A narrowboat renovation project by Nick Goodall.

  • Shakespeare-bound

    26th November 2023


    Winter's a coming, and I'm getting through a lot of diesel out here in the sticks, not to mention the inconvencience of, you know, having to find somewhere to work, and shower…

    The thought of a marina crossed my mind, many a time, and on Friday I finally put down a deposit for one in Stratford-upon-Avon, a mere 82 locks and 35 miles away… hmm, but exciting.

    That evening I set sail, turning the boat around and making haste by moonlight:

    Until another boat informed me of a blockage I forgot to check for... it's winter working season for the CRT, and a nearby flight of locks is closed for a couple of weeks while they replace a gate, so it'll be mid-December when I get there (hopefully).

    Boat progress is nonetheless grinding to a halt while I focus on work and keeping warm, and it won't be until next year when I ramp up again (£££). I'll write an update when I get to Stratford in 2 or 3 weeks, but otherwise I'm hitting pause on this here blog, after exactly 6 months — 26 weekly updates!

    In the meantime, here's a photo from yesterday:

    Until... soon!

    - Nick

  • The week with no boat

    19th November 2023

    This is the first update about the boat where I haven't seen it all week, so to fill the void of progress here are some old photos from when I first got the boat.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Doing the sidewalk

    12th November 2023

    This too was a slow week for reasons (programming); it goes that way sometimes. But in exciting news I do start some new work tomorrow! Boat progress will slow down for a while, maybe months, and that's okay; I can definitely finish it now.

    In the meantime here are some photos from when I moved the boat on Friday, followed by walking back along the canal to fetch the van:

    It's lovely around here!

    I'm away for the next week so expect another light update, but I'll write something regardless.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Happy November! Strap in for a short one; I spent a few days in Denmark this week, followed by house-sitting, and... the boat did not progress far.

    On one exciting hand I discovered a leak in the kitchen windows; it's not bad, and hopefully re-sealing a little section will do it, but I'll need to swing the boat around for that.

    And on the other hand I started dismantling the stove:

    But even that didn't get far; the bolts are rusted and seized inside, so I'll probably shear them and deal with the damage later. When it's in pieces I can de-rust, re-paint and re-assemble.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Major improvements to feels

    29th October 2023

    It didn't feel like a wildly productive week, but it still felt good, and I finally made the boat watertight (mostly (portholes still in progress)) by sealing up the 4 windows on the starboard side, along with lining the windows that open with thicker rubber:

    As best I can tell, water now stays outside (it's been raining hard!), and it's the first time I can say that in 3 years... gosh I was lazy. But it feels GREAT. And then I put "seasonal double glazing" — a polyolefin film you stick around windows and tighten with a hair dryer — over the 9 single-glazed ones, and I could swear it's made a difference. I bet you can't tell it's on there:

    I also spent a day moving the boat and servicing it (diesel, gas, water, some new batteries!), and have found an absolutely delightful spot:

    This morning the sun streamed in (I didn't even need the heater), and this evening I washed up by moon- and candlelight overlooking the water:

    In other minor upgrades, I installed intake ducting for the diesel heater so it takes air from the cabin, creating a delightfully virtuous cycle, and acquired a guitar to stoke my inner John Denver.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • I'm not one of those who can easily hide, but that's alright. Last Sunday was 2° overnight, and this was a monumental week in realising my cosy winter dream: I installed the diesel heater, and it is absurd.

    At first I was slightly nervous it wouldn't fit ('tis a big boy — 8kw of power!), but it does, just. Snugly. On Wednesday I mounted it to the top of the engine bay on the port side, and then realised the exhaust skin fitting was too long...

    Luckily a friend offered to ensmallen it, after which I wedged the exhaust in place and wired everything else up. In many ways this was more awkward than re-assembling the engine, but with some bloody scrapes and "fuck you"s at the hard-to-reach nuts, it was time:

    And holy shit.

    Euphoric is an understatement; on full power it rockets the boat to 30° in minutes (ambient temperature dependent), and I've yet to optimise it. For one it's pulling air from the engine bay (not ideal) and I'm waiting for an adapter to run a vent around to the starboard side so it'll begin from the warmer cabin air. Then the big holes into the engine bay along the side which I'll insulate, and just as much for the noise as anything else (turned up it sounds like a jet engine).

