The Kittens.

No, I'm not just harvesting likes. About a month ago we found that a feral cat had given birth aboard "Lilith". We couldn't take them with us on the recycling trip so I moved the kittens on to "Elton". Mother cat then moved them into "Queen", well hidden. Several people have been feeding the mother, who was rather skinny. She's now looking a lot better.

Today I saw the kittens out gamboling in "Queen"s fore end. They're lovely. We already have homes offered for some of them but I think some help is needed in catching them. We need to catch the mother too and get her speyed, otherwise a boatload of kittens will become a regular thing.


The Laird Saves The Day

I was worried when I got up this morning. I'd had no response to my request for help on the last day of "Elton"s docking. Though I'd got all the plates on on Saturday there were still a lot of bolts to put in and my drill mounted nut screwer upper had broken. This simple tool was capable of surprising a bolt so that it screwed up without turning. Without it I would have to use spanners, a much slower process, and, without the element of surprise, I would need someone on the outside to hold the bolt head.

About 7.30 AM I got a text from Laird Denis McGee Boyle. He was coming from Nottingham to help. We had an excellent day painting the hull with black sticky stuff, drilling and bolting up plates. The picture above shows Denis painting the last bit at about 5.30. The pictures below show the work done over the last couple of days. Fingers crossed for her floating tomorrow!

The last 2 pictures show the bits that were holed by Community Spirit 2. Now nicely plated over.

Elton on Dock.

"Elton" has always been the Cinderella of our fleet. It's years since she was docked but she's now got 3 weeks on the dock at the marina. Long overdue anyway but precipitated by the damage caused when she was rammed by "Community Spirit". It's pretty amazing that we've managed to keep her afloat since the damage was done in March. The damage extends below the waterline yet it didn't start her leaking. If she had gone down it would have been a struggle to get her up again with that gaping hole in her stern. It's now being plated up. Here's some pictures of Aaron shafting her across the basin and the damage.

A Wintry Week 20th December 2009

2009-12-20 @ 22:08:36 by ashtonboatman

A wintry week

Oh the joys of looking after old boats in the winter. For a while I've been putting off searching "Elton" to find where she was leaking. Steadily the leak got worse until last Sunday she virtually sank and I had to start the 2" pump to bring here up again. I kept changing batteries for the bilge pumps, which were running constantly, sometimes getting up at 3 AM, until on Wednesday I decided I would have to drop everything else I was supposed to be doing to trawl through piles of useful items in her hold and try to find it. My delay in dealing with this was partly because I was feeling rotten with a virus that just won't go away. Paddling about in freezing water is not a recommended cure for the flu!

I was all day shifting stuff around and lifting shutts ( floor sections) until it was getting dark. I was on the verge of giving up when I spotted a commotion in the bilge under the back cabin. I lifted the shutt to reveal a little fountain where a knot in the elm bottom had dropped out. A quick squirt of expanding foam plugged the leak and I headed thankfully home. An evening inspection showed that she was still taking a lot of water. My theory about this was that moving stuff around had altered her trim and put a leaky seam under water. Early on Thursday, before starting my day's gardening work, I re-trimmed the boat, changed the bilge pump battery and hoped for the best.

A quick check after work showed that she was OK, but on the way to Latihan it started to snow. Frost and snow themselves cause problems with frozen up bilge pumps and snow weighing down float switches so that they don't work. The last couple of days have seen me running round with blowlamps and kettles of hot water to keep the pumps working while the scene has become steadily more christmas cardy.

Tomorrow is the Solstice and I plan a celebration with a bonfire to remind the Sun to come back. The winter weather is causing a few logistical problems in setting this up though.

Pumps, Bilges and Bolinders 25th October 2009

2009-10-25 @ 20:23:12 by ashtonboatman

Pumps, Bolinders and Bilges

Friday morning I arrived at Portland basin to get the usual working party on the boats started. As I looked through the gates I immediately knew something was different, but it took me a few seconds to realise that "Elton" had sunk. "Elton" has always been the Cinderella of our little fleet. She is currently mainly used for sorting out recyclable metals. She really needs a Prince Charming to come along and start tidying her up. To some extent that has started, as Andy Smethurst and Terry James have made a good job of painting her back cabin in Grand Union colours.

