Miss Inexperience and boatmen

Despite having gained quite a few new skills, Miss Inexperience is still relatively new to this boating lark and has no idea how to fix most of the things that make her home function, so she does what all newbies do and calls in the professionals:

water water everywhere

the Christmas spirit

It’s the 23rd December; LB[1], MLB[2], MsB and Miss Inexperience are sitting around having a quiet drink and contemplating a stress free few days watching TV and not doing very much. Miss Inexperience nips ‘next door’ into her own boat to pick something up (some more gin perhaps? Maybe some ice?) and discovers that her water pump is cycling. She flips it off at the switch, assumes the water tank’s empty and goes back to MLB’s boat with whatever it was she came in for.

A couple of hours later MsB and Miss Inexperience wander off to bed and discover a large puddle where Miss Inexperience’s bedroom carpet should be. In blind panic they start hauling things out from under the bed trying to see where the leak is coming from, only to discover it’s the pump itself that is leaking. Fortunately, it is doing so on the outlet side so Miss Inexperience has temporarily solved the problem by switching said pump off. They shrug, figure there’s no point in worrying people tonight and put the damp stuff out of the way in the shower compartment.

that's a lot of pages

Christmas Eve is spent pulling out wet stuff. Lots of wet stuff. Miss Inexperience hasn’t been on the boat long enough to learn that anything stored under, say, the bed, should be in plastic boxes, let alone that putting books on the carpet is a bad, if space saving, idea. The wet stuff is then spread out in MLB’s boat, ranged as far as possible round the fire, a feat made difficult both by the location of said appliance and the requirement for heat to permeate the rest of the boat. Then MsB and Miss Inexperience spend several hours[3] carefully peeling apart the pages of sodden books in a vain attempt to rescue them, while LB heads back to his boat in search of a spare water pump to replace the broken one.

The repair is enacted using a pump with a failed pressure switch which LB had been asked to replace rather than repair for somebody, despite the fact that the pump element was fine. This he accessorised with a pressure switch from his “bucket of useful bits”. Water issue number two was discovered when LB was in the process of removing the broken pump from the system: the stopcock on the water tank didn’t work. But, since the floor was soaked anyway it wasn’t a major crisis. LB put the system back together and wandered back into MLB’s boat to cook dinner, mumbling about charging extra for working on Christmas Eve. Miss Inexperience waved a vegetable peeler at him in a vaguely menacing fashion and offered him a beer instead. Apparently he’d take what he was offered.

On Boxing Day the next pipe joint in the system exploded.

Cue some more swearing and emergency bodged plumbing from LB, who agrees to look at the plumbing properly in January since there are clearly some issues. Not least that Miss Inexperience is still suffering from a wildly erratic shower and that her stopcock doesn’t. Plus there’s a fair chance that the rest of the pipe joints will explode under the pressure since the “new” pump has more oomph than the old one.

It takes over a week for everything to dry out again – including Miss Inexperience’s carpet which she takes up and props around the boat to allow the floorboards to dry as well. By the end of it MLB is getting mightily unimpressed with the amount of stuff being stored, and in some cases dried, in her living room. Miss Inexperience can’t apologise enough and MLB does understand, but it is her living room and her boat isn’t exactly huge either. Miss Inexperience finally gets the floor dry and puts the carpet back down, before hauling everything she’s taken out back into her boat and hoping to hell it doesn’t happen again.

gravitational constant

It was a Christmas of things breaking. As if the chaos caused by Miss Inexperience’s water system breaking wasn’t enough, the benches in her living room chose to collapse as well. The starboard one went first; it fell down at the aft end one day just as MsB was sitting down on it. She jumped up like a scalded cat and kept apologising but really it wasn’t her fault. It could have happened to anybody. When LB takes it apart to fix it he discovers that it was only held up with bits of 2”x1” so it was an accident waiting to happen anyway. He replaces the struts with lumps of 4”x2” and they put the whole thing back together.

