Monday, 13 February 2017

"Flamingo" - A Programme Of Other Works And Improvements.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 5th December 2016)

It has been no great surprise that taking an engine out of a boat for probably the first time in nearly 40 years would result in the need to do other work.

For example, when the engine room roof was lifted off, some of the corrosion we knew it had proved to have been addressed by the use of body filler.  Also there was enough corrosion damage to some of the bolt on brackets involved, that the engine room doors could not be shut properly.  As a result, Brinklow Boat Services grafted on a new end to the roof, replaced the brackets with newly made copies of the original, and built up the cabin sides where the corrosion had eaten away parts of them.

Whilst we were getting holes filled, we also got them to blank off where the previous owner had fitted the flue for a particularly inappropriate diesel boiler, and which until this point I had simply bolted a blanking plate over, (the first of many holes ultimately welded up).

"Flamingo" also had some air ducting running down the inside of the front of the engine room bulkhead, and allied to a grill on the front of the engine room, and a highly amusing construction with a mushroom vent on the roof.  This probably dated back to Willow Wren days when the air cooled Lister HA2 engine was first installed in lieu of a water cooled one, and the idea seemed to be to pipe cool air from outside down to below the floor.  All agreed it wasn't doing anything useful, and as part of it was rusted through already, and further destroyed by taking the roof off, we decided to remove it.  I was easily able to take the bits out, but needed the skills of the welders to block up the resulting holes - both in the front of the engine room, and another in the roof, (three holes filled so far).

Ducting removed (plus new floor - see later)

More than than just repairing steel-work and filling holes though, several things have been very unsatisfactory since we bought "Flamingo", and it was always known that at some stage time, effort, (and money!), would need to be thrown at them.

In no particular order......

Old gear rodding, (the round pipe with a kink in).
The gear linkage was appalling, being a long length of pipe from the mechanical gearbox running right up to the roof, with a flimsy push pull lever attached.  There was so much travel on this lever that it was virtually impossible for the steerer to push it into ahead gear, as you had to reach more than forearm length forwards from the hatch.  Then once you had managed it, it was very hard to find the lever again if you needed to get out of forward gear in a hurry.  Reverse gear, on the other hand, meant the lever having to be pulled back to nearly the rear doors, at which point it was flapping about, not being particularly rigid.

(The accompanying picture here is an old one, and features several things changed some time ago, including removal of the large diesel header tank that used to feed the now removed diesel boiler, and also the removal of a heat exchanger on the exhaust that was supposed to heat water, but apparently didn't really manage to!).

This part had previously been modified, but did not solve the travel issue.
It is not clear how many years people had survived with these arrangements!  Under our ownership another engineer had attempted to make the engine room end of it less "Heath Robinson", but had done nothing to cure the issues of far too much travel on the push pull lever.  We decided to have the whole lot re-engineered by Brinklow, to use much beefier components, and a system of levers to greatly reduce travel of the push pull control.

Old push-pull in "neutral"
The old push pull here is pictured in "neutral" - going to "ahead" took it the whole way forward to the supporting bracket shown!

New gear linkages - gearbox end.

New gearbox linkages - push-pull rotates the vertical bar going down to the box.

The new control, at the steerer end..

Old exhaust position - preventing opening half the pigeon box.
An unexpected consequence of Brinklow trying to install the new gear rodding was that the engine exhaust pipe passing through the roof was obstructing where the rodding needed to be.  So Brinklow rang me to ask if the exhaust pipe could be moved to a different location.  I was pleased to agree to this, because it was actually so close to the pigeon box that the external exhaust pipe prevented that from being able to be open in the expected way.  Moving the exhaust would allow the pigeon box to have both doors stood open as it should. 

Relocated exhaust outlet.
Fortunately the "bellows", (the flexible part of the exhaust), had sufficient play and flexibility to allow the move with no further re-engineering.  However there was now yet another hole for Brinklow to weld up trying to disguise it had ever existed - the third one in the roof, and the fourth overall, if I'm counting correctly.

