Sunday, 29 July 2018

Ohh Thank Gawd (edited) For That

Phew, relief. Builder B is building NB Ernest (confused? read the last post!)

So who is this skillful, flexible, calm (at least when we're there) builder? Building NB Ernest is Paul Barber of Sheetstores just off the Trent on the Erewash canal.

So why did we choose Paul, well lots of reasons really but here's a few...

His Boats - 

We'd seen a couple, not many as he's not a prolific boat builder and doesn't shout out about how many he's made. A couple of years ago we were invited to the first floating market at Fenny Stratford on the GU canal. A great little event (we hope to go back next year) and the organisers there had a fairly recent PB narrowboat 'Sidney'. Now the lines weren't exactly what I'd choose but the owners were really happy. For me the bow was a bit too pinched cheeks and pouty. 

Tug Boat Sidney

His other work - 

Paul doesn't only build boats, he runs a proper canal side boat yard. A fellow trader had some work done on a butty boat there, quite a bit of cutting, stretching and welding although you'd never know it was chopped as the transition between old and new was seamless.

He also puts an awful lot of wrong boats right. New stern gear in recently built boats that aren't up to the job. Re plating worn out hulls, upgrading rotting bow thruster tubes, major repairs to historic ex working boats (most recently converting one from an old elm based one to steel, probably bigger jobs than new builds). In fact St Tudno one of the best converted butty to motor boat jobs I've ever seen was done by Paul. You've got to be respectful of the original boat when you're making so many changes and it was built by Thomas Bantock 160 years ago.

Butty Boat Echos

St Tudno before 

and after

The Price - 

Well it's got to come somewhere into the equation. Not the cheapest, but definitely not the most expensive. Not forgetting as canal side builders there's no road haulage to do so the extra budget can be spent at Pauls yard.

His Hobby - 

Paul and wife Viv are boaters. Now that may sound pretty logical but when you start looking at boat builders most aren't based near the water but at industrial units where the finished boat gets loaded on to a lorry and transported to the canal. Lots of the builders I spoke to don't own boats and never go on them. Using them has to be the best way to know how they perform and what's going to work and what's not. Especially if the client wants quite a lot of "input", we don't want to end up with a boat that swims 'like a wardrobe flappin its doors down the cut'. 

So when they're not working they're out boating on their own historic narrowboat Whitby

Paul and Viv's Threefellows Carrying Company Pair

His Knowledge - 

Paul isn't new to boating, he used to work the gravel barges on the River Trent for a living in his early days. Even now, boaters chat amongst themselves as to whether its safe to go out on the Trent, most conversations end in "ask Paul, if he says it's fine, it's fine".

He started building boats not long after and built many of the very well known S M Hudson boats for the (now closed) Hudson firm.

So what is he building for us, and why did we have a sleepless night and a rush over to his yard less than 48 hours after visiting to confirm some details?..

...Tune in next time to find out ;)

Paul's website is - here

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

When the decisions you made a couple of blogs ago are wrong

OK so what happens in boat building land when you've realised you may have made a slight error in what looks right for cabin side heights and speak to your builder and say 'can the whole roof come off and lower by three inches'.

Does builder A say 'sorry, I double checked with you it's really too far in now'

Or builder B say 'Probably, pop over tomorrow and we'll do some measurements' 

So have we got builder A or builder B...

Find out who's building Ernest and why in the next blog... 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Heart of the Beast

So what are we actually having?

Full length

That sums it up really, an industrial slant rather than too pretty and roses 'n' castlesey.

Now the heart of every good trad looking boat has to be an old engine. None of this modern clean burning fuel efficient rubbish. Ideally it should weigh an absolute ton (or more) and sit, pride of place, slap bang in the middle of its very own room. 

Lovers say an engine in its own room is vital, haters say it's a ridiculous waste of space. They're probably both right to a certain extent but also important for us is having accessibility to keep the motor well looked after and inspected. 

Even with our generous cruiser stern engine boards getting down into the depths to service and carry out the ancillary checks on our Beta 50hp can be a bit of a balls ache, and if you get your positioning wrong that can be quite literal. 

