Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sickle Loses a Cylinder.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for 12th March)

Lister HA3
Whilst this post marks quite a significant milestone for "Sickle", I am at a bit of a loss as to how and try and make it interesting.  The short version of events is "Green engine in "Sickle" is replaced by a very similar looking green engine, differing really only by having one less cylinder", and hence any "before" and "after" photos show little of note to anybody, except perhaps those with a strong interest in engines of a certain age.

HA3 was 33 horsepower and the "13" identifies it as 1963 build
The story of how we bought an engine originally intended for "Flamingo", but which has now ended up in "Sickle" has already been told in a previous post.  It was actually not that easy a decision. Since its two cylinder water cooled Russell Newbery engine was replaced by a three cylinder air cooled Armstrong Siddeley engine in 1957, "Sickle" has only had 3 cylinder engines, including a Lister HA3 - the type fitted to "Sickle" during our ownership until now, but not the one fitted in British Waterways service.  The rationale of British Waterways using a bigger, more powerful engine than used in their carrying fleet, was presumably that tugs like "Sickle" regularly pulled multiple boats around, often ones heavily laden with dredgings and similar , and that the extra power was useful in that context.  The downside in a boat now in use in preservation is that these big three cylinder air cooled engines really are over the top for a 40 foot boat propelling itself around, and seldom actually towing.  These boat diesels actually like to be worked quite hard, and ones that are often run at little over tick-over tend not to survive as well as those worked harder. "Sickle's" old engine definitely showed signs of an engine that did not have the opportunity to work hard on a regular basis.

The "old" engine again.
So we decided that although lacking strict historical authenticity, replacing a Lister HA2 with an HA2, was an acceptable move.  The engines are visually identical, other than the extra cylinder in the HA3, making it maybe 5" longer overall, (I haven't actually measured).  Prior to 1957, "Sickle" performed ice breaking and tug duties with a 2 cylinder engine anyway - when the boats were first converted to icebreakers by the Ministry of War Transport in 1942 they retained the same Russsell Newbery engines that they had had as carrying boats, with no change to available power.  The Lister HA2 now going in is actually on paper more powerful than these Russell Newberys.

And the HA3 from the other side
When "Sickle" went to Brinklow Boat Services for the swap, it was envisaged there would be few complications.  In practice a few unexpected things happened, but before that, because the engine can only be removed through an opening in the front engine room bulkhead, Cath and I had the lovely job of moving over a ton of iron ballast further forward into "Sickle's" hold, in order to create the space necessary as the engine came out.

Then, in order......

The "new" HA2 - green again, of course,
1) Dave at Brinklow found he had great difficulty in moving "Sickle" away from the spot we left her at.  Whilst moving the ballast had brought the back end up, (having the side effect that the propeller was too high to get a good grip on the water), the front end had been brought down enough that the front end was apparently stuck firmly on the canal bed.  (We were not there to witness any strong language at this point).

And the HA2 from the other side.
2) The nuts and bolts holding the panel over the hole in the front panel, through which the engine would come out were very tight.  In trying to remove them Simon had got his thumb trapped between wrench and angle iron in the cabin, and had cut into it very badly, necessitating a hospital visit, and some weeks of healing. (Again we were not there to witness any strong language).

HP rating relates to pre-marinisation use. The 11 at the end means 1961 build.
3) It transpired that the hole through which the engine should come out, (and the new one go in), did not go far enough towards the bottom of the boat, and the engine could not pass through into the hold.  The hole would need cutting larger, and the covering plate modified to be longer.

The safer alternative to driving an alternator
4) It was hoped that everything that needed to line up still would with the new engine.  The gearboxes are identical so once married to to prop shaft, the control connections for engine speed and gear operation should still be in the same place, as should the connection to the roof mounted exhaust.  The only thing we hoped was required was that because the front of the engine would be maybe 5" further back, (because of one less cylinder), that the holes for the mounting feet would need to be re-drilled.  Unfortunately the resulting position was apparently exactly where there were gussets supporting the engine bed, precluding just drilling through, and bolting down.  Yet more modifications were necessary.