A few days later the starboard bench also collapses at the aft end. Again it does it when MsB is in the process of sitting down on it. By this time MsB is naturally feeling a little sore about the whole thing. Again, taking it apart (remember it’s Christmas, had it been any other time of year they’d probably have checked the other bench and repaired it at the same time) they discover the same problem. The same solution is deployed and it’s pointed out to MsB that again, it was an accident waiting to happen, and that it could have been any of them sitting on it that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Miss Inexperience wasn’t sure that her reassurance was really working but it wasn’t in any way MsB’s fault. These things happen. And it was quite funny watching LB doing woodwork wearing a party hat from a Christmas cracker.

pipe wrench

It was June by the time LB got round to tackling Miss Inexperience’s dodgy pipe-work. Fortunately nothing else had exploded in the mean time. Miss Inexperience has not yet learned that there are so many calls on a boatman’s time that if she actually needs the work to be done in a timely fashion she has to keep nagging. It is, with some boatmen, literally a case of she who shouts loudest gets dealt with first. Of course a busy boatman is a good thing. The busier the boatman, theoretically, the better they are.

So in June Miss Inexperience pulls her boat onto the Lisson Wide moorings (with BW’s permission) where she can have access to water while her plumbing is dealt with. The work is chaotic, particularly for someone who lives on her boat. LB has to check each and every pipe joint, and replace some lengths of pipe. And all of this has to be done around the boat’s fittings (bed, benches, wardrobe, bathroom); as if that weren’t bad enough Miss Inexperience cannot even remove the things that are stored under or in these places as she has nowhere else to put them that won’t be equally in the way. Fortunately Miss Inexperience has a job to go to and MsB’s boat is handy so she can leave Pen there with the other dogs.

Even so, it takes about a month for everything to get done. Accumulator tank fitted, new stopcock etc. A month of intermittently running water (Miss Inexperience’s tip for the top: remember to fill the kettle before retiring to bed) and an almost complete absence of hot water. It is a situation made tolerable only by the proximity of MsB’s boat where she can shower and eat. Still when it’s done the shower is improved (though still erratic) and the hot water is a consistent temperature when it reaches the sink. Much to both Miss Inexperience’s and British Waterways’ relief she can now take her boat off the mooring… She fills up the water tank and meanders off down to Camden for a week.

the return of the cooling conundrum

Part gate, part emergency brakes. With decorative @WeAreLurcher

Having been studiously ignoring the cooling problem and regularly topping up the engine header tank/pumping the bilges for well over a year, Miss Inexperience discovers she can no longer ignore her ailing propulsion system. Unfortunately she discovers this while attempting to pull back into the Lisson Wide mooring (which she had just left a week ago) in order to pick up MsB and her cassette toilets for a “poo run”.

Moving at tick-over, she putters into the free space next to the gate to pick them up, throws the Morse lever into reverse … and nothing happens. She takes the lever back to neutral, and tries again. Nothing. She swings it into forward for second, and then back to reverse. Still nothing. She hurls her centre line to SBT who uses the fortunately sturdy gate to stop 40’ of Springer colliding with 20’ of narrowboat which would then have hit a very expensive Sea Otter houseboat. They tie off to the gate, and attempt to work out what the hell has gone wrong.

Gear cable: yes, there is one; yes, it appears to be intact.

Water: yes, and no alarms.

Oil: ditto.

LB comes and has a peer and throws the throttle from forward to reverse a few times. Then shrugs, “Should be working. Here’s the number of SLE, he’s probably your best bet.”

Miss Inexperience calls SLE, then she calls BW; she explains carefully that she didn’t mean it to happen and that she’s called SLE and would it be OK if she moored up back where she was until her engine could be fixed? And they know she’s really sorry right? BW are quite reasonable about it – even when it goes on for far longer than it should have done, as is MsB’s best friend (BF) who arrives home one night to find that Miss Inexperience’s engine alarm is going off. Miss Inexperience is, at this point, on holiday in Wales, which leaves MsB and BF to try and figure out how to stop the damn alarm. They try turning the key to the off position and removing it, nothing; they try turning the isolator switches off, nothing. Eventually, in desperation they disconnect the batteries. Miss Inexperience is rung and told about this in the morning. She agrees that that was all they could do; gets very grumpy and rings SLE.