The down side of a nice vintage engine is the cost. Russel Newbury still make them new pretty well as they were. Lots of lovely moving bits to watch and loads of copper and brass to polish or cry over as it tarnishes. The price, close to £18,000 and that's not fitted or probably even delivered. 

The rarity of some of the more popular vintage two cylinder engines originating from the 40s to 60s is now increasing. Gardiner 2LW and Lister JP2 being very popular for marine conversions are not quite as rare as hens teeth in ready to convert guise but it's getting there. 

The three cylinder versions are less popular, probably because the exhaust note looses the popular 'Boppety Bop' kind of note and the extra power just isn't needed on a narrowboat, even a long deep one. Mike on Royalty Class narrowboat Victoria copes perfectly well even with a decent load aboard with his JP2 motor. And the prices of these, well not much cheaper at between £10,000 and £14,000 at an average. Often plus a gearbox and alternator brackets, delivery and of course installation. 

So as well as being the heart of a traditional boat its also one hell of an investment and not a decision to take lightly especially if overall budgets are a bit tight. 

And as our budget is a bit tight (that's putting it mildly) we had to think outside the box a bit. After lots of searching we managed to find a compromise, funnily enough not to far from our stomping ground in Poole. 

Marine Power Services is a father and son engineering team and exactly what we're looking for. Far more professional than hobby engineers but Martyn is a senior engineer for RNLI in Poole so these older engines are, well, just a little more basic than he's used to.

They had two similar engines one of which they wanted to keep for themselves when they get around to building their own narrowboat. That's got to be a good sign. After quite a chat on the phone the reason they like these engines is that for three cylinders they're quite compact, they've got a nice long stroke so I'm expecting a lovely engine note, and nobody will guess what engine it is. In fact I've done quite a lot of digging and I've managed to find one narrowboat with the two cylinder version and two with this three cylinder version, one of which has had some rebuild work done by Marine Power Services and one was supplied by them to a Thames hotel boat which has happily just turned the 15,000 hour point (that's about 30 years for us at the moment). 

The other thing  we prefer about this motor that a lot of traditionalist won't approve of is the fact that we're retaining the bell housing on the rear end rather than having the traditional exposed flywheel. We would have to have had a decent amount of caging around an exposed flywheel (as we will for the alternator belts and pulleys at the front end) to avoid having a completely squished patterdale terrier. 

So the engine we've chosen is a 1960 Dorman built not far from the canalside ​in Stafford. It spent it's life in a Jones crane possibly starting life as a navy crane going by the colour of first of four thick layers of paint that Geoff had to scrape off before applying our chosen RAL 7010 Tarpaulin grey.

Married to the engine will be a pair of compact Iskra 175A alternators at the front and a PRM 280 hydraulic gearbox. That'll all be rotating a two inch prop shaft ending with a twenty four inch compensated (over sized bats) propeller from Crowther

Some pics from Marine Power Services

Thats it straight from the crane

And its first coat of paint

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Droughts and Decisions

The problem with summer and solar power is decision making. 

For 8 months of the year out 400w solar panel array and cheapo controller provide all the power we need when we're static. 

It's almost like an extra Christmas when the Winters blue skies turn into early spring warmth and we start getting more power into the batteries. 

By late spring to early summer we're back to being reliant on solar as the main charging source and look at maps and past mooring logs to see where is likely to provide most sun for the next stop. What side the towpath is, the orientation of the mooring and any known obstructions can all play their parts in the decision making process. At least on Lois Jane. 

Don't you just hate the fact that lead acid batteries have to be regularly fully charged and that their chemical and physical make up means that last 10% capacity takes several hours at least to fill. I am glad we went for higher spec AGM batteries though, they can take a higher current early on so they're quicker to get to the 80-90% mark than standard wet cells.

We've only had two days of rain since early May and now the canal system is starting to struggle. As if 13 current unplanned emergency stoppages weren't bad enough the lack of water looks like it'll be closing the remainder of the the Leeds and Liverpool Canal next week. More will follow. It's a good job there's nowhere particular we've planned to be.

