Our own bouncy castle

Ever since we bought Hendrik one of the most persistent problems has been the water supply. While we’ve had to replace the pump several times, it was mostly a symptom of the old water tanks. To recap briefly, we had four rectangular tanks made from glassfibre reinforced plastic. These were interconnected to form a claimed 4000L of water tank.

The problems with these tanks were manifold. They were old, and due to their shape their corners became weak. When overfilled they could crack at the corners and need repair. They were easy to overfill because we couldn’t see, or tell by any other means, how much water was in them. Our only clue that we were about to run out of water was that the water pump’s pressure switch wouldn’t trip, so we had to listen like hawks every time the pump went on. We could never even be sure how much water was making it into the tanks when we filled them because the water pressure on the moorings is pretty variable. We couldn’t fill them at low tide because the tilt would mean all the water rushing into a single tank, overfilling it and cracking the corners.

Basically in the last five years we’ve spent a crapload of time pumping water out of the hull, and it was a situation that could not continue. Finally, in December last year we reached an inflexion point. I began to get regularly woken at night by “glub glub glub” noises coming from the tank nearest our bedroom. This, combined with water seeping up through the plywood floor of the galley, was a sign that we had yet another leak, but this time the best I could tell was that it was on the bottom of one of the tanks somewhere.

After a bit of googling I came across a company called Tidel who do fabrication of inflatables. Our requirements were outside their capacity to make, but they put me in turn onto a company called JW Automarine for whom we were on the lower end of the scale (seriously – they do a flexible tank ten times the size we need).

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you THE FLEXI-TAINER! 2500 litres of glorious, impervious, aqueous storage. Valves so it can be isolated in an emergency. Snap-lock connectors so it can be disconnected and repositioned easily. Loading straps so you can hang it from a goddamn helicopter and fly it into a remote bit of Africa. It can even sit on rough and uneven ground. If you’re in the disaster relief business, this is your go-to potable water container. They sounded a bit surprised when I asked if I could buy one even though I wasn’t affiliated to any government agency or charity.

new water tank

We cleared out one of the remaining non-torn-out cabins, levelled the floor and cut a hole in the wall to fix the outflow valve in position, then cut the supply to and from the old water tanks and connected up the flexi-tainer instead. I had to build a corral across the room’s doorframe to stop the tank escaping into the corridor at low tide, but half an hour with (guess what) my kreg jig and a sander had that all sorted. The room is actually a bit smaller than the full dimensions of the tank, so I reckon we’re getting about 1500 litres of its full 2500 litre capacity.

But more important, this has been a game changer. Suddenly we can see how much water we have. Suddenly we don’t have to panic and run out to turn off the water because if we overfill for more than a second the tanks will crack (all that happens is the deck filler overflows instead). Suddenly we can fill the tank at low tide. We can top up the tank. Every so often we do something on the boat that instantly boosts our quality of life by some huge amount. And this is one of those times. Originally the plan was to use this as a temporary tank until we could get rigid tanks into the hold under the saloon to properly replace the old ones. Now we’re seriously considering buying a second flexible tank and just using the two connected together as a permanent replacement.

new water tank

It hasn’t been entirely without problems, of course. Early on there was some fiddling with the valve on the top of the tank that’s supposed to let trapped air out. At low tide it was much better at letting water out. A dose of expanding foam cured that one. And more recently I’ve discovered that the weight of water in the tank was actually pushing the bottom of the door frame out into the corridor. I’ve jacked the frame back into place and fixed down a block of block of wood to hold it. We’ll see how that goes.

I drained the old tanks while we were in dry dock (with the boat tipped back at a ten degree angle there was never going to be a better time). They’re still lurking down in the hold and need to be chopped up and taken away at some point, but for now I’m just happy they’re out of use and out of the way.

Things are still not perfect with the water system, but we have definitely moved on a long way in a short time with this work. And I haven’t been woken at night since.

Comment [2] - posted 19 July 2012, 17:52 in

If your grey tank is clogged...

