Thursday, 22 December 2016

Batteries, bins and tvs

Phil has been in a phase of ordering and organising (so he tells us!) as the next stage involves fitting many of the bits and pieces that go to make up a modern narrowboat.

We have been putting our minds to a few particular aspects where we have to make some decisions before long - and thanks to those who posted helpful suggestions onto our last blog entry.

Batteries: this is perhaps the area where we have always been a bit nervous having previously been very conscious of what happens when there is insufficient capacity overnight to run everything that we wanted. We always monitored battery consumption very closely, recording each morning's readout on the Sterling Battery Management System. The two things that gave us the most attention were the fridge and the Eberspacher heater, both of which cut out when the voltage at their end of the cable falls below around 10.6V. Although the above readout rarely approached this we still had a number of occasions when cutout occurred.

The fridge improved when we replaced it a couple of years ago. The engineer who fitted it discovered the previous one had been connected by far too thin a cable and he replaced it, also connecting back much closer to the battery bank itself. Since then we had far fewer problems.

Latterly, the Eberspacher had also been cutting out but, as readers to the last few weeks of the Take Five blog will know, we ended up having to replace much of it - for other reasons - and we did not have enough experience with it to know whether the former experiences would be repeated. The heater failing to come on early morning is the more uncomfortable of the two - at least the fridge on a cold morning still keeps its contents cool enough, even the freezer did not defrost.

The other issue was when Christine used her hair dryer after her early shower and hair wash. As a mains appliance this involved having to turn on the inverter. Not infrequently, this would drag the voltage down so that the inverter also cut out but this was easily solved by turning on the main engine.

As a result of all of this we had been paying particular attention to what batteries were to be installed. The agreed specification called for four 130Ah lead acid batteries although the supplier has now reduced the specification of these to 120Ah. Lead acid batteries are based on technology that is a mass produced item (although slightly oriented to the specific characteristics of the cabin services supply which are different from the starter, which quite separate) so that their cost is comparatively low (still £130 each, typically, to replace and all four should be done at the same time!)

At our last visit we had asked about the possibility of having a greater capacity and both we and Phil investigated the options. The electrical installer did  some calculations and we did our own in parallel. Alternative battery technologies were investigated but the cost implication is substantial - perhaps four times for not a huge gain) In the end we settled for the four 120Ah batteries which should have a total usable capacity of around 240Ah whilst our worst case overnight calculation is around 140Ah. Of course, this assumes that we start off quite soon in the morning but if we do not then, as ever, we have to turn on the engine to recharge the batteries. However, we have asked that the battery tray be designed so that an upgrade is possible in the future if we decide it is worth doing. After all, a lot of development is going into battery technology at the moment and who knows what the market will offer in a few years time.

The next issue is that of a rubbish bin. This might seem a small matter but it looms large in our thinking as our solution on Take Five was somewhat primitive. Although we bought a small pedal bin there was nowhere to locate it convenient for use when preparing food - the main source of stuff to go into the rubbish bags. As a result we resorted, almost right from the outset, to hanging a supermarket carrier bag over the cupboard door knob nearest the rear steps. This worked well if a little inelegant. Of course, the new plastic bag charge threatened the source but we still had some of our stock left when we sold up!

We have been trying to devise a better solution but this involves working out the best compromise in terms of allocating the relatively small amount of storage that there is in a narrowboat galley. (There is never enough, but our tendency to cook 'from scratch' demands quite a good stock of ingredients and utensils!)

At the moment we have held off agreeing to anything too fixed but Christine has ordered a small bin that is designed to hang on the rear of a cupboard door so that we can try it out next visit whilst Mike has now, eventually, tracked down a small pull out unit that we may go for later. Most seem to take up much of a single cupboard.

And so to televisions. Originally on Take Five, we had an Omnimax terrestrial aerial but found that it was often not able to locate a suitable signal and several years ago we switched to a satellite dish. We have never felt the need for more than the FreeSat range of channels but it can receive a usable signal more frequently. In the last year or so we also invested in a good signal detector, one that gives a read out at the dish. Previously we were dependent on knowing whether the tv itself was showing a picture. This usually involved a lot of shouting from inside to outside - not always happily! The new device was so much better and we rarely failed to find a signal unless we had had to moor in amongst a lot of tall buildings or surrounded by very tall trees with leaves on them.