And finally from above.
Anyway, all that apart, the rest of the work was to plan.  Certain parts were "borrowed" from the old HA3, as either the new engine came without them, or the parts already fitted to the old engine didn't need modification.

It was quickly pointed out to us that the reduced length of the engine now resulted in a large gap between the follow in front of it, and the engine.  So a piece of new flooring was also agreed.  After a bit of deliberation, we decided to also have a proper cage made to cover the alternator, and the belts and pulleys associated with it.  The only loo on "Sickle" is beside the engine, and visiting it alongside spinning belts has always felt a bit hazardous.  Now when a steerer watches someone dive into the engine hole to use to loo, they can be more confident they will emerge again later uninjured.

However, the end result, despite all the work, remains much as I said at the start:  "Green engine in "Sickle" is replaced by a very similar looking green engine, differing really only by having one less cylinder".  As I also said, hard to make a very interesting story from that.  The biggest visible difference is the bigger space forward of the engine, and the cage to protect the alternator drive, just mentioned.

Finally anyone who has looked closely at the photo captions may have noticed that we have replaced a 1963 engine with a 1961 one.  Yes, the "new" engine is indeed older than the old engine!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The "new" engine arrives.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for 9th February)

We had arranged that we would arrive at Brinklow Boat Services ready to see our "new" engine delivered whilst we were still there, so that all parties were happy with all the arrangements.

Our seller was slightly delayed, but was soon with us with the engine securely strapped to a suitable trailer.

Brinklow generally use their fork lift to move such items around, and the engine was fairly quickly unloaded and transferred to a rather more substantial pallet, in order that it could be temporarily moved into one of the buildings there.  Although not shown here, the fork lift is too tall to enter that building, so the final move involved a low trolley designed to move pallets, and which could lift it the necessary amount off the ground.

Work would not commence absolutely immediately, but Brinklow promised us it would within a week or two.

First outing of 2017 - Taking Sickle to Brinklow

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for 7th to 9th February)

Braunston flight
As explained in a previous post, "Sickle's" current engine is to be replaced by another engine we had agreed to buy, initially thinking it was destined for "Flamingo".

This meant that "Sickle" needed delivering to Brinklow Boat Services for a mutually agreed date, and this was the purpose of this trip.  As there were no further stoppages planned on our route, we simply needed Brinklow to agree a date, and this was it.

"Pub" lock, Braunston
This is, of course, quite a short trip, although at this time of year, we stick to a relaxed schedule, usually based around not getting started too early, no involving travelling after dark.  The usual complication for any trip that starts at one place, and ends at another applied, of course, namely that a car has to be delivered to the end point, before travelling back to the start point.  Two acrs are required, but fortunately we have managed to keep Cath's late mother's car on the road, although the recent cost of putting it through an MOT undoubtedly exceeded any book value it has!  It is adequate as the second car for these trips, but not ideal - our original intent had been only to use it for local journeys, but at least we now have the reassurance that it is capable of passing an MOT, even if the brakes feel a bit tenuous compared to a new car!

Approaching Hillmorton locks
The second complication we now have is that on the sudden and unexpected death of Cath's mum, Ann, we "inherited" her dog Max, meaning we now own two large black dogs. Unlike Odin, Max is not pure Labrador, but is still mostly Labrador, and not far off the same size.  Whilst Cath and I have evolved ways of sharing a back cabin with one large black dog, (largely dependent on the tolerance and good-naturedness of said dog), we simply do not have space to bed both down in the back cabin any reasonable way.  We love Max to bits, but he is a serious impediment to our use of Sickle, so far only part "solved" by taking a second boat with us when we move Sickle!  We continue to consider the problem, (the answer to which can not be "sell Sickle"!), but at the moment "Sickle only" trips mean leaving at least one dog at home with the sons, and if we are doing that, it generally makes more sense to leave both.  So this was a dog-less trip.

Middle lock at Hillmorton
I had feared from the weather forecast that this might be a trip where we got fairly wet and cold, and was planning for fairly regular swapping of steerers.   The reality was pleasantly different to expectations, and we neither got particularly wet, nor particularly cold.  At least one of the days we spent a lot of time boating in considerable sunshine.  To me the Northern Oxford saw far more appealing at this time of year, with few boats on the move.  I really do not enjoy it much in mid-summer, as you queue up along somewhere like Barby straight, with half a dozen boats ahead, usually limited by the speed of the lead boat.  In fact the whole boating experience at this time of year was great - with generally no hold up at any of the lock flights, most of which we passed far quicker than in summer.  

