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…  



Odd Jobs and Photo Update

Hello. sorry for the delay in this, we’ve had other stuff going on this last week and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to write – we haven’t started any major projects recently as all efforts have been focused on getting the basics for comfort sorted.

So with that in mind I thought I’d show you how shipshape we’re looking these days.

The first thing to say is: we love our boat! I actually get slightly homesick when I’m at work, no joke. I KNOW. But it’s just as well, as we’re stoney broke getting all the stuff we need (and -ahem- some stuff that we don’t STRICTLY need right now) and doing all the jobs that need doing. We’re becoming very boring. We have nothing else to talk about.

Oh well.

This weekend, we borrowed an aqua-vac from a neighbour and the Owl pumped about 200 litres of rank water from the engine room bilge. Diesel, sump oil, old grease from the stern gland – you name it. He then spent twice as long cleaning all that filth from the pump so it could be be returned.

He also discovered the joys of Brasso wadding and tackled a small porthole:

20130820-175734.jpg…As well as finally (after several failed attempts relating to inadequate screwdrivers) managing to remove the guilty leaking port light from the roof and beginning the job of clearing it out to be resealed and reinstated in the deck (though not, hopefully, like this):

20130820-175941.jpgNow we just beed to work out the best way to seal it back in – putty? sikaflex? silicone? Its a bloody minefield, I tell you…

This is the sitting room this morning (I really hate the word ‘saloon’ but fill your boots if you’re a stickler):

20130819-130327.jpgAnd this is the chair I spent a few hours wiping with surgical spirit and sanding down with 150grit sandpaper to lose the plastic new leather sheen on Saturday afternoon:

20130819-162104.jpgI’ve ordered some soft wax for it sticklers, no fear. You’ll just have to take my word that it’s a vast improvement on the horrid shiny poo effect that was still stubbornly refusing to soften three years on, because I forgot to take a ‘before’ photo. Fortunately for us all, this is not another craft blog.

This, then, is how our cabin is currently looking:

20130819-164238.jpg Cosy, right? Shame that massive porthole leaks in the rain. The bed is so high with our cushy mattress on it that it reaches my hip. It was pretty high already and I now have to do an inept and graceless vault variation every night to get onto it. I need a step.

Through the priest hole door you can see a pile of cushions and bits of an armchair currently missing one of its castors. Climbing in and leaving that unsightly pile to one side however, you might see this:

20130819-164731.jpgSo that’s one (admittedly cosy) sleeping option nearly ready for two of my bests who are coming to stay from New York this weekend (Can. Not. Wait.)

Another sleeping option is the captain’s cabin in which I spent a couple of hours on Sunday, stacking and consolidating what miscellaneous ‘niche hobby’-related property we’d forgotten we had and couldn’t decide what to do with when we got it all out of storage a few weeks ago. These items include: an extensive fancy dress collection, an old typewriter, a sewing machine and three never-used, brightly coloured plastic seat toboggans from a skiing holiday in 2011. Sorting out these delights aside, the captain’s cabin needs a serious scrub to be habitable. It may in fact prove to be uninhabitable by R&J in any case, the latter of whom has just turned four and may prove a little too nifty on the almost vertical steps for her mother’s sanity. (I don’t know – how nifty are four year olds? I guess we’re about to find out…)

This was the view from the bathroom as I was brushing my teeth this morning. I weirdly love this view; it’s so damnboaty.

20130819-200346.jpg And this is our mooring in the morning sun. You might just make out ‘Maria Elisabeth’ on her bow; the boat to the right facing towards us.

20130819-200756.jpg So this is the life, people. Our bathroom is full of tools, we now have an old tank full of filthy water we don’t know what to do with and there’s a gaping hole in the roof, but despite all that it’s all completely brilliant.


Progress update: Three weeks of dubious plumbing

I can’t believe we’ve only been here 2.5 weeks. I just double-checked and it’s definitely true: we arrived in Barking exactly 3 weeks ago yesterday. It feels like months!

We now have running water (just about: look!)

20130731-210901.jpg Although there’s not quite enough pressure to flush the loo yet. 24hr Tesco remains our intimate friend.

J is doing an amazing job of sorting out the plumbing but it’s a tangled job of deciphering and re-connecting pipe fittings with Dutch 16mm, British 15mm and, (my fave), garden hose pipe in the right order so as not to compromise what meagre pressure we have from the massive 1000litre IBC (“intermediate bulk container”) tank he bought last weekend on eBay for £70 to tide us over while we work out what in the name of Jehovah is going on with the inbuilt water system.