    And to improve how it heats the boat, I'll run some rectangular ducting along the port side to carry the heat forward, as currently it comes straight into the kitchen, turning tea time into a sauna sesh. At some point I may also stick a dehumidifier in the mix for the ultimate in boat climate control, and upgrade the electronics for controlling it with an app from afar.

    In other news, I got more plants:

    And I am currently sat in bed under the fairy lights, wearing shorts and incredibly hungover, waiting for the kettle to boil for some tea. It's a good day.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Lights, plants, action

    15th October 2023

    Hello, hello, HELLO! Happy Sunday, and a cold one it is. This week I was away until Thursday, and Friday was all-out pottery, building the skills to fill my future kitchen with crockery. But the days and evenings did not go wasted, and oh buoy.

    I left the boat in a hurry last weekend, so job one was cleaning the insulation off the floor. With that done I could lay some leftover vinyl from a friend's work, creating an entire shoe-free zone for my room with so much space for activities. That I extended to the end of the boat with a walkway for a bare-foot track, meaning I don't need shoes to make coffee in the morning, and I can careen into bed:

    Speaking of, on Saturday I dumped a vanload of rubbish and picked up the king size mattress from my tent last year, a HUGE upgrade:

    Oh, and the fairy lights:

    It's dark outside in that photo, and three sets of fairy lights have made this an unbearably cute building site. But that's not all; today I picked up two hardy plants as well:

    The hanging one is a fast-growing ivy that I'll dangle from the ceiling supports to liven up the place. Besides, are you truly self-sufficient if you're not generating your own oxygen?

    Another thing you may have noticed in the above photos… there's a sink. A SINK! I picked that up on Thursday evening along with my yet-to-be-installed diesel heater, and connected that to the drain today:

    The utter joy of no longer needing to brush my teeth in the rain… It leaked at first, but when I re-tightened it with the PTFE tape I'd forgetten the water followed its destiny, and gravity does the work unlike the pump of the old one you had to switch on.

    With those few changes this place has become incredibly cosy, at least in photos. There's just one thing missing: warmth. I am one cold boy, and that is next week's challenge: install the diesel heater in the engine bay.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • A secured, insulated boat

    8th October 2023

    This week was textbook Parkinson's law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion. I didn't give myself enough to do.

    On Monday I drilled the shoot bolt hole for the door in the newly-welded hatch and started painting it, along with the chimney collar. This continued all week until I installed it on Friday, a huge milestone in winter cosiness!

    (The red is just primer, a temporary measure... he says.)

    On Tuesday evening I installed battens in the doors and ordered an 8kw diesel heater... to say I'm excited is an understatement, this boat is gonna be so incredibly hyggelig, and with a freestanding sink on the way I'll finally have some drainage and a place to run water as well. Temporary of course, but a big quality-of-life upgrade.

    I also picked up new panes of glass for the portholes, ones I'd ordered last week with measurements I made 6 months ago. Not ready to install, but I decided to try them for size when I got back, and... they didn't fit. None of them fit; they were all a few millimetres too big. But it gave me a good laugh, and taught me a valuable lesson: don't trust past Nick, he's an idiot. A lovable idiot that I care for deeply, but an idiot.

    Friday evening I battened the hatch and the front of the water tank, finished masking up battens and vents and then, Saturday, another big day. With a train to catch in the afternoon, this was likely my last chance of the year with excellent weather to insulate, and I couldn't miss it. But first, coffee:

    After that it was a rush to remove the doors, cover everything else with plastic sheets and heat the foam tanks before the final mess. It was electric, and an hour later I was done. I HAVE AN INSULATED BOAT!

    And after putting the hatch and doors back, I properly secured the boat for the first time, and my 3-point lock worked a charm:

    (I once more took the handle with me as it needs a little adjusting and the screws were loose.)

    Now the hatch still jiggles and I have yet to decide how the runners will work, but it is insulated and the rest can wait. And with the diesel heater en route, a sink, and fairy lights to install... oh BUOY.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Omg, happy October!

    The week started frantically, as Monday was perfect for insulating and I had so much to do: buy a gas mask and some overalls, move a bunch of my shite out of the way, clean all the surfaces and masking tape everything I didn't want foam on. And I mean everything: I learned this the first time round, that any exposed surface will absolutely, positively become insulated, even just a little bit. This included my phone screen, which I had left outside, upon which I could feel a smattering of tiny particles later.