On Hendrik we have a grey tank that only takes the outflow from the galley sink and stores it until we remember to flip a switch, which starts up the macerator and pump to lift it above the waterline and outside. It usually only takes a few minutes to empty it out, and you can watch the flow shooting out the side of the boat (though not nearly as impressive as Serenity‘s, which soars in a graceful arc, high into the air!). But for the past few weeks we’ve hardly been getting a trickle out of the pump, and it didn’t seem to matter which state of tide or battery draw we were experiencing. Frankly, we were starting to get worried anyway, but then last night it started seeping onto the galley floor.

We had a hunch that maybe the problem was fat from the sink (inevitable over time with washing up) had congealed in the cold weather and was clogging the narrow pipe leading to the macerator, but there was really no way to be sure. So we decided to get out the hairdryer and heat the pipe between the tank and macerator for a few minutes, and then ran the pump again.

Eureka! What was once a trickle was a mighty torrent yet again!

So if you’ve got similar grey tank troubles in the winter, you know what to try before the messy (and smelly!) job of dismantling your grey tank… Even though it’s never cold enough on the boat to freeze water in pipes, fat in pipes is another matter altogether.

Comment [1] - posted 4 January 2011, 16:30 in

Dish is What Makes Life Easy

Hoo, and there goes another 3.5 months without an update, bad us!

But I am happy to report that we’ve had a wedding and honeymoon in the intervening period (remember way back when James proposed right before Hendrik’s 75th birthday party?), so we’ve not been completely sitting on our hands or anything. We had a beautiful, amazing, and wonderful day at Bletchley Park, full of friends and fun and lots of DIY (I did a huge series of posts on my sewing site, FehrTrade.com about my sewing my gown and all the other DIY stuff!). We even had about 30 people from the moorings at our wedding which just goes to show what a fantastic, close-knit community we’ve been surrounded by in the past three years of boat life!

(Click the image to see more wedding photos!)

We came back from our honeymoon to discover that one of the baby corn plants had grown out of control, too! Seriously, it’s taller than I am, with full tassels and everything! The baby ears it gave up were very tasty.

Corn growing on deck Corn ears Baby corn in my hand

In other gardening news, the episode of Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers with us in it will be the last of the season, airing 22 December at 20:30 on BBC1, so set your recorders!

We are also ridiculously happy to report that our wedding registry was rather, err, unconventional. We didn’t need the normal “couply” kitchen supplies after three years on board Hendrik together (please, no more kitchen supplies!!) and we certainly don’t need any linens or furniture, but what we really, really needed was suplies to build our new bedroom in the front of the boat. So we set up a free (and no fees!) Honeyfund registry and listed all the bits we’ll need, everything from hull grease to battens to celotex to paint to 24v cabling to ethernet faceplates. Plus a dishwasher.

We’re starting the building work when it gets warm in Spring (we’re not wasting time – we’ve got friends working on the CAD drawings and electrical layout already), but we wanted to buy the dishwasher ASAP as the washing up duties were seriously cramping our evenings.

Who knew that Hoover makes a boat-friendly dishwasher? It’s got an A energy rating and only uses 16 litres of water(!!) for a full sized, 12-place setting. Perfect.

So the first step was to remove the old hotel dishwasher that never worked in order to make room for our new one to be delivered. Since this was a “load bearing” dishwasher and half the kitchen rested on it, in our demolition, we discovered an ENTIRE TRAY OF CUTLERY we never knew existed. It was just sat behind the enormous tray of cutlery we’d been using for the past three years. We also discovered that the old dishwasher drained uphill. Seriously.

After the initial shock, this setup actually made sense – we’re below the waterline in the galley, so we’d assumed the old dishwasher drained into the grey tank, to be pumped overboard. But the dishwasher already has a built-in pump, so making the machine do the work and pump the waste water up to the waterline level (about head height in the galley) where it meets the outflow pipe for the upstairs sink and flow overboard by gravity actually makes a lot of sense.

