Saturday, October 31, 2020

An autumn cruise

We finally did it! We had our first faring of the year in the Hennie H. Admittedly, it was only the four kilometres from our mooring to the shipyard at Zelzate last Sunday for a lift out, but it's the furthest we've been on our little barge since October 2018, so we're pretty elated about it.

The purpose of the lift out was to clean the two-year growth of weed and gunk off the water line and cooling system in the hopes the engine wouldn't overheat when under full power (as it did during testing). 

We have a thing called a Blokland cooler, which is a bundle of copper pipes that sits in an open cavity in the hull with a protective grid over it. If you're not interested in technical blurb, feel free to skip this bit. But for those who'd like to know, water from the engine circulates through the bundle and is cooled by the canal (or river) water, before going back into the engine, supposedly at a much lower temperature. Unfortunately, ours doesn't seem to be very effective, so we thought it might have become overgrown with weed; we'd had some fairly spectacular growth on the waterline this year which made that a distinct possibility.

Once out of the water, though, it was not nearly as weed encrusted as we'd thought, or hoped. Koos cleaned it all with a high-pressure hose as well as clearing such dirt as there was from inside the pipes. Meanwhile, I was working in Rotterdam for the first part of the week but hot-footed it back on Wednesday evening, so I could finish blacking the hull while Koos reassembled everything. My thanks to our friend, Carole Erdman Grant, for the photos below. She and her husband called in to see Koos while I was away and took these for the record. For some reason, we totally failed to take any at all while we were there.

Blacking: before (L) and After (R)

A dockside view

One of our last tasks was to pump out a large amount of water that suddenly appeared in the engine room. After eliminating all sorts of scarier possibilities (leaking stern gland, hole in engine room hull etc), we concluded it must have come from under the living space floor, which we haven't inspected in a while because it's all screwed down. 

Perhaps years of condensation and a couple of leaky windows have been accumulating beneath our feet, and we've never known it was there. Who knows? However, in the process of raising the dock, there was apparently quite a sharp and sudden tilt which could have made any water lying in the hold rush through to the stern of the boat. We still have to establish this, but it's the only explanation we could and can come up with.

By 2p.m. on Thursday, we were ready to be re-floated, but although we'd intended to return to home base that afternoon, the weather turned nasty and it took far longer to get off the dock than anticipated. 

On that note, I should say the dock was quite an adventure in itself. It isn't the type that's drained; it's actually a hollow, floating steel box which is raised and lowered by means of a pump. When it's raised, water is pumped out of the box, leaving it full of air; then to lower it, the pump is used to refill it with water. The yard has two of these docks; however, their maintenance is always somewhat in arrears, and the small dock we were on previously was apparently too leaky for us to use. This time we were on a bigger one, but it also leaked, and we could hear the air escaping as we worked. I have to confess my 'what if' antenna were on high alert as I went round the hull with my roller.

Anyway, the light was fading when we were finally floating again, so we decided not to take any chances and left our old lady in the neighbouring marina overnight. We'd done the same for two nights when we arrived and found it a lovely safe haven with good security and a very friendly reception. 

It turned out to be a good decision because early Friday morning, it was beautifully quiet on the water and we had a perfect trip back with no problems or hiccups. Much to my relief, there was no new water in the engine room, and we even made better time than on the outward run. In fact, we were back at home base in forty minutes as compared to the whole hour it took us to make the journey to Zelzate last Sunday. 

Yes, an hour for four kilometres is very slow, I agree. There were people walking on the towpath faster than we were faring, but we were so worried the engine might overheat we didn't want any problems. I have to say, though, it's amazing how long you can see the same piece of bank and the same dog walkers when you're moving at a pace that would make the local snails look speedy.

As a result, our return felt like we were racing, even though our top speed was only 8kms per hour. It was still wet and drizzly, but we were grinning like a pair of cheshire cats when we arrived home safe and sound. On reflection, though, Koos is still not too impressed with the cooling, so he'll be working on that further. For my part, I'll be ripping up some flooring to see what's lurking underneath our sofa. 

There's still plenty to do, but the prospects for faring further into France next year are finally looking optimistic. Our dreams are beginning to have the smell of reality about them, which is a wonderful thought to carry us through the winter.

Snuggled up to a pontoon in the Zelzate marina

As for the coming month, I am now back into a busy work period that will continue until Christmas. I hope all of you are keeping well and upbeat – difficult under the present circumstances, I know, but do have a good week allemaal!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Face masks and stove sagas

Once again, I've postponed writing my blog for no other reason than being busy with life. I don't know why I'm finding it hard to do my post a week as I always used to do, but other things really are getting in the way. There's also the fact I'm busy writing another book, which is consuming much of my writing time, but I've never had trouble doing the two simultaneously before. I shall have to blame the Current Situation, which deserves the capital letters because of the impact it's having on our lives.

Like most of Europe, we are experiencing a resurgence of the virus here in the Netherlands and I believe we have the dubious honour of having the highest infection rate per capita of any country on this continent. What's worse is that Rotterdam is the hardest hit city in the region right now. As a result, we are back into partial lockdown with the main feature being that we are obliged to wear face masks almost everywhere indoors (except at home), and that even means for teaching. I gave my first face masked class last Wednesday, which was interesting to say the least. I don't think I'd appreciated before how much we use facial expressions to convey and receive meaning. I'll now have to develop a whole new technique to improve my non verbal communication and practise eye reading as well!

The essential stove

The other story that's occupied my time is the saga of my stove, which was actually quite amusing. Normally, I travel to Rotterdam alone because I'm teaching. Koos has enough to do on the Hennie Ha without schlepping all the way there and back with me and prefers to stay in the south. But I'm glad he was with me this time when my oil stove, the light of my onboard winter life and that which warms my being (along with my hot water bottle and woolly slippers), refused to work. In the process of fixing it, we started big and ended up tiny, with a needle in fact. 