Cath in charge, me on locks at this flight.
The sole exception was our very first lock at Whilton where the first pound up to the second lock contained so little water I doubted we would even get over the top cill of the bottom lock .  We did crawl over that, but on the approach to the second lock, I grounded mid-channel, where the deepest water might have been, had there been enough of it.  I proved to be completely stuck, despite having only grounded at very low speed, but could go neither forwards nor backwards.   Fortunately I was not single handed, because I was stuck on the boat, with no chance of getting off. Cath letting down a  flush of water finally floated me off, but although I then crept over the cill into the second lock, I then grounded actually in the lock on debris clearly on the bottom of it.  It is quite disappointing to find a pound in one of the major flights so devoid of water, but sadly at both Buckby and Braunston now it often seems to be the case that either there is too much water, (cascading over gates), or far too little, (in some pounds at least).  I think CRT have cut staffing on water control duties more than makes sense if incidents like this are to be avoided.

The ritual passing of my late brother Pete's former butty "Angel"
A generally pleasant trip, and great to have a run out in "Sickle" which will always be a more nimble boat than the very much heavier "Flamingo".  We do need to come up with a creative way of travelling with just "Sickle", but with two large black dogs on board though!

Shopping stop near Rugby

Weedon to Brinklow Boat Services, Stretton Arm
Miles: 26.8, Locks:16

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Other Historic Narrow Boat Blogs

As far as I am aware there are very few other active blogs written by owners of historic ex working narrow boats.

I'm aware of some that still exist, but where no post has been made in a long while, but will only add these to the discussion if and when they come back to life.

Our list of blogs to in the column on the right of the Sickle and Chalice blog lists the three others I'm aware of, so this post is just to draw your attention to the fact they exist.  I am particular pleased to see the new blog that has recently appeared for narrow boat "Enceladus", a boat we actually briefly considered buying, though when it was in a far less complete stage than when purchased by it's latest owner Sarah. (Yes two out of the three other blogs are written by Sarahs).

All of these blogs tend to have a different style and slant from each other, and indeed from ours

Have a look, and see what you think!




How we looked at, but didn't buy Enceladus here.

And why the other Sarah was heavily implicated in us ending up with a full length boat as well as a short one here.

(Although it was probably two days taking Chertsey down part of the Grand Union with Jim that made such an outcome inevitable - something I don't actually seem to have blogged).

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The revised engine plan - The "spare" engine.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

This particular story has, I think, not got a mention in the blog until now, but actually dates back quite a few months.  When we were looking for options to get "Flamingo's" engine rebuilt last year, a few things quickly became apparent.
This shot gives only a hint as to how many the seller actually has!
Firstly there are not actually that many engineers specialising in this kind of work who can take it on at anything approaching short notice.  Nobody we initially approached could contemplate doing it before the winter, and one of the people who we were strongly recommended could not even commit to doing it any time in 2017, let alone 2016.  With quite a few of the engineers they do not have canal-side premises, adding complexities about where an engine can be craned out, how you transport it to the engineer and (often the biggest consideration) what is the situation for the engine-less boat for the complete duration of the rebuild,  (the danger is you end up paying for an additional mooring as well as home mooring for many months for a boat you can't even use).

3:1 reduction box yet to be be fitted.
Secondly all agreed that sourcing genuine parts for Lister HA series engines (which were built in the years 1958 to 1970) was not becoming any easier.  It could take quite a bit of time to get all you needed.  In many cases "copy" Indian produced parts are more readily available, but we were shown positive evidence that having "Lister" stamped on the packaging, or even coming from an authorised Lister dealer did not guarantee parts of the quality of the originals.