During a particularly entertaining exploratory mission which involved stomping about with a large torch in the pitch dark and sticking his whole upper torso into dark holes behind walls or in the bilges and muttering like a lunatic emitting the odd, loud, “AHAAAAA!” – the Owl found a massive grey water tank (P: “nope, definitely won’t be that, the Dutch don’t do grey water… Oh”), and a previously unnoticed but apparently perfectly functional electrical boiler under the bathroom floor. Why grey water but no black water, you may well ask? Why under the bathroom floor, indeed?! Your guess is as good as ours, it makes no sense to my Saxon mind. But it has a working pump AND a float switch, which we both got rather excited about. Even though we’re still not sure what it’s all doing there.

We’ve also had P back over to inspect the electrics and pleasingly it seems we’re already wired with the good stuff and it’s just the dodgy old ceramic fuse box and all the various euro plug sockets that need replacing for us to qualify for the electric bit of the BSSC. Result.

What all this means is that whoever this Mr. van den Dude was who owned it before us, he not only knew what he was doing, but he also took a fair amount of care in doing it. So for all there’s still masses to do: the engine room looks like an industrial graveyard, we have to rush about with saucepans every time the heavens sneeze and we still can’t flush the loo, we may have landed more squarely on our feet than we were expecting to.

Imminent jobs list looks like this:

– Get water pump sorted and pressure up so we can use the loo and start having friends over (fix pipe under sink in bathroom while we’re at it so it stops leaking into the bilge)
– Get (both) boilers serviced and working – hot water (electric) and central heating (diesel)
– Get electrics sorted
– Clear out engine room and see what space we can reassign for new water tanks etc to free up space in living area
– Re-seal leaking port-lights
– Replace and reseal leaking double-glazed roof units
– Decide on stove, washing machine (dish washer?), order and install

Most of these jobs already have the Owl’s name on them apart from the one involving white goods, so I’m currently mid- gender-crisis trying to work out what oily, spanner-wielding jobs I can take ownership of that might balance out the cooking, painting and cleaning I seem to have been defaulting to recently. Watch this space. The problem is I actually really like thinking about pretty colours… Must… Resist…

So when I’m not ordering vintage drawer handles on eBay and Etsy, plotting a trip to Kempton market for all the things we ‘need’ (dining chairs, several sets of steps, a hanging basket chair) or finishing my granny’s kitchen table restoration project off with copper tape detailing, you will hopefully find me stripping varnish from the wheelhouse or wielding a pressure hose on deck in a manly fashion.

You may note that they’re not on the imminent jobs list, but alas I just don’t have the physical strength or engineering knowledge to tackle most of those so what’s a girl to do?

Assuming I can tear myself away from the Little Green Paint Company website. That orange has GOT to go.

Moving the Barge from Cuxton to Barking

The irony was not lost on us when we realised, a little over two weeks ago, that having regrettably alienated many of our friends and family during months and months of fastidious effort to keep our diaries clear for The Move, the date we ended up with turned out to coincide with the only exception we’d allowed ourselves: tickets to see the hottest show in town this year, The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre (if you haven’t seen it, book tickets and go immediately).

So Monday last week was always going to be a bit of a hoo-ha, but there was nothing to be done; we packed our overnight kit and sleeping bags on Sunday night, took them to work on Monday, fell out over the time I took to arrange a cool bag and ice packs at work for our picnic, cutting it excitingly close to get to the theatre in time and check all our clobber into the cloakroom – INTERMISSION while we howled our socks off for 2.5 hours – then we pegged it out of the theatre astonishingly early enough to catch the 10.25pm HS1 train from St Pancras International, on which we had a much-needed but still-slightly-grumpy sandwich from the Picnic Box of Contention before arriving at Strood at 11 and jumping in a pre-booked taxi to Cuxton where we were met by R at approximately 11.10pm and invited to rest our heads for a couple of hours before preparing for departure at high tide, around 2am.

We made it! so this, then, was strictly-speaking our first ‘night’ on board. Albeit just 2.5 hours long.

At 2am I bounced out of bed (yes, really) to be greeted with a hot cup of sweet black tea by our crew for the trip: R (our broker) and P (his friend and colleague who had been the crew coming from Holland and also the key holder and general source of all knowledge all those times we hauled ass to Kent in the past few weeks.) Between them they have decades of experience and vast volumes of knowledge on all things boat, so we were in good hands.