Convinced that the fuel pipe from the tank was blocked and that diesel bug had developed in the system over the summer, we first emptied and washed out the fuel tank (the big job). We then disconnected all the fuel lines and put the compressor to work (also a big job). 

However, all the fun started when I happened to be standing at the end of the copper pipe indoors when Koos applied the pressure outside. I was shocked to find myself in the path of a huge glob of mucky diesel as it shot out of the pipe. Luckily, most of it flew over my shoulder and splattered on the wall the other side; it just missed heading out through the window. 

Effective? Well, yes, you could say that. We both shudder to think what might have happened if I'd been standing just a little to the side, the consequences of which don't bear thinking of too much. I’m also relieved the window wasn’t open. I’d have had some explaining to do to the river police about the strange oil slick around my barge. The consequences of that don’t bear thinking of either. Anyway, the pipe was thereafter judged to be clean even if the language I uttered wasn't. But it still didn't solve the problem. 

We'd already cleaned out the carburettor, which admittedly had a lot of sludge in it, but that still didn't effect a cure. In the end, we, or rather Koos, found that there is a tiny part inside the carburettor's regulator which had a clogged-up slit in it. My eyesight is so iffy I couldn't even see it. Since I had my cataract ops ten years ago now, I haven’t been able to see anything close up or too far away, so focusing is a bit like zooming in and out until I get to the right distance.

But I digress. Koos could see the tiny slit and this, it seems, is the outlet through which the diesel seeps into the stove and enables me to light it. Because it's so thread thin, it took my finest needle to free it of the dirt, which almost had to be done with a magnifying glass. But then hey presto! All of a sudden everything came right and warmth was restored. 

After all that work, we could have solved it without risking environmental disaster from diesel spillages on deck and globular projectiles from inside, but who knew? I just hope it behaves itself when I return next Tuesday. Watch this space!

Altogether, though it was an interesting exercise and since I have quite a fascination for mechanical things, I actually enjoyed the process taking everything apart with Koos. And of course now I know how it works, I could possibly dismantle the carburettor myself, which feels like a lesson well learned, albeit with fairly limited applications in this electronic age.

The other essential
Furry boots: benefits self-explanatory

Have a great week allemaal! Keep well and out of harm’s way!

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Weather to paint (or not)

And yes, the 'weather' in the title is intentional, although the 'whether' is also implied. I do enjoy a bit of word play

Anyway, after weeks of posting about my yoyo activities, the weather has indeed changed everything and decided to tell me the painting season is over. Since it can never be over as far as I'm concerned, this is mighty inconvenient. I find I'm scrabbling around trying to find parts of both boats that can safely be sanded and treated even when I know it's going to rain, and even when I don't, which happens all too frequently when the forecast is simply wrong.

On the Vereeniging, I've managed to paint all the window frames this last week – from the inside! They're quite deep, so apart from the sill part, it's been easy to sand them down, scrape any developing rusty patches and put both primer and top coat on them, so that felt good. A real one up for me over the rain. On the Hennie H, however, this is a bit tricky as there aren't any opening windows, other than in the roof. I won't explain why that wouldn't work. I have other plans for what we can do there on rainy days, but more of that later.

Windows before being scraped and sanded

Koos has now done several tests of the Hennie H's engine and a few things have shown how crucial it is to take this time and spend several hours just running the beast to see what happens. The first thing he found was that the original rubber joints for the cooling system needed replacing even though they looked good, but this only transpired after more than an hour of having the motor running in gear. All of a sudden and just when he wasn't watching, one of these joints started leaking quite badly (a typical Murphy trick, that). Luckily, I was painting in the vicinity and I saw the steam coming out of the engine bay, so we were able to stop everything without it causing any problems.

A quick search online and Koos ordered two beautiful new joints. I say beautiful because they are. New moulded rubber engine parts are objects worthy of reverence; I love them. They are now fitted and after another long test run of an hour and a half, they are still leak free. But of course other minor issues have cropped up. Warning lights that don't always come on when they should and an idling speed that's too high but quite difficult to reduce because the adjustment screw is in an awkward place. Altogether, though, it's looking and sounding very promising. I very much hope that we'll have a few rain free days so we can do a proper test and take her around the harbour.

In other news, I will be doing my first face-to-face class since March this coming Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to it very much. However, since the Netherlands is now a code red country and the numbers of people testing positive for Covid have escalated, we'll have to see how long that lasts.

On the home front, another first is that we've lit the stove. We always try and wait until 1 October, but we didn't quite make it this year by a day. Wednesday, September the 30th was lighting up day...not too bad. On that subject, I thought I'd be on top of things early this year so I ordered a load of firewood for the crumbly cottage. It comes on a huge pallet, which is neatly stacked inside a framework so you can keep the logs in it until you need them...that is if you can get the pallet onto your property. The service from the supplier was great. I ordered it on Monday and it came on Tuesday morning. 

The snag was that the transport company only had a small trolley and couldn't lift the pallet over the curb so we could put it in our passage. The driver shrugged with a kind of 'not my problem' attitude and drove off, leaving us with our stately pile standing in the road. What to do?

Well, Koos plucked up his courage and went to ask the farmer over the road if he could help us with his forklift. He struck gold there. Our very kind and friendly neighbour not only offered to move the wood but also to put it in his barn so it will keep dry. All we have to do is hop over the road and fetch it as needed. Aren't good neighbours just the best?

And just to give you something to look at, here are a few autumn snaps I took while on a bike ride before the rain came. Can we have this lovely gentle sunshine back please, Mr Weatherman? 

Have a good week allemaal!