Narrowboat / Personal · 12 February 2023

The Boat has been Released from the Boatyard. Yes. Yes! The boat is free

After many engine woes, and despite the fact that Gem at the boatyard still hasn’t managed to fix the idle rate so that the boat will tick over in neutral, we went down to Bates Boatyard yesterday to pick up the boat and take it away.

It went into the boatyard in September, to have the hull fixed and blacked, and the sacrificial anodes replaced. They finished doing that in about a fortnight. After which they began on the indoor work. (Making the gas piping legal and safe, fixing the shower, replacing the batteries and installing an inverter that could handle heating water for the shower.)

They did all of that by November, and we were planning to get it back then, and looking for heated sheds we could rent to do the painting. And then – when they were checking the stove to make sure it was not emitting carbon monoxide, they discovered the roof was rusted through where the stove pipe went through. So now the boat had to go back into dry dock to have the roof welded.

At that point I think, they had a look at the engine, which we had noted could not be run in neutral without stalling out. This makes mooring up very difficult. So we had asked them if they could see a way to correct the engine’s idle rate. Unfortunately, as they were investigating this, the engine overheated badly, and they realized the boat could not be moved and the engine would need to be stripped to find out the cause of the overheating.

(It turned out that a couple of the pistons had been put in upside down! There was literally nothing on this boat that had been done properly.)

Of course, they hadn’t budgeted time for doing engine repairs on top of everything else. So now they were having to fit in trying to repair the engine around the other jobs they had scheduled. And now it was the deepest cold of the year, the boat was frozen in, and it had been there, unheated, unoccupied, for five whole months.

(Of course the pipes burst during that time, and the boatyard had to fix those too.)

Given all that. It really wasn’t in that bad a nick when we got it back.

There were some signs that people had been walking around in it in dirty boots. Son had forgotten at any point to empty the toilet, which was now disgusting. (He has a capsule toilet, and we had to lift it out, including contents, and carry it to the car to be brought home to clean.) And a lot of the bedding was moldy.

Fortunately Son had decided not to go straight back to living on board, so we have brought the moldy stuff home to be washed/thrown out as appropriate.

We moved it down a flight of six locks and found a new mooring spot just outside Tring.

  • Slight panic as the engine heated up and started smoking.
  • back to the boatyard to ask about the smoke
  • Gem looks at it and says it’s probably just that the insulating wrappings around the exhaust pipe have got wet and are now steaming dry.
  • we all agree that that’s what it looks like too.
  • Proceed with journey and are reassured that the smoking stops almost immediately.

The locks are only just open after being out of order over the winter, and we proceed through them in a measured and professional way. (Son at the tiller, Daughter and I manning the windlasses, opening and closing the locks.)

At the final lock a family with two small children, taking a walk along the towpath, come to watch the fun. Daughter and I explain how you have to wind the paddles of the gates up so that the water can come in and fill the lock; how you can only open the gates once the water level in the lock is the same as the water level under the boat.

We attempt to open the lock. It will not shift.

Twilight is falling. The countryside around us is silvery blue. A flight of geese passes overhead in a skirring ‘v’ formation.

Water is still coming into the lock, but the gates won’t open. Daughter and I throw our whole backs and thighs into trying to push it. Onlookers’ two children decide to help too and push with all their might while their parents look fondly on.

Eventually the parents join in too and are astonished to feel for themselves that it is just not possible to get these gates to budge.

Finally I think to myself “there’s clearly still water coming in, so why isn’t the water level equalizing?” and at that point I realize, “maybe it’s because the water is going out through the lower gates?” I check the paddles on the lower gates, and sure enough the previous people who came this way have left them half way up.

Daughter and I roll them down, and before I can even get back to the gates, the two young infants have opened it all by themselves.

Major triumph for me and for two small children 🙂

That’s the last lock and we’re losing the light, so we moor up. I am feeling good, although exhausted. This is my first day covid -ve and it has involved quite a lot of heavy labour. Fortunately, there’s a car park very close, so Daughter gets on Son’s bicycle and cycles back down the towpath to fetch her car.

We load the car with moldy bedding and double-bin-bag-wrapped toilet. Then walk across the road and get a really nice, very spicy vegetable chilli and chips from the Angler’s Retreat pub, before driving home.

Arrive home at 9.30pm ish with every fibromyalgic inch of my body protesting, feeling accomplished.

Today I can barely stand up, and I have promised to thoroughly wash out and bleach that toilet, but it was still worth it. It is so nice to finally have the boat back!