Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 7

Continued from part 6

26th of May 2011

Today I have to search around for signs of progress.

There is a craftsman at work, and to do his crafting to his level of competence, Carpenter Nigel needs space and a great deal of time.  Much of his work is done behind the scenes, and the parts he’s working on may not be on the boat.

As an example I find my glazed side-hatch doors, the bow and stern doors, and the bow-step in the varnishing bay.

Side Hatches & doors
Observe the surfaces of the wood left where holes have been cut out of the green unglazed stern doors, which the louvred ventilation panels will eventually cover…….they’ll be forever out of view, but the bare wood has still been protected by sealant and then painted.  I know from experience that not all boatbuilders do this, so instead, on some other new boats,  the wood around the vents will soon discolour, the varnish and paint will peel off, and rot will set in within just a few years.  I could give you many examples of such things, but suffice to say, the vast proportion of the quality of the work that I see being done on my boat can only be descibed as excellent.

It is now the day before my boat was due to be transported to the Crick Show.  Even though the lads worked late some nights, and the last few weekends, it just isn’t finished in time.  Cutting corners wasn’t an option to Paul and Anthony, and the boat was not completed until the following week.

We decide to keep in part to the same plan, by making Crick Marina the launching site for the boat on the 3rd of June, but there’s a lot still to be done before that.  Just before I leave on the 26th of May the soft furnishings arrive for my boat.

Cushions arrive
1st of June 2011.

My boat has now been painted, and is still in the paint oven when I arrive.
Paint oven
Their spray booth is really an oven, in which the 2-part paint is baked on, and there are very large heaters and ducts in the roof so that the temperature can be controlled during that baking process.  When built this was one of the largest paint ovens in the UK.   I’m told the paint job on my boat should last 25 years.  I can vouch for the longevity of the paintwork on some elderly Sea Otters that I’ve seen previously.

The trouble is, because my boat is now longer than 56 feet, (because of the engine generator), as you can see…….it doesn’t quite fit in !   Earlier, it had to be manoeuvred diagonally before the the oven doors would close !

There’s a flurry of activity inside the boat.  The installation of the stove is nearing completion, and I see that the new rules are being complied with, hence the wide gap behind the aluminium plates.  But Mark tells me that they have always fitted them that way, which must be reassuring to existing Sea Otter Boat owners with fitted stoves.
Stove installation
There’s less space in the biggest bedroom cupboard now, since the fitting of, from left, the two control boxes for the engine generator, the blue switch-over unit, then the consumer unit, and finally, on the right, the blue 3.5KW inverter.
Electrics 2
At the stern the work on the prop shaft is complete, the Axiom prop has been fitted, and just behind that is the small but lethal blade of a “rope-cutter”.  (A label on the weed-hatch cover plate is a reminder to the unwary of its presence !)

2nd of June 2011.

My boat is unceremoniously launched in Sea Otters own test-tank, and thankfully it floats.  Anti-freeze is added to the engine cooling systems (incorporating two keel tanks) and to the central heating system (Webasto) and all the operating systems are now being tested, including engine and transmission, charging, heating, and all electrical installations.

Into the test tank
A leak is found, and fixed, in a bathroom radiator, and tomorrow is the big day.

3rd  of June 2011.

The boat has been in the spray-booth overnight for sign-writing and few final paint-jobs.

It is now returned to the workshop for a few final checks.

Back to workshop
The transport arrives, and my boat is loaded on….watch your hands Paul !

Loaded up
It’s a good opportunity to photograph the V-hull.
V-hull 2
And a side view of the bow-thruster setup in association with the V-hull.  You can see the holes drilled into the V-hull !

And the big moment !

Launching at Crick
There is a worrying moment during the launching when the water around the boat seemed to take on a life of it’s own, as if a thousand fish were thrashing around just under the surface…..but it’s all to do with the water flowing into the V-hull and displacing the air which escapes within big bubbles all around the boat.

My boat was moored up in the new part of the marina, and I make myself at home.

There are bound to be teething problems with a new boat.  It’s like buying a house and a car both together…there are a many systems that can prove troublesome, and I had my fair share of problems.  Nothing major at this time, but I managed to compile quite a list for subsequent rectification.

On the top of my list was a reference to very weak water pressure in the shower, which was later found to be caused by a kink in the pipe behind it.

The diesel tank gauge didn’t work, which we later found was a stuck float.