This setup required a separate MaxView satellite decoder. Both it and the television connected to mains voltage which was often the only reason for having the inverter on during the late evening. (It is important to note that the inverter draws current even if no appliance is switched on. When one is, the efficiency of the conversion process itself uses up battery power)

We have been looking for a suitable sized tv that incorporates the decoder but it seems that, at the moment, these are generally only built into the larger displays - not sure why, but perhaps the smaller end of the market is more price sensitive. Whilst some boaters, usually those living aboard permanently, do install larger screens, most - including ourselves - do not want to devote that much of the limited space to something that is only used at the end of the day - and then only if there is something worth watching!

We have managed to find a supplier to the caravan market that does offer suitably sized tvs that have a satellite decoder and also run from 12v directly. (Ironic really in that the tv itself will almost certainly be transforming the mains supply down to a low voltage before it drives any electronics!) The down side is that, as a specialist market and as with most 12v appliances, it is a lot more expensive, perhaps almost twice. The same goes for fridges and freezers. A decision yet to be made but we will need to finalise the size at our next visit to the boat.

OK, so none of these debates is large scale - rather different from the things that Phil is juggling - but at least it helps to assuage our frustration at not being able to spend time aboard this Christmas and New Year. It would have been good to do what we were a little frustrated with last year and have a proper Christmas Day - Boxing day or longer cruise out from the marina but that will have to wait until next year. This time we are renting a cottage near to London for a week so that we can take two grandchildren to a theatre as a Christmas present and also to have them to stay for New Year's Eve.

At the end of that cottage stay we hope to make our next trip to Stafford when we will call on the flooring and upholstery suppliers to make some decisions on those items.

Sunday, 11 December 2016


Phil has been fitting the small freezer we are having. To save on galley space it is located under the dinette. OK, so it will  be just a little extra effort to access it but it is not a regular need.

Originally we were following up an idea taken from another boat and hoped to have one the pulled out from the seat end, but the dimensions did not fit. As it is, it has to be recessed into the floor under the dinette. To do this, the dinette base has moved out of the way but the second photo shows how it was when we visited as reported in the last blog.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

End November Visit

We drove up for another visit on Tuesday. We left home just after 8 and met up with Andrew at Stem to Stern in Stafford for 2 o'clock. We managed a good break at Michaelwood and there were no traffic delays at all.

We quickly set about walking through the boat from the stern to see how it has progressed - we are due to make another stage payment so were keen to check that it matched!

The front cabin contains two single berths with plenty of storage under the beds as well as wall mounted cupboards and shelves.

Moving forward we next come to the bathroom. As can be seen, this is a walk-through layout which makes it much more roomy, albeit at the price of not being able to go from one end of the boat to the other when it is in use! Not too much is fitted here yet although the wash basin stand and shower wall are in place, together with shelves in the space behind the shower wall.

The main bedroom comes next - we are convinced that this is a better layout and should also mean that the room will be warmer in the colder parts of the year as it is next to the main cabin.

Again, there will be plenty of storage. What we decided this time is that two of the four sections will be divided and the rear parts accessible from the top of the bed. These will be able to take longer term items such as the spare duvet and sleeping bags for visitors.

The main cabin does not yet have much in it except that the base if the dinette is in place and we could get a much better feel of how the space, together with the galley, is going to work out. One of the issues under debate is where to fit the tv. We think that we now are in agreement but it does not have to finalised until a later visit. The general position is fixed since the first fix electrics are all in place (as also is the plumbing) In one corner (opposite where the stove will be) is a storage unit.

At the rear comes the galley. This is always a matter of compromise and debate as we would all like to fit in more than is really possible! In this boat we will have both a washing machine and a microwave that were not in Take Five and there will also be a small freezer under the dinette.

One of the matters to be decided was the worktop surface. We have opted for a smart hard surface rather than simpler laminate. The draining board will be formed in the surface itself.

In between the galley and the rear doors is, on one side, the electrical cupboard where all the controls will be located and on the other side is a 'wet' locker - that is a place to store outdoor clothing. As yet there is little in here.

We also had to think about flooring although Phil only lays this once the boat is in the water in case there is a need to access the under-floor space to adjust the ballast.However, it seems that we are likely to go for a Karndean surface which will be more robust when things are dropped on it than we found with the laminate. Andrew is keen to consider a 'loose lay' version so that individual pieces can be swapped around in the event of something really damaging it. On perhaps the next visit we may well have a chat with the flooring supplier.