Here’s James installing the new dishwasher. We haven’t put the cutlery tray, cabinet, and microwave back into place above the dishwasher yet so you can see the gravity outflow pipe:

James installing the new dishwasher New dishwasher with hookups New dishwasher

And it works beautifully. We only have to run it once or twice a week, but it really does use a minimal amount of water – way less than the washing machine or even our average half-pressure shower. It’s a good thing it’s tucked away in the galley, though, because she is rather LOUD!

Comment [2] - posted 22 November 2010, 18:30 in

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

It’s been a while since we wrote about the water problems that plagued us in the first year of living aboard Hendrik, and that was because we had been mostly getting on OK. A careful diet of treating the water tanks with kid gloves and listening to the pump like a hawk had us ticking over pretty well. Sure, there was the odd missed shower when our timing was out, and the occasional 6am wakeup call to fill the tanks while the boat was still afloat on weeks when the tide was disadvantageous to a 9-5 lifestyle. But in general, we had a rhythm going and those awful waterless days of 2007 were far behind us.

First, some context. Remember The New Hotness? Well, after about a year it went lukewarm. The pump body isn’t the most robust in the world on that model and it stopped making pressure, so we decided to upgrade and replace, swapping it out for The New New Hotness. One thing I love about these Clarke pumps is they’re completely user-serviceable and every part is available as a spare. I should have taken advantage of that, diagnosed the problem with the New Hotness and repaired it to keep in as a spare.

Ah, entropy, my old friend. On Tuesday the New New Hotness broke. We’re not certain what happened – it looks like it certainly ran dry, but we can’t quite tell the exact cause. It may have jammed outright from limescale buildup, but the non-return valve on the intake pipe was jammed too, so it would have been running completely dry and died very quickly. Whatever happened, £27 worth of parts fused themselves together and we were left without running water again.

When we first brought Hendrik into the moorings here, Stefan the skipper left me with one sentence of advice. As I dropped him home and turned to leave, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “James,” and I thought, here it comes. He’s going to tell me, you did all right out there. “James,” said Stefan, “you really need to work on your technical skills.” I rather wish Stefan could have seen me, out on the deck with our tenant Euan, stripping the New New Hotness down and trying various ideas to get it back in shape. All right, none of them worked but at least I looked like I knew what I was doing this time. And that’s the point, after all.

Anyway, we formulated a three-pointed plan:

1. Order spare parts (actually, 2 sets for obvious reasons) for the New New Hotness
2. Get a cheap spare pump to tide us over until the parts arrive
3. Fix the New New Hotness, then disassemble and diagnose the Old New Hotness and order parts for that, too, thus leaving us doubly redundant should this happen again.

That was Tuesday night. It’s now Thursday night, 48 hours later. Let’s review our progress:

1. Parts are on order, but the bit we really need is out of stock and due in “soon.” The New New Hotness languishes in my work area.

2. Rather than get another Clarke pump from Machine Mart, I discovered I could get a Silverline pump from Amazon for half the price, including overnight shipping. It arrived today and I spent this evening with Euan plumbing it in. If you’d like to know how that went, you can read my review of it on Amazon. The short version is “not at all wel.” I have learned my lesson and will be buying another Clarke pump from Machine Mart tomorrow. Fortunately I had some money earmarked for buying a wedding suit this weekend so I can afford to be a two-pumps-in-two-days kind of guy. I may end up getting married in jeans and a t-shirt, but hey, at least I’ll have showered beforehand.

3. Held up for obvious reasons.

Would you like to see the class reunion photo? Of course you would. Sorry it’s a crappy phone shot, but I’m too tired and frustrated to go through the hassle of using the proper camera right now.

Front row, left to right: Old New Hotness, New New Hotness.
Back row, nestling in its packaging: New And Busted.