SLE’s response is that he wasn’t told the key had to be returned to directly upright when the engine was stopped and bickers about whose fault/responsibility it was. Surely he shouldn’t need to be told something that simple? When Miss Inexperience returns, she moves the boat off the mooring and, on arriving at MLB’s boat where she stops for a cup of coffee on her way to Kensal, discovers that the engine will no longer stop. Another frantic call to SLE ensues – no, the diesel cut off doesn’t seem to be working either. Could you look at that when you come to fix the engine stop? Yes, Miss Inexperience can disconnect the fuel lines from the injectors if SLE can explain which bits the fuel lines are and which bits the injectors are. This is the scariest thing Miss Inexperience has had to do so far, however the engine stops and Miss Inexperience spends another month moored somewhere she shouldn’t be (but at least it’s somewhere different this time) while she waits for this problem to be fixed. She then pays SLE (discovering in the process that the cause of the problems appears to have been gunged up water pipes and that lots of clearing of the system had been required on top of the subsequent electrical fix) and vows never to use him again. In the mean time MsB has done some mooring juggling so that the boat can sit somewhere with mains power and access to water.

bother said pooh, as the boat slowly sank
(or why won’t the engine start)

Christmas Present from LB. I think he thinks he's funny...

Christmas again, a different one this time fortunately. Miss Inexperience, MsB, LB and MLB are spending it together again though how Miss Inexperience got invited back after the disastrous Christmas where her boat tried to fall apart is an interesting question in and of itself.

After a couple of days moored outside MLB’s boat, Miss Inexperience needs to run the engine to charge her batteries as she doesn’t actually have a battery charger and had to borrow one from LB when she broke down. It’s pitch black but she gets the engine keys out and starts her up. Or at least she tries to. The engine turns over but nothing happens. There’s no kick, there’s no sputtering into life. Nothing. Just the engine turning over undercut by a very odd noise.

Further investigation reveals that the reason the engine won’t actually start is that part of it is under water. Unbeknownst to Miss Inexperience the stern tube had developed a really quite nasty leak which had clearly been dripping for several days. As Miss Inexperience doesn’t have a float switch on her bilge pump the water had built up in the engine bay until the bottom of the engine had gone under water, at which point the problem had been noticed as the engine wouldn’t start. She screws as much grease as possible into the stern gland, finds somewhere to perch the borrowed battery charger where it won’t fall off and fry them all, and waits for daylight to sort the problem out.

The following day they take a proper look at Miss Inexperience’s engine compartment. There’s still a lot of water coming in through the stern gear, despite Miss Inexperience’s attempts with the grease gun, and the engine bay is about 6” deep throughout – so using the bilge pump to empty the engine bay is a non-starter. LB heads back to his mooring in search of a wet and dry vacuum cleaner and some jerry cans to put the fluid into. Miss Inexperience then spends the afternoon vacuuming her engine bay and emptying the oily mess into jerry cans. Fun.

Once this had been done and the engine battery had been boosted using the charger the engine started. Phew.

There was, however, still a small waterfall coming through the stern gear. They tried again with the grease gun. It moved a bit but didn’t seem to help. For the moment therefore, Miss Inexperience would have to keep using the bilge pump until the correct size packing could be acquired and LB would replace it for her. He offered to show her how but she didn’t think she was quite ready for that level of responsibility; it is after all quite possible to sink a boat while replacing its stern tube packing in the water – not therefore a job for the faint hearted or frankly petrified.

the fridge rotation

Having been on a mooring for nearly a year barely moving the boat – toilet cassettes were emptied by bike trailer, a battery charger had been acquired/connected and water was a hose length away – Miss Inexperience discovered that her gas fridge had stopped working. The fridge is actually a three-way (230v/12v/gas) but Miss Inexperience hadn’t thought about it – it was, as far as she was concerned, a gas fridge. LB knew her well enough not to even posit a suggestion that she just connect it to the mains. Apparently the gas element of it had stopped working because it needed shaking, so that’s what he did. He emptied her fridge, took it out and rotated it several times before putting it back in again. Once he had done that it worked, and considerably better than it had ever worked before.

