Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In Love

This past year has gone down in our record books as the toughest ever boat owning year. There have been a lot of days when we talked about selling Serenity. But we still have her and blame this on the stove/central heating that we installed.

I love it.

It may have taken every ounce of our stamina to get finished. It may have cost more to put in than we could afford. But having heat throughout the boat in these cold winter days (and not having to buy fuel to boot!) is heavenly.

Being able to dry our clothes on the radiators or in front of the fire is a blessing.

Not being confined to a single room because the rest of the boat is unheated gives us more freedom.

Not feeling like every minute of heat to the radiators is costing us money is even better. (our old diesel system cost us £400 for 6 weeks of radiator heat, our anthracite stove was much better but only heated one room).

I'm keen on building in systems that, whilst they may have a significant initial outlay, will give us much lower monthly bills. Perhaps it's all those 'end of the world' films I've watched but i think the world will look pretty different in 15-25 years.

So, I'm in love with the stove. The beating heart of Serenity. I'm working on the rest.

Friday, 18 November 2011

central heating

One thing that we've wanted to do for a LONG time is install central heating. Our trusty Pithers stove has been great in the living room but the rest of the boat has been cold in the winter, and so we wanted a way of heating all the rooms.
The solution we decided on was a Dunsley Yorkshire Multifuel Back Boiler stove which heats the living room but also heats radiators in all the other rooms. We bought the stove, and had an 'interesting' experience carrying it aboard. It weighs about 250kg, and initially we couldn't even shuffle it along the ground, so i got out the spanners and took it all apart, essentially removing everything that could be unbolted (doors, firebricks etc) to reduce the weight as much as possible.

This got us to the point where 4 people could carry it, hung by straps on 2 poles, and so we gingerly carried across 6 barges, hoping desperately that we wouldn't drop it in the river. Luckily we managed to get it safely on board.

and then down the stairs and safely inside and re-constructed

Once it was re-constructed, it was so heavy that we had to make a wheeled trolley to move it around

partly so that we could get it back off the old concrete slab (that we think used to have an Arga on it)

so that we could smash it up, with a hammer drill and cold chisels. This turned out to be a wise decision, as it was pretty badly made, the old 'chuck some bricks and stuff in the hole and pour concrete in' technique. So it was good to get rid of it all.

Of course there was also more unplanned elements to the job. We decided that to do it properly we really needed to do the hull wall behind the stove, so we took the old walls off, stripped the paint, repainted and insulated it all.

The we could make our new hearth. We built a frame, put an 18mm ply top on it, and then topped it with some very nice 120cm square ceramic tile from the excellent London Tile and Mosaic Company who are just down the road from us.

We did try it out as a dancefloor, but ultimately decided to stick with using it as a hearth.

We then attacked the job from two fronts simultaneously. I started plumbing in all the radiators while Lorna sorted out the flue for the stove.


This took AGES! Days and days of cutting and bending bending pipes, fitting elbows and service valves, plumbing in radiators (we bought a couple of new ones but also re used some old ones, flushing them through until the filthy balck sludge was replaced with clear water

cutting holes through (the top) of a bulkhead to allow the gravity circuit to pass through to the wheelhouse, this is one job that never seemed to end.

And boy did we have to keep buying more stuff too:

But eventually everything was all plumbed in, we poured water into the feeder tank, ran around tightening up all the leaking joints, poured more water, fixed more leaks, and repeated until the system was full and ready to go.

Meanwhile, Lorna was sorting out the flue. There was already a window above where we wanted to put the stove, so she shortened the window part, welding in a lip onto which would sit a double glazed, non opening panel

and fabricating an openable 'hatch', into which the flue would be welded, making it watertight, but removable, if we ever need to clean it, or move the stove.

Then the final step was to make a little support for the double skinned, insulated flue to sit on top

and we were ready to go.
We fired up the stove, watched anxiously as the water heated up, hoping the stove wouldn't explode, but the pipe thermostat turned the pump on, the radiators all heated up, and we did a little happy dance to celebrate a warm winter on serenity!

Monday, 14 November 2011


This is one of those jobs that has been so far down the priority list for so long that it was in danger of never getting done, so it was great to just do it.

