Sunday, 2 March 2008

Tortoise is currently lurking in Kensal Green, working her way up the queue for Mick to do more work on her – new steel front doors, and also a steel self-draining front deck. Not only a great improvement for security & structurally, but pure vanity – I won't feel obliged to leave the front cover on, which is frankly ugly; she's a much prettier boat with it off.

It's a nice area to be moored, surrounded by London bridge-hoppers, a great bunch of characters. I realised it would be dangerous to name names (and boats), but they're all there – the snob with the big shiny new boat covered in fake rivets, for a start. He was deriding Tortoise for not being 'traditional' – 'a fun boat' he patronisingly said. My boat is at least twenty years older than his, and I'm quite proud of the fact I'm giving an old boat a new lease of life. I'll have put far more work into her than he'll ever do with his, too. What does 'traditional' mean, anyway? ;-) There's also the student couple, a guy with a falling apart boat, always on the scrounge. Favourites though were the couple with two boats – he has a 20' boat – tiny inside, as it has a semi-trad back deck, space for a bed, kitchen worktop and shower. Someone else mentioned he has to run the small one as she won't let him sleep on the larger one due to his snoring – quite sweet, really.

It's also great to have towpath access to the side of the boat, which I don't normally have, moored alongside Breeze in Iver. So far I've done bits of filling & repainting along the gunwhales, also some work on the roof. After seeing the results on another boat recently, I tried applying the topcoat with a roller but not laying off, for a fairly matt finish. I'm not sure if I like it or not, but it's certainly an experiment worth trying.

Back in January I finally managed to do Tony Brook's engine course; I originally booked for October, but cancelled it to attend (and photograph) a civil partnership. It was well worth doing, and I just wish I'd done it earlier, recommended for anyone who gets a boat, in fact. Bouyed up with the confidence from this course, I seem to have successfully changed the oil in the engine, long overdue. I'd only found expensive electric oil extractors online, but Screwfix - my main shopping venue at the moment - had a hand pumped vacuum one, so that was deployed with a certain amount of strange satisfaction - visible on the back deck above. I still need to do the gearbox, and find & fit replacement fuel & oil filters, but it's a start.

I've long been wary of the engine electrics, but I've now started tracing things through properly. Working out the mess of the wiring in the instrument panel (currently living in it's rickety wooden box loose on the deck), I saw that the wire supplying currently directly to the glow plugs (50A?) was decidedly thin. A quick test of switching them on and a voltmeter between the battery and glow plugs themselves showed a 0.97v drop - that's a lot of wasted power, and certainly not helping the amount of time it takes the engine to warm up and start. I know I'm trained in electronics, but it does amaze me the things that are done to boat electrics; as well as this mess, pretty early on I removed the diode splitter from the charging circuit - it wasn't a sensing alternator, so that's a 0.7v drop on the charging available. The solution to both problems will be a small neat relay installation - one powering up the glow plugs with a healthily butch piece of cable, one to charge the domestic batteries and one on the same drive signal that will provide power to the fridge - if I bother to reinstall it - only when the engine is running - seems a reasonable compromise. Some of this work of course doesn't have to wait until the welding is finished, but I'm hoping that will be a few days away anyway.

Although I have a perfectly serviceable BMC diesel engine, I've always had half an eye on electric propulsion, as a quiet, clean and green alternative - diesel is my main 'carbon vice', really, although it obviously depends on where the electricity is coming from. So it was with great pleasure, cycling back to Leamington Spa station along the canal after a quick social visit, to spot Happy Home, the solar electric boat of Richard & Alison, and children Eleanor & Rufus (and indeed Babs the hamster). They pulled in for a chat, made me coffee, and let me peer at their battery banks, and tiny Lynch motor. They get about 10 miles a day cruising on solar alone, the batteries give them a bigger range but would need to be charged by solar or other means to get back up to full capacity. It really shouldn't take much to push Tortoise along at all, with her v bottom and strange sloping swim, she slides through the water very easily. Power against a river, tidal or otherwise would need to be considered, but it may be a good thing to consider, and almost a certainty if the BMC fails terminally.

next jobs - at least rudimentary painting on the new front doors & front deck, and a protective & tiled surround around the stove. Then a custom kitchen unit will allow me to have the gas cooker refitted. I'm really tempted not to bother with the Morco gas water heater, but to install a calorifier for hot water; but it may be as well to refit it for the time being.

I'm hoping to have enough done to be able to take her to Little Venice for may bank holiday; I know Jim & Mary, the previous owners, want to have a good look around. ;-)

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