    By ~14:45 we were a GO, and I made a little time lapse of the first coating (excuse the flapping plastic):

    Unfortunately the 2 panels at the back didn't set correctly (to the left and right of the camera where you can't see), and I then spent the next hour cleaning what felt like syrup and dough off the walls before trying again. By 17:30 I was done with the lot, and couldn't wait to remove my sweat suit. I had half an insulated boat!

    On Tuesday I did some work, and I returned to... the generator by the side of the canal. Where the fuck was the boat?! Looking up and down the canal I couldn't see it, and I was getting stressed. I figured nobody stole it, because why wouldn't you take the generator? For some reason "right" felt correct, so off I ran back up the canal, and 200m later there it was, neatly moored up alongside (I didn't think to take photos).

    Luckily I had a working engine to take it back (😁), and the following morning I found out what happened when a woman and her dog stopped by to tell all. My piss-poor mooring (my words, not hers) set the boat adrift, around a corner and under a bridge, before settling on the other side of the canal. Anthea was her name, living on a boat just up the canal, and she asked a passing boat to hand her the mooring lines before tying it up herself. I was incredibly grateful, and inspired by her mooring lines.

    I also re-torqued the engine cylinder head that day, along with checking the rocker valve clearances again. It's just... so good, and runs wonderfully without any smoke or steam. AHHH *chef's kiss*. 🤌

    Thursday my new coffee grinder arrived, and with some freshly-roasted beans my caffeine game has reached new heights. I may not have walls, or running water, or plug sockets, but I have good coffee. And then more battening — the final ones! — with some prep before more insulating on Friday:

    It was once more a colossal mess, but it's not over yet: I still have the hatch, doors, portholes, and chimney area to do, and 3 of the wall panels didn't set correctly again; they turned into a syrupy sludge, and I'll do those with the rest of it next time. And the tanks are still half full, so I'll also go over other parts of the boat and make it absurdly insulated. Like, ridiculous levels, question-the-second-law-of-thermodynamics levels.

    Over the weekend I cleaned up the old chimney collar and started painting it, along with some additional welding to the hatch for the door lock and some "wings" to keep it down:

    A few tasks to do next week before insulating is over, and then... new adventures await!

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick


    24th September 2023

    What a week. Do I say that every week?

    Monday! WELL, I got most of that water pump bolt out. I also damaged the old thread... alas. I ordered a thread repair kit then headed to Wickes for a sheet of aluminium for the vents, and a PVC pipe for the water tank inlet.

    The kit arrived on Tuesday and, slight tangent, but it included an advert for a model engineering exhibition in Leamington Spa. Now the company, Tracy Tools, is based in Torquay, about two hundred miles away! They didn't have to do that, but somebody saw the address and thought "You know, this fella might be interested in model engineering" and guess what? I might just go. God I love personalised advertising. (It could all be coincidence, or it's automated, or they put the same one in every package, but I choose to believe.)

    That evening I got to work fixing the thread: drilling a slightly larger hole in the engine block, threading that and then inserting the repair thread (a "Heli-Coil")... fingers crossed. The day before I also increased the size of the holes in the water pump itself, as they didn't quite line up with the ones in the engine block. I'd gone to the chandlery asking why, why is the water pump you sold me a misfit?!, and I got a history lesson: when BMC was sold (to a company in Turkey I think? Then India...), it did not include the castings. So they had to make new ones for the engine parts, and said new ones do not quite match the old, as in my case.

    Anyway, larger holes, thread re-tapped... it was time to install this darned pump. I jimmied up the bolts with copper grease, got it all in place and starting torquing them, correctly this time. Well, almost: the manual said 24Nm, the lowest setting on the torque wrench was 28. The other 3 clicked fine, but I couldn't quite get this repaired thread there; it kept slipping at what I guess was about 20Nm. Still, it felt tight, and the others were slightly over spec. Cautiously optimistic, I celebrated. THE WATER PUMP WAS BACK ON. Given that I've never seen this thread, or the mess I made, or the repair I've attempted, this was a biblical win.