For a while I'd been concerned about her increasingly sieve like qualities, but kept putting off the unpleasant task of moving all the useful items in her hold to search for porous bits of the bottom. My failure to make a stitch in time had led to the current situation.

Soon I had the 2" pump set up and gushing water from "Elton"s bow. As she gradually rose up in the water I went about my normal tasks, helping volunteers to get their jobs done. Ken was busy repairing "Forget me Not"s shutts and Gary busied himself cutting firewood to see us through the winter. Arfa kept "Forget me Not"s range going and showed visitors round the cabin.

Eventually the revving and slurping of the pump told me that "Elton" was nearly empty. I set up an electric pump to remove the dregs of the water and hoped for the best as it was fast approaching time for the afternoon's jaunt.

Some months ago we acquired a Bolinder semi diesel engine that had formerly powered a Grand canal barge in Ireland. When first motorised "Forget me Not" was fitted with a bolinder, sadly scrapped in 1959. It has always been our intention to re-fit one, but soaring prices had made it look unlikely that we would ever succeed. Happily, this one was affordable, though of a slightly different, earlier, design to most.

I had arranged for our engineering department to have a look at a functioning Bolinder in the FMC motor "Rudd", moored at Bedford Basin in Leigh. So it was that Ike Isherwood, Chris Duxbury and me climbed into the society's old Transit van for the trip to Leigh.

When we eventually found Bedford Basin I was surprised to see my old boat, Bridgewater packet "Parbella", tied up and looking a bit neglected. I recognised her by a dent in the bow. For two years in the 1980s I steered "Parbella" between Liverpool and Frodsham carrying grain.

Round in the basin we found "Rudd" and Tim Young, her owner, welcomed us aboard. Lester was already there. We all climbed into the engine room and admired the gleaming engine. Tim explained the principles on which the Bolinder operates. It is largely steam engine technology applied to internal combustion. He explained all the dreadful things that can go wrong. Lester looked increasingly worried.

The discussion turned to reversing. Bolinders reverse by injecting fuel at the wrong time and so reversing the rotation of the engine. this doesn't always work and sometimes the engine stops. You always need to have a strategy for dealing with this if it happens.

Our engine has no reversing mechanism. In Ireland they didn't bother with reverse, stopping the boat by running into something. For operation with a butty we need reverse, so the discussion moved to means of achieving this. One way would be to discreetly fit a gearbox under the cabin floor. The other way, which seems to be favourite at the moment, would be to assemble a reversing mechanism from spare parts and specially made parts.

The plan now is to arrange a viewing of our engine, which has an extra esoteric feature of water injection, by various Bolinder experts.

On return to portland Basin I was pleased to see that "Elton" was still floating. Closer inspection showed a problem though. The electric pump had been running continuously while I was away but the water level in the boat was higher than when I left. This meant that the water was leaking in faster than the pump could shift it out again. I rigged up a bigger pump but this just flattened the battery in no time. Evening was drawing on and I was fighting a losing battle. I decided to let her sink again and have another go in the morning.

Saturday Morning I met Anthony Benson on the wharf and started the 2" pump again. We rigged up a big electric pump in the stern end, connected directly to a generator. Overnight I had charged up a stack of batteries, so I was confident about using the big electric pump in the bow too. Soon the boat was afloat and the two of us got stuck in to moving things around until we had traced the source of the influx. In fact, there were two, Tony found one and I found the other, almost simultaneously. With the aid of that wonderful boat bodging material - expanding foam, both were soon plugged. With automatic pumps rigged up I could then retire for a much needed wash.

"Forget me Not"s Bolinder now masquerades under the name "Henry Grantham" on Facebook. He needs friends who can help to get him up and running again.

