Monday, 14 December 2009

Marine Spanner

sparkless, allegedly
Received this helpful advice from 'Keeping Up' on the boating forum. With the amount of hot tea and coffee we both drink, I expect to be changing bottles quite regularly.

The arrow on the auto changeover valve shows red when the bottle that it is pointing to has no pressure, it shows white when the bottle still has pressure.

The usual way of using it, is that you start with two full bottles both turned on; whichever way you turn the valve it shows white. When it turns red you have an empty cylinder but the valve automatically starts to take its supply from the other cylinder. At the first opportunity you need to change the empty one. You wait until you have the chance to change it, then you turn off the empty cylinder and rotate the switch which should then show a white arrow.

It is then safe to disconnect the pigtail from the gas bottle (an anti-clockwise thread); there should be non-return valves both in the changeover valve and in the pigtail, so you can leave the unused one dangling until you connect the new full cylinder.

Tighten it up and turn it on, then listen to make sure there's no obvious leak. Do not touch the auto changeover valve, which stays white until your second bottle becomes empty and you repeat the process with that one instead.

Sorted. The whole process is much less unfathomable and intimidating now.


our illegal bendy pipe with corroded clips
Asking for advice about how to change the gas bottles, it was pointed out that dogma's current gas installation would fail a BSS examination. The bendy orange pipe with the corroded clips should not be there. It's a bodge. But it was obviously there in June, when the boat was signed off as safe to live on for another 4 years.

We based our purchase of dogma partly on the fact that she had a valid British Safety Certificate that was good until 2013. She was safe. And the hull integrity was the only unknown (which is why we got that professionally surveyed). We've been urged to contact the BSS. As they (sometimes) want to hear about things which been passed, but really shouldn't have.

On the upside, a new set of flexible pipes and the manhours to fit them, won't be a tremendous expense. We were going to do it anyway, for peace of mind. But we feel let down by the British Safety examination process. An online boater remarked "its not worth the paper it's written on". Coupled with Steve the mechanics comments about how easy it is to circumvent the electrical side of BSS, it does look like a very flimsy piece of legislation.

The insurers wanted to see it. So did BW, and EA. but it was almost completely worthless. Just a rubber stamp, a fee, and a shiny hologram which keeps officialdom happy.

how it should look

Mystery Solved

bolin pump
Some helpful boaters on the 'Canal World Discussion Forum' solved this one in under two hours. They were full of useful advice about how to replace the fire rope and cracked glass too. Fire Rope?! Yes... It forms a seal between the stove body and door, which helps stop the fumes escaping back into the cabin. Ours is solidified, crusty and seen better days.

It turns out that the red LED switch activates the pump, which circulates hot water through the two rads. The mystery 'radiator cap' with trailing wires is the pump itself. A Bolin pump, apparently. 155 quid. it's so tiny! and silent. not at all what you would expect "a pump" to look like.

thankyou boaters.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


Gearbox sounds good when underway. Gearstick works fine. Forward, Reverse, and tickover. With varying degrees of power inbetween. Everything we need. But the housing is cracked, and lets in the rain. The previous owner had taped over it. The starter panel (and big red stop button) is also dangling by two screws and in need of some love. A job for January, when dogma is next out of the water.

Eco Friendly Fridge

Check our superduper energy efficient low cost fridge. It may not be such an effective strategy in the summer, but right now it's working fine.

The previously mentioned 'jaunty whistler' lives on the expensive looking boat moored behind us, The White Widow. Judging by his whistling, he must be a very happy chap. But as we've just moved here, we've not yet had the pleasure of meeting him.

More Gas

bottle 1
Couldn't figure out how to light the cooker and boil up the kettle. It's fitted with a flame safety device, which i haven't mastered the knack of yet. Guessed the gas supply had probably been isolated somewhere too, but couldn't find the switch. Or maybe the bottles had been caned, and not replaced? Still not sure. but I felt brave enough to make my first foray into the storage bins to investigate.

Took these pics, so I can ask other boaters for their advice. Steve, the marina mechanic is going to make sure everything is safe with the gas installation, before starting on the other electrical work. Which is a relief, and a big peace of mind.

So, I went without coffee for two days, and drank a lot of fruit juice instead. Which is probably for the best.

bottle 2


dogma is 100% registered, insured, and legal
888 pounds. 888 is allegedly the kabbalistic number of Jesus. Which is precisely what was exclaimed when we found out how much a gold licence would cost us. With this piece of paper, we can legally travel anywhere on the canal and river network. From that fee, British Waterways gets a very reasonable 223.90 , while the greedy Environmental agency snatches away 664.10 (for us having the audacity to scuff up the thames with our scraggy boat, i suppose).

We figure a one off "go anywhere" payment is better than trying to figure out EA's insane 'per cubic meter of boat' pricing method. That, and we still don't know which way we're going. Upstream, Downstream. Onto the Kennet and Avon. Or up to Oxford. So many choices. We're not really sure yet. At least now, we're covered.

Morso Mystery

big red valve
It had dropped to 3 degrees outside, when i lit the stove. Quickly established that the big red valve controls the heat to the radiators, which made the boat nice and warm inside. The copper pipes that run down the length of the boat all heated up, making one super long heat source. Great. The red LED light above the stove turns on and glows nicely. But i have no idea what it actually does. So i turned it back off.

the mystery valve
The radiator cap with wires attached, remains completely mystifying. Absolutely not a clue what it does. So i left it well alone.

