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…  



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.



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.


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.



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.


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


Installing the New Water Tanks

Quite a few friends have been asking about the blog recently and all we can say is – yep, we’ve been totally sidetracked by my being pregnant (23 weeks and counting, in case you’re interested) and by busy work over the summer that didn’t let up the way it’s supposed to… But we are still here, and all our various jobs are still in progress – albeit at the speed of a sloth, a snail, and a giant tortoise respectively.*

Nevertheless: we persevere, and a two week holiday in Abruzzo (our first in years) definitely helped, so with the generous help of some good friends we’re hoping to get a few more things finished with renewed vigour before the cold sets in. Especially the stove, what with all its lovely ‘heating’ capabilities.

ANYWAY… In the meantime I thought I’d tell you the story of our new water tanks to try and get ourselves back into the blogging habit. I’ll make it snappy and it’ll be mainly pictures…

First job was to remove the stairs and hack into the suspicious-looking painted ply boxes between the bathroom and the engine room bulkheads, so off I went to pottery and the Owl got cracking.


Turned out they were still full of apparently clean water, and had been lined with some sort of fibreglass epoxy to keep them watertight – it was starting to go in one corner but was otherwise pretty much intact. “Suspicious-looking” became “actually quite ingenious” but it was too late and I still wasn’t going to drink from them so we drained them dry and out they came…



Leaving us with a cavernous hole to play with. The view into the hole:

The view back up out of the hole:

And the view from the far end of the hole into the bathroom (just for kicks):


Next it was time for the two shiny new amazing 650L custom-made medium density polyethylene resin tanks to go in on a clean base of recycled work top to protect their bottoms from wear…

(Minor drama when the Owl realised he’d forgotten to double-check the total length of both tanks would fit beneath the stairs when they went back in: they did, by about an inch.)
The final thing was to disconnect the existing water supply (from our trusty but let’s face it FUUUGLY IBC tank on the poopdeck):

IMG_6559.JPGAnd put the shiny new brass water input deck fitting in like this:

And we were done.
(Those last two photos are cheats off t’interweb incidentally as I have a filthy cold and haven’t ventured outside to take real ones for you. Sorry.)

Oh. Forgot to mention the drama of the hose tail: the tanks were made to measure by Tek Tanks who sent us hose tails to connect the flexible hose to the tanks. These were allegedly 13mm diameter fittings, so we obediently went and got lots of 13mm hose – only to discover that what they’d actually sent us were just 12.1mm.

Their response upon receipt of J’s ‘frustrated of Barking’ email?
“Blimey, you’re right. Do you know, we’ve been sending those out for years as 13mm and you’re the first person ever to say something?!”

They said they’d send us correct bits but guess what? They haven’t. So we have to be very careful when filling the tanks not to overflow, as currently the 0.9mm gap is packed with insulation tape while we come up with another more water-tight solution – and the overflow isn’t reliable either so WE MUST NOT LEAVE THE MAINS HOSE RUNNING!

Still – look at our lovely shiny clear poopdeck:

IMG_6547.JPG All we need to do now to get our drinking water situation 100% sorted and finished is install an in-line filter under the sink, and we’ll be tickety boo. (If anyone has any recommendations of good brands, let me know).

Next post will be on my dad’s EPIC job this summer restoring the beautiful old beehive hatch which will be the crowning of the back deck.

* Yes I really did just Google “slowest creatures in the world” for that one. That’s the kind of person I am.
It was actually surprisingly interesting – who’d have thought the seahorse would feature so prominently?! I rest my case. http://m.infobarrel.com/Slow_Animals_The_7_Slowest_Animals_in_the_World

Long Time No Speak

Oh HI THERE, everybody.
There are lots of reasons why posts have been a bit thin on the ground of late, but suffice it to say we’re back, and after a minor but much needed hiatus (summary: “Why did we leave Hackney/ What were we thinking/ This is really hard/ Actually it’s still way more interesting than pavements/ Hello again, Calm and Happy Place”) we’re making progress on the boat again.

Full posts will follow on the excitement of the new water tanks, the never-ending story that is the deck painting, how to strip out and restore a porthole, and many other such delights.

In the meantime however, this is what evenings afloat look like these days:

Like our new deck colour? It’s looking a little shady blue here but it’s generally a very light pearly grey. We LOVE it. I especially love how it changes colour in different lights. Here it is in full sun:


And THIS is the joy we came home to on Sunday after a wedding weekend, feeling a little the worse for wear:

The best possible news. And SEVEN of them! Having watched helplessly as their lost and laden nest disappeared on an outgoing tide two months ago – and commiserated with Dick for the weeks subsequent as he hung out on the orange tub and tried to give Liz space to get over it – turns out we know sweet Fanny Adams about swan domestics and during their “time apart” she was actually nesting.

Here’s the nest in case you missed it – much more magic now it’s not so tragic. Three cheers for the Taylor-Burtons!