    I could now assemble the rest of the engine, but it was getting dark so I settled for some electroplating instead. Part of the shoot bolts I made for the door were regular ol' mild steel, and although they wouldn't see much weather, paint would scuff and I wanted something to protect them from rust: a coat of zinc. I bought some zinc sheets and sulphate powder online, and with a little battery set up a science project:

    90g of the powder dissolved in 300g of water, 3 AA batteries in series with the positive terminal connected to a sheet of zinc in the water, the negative attached to the bolt for galvanising, and a minute or so later and it was done! I was expecting bubbles, but that could be to do with the low current or my bodge of a clean (you're "supposed" to use an acid). Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, and it's now hidden it the door, but you may take my word that the steel looked different, and it certainly tasted of zinc.

    On Wednesday I cut the latch and bolt holes in the other door, and locked the door for the first time since June! But... I drilled some holes slightly too small, so had to take the handle with me:

    The next few days were engine assembly; I was nervously hyped. It was one of the harder Mechano sets I've played with, as whoever took it apart didn't quite label all the nuts and bolts and where they belonged. But with some deduction and guesswork the pieces did come together, and it was so satisfying to clear the boat floor of parts. It was looking like an engine again:

    First thing on Friday was to torque the cylinder head: 14 nuts needed 102Nm, and done in a specific order (roughly from the centre outwards.) Now 3 of the nuts were inaccessible with the wrench, sat under the rocker (you can just about see them above!), and there is a special tool you can get but I wasn't going to wait, so those underwent a "vibes-based" process, and let me tell you: the vibes were good.

    Saturday was le big day. First thing: tappets, or the rocker valve clearances, set to 14 thousandths of an inch. I went to pick up some feeler gauges to check those, after which I put the alternator belt back on and topped up the oil. It was time. I heated the glow plugs for about 20 seconds and cranked the engine, and it spluttered to life with a puff of white smoke! For all of 5 seconds...

    It then wheezed and wouldn't start, but with a little guidance I was prompted to check the fuel, which I had indeed not bled correctly... simple, really: no diesel, no power.

    Some pumping later to bleed the fuel regulator and each injector, and after doing the 3rd one it came to life! It wouldn't idle though, so I lightly held the throttle for 5 minutes after which it started to smooth out. 20 minutes later it was still going, and starting to sound wonderful. I couldn't quite believe it, a mix of joy and euphoria and hysterical disbelief, it worked:


    I turned it off and let it rest for an hour while I went to B&Q to pick up wood for the rest of the battens, and back at the boat it started right away. A few minutes of idling and off I went, a whole 200m to where I could moor the boat next to the van for errands: trash was piling up, and I was out of water. It felt good to move again:

    It's not quite over yet, though: in the next few days I'll run it again and re-torque the cylinder head nuts, along with re-checking the valve clearances.

    But I couldn't stop, wouldn't stop: good weather was looming, and days to insulate were running out. Sunday — today! — has been all-out battening, and with help from some Danish dynamite half of the boat is ready for foam (photo taken before finishing):

    It's coming together.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Progress in millimeters

    17th September 2023

    Well, the weeks where days happen. That bolt thread is still stuck, but I did make some progress today, which you can read about later. I also discovered "thread repair kits" on a recommendation, which are threads inside threads. You drill a larger thread and "shrink" it, in a sense. There is hope!

    Oh and remember the fancy drill bit I bought? That lasted for all of 5 seconds before I snapped it, and the original 4mm of thread sticking out was quickly whittling down to 2mm, then 0.2mm. Literally reaching the end of the thread; that Tuesday evening I measured the boat for battens before helping a friend install some shelves. A small win, at least. Spread the joy.

    Luckily part of me was still functioning, as on Wednesday I woke up from a dream about how to drill a pilot hole with nothing to guide a drill, and it seemed so obvious: bolt on the old water pump to guide it. But this was a day for different tasks, and with access to a garage and a welder I got to installing the multipoint lock in the door:

    And an amazing day it was! It works incredibly well:

    What a high.

    I'm now waiting for the final coat of paint to dry before I can install it, and then I need to cut the bolt and latch holes in the other door as well. So close.

