A new-ish Alternator and Slippery Crew

After the crushing disappointment of Sunday, this has been the longest week I can remember.  The Owl has been working hell for leather to get the engine part we needed in time to leave Barking on Monday, when our skipper and crew have said they’re next free. 
It turns out our lovely Volvo Penta engine is not as doddery as initially suspected – thankfully the ‘dodgy’ fuel pump is in fact fine, it was just an air lock.  After two hours of expert tinkering on Sunday night by our friend T and engine man P however, the alternator was still screwed: putting out waaaay too much voltage.  Something needed doing.  To be fair, it is over 30 years old.  
As such, they don’t make them like they used to, so Plan B of getting it reconditioned wasn’t going to work out as the parts were likely to be so hard to get hold of, so back to Plan A we went to find a replacement. 

By Tuesday, the Owl had found a knowledgeable man called Steve from London Essex Auto Electrics who had another more recent Penta alternator that would probably do. 

By Thursday night, he’d been to Steve’s (armed with photos of all the connections to make sure the new one would fit and he’d know how to reconnect it), swapped the alternators, and run the engine for the requisite 2 hours without stalling. What a hero – we were ready to go, two days early. 

Here is what success looked like from the outside: 

  
And from the inside: 

Sadly our jubilation was short lived – precisely two hours in fact – before we checked our email to discover that our skipper had decided he could not now afford us 24 hours on Monday/ Tuesday after all.  He might be able to manage Friday… Or maybe (we’re away on Friday) mid July…?
I deleted the email quickly to prevent myself from causing an unfortunate occurrence.  First thing Friday morning we started looking for a new skipper. 
We have now found a skipper who will not only get us where we need to go when we need to get there, but will also teach us how to drive her so that we don’t find ourselves in this pickle again. All we need then is a VHF radio and license, and we’ll be golden.  Maybe being let down (twice) by our original crew is no bad thing in the end…  

#keeponlookingforthesilverlining

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Oh.

And… Oh. We’re not going anywhere, today at least. 

Turns out the engine’s alternator and fuel pump are screwed – WHO KNEW?!? Not us, sadly. 20/20 hindsight is a glorious thing. 
Will have to see what exactly is wrong and how long it’ll take to fix/ replace before we can make a new plan. 
In the meantime I might try swimming to Kew wth the Bun strapped to my back you know, just for kicks

Bye bye, Barking

And we’re off! In approximately 2 hours, aiming to document our progress as we go on Instagram, if anyone is interested: @minkypink.
But first, a word on Barking, our home for the last 2 years, before we leave it behind forever.  (Dumper’s remorse? Maybe).

If we had the money, we’d buy a place in Barking. Somewhere nice near the river to rent out and hold onto until we decide to retire and live either off it or in it. In a few years’ time, my bet is that Barking is going to be smoking hot property – Dalston East, if you will. They’re thinking Big, and all those stupid Fresh Wharf shenanigans aside, I kind of love it.   It’s got a fantastic sense of community, and aspirations in the creative industries that I wish I could be a part of.   

A few things I appreciate, in no particular order: 

– the crazy-good history! Barking Abbey was built in the 10th century by Saint Erkenwald for his sister Saint Ethelburga (evidently a family of high achievers). It was so rich and beautiful that William the Conqueror couldn’t shoot Harold’s eye out fast enough, so keen was he to move in and made all the kings of England eat humble pie off the nuns’ flagstones.

– Captain Cook got married in St Margaret’s church.  Fact. 

 

– The new Abbey Leisure Centre’s soft play area The Idol received £100,000 Arts Council funding (of an annual £0.5million Barking/ Arts Council pot) and was designed by Turner prize nominee Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. 

Admittedly it’s all black, but conceptually it’s great. And apparently the black is to create a sense of danger, which is rare in council soft play areas, so I applaud it. 

Also it was designed by a Turner prize nominee, which is super cool and inspiring, so who cares.  

– The Granary development right opposite our boat is positioning itself at the heart of a new “artistic quarter” which if the existing building is anything to go by will be really quite beautiful. Especially once someone gets around to sorting our poor, neglected river out. (Don’t all leap up at once – rumour has it that Ilford Film used to dump all their processing waste into the river, so the silt is full of nasties. If true, no self-respecting dredging company will want to touch it with a barge pole. This is hearsay incidentally, so hopefully  it’s not true. , because this river area deserves to be bloody lovely one of these days.