Taking on Coal

fire one
There was some coal left in the bin. Unusually large potato sized lozenges, which were very light, almost porous. I didn't hold out much hope when I first fired up the stove. But they were great. They caught fire quite fast, provided gratifying heat, and glowed very nicely.

Having to buy kindling was a bit galling.
But it worked brilliantly.

Fire 1 was a big success.

Decided to fill up the bin, and lugged a sack back from the Shell garage. But those were much smaller, denser nuggets, and more egg shaped. They were also very wet, and took an age to get going. It depleted a load of the kindling before they eventually caught. But when they did, they lasted longer than the bigger chunks. Heat for heat it's hard to judge between the two. But for ease of use, the big ones were best.

Fire 2 was also a success. It heated the boat, and was very nice to look at. but it wasn't so economical to run.

Kept sticking my head out of the rear hatch to make sure it wasn't me that was causing the river mist, but everything was fine. Even when the stove was full on inside, what was coming out of the chimney was pretty discreet.

fire two


Oh dear. The red inverter light powered up enthusiastically enough, but then it faded instantly. No Power. Started to wonder if the battery was completly flat, but the cabin lights worked, and I noticed that there was a brown lead dangling out of a junction box, misplaced, and clearly where it shouldn't be.

"Get yourself an insulated screwdriver, and the worst that can happen is that something will go POP", declared my mate Webby. So I did. The brown wire sparked nicely (reminding me that brown is live), but I managed to reattach it without blowing anything up, or getting zapped in the process. Restored 230AC back to the boat. Result. Thanks Jim.

Steve, the marina mechanic took one look at the bodged installation, and whistled through his teeth. "What normally goes on", he said, "is that people just fit the inverter, THEN get the examiner around to look at it". "There's nothing there for him to fail it on, and so the boat passes". "When he's written out the certificate and gone, all sorts of unofficial bodging goes on", he explained. Then continued, "As you can see", whilst rolling his eyes in the general direction of the floor spaghetti. The phrase "trip hazard" came into mind, and the thought of all that exposed wiring being dripped on by the rain (or condensation) sent shivers through the both of us.

Lifting up the rear deckboards and rummaging around in dogma's bilges, we discovered that a) the exhaust is cracked (soot everywhere), and b) there is enough space for 4 leisure batteries. So hopefully soon, we shall have a much safer electrical installation and a charger that will see us through 2 to 3 days of careful usage, before needing to run the engine and top the bank up.

The New View

oh yes
Peter said we'd have a better view here, and he wasn't kidding. The best part of being on the outer mooring is that you get an unobstructed view. The second best part, is getting wobbled about by the wake from passing boats. I haven't been "wobbled about" for many years, and it felt really good to be fluid again, not fixed in stone.

About one in the morning, i heard something running down the river ?! It was a swan. Took about 3 or 400 paces before it was airborne.

Had the two best nights sleep of ages. It's a beautiful and tranquil spot here. The ducks whizz by the windows at 7 knots. The hustle and 60mph bustle of commuter life goes on two streets away, but it doesn't intrude at all. 4 hours just vanished, looking at the flames flickering in the stove.

In the mornings, when i heaved back the rear hatch, it was briskly cold, but sunny. So I sat out on the deck drinking fruit juice, and waved at passing boats. Just two today, Dutch barges. The crews looked really happy to be underway. They waved back. The bloke in the boat behind me was whistling jauntily. The postman was doing the morning riverbank delivery on his bike. people walked their dogs. All utterly normal, and commonplace, but it made you feel good to be alive.

Deepest Green

Elsan Organic Green Gunk
Witnessed dogma's first, second, and third pump outs. The tank is now squeeky clean. And the whole process only took about 10 minutes. A miracle of modern science.

I got some Elsan Green organic gunk to test out, should the noxious niffs reappear. but for now we are going to try au-natural, and see how we get on. Our initial excitement with the macerator toilet appears unfounded. On christening the throne, I discovered we have the 'dump through' variety onboard. Which is one step away from a medieval privvy or cesspit.

Thankfully, when you depress the foot pedal you don't get to view the previous months jobbies directly, they are mercifully shunted off to one side, before being dumped into the tank. But because muggins didn't know how to operate the flush pump, I had to use bottled water to banish them away.

"We pour perrier on our poos in Bucks", joked Sheena.

Steve pointed out the obscure place where the pump actuation lever is. Stashed discreetly 20 feet away, on the wardrobe steps, by the bow doors. doh! But now we have a fully flushing toilet, and water comes out of the (leaking) taps. Hooray!

First Cruise

hello new neighbours
Got the chance of spending a couple of nights onboard dogma. Knew that it might turn into an extreme camping endurance test. But went for it anyway. We had to check that everything was floating, and that water wasn't getting in anywhere unwanted. But it all looked good on arrival.

With the river flowing at approximately 7 knots, and our engine capable of 3, the marina manager was obviously reluctant to let my novice self steer 12 tons of steel around some very expensive plastic boats. So Richie took the helm for my first river outing. 300 yards upstream from the pumpout pontoon!

The engine performed really well, and we made good headway on barely more than tickover. We were both impressed.

With Peter stationed down river in the tug (on standby should our engine fail), Richie then pulled off the most skillfully executed bit of boat parking i will probably ever witness. He managed to squeeze us into a space barely longer than dogma (to the inch). And he said it was the first time he had ever steered a boat of this size.