On Sand-blasting and Painting More of the Deck

I must admit I have been at a loss to know how to handle recent times at Fresh Wharf – blog-wise, at least. I have started and not finished so many posts about this whole debacle which changes daily and is as multifaceted as a Dickensian novel… And where I get to every time is that we have lived on our boat for ten months, almost exactly. We arrived at Barking Creek and found ourselves caught

in a gathering maelstrom of conflicting personalities and politics, most sides of which I think we see relatively clearly, and which have apparently been developing for years before we arrived (albeit more speedily in the last year or so).

But this is not our fight.

Suffice it to say (for now at least) that we are working hard on our boat so that she’s fit to move as soon as we can find a mooring elsewhere. We’re aiming for the end of June – it’s good to have focus. Almost all weekend plans have been put on hold for the foreseeable. My dad has devised the mother of all project plans. We are ON.

To be honest we’d already made a start, and although the two main jobs (deck painting and tanks) seem to be expanding like patches of rust under old paint work, we have been making pretty good progress.

Deck painting: at a conservative estimate, we have over 100metres squared to strip and repaint before July. Remind me never to buy a five stage paint system ever again… Epoxy my ass.

We’re now up to the third coat on the second area (approx 40m2 – the rest of the devil diamond plate steel) and have two coats of topcoat left to do, although we need to decide on colours since the hideous lime green debacle. We’ll also need to do another final coat on the first 20m2, as the heavens opened just as we finished painting at the end of the Easter weekend and ruined the surface. So it’s now irreparably filthy just a few weeks in – which is obliging us to rethink the original white decision. Live and learn… So this was our reaction to the closing notice: we got serious on the diamond plate, borrowed the nearest poly tunnel and got a sand-blaster in:



20140518-092146-33706818.jpg This is the deck post-blasting:

20140518-092642-34002071.jpg And then my mum and stepdad came to help us with the painting (superheroes):



20140518-092824-34104971.jpg He used 7 bags of inert recycled glass and within a few hours our boat looked like the costa del sol:


(Incidentally, The green doesn’t look quite as offensive under clouds, but we’re still going to change it.)

You can see the removed ply tanks on deck in the last photo which J removed the same weekend… All go. I’ll do separate posts on tanks and portholes though, so more on that later.

Happy Sundays, people. We’ll be found DIY-ing up on deck as usual…

On: Painting the Decks (or: how to eat an elephant)**

The time is upon us.

Tomorrow, we take to the decks with angle grinders, cutting brushes and a trusty band of workers, loyal and true to go at 72m2 of steel with all the gusto we can muster. Our mission? To reduce the tatty, crumbling, peeling, mouldering paintwork to bare steel on the deck and topsides forward of the wheelhouse by Sunday night, really for paintwork to start on Monday.

If you can’t be bothered to read the rest of this, the key thing we’re aiming for is to go from this:

To this:

It’s going to be fun, fast, energetic and noisy. If that sounds appealing, we still have space for a couple more volunteers who will be rewarded with fine company, barbecue, beer and a dedicated place in the celestial firmament of our eternal gratitude.*

The last two weeks have seen several fascinating chats with the very helpful Chris Goodwin from Bird & Goodwin regarding best paints and primers.

Since we gave up on the slurry-blasting idea, phrases like “2 part epoxy Jotamastic”, “oxidised substrate” and “polyurethane hardtop flexi” have been bandied about with gay abandon. Oh my, how I do love words…

Anyway, you’ll be proud to know I held it together and we now have a plan, Chris having patiently and comprehensively answered all our questions (eg: ‘So you say it’s “impact resistant” but hard to fix once dinged – so how do you actually do that?!’)

For the boaters out there, this is the detail on what we’ve gone for:

– A layer of Jotun’s Jotamastic 87 primer on the bottom. It’s the best rust inhibitor and it puts its money where its mouth is, as apparently you have to let surface oxidation (“rust”) develop for a day or so after grinding to create a key for it to lock into, especially as cutting brushes can tend to polish steel which obviously reduces adhesion. So far so good. But it only comes in black.

– Two layers of Jotamastic 90 (which can be coloured one white, one green so we can see the layers).

So far these are all 2part epoxy paints, so we’ll have to mix them with a special paint-mixing drill bit and get painting. Once it starts to set, we have between 10 hours and 7 days to apply each next coat before it gets so hard that the next layer can’t adhere – you want the paint to have enough softness or flexibility that the chemicals can form a proper bond between each layer (which is why patching it is a total b*gger – you essentially have to sand down the edges and then build the layers carefully back up in the same manner you originally painted them).

2 part epoxies are about twice as good (i.e.: strong and protective) as 1 part paints and a bit more expensive, but they are not UV resistant so a topcoat is needed to stop colours from fading and to protect the epoxy from deteriorating (which all paint eventually does – you can’t stop rust. It’s a fact – like Putin apparently. All you can do is try to delay it.)

So after the epoxy has gone off, we’ll apply two layers of Jotun’s polyurethane Hardtop Flexi, and then we’ll be DONE!

Should only take us a week, if we’re lucky. Once we start, we can’t stop because we have to get it all done before it cures hard as glass. And I’ve only taken a week’s leave.

No pressure people, no pressure.

*Please supply brand logo, guidelines and boilerplate for inclusion.

** how you eat an elephant is: one bite at a time. And whatever you do, don’t stand back and look at the whole project in one. Just don’t.

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.