I reported the fact that there was only one stern navigation light –silly me.

There were a few minor leaks from radiator joints, and a more serious leak from under the kitchen sink, and a slight leak from the engine fuel filter, and the starter battery was not being charged by the battery charger when on shore-power.    [All were quickly remedied.]

Paul had promised me a “Boat Safety Scheme Certificate”, but there hadn’t been time to have the boat tested in the factory.  Sure to his word he arranged a visit by an examiner at Crick.  BSS certificates are NOT normally given out with a new boat, but more usually faults are discovered four years later, by which time the test is mandatory, and also by which time the boat is well out of its guarantee period.

So it is a sign of their faith in their boats that Sea Otter arrange the BSS test when the boat is new.

Worth mentioning the Alde gas-tester which Sea Otter fit to their boats.  You can test your own gas system for a leak, and it saves the examiner a lot of time too.

I didn’t have a gas-leak, but my boat did fail the BSS test !    On five points !

Number one was that the battery boxes were not secured to the hull.  Sea Otter admit that this was an oversight.

Number two was that two main battery leads ran across the route of the Webasto fuel line.  There had to be a barrier fitted between the two.

Number three was that there were only 2 fire-extinguishers, not three, but that was previously known about and was in hand.

Number four was that the gas cylinders in the bow-locker were not secured.  They need to be chained down so they can’t fall over and roll about and damage the pipework.

Number five was that the rubber hose that joins the copper cooker pipe to the cooker was not of the correct specification.  Apparently, even though the system operates at low-pressure, the hose has to be of the high-pressure type !  Which is usually orange in colour and labelled BS3212-2, and mine was black and wasn’t.

ALL the above problems were rectified quickly by two subsequent visits to Crick Marina by Mark and John from Sea Otter Boats.  And a week later I had my first BSS certificate.

So things were looking up, until one night the red hose from the bottom of the calorifier came adrift, the pump came on as it would, and pumped the entire140 gallons contents of my full water tank out of the open end of the hose and into the back of my boat…..and I slept right through it.  I blame both the strength of the beer at the Red Lion and the fact that the hose was only held on by one jubilee clip, not two.  Fortunately I had a manual pump on board and spent from 3 am to 6 am pumping the water out.  Paul’s advice about installing the calorifier in the engine bay might have been echoing in my ears but it wasn’t because I was too bloody busy pumping.

As if I didn’t have enough on my mind at that time, my Webasto central heating turned ITSELF on TWICE while I was pumping !  I found out later it was because I had accidentally sprayed some water into the time clock positioned near the stern door.  It subsequently dried out with no apparent consequential damage.

The professionally laid carpets had to be ripped out, and dried off on the jetty, which that morning resembled a Crick-second-hand-carpet-sellers-market-stall.

I had fitted 6 water-detectors to my old boat, and had already fitted 6 to this boat, the seventh couldn’t yet be fitted into the bilge because it was still drying it out since the kitchen sink leak.  I was going to fit it the very next day !

It took a long time to dry the carpets out completely, and I think I was lucky that they shrank only minimally.  The wood dried out okay, and the carpets are back down, and things are back to normal, but I won’t forget that morning.  In future I’ll stick to the 4% and not the guest ale at the Red Lion, and I thank Sea Otter for not fitting any MDF.

18th of July 2011.

I was now ready for my first cruise, which was to be a leisurely four-day trip from Crick to Warwick.  Plunging into the mile long Crick Tunnel created a learning curve, the angle of the curve tightening as we passed two boats on the way through and my right hand couldn’t locate the throttle which wasn’t surprising when it’s not on that side but my last boat’s was !

I was impressed how the boat handled, and how quickly I could stop it.  That was reassuring but it didn’t prevent the first bit of damage to my new boat when the side-wind caught it when entering the Watford staircase top lock, and the boat was pushed into the side of the lock entrance, and where was my bow-thruster when I most needed it ?  It had turned itself off !   I had heard a type of warning buzzer in the tunnel, but didn’t know where it came from.  Apparently, when this particular bow-thruster hasn’t been used for 30 minutes, it gives you two audible warning buzzes, then promptly turns itself off.   What nonsense.  But no serious damage, just a torn rubber strake but that’s just what its for, and it can be easily mended, and no-one saw me do it, and that helped.