  The Ice House/ Granary development, from the road 

  And from our roof (riverside) when we first arrived in 2013, before they filled in all the blue with tower blocks  

  
  
 The turning pool at Town Quay; in need of a good dredging 


– The scraggy Fresh Wharf industrial estate that overlooks us has already been contracted to developers. I haven’t seen the plans but it can’t possibly be worse than it is already. And frankly the sooner the owners hand it over and the mooring residents can try to build a cordial new neighbourly relationship not riven with petty arguments and historical resentment, the better. (See: the arrival of Concrete Singh below). 

  Our next door plot two weeks ago

   

 Our next door plot now
– Barking has an arboretum! A proper one, with loads of different trees in it. It’s lush. Also next to it the Creative Square outside the beautiful Town Hall puts on occasional light shows and concerts. In two weeks there’s a Folk Festival with Dagenham son Billy Bragg headlining. 

  
   The arboretum

  Random ‘fake ruin’ art installation by the Town Hall   

  Barking Town Hall

   Creative Barking & Dagenham


– There are a couple of great little cafes, notably: 
1) EzO Bistro within the Barking station concourse, open since summer last year and lined with second hand books and original art. They serve great fresh coffee, crepes and sandwiches. The Owl gets his second caffeine hit there every morning (they remember how he takes it) and the owners work their butts off to make it a genuinely nice place to spend time, which if you’ve seen Barking station is something of an accomplishment. 

   
     

2) Relish, the council run community cafe in the Barking Learning Centre (home to the library, the Barking Bath House and a gallery, amongst others). The food comes in abundant portions and is really very good. The Bun and I take ourselves out for lunch there at any excuse really… Which is easy as the GP is right opposite and our Children’s Centre is just over the road. 

  

– the Gascoigne Childrens Centre is deservedly OFSTED rated Outstanding. I’m really going to miss it.
– they have sex ed posters like this hanging from the lampposts: 

  (This makes me giggle like a teenager every time I pass by)


– the Queen is coming to visit next month. Apparently it’s the 50th anniversary of the borough but whatever – THE QUEEN! I love the Queen.

 

– Finally: the transport infrastructure is really good. The C2C, the Overground and two underground lines run from Barking station so you can be at Kings Cross in half an hour. Not bad for zone 4…

So things are Happening in Barking. I like it.  And in a way – family proximity and a beautiful stretch of river notwithstanding – it’s more “us” than Kew is (which has a Society specifically dedicated to making sure NOTHING EVER CHANGES).

But we have no investment in the area; even once the development is completed (assuming there are any boats left), the mooring fees will just go up in line with the improved local area and facilities…  All hope lies with a few brave boaters and their community mooring aspirations.

In the meantime, the situation at Fresh Wharf is as precarious and frustrating as ever.  The latest word is that mooring licenses won’t be renewed after October, and in our immediate area, living conditions are actually worse since PMC Soil Solutions packed up all their lorries and left.  The estate managers in their eternal social compassion and wisdom moved the friendly but very noisy and excessively hardworking Concrete Singh into the plot next door.  (highlights so far have included clouds of cement dust billowing over our decks and through our portholes, and all-day Sundays and 10pm week night finishes, bless their grubby cotton socks.)

All in all we’re over it, and we’re off. We’ve met some truly lovely people who we hope we’ll see again, and we wish the best of luck and fair winds to all the friends and acquaintances who are staying on to fight another day.  If they can stay the course and emerge triumphant, it will be so worth it – Barking Riverside is truly a diamond in the rough. 

So, with a song in our hearts and smiles on our faces, we wave goodbye and turn our backs on Barking, heading south through the barrage and down the River Roding, to sail up through London Town and into the sunset. 
It’s the summer solstice, so with any luck it’ll be a good one. 

Installing a boiler stove on a boat

So, the stove. 
You may have noticed I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for quite some time… Truth to tell, it was probably the most painful project we have completed so far. Not least because so much was riding on it – having barely survived our first winter with the temperamental 25 year old diesel-guzzling monster boiler we inherited (rusted chimney and all), a good new multifuel stove installation was always going to be essential this time around – especially as our little bun was due deep in the darkest depths of January. 

