Friday, 21 April 2017

Servicing the glow plugs

The glow plugs are essential for starting the engine from cold and we normally switch them on for about 15 to 20 seconds before turning over the starter motor on the BMC 1.8 litre engine.  Two of the glow plugs can be seen just below the fuel injection nozzles in the above photo of the starboard side of the engine. As it's some time since the glow plugs have been checked and it is recommended that they are removed and cleaned after every 600 hours of running, I decided that this task should be undertaken as part of this year's annual engine service.

An 8 mm spanner is needed to undo the cables from their terminals (don't lose the plain washers between the nuts and the spade connectors!) and then a 12 mm ring spanner is needed to unscrew the plugs from the engine block.  It is unusual to find metric parts on the BMC engine; most of the nuts and bolts require A/F spanners.  Accessibility is limited, particularly in the case of the front cylinder glow plug, which is tucked away in an awkward position behind the alternator.  The task would be made easier with a ratchet ring spanner (not a socket spanner, as the plugs are too long), although it can be done with a simple ring spanner and a modicum of patience. If it is some time since they were last taken out, the build up of carbon may make their removal more difficult, but do persevere, as they will come loose eventually with a little gentle encouragement. You may need to keep turning them, even after the thread on the plug is clear of the tapped hole in the block.

Patience's glow plugs were generally not too carbonised and were easy to wipe clean, and all registered a resistance of about 1 ohm.  This corresponds to a current of 12 A per plug (48 A for all four) or 144 Watts per cylinder at a nominal battery voltage of 12V. However I did notice that the centre terminal of one of was slightly loose in the housing.  I ordered a replacement from Calcutt Boats and it arrived in the post less than 48 hours later - fantastic service. The resistance of the new plug was a little higher at 1.4 ohms, which is either a specification change or the build up of dirt on the old ones may be lowering their resistance slightly. 

Before replacing the plugs in the block I inserted and rotated by hand the recommended 11/64 in (4.37 mm) diameter drill into the holes to clear any carbon build-up.  It is a good idea to coat the drill with grease so that the carbon particles can be removed on the drill rather than falling into the cylinders.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

In Praise of Welford

Patience is moored at a marina in Welford, on the border of Northants and Leicestershire. It's on a short arm that leads in a couple of miles to the Grand Union, so very convenient.
Our mooring is quiet and comfortable, not posh but it does the job, with a good pub, The Wharf, access to water and some maintenance and less than an hour away from the chandelry at North Kilworth.
Why boast about it now? Because today was the first warm sunny day in ages and I felt the urge to pop across and tend to Patience who has been sitting quietly without us for too long.
I drove across and found her happily bobbing at her mooring, few other people around. I gave her an airing, brushed off the inevitable leaves and twigs, started her up without trouble and let her tick over for ten minutes while I checked out any other problems. But, no problems, no damp patches, peeling paint or stains and so, while John plans to clean the plugs and before we re-fill her with water, I took an excellent lunch at The Wharf then went for a stroll around the reservoirs that provide the water for the Welford Arm and thence to the Grand Union.

 This is the causeway between two connected reservoirs that feed the Welford Arm.

And this is a narrow channel as an overflow connecting the two.
A path near the reservoirs is part of the Jurassic Way, a long-distance footpath of 88 miles connecting the Oxfordshire town of Banbury with the Lincolnshire town of Stamford. It is mostly in Northamptonshire and follows an ancient Jurassic limestone ridge.

Just three miles away is a monument commemorating the Civil War Battle of Naseby (14th June 1645).
All in all several very good walks to be had around Welford, with details available from the pub or on information boards next to the marina.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Swedish Winter

I've spent January scanning old photographs - negatives and slides. Very nostalgic.
Patience has been frozen in before now - here she is in 2010 on the Old West river -
but we seem to have avoided ice and snow recently.
Long long ago I worked for a year in Sweden, in a steel town called Fagersta which is in Västmanland. An industrial town producing steel, it has a canal nearby called the Strömsholmskanal, linking Lake Mälaren  to Smedjebacken and created to transport the product of the iron foundries.
It was always worth a stroll, especially on bright winter days, and here are three photographs of one of the 26 locks, 6 of which are in Fagersta. The ice and snow gives it a certain excitement, I think.

