Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Are You Serious ?

My background is one of deep sea ships.

When Willawaw was built, we tackled the build in the same way as if she were a ship.

We drew up a detailed specification and asked prospective boatbuilders to quote against the specification. Every detail was covered in that specification, even the paint and coatings to be used.

Many refused to quote as it was considered to be too much work for them, in terms of preparation.

They preferred to sell their standard fare.

Eventually, we got quotes from three yards and we chose the most serious one that we thought could deliver on time, with the right quality and at a fair price (they weren't the cheapest by a long shot).

That was six years ago.

Ironically, the yard no longer exists, but that wasn't our fault. Willawaw wasn't cheap and they didn't cut their margins to get the job.

In terms of maintenance, we don't go for a quick black and brush-up every two years like most narrowboat owners.

The boat was constructed to go four years between blackings. 

However, when she does dock, we insist on drydocking rather than using slipways or cranes.

As narrowboats have a flat bottom and very little longitudinal strength, because they aren't designed to ride waves, I don't like subjecting Willawaw to the stresses of a crane lift.

The bending moments are aggravated by partially full water, diesel and waste tanks, which take their own toll when the boat is no longer supported evenly by her buoyancy.

A friend of mine had his boat lifted in slings and the doors never shut properly again.

For the drydocking, we write a docking specification and present it to the boatyard, so they can see what work is needed in advance. We discuss how long it will take, what raw materials might be needed and whose job it will be to obtain them.

In short, it is a mini refit project in its own right.

This time, for our second drydocking, I decided that I would like the bottomplate to be blacked.

In the past, I was convinced by the builder and the first drydock yard, that it was not necessary or traditional to black the bottomplate on narrowboats.

As it happens, there was very little corrosion on the 10mm bottomplate at the first drydock in 2005.

However, when the boat came out of the water this time, although there was still little corrosion, there were a few fresh water mussels on the uncoated bottom.

We spent a lot of 2008 in the Fenlands and we assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the clear, clean water in that area may be responsible for the hitch-hiking shellfish.

They were a devil to get off, so we decided this time, we would get the bottomplate blacked.

I have a suspicion that mussels like the bare metalwork (there is some research to support this) and believe that a few coats of chemicals will deter them from adhering in the future.

The yard wasn't very keen.

After some discussion and the lure of more pound notes, they agreed, but they only wanted to black the parts that they could get to, between the trestles in the drydock.

I didn't want a striped bottomplate for the four years until we could dock again and fill in the gaps and thought this was an unprofessional attitude.

After some negotiation, they eventually agreed to flood and empty the dock again.

There was never any problem in us paying for the extra 3 days or so that it would take, as there is plenty of other work that needs doing at the same time. They just didn't seem to fancy the fuss.

It just seems to me that inland waterways boatyards never seem to want to do anything properly or take their work seriously.

I don't know whether its because narrowboat owners have a reputation for cutting corners and doing things on the cheap, when compared to their salt water cousins, or whether its the attitude that boatyards have been able to get away with historically ??

I've noticed it with many different aspects of narrowboat maintenance (not just yards).

Many canal tradespeople seem to have a very "laissez-faire" attitude to life and you're lucky if they turn up on time or even come back to finish what they started sometimes !!

We also have to choose our yards carefully, as we won't accept the usual Comastic type blacking.

The boat was built with a Jotun 2-coat Epoxy Coating, of the kind that is used to protect large bore pipelines. It's not cheap to buy and it's a pig to put on, but it lasts for ages (and resists all but direct hits from the odd bolt protruding from bankside steel pilings).

It's the Jotun that enables us to achieve the magic four years.

Anyway, I think we are getting there now.

Today, we replaced the Jabsco Water Pump, the fresh water tank filter and the Shower Sump Pump. These are quite crucial to peace and harmony when continuously cruising, so we have replaced them before they fail and we carry complete spare pumps onboard - it's no fun when your fresh water pump stops working, usually at the most inconvenient moment.

Once the boat is finished in the dock, we will put her on a floating lay-by berth out on the canal and start work on servicing the engine and generator.

The bow thruster has already been fitted with new brushes, anodes and had its oil changed.

The shaft seal packing has been replaced, the rudder assembly has been dismantled, cleaned and lubricated and the coachroof is being painted with anti-slip.

 A Real Drydock !!

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