There is one bright moment in this story. I didn’t post about it at the time, but when we originally installed the New New Hotness Nikolaj and I set up a clever flexible arrangement for the intake and outflow pipes so any size of pump can be swapped in there quite quickly – getting the broken pump prepped and hooked up only took us about an hour tonight. If we can cross the surprisingly large hurdle of exchanging money for a working pump any time soon, we should be back in business quite quickly.

So the moral of the story is, don’t leave your backup pump sitting unrepaired for eighteen months just because your primary pump runs like a watch most of the time. That, and you can never be too paranoid about your water supply.

Comment [3] - posted 29 July 2010, 23:02 in

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

And kitten makes five

So once again we find ourselves with lots to update…

First of all, the numbers on board Goode Ship Hendrik have increased somewhat – myself and James have been joined by our lovely Captain’s Cabin renter, Geoff, and my mother, Sandy (though the latter is only staying for the summer). All in all, the transition has been very smooth, and the only teething problems we anticipate are figuring out exactly how long the water tanks will last between fillings when there are four daily showers instead of two.

And speaking of showers, the shower off the saloon is finally done. Finally. We thought we started this 9 months ago, but I just checked now, and oh dear, it was actually 13 months ago. Eek. In that time, it’s been built, tiled, dismantled, and rebuilt and retiled at least three times, with lots of drips (both in front of and behind the wall) and DIY denial in between. But it’s done now, and honestly, a shower has never felt quite so good.

Finished shower!

Another development is that we had neighbour Lorna round to create and weld on some steps to make it easier for us and mom to get up to water the garden (which is now on the Saloon roof). With a bit of angle iron she found lying around the engine room, the new steps were up in a morning. She even rounded off the sharp corners!

Lorna's garden steps Lorna's garden steps - up close Saloon roof garden

Now we just need to get someone to mix up some magnolia Hammerite for us and they’ll be perfect! I do have a paint chip with me today for matching, but we’ll see how long that takes.

Keeping to the exterior, less good news is that an extraordinarily violent wake at the weekend cause one of our bow springs to bend a railing. This had been in place for well over two years now with no problems, and the handrail is several inches in diameter, so you can imagine the force it took to bend this.

Bemt hand rail - facing back Bent hand rail - facing forward

I was utterly speechless when I discovered it, and it’s going to take some more welding to get it back into shape now. It just goes to show that when one project is completed, another presents itself…

Comment [3] - posted 18 June 2009, 11:56 in

In progress...

A warm and sunny long weekend gave us lots of opportunities to get work done around the boat!

Saturday involved lots more angle grinding on the deck (and the realisation that we could get twice as much done with a second angle grinder), a trip to the wood merchants to collect the beautiful oak and mahogany-a-like tongue and groove for the back wall of our captain’s cabin bedroom, the purchase of a second angle grinder at B&Q, and finally a bunch of patch painting on the deck and our first coat of grippy paint onto the gunnel where we regularly step aboard.

Patched side of boat

Freshly painted gunel

Then Sunday and Monday we attacked the shower off the saloon. Nikolaj had to rip off a portion of the wall when he was connecting the new hot water supply, and rebuilding it wasn’t very high on our priority list while we had the captain’s cabin shower to get clean in. But not being able to shower at low tide (due to the angle of the outflow from that shower being ever-so-slightly uphill when we’re settled) is getting very tedious when it coincides with that time between waking up and leaving for work, so we’re pushing ahead to make this other shower watertight…

Wall-less shower in starboard toilet Shower wall in progress

We ran out of primer to finish that up and start tiling, but hopefully that will be done awfully soon. We very luckily discovered a spare pack of tiles in the hold, so at least it’ll match, but beyond that we’re not too fussed how it looks as this will all get ripped out in 5-10 years’ time when we rip out all the tiny toilet cubicles and make one big über bathroom for ourselves…

There should be more progress reports soon, since both of us are taking the day off tomorrow to grind down more spots on the deck while the weather’s so nice. We have to take advantage of the nice weather while we have it!