It is 62 miles long, took 18 years to build, between 1772 and 1795, and is now used only by leisure craft. I gather the canal has been renovated since I was there in 1976. Sadly I don't think Patience will make it to Fagersta and the Strömsholmskanal.

As a footnote I note that Thomas Telford (engineer of 17 canals and many bridges, including Caledonian Canal and the Pontycysyllte Aqueduct), had a hand in the early stages (1810) of the Göta canal in south west Sweden. That is not connected to this earlier canal, however.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Annual Service

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it's time to give Patience her annual service and get her ready for the winter. As well as the usual oil changes (engine and gearbox), filter changes (engine oil and fuel), checking and adjusting the tappets, checking the anti-freeze concentration, the electrolyte levels in the batteries and draining down the domestic water system, there were a couple of engine parts that needed replacing this time.
We had noticed a slight leak in the flexible high pressure oil pipe that runs from one side of the main cylinder block to the other (see photos). 
Original flexible oil crossover pipe going into port side of engine block
Flexible pipe connected to the starboard side of the engine below the fuel filter
The first photo shows one end of the pipe on the port side just below the gearbox oil cooler and the second photo shows the other end where it connects to the block below the fuel filter. Although the leak (where the flexible hose is swaged to the end fitting) wasn't yet serious, it is an indicator of a potential weakness that could be serious if it failed suddenly and led to a loss of engine oil pressure.

I discussed the problem with the very helpful people at Calcutt Boats, who are specialists in BMC marine diesels.  They recommended replacing it with a steel pipe pre-formed to the correct shape, which they stock in their chandlery as part number BM2M56598.  It was a surprisingly easy job to remove the old flexible pipe and replace it with the new one, which fitted round all the engine auxiliaries. This should last as long as the rest of the engine.

While removing the rocker box cover to check the tappets, I also took the opportunity of replacing the rocker box gasket, which had lost its flexibility and was showing signs of leaking.  The only task that remains to be done on the engine is cleaning out the heater plug ports (recommended every 600 hours running) but time was getting on so I left that for another day!

[See also last year's Annual Service blog entry]

Monday, 10 October 2016

Day Trip to Foxton

It's been a busy summer but there's a nip in the air, there are logs on the stove and we decided on a two day trip to Foxton Locks as a farewell to the 2016 boating season. Together with our wives we set off for Welford amid some heavy showers and set off up the arm under cloud and in rain. Not a promising start.
We moored up at the junction for our picnic lunch, contemplating whether to go back or go on. Fortunately the weather cleared and the canal opened up to the usual splendid views across fields and plains and the Laughton hills before the approach to Foxton Locks. I plan to stroll the Laughton Hills at some point, with convenient moorings just south of Foxton, but that will have to wait for another day.
This was a relaxed and uneventful trip to Foxton, mooring near the turning junction above the top lock and an evening stroll to the popular Foxton Locks Inn, always wary of the water surrounding us in the dark.

Next morning dawned bright and clear but, wary of the weather forecast of afternoon rain we headed back to Welford for another picnic lunch (and a few minutes of painting) before reaching home by mid afternoon.
Soon we'll need to do some winterising, patch painting, rust treatment and general maintenance before it gets too cold to work comfortably. Then Patience will be tucked up for the winter. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

South Oxford canal, in summary

So we took 5 days to get to Lower Heyford, rather than Oxford, and 4 days to get back.  We went 61.5 miles and through 43 locks - each way.
We moored at Lower Heyford for the weekend rather than go to Oxford because Heyford is a pleasant mooring, whereas Oxford can be rather busy, and by cutting out the 14 miles and 9 locks each way to Oxford we managed to replace it with a pleasant five mile walk and a 15 minute train journey.
Heyford has a very convenient station, water and rubbish facilities, a handy shop, 3 nearby pubs, a house and garden to gawp at, 2 pleasant churches, good towpath walks and a very fine tithe barn.
We enjoyed the Oxford Canal southern branch very much and would recommend it for its scenery, kingfishers, general interest and good waterside pubs. Its many locks, though single width, have the virtue of a stepping area just beyond the gate so that the boat can stop, the gate closes behind it and the crew member working the locks can step aboard without needing to moor up. Handy.