The now removed Lister hand control.
Also the speed wheel was connected to a manual (and clunky!) level that Lister fitted to engines if they are going to be controlled at the engine, but not appropriate to control by remote linkages.  As a result it had never operated smoothy, and the speed wheel constantly wound back off as soon as you let go of it, (to the extent we used to hang a large spanner from the wheel to try and keep it in the same place - again not a great "solution"!)  So again we asked Brinklow to change things so the complexity of the Lister control was removed, and the speed wheel linkages went straight to the speed control on the engine.

A much more sensible rod now connects directly to engine.

When we made the above decision, we failed to spot that the Lister control was an intrinsic part of what supported a control panel on the engine, containing things like ammeter, oil pressure gauge, and (most critically!) the engine "start" button.  That control panel could not easily be retained.  We were happy to lose the ammeter, the oil pressure gauge was already a duplicate to a more useful one on top of the engine room roof, but the "start" button would necessitate quite a bit of change elsewhere, including to wiring, to relocate it remote from the engine.

Hose that was removed, (also shows hole since filled where duct came out).
Not content with our efforts so far at getting Brinklow to fill up holes that should never have been cut in the first place, we turned our attention to modifications that have been made in the past to arrangements for filling the fuel tanks.  "Grand Union" boats normally just have a large screw cap on the quarter tank each side, but "Flamingo" had been modified to use a raised external filler on the cabin-side on the right hand side only.  (You really ever only need to fill on one side, as the two tanks are inter-connected, and will eventually settle to the same level).  Presumably this change was made because the Boat Safety Scheme normally insists that filler points are external, but there is actually an exemption for historic boats, and no need to modify original arrangements.  Actually the modification was daft, because there is no way you can know when the tanks are becoming full, and if they did, fuel would then spill out of the raised vent pipes and directly into the engine room.  (On purchase the vent pipes were not even raised - but a previous modification I have done put back my version of the "umbrella hadle" vents normally found on this type of boat.  Finally our BSS inspector said that the modified arrangements should strictly be a fail, as the flexible hose involved was not actually marked as suitable for diesel fuel.

Filled hole for external fuel inlet.
So we decided to bite the bullet, and have this pipe removed, and the two holes resulting welded up, (yes I think we are up to 6 so far now!).  This wsa a slightly more reluctant decision, as welding cabin-side holes means it is in the faded green paintwork that we have no hope of getting a colour match to, and we have no intention of a full repaint at this stage.  Still it definitely needed doing, and we will patch it up somehow.

This bit of the old floor was not the proper material anyway.
We are more or less at the end of the steelworks now, but decided to have a couple more things done. The flooring to the left front of the engine featured a large hinged plate welded to the engine bearers, the purpose of which had been to mount an engine driven Jabsco pump.  This pump was actually part of the inventory of the purchased boat, but stored out of use - quite an impressive bit of brass-ware.  However we could see no sensible reason to  reinstate it, and meanwhile what was left behind was a major trip hazard.  We asked Brinklow to grind it off, and make good any damage to the engine bed.  Of course having removed ducting from one side, and this mount from the other, we now had a piece of engine room floor that was nearly as much holes as it was walkway, so Brinklow were also asked to replace that bit of floor.  Genuine chequer plate is apparently very hard to find, and hence expensive, so other missing bits in the engine room will be ignored for a while.

(The new floor appears in the picture above that shows how the speed control linkage now looks).

This brings us to the end of the work largely carried out by the professionals, and moves us on to the stuff I feel able and competent to do myself.

Old cable runs and wall mounted panel
I have already mentioned that the existing instrument panel could not really be left on the engine after the speed control was changed.  This is not actually a bad thing, as both the meters on it were fairly useless, as the shake of the engine made their needles go everywhere and a proper reading was impossible to take!  However I did need to find a new home for the starter button.  (The picture shows old arrangements, but with roof off, and engine out).

