Now we're cooking with- no, wait

Wait, we were always cooking with gas. Of course, it used to mean going outside, clambering down the side of the boat in all weathers (and at some funky/terrifying angles at low tide) and rummaging around in a dark cabinet. Not so much any more.

Gas alarm switch

That baby right there is a gas alarm and remote trigger that lets us turn the gas on and off from the comfort of our own galley. Hidden behind is it metres upon metres of cable for power, sensors and a solenoid in the gas line, which we could never have hooked up if Dad hadn’t dedicated a couple of days to come out and help. And when I say help I mean “take charge and make it work while I held a torch.”

It may seem like a tiny thing but it makes a huge difference to our quality of life, especially in the winter. Eggs for breakfast on cold mornings!

And I must give a shout out to the guys at Technisol who made the alarm. I emailed about a lost instruction sheet and they had a PDF in my inbox less than 20 minutes later. Top service!

Comment [2] - posted 2 November 2009, 20:28 in

Clear the deck

You wouldn’t think it’d take that long to grind down the main deck, but with our noise restrictions meaning we can only work on Saturday mornings (since we’re at work during the week and arrive home during quiet hours), the weather being generally uncooperative, and social plans getting in the way, we’ve only just completed the last of the deck grinding this weekend!

Deck grinding complete

The red areas are everywhere we’ve taken off the existing layers of uneven paint and rust down to the bare steel, and then temporarily protected these areas from the elements with red oxide. The next step is to rough up everything with a wire brush and then (finally!) we can roller on our green Hammerite.

...and then start on the side decks. We didn’t realise we’d bought the Forth Bridge...

The other progress on our big list is that James was finally able to locate the inverted electrical socket last night. The power for the moorings (and half the street) went out last night and it seemed as good a time as any to switch on the inverter and start plugging our work light into mystery sockets. We figured it must be in the engine room, but none of those lit the test bulb, and neither did the socket directly next to the inverter… But one of the sockets in the wheelhouse did, so through a bit of an extension cable, we were able to plug our water pump in up there so we can still wash up and flush the toilets. The next step is to determine if the inverter can handle the cold and hot water pumps at the same time, meaning we could theoretically have hot showers while unplugged or on the move!

And in other electrical news, our galvanic isolator has arrived! James reckons it should be pretty straightforward to install, so fingers crossed he doesn’t end up with an Einstein ‘do!

Comment [2] - posted 31 July 2008, 15:07 in

Copper Cabana

The heat situation isn’t much better, I’m afraid, but we are making progress. Last Friday Nikolaj took the whole day to hook up the old, existing radiator (plus a tiny quarter-sized radiator the size of two sheets of paper) in the saloon to the new boiler. Flipping the switch suddenly caused boiling, black water to spurt from two pipes in the old hotel rooms! So the pipes that we thought did nothing but feed the (ripped out) sinks apparently were for a heating system that was never actually installed… So after cutting out the leaking sections of pipe and popping in new HEP20, we had the radiators on for exactly five minutes before the connection to the big radiator did a hot, black, geyser interpretation and then the radiator itself started to bubble up on the front panel (as a leak pushed pressurized water out, bubbling up the special paint. So we’re still without heat in the saloon. It looks like we’ll need to rip out ALL the pipework in the saloon and hotel rooms as well as replace the radiators. But since Nikolaj’s already done the difficult stuff, we should be able to do this on our own (famous last words).

Instead, we turned our focus on installing our new shiny Kabola diesel stove. James had to work on Saturday so it was down to me to create the new fuel line from the big tank in the engine room up to the captain’s cabin fireplace. We were going to go down through the floor and then along the ceiling of the engine room, but after drilling through the floor, it transpired that there’s a 4 inch gap between the floor of the captain’s cabin and the ceiling of the engine room. Which is too deep for a drill for me to be able to mark my place down below. So that was scrapped, instead opting to take the line from the fireplace, over the shower door and through the bulkhead behind the stairs down into the captain’s cabin, where a small hole for an (unused) coax aerial cable already existed. After 15-20 minutes with the hammer drill, a giant drill bit, and a whole ton of muscle power, the hole was big enough to take a gland with a hole for our 8mm fuel pipe inside. The gland makes the hole nice and air- and water-tight and also cushions our little pipe from any jagged steel.

stove fuel pipe by diesel tank stove fuel pipe and gland

I then had to wrestle the 5m of copper pipe (with a mind of its own) from the tank, up the rib, along the wall, behind the boiler flue, through a hole in a rib, then into the gland, along the wall, up above the shower door, through another hole in the wall, down the wall, around the marble fireplace edge, and into the new stove. I had to bend it all by hand (until the pipe bender arrived to do the real sharp angles), and put fasteners every few feet to keep it all tacked down. James got busy on arranging the voltage droppers for our 12v fuel pump, which we’ll hopefully get to hook up tonight.

