue past the shop on Meeanee Drive you will come to Queens Drive and across the street is Mill Fields park.  If you follow the right hand path marked in pink above, it will take you over the river Weaver and curve to th left into town. If you take the aqua path on the left it will provide you with a pleasant walk along the river and over a foot bridge to the old town center. 
Left: the lime green trail up Welsh Row and into old town centre which is the red circle. If you continue past there and left around to Beam Street you reach the Bus stop and the Library. The alternative routes pick up across Queens drive in the park. The aqua path leads you along the river weaver, over a foot bridge, through the alleyway between the Crown Hotel and several shops and out to the old town center.  The pink path crosses the river, curves left and around to a driveway which leads out to Shrewbridge Rd. Turn left and walk up to the intersection. Follow the path to the right along Water Lode Street. Cross to the other side just before the roundabout. There will be a Laura Ashley store directly across from you. Cross Pilbury St. and Morrisons grocers is just ahead on your left. Across the street is an Aldi's.  This shot provides you with the relationship of the trails and roads to one another and the Nantwich town.
   I moored up in Nantwich three weeks ago, weak from having had the flu. I'd come out of Aqueduct Marina after some large boat repairs and ten days of illness. As I slowly regained my energy, I found short cuts depending on which end of town I wanted to reach. I walked twice a week for groceries (one weekly shop and a Saturday paper with a small top up of fresh fruit and veg.). I walked into town to catch the bus to Crewe for appointments and job searches. I was feeling better physically and emotionally although I had another big hurdle in front of me: Valentines Day Les' body was cremated last year on Valentines Day, forever marking it as a sad anniversary for me. The best thing to do I reckoned was keep busy and I am fortunate to have loving friends who planned to do just that.
     Back in November Jennie Gash (NB Tentatrice) called me and she and Chris invited me to come and stay at their home on Bromsgrove for three days beginning on February 4th. I was excited about seeing them both again and looking forward to the trip away. Jennie was giving a talk to the Worcester Birmingham & Droitwich Canal Society highlighting their trip in 2016 on the Canal du Midi in France. I was chuffed to bits to attend and I will write another post shortly which covers my visit with pictures; there is so much to cover and I cannot do it justice here. I had a lovely time with Jennie and Chris and really appreciate the opportunity to get to know you both better. Thanks for spoiling me!
     I am pleased to say NB Valerie weathered three days without me just fine. I've never left her moored up on the towpath for an extended length of time so I was a bit nervous about it. I chose a mooring spot at the end of a line of permanently moored boats with a brand new Braidbar boat NB All Right Now moored up for a week in front of me on the visitor's moorings. The weather turned frigid the day I was set to head south with the Jennie and Chris. Temperatures dropped below freeing at night every day I was gone. This also worried me. Would the solar panels keep the batteries charged?
Me stepping out of NB Valerie to greet Chris, Jennie and Monty. The new Braidbar boat All Right Now moored up in front of me. 
     Before I left I pulled the front stairs out, shut off water to the water pump, slid the stairs back in place, opened all the water taps on board and laid the shower hose and head down in the bottom of the bathtub so it would drain. I walked to the rear of NBV and flipped the water pump off and on about four times to push the remaining water out of the pipes and then I turned off all the electrics except the toilet fan.  I reasoned that I could leave the refrigerator shut off as it would keep things cold for eight hours and once the fire died down the interior of the boat would only be three of four degrees warmer than outside. I locked up stern and bow and walked away with Jennie and Chris, my heart in my throat.
     When I returned the canal had a thin rime of ice on the surface, it had been as cold as 26F/-3C for the nights I was gone and even when I returned it was just below 32F/0C. It didn't take me long start a fire, restore the water and check the battery levels. All batteries were fully charged. Brilliant!! But it did take twelve hours to fully reheat the boat and nearly everything in it because when one is not here to keep the fire going and the boat goes cold, EVERYTHING in the boat reaches the same temperature of a few degrees warmer than outside: clothes, pots and pans, books, upholstery, glassware, dishes, cutlery, tinned foods--everything. By now some of you boaters may be asking, "Well Jaq why didn't you put the Ebispacher radiator interior heating system on?"