Engine to be modified to add fuel lift pump.
The engines in both boats were both Lister HAs - the two cylinder HA2 in "Flamingo", and the equivalent three cylinder HA3 in "Sickle".  With identical geometry other than the extra length from the extra cylinder, either should be interchangeable, the engine rooms both being the same size. We started to wonder whether finding a running engine to buy might address a few issues, and particularly it should be possible to do an engine swap on a boat and get it back in service far more quickly than many of the engine rebuilds we were starting to hear details of.

When we arranged to have "Flamingo's" engine rebuilt at Stretton, the actual rebuild work would be a "spare time" activity by Dave, as well as his usual day job, so it was reasonable to expect it might take a while.  A third engine would allow us to put a working engine in a boat that needed its engine rebuilt, and then allow for that engine in turn to be rebuilt without a strict deadline, so it was eventually possible to then put it in the other boat, finally releasing that engine for work to be done at whatever rate was possible.  This anyway was the theory, so in parallel with taking "Flamingo" to Stretton we tried to source a third engine.

Little sign of any significant use.
In practice we saw a number of "H" series Lister engines, not just HAs, but also the up-rated HB model, (visually identical, but faster running with more power) and also the later HR model (again not very different visually, but with bigger pistons and bores, giving yet higher power).  Some we didn't actually see, being sent photos and videos, but most we looked at, which took a fair amount of travel and time.  Several proved unsuitable - one proved to be not quite in the condition the vendor hoped, (which he was very honest about, once he found out), others came without gearbox, and it seemed sensible if we were going to have a spare engine that it also included a spare gearbox.

Hard to assess a reduction box, but looks in good order.
Eventually we located an engine that seemed promising, although don't be surprised it was also significantly the most expensive!  It was a 1961 HA2 originally an industrial unit coupled to a standby generator - these can do very few hours over the decades, if seldom or never needed for emergency power, and only 300 hours was claimed for this engine.  It had been marinised to a variable speed engine, and mated to a Blackstone gearbox that appeared to be  in very good order.  However the engine required some things sorting out that the vendor was aware of, and also it needed to be modified to fit a fuel lift pump, fit a different reduction gear and to add a suitable alternator with appropriate pulleys and belts - this would take 2 or 3 weeks, but should not impact timetable to put it in "Flamingo".  After a day or two's pause for contemplation a deal was struck, which included delivery of the prepared engine to Brinklow.

The plan, of course at that point was that this engine would go into "Flamingo", the boat with by far the most urgent need, thus releasing "Flamingo's" current HA2 for Dave to rebuild at a pace that suited him.  The reality ended up being rather different!

Close up of some gearbox internals.
In practice Dave got on very quickly with the rebuild of "Flamingo's" own HA2, which, given the scale of the work required, happened far faster than we has assumed it might.  In the meantime the vendor of the "spare" engine had some horrendous health problems which, unsurprisingly, stopped him completing the engine.  Eventually Dave had the original engine ready to go back in, but work on the "spare" was halted - so it ended up being the original now reinstalled.

We were certainly not going to hassle the vendor, who we knew had far too much to think about than the "spare" engine, and, of course when we did finally talk to him, the conversation was to whether we still wanted it, and whether he could now complete it and deliver it in a sensible time-frame.  We decided that "Sickle's" engine, although not at this stage anything like as bad as "Flamingo's" had been, could usefully also come out for full overhaul - this "spare" could replace it.  Despite being only two thirds of the power, (because 2 cylinders would replace 3), it should work very well - "Sickle" is currently powered to be a tug, but seldom these days actually carries out tugging duties, and hence is not worked hard.  The decision was aided by the fact "Sickle's" current HA3 only has a 2:1 ratio on its reduction gearbox, whereas this HA2 has 3:1.  This is important, as the same propeller should work with either, thus avoiding the cost of a new propeller, and having to dock the boat to fit it.

So we agreed with Brinklow Boats a likely date for them swapping engines, and told our vendor he still had a deal if he could deliver by then - he was confident he could.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Fetching "Flamingo" Back To Base

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Retrospective Post For 20th to 22nd December 2016

Bottom locks at Hillmorton
It seems strange to think it is nearly 4 months since we delivered "Flamingo" to Stretton, but in fact a huge amount has been done in the period since.  Whilst all other work done been carried out under the auspices of Brinklow Boat Services, the work of rebuilding the engine was undertaken by Dave as agreed with Brinklow to be done in his "spare" time, using their facilities, so we never really expected that work to be done as quickly as Dave actually managed to do it.  It has been a great result for us, and we are grateful both to Dave for dedicating himself to the task, and to Simon at Brinklow for accommodating each new piece of ancillary work that has come up.