Making our own shade, the canopy side pieces roll up and store in a washing line cover

I thought that tree was going to provide a lot more shade than it did

Nearly there, panels in the sun for about 4 hours should net about 60 Amp hours

Lack of a breeze doesn't help

Mooring pins in and getting the canopy up takes only a couple of minutes

With 30°c plus temperatures forecast again for next week we'll have to make the decision between free power and mooring in the shade for a slightly cooler boat, we can't have both. If we're only moored for a day or two it's never an issue as we've enough power reserve for a couple of days so we moor in the shade and recharge on the next cruise. As we're getting a few boat jobs done we've been mooring in sunny spots for up to a week. Even with front back and side doors open and both Houdini hatches open 30°c outside can soon get to an uncomfortable 35°c inside and with sunset still not until 9.30 we're still in the high 20's at midnight.

Insulation, power consumption, energy charging, power storage will all be key budget decisions in regard to Narrowboat Ernest. Can we achieve the best of both worlds? I doubt it but we'll give it a bloody good go. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

Code Name Tapatahi

The importance of being Ernest. 

We've all past loads of boats with names anything from mildly amusing to ridiculous to bordering the offensive. Apologies if yours falls into these camps.

Flat​ Bottomed Gal is one of my least favourite. 


Kids inheritance

Llamedos (read it backwards)

Norfolk Enchants 

Norfolk 'n' Goode

Farkem Hall

Fircombe Hall

Wet Dream

Cirrhosis of the River

Yeah but, no, but

Every variable of MeAndEr

Just too many ... Lady or Lady...

Maybe it's just me but with new boats approaching the best part of £180k  cruising in Flat Bottomed Gal just seems kinda wrong.

So we've put quite a lot of thought​ into our boats name. Trying to think of the ethos behind the plans and how we're trying to live.

The closest I could come up with was TAPATAHI. Maori for Simplicity. A simple life and a simple boat build, nothing too complicated and nothing unnecessarily techy. I'd even researched a Maori symbols and how they could be included in the paint work and possibly interior art and carved wood.

But... I also had a fairly clear vision in my mind's eye of what I wanted the boat to look like and this wasn't going to work. We'd chosen the Builder, looked closely at his work and influences from his decades of not only building but previously actually working the boats and the fact that we wanted an industrial edge to our shell and interior and TAPATAHI just wasn't working.

What we needed was an actual name, not just words, translations or anagrams and hashed conglomerations. 

Our boat is going to be a bit of a bruiser, big old thumper of a British ex industrial plant engine and it had me remembering a tale a few Christmases ago of a mad dash across fields in South Wales.

It was towards the end of the WW2 a hospital full of mothers and babies, no one about to ward off the air attack and only one visiting soldier to man the twin Lewis guns. Hanging on to the out of control twin guns he recalled with a grin that most of the shells were headed in roughly the right direction. It was highly probable that the fighter aircraft were keeping all their ammunition for a bigger target. They could well have been on their way to the Swansea Blitz towards the end of February (the month was right but it may have been a year earlier). 

Apart from a brief hospital visit it was to be the one of the last conversations I had with my grandad. In that Welsh wartime hospital, my nan and newly born mum.

I think he'd have liked Narrowboat Ernest

Ernest Baker 15th June 1917 to 13th January 2016

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Next Chapter...

Ok so here's the bigger change...

The Pen Makers Boat mk2 is on its way!

This time it's gonna be bigger, by 10 foot and better, well we do flippin hope so. 

Gone will be the days of turning pens under the pram cover in freezing temperatures; gone will be the scrabbling around in the engine hole trying to retrieve dropped oil filters. But sadly also gone will be our two foot draught, our lovely iroko floor throughout the whole boat and our solid American oak fit-out, also our hand cut marquetry detailing on the cabinetry, the whole of system (well most of) dimensions, the never skips a beat beta engine, and one thing I've always liked, our 'see the tunnel lamp from the back deck right through the boat' layout. There will be sacrifices.