First, we had to insulate the hull behind where the stove would go, as we wouldn’t have such easy access once the new stove and its gravity fed system went in. 

 The silver bubble wrap that was there (and still is throughout Most of the boat – HOW DID THEY SURVIVE?!)

  

 Exposing bare hull beneath the bubble wrap

The waterline. This freaked the Owl out to such an extent that he destroyed his hands on a particularly aggressive wire brush and oxide mission to achieve this:

  

Pretty hunh? Still fricking freezing though. Also note the late night lighting. Last winter was fun in so many ways! 

    The celotex going in between the ribs, panel by panel

 All the saloon walls propped up in our bedroom. Note the baby basket and surrounding mess – next post: our new bedroom / nursery shelves!

Cue: much cursing as the Owl mastered the dark art of spray foam and got it all over the floor in the process (no photos here as I was too busy being annoyed…)

Our next ‘interesting’ (read: MAD) decision was to make the tiles for the hearth. We made them, but they took about two months longer than anticipated (squeezing in evenings and weekends around full time jobs and being pregnant) and didn’t all turn out amazingly (sadly I’m even worse at glazing than I thought I was).  

  The Owl, helping out one Saturday afternoon.

  Checking how many tiles fit on a top loader kiln shelf 

The start of the process: cutting and finishing new tiles

   Some trial layouts at the greenware stage 

Still, we got there, and found these great tilers on Check-a-Trade to come and install them. They thought the tiles were so great that one of them subsequently went and did an introductory pottery class at my old studio, Turning Earth in Hoxton! So that made me happy. 

   
   
Sadly there is no check-a-trade for boats. God, how I wish there was.  Instead, of the 16 boat yards we emailed last summer about installing the superduper-all-singing-all-dancing stove we’d chosen, only two got back to us. And only one of them wanted to do it.  And they rinsed us.

I still don’t know where we went wrong here, and I’ve been chewing over it for months now. We probably shouldn’t have bought the stove until we’d found an installer who knew what they were doing, and we should have allowed a (now standard for all our outsourced boat work) 3 month contingency for any setbacks, delays and let downs. 

The stove we chose is a Charnwood Cove 2B (model: Cove, size: 2, B = with a back boiler). 

Here it is on its plinth at Christmas, awaiting insulation and installation:

   

The Charnwood Cove 2B is, according to the lovely and knowledgable guy at the Kings Worthy foundry whose idea it was in the first place*, the “Rolls Royce of stoves” – which unfortunately meant that having bought it, we couldn’t find anyone who knew how to install it on a boat. 

Not that that stopped the guys we ended up with giving it a go. Normally you’d find a load of local corgi(?) registered installation engineers and pick one. But because we live on a boat, house rules do not apply and these guys wouldn’t touch it – we needed someone who could install it to the BSSC standard instead. 
So to cut a long story short, a installation job that started in October was finally completed in the first week of January to dubious standard, and destroyed all that remained of our renovation budget.  Suffice it to say we did not part on the best of terms with our contractors – BUT at least we got it installed, it’s still working despite a few frustrating hiccups that we think we’ve mostly mastered, and the boat was toasty and warm by the time I went into labour.  

Look, here it is!  And this makes us so happy it makes up for all the preceding hullabaloo: 

  Note: my beautiful new Christmas coal scuttle and fire irons 

So, we got there eventually, and we love it – it’s transformed our home in winter into a cosy den we don’t want to leave.  And it’s such a great, dry heat that our port lights don’t drop condensation any more, even in the depths of winter when we’re drying washable nappies on the rack overnight. 

#winningatlife

* NB: We didn’t buy it from him – on his recommendation – so I believe him,and will forever think kindly of him.

Got our motor running… Heading up the Tideway

Well well well. 
So just over 4 months ago I had a little girl, and we completely adore her. We named her Sadie Elisabeth after one of each of our wondrous grandmothers.

She’s like a perfect, tiny vortex that has drawn in all of my resources and most of my faculties; all of my time, intellect, energy and capacity for love have been sucked into caring for this small bundle who somehow – and I still haven’t got my head around this – my body created.  