Inside of "colour changing" box, now removed.
However the wiring to the engine had always been fairly shambolic, some of it being on the engine and this panel, but other remote to a control panel on the other side of the engine room.  The previous owner had had to re-route cables when he installed the massive tank for the now removed diesel boiler, (the tank appears in previous photo), but had lengthened them all using what we called the "colour changing box", meaning that cables that were black, brown, green etc previously largely all got changed to red half way along - something that had made creating a wiring diagram very hard work indeed.  I decided to take the plunge, and replace all cabling between the two points.  I needed to replace the front to the remote control box, laying it out to add the starter button, plus a new hour counter I had wanted to install for some time.  Much of the existing cable run was bound in black insulating tape, and the remainder in a modern looking flexible conduit.  Where possible I would put it all in solid conduit, which although plastic, can be made to look like old metal conduit.  Not everything in the engine room would get done now - only the bits connecting to the engine, but over time everything else will be reworked as well, to a more professional looking standard.

Unwanted boxes and joins removed, and new solid conduit installed.
Reworked remote panel with starter switch and new gauge.

Some of the old master switch cabling
Finally the actual cabling & switch arrangements associated with both the starter motor and alternator, and also distribution of 12 volt electrics to the main cabin has never been satisfactory, and I have always expected to redo it at some stage.  I decided it was a lot easier to make a start on this when there was no engine present, and although still some way to go, a lot of key switch-gear has been tidied up, and in some cases moved, and very much more heavy duty cabling has replaced most of what relates to starting the engine, or charging the batteries.

Moved switch and heavier cabling.

Trial fit to alternator and starter - still to be tidied up, but better already.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

More Progress - "Flamingo" Is Refitted With a Propeller

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 1st December 2016)

As I think previously reported, we were not able to get "Flamingo's" under-performing propeller sorted out during the time it was initially being docked.  So, despite having the propeller back quite quickly, it was necessary to wait for another slot where Brinklow Boats could dock it again, and allow it to be refitted.

The propeller has been much modified, with the "pitch", (a measure of the slant on each blade), increased from a figure estimated to be less than 16" to a new figure of 21".

We were not present for this docking, so thanks to Dave Ross for providing pictures of the prop back on the boat.

Friday, 2 December 2016

It lives!

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 2nd December 2016)

In the course of  the re-installation work for "Flamingo's" rebuilt Lister HA2 engine, Dave Ross sent us a couple of phone videos of work in progress with the engine fired up.

All looked very promising, as it ticked away gently, with very little sign of any significant smoke at the chimney.

(It had, of course, already been test run in Dave's workshop, though at the moment I can't trace any videos that record that.)

Friday, 18 November 2016

"Flamingo's" Lister HA2 Engine Is Returned to the Boat.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 18th November 2016)

The repainted boat bottom can be seen in these photos.
Finally we were at the stage where Dave Ross was satisfied with the engine and gearbox, all now nicely painted up, and it was ready to put back in the boat.

Few pictures, and no videos this time, as it proved to be quite a delicate operation to get it lifted over and past various obstructions, and lowered down onto the bolt heads in the engine bed In fact it proved to be such a tight fit over these bolts that we became quite impressed it had ever come out in the first place!

We were strongly warned not to do anything that damaged Dave's paintwork!
There was now some considerable way to go before it would be up and running.  Everything needed connecting up again, and most things were being changed, including fuel pipe work, oil pressure gauge, speed wheel controls, and we had asked for completely revised gear rodding, yet to be constructed.

The previous arrangements for the speed wheel had retained the original Lister hand operated speed lever on the engine, which was highly unsatisfactory, being lumpy in operation, and refusing to hold on to the selected speed without winding off again.  We had decided to ditch this, as well as having any of the engine controls or dials or indicator lights on an engine mounted control panel.