The wheelhouse door sometimes catches th wind and swings back, banging against the wheelhouse, which at some point in the far distant past, before we bought the boat, had cracked the window. Then a couple of years ago it cracked more, to the point that a large shard fell out, and so we boarded it up with a piece of celotex, ;just for a week or two' and promptly never got round to actually fixing it. It was a bit of an eyesore, and yet not that important. At the same time, the large skylight in the back cabin leaked in the rain, and so we covered it over 'just for a while' and similarly never fixed it.

last week we FINALLY got a glazier over who replaced all the glass and now it looks WAY better. Hopefully, as we gradually tick off the massive jobs, we'll be able to start tackling all these little ones, which collectively make such a difference to the quality of life on the boat.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

no rest for the wicked skills

When we got back from dry dock we should have been able to sit back, relax, and take some time off happy in the knowledge that although we'd had to work insanely hard for two months, non stop, and had almost worn ourselves out completely, we'd achieved what we needed to and were safe and seaworthy.

However, the reason i still haven't had a single day off since the start of dry dock, at the beginning of August, is that there were 2 big jobs that we hadn't finished when we got back, moving the bathroom, and installing central heating.

One of the things we decided we needed to do during dry dock was sort out the inside of the hull underneath the bathroom which was damp and rusting. This led to us ripping out most of the bathroom, including the built in tiled shower, in order to get at the pipes

and once we'd ripped out the bathroom, it seemed silly to put it back in the same room, as our plan for a long time had been to ultimately swap the bathroom with our bedroom.

Of course this meant ripping out our bedroom too.

before building it back up, starting with the floor

then adding floor and building stud walls to divide the space into a separate toilet and bathroom.

as well as, of course, painting, insulating with celotex, double insulating with rockwool, and panelling over the hull wall.

THEN we had to build enclosures for the 2 tanks (fresh water and black water, or poo) which would form 2 walls of the bathroom, and keep almost all the pipework in the boat, other than hot and cold feeds to the kitchen taps, within one room. Having had a previous layout with water tanks in the fo'c'sle, bathroom and boiler in the front room in the hold, and kitchen at the back of the hold, we wanted to really rationalise this and keep everything as close, and pipe runs as short, as possible.

once the tanks were in

we could put in temporary plumbing (it doesn't look pretty but it works, and once we sort out the walls a bit more we can then reroute the pipes in a less Terry Gilliam style)

and run the gas line in order to fit our new boiler (our old boiler, which was situated in the bathroom, had a sticker on it saying 'do not install this boiler in a bathroom'). The gas installation took 2 days, since like everything else on the boat it meant drilling through ceilings and bulkheads to run pipes, and actually fabricating a whole new section of deck to house the end of the gas line and the bubble tester. We were pretty delighted when, having finished the gas line, we tried the bubble tester to find not a single leak.

At the same time, we had to install the new toilet, cistern and cistern enclosure and move the macerator to the new toilet, which was a whole 'nother load of plumbing and learning.

Then it was just a case of putting the lino floor in, quickly building a temporary stand for the sink, placing the bath in the room, and we had a newly functioning bathroom with hot and cold running water

which the cats certainly appreciated.

The emphasis was definitely on 'functioning' rather than 'finished', as there were more ongoing jobs like installing a new window frame that would incorporate the flue pipe for the boiler, rather than the bit of plywood with a hole cut in it, that we were making do with in the meantime.

and installing the rather nifty tank level indicators for the two tanks

Essentially EVERYTHING that we do on the boat is intricately tied in to 10 other jobs, meaning that to do anything you first have to do another 5 things to enable the initial job, and then the main job will require at least 5 different skills (welding, plumbing, electrics, carpentry, glazing, etc) which means that things take a LONG time to finish.

BUT, we were back from dry dock, had been back a week or so, and had hot and cold running water which made our lodgers happy at least. We just needed to make our new bedroom habitable, and install the new central heating system before the cold winter weather set in, and we could have a couple of days off. Easy!

Of course it's now mid november and we still haven't QUITE finished the central heating, but we're SO close, and we do at least have our bed in the bedroom, even if the room is a little heavy on celotex and low on chic design.

The central heating has been the most epic task i've ever attempted, and has taken WAAAY longer than i expected, but we're almost there with it, and it deserves a whole post of it's own...