The other part of the installation is to make a path for the flue, since the previous owners never used it after they raised the wheelhouse. We know this because they built a battery shelf and the walkways to the wheelhouse entrance directly above it. Thanks!

battery bank and flue placement

Earlier this week I did some very tedious measuring with numb fingers to mark the point directly above the flue so Nikolaj can enlarge it to 80mm with his plasma cutter. On Saturday I drilled a hole at this point so the plasma cutter has an edge to start from using a regular ol’ drill and a metal bit, which took way more muscle power than I was expecting. Of course it rained overnight so we now have a nice rusty hole!

On James’s epic trip to Maplin’s he also picked up two extended lengths of cabling so we can move the two right-most batteries down underneath the battery shelf to make way for the flue. Let’s hope we can do it without creating a mess of sparks this time, as there’s no 24v isolator and those puppies are now fully topped up…

Comment - posted 19 November 2007, 16:30 in

We have Electric

Another day down at the mooring for Dad yesterday. I think secretly he really enjoys the chance to get back to his engineering roots. His focus was on the inverter/charger and lo and behold the damn thing was wired backwards. Thanks anonymous 12 years ago Dutch electrician.

It still needs a few bits of work (the flex is fraying and the fan is shot) but the power was on at least from 3:30pm until we left at 10:30 last night so it seems we have found our culprit. Unfortunately so many systems on the boat run from battery that we can’t simply pull it out of the circuit, as we’d lose most of the lighting and the water pressure would go to nothing.

Last night was spent shifting boxes down into the hold, having dinner with our friend Jo and unpacking boxes and boxes full of my kitchen equipment from five years ago. I was absolutely delighted to find all six of my favourite mugs survived intact. Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyles of the modern houseboat owner, I know.

Comment [4] - posted 13 April 2007, 12:04 in

Tripping the light fantastic

More detective work on the electrics. After Dad’s visit on Monday we now know a few more things:

  • The inverter is not part of the problem. The mains has gone through the domestic system before it reaches the inverter
  • Which means something else is providing the 45-odd second delay between resetting the RCD on the collar barge and the systems powering up on Hendrik
  • The 3-phase cable actually plugs first into a distribution box in the hold under the salon.

The distribution box was the focus of our efforts last night. Dad remembered that it has six switches on it and hoped we could use it to switch out circuits one by one until we found the one that was overdrawing. I spent about two hours trying the switches in different combinations only tlo find in the end that /all/ the domestic systems are controlled by a single switch on the distributor. That could well be because in three-phase mode there are two circuits each with one switch for each of the three phases. But as the domestic circuit on the first phase is evidently the one tripping the breaker, that doesn’t help us.

From observation we now notice that the longer the power has been off, the longer is stays on once reset. Dad’s working on the idea that somewhere a transformer or other component is heating up and going open-circuit. He’s going down to the boat today to do some more investigation and work out if we can just bypass the whole shebang and wire single-phase into the system after the distribution box and rectifier. He’s also suspicious of the startup delay and thinks that could have something to do with it.

In other news I finally found something worthwhile about Upminster: there’s a working shower there. Bliss.

Comment - posted 12 April 2007, 11:32 in

Process of Elimination

Our electrical problems are NOT caused by:


  • Grounding out at low tide (because we trip the breaker at high, low and mid tides)

  • The cable (because our neighbour used our cable just fine to power his boat)

  • Bilge water shorting the internal cabling when we move (because we pumped out the bilge to a near-dry state and we’re still tripping out)

So the only other thing we can think to try next is to eliminate the internal cable that runs from the plug on the outside of the boat, down across the bilge and up to the ceramic fuses & such in the under-saloon storage area. It’d only be temporary, but if that works, at least we’d know what the problem IS and not just what it is NOT.

In further plumbing news, James’s dad has worked out that we did not run out of water, but had an air lock, which he was able to clear by releasing some valves. It doesn’t fix our problem of not knowing how to fill the tanks without overflowing into the bilge, but it does delay it a bit, which helps.

And last night we spent our first night on the boat in our final mooring, drinking our reserved bottle of 1999 6 putonyes Tokaji we bought in Budapest last summer specifically for the purpose. The candlelight was electrically, and not romantically, linked.