We are very impressed with the attention to detail, both in terms of the layout and overall positioning of items but also in the actual fit out. For example, this picture shows the space below the electrical cupboard where the extended swim intrudes into the cabin. Some fitters might well have taken the view that this is too 'out of sight' to do much about but you can see that it has been fully trimmed.

We saw for the first time the style of roof lining. Overall, we are pleased with the lighter upper lining - not something that we had expected to have until we began the detailed discussions with Phil, although it does seem to be a growing fashion.

Also, in talking through a number of aspects of the electrical and other systems, whenever there is ambiguity in the the specification, what we are getting is very much on the positive side. For example, although the spec calls for a bilge pump, we are actually having one in the engine bay and one that will keep the main cabin under floor dry in the event that water floods into it. (This did happen once with our previous boat and we had to cut an access hole ourselves and use a portable pump to remove the water)

Outside, Tyler Wilson have yet to come and make the modifications to the steps - you can see what will happen in the wooden mock up. Hopefully this will be in place shortly as Phil hopes to begin preparing the external surfaces ready to build up layers paint in the near term.

One thing that we also discussed is cabin services battery power. We do not want to be a short as we found ourselves in the past although we are aware that adding more batteries in parallel is not as simple as it might seem. More info needed before we decide but the most likely outcome is to leave space to add extra (the spec includes four slightly larger ones than we had before) and we may also opt for even higher capacity if they can be fitted in.

Something that we had not realised hitherto - especially as we do not often look at narrowboat hulls out of the water - is the way in which the base plate and the dies are joined. To protect this vital weld, a small amount of the base plate extends outwards as in this photo.

Overall we remain confident and delighted and our anticipation continues to build along with the boat itself. Discussing completion, we expect that 'March' (as in the contract) may be closer to Easter than the original thought of the first of the month! However, this is not a problem - just so long as we do get on board for the Easter break!

Now we have to transfer the next stage payment! Ouch!

We adjourned with Andrew to the same Costa coffee shop as last time to mull over what we had seen. One of the unresolved issues concerns a waste bin location. We took a brief look in some of the stores nearby for ideas.

Whilst Andrew set off to return home we went to our overnight stop in Keele village. This gave us an opportunity the following  morning to take a reminiscence tour of the university campus as we have been back perhaps just once since leaving their almost 50 years ago! It was pleasing to see how well the Chapel (which is where we were married) has lasted.

Finally, we called at Swanley Bridge Marina to collect the last of our belongings that we did not have room to take with us when we handed Take Five over to its new owners.

The return journey was rather longer than expected because the M5 was closed around Junction 10 and we had to make a detour, which itself had problems with roadworks. At least we managed to get back before it was really dark. It was a bit of a relief to arrive as Mike had had to drive all the afternoon with the sun shining low in our direction of travel! Wuch is the delight of winter journeys.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Bonfire Night Pictures

Actually we received the latest pictures from Phil this morning and so we hope that the absence of reports of news that a wayward firework landed on Stem to Stern's workshop is good news!

In any event, it is good to be able to see progress being made - most of the electrical first fix seems to be in place with the ceiling boards close to being fixed in place through out. Presumably, the plumbing first fix will be soon as that is due for completion before we visit at the end of the month. By that stage we should also have the lineout complete, major joinery, but the cabinet doors and the galley worktops will be built and fitted later. We should be able to have a really good feel of how the spaces are going to work.

These photos do show successive stages of construction since our last visit


Sunday, 23 October 2016

October Visit

We left home by 8.30 on Friday morning to drive straight up to Stafford. We had arranged to meet there, together with Andrew coming up from Devizes, at 2 pm. For the most part our drive was uneventful and we did stop for a coffee on the way and a short second comfort break just after clearing Birmingham on the M6. However, on the last stretch before the junction we were due to exit, a slow tail back appeared unannounced. We had been expecting to arrive about ten minutes early but in the event it was exactly on 14:00 that we drew into the industrial estate where Stem to Stern is located. Andrew arrived a few minutes later having been caught in the same traffic delay.

