Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Days Nineteen to Twenty-Three- Keep Calm and Carry On

River Thames, Grand Union Canal

You may have wondered what happened during the recent dearth of blog posts, over the previous few days.

The problem was, not having a functioning engine for a few days, we ran out of battery power and so couldn't put the computers on, save the laptop for searching Google Local for suppliers of high-tensile steel bolts, and other such necessaries.

I'll start at the very beginning- Day Nineteen. We were on the Thames and were heading through Windsor from Eton, where we had moored overnight. I was with Jim on Warrior, and Sarah was with Amy on the Duck.

A different red roof in the photograph- this one with a lot more bolts and more traditional details!

Apart from some grey weather, all seemed fine- until Amy tried to slow the Duck down for a lock landing stage.

The engine went into reverse, but the prop didn't, and the Duck ended up bumping the landing stage, before slewing across the lock cut, with nothing Amy could do to control it. We threw her a rope from Warrior and reversed to pull them back alongside the landing stage, then came alongside. I wanted to look at the problem there and then, but the lock-keeper wanted us through, so we locked down and tied up at the far end of the lock landing stage, the Duck being towed alongside.

I thought it might have been one of the control cables from the Morse handle becoming unattached from the gearbox; John has had this happen before. Upon inspection, however, they were intact.

The problem wasn't the gearbox- thankfully, because that would have been expensive!- but rather the propeller shaft had become loose within the flexible coupling, so the engine and prop weren't connected. The shaft was held in by grub screws, and on taking them out, I found that two had been mostly sheered off, most likely when they were put in; the only thing holding the prop shaft into the coupling was one grub screw, and this had come loose out of the hole in which it had previously sat.

I had a go at replacing the grub screws in the shaft, having turned the prop by hand through the weedhatch and used an allen key to try and get the hole aligned; I thought I managed it, and went to turn the key and start the engine.

*Clunk* And nothing else. No whine from the starter motor, no buzzer saying the oil pressure was low which normally sounds when the ignition is first turned on; most trying!

I checked the fuse (or rather what I thought was the fuse!) and, with Jim's help, took the switch apart and hotwired it; no luck. There was charge in the starter battery, the starter motor just refused to go.

A council was had with Jim and Sarah; the decision was that they would continue to tow us alongside, and we would attempt to fix the problem as best we could. Well, they've got "Towage" written on the side of their boat- it would have been false advertising had they refused!

So we carried on down the Thames, breasted up- a fearsome sight to any plastic boats, or "splitters" as they are known on the Thames (because that's that they do if they're hit by a narrowboat!) but nothing compared to some of the other traffic:

We finished the day at Laleham, just south of Staines, and after a quick tidy-up we received my great aunt and uncle aboard; they brought us a Red-Cross style food parcel; whilst we're not quite in Stalag Luft III, it was very welcome! It was lovely to see them and showing them the boat, albeit with only 12 volt lighting as there wasn't enough power in the batteries, as we'd not run the engine long, to allow the inverter- or the fridge- to be used. Jim and Sarah also put us in contact with a number of friends of theirs, who offered advice on starting the engine and diagnosing the problem.

The following morning, (Day 20) I checked the circuit with Jim's multimeter, although I didn't want to try and short out the motor with a screwdriver as I didn't know which wires to touch.

However, I DID manage to solve the problem with the fuse.

Our fuse box is bodged out of a tupperware box, with a transparent lid, and a label for each fuse attached. Crucially, it fits on upside-down too- which means that the fuses are labelled wrongly... and, lo and behold, the fuse for the ignition had blown. Oops. After replacing it, we had a working ignition circuit, as the buzzer sounded; but still the starter motor refused to go.

We spent the day pleasantly with Jim and Sarah, traveling down towards Teddington, where the river becomes tidal. We ended up mooring up just before Teddington Lock, having booked passage (as is necessary) for the following morning. At 7am. Ouch. We found, in a nearby shop window, the wartime poster shown at the top of the post- significant because Sarah has a much-prized T-shirt, and the poster, of this very design- although she freely admits paying less than £70 for hers!