Comment - posted 7 May 2008, 13:38 in

All hands on deck

Finally, a nice warm, sunny Saturday! We checked the forecast and got up early to start attacking the deck before quiet hours came into force at 1pm on Saturdays (no noise allowed at all on Sundays!).

Our initial treatment of the deck involves three steps:

  1. Using an angle grinder to take any rust spots back to the bare metal
  2. Using a wire brush attachment on a drill to exfoliate off any loose paint chips, and
  3. Painting over the bare metal spots with red oxide to prevent rust until the big paint job

I’m happy to say that, since he was a guest, Alex took the most fun angle grinding job, I got the wire brushing, and James was left to sweep away the considerable green dust and paint after us.

Alex and the angle grinderMelissa and the wire brushMelissa and Alex working on the deck

It was all going well until we smelt electrons… and realised we’d completely killed the angle grinder! So the boys went off to Machine Mart to buy a new one for next time, and I used the last hour of “noisy hours” to sand down the window frames on the Captain’s Cabin and stain/varnish them back into some semblance of health.

Sanded and repainted Captain's Cabin window frames

But neither the day nor the sunshine was over by the time they got back, so James went about dismantling the copper pipes from the old LPG installation (Calor Force are very happy to work on boats, fyi! They even have guys trained up on BSS regulations, which floored me…) in order to sell them for scrap. Our last lot of copper pipes from the old hot water system earned us a cool £50 so we hold onto every scrap now. You can also see James’s red oxide deck patching in the foreground, so the areas that were just wire brushed aren’t nearly as obvious.

James dismantling pipes on deck

James and Alex also thought ahead and bought supplies for next weekend’s project, realising that the only environment more hostile than our fenders is B&Q on a bank holiday Saturday… When Nikolaj was piping in our hot water supply, he had to remove a portion of the starboard toilet’s shower wall, so we’ve got the supplies to rebuild the wall and tile it over again.

Wall-less shower in starboard toiletSupplies for the shower wall

A shower at low tide? What a luxury…

Comment [3] - posted 27 April 2008, 13:46 in

Back in action

It must be the hint of Spring in the air, because we got more accomplished this weekend than we have in the last 6 months combined.

Saturday began early with a bit of art terrorism for James and some giant fender maintenance for Melissa, and then followed a massive quarterly shop at Costco to stock up for the charity dinners. We also made a whirlwind shop through B&Q (for some mains electrical bits to enhance the captain’s cabin) and Ikea (for some baskets for the captain’s cabin bedroom’s new shelf and a stepstool). We were no sooner back home for an hour before we were called in to help push-start a neighbour’s car (success!) and we finished up the various household duties (recycling, rubbish, cleaning, the loads of laundry – the usual) before collapsing into bed.

Sunday began with another early start, where we collectively accomplished the following:

  • tied up the errant live electrical cables in the hold so we could then pry up the rest of the floor to patch the (yet again) leaking water tank
    Exposed the water tank and patched it
  • cleaned out the filter on our water pump (better the debris be in there than in our glasses!)
  • stained and assembled our new stepladder, intended for access to the wheelhouse from the captain’s cabin entranceway
    stained a stepstoolBuilt a stepstool
  • cleaned out the captain’s cabin fridge, because it was beginning to reek
  • tidied the half-height storage area under the wheelhouse, and moved the patio furniture to the calorifier cabinet instead
    Tidied the half height storage area
  • assembled the boxes for the captain’s cabin bedroom and transferred our smalls inside, and removed the rolling drawers to the other side
    Boxes in the captain's cabin bedroom
  • removed the ugly motion sensor in the captain’s cabin saloon
    Removed ugly motion sensor
  • attempted to create a new coax extension to place the TV aerial in the wheelhouse (unfinished)
  • cooked an excellent meal and Melissa also sewed up a new shirt

We’ve really only got the galley steps as the last big task still on our list so hopefully we’ll have a pretty relaxing few weekends ahead of us!

Comment - posted 10 March 2008, 11:34 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