After a welcome cup of tea from Phil, we began our tour of the boat. (Mike's camera appeared to have started working again but it was only later after having downloaded the results that it was obvious that the results are not good, with spots over most of them that do not appear to be the result of dust on the front of the lens. Fortunately Mike and Andrew took photos with their mobile phones which turned out much more satisfactory. However, the only one that we took of the outside of the factory unit was on the camera!)

We began at the bows (because that is where there were steps up for us to use!) and took a good look at the two new features for us. OK, so a bow gas locker is not that unusual but it is the opposite end of the boat from Take Five. What we have never seen before is a bow thruster locker. We are not having a bow thruster fitted but for the sake of a small additional cost at this stage we were persuaded that to do the hull work now was a sensible future-proofing. Even if we do not get around to it, at least it will be selling point as and when that arrives. It does, on the other hand, make for a more compact bow area for sitting and also for storing the water hose pipe. Equally, the bow thruster locker, with a board over the tube itself, will hold quite a lot, including an anchor.

The main work which has been done since the shell was delivered has been to install the main ballast, which is then covered by the main floor. The hull and cab sides have been battened and the whole thing well coated with spray foam insulation. Even the insides of hollow sections have to be foam filled to avoid condensation stripes across the roof. The same applies to the double skinned semi trad sides - although an inspection from the engine bay showed that the contractor did not venture as far as he might have done. Phil will have to a little extra filling!

The first cabin inside is the twin bed cabin, mainly for visitors. It is not yet certain but it is likely that both will be able to be pulled out to give an extra 150 mm width for sleeping. One of the things that we were scheduled to do on this visit was to agree the locations for lights, switches and sockets. These were all marked on the walls. One change we did make was to request that the light switches be two way so that they are readily accessible from the door into the cabin from inside the boat as well as when entering the boat from outside. We also discussed some of the details for cupboards and shelves. On a narrowboat, the second most discussed item is how to create sufficient storage space for all the things that either cannot be left behind or somehow seem an essential for a boating life!

Next comes the bathroom. Again, this is something quite new for us - a walk-through bathroom. This means that instead of a door leading off a passageway, there is a door at either end which will normally be left open during the day so that it is possible to move from one end of the boat to the other as quickly as possible. Of course, when in use, both doors will be locked from inside. The upside to a walk-through bathroom is that there is more more space without taking up additional amount of the overall length. We have opted for a quadrant shower and also - perhaps the most discussed item on  a boat - the same cassette toilet as we had before on Take Five. although it does mean finding more frequent disposal points when out cruising, they are more readily available for cassettes than pump out systems. There is also less that can go disastrously wrong and needing specialist repairs. It is, however, not easy to photograph the space in a meaningful way right now!

On then to the main bedroom which again will feature a pull out additional width. There will be a short length cupboard (over the feet bed of the double bed) as well as several shelf units.

Aft of the bedroom door comes the main cabin with the sitting area closest to the multi fuel stove, followed by the dinette. The main discussion here concerned the television unit. This time we will have the stove in a corner - somewhat safer that before when it was close to the dinette and the most frequently used part of the through route. We have reduced some of the options but will need to look at it again when rather more of the fit-out has been completed. We would rather not have the tv close to the floor level which is what some designers go for these days, partly to accommodate the larger screens that are more popular (but only wide beam boats can take very large screens comfortable). What is yet to be seen is whether we can wall mount the tv - the problem lies mainly with the fact that the cabin sides above the gunnel level slop inwards. We opted to have the cabin ceiling lights switched in two parallel sets of three, with one switch each at either end. There was a bit more discussion here over the placement of sockets, both 240 Ac and 12 DC (USB charging outlets) The design of the freezer unit that we had planned to have under the dinette has changed and so it will have to be accessed from above, rather than as a pull out from the end at floor level.

Perhaps the most complex area is the last section inside the cabin, the galley. There is not only a lot to be packed in (we are adding a washing machine and microwave to the facilities that we enjoyed before) At the same time we have no less desire for as much storage as possible for food and utensils. One unresolved item is where to put a waste bin. We never did solve this adequately before and resorted to the somewhat inelegant solution of a plastic bag over the door knob on the rear cupboard just inside the doors! That, again, may have to be resolved at our next visit.

One difference also is the length of the swim, the tapered section just below the waterline that enables water to flow into the propeller and thus drive the boat forward. As can be seen from the photo, this comes forward of the rear doors and will be hidden below the kitchen units. However, it will slightly reduce the capacity of the cupboards although on one side the worst of it will be hind the stack of units\: washing machine, oven and microwave.The hob that Phil is recommending is one with a lift-up splash back that should reduce the amount of grease etc that goes onto the curtains or blind to the window just behind the hob.