     February 1st was a chilly evening and I turned on the Ebi as I had done on many cold evenings previously. As the pump started its thump-thump-thumping, I strolled back towards the front of the boat. When I reached the galley I realized I could hear the faint sound (over the running engine and the thumping Ebispacher) of water trickling. I froze as I thought, "Wait a minute--there are no open taps in the boat; where is the water coming from and OH! Where is it going?!!!"
     I raced to the stern, threw open the wardrobe and pulled my clothes out of the way. The header tank for our Ebispacher is attached to the bulkhead inside the wardrobe. It was empty! Merde, merde, merde!! I switched off the Ebi and the trickling sound died away. Now there could be more than one reason why this was happening. When NB Valerie was pulled out of the water at Aqueduct Marina, her bow was higher then her stern and it was possible that the fluid in the radiators (a combination of water and antifreeze) had traveled back from the front radiators, pooling in the rear rads and causing an airlock, but I didn't think so.
     The next morning I called George Palin (WB Still Rockin') to ask his opinion about this turn of events. It turns out George has a Webasto heating system not an Ebi but he talked me out of jumping off the back of the boat and inhaling a large amount of canal water on the way down! George said he would call Geoff  (NB Seyella) about it. Geoff has had his Ebi apart many times over the years and knows them inside and out. George would ask Geoff to call me. Meanwhile I called Jennie and Chris to tell them as I was worried this turn of events meant I could not leave the boat. I didn't want my internal radiators to freeze and burst while I was gone. Unbeknown to me, the Gash's were with Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau) and Ken soon called me to hear about it all direct. Geoff called me and we talked for a good while. He was so helpful in teaching me about the rads, the Ebi and how the system works generally. Thanks everyone for your advice and common sense. I owe you all a Golden Ginger Cake or a batch of the World's Greatest Brownies at the very least. Just put in your order via phone and let me know when you want it!
     Les didn't use the Ebi unless ice was forming on the inside of his eyelids. I had to beg him to turn it on when I was cold. Of course, Les was the most hot blooded person I've ever known. They say each human body generates approximately 700 watts of heat. Les no doubt kindled about 900 watts and I do notice the difference on the boat without him. I determined that I could put this issue aside until I returned from my visit with Jennie and Chris and that is exactly what I did. Once back on board, unpacked and settled in, I retrieved the Pela Pump from the engine hold and set about emptying the bottom stern step. All of the steps--front and back/bow and stern--have lift up tops and all of them are filled with stuff Les and I stored away.
     For those who are not familiar with narrow boats, underneath the floor is the metal hull and some kind of ballast. Every boat should also have an access hatch or hole somewhere near the stern to check this area which is called the interior bilge. It is not unusual for water to build up under there. Where does it come from you ask? It is condensation. The average human being exhales three gallons of water daily. Add all that moist exhalation to steam from showers, dishes, cooking, and wet clothes drying by the fire and very quickly you can see it has to go somewhere. How the water transforms from steam to water and makes its way below the floor to the interior bilge is one of those great mysteries of life--at least to me! I am happy for it to stay that way. Suffice to say, one checks the level of moisture in the interior bilge throughout the year and pumps it out occasionally. This had not been done on NB Val since before Les died. I wasn't looking forward to it. The boat builder had cut a small round hole in the floor inside the bottom step which is fine for looking for water in the bilge but not so great for trying to get something down there to pump it out. I have very small hands and my fist barely cleared the parameters of the bilge hole.
     I emptied the stair, pulled up the bottom board, and was amazed to find that Les had made the hole considerably larger. When he did this I will never know. Like so much else on this boat, he addressed what he could with his ebbing strength, bless him. There was water in there all right--a whole lot!! It was nearly up to the floor board!! I set a six liter pail to one side, put the Pela pump together and started pumping. I would know quickly if the water in the bilge came from the heating system if it was bright blue and slick feeling from the anti freeze mixed with it. The pump filled up with six liters and I poured it into the pail. Yep--bright blue. Thirty five liters of bright blue water and three pails later, and the interior bilge had very little in it. What was left would soak up in the rolled up newspapers I laid down and summer's warm temperatures would do the rest. Time to call heating specialist Ed Shiers of Four Counties Marine Services to come and sort things out.