Comment [6] - posted 11 April 2007, 10:47 in

Little planets in the wire

I’m hopeful that we’ve solved the mystery of the tripping RCD. The cable we bought second-hand has a big frayed section about 3 metres from one end. It’s only the outer casing that’s been stripped off, and the armour is intact, but it doesn’t look great. When I first wired up the cable I took a punt on leaving it there – right now it’s sitting on the collar barge, insulated on a pile of rope. When I picked it up on Tuesday night to take a closer look, the breaker popped immediately. So now my working theory is that whatever cataclysm caused the fraying in the first place also damaged the core itself, and one of the lines is sufficiently broken that occasionally something moves just right and poof, out goes the power. Backing this up is the fact that after this test, I now can’t get the power to stay on at all. Whoops. This afternoon is my next opportunity to fix the problem.

Melissa went down to the mooring today to meet our rope delivery. 220 metres of 40mm rope is now ours to replace the shonky canal-strength ropes Hendrik came with. She had a few other things to do on board but had to abandon them because it was low tide and there was no way to get onto Hendrik – we’ve been stepping across our neighbours’ barge (who have been lovely about having us and assorted friends tramping over their roof and occasionally clattering it with our steel gangway) but they’ve now moved downstream another 20 feet or so, opening up our final berth alongside one of the collar barges. High tide is around 3:30pm so I’ll try and reel us in a bit then.

It’s particularly fortunate that we’re in our final berth for this weekend because this is when we’re moving aboard. Well, with no heat, almost no hot water, nowhere to put a double bed and no working showers it seemed like the ideal time. We’re anticipating a bank holiday zombie nightmare B&Q session to rectify the shower at least. We have a van for three days so we might take the chance to distribute a few canoes at the same time.

Comment - posted 5 April 2007, 11:35 in

It's those tiny little sparks

We took a leisurely morning today, granting me my first lie-in since the crossing last weekend. So naturally my eyes popped open at 9:30 as I remembered today was Glastonbury tickets day. It’s one thing to lose half your lie-in, but quite another to lose it to the busy signal on your mobile two hundred times in ninety minutes. It seems we got there in the end though. Hopefully by June Hendrik will be liveable enough that the camping won’t feel like an upgrade.

At about 2:30 we rocked up at the mooring and initially my worst fears seemed to be confirmed – not only was the power off when we were in the mud, but the circuit breaker on the collar barge had been tripped too. That’s a pain because we’d have to clamber out onto the collar barge every time we wanted to restart the power, but there’s more. The batteries charge off shore power, so if it needs to be manually restarted each tide cycle, we run the risk of draining the batteries every time we’re away for more than a couple of days. I had been hoping it was a simple Earth leak which would knock out our power but not trip the breaker, so that at least when we refloat on the tide everything comes back on of its own accord.

I tried to put that all at the back of my mind to bother Stefan with later in the week, and had a beer on deck instead. Sitting on our boat with the sun on our backs was a much-needed reminder that Hendrik is a home, not an obligation. However troublesome the renovations get we need to remember to take time out and appreciate what we’re aiming for. We’ll burn out fast otherwise, and when I hear the Channel 4 Generic Programme Disaster Guitar Twang and Kevin McCloud talking in sympathetic but slightly patronising tones in my head, I’d rather it was something outside our control. TWANG “But nobody could have predicted the meteorite…” type of thing.

As it turns out something else completely unpredictable seems to be our shore power failure. While we were making our cream tea – delicious, and sorely under-attended by persons who shall remain nameless – the power tripped out again, despite Hendrik being quite definitely afloat. Later we took a walk along the South Bank as far as County Hall (or as non-Londoners now know it, The London Eye) and when we returned at low tide the breaker was still in the on position and there was power on board, despite the 15 degree cant from sitting on the river bed. So my hypothesis has changed from a Earth leak to either the bilge water shorting something out or an appliance causing a momentary spike. There’s a lot of water in the bilge still from the crossing which needs to be pumped out when conditions allow, but then half of our electrical devices are plugged in through UK-EU adaptors which could be shifting in the socket and spiking. Or it could be the superannuated ceramic fuse box or the inverter on the mains side (the genny comes through a modern RCD – “eccentric” is how Stefan the skipper describes our electrical layout).

It’s even possible – sorry Melissa – that my work on the cable really was as shoddy as I think it was and it needs redoing properly with a better socket housing on the hull and properly crimped connectors in the plugs themselves. I hope this isn’t the case though as my idea of a fun time involves a lot more PS2 and a lot less dealing with armoured cable. Armoured cable is horrid to work with, and doubly so when you’re trying to keep it under control in the dark on a moving boat with your whole right hand side still sprained from the crossing. But the crossing is a story for another time.

Comment - posted 1 April 2007, 23:00 in

Nice weather for boats

Yesterday we got to the moorings quite early as the “noisy hours” were only from 8-1 and we both really wanted to get the boards off the big saloon windows and let some light in, but as they’d had brackets welded onto the frames for the crossing, James needed to angle grind them off.