Finally the boat was currently afloat, but with no propeller on it.  Even when this lot was all connected up, we weren't going anywhere yet!

Monday, 14 November 2016

The "Flamingo" Propeller Story.........

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 14th November 2016)

Ever since "Flamingo" was purchased, (and notwithstanding any engine issues), her performance has been decidedly lack-luster.  She took a very long while to get going, and although would achieve good canal speeds eventually, still seemed to need to have the engine driven at higher RPM than you might have hoped were required for the speed achieved.

However far more serious an issue was stopping, which "Flamingo" was really very bad at.  Even thrown hard into reverse, with the engine running very fast, she would only "scrub off" speed very slowly.and the final stop seemed forever in coming.  The very first lock we ever took her though I went in at what I thought was a ridiculously cautious low speed just in case.  I soon found myself with the engine flat out, masses of black exhaust, but not a lot happening under the counter, and I thumped the cill quite hard, being able to lose all the speed in the length available.

Locks we could deal with - just tackle them even more cautiously, but where you met boats at blind bridge holes on bends things could be "interesting" to say the least.  We certainly had our moments, though, fortunately, no serious collisions.

Also if you were trying to power round a bend, often the power to get the required steering was not adequate.  You were then faced either with trying to wind on more power, knowing if it went wrong a collision with the side would be harder, or throwing it into reverse to abort the move.  If you did the latter you lost most control, and often it would not stop in time then without at least some touching of the side.  I learned much about what "Flamingo" would not do going round, (or not going around!), the well known ninety degree bends in Cassiobury Park - something I have had no trouble with in another ex "Grand Union" boat.

OK, I know it is a big heavy boat, the cabin conversion effectively making it "part loaded", but things clearly were not right, so the propeller had to be suspect.  We already knew that the ends of two of the blades were somewhat bent over, which could not be helping, but we thought more was wrong than this.  Our visit to Brinklow Boat Services included our own first ever docking of the boat, so also the first chance to investigate the propeller.

The propeller fitted proved to measure up as 25 1/4" diameter - that bit is fine.  What didn't seem right was its "pitch" - basically a measure of how flat or angled the blades are to the boss.  The propeller was not marked with size, by Brinklow estimated it as less than 17" pitch, whereas most indicators would suggest over 20" pitch was needed with this engine gearbox and boat.

All agreed that a propeller with a larger pitch was required.  It should be possible for specialists to "re-pitch" a propeller, and we contacted a well known name in the business who thought they probably could.  The challenge was to get this achieved whilst "Flamingo" could stay in the dry dock, so Cath and I did a whistle-stop tour from Hertfordshire to collect the prop from Brinklow and deliver it to Isleworth, before returning home.  Sadly we had not been home long before they rang and said they could not do it - we would need to collect it next day, and were back to the drawing board!  They also said they thought the current pitch was less even than Brinklow's estimate, and hence it was even further from the kind of number we needed than we at first thought.

Another of the well known names for narrow boat propeller work was contacted.  They simply said that if the firm we had taken it to could not do it, they were not going to be able to either.  So we had no modified prop, and enquiries about replacements initially talked of months of lead time for delivery.

Then Dave at Brinklow drew our attention to FAL Scottish Propeller Services in Banffshire.  They might be able to supply us a replacement to arrive to go on before the boat had to come out of dock, and we started to go down that route, until Brinklow discovered the boat could not stay on dock as long as they thought.  Unfortunately our options to sort it out in a single docking were now exhausted.

However FAL reckoned they would be able to re-pitch our existing prop, even though another specialist firm had said they could not.  On this basis I dispatched it to them.  (Incidentally, the whole story of trying to hand over in excess of 20Kg of wrapped bronze propeller to the counter staff in your local post office could make an entire blog post in its own right!).

FAL reckoned the current pitch on the prop to be little more than 15", whereas general consensus was it needed to be at least 20" and probably as much as 22".  In the end I decided that 15" to 22" was a massive change, and I wasn't quite brave enough that that would not overload the engine.  We asked for 21" - still a fairly massive increase from 15".

Surprisingly quickly a shiny and very different looking propeller was back with us.  However by now "Flamingo" was re-floated without one, and the dock was not now available for a few more weeks.  No urgency then to deliver the prop to Brinklow - it could go with us on our next routine visit.  Everybody wanted to know if it would fix the problem, but that we would not know for some weeks!

I would strongly recommend FAL Scottish Propeller Services - not a name you might immediately associate with narrow boats, but very efficient - they did what they said, remarkably quickly, and at a reasonable cost.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

We Might As Well Make It Look Smart Too.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 5th November 2016)

By the end of October Dave Ross had largely finished the rebuild of Flamingo's Lister HA2 engine.

We had agreed with him that as we had had so much done to it, it would be a great shame not to give it a proper coat of paint to smarten it up a bit.

Apparently the "Lister Green" that so many of these engines sport was not the usual original cover for those delivered as marine engines.  Even the broadly silver colour it had been was not strictly correct, although the engine is believed to have always been a marine one.

However we decided we like green, and that so many now are, we weren't going to get fanatical about what is correct.

Here are some pictures taken by Dave on his phone that show the transformation from the previous multi-coloured mess.



Tuesday, 18 October 2016

"Flamingo" - A Boat Temporarily With No Engine.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective Post For Tuesday October 18th 2016)

We didn't know what lay below this useless tray.
I don't believe that any photographic record got made of the full clean up task that we faced once "Flamingo's" engine was removed, which is a shame because we are now unable to prove just how bad it was!

Large amounts of effort had already been made by this stage.
The shot above taken at engine removal time simply shows a large and cumbersome steel tray that had been placed below the engine many years ago, but this was just about totally masking all access to the bilge areas underneath it.  Our best working assumption is that the engine is the same reconditioned Lister HA2 that Willow Wren fitted to "Flamingo" in 1968, and it seems likely it has never until now been removed since.  Hence the oil tray has been masking the bottom of the boat for maybe nearly 50 years.

The bottom at this point is original, we believe - 80 years old.
At some point somebody obviously decided the engine leaked enough oil that they could not be bothered to mop up from the tray, so one corner of it has been attacked by drills and saws, in a bid to cause the collected oil to drop out of it, (only partially successfully!).

Still not looking that clean, unfortunately.
I wish we had taken a picture of the horrors that lay beneath that tray, but it seems we did not.  Initially it was a digging out job, rather than a mopping out job, there being several inches of silt, totally impregnated with spilled oil and grease, topped off with water that we hoped was rain water, rather than canal water.

Detail of pipework and valves that link the two fuel tanks.
By the time these pictures were taken we had already spent many days trying to clean and de-grease the bits we could get to, and upon advice about suitable solvents had consumed large amounts of Jizer, Gunk (including Gunk Ultra) and White Spirit.  Every time you thought you were making some progress, and tried to wipe it down, it became apparent that every square inch of steel, and every rivet head, still had a lot more grime to give up.

Blanked off former water inlets for original National engine.
A truly horrible job that regularly caused me to question our own sanity -  was it ever going to be clean enough to try painting, or were we just wasting our time?  Because the engine was out, we had no capability to make electricity, and were only able to contemplate this work in the freezing cold, because most of the time we could plug into a land-line at Brinklow Boat Services, (we have solid fuel heating, but unfortunately still have a hungry 240 volt central heating pump that needs to be kept running).

Interesting construction with one plate shaped to pass over the next.
An added complication is that more than half of the bottom of the boat was still obscured by the large underfloor fuel tanks.  We had no opportunity to get these out, so undoubtedly a similar mess still lies over most of the area beneath those.  This of course, continually resulted in a black mess flowing out from those areas and further recontaminating the areas we could work on.

The fuel tanks still prevented cleaning other bits of the bottom plates.