The moral of this story is: if you’re not going to move your boat you’re going to have to shake your fridge – or something like that.

running hot and cold

Having lived with intermittent hot water for several years, Miss Inexperience is offered a reconditioned, considerably more efficient (newer) instantaneous hot water boiler that should solve her problems. She accepts and arranges for LB to fit said new boiler. Unfortunately she allows LB to remove the existing boiler before the ‘new’ boiler is ready. She then spends a ridiculous amount of time without any running hot water while she waits for the new boiler to be returned and fitted.

In case you were wondering – it takes an average of five kettles full of water to fill a standard domestic sink full enough for washing up (allowing a bit of space for cold, even though there’s cooling time while the next kettle boils) and three to fill it full enough to have a wash. If you want to wash your hair as well you’re probably going to need two sinks, so six kettles. As you can imagine this is fine for a few days but not so good for a few weeks, or a couple of months (which is about how long Miss Inexperience was without her boiler for). And the moral of this story is unless it’s actually broken don’t let someone remove it unless you can see the thing they’re replacing it with.

Incidentally, the new boiler didn’t fix Miss Inexperience’s hot water problems, though like the pipe-work it did improve the situation.

the fire’s supposed to stay inside the glass

Miss Inexperience has cracked her stove glass. It’s not dangerously broken but it’s not as safe as it really should be. None of it’s fallen out, it’s just cracked. It’s cracked because the eco-fan fell off onto the glass when the door was open, but again it’s not the end of the world. Miss Inexperience has asked LB to order her a new one and he has done so, it should be here any day now.

Which is probably a good thing given that Miss Inexperience is about to do something very, very silly. Miss Inexperience, AP and MsB are all sitting on the boat eating fish and chips; when they’ve finished AP goes down into the kitchen to put the kettle on and Miss Inexperience balls up the chip papers and throws one of them into the fire.

The fat-soaked chip paper goes up with a whomph and Miss Inexperience slams the stove door on it. The cracked stove door. The glass in which proceeds to bend under the force of the heat allowing blue flames to poke through the widening gap…

On one side of the stove is AP, hand on fire extinguisher. On the other side are Miss Inexperience and MsB. Miss Inexperience is between the dogs and the fire. MsB is opening the front doors and attempting to work out how they get themselves and the dogs out onto the towpath without anyone getting injured in the process. Although it is possible to exit Miss Inexperience’s boat via the front doors, it is quite a difficult manoeuvre to pull off, as only the top half of the doors actually opens and there is no deck, the well goes all the way down to the bilges. As Miss Inexperience watches the fire leaping through the glass and contemplates getting the dogs out of the front of the boat without injuries, she reflects that it would probably be a good idea to do something about that…

The fire extinguisher remains unused, the flames die back, no dogs or people are thrown onto the towpath. Miss Inexperience makes a mental note that burning chip papers is a bad plan, shuts the fire right down, so it will go out slowly with minimal risk to the rest of the boat, makes sure the windows are open for air flow and hopes to hell that LB can collect the glass the following day.

stern words

Despite re-packing and regular greasing Miss Inexperience’s stern gear is soon back to its old leaky ways. She mentions this to LB, who demonstrates how to tighten it up; this does fix the problem, for a while. Then it starts again, she’s greasing it, she’s not doing anything unusual, she doesn’t understand. LB says he’ll have another look at it, which he duly does.

When he takes it apart to put some more packing in there he discovers the reason why the stern gear is leaking again. Despite Miss Inexperience’s best efforts there hasn’t actually been any grease getting to the stern tube as the pipe from the grease gun to the stern gear is blocked. Because there hasn’t been any grease getting through, the friction caused by the prop turning has burnt through the stern gland packing reducing it to a blackened mess. LB replaces the packing, unblocks the tube, and Miss Inexperience goes about making sure there’s plenty of grease in the new packing. She is also taught at this point how to refill her grease gun. That tells you how long the problem’s been going on for really doesn’t it?


[1] LB – Local Boatman, a friend of Miss Inexperience and MsB
[2] MLB – Mother of Local Boatman
[3] days

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