    On Thursday I managed to drill a little hole in the thread, thanks to my dreaming self, and like an idiot tried another bolt extractor. It snapped. This time I laughed however, and nobody called me a fucktard. The problem with these bolt extractors is how hard they are; harder than any drill bits I have, even cobalt or carbide ones. I finally searched YouTube for my predicament, and found a guy who'd been in a very similar situation. After much more experimenting, there was only one thing he recommended: carbide burrs to grind it out.

    On Sunday they arrived, and right away I could see them working. PROGRESS, finally. With the stuck bolt extractor disintegrated I could drill once more, which went rather smoothly, at an angle. Yes, the hole was not straight, and I'm fairly sure some of the engine block has come with it. Tomorrow starts the delicate task of grinding the rest out; slowly, patiently.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Fuck up, 2, 3, 4

    10th September 2023

    Oh buoy...

    This week was off to the races with preparing the front window: a final coat of primer for the outside, then the 3 coats of varnish on the interior-facing wood. And with that done, it was engine component collection time! The engine/cylinder head, the injectors; back in business:

    Lord only knows why I didn't take them out of the bag for the big photoshoot.

    With some jiggery pokery I finally got the water pump off that I had struggled with, and went to the chandlery for a replacement. I got back to the boat, and compared the old with the new... they were different. Confused, I went back to the chandlery asking what's up; why was the casing different? Turns out, I had the wrong engine. All along I've had the wrong damn engine. It's a 1.8 litre BMC, not 1.5. FOR ALL THESE YEARS I'VE ASSUMED 300 LESS CUBIC CENTIMETRES OF CYLINDER VOLUME?! This also meant a different head gasket, which I'd get the next day. Unbelievable, yet kinda exciting: THE POWER. Obviously the boat will move no faster, but imagine believing you're 3 inches shorter than you actually are. Katona just got a confidence boost.

    Wednesday started wonderfully with fixing the oil sump pump (the pieces weren't even screwed together inside...), and then I called Bob Beck's (the injector service place) just to make sure everything was fine, given I'd told them it was a different engine. Alas. The nozzles were indeed different between 1.5 and 1.8s, so I ventured back over to hand them in for a swap. Back at the boat I installed the glass pane in the front window:

    With that done and the sealant setting, I turned my focus back to the engine, getting it ready for the big assemble. Exciting. First off, mopping up the mess. The drip tray beneath the engine was 3 inches deep with black, oily sludge, and I remembered something my sister taught me about cleaning engine bays: nappies. Disposable nappies. A full bin liner later I could see the bottom, and then onto the old oil, which went rather smoothly with the working pump.

    And finally… engines, assemble! Starting with the water pump, I cleaned the bolts, de-greased the area and tried it for size. It didn't fit. Confuzzled once more, I looked at the old one and could see part of the edge had been ground away. Well, guess I'd do the same, and 10 minutes later with the angle grinder it was snug.

    With the pump in place, I started tightening the nuts with a torque wrench, only it never clicked... and yet I kept going. That was my first mistake, and finally I fell forward as something gave way: I had sheared off one of the bolt heads, and one of the awkward, hard-to-reach ones, too... I don't often get mad, but this was it: royally pissed. "Nick you absolute FUCKTARD" I heard someone say (weird, given I was alone).

    The saving grace was about 4mm of thread sticking out, which I could try to shimmy with some WD-40 and mole grips. Grace was not saved; it was wedged.

    The next 2 days were fruitless in removing the thread — I couldn't get a drill around there, and trying to file a pilot hole for bolt extractors didn't work — but I did install the front window:

    A win!

    Saturday was attempt #4 after picking up an angle chuck extension to drill in tight spaces, and it started so well. After drilling deep enough, I managed to grip the bolt extractor for about 10 seconds until I snapped it (like a moron (mistake number two)). Since then I've tried drilling it out many a time, but the drill bits have been too soft. Hardened steel, titanium... nada; I don't know what this bolt extractor was made of but damn, so I am now waiting for the delivery of a fancy solid steel carbide drill bit before trying again. And that's where we stand, a stuck bolt thread with part of a bolt extractor down the middle:

    At this point you do just have to laugh, it's ridiculous. I'll get there, but this week felt like a plateau with negative engine progress. On the plus side, on Sunday (today!) I did seal the front window edges with silicone and froth some milk with the generator:

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Bang goes the engine part 2

    3rd September 2023

    "I can hear it still needs a service." — me being prophetic, August 27th, 2023.