The inner bilge hole in the floor of the stern bottom stair. The Pela makes short work of any issue like this and I am so grateful to friend and fellow boater Ray Oakfield (NB Stronghold) for putting  me onto it. 
Each band measures one liter. 
The first of three buckets of bright blue water. 
     Ed arrived and within minutes of pouring six cups of water in the header tank we identified the location of the leak: just a tad to the bathroom side of the wall which divides the head from the galley, just to the left of the washing machine and refrigerator.  After moving the washing machine out of the way, taking the toilet out of the bathroom (thank the Goddess for an Airhead marine composting loo! I undid the fly screws on each side and lifted it right out of the way and no smell even with a full solids compartment and without being hooked up to the fan.) and taking the false lower wall apart where the cassette toilet used to hook up with a labyrinth of pipes that snaked behind the sink, the tub and under the bed. Les had covered the hole with a board and then glued oak look floor planks over the top. Ed found the broken pipe, replaced it, joined the pipes up tightly with a collar which he crimped in place while lying on his side with most of his left arm contorted around behind the sink. Once the breach was repaired Ed refilled the radiators, burped or bled them repeatedly as well as the water pipes leading from the Ebi to the main heating system, and the Ebispacher itself. Then Ed refilled the header tank to the proper level, and he turned on the Ebi. worked! Ed was kind enough to give me a radiator key so I could burp them again as he said it would be necessary for the next week while the system worked the air upwards. Three hours and it was sorted....sort of. Since the initial repair the Ebi has been failing to pump and throwing fault codes the first time I started it up. Ed talked me through identifying the fault code (054--failure to burn) and clearing them from the system. Once I did this, the Ebi fired up and the radiators got hot. This has happened several more times however so Ed may have to make a return trip to try and sort it if it doesn't go away on its own.
     So here I am, out in the relative countryside, moored up and filling out on-line employment applications, doing a bit of interior boat cleaning, catching up the laundry, and making Tzatziki for tonight's dinner of roasted lamb wraps. I enjoyed watching Nigel Slater's Middle East and  I am using his recipe for this evening's meal which is a departure from many months of bags of crisps and gummy bears, sandwiches, uninspiring salads, and half baked attempts at cooking regular meals which either burned or simply did not taste good for whatever reason. It has occurred to me with stunning force that I have actually survived a year in this country without Les. I am still alive though a bit more frayed around the edges. NB Valerie is still afloat and I have managed to catch up years of overdue work on her and stay just ahead of repair work not unusual for a boat just over a decade in age. She is all I own in this world and while I have finally reconciled myself to the fact that Les is no longer here on the boat in any form except ash, I take what comfort I can from the knowledge Les loved me and NB Valerie, and his memory lives on.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Major Repairs!

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to fix." ~ Douglas Adams, British author, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; 1952-2001

     As some of you know from past blog posts, I have been doing a lot of baling of the bilge in the engine hold over the last year. Lately it was not uncommon to bale five liters every morning with the Peela Pump on top of the amount removed by the bilge pump throughout the day. I knew NBV needed a new stern gland but on inspection out of the water there turned out to be a hell of a lot more in need of immediate repair. In fact all of the following had to be undertaken: 
  •    Cutting out stern tube boss and cutlass bearing as it was found in a bad state of repair. The cutlass bearing was extremely worn.
  • Removal of prop shaft. This had been previously cut down quite crudely probably to try and offer a new section of the shaft to the seal and get a few more year out of the stern gear. Because the prop shaft had been shortened, it was rubbing on the back side of the cutlass bearing.
  •  Renewing of the water lubricated seal.
  •  Re- aligning the engine.