Finally we moved outside to the semi trad and stern area. The last blog post explained that at a very late stage in the shell manufacture we realised that the steps which we had specially specified, based on oiur experience with those that we fitted to Take Five, had not been made at the correct height. This had been somewhat annoying as they were one of the main points of discussion that Andrew had when he visited Sheffield (after a long drive up from Devizes!) Before  we paid the full amount of the shell stage payment we had a commitment from Tyler Wilson to come down to Stafford to modify it once we had made this visit.

In fact what we have asked for is not only to raise the level so that the step is mid height between the locker and the cabin roof (what Andrew had discussed) but also rather larger. We are not especially concerned that the cabin doors open fully back and this will permit a fuller rectangular shape that is safer to use, especially when coming back down from the roof.

The rear deck lockers are not as deep as before but this is probably not an issue as we could not take advantage of the extra depth without stacking things on top of each other. Most of the things we are likely to put in here do not lend themselves to this. On the other hand, we will have much more space above the bow thruster.

We will also be having a 12v USB socket underneath the shelves alongside the steering position - so that we can run a small display for much longer! (Toy for the boy!)

There was little to discuss about the outside at this stage - colours will be quite a late item to decide. The fender holes are rather small but we will also be provided with some removable roof hanging fittings.

The one part of a Tyler Wilson shell design that is quite new to us is the chute weed hatch. We tried opening the cover and reaching down. It seems an awful long way to reach! The first time we need to clear the prop may well take some time , , ,

Out of the water we had a much better view of the stern gear which is normally not visible. The regulatory requirement for a step out of the water, which sometimes is met with a small welded lug on the side of the hull, is fulfilled here by having an additional flange on the top of the rudder. However, we will also have a rescue ladder as a rather more effective means of escape from a dunking (again based on ;practical experience!)

After almost three hours we had finished all the discussions for now. We left really impressed with Phil's attention to detail and willingness to make sure that we are satisfied with how it will all work out. We are even more keen to see he next four months pass as fast as possible before we will be able to get our hands on our narrowboat.

By the way, the other boat in the workshop is an eight year old Piper boat which is in for very substantial refurbishment. A couple bought it after an elderly single man lived on it from new and probably did no cleaning, painting or other maintenance in all that time!

The three of us adjourned to the nearest Costa for a coffee and a cake for a final chat over what we have seen. Plans are in place for a further visit towards the end of November when the first fix stage should be complete and our next stage payment will be due. Can't wait.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Shell Delivered

At 2 pm today we received an email from Phil, obviously delighted that the shell had just been delivered safely to his workshop. He was also pleased that it was a fine and dry day so that the shell did not need drying before he can start work on it.

We did have a bit of a glitch on Tuesday night when we looked closely at the photos from Sheffield and it appeared that the steps in the semi trad were not at the height that Andrew specified when he visited. These are crucial for our ability to step up and down from the deck to the roof, especially when working through a lock. Most important if working single handed (which Mike sometimes does even if others are inside keeping dry) or just to be able to help out with tying off the boat when ascending in a wide lock.

However, after an exchange of emails and phone calls first thing yesterday morning, it was agreed that this will be rectified after the shell is shipped to Stafford - this will not hold up the immediate work which is all inside the cabin. When we next visit in a couple of weeks time we will be able to determine what changes are needed.

On lorry

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Shell to Go

Phil (Stem to Stern) has just made a further visit to Sheffield in order to check progress and that all is well for Thursday. Crane and transport are booked for Thursday - 8 am at the Tyler Wilson works in Sheffield. The shell will then be loaded and transported to Stafford where another crane is booked to offload ready to move the shell into the industrial unit where it will be fitted out over the next few months.

The report states that almost all the work is not complete with a few tweaks before it is blacked tonight and then painted inside and out tomorrow.

Here are Phil's latest photos. The shell is on trestles for the final works - it looks as if the base plate is still being trimmed back to size. The first two photos are our first view of how Jonathon Wilson has interpreted our expectations for the semi trad stern layout. The third picture is a good look at the unique chute design of the weed hatch. On trestles there is a better impression of the distinctive bow lines.