So I’m really sorry I haven’t had a chance to publish the various updates I promised before she arrived – I’ve been busy. 

On the boat front, the Owl has been as industrious as ever – we have Exciting News. 

We’re moving next weekend to a new spot up the tidal Thames. That rarest of treasures, the proverbial hen’s tooth of the boating world: a residential mooring. It’s costing us an alarming lot of money, but it’s ours, it’s perfect in almost every possible way, and we can’t wait to be there. I’m so excited I can barely bring myself to think about it.
In the meantime, between packing up all our precious things and breakables, stocking the cool box, prepping the cabins and clearing the decks for Sunday, I’ve set myself the unrealistic target of bringing you up to date on the last few projects before we go, so I can start afresh once we get there… So watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)

Update: preparing the boat for the baby

It’s feast or famine around here, I tell you… You hear nary a squeak from us for ages, and then suddenly we finish not one but THREE major projects in the space of a week.

So I’m going to space them out across individual posts in the next few days, but essentially what you’ll be getting in the next week or two – assuming I don’t get distracted by you know, having a baby – is updates on:

1) The captain’s cabin (phase #1 – beds and desk): finished thanks to the amazing work of Tom Bruce who we’d recommend to anyone wanting bespoke furniture made. It’s bloody lovely. And we have a whole new room we didn’t have before, just in time for all the lovely relatives and friends who are going to be coming to stay and help us look after the baby! (Hee hee…)

2) The STOVE!!! Miracle of miracles, and several let downs later we were finally able to decommission the bastard diesel boiler (which during the Icelandic cold snap the week after Christmas was guzzling 20L PER DAY. Made all the more galling as we’d been promised it’d be in by Christmas, but let’s not get started on that). Suffice it to say it’s been a very steep learning curve.

3) Shelves in our room, AKA: Storage for The Bun. These were the Owl’s birthday present to me and he knocked them up by working ten hour days all last weekend to get them finished for me to start loading up with baby stuff in time for the arrival Any Day Now.

They are amazing and I love them.

All this is just in the nick of time: the next big project “due for completion” (ho ho) is due in less than 2 weeks…

Restoring the Beehive Hatch for the Aft Deck

(A guest post by the Cat’s Father)

My dad is a legend. In fact we could (and frequently do) go so far as to call him a Mantelpiece (i.e. a really big ledge). Here follows his account of how he restored our beautiful-but-quite-frankly-on the-brink-of-dereliction beehive hatch that lives atop the poop deck. It took him ALL SUMMER. Thanks, First Seahorse. X

‘I confess that although I knew restoring the hatch would be “a lot of work”, I did not realise how true that would turn out to be!

On 30th June, the Owl managed to get the hatch off its mountings on the aft deck and into the back of my car – a feat of great strength, as the hatch has no hand holds and is very heavy, and the back of the car is relatively narrow.

Once home, I muscled it through the garage, up the garden steps, and onto the table by my shed – surprisingly without damaging the beast or myself – and I made a detailed inspection of its condition. It was not good. The timber carcass was so discoloured that one could not tell what type of wood it was, and the varnish inside and out was peeling and had long since failed.
All the varnish would have to be removed and renewed, and the 8 glass panes replaced.

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My first task was to remove all the glass so that I would be able to move the hatch more easily. I started with the circular panes in the vertical front and rear faces, and they came out quite easily without breaking because the mastic and putty were so degraded. I was relieved to find that the wood recesses had not rotted despite having leaked water for years.

Then I started on the 6 long rectangular panes that formed the curved lateral surfaces, and they were quite a different story. Despite the poor condition of the outer layers of sealing mastic and the many places where the seals had failed, the remaining sections of bond between glass and wood were (sadly) in good shape, and rendered it impossible to get the panes out without breaking the glass. I eventually got them all out, breaking every single one in the process.
The great advantage of removing the glass was that the hatch immediately became less heavy and much easier to handle, but that does not mean it was light!