At 3am, we cast off. P did the first hour at the wheel to get us over and around the worst of the Medway’s mudbanks, and then the Owl took over, like this:

20130717-193734.jpgCool, huh? Admittedly Sheerness Power Station helped with the drama… Although I maintain most things look dramatic at dawn, especially when you’ve only had 2.5 hours’ sleep and a poxy sandwich the night before. Here is a wonky Sheerness landscape:

20130717-194027.jpgAnd here is us in the middle of it as the Sun Also Rises:

20130717-194441.jpg (Incidentally, I spent much of the trip finishing a fictional autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald which had Ernest Hemingway down as a heinous, manipulative and misogynistic egotist. Somewhat ruins his writing for me, if true…) anyway, here’s a fast-forward to me reading it:

20130717-204132.jpgThose of you who made it all the way through my post on the Shipping Forecast a few weeks ago may remember a penchant for buoy names. This one’s is no exception – in fact I liked it so much, I’m considering promoting it to my new favourite insult:

20130717-211006.jpgAnd just for the hell of it, here’s another one. Can’t remember what the down arrows mean, but no doubt it’s very nautical and interesting.

20130717-230350.jpgI should mention that at some point between the Sun Also Rising and my tryst with Zelda, I hit a wall and went to lie down for a bit (ok: about 4 hours) which means I ‘felt’ rather than ‘saw’ the only real bit of sea proper we dealt with between the Medway estuary and the Thames. It was still fun though, rolling about with the big waves all wrapped up and dozy in my new cabin. By the time I woke up, the Owl had also succumbed and was snoring gently next to me; the sun was up, and the water looked just as big and brown as it had earlier.
More industrial buildings…

20130718-094213.jpg Lots of ships both big and small:

20130718-100108.jpg Hello, Gravesend. (It’s actually rather pretty, I rather liked Gravesend. Sadly on retrospect however I don’t think this is a picture of it… It’s too far away to tell)

20130718-100246.jpgHello London International Cruise Ship Terminal, you dilapidated monster of embarrassment, you:

20130718-100523.jpgHello, container ship.


20130722-183953.jpgHALLO, CITY OF LONDON!

20130722-184626.jpgAt this point we realised we were actually going to be early (which felt kind of amazing given how achingly slowly we’d been going for the best part of 12 hours – we’d even slowed down at one point. That’s the magic of tides for you). We stopped on a chunky yellow mooring buoy in the middle of the Thames and tried to think up all the questions we might want to ask the experts after they’d departed, and then about 45minutes later we set off again, into the jaws of this bad boy:

20130722-191112.jpgThe Roding Flood Barrier. A bit like passing under a guillotine, though of course we’re not in France which was some consolation.


20130722-191558.jpgAnd then we were on the home straight – the view back was like this:

20130722-192814.jpgand this lay ahead:

20130722-192957.jpgjust kidding. That was on the east bank, along with loads more industrial sites. The river ahead looked like this:


20130722-213021.jpgActually there was the most horrendous stench around about now which I later realised was an enormous – and I mean ENORMOUS – sewage plant on the west bank (to port, if you will). So mostly we stuck with the industrial view and tried not to imagine we were entering the Bog of Eternal Stench…

20130722-213150.jpgAfter a few more bends…


20130722-214302.jpg…and under the A13 (this is evidently NOT the QE2 Bridge as originally stated which looks like this . Not sure where that red herring came from to be honest, but in case you’re interested: the QEII bridge is  apparently the only bit of the M25 that’s not actually the M25 because it’s privately owned and thereby gets demoted back to an A-road for those few metres)

20130722-214413.jpg… we found ourselves approaching The Barking Barrage…


And lo! The ode to Mondrian which marks our corner…20130722-221538.jpg

And then here we have ourselves a barrage. Kind of like a lock, but with only one set of doors, a special little dude from the council to open them, no gates, and a weir to the left. Sorry: PORT. And we’re going in… 20130722-221723.jpg


This is what high tide looks like when it hasn’t rained for a while: 20130722-222159.jpg

And suddenly here we were, waving to the first of our neighbours like we were the Spirit of Chartwell, only a bit less damp…20130722-222340.jpg

this likely looking gap has had our name on it since May, so we just needed to get down the end, turn around and come back, past all our new neighbours, watching to see how we did. Which wasn’t intimidating at all.20130722-222425.jpg






so basically they’re amazing: a more colourful motley crew of piratical, remade fantastical floating inventions I’ve never seen. Together they look like how you might imagine the cast of the Wacky Races on a boating holiday… Although up close they all make perfect, if sometimes slighty eccentric, sense. For a second, I felt slightly boring with our trad, safe Luxemotor… And then we moored up in our final spot and our eyes rested for the first time on the view. We have a folly! And a timely reminder to know your limitations. This will do us very nicely for now, thanks. Hello Fresh Wharf, thank you for having us. We’re very happy to be here.
And I am unspeakably pleased to have finally finished this interminable post. 20130722-222829.jpg

A word on: THE NATURE

This morning we woke up to the lovely sound of rain pattering on the steel roof above our heads. A soothing, cat-snuggly-on-my-feet, this-is-the-life moment for me; a frantic, leap-out-of-bed-for-the-nearest-saucepan moment for the Owl.