Containing my Anger

Containing my Anger.

It was 6PM on a Tuesday evening and I had had a long day cutting planks for "Hazel" with the chainmill
In order to minimise disturbance to residents in the various flats I worked on this across on the towpath side, next to the junction with the Peak Forest Canal.

It had been a long day, made less comfortable by a vicious wind that whipped up the sawdust into a desert storm. As I inserted the resharpened saw into the groove for the final cut, an Anderton Marina hireboat emerged from the Peak Forest Canal and started to turn into the wind towards Manchester.

The lady of the boat, a solidly built cheerful scotswoman, walked by on the towpath with a big collie dog. We exchanged smiles and she carried on, then backtracked to ask about a safe mooring for the night. Her husband was now frantically backing up to avoid the boat hitting the newly repainted "Community Spirit" on the outside of the turn. The wind caught the flat cabin side like a sail and took the boat sideways.

I suggested that they back up and tie on the outside alongside the flats, the site of the prophet John Wroe's magnificent but long disapeared house. This was good advice from the point of view of having an undisturbed night, but would involve some manoevring that beginners would find challenging even on a still day.

As we spoke the boat reversed into the shallow water on the far side of the bridge and the rudder crunched into the stone copings. The bonny lady hurried over the bridge to help push it off and pass on my advice to her partner. He engaged forward gear and attempted to get the stern away from the bank, but an ominous underwater clattering indicated that the blade had picked up something that was battering the bottom of the counter as it rotated.

Its ability to manouvre further inhibited by rubbish on the prop, the boat moved slowly forwards, still in the grip of the wind. I could see that he wasn't going to get the boat to its destination without hitting one of our boats, but I wouldn't have minded if he simply scraped his bow along the side of "Southam". The sensible thing to do would have been to forget about engine power and use the shaft, which lay idle on the cabin roof, to get control of the errant fore end. I have always, however, found a great reluctance among trainee, and sometimes experienced, boaters to use the shaft.

The strategy employed to control the boat was a surprising one. As the bow headed into the arm where the boats awaiting restoration float in shallow water I expected to see a flush of sterngear from the still clattering prop. Instead the boat carried on until it impacted "Elton"s stern. She gave a lurch, then resigned herself to being used as a fulcrum as, still in forward gear, the man put his tiller over to lever the boat round. As soon as he backed up the wind caught the bow and he lost control again. He repeated the manouvre, but this time, the hireboat's bow having moved a few feet Eastwards, it was "Queen"s turn to suffer the indignity of a ramming.

I stood watching, open mouthed and dumbstruck. I knew that both boats were tough enough to withstand these blows, but I was amazed at the sheer disregard for other peoples craft.

The boat backed up again. The next boat in line for a blow from its bow was "Hazel", our most fragile boat. Somehow he managed to miss her, but, as anticipated, scraped his bow along the side of "Southam" instead. As his stern end approached the footbridge he threw a line up to his wife, who sensibly led the boat back to the overnight mooring that I had suggested.

I started the saw and quickly completed the last cut, by which time my anger had subsided a little. I shafted "Lilith" back across the basin to tie up abreast of "Southam", then went to dig out some leaflets from "Forget me Not"s cabin. I walked over to the moored hireboat and tapped on the roof. The woman emerged and reddened when she saw me. I sought to defuse her embarrasment with a smile, it wasn't her who had been steering, and handed her the leaflets. I said "Here's some information about the historic boats you just rammed". She was full of apologies, but she didn't call her husband out to face me. I diverted the conversation away from the incident as she was clearly uncomfortable, but it was her partner that I wanted to feel that discomfort. He had not once looked in my direction as he carried out his cavalier careering around the basin.

I went off to get some food. Early in the morning the boat left to work down the locks to Manchester. I wonder what sort of night the arrogant man had. It would be no surprise to me if the ghost of Jack Monk ( "Queen" was his first motor boat and remained his favourite) had visited him in the night and given him terrifying dreams of boatmans justice.