Just a note for anyone considering paying extra for a 240 volt in-line (“intercalated”) generator attached to a Nanni Engine.  It is worth knowing that, by default, it doesn’t kick-in until about 1,600 revs are reached, and doesn’t really work properly ’till 2,000rpm.!   And by then the boat is normally going too fast !  Apparently the system can be modified, but, as I understand it, then the onus is on the owner to ensure that the revs are high enough to produce the power for 240v appliances turned on within the boat, otherwise non-warranty damage may occur !  There’s a 3-year warranty on this Nanni engine, as long as the services are carried out when advised, and I’m doing nothing to prejudice that at this stage.

That evening we moored at Braunston, and then the next night, just before Stockton locks.  It was there that I raised the engine hatch and peered into the depths and it all looked very red.

The red was the contents of my gearbox.

It was after 5.00 pm, so I ‘phoned River Canal Rescue.  As usual, in my experience, they arrive quickly and courteously and they find that all my gearbox oil had escaped from a triangular plate near the back of the gearbox, the plate being held on by 3 bolts, and behind which was an “O” ring seal which was supposed to keep the oil in but hadn’t.  The seal, and the groove in the plate in which it lived, were cleaned and re-installed but oil still leaked when tested.  I was advised to contact the engine agents the next day for the gearbox to be repaired under warranty.

The offending plate can be seen clearly on this photograph (taken previously)…..follow the central vertical black tube down to where it joins the engine and go a little further down and come forward a bit…it’s that triangular plate held on with 3 bolts just behind the flexible coupling of the prop-shaft :-

Engine installed


There was only one thing that cheered me up that night…the boat Inn.  But thankfully no guest beers.

Over a pint that evening I pondered over the possibility that I had run the engine without gearbox oil for up to 5 hours that day, because I had no way of knowing when the oil had escaped, so the next morning I ‘phoned Peachments, the Nanni engine distributor and agent, and requested a new gearbox, and they agreed to send one out.

I wonder if you can guess where to ?   It depends on how well you know the canal system of-course.  But not only was I moored opposite a really good pub, I was also virtually opposite a Nanny Engine Agent by the name of “Kate Boats”.  [I didn’t know them then, but I subsequently get to know them quite well ! ]  Forward planning at its finest I’m sure you’ll agree.  Well done me.

The new gearbox was duly delivered the next day, and I pushed my boat across the canal to Kate Boats !

But the plot thickened.  Four thickenings.

The first, which I never got to the bottom of, was why the original gearbox oil was red, and yet the handbook says to use normal engine oil (AP1 CD SAE 15W40) .

The second, because of the type of water-lubricated stern-gland fitted to Sea Otter Boats, the boat would have to be craned out of the water to replace the gearbox !  Where was the nearest crane?  At Kate Boats of-course.  Well done me.

The third, when Nick removed the gearbox he found that the drive plate had been wearing down part of the gearbox casting (or was it the other way round ?) in the 11 hours since Crick !   So a new drive plate had to be ordered.

The fourth, a bracket that holds a heat exchanger onto the top of the engine, had cracked.  You can see the bracket on the above photograph, right between the tops of the two vertical hoses.  It is retaining a blue cylinder (heat exchanger) with a hose at each end.  A new bracket had to be ordered too.

All the above resulted in my new boat being out of commission for two weeks after only 2 days of cruising.

5th of August 2011.

Over the last few days the boat has been craned out to facilitate the replacement of the gearbox, the drive plate has been replaced, Nick has made a bracket for the heat-exchanger which is much better than the original, and the boat is back in the water.  This photograph shows the wear to the gearbox casting (left) and the wear to a corner of the drive plate (right).



Nick gives me permission to run my engine in gear in his marina, and I’m now approaching 20 hours, just right for its first service, which Kate Boats promise to carry out tomorrow.

5th of August 2011.

All goes smoothly with the running-in, and Rob arrives as promised to carry out my 20 hour engine service, after which I’m presented with a bill for £1,107.08 which I need to pay.  The three biggest chunks of the bill are for the craning in and out of the water (£400.00 + VAT) and the labour for the gearbox change (£350.00 + VAT) and the 20 hour service including parts (£132.00 + VAT).

I’m responsible for paying for the 20 hour service, but I’m hoping to claim the first two chunks back in due course.  Do you think I’ll get them back ?  I’ll let you know in the next report.

And….are my teething troubles over yet ? ……

Continued in part 8