It should be added here that our engine bilges are usually wet - mostly just water leaking in from rain, as the gutter around the trap door clogs up with leaves and the outlets too. Occasionally there is a sign of anti-freeze and once even a hint of diesel. None of these has ever been a significant problem, but something in the bilges may indicate a problem now or in the future.
John regularly checks all this using a shaving mirror to magnify or a mirror-with-light on a stick to access hard to reach hoses and connections. Given that Patience may charge along for up to 8 hours non-stop, heat will expand joints and vibration will loosen connections. Age and hot fluids will perish rubber too, so it is always valuable to inspect, tighten and replace if necessary as part of daily maintenance.

 So at end of September 2016 here, in yellow, are the canals and rivers where we have taken Patience.
Gradually the yellow lines showing our travels are extending from the Ouse and its tributaries to The Grand Union and beyond.  Zoom in online to see the map more clearly.

Where next?

From Oxford 4. Braunston to Welford

Thursday 22nd September
Off at 8.45 amid showers and through Braunston locks (double width, what a change!) alongside a group of Dutch people enjoying our canals.
Part way up we're interrupted by a cranky old boy with full grey beard and yellow oilskins who seems to be shouting at his boat as it careers across the pound ahead of us and turns to 90 degrees. I go up and try to help whereupon it seems he is shouting at his unfortunate, disabled, wife who is within, while his boat is partly grounded in the low water of the pound and swinging around from the stern as he tries to gain control. Opening the lock for him raises the level, eases his grounding and at last enables him to get in to the lock and away.
We too get in and away, charging on to Norton Junction and to the bottom lock of the Watford Flight by lunchtime. As usual there is a queue, though not as long as last time (only 2 hours!), and we begin to think we could regain our home mooring at Welford before night fall.
We are out of the top lock (there are 7, gaining 16 metres) at 3pm and with the estimate from the lock keeper that it's just 4 hours to Welford we consider being home tonight instead of tomorrow as we'd believed.
It's a beautiful day now, bright low sun through trees highlighting furrows in freshly ploughed fields, and we are going at a good pace (John calculates just under 3mph and believes we are going a bit too fast) so at this rate we can make it in time - if we want to.

In my own mind I set a target of arriving at the Welford junction by 7pm. Any later I thought would be too dark and it would be preferable to moor up just before the junction and rest up with the food and drink we had on board. With the temperature gauge warm but not quite overheating, and with sunset at 7.01 pm, we arrive at 7.07 and I make the decision to go for our marina.

Down the dark Arm we went, surprised to be crossed by another boat heading back to the main canal, cautious but confident in gathering gloom, and then assisted by our trusty hand-held spotlight, we approached the pound. The spotlight illuminates the narrow entrance and we are through without a bump. John leaps off, dashes to the lock, opens it and I glide in effortlessly in near total darkness.  What little light remains in the sky helps make it lighter than down the tree-lined Arm.
In minutes we are through and at the marina, helped now by the electric lights from the Basin. We moor up at 7.45. It is late September. It is very dark. We are home.

I found it really quite exciting (narrow boating isn't usually exciting, is it?!) and certainly memorable, if not entirely sensible. Of course we had lights - spotlight, headlight and navigation lights -, plus experience and familiarity with this stretch, so it was less tricky than, say, a long tunnel. CRT don't recommend it (please don't try this at home, youngsters).
But what fun!

21 miles, 14 locks, 11 hours