Between bottom twp pairs of locks at Hillmorton
Now however the current programme of works was complete, and there were finally no stoppages that would have prevented us getting back to base, other than a restriction that one particular railway bridge would need to be passed on a fixed time-slot in the hour between noon and 1:00 pm.  We wanted the boat back to base before Christmas, and this week was our one opportunity to do it.  Of course at this time of year the daylight hours are shortest, and we had no desire to navigate in the dark, so we allowed plenty of time for planned short cruising days, and dealing with any unexpected teething problems.

Moving between middle and top locks at Hillmorton
Knowing the time we would be allowed through at Cathiron Railway Bridge meant a morning departure was required from Stretton.  We had the usual "faff" of needing to deliver a car to our eventual destination at the home mooring, then travelling to our start point in a second car, (which would need to retrieved when the canal trip was complete).  This is slightly "exciting" because the "second" car is an elderly Ford Ka that used to belong to Cath's late mum, which we have kept going as a local run-about, but which isn't exactly ideal for longer journeys!  Anyway it made sense to be on board the day before, ready to move off in the morning.  Late tasks we had hoped to complete had still not happened though, such as reinstating the wiring to the horn - this would be done en route.

Braunston flight
In practice it was an uneventful trip, which is of course exactly what we were hoping for.  We arrived early at the rail bridge, to ensure meeting the stated passage time, but I had barely got the boat to the tow-path bank when it was obvious that the workmen were moving a floating pontoon under the works, to leave a channel little wider than a narrow lock.  We were waved through, and were quickly on our way again, already ahead of schedule.

Large woolwich "Aldgate" passed just below lock
The engine performed impeccably, although I had the odd moment where I forgot the speed-wheel now works in the opposite direction to what it previously had done.  Winding clockwise used to wind the speed down, but do that now, and the engine is quickly racing.  It's going to be ongoing fun, as it now works the reverse way to "Sickle's".

The first day had been cold, but nothing like as bad as had been forecast leading up to the trip.  We stopped for the night near Clifton Wharf, just beyond Rugby.

"Pub" lock, Braunston
The following day was positively sunny, although I still needed a jacket most of the day.  The engine continued to work well.  As on the previous test run, we were achieving the same cruising speeds as we had in the past at a noticeably lower engine speed, making the whole experience more relaxed.  More importantly, the boat was now stopping considerably better.  It's still a very slow process compared to (say) "Sickle" or "Chalice", but hardly unexpected given the weight of this very big boat. Also very importantly, the engine is making very little smoke, other than a brief burst as you wind power on, (again not unexpected).  In short it is looking very promising, though more boating will be needed to really get the measure of it.  We stopped the second night at the top of Braunston locks, not wishing to go through our first big tunnel since all this work was done in the dark.

Frosty start to final day in tunnel pound at Braunston.
By contrast to yesterday, on the final day I ventured out in the morning with the dogs to find a heavy frost.  Braunston tunnel had as clear a view straight through as I have ever seen, and, encouragingly, as I looked back as I was about to emerge, there was also still a clear view back the other way.  Prior to the engine rebuild I can guarantee there would not have been.

In the Buckby flight of locks.
The final locks were those at Buckby, which were quite hard work in places due to excess water, but passed without problems.  The final leg back to Weedon always seems to take longer than I expect, but we were still back in time to pack up in an organised way, drive up to Stretton to retrieve a car, and still be home in reasonable time.

It's great to be boating again in a boat that isn't a worry.  It was certainly going to be the last trip of 2016, being by now only 3 days to Christmas.