    Oh you didn't think we were finished with part 1, did you? Well I did. On Monday morning it sure looked fine, but I started moving the boat and half a mile later badoom it went once more. But this time it was a seal at the other end of the coolant reservoir:

    Still... the same issue, one big HMMM. An hour later after a trip to the chandlery and replacing it, I started the engine with a keen eye. So far so good, but I wasn't convinced yet.

    Sure enough, 10 minutes later and a little heat, wisps of smoke began floating from somewhere. I couldn't tell from whence they came, but I checked the oil and the coolant reservoir again. The oil looked fine — black and shiny — but the coolant was bubbling... ruh roh. That mostly sealed the deal; it was probably the head gasket, which meant taking the engine apart. My first thought was to find an engineer, so I called James for a recommendation (remember the gentleman that helped with the welding?), but his vote of confidence spurred me to have a go myself: "Oh it's totally DIY-able, you just twizzle the fluxtromater, remove the turbo encabulator and scrazzle the marzlevane."*

    "Of course, Nicholas, you are the engineer!" I could hear my angels sing.

    It started fine, but I needed a tooling upgrade, and with a new socket set from Screwfix we were back in business. Honestly? This was a bitch, but by jove was it fun and funny. 5 hours later and there it was, in all its greasy, gunged up glory:

    When I finally got the gasket off it wasn't an obvious explosion, but there was some carbonation on the engine head between a cylinder and a water channel which could very well explain these mis-happenings; the tolerances are tiny, so it doesn't take much.

    This was all new territory for me, and even just dismantling it taught me a lot. I'm excited to put it back together, and it's only Monday. On the plus side, the internet was slightly better than my previous spot, and also how lucky am I for this to happen in August?! Imagine how shitty this would be in December.

    On Tuesday I spent a couple of hours trying to remove the engine water pump, but… there was this one nut, behind the pulley, playing hard to get. So much so, I didn't even get it. I borrowed a pulley removal device thingy, but unfortunately that was too big to fit, and as of writing it's still in place (other jobs to do!).

    I took the engine injectors to Bob Beck's in Leamington for a service, followed by the engine head to Ward's in Rugby, a machine shop for refacing it. They did a leak test as well, which luckily went fine, otherwise it would've been a couple of weeks for them to do a full service, removing and cleaning the valves, etc. I wasn't around to pick it up this week, but will do that tomorrow (Monday)!

    And on Thursday, finally, my 10 tubes of sealant arrived! I couldn't wait to install the windows and seal the rest... on Friday. Rain was on-and-off all day, so I went on a goose chase for a multipoint lock.

    Although less of a chase, more of a mission to a locksmith near Bournville. I walked in and told the guy my dilemma: "I'm renovating a boat, and want to install a multipoint lock on the door... I don't know what I'm looking for, can you help?"

    He proceeded to laugh; one doesn't simply install a multipoint lock on a door that isn't designed for it. After serving some other customers and a long back-and-forth, he gave in to my vision…

    Him: "It's too long"
    Me: "Can't I just cut it? I could also weld a new bit on."
    "Err, no."
    "Why not?"
    "Well... you need these things," pointing at some teeth on the protruding bar.
    "Why? I could make my own."

    He was incredibly good-humoured, and amused by my determination. The alternative would be a couple of latches — the norm for securing boat doors — but that's far too many steps compared to simply lifting a handle.

    Him: "You know, you're gonna start on this and then regret doing it" he said with a smile.
    Me: "I know, and it's gonna be great."

    I now have all the pieces to build me the door lock of my dreams, and it's going to be bloody fantastic. This boat will ironically go from open wind tunnel that welcomes all to one of the best-locked vessels in the kingdom. I might even install a cannon and take it to France.

    Friday, with newly-replenished sealant, I installed 2 more of the kitchen windows, and the final one on Saturday morning:

    Followed by sealing the other 3 windows on the port side:

    And would you believe it, this side of the boat is now watertight! I also installed the final 2 vents on the roof, and shaped the bottom of the front window before giving it 2 coats of primer for the outside:

    I'll varnish the interior-facing wood next week, install the window pane and then fix it to the boat. It'll then need some shaping to fit the hull's contours, followed by some extra primer.