James angle grinding the brackets off the window coverings

Meanwhile, I went to work consolidating all the stuff from the 12 hotel rooms into the front two quad rooms, hauling mattresses along the corridor and stacking them up on other bunks (5 mattresses fit into the hole where one would sleep!) and moving all of the pillows and duvets up there as well. Then I set aside 8 chairs of the type we wanted to keep and moved the other 12 up into the front rooms, and finally, I started dismantling the bunks in the other ten rooms. The bunkbeds consist of one nicely stained and varnished board running along the length of the bed, a small board screwed to the wall on the other side, six 2×4s screwed down as slats for the bed, then a bed-sized piece of MDF pegboard with the mattress on top of that.

Typical bunkbed room before demolition

So first I had to remove all of the pegboards and stack them in one of the front rooms, and then remove all the 2×4 slats with the electric screwdriver, then the support board along the wall, until finally I was left with the outer, nicely varnished board. The first bed we dismantled happened to be one with an easy bracket holding it onto the wall, but it turned out that was an anomoly that had broken sometime in the past and all the rest are held in my some sort of large wooden peg going into the wall itself which we think we’ll have to saw off to remove. ugh. Later James removed the first sink (which came away easily and left only a pipe with a HUGE hairball in the trap, ewwww) and we even pulled away one wall with a crowbar to discover that the dividing walls are actually insulated. Does anyone know how to tell if insulation is asbetos or not? It would’ve been installed in the late 70s, we think. We bought filter masks and eye protection, but we’re not sure how to proceed next.

We had a beautiful lunch in the wheelhouse when the sun was shining and the river looked glorious. We ate our paninis, carrots, and apples while we read the Saturday paper and then got back to work, finishing the last of the window boards. It’s amazing how much lighter and brighter the saloon is without the horrible boards on! It feels much more livable and much less like a dungeon in there now.

We then took a trip out to Machine Mart to pick up a few bits, then tried to go to the rope store in Limehouse (but discovered they were closed weekends), and then finally made a huge trip to the Tescos in Surrey Quays (soon to be our local, though probably by bus) to stock our fridge and pantry. But when we got back to the boat, the tide was out and we discovered our hard-earned electricity wasn’t working! So we’re pretty sure somewhere on the boat the connection is touching and we’re grounding out when we hit bottom, which is a common but really annoying problem to fix. But it has to be fixed asap, otherwise we’ll be without power (apart from a few lights on battery power) for several hours twice a day, which just won’t do.

Today we’re going over in the afternoon (during high tide!) and three friends are coming over to see the boat. We bought provisions at Tesco for a fantastic high tea – hot cross buns with clotted cream and jam, fresh strawberries, leftover homemade bread & butter pudding, and a huge variety of teas. It looks nice and sunny again today so we’ll probably have our tea up in the wheelhouse again to show off Hendrik in her best light.

Comment [1] - posted 1 April 2007, 12:56 in

Our connection with the shore

I had an interesting run-in with the tide when I got to the mooring after work last night. Our berth is half-mud, so when it’s low tide, we sit on the bank at a slight angle, and lift into the water at about half tide. Last night was the first time we’d seen her on the mud since we arrived, and since we’re not in our final spot yet, we still have to climb over the back of another boat to get to ours. And apparently when the boats settled on the mud, they settled slightly too far apart for me to attempt to jump in my heeled boots (I change into wellies and old jeans when I get there, but I was just arriving). So I decamped to a pub to wait for the tide to come in… Usually when the boats are a bit too far apart you can just pull on the rope and move them close enough to leap, but even my beefy arms can’t move a boat that’s sat on the bottom!

So after an hour or so we returned with a few friends who took away the first two canoes (two canoes between three people meant they walked in a line with the middle man holding an end of each!) and then James finished his work on the shore power lead with most of the work occurring inside the collar barge where the lead plugs in on the shore end (the plug’s too big for the hole so you have to feed the cable through and attach the plug once inside). Since the connection on our boat was 3 phase and the shore power was one phase, we had only a 30% chance of picking the right “live” cable, so there was a bit of a drumroll as we moved the main power switch inside to “shore”.... and then the hum of the fridge came on! Jubilation and victory cups of tea from the electric kettle! I’m so proud of James, though he’s still muttering that his wiring isn’t top-notch and he should redo parts of it…

The tide is such that we’d have to wait until 9pm to get on the boat tonight and since we have to leave around 10:30ish to get back to Upminster, we’re just crashing and having an early night tonight, and we’ll go down early on Saturday now that we have power to run the angle grinder and charge the power drill, so fingers crossed for completely unboarded windows soon!

Comment - posted 30 March 2007, 12:19 in

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