The queue of boats waiting for the lock. We're the 10th boat back- I think...

On day 21, we were up at 6:30, and headed towards the locks, where a single harassed lock-keeper was trying to keep hordes of plastic boats, narrowboats, and dutch barges separated. After heading through, we were on the tidal Thames, and enjoyed the picturesque bridges and scenery.

This is a video James took of the waves between the two boats' bows

We reached Brentford at 10am, and Jim and Sarah left us happily moored up on the 14-day visitor moorings next to BW's London HQ. Funnily enough, these moorings were rather swish, with hot showers- which we made full use of!- and laundry facilities- which we didn't, as £4.50 a wash seemed excessive...

That afternoon, my Dad and Grandad came over, and I removed the defective starter motor under their expert tuition and guidance. Dad and I then hotfooted it over to a (relatively) nearby car electrical shop, with 20 minutes to go before closing! Luckily enough, the North Circular was clear and we made it before they closed. The owner cannibalised three starter motors, and the fittings from our one, to make one to fit our engine. He kept going for three quarters of an hour after he officially closed, and only charged £90 for, effectively, a new starter motor.

Funnily enough, the shop was on the corner of Cambridge Road and Clare Road- and the next road along was Selwyn Close. Significant as these are our Colleges at Cambridge.

Shiny new starter motor...

Having fitted the new starter motor, we started the engine- finally!- and saw that the repair I'd made to the propshaft, putting the grub screws in, seemed to do the trick and hold the propshaft rigidly. Full of elation, we planned the next day's journey.

Unfortunately, we were to be disappointed. Nicholson's canal guide, mugs of tea, and everything prepared for the journey, we set off- only to have the prop become detached from the flexible coupling after only thirty seconds! VERY exasperating. At the end of our tethers, we called my Dad again, who promised to give up his Saturday afternoon and come and help us again.

Amy and I walked over towards Chiswick with a grub screw, to look in various shops and try and find some bolts that had the same thread as the grub screw; luckily, they're bog-standard M10, and we found some bolts in the Chiswick B&Q. On our return, we met my Dad and, having aligned the propshaft, we put the bolts in and tested the engine.

Frabjious day, calloo callay! It worked. The prop shaft was held rigidly. After a short trial cruise including winding and going astern to really test out the bolts, we were satisfied that we'd fixed the problem. Some friends arrived that evening, to see the boat, and we cruised for a mile or so with them on board into the gathering dusk, and finally moored below Osterley Lock for the night.

On Sunday- day twenty-three- we had a reasonable lie-in and then set off.

Only for the prop-shaft to become disconnected AGAIN after five minutes, as we went through the lock.

This was the lowest point; the propeller had slid backwards an inch so the shaft wouldn't line up, there were bits of sheared grub screw in the shaft, and the bolts we had weren't long enough to properly reach. Money, too, appeared tight. It was looking like we might need a boatyard to make a proper job of the repairs; Amy hadn't been paid at all for two week's work that she was owed; overall, we were looking at the possibility of having to stay in London with an engineless boat and work for a few weeks, just to be able to afford the repairs and to get back to Cambridge. However, Sarah 0ffered a tow all the way back to Cambridge, as this would assist Jim greatly.

Morale was low, but we walked over to a local Homebase to try and get some longer bolts, which we did. However, we couldn't get the prop shaft to slide back in and become realigned. We phoned Amy's dad, who is a boatbuilder, and he suggested moving the engine to get the flexible coupling out of the way. A call to my dad confirmed this as the best way forwards, and- being the fantastically kind person that he is, he promised us he would be with us at 10am the next day to help solve our problems once and for all.


  1. Hi,
    Good to hear that it is fixed, look after that Hurth gearbox, pause in neutral when going from forward to reverse (and visa versa) otherwise that will be the next thing to go wrong!
    Best of Luck

  2. So glad it is still holding. I have found a source for some spare M10 grub screws, and will try to get some. See you both soon. Dad

  3. Good old Dads!

    I like video of the waves. Where these the same waves that found their way under the deck hatch and 'dampened' the bed that lay underneath?

    Keep on cruising!