Waiting for our final lock of 2016

Stretton Arm, Northern Oxford to Weedon, Grand Union
Miles: 26.8, Locks: 16

Thursday, 8 December 2016

All is good! - Successful trial run on Flamingo, following all works undertaken

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

(Retrospective post for 8th December 2016)

The programme of works on Flamingo had proved to be quite extensive.  The engine had been completely rebuilt from bottom up, with reground crank shaft and bearing shells, and cylinder bores and pistons had been replaced.  Additionally other components such as the fuel injection pumps and injectors themselves had been checked and reconditioned as required.  Additionally it had been found necessary to replace one of the gears in the reversing gear box.

The engine feet had been repaired, and part of the engine bed they stood on strengthened.

All the gear rodding and operating lever was completely replaced by new, and the speed control modified.

Simon and Dave stand guard to stop me thrashing rebuilt engine too much!
All the above was done at Brinklow Boat Services, but additionally (and crucially) the propeller had been sent away to FAL Propeller Services in Scotland to have major changes made to it's pitch - something we hoped would considerably improve performance of Flamingo, and particularly help with one of it's biggest issues - a failure to be able to stop it in a hurry, however urgent the requirement was!

Additionally I had rewired all the 12 volt electrics relating to do with anything connected to the engine, including starter motor, alternator and battery bank.

Other than running the engine whilst tied up, all the above was untested, and Simon and Dave at Brinklow both thought it sensible that Flamingo was taken out for a decent trial run before Cath and I were finally to take the boat away and back to it's home moorings.  We were up at the boat, and readily agreed, as we were all too aware of just how much had been changed, (and also, of course, very keen to see how Flamingo now performed.

The boat yard is at the end of the Stretton Arm, once part of the original route of the Northern Oxford canal, but for many years now just an arm ending in a small basin.  Progress is initially slow as you pick your way through the many moored boats, or crawl under the very silted bridge that passes under the mainline railway.  Turning out of the arm past the breasted fleet of Rose Narrowboats is also a challenge, and I seem to recall I let one of the Brinklow team have the tiller at this point!

Simon at the tiller - Dave's watchful eye making sure engine is as expected.
Only when out onto the straight part of the main line was it possible to start to really assess performance, and the news was good.  Flamingo was going along well, and the engine speed required to achieve this with the modified propeller was now very noticeably less than it had ever been in the past.  Even more encouragingly, as you put the engine into gear, it was becoming noticeably loaded at low PRM, but very fortunately not over-loaded.  We had agonised on what to ask the prop dimensions to be changed to, and it had looked like we could go as much as 25.25" x 22", (the latter 22" being the pitch).  This was a huge change, which risked the engine being overloaded if the change was too big, so we had actually asked FAL to go to 25.25" x 21".

Now beyond theory and calculation, we were actually trialing our decision, and all agreed it was fine, but at the top end of what was sensible.  We would have been OK at 20", (1" less pitch), but almost certainly over-propped at 22".  A good result then, given we didn't want to have to pay to dock Flamingo yet again, and to send the propeller on another expensive return trip to Scotland.

Next of course was stopping, and yes Flamingo now stops very much better than it did.  Make no mistake, it is still a big heavy boat, with a big heavy cabin conversion, equivalent to a working boat with maybe a third to a half of a full load on, so it still takes quite a lot of power to finally bring it to a halt, (certainly far more than our much lighter "Sickle" at only 40 feet long).  However the improvement is considerable, and hopefully we will now be able to enter locks at a more normal speed and still manage to stop before the bow bashed the gates at the other end.

The original plan was just to go to the nearest winding hole, the entrance to another disused stub of the original canal route, but it was a nice day, and all agreed to do the considerably longer journey up to the entrance to Brinklow Marina, (which despite the name is a fair trip from Brinklow Boat Services).  Again I somehow managed to not be at the tiller as we did the turn, but it is always interesting to see how well old hands at the game manage a boat that is unfamiliar to them.

All declared themselves satisfied, the engine putting in a faultless performance, and producing remarkably little smoke, given that the new pistons, rings and bores will need some time to fully bed in.  Dave Ross seems to have done an excellent job on it.  The new gear mechanism, (based on that in Dave's own boat), also worked without fault.  The one thing we agreed they should  do before we collected the boat, was to try to relocate the speed wheel mechanism back slightly, to make the wheel more accessible to the steerer.  It had always been tucked a bit too far forward, and moving things back, if only by an inch or two, would make it easier to operate.