On my way to the station I passed a fleet of ducks, sheltering head beneath wing on a weed-float in the middle of the turning pool, and a scattering of small gulls sailing about industriously. They weren’t having as much success as after the catastrophic rains a few weeks ago, but more on that in a minute.

Dick and Liz occasionally pay us a visit on their way to the barrage and back – they live a little further up-stream.

20130809-195040.jpgMother Goose pops by regularly with her two teenagers for an overnighter on the orange tub. She knows her game and is right over for a biscuit (never mind the kids) the second she spots a likely biscuit-bet up on deck.

We have a host of commuter pigeons who come home (presumably from a hard day’s hustling in Trafalgar Square) to roost on the Grain Store every evening after a sociable pint or a dip at the folly. Inevitably, some individuals have more accomplished pro-flyer skills than the others who mostly skid, anxiously flapping, down the slope of the partially submerged metal tank in scant control, and reach the waterline all flustered and slightly embarrassed. But I saw one crazy gun actually hover, dip her fluffy undercarriage down and lift herself up again seconds from a major water-logging. I’ve never seen anything like it, foolhardy fowl (henceforth to be referred to as Maverick. Or maybe Goose.)

We even have the odd sight of a pair of these rare little beauties, who very occasionally alight on the folly to do a little waggle-tail dance and then disappear again…
20130809-200041.jpg At least I think <a href="http://this is what they are. It’s too far to really see let alone capture them on an iPhone, look, I tried:

20130809-201209.jpg (he’s the blob in the middle top right above the tank…) Whatever, just indulge me. The thought it might be brings a touch of magic to my life.

A Tribe Called Coot make a daily educational perambulation* down the gap between our boats and out around the edge of the river and back.

20130809-201605.jpgSo dangerous! Their obliviousness to the 60-odd tons of steel that could crush them at any point is humbling (it won’t, don’t worry – there are bollards holding us apart. Still).

(*I know they’re in water – but you should see their freaking feet)

And then these are some of the fishes.

20130809-202513.jpgOr at least, these were some of the fishes – until some bizarre, apparently ‘normal’ ecological crisis hit the night of the heavy storms, and they all woke up dead.

We initially thought it was because we were using too much soap, I’m not going to lie. But it quickly became too big for us.

The first sign (which I missed) that something was wrong was the sight of these dinky little flat fish kissing the surface when we woke up.

20130809-204846.jpg‘Cute!’ I thought as I left the boat. ‘Happy rainy fish!’. When I reached the weir however, this definitely didn’t look right.

20130809-205032.jpgAnd to the left, an outgoing tide of little white bellies heading relentlessly towards the weir (beyond which the gulls were having a field day) looked even wronger.

Almost immediately the Barking Community group email started pinging. One neighbour estimates he saw about two thousand dead fish float past on the outgoing tide. (The following morning these poor creatures were still anchored in the mud behind the barrage gates. The one in the middle was about a foot long and we reckon was a roach, if you’re interested.)
20130809-210321.jpgThe mooring managers called the Environment Agency who came down, did tests and found no chemicals, ruling out the ‘Beckton Sewage Works Bastards’ theory and reassuring us the seagulls at least would be ok. They did however find that there was no oxygen in the water. My little fish had been not waving but drowning.

Another neighbour circulated this link on the state of East London’s rivers from the charity Thames 21.

Toxic run-off from suburban driveways and roads, suddenly released from the banks into rivers by heavy rains. Which is as punchy and futile a conclusion about the terrors of inner-city Tarmac as I ever saw. He proposed a community clean up, which we pretty much all agreed with. It’s heartening how bothered everyone is, and how keen to do something.

But still. I feel weirdly frustrated, incompetent and dissatisfied. After a week’s holiday I’m working full time in town again, and most of these photos were taken during my week off, but still – I’ve not seen any more fish. The wagtails are absent.

Where are A Tribe Called Coot? And how can this be normal?