  •  Fitting of new split half coupling. This had previously worked loose and had no doubt damaged the prop shaft.
  •  Fitting of a bigger prop. (I had been warned by two ME's previously that the NB Val was under-propped i.e. the prop was too small for the Vetus 33 HP engine and consequently I should not take her on any rivers.) Now she was a properly sized and fitted prop and this is no longer an issue.
  •  Straightening of rudder blade.
  •  Repairing the uxter plate where the rudder blade catches. 
  •  Renewing the lower skeg bearing. Previously the wrong size bearing had been fitted. We have machined one specially to fit the stock.
NB Valerie being steered towards the trailer waiting under water which is attached to the large tractor.
Watching the crew at Aqueduct marina move boats is like watching a water ballet. They back them up, spin them around and bring them into turns as smooth as butter.

A close up of the trailer on which NB Valerie is rising up out of the water and being towed to a workshop.

Away she goes!
Part of the damaged bit.
Worn stern gland tube.
The weld to the uxter plate.
New larger prop.
Newly machined rudder cup. The previous rudder cup was 2.5 inches in diameter but the rudder stem was only 1.5 inches in diameter.
Inside the engine bay: new cutlass bearing, crankshaft and stern gland.
I was completely amazed while backing NBV out of the mooring at Aqueduct Marina after all this work. For the very first time since I stepped foot on the boat in 2011, the tiller didn't jiggle loosely in my grasp and require over steering to move in a particular direction. The boat went wherever I pointed the tiller, cleanly and smoothly. I steered over to the main dock to fill up with diesel and take on some coal. As I stood waiting, tears gathered in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. Just then Chris Moran, the chief ME for the marina, came down the stairs to say hello. He took one look at my face and said, "Oh no what's wrong?"
     "Oh Chris, nothing is wrong. I feel like I just stepped onto a new boat. For the first time ever the boat goes where I point her and I am not struggling to steer. Thank you so much!" Chris put his arm around me and gave me a big hug. The folks at Aqueduct Marina have been the soul of kindness to me over the two days the boat was worked on and the ten days I was flat on my back ill with flu and unable to do more than nearly crawl to the stove or the bow deck for coal and keep the stove going.  Many thanks to Chris and his crew; Julie, Maggs, Philip.Alex, and Robert and everyone involved in helping to get NB Valerie sorted. Once out on the cut again, the boat traveled faster with less RPM's with the result the engine was not working as hard as previously. She really does steer like a brand new boat and I have the piece of mind of knowing she's watertight and a good investment was made in our baby as Les called the boat.
     Moored now at Nantwich, looking for work, and applying for jobs online, I was walking back from Aldi's with a carrier bag of groceries when I passed by the small McColl's shop in a local housing estate. This was parked out front:
You might well ask yourself, "What is it?"  It is a mobility scooter believe it or not, loaded down with a stove, tins of oil and tons of other stuff! I've no idea how its owner manages to drive it bit there it was parked outside a local shop while the owner was inside picking up a few more bits and bobs!
      On a final note, I would like to say thank you to Anne Marie of Four Counties Fuels, Renaissance Canal Carrying Company and Bollington Wharf. Everyone else was busy today delivering to customers on boats Halsall and Alton. due to unforeseen issues the fuel boat had to cruise on through Nantwich without stopping and so Anne Marie drove over from Macclesfield in the company van by herself, loaded three 20 K bags of coal and a 13 K bottle full of Calor into a wheel barrel and delivered it all to NB Valerie which is moored up an 1/8th of a mile from where she parked! Never underestimate the power of womanhood! And many thanks to you Anne Marie for service above and beyond. (I Have no pictures as we were both too busy hoiking coal onto the roof and working to disconnect the gas bottle!)
     It is raining now as a grey dusk falls over this string of boats rocking gently as the wind blows. I've been down to the little neighborhood shop for a Saturday paper and up to the Nantwich Canal Centre chandlers for a five litre bottle of anti-freeze. That is another story which will wait for next week to be told. Cheers!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs