Thursday, 22 December 2016

Fetching "Flamingo" Back To Base

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Retrospective Post For 20th to 22nd December 2016

Bottom locks at Hillmorton
It seems strange to think it is nearly 4 months since we delivered "Flamingo" to Stretton, but in fact a huge amount has been done in the period since.  Whilst all other work done been carried out under the auspices of Brinklow Boat Services, the work of rebuilding the engine was undertaken by Dave as agreed with Brinklow to be done in his "spare" time, using their facilities, so we never really expected that work to be done as quickly as Dave actually managed to do it.  It has been a great result for us, and we are grateful both to Dave for dedicating himself to the task, and to Simon at Brinklow for accommodating each new piece of ancillary work that has come up.

Between bottom twp pairs of locks at Hillmorton
Now however the current programme of works was complete, and there were finally no stoppages that would have prevented us getting back to base, other than a restriction that one particular railway bridge would need to be passed on a fixed time-slot in the hour between noon and 1:00 pm.  We wanted the boat back to base before Christmas, and this week was our one opportunity to do it.  Of course at this time of year the daylight hours are shortest, and we had no desire to navigate in the dark, so we allowed plenty of time for planned short cruising days, and dealing with any unexpected teething problems.

Moving between middle and top locks at Hillmorton
Knowing the time we would be allowed through at Cathiron Railway Bridge meant a morning departure was required from Stretton.  We had the usual "faff" of needing to deliver a car to our eventual destination at the home mooring, then travelling to our start point in a second car, (which would need to retrieved when the canal trip was complete).  This is slightly "exciting" because the "second" car is an elderly Ford Ka that used to belong to Cath's late mum, which we have kept going as a local run-about, but which isn't exactly ideal for longer journeys!  Anyway it made sense to be on board the day before, ready to move off in the morning.  Late tasks we had hoped to complete had still not happened though, such as reinstating the wiring to the horn - this would be done en route.

Braunston flight
In practice it was an uneventful trip, which is of course exactly what we were hoping for.  We arrived early at the rail bridge, to ensure meeting the stated passage time, but I had barely got the boat to the tow-path bank when it was obvious that the workmen were moving a floating pontoon under the works, to leave a channel little wider than a narrow lock.  We were waved through, and were quickly on our way again, already ahead of schedule.

Large woolwich "Aldgate" passed just below lock
The engine performed impeccably, although I had the odd moment where I forgot the speed-wheel now works in the opposite direction to what it previously had done.  Winding clockwise used to wind the speed down, but do that now, and the engine is quickly racing.  It's going to be ongoing fun, as it now works the reverse way to "Sickle's".

The first day had been cold, but nothing like as bad as had been forecast leading up to the trip.  We stopped for the night near Clifton Wharf, just beyond Rugby.

"Pub" lock, Braunston
The following day was positively sunny, although I still needed a jacket most of the day.  The engine continued to work well.  As on the previous test run, we were achieving the same cruising speeds as we had in the past at a noticeably lower engine speed, making the whole experience more relaxed.  More importantly, the boat was now stopping considerably better.  It's still a very slow process compared to (say) "Sickle" or "Chalice", but hardly unexpected given the weight of this very big boat. Also very importantly, the engine is making very little smoke, other than a brief burst as you wind power on, (again not unexpected).  In short it is looking very promising, though more boating will be needed to really get the measure of it.  We stopped the second night at the top of Braunston locks, not wishing to go through our first big tunnel since all this work was done in the dark.

Frosty start to final day in tunnel pound at Braunston.
By contrast to yesterday, on the final day I ventured out in the morning with the dogs to find a heavy frost.  Braunston tunnel had as clear a view straight through as I have ever seen, and, encouragingly, as I looked back as I was about to emerge, there was also still a clear view back the other way.  Prior to the engine rebuild I can guarantee there would not have been.

In the Buckby flight of locks.
The final locks were those at Buckby, which were quite hard work in places due to excess water, but passed without problems.  The final leg back to Weedon always seems to take longer than I expect, but we were still back in time to pack up in an organised way, drive up to Stretton to retrieve a car, and still be home in reasonable time.

It's great to be boating again in a boat that isn't a worry.  It was certainly going to be the last trip of 2016, being by now only 3 days to Christmas.

Waiting for our final lock of 2016

Stretton Arm, Northern Oxford to Weedon, Grand Union
Miles: 26.8, Locks: 16

Thursday, 8 December 2016

All is good! - Successful trial run on Flamingo, following all works undertaken

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 8th December 2016)

The programme of works on Flamingo had proved to be quite extensive.  The engine had been completely rebuilt from bottom up, with reground crank shaft and bearing shells, and cylinder bores and pistons had been replaced.  Additionally other components such as the fuel injection pumps and injectors themselves had been checked and reconditioned as required.  Additionally it had been found necessary to replace one of the gears in the reversing gear box.

The engine feet had been repaired, and part of the engine bed they stood on strengthened.

All the gear rodding and operating lever was completely replaced by new, and the speed control modified.

Simon and Dave stand guard to stop me thrashing rebuilt engine too much!
All the above was done at Brinklow Boat Services, but additionally (and crucially) the propeller had been sent away to FAL Propeller Services in Scotland to have major changes made to it's pitch - something we hoped would considerably improve performance of Flamingo, and particularly help with one of it's biggest issues - a failure to be able to stop it in a hurry, however urgent the requirement was!

Additionally I had rewired all the 12 volt electrics relating to do with anything connected to the engine, including starter motor, alternator and battery bank.

Other than running the engine whilst tied up, all the above was untested, and Simon and Dave at Brinklow both thought it sensible that Flamingo was taken out for a decent trial run before Cath and I were finally to take the boat away and back to it's home moorings.  We were up at the boat, and readily agreed, as we were all too aware of just how much had been changed, (and also, of course, very keen to see how Flamingo now performed.

The boat yard is at the end of the Stretton Arm, once part of the original route of the Northern Oxford canal, but for many years now just an arm ending in a small basin.  Progress is initially slow as you pick your way through the many moored boats, or crawl under the very silted bridge that passes under the mainline railway.  Turning out of the arm past the breasted fleet of Rose Narrowboats is also a challenge, and I seem to recall I let one of the Brinklow team have the tiller at this point!

Simon at the tiller - Dave's watchful eye making sure engine is as expected.
Only when out onto the straight part of the main line was it possible to start to really assess performance, and the news was good.  Flamingo was going along well, and the engine speed required to achieve this with the modified propeller was now very noticeably less than it had ever been in the past.  Even more encouragingly, as you put the engine into gear, it was becoming noticeably loaded at low PRM, but very fortunately not over-loaded.  We had agonised on what to ask the prop dimensions to be changed to, and it had looked like we could go as much as 25.25" x 22", (the latter 22" being the pitch).  This was a huge change, which risked the engine being overloaded if the change was too big, so we had actually asked FAL to go to 25.25" x 21".

Now beyond theory and calculation, we were actually trialing our decision, and all agreed it was fine, but at the top end of what was sensible.  We would have been OK at 20", (1" less pitch), but almost certainly over-propped at 22".  A good result then, given we didn't want to have to pay to dock Flamingo yet again, and to send the propeller on another expensive return trip to Scotland.

Next of course was stopping, and yes Flamingo now stops very much better than it did.  Make no mistake, it is still a big heavy boat, with a big heavy cabin conversion, equivalent to a working boat with maybe a third to a half of a full load on, so it still takes quite a lot of power to finally bring it to a halt, (certainly far more than our much lighter "Sickle" at only 40 feet long).  However the improvement is considerable, and hopefully we will now be able to enter locks at a more normal speed and still manage to stop before the bow bashed the gates at the other end.

The original plan was just to go to the nearest winding hole, the entrance to another disused stub of the original canal route, but it was a nice day, and all agreed to do the considerably longer journey up to the entrance to Brinklow Marina, (which despite the name is a fair trip from Brinklow Boat Services).  Again I somehow managed to not be at the tiller as we did the turn, but it is always interesting to see how well old hands at the game manage a boat that is unfamiliar to them.

All declared themselves satisfied, the engine putting in a faultless performance, and producing remarkably little smoke, given that the new pistons, rings and bores will need some time to fully bed in.  Dave Ross seems to have done an excellent job on it.  The new gear mechanism, (based on that in Dave's own boat), also worked without fault.  The one thing we agreed they should  do before we collected the boat, was to try to relocate the speed wheel mechanism back slightly, to make the wheel more accessible to the steerer.  It had always been tucked a bit too far forward, and moving things back, if only by an inch or two, would make it easier to operate.

Monday, 5 December 2016

"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 50 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.