So as well as our travels there'll be a fair bit of boat build stuff going on here over the next few months - and probably few years whilst we learn to change a spray foamed hull into a home.

Now any blog messages containing "you don't want to do it like that..." or "what you want is..." will be [sumirally​] ignored cos I'm always right. Apparently.

OOooh how exciting!

With driving up to boat builders and driving down to engine builders we've been doing less cruising than we have for several years and spending most of our spare time getting Lois Jane ready for sale towards the end of the year. A fair bit of outside work needs doing and a bit of inside fettling to get it somewhere back to the IWA show boat it was in Birmingham 2000.

More to follow for cruising, LJ fettling and details (lots of which seem to change on a daily basis) of 70 foot Tug Boat, temporary build name TAPATAHI - Maori word for Simplicity, our build ethos.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Twisting The CEO's Ear

Love him or hate him, the CEO of the Canal and River Trust has always been approachable.

We first met Richard Parry at an invited meeting in Birmingham soon after he took the helm of the new Canal and River Trust somewhere towards the middle/end of 2013. Up until then he had been mainly tinkering around with trains (London Underground) for the previous twenty years. Since then we've bump into each other for a chat half a dozen or so times a year, he's genuinely interested to hear of any issues we have during our extensive travels around the system.

However after five years of chatting is he the best person to put the vitally needed changes into action? I'm still not sure. His priority's seem to be everywhere but boating and now the navigation authority is re branding as a waterways and wellbeing trust I can't see it getting better. All a bit wishy washy and corporate bull***te for me (cringeworthy strap lines here).

At the excellent Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association (doesn't quite trip off the tongue does it?) 50th anni back in May we had a catch up with and informed Richard of our plans and raised a few (more) issues regarding the national problem of the bottom of the canal being too close to the top. Or woefully inadequate system of canal dredging that has seen the pitiful amount of 60 miles of 2000 dredged in 2014 to 30 last year and gone from a yearly dredging plan to one that is of spot dredging the bits that are most complained about.

After a draining and very hot weekend at the festival (incidentally we are the first ever Roving Canal Traders to trade from the Nottingham Canal at Erewash, cos it's only one boats length and a small basin long), we bumped and ground our way back down the Erewash canal to the wide and deep river Trent and onto another far more exciting meeting!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Ch Ch Ch Changes

Welcome all to the refreshed and relocated blog.

We felt it needed a bit of a change around for two main reasons (and several minor ones)

Firstly the original blog (link) was really meant to be a gap year diary and now we're well on our way to year eight calling it a gap year or a career break seems a bit daft... and we ain't going back! 

Secondly, the old blog title, Lois Jane - loving the dream isn't going to be relevant soon.

Minor change wise, Deb has written loads of blog entries for our pen selling site The Pen Maker's Boat Blog. They can be quite repetitive but its nice to include with the pen's build blog a bit of what we have been up to cruising wise. It really is probably a lot easier to read (or not to) if in the pen blogs we keep to just about the pens but have a link to our travels blog, probably with a 'lead in' paragraph.

Now Blogger doesn't make it easy (not to me anyway) to change the name of a blog so we're having to re title our travels blog to make it more recognisable to pen buyers, are you still following me? So the old blog (Lois Jane - living the dream) will be stopping soon and changing over to this new one, The Pen Maker's Journey. I'll carry on cross posting for a bit so anyone can follow over or not if they want to clear their feed up a bit. It would be appreciated if the boater blogging stalwarts could list us in their feeds though ;)

Over the last couple of years we've looked at lots of life changing options from houses on the cheaper outskirts of Chester to canal side woodland in rural Warwickshire and spending some time boating around central Europe. Nothing seemed quite right or right for us as the next five to ten year plan. 

We've had a good old look at what we like at the moment and what we don't; what we're prepared to do and what we're not and we seem to have revisited a solution that we considered in about 2010 before we bought LJ. 

More to follow as the thlot pickens.