The great disadvantage of having removed all the glass was the knowledge that it would all have to be renewed and replaced for full-time exposure to a marine environment… a prospect I found rather daunting. However, I could now proceed with stripping off the varnish and the mastic back to the bare wood, a welcome and rewarding change of occupation after all the glass.
Stripping off the old varnish was pretty straightforward once I had the right technique, and it simply required time and effort which, as a retired old codger, I could offer in shedloads. I started with an ordinary scraper to get the peeling layers off, and following that I decided (erroneously) that the corners and joints would be easier stripped using a patent liquid varnish stripper. The liquid stripper worked in rather a half-baked way and it was a very slow and messy process, but by far the most effective method proved to be a hot air gun combined with a sharp triangular scraper, followed by sanding off with coarse paper. I had to be careful not to scorch the wood surface with the hot air blower, but once I got the hang of it, not only did I make good progress, but after sanding down, the wood turned out to be a beautiful pale pink mahogany colour underneath and the whole job became a real delight.

Stripping and sanding was a very long job. Every groove, every angle, and every recess had to be dealt with until the entire carcass was bare wood. I did the work in the open air on our garden table, and during the summer of 2014 it was frequently too hot to work. Better that than pouring rain of course, but it did slow my progress which was breaking no speed records anyway.

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Once stripped, the carcass was ready for structural repairs. One corner needed to be strengthened with dowels and glue, and the inner supporting frame of pinewood had rotted so badly it needed to be completely removed and replaced with new mahogany. I managed to buy new mahogany timbers cut and planed to size with remarkable ease, and I drilled and dowelled and screwed (using marine grade stainless steel screws and wooden dowel bar) to effect the essential repairs.

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After that I bought some epoxy mahogany filler, and attempted with very limited success to fill all the holes, sanding scars and structural gaps tidily. It was technically the most difficult task, and I have to admit with some reluctance that I didn’t make a good job of it. The material was very difficult to handle, the colour match was poor, and every peccadillo of my efforts became obvious.

Slightly disheartened, I sanded down my poor efforts at filling, and started the varnishing; my morale was instantly lifted. I used International Clear Wood Sealer Fast Dry diluted 20% with International Thinners No.9 as first coat, followed by another 2 coats of the same with no thinners. It was a rewarding experience.

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I followed the clear wood sealer with 2 coats of International Perfection + (plus), and with every coat the colour and shine of the mahogany became darker and richer. I needed to be careful to avoid getting varnish into the recesses for the glazing, and in that I was only partly successful.
I had therefore to return to sanding clean the glazing recesses ready to receive undercoat, a fiddly job made easy by my flexi-drive mini drill with a sander attachment. It was an absolutely indispensable tool for the job.

Once the recesses were all clean again, I applied a single coat of undercoat as advised by the glazier so that his seal and putty would bond properly to the structure.
I decided that the third and final coat of Perfection + would best be applied after the glazing had been done and the Hatch replaced on board the boat. This would enable any scratches during glazing or transportation to be varnished, thus making a much better finished job.

With a certain amount of inexplicable trepidation, I loaded the hatch into my car and drove off to the glazier’s workshop in Horsham, taking with me samples of the glass I had removed. There I was advised that the 5mm original glass was no longer available, so I would have to choose between 4 or 6mm glazing. After discussing the pros and cons I allowed myself to be persuaded that 4mm glass would do best and I placed the order.
Two weeks later I collected the newly glazed hatch…

IMG_0333.JPG(Lee the Glazier presenting the hatch NB: not my dad!)
… And the following day, the 6th September, I delivered it to the boat where the Owl gave a repeat performance of the Herculean feat to get it back on board the boat.
Although the hatch looked wonderful, there was still some finishing work to be done that I could not do, mainly colouring and varnishing the glazing putty after a 7 day drying off period, and applying the final coat of varnish inside and out after sanding down.

Unfortunately I do not have a picture of the completed hatch, but I am sure that either the Owl or the Pussy Cat will pick up the story from here.’

(Me again):
Ta daaa!
So we’ve now finished varnishing the putty, and the hatch is newly installed as of yesterday on the newly painted, nearly-finished-just-one-coat-left-isn’t-it-smart) aft deck, just in time to impress the parents/ in laws who are staying in our newly converted captains cabin for a couple of weeks (oh yes, we’ve been very busy…)

Unfortunately by the time I got to posting this it was dark and raining outside so I couldn’t take a photo, but I’ll update it tomorrow… (Just to make your Monday mornings that little bit brighter, you know… I’m such a giver).

Over and out x

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