    This is turning out to be a great week, even after the poor engine had a bad day, and I'm excited to clean it all up next week.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

    P.S. You can now subscribe to receive new posts via email! There's a form just below, otherwise you can head over here.

    *Not actually James' words.

  • This week started wonderfully with the final coat of primer on the hatch and doors:

    Followed by moving the boat a little ways down the canal with my newly-cooled engine. I did check the oil when I fixed it, but I can hear it still needs a service. And then it began, that daunting task: le kitchen windows.

    I started by putting them all in the frames for sizing, and to position them properly. I bought some plastic glazing packers for aligning them, first with each other, and then to make them flush with the outside of the boat. With that done, I got to work masking up the first window:

    Followed by nearly 2 tubes of sealant(!). And then... it ran out. AGAIN. Amateur-hour over here, how did I not plan for this?! Such is that incompetence, I went to the local chandlery to see if they had any (alas, no), and headed to the pub for some internet to order 10 more tubes. As of publishing, they have yet to arrive, so I'll get on with the rest next week.

    Tuesday evening, in a last minute dash of not doing boat work that day, I removed the bathroom window, cleaned up the area and did the first coat of primer. I have no photos of this, but you can see the finished product later on!

    Wednesday was George's (the van) service & MOT, which... needed an extra day, so I made the pilgrimage back along the canal to do some painting; the first white overcoat on all the welded areas, along with the doors and hatch:

    Speaking of the doors, on Tuesday I had a brainwave: the tubes around the door look ideal for one of those locks that attach to multiple points on the door; one rod extending upwards to the hatch, the other to the base plate below. What on earth are they called? This is where ChatGPT is really handy: multipoint locks. But even just searching for that is overwhelming, WTF are all these terms: backset, spindle, PZ, IPD, deadbolt throw, automatic vs manual. Hrm, I need to visit a shop. And you know what would've made this easier? Not throwing the old lock out. Eurgh.

    Anyway, I installed the hatch and doors after their final coat of paint was dry:

    How satisfying! Except the hatch needs some adjusting; I put some rubber on the edges that slide better, but they're still too low...

    Friday? More painting, and a trip to B&Q for some wood! Because Saturday is wooden batten day:

    This is maybe ~70% of it done before insulating, which feels great. The last parts are the stern, the stern ceiling and above/below the lounge windows... still not sure how I want to do those "windowsills," but I'll sleep on it. Without my bathroom window the water was just pouring in, so that evening I had a last-minute rush to install it after 2 white overcoats that day:

    As mentioned the hatch needed adjusting, so this here Sunday I took it back off and drove to mum's for the big welder:

    After I'm done with programming, I may become a welder; it's just so much fun.

    I added 4 little extensions for it to slide on, and I'm excited to see how it fares (may need some adjusting, as of writing I have not put it back on).

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Bang goes the engine

    20th August 2023

    A lovely week of odd jobs; nothing major, but fulfilling progress in the right direction. It started with a gas and diesel refill, and then I got to work painting the newly-welded sections.

    I also finished putting silicone in the kitchen window frames; I had done one of them the week before, but soon realised the deep channels were gobbling up Marineflex faster than I could conjure new tubes. But fear not! 10 FedEx'd tubes later and we were back in business:

    The kitchen window frames are ready with the windows now waiting for installation, which I shall tackle next week. I also made the pilgrimage to pick up the insulation; 2 kits ready to go, as soon as the rest of the boat is prepared. We're getting close!

    Another thing I started on was properly sealing the lounge windows, first by trimming off the excess mastic tape around the edge, and then squidging a line of silicone around:

    Incredibly satisfying work; I did two of them, and some rainfall proved my handywork successful. Finally, I removed all the rust on the hatch and doors and started painting those, finishing my 3rd coat this morning:

    And on Saturday, what excitement! Just as the boat reached the top of a flight of 8 locks, BANG goes the engine, followed by steam. 30 minutes or so later after parking the boat and some troubleshooting, it was clear what happened: the end seal on the coolant reservoir had exploded, presumably because said reservoir was empty (or close to):

    Luckily a nearby chandlery had the parts I needed, and the fix was straightforward: put a new seal back on with a jubilee clip, flush the reservoir and refill the engine coolant. I don't think any other seals or gaskets broke (fingers crossed 🤞); I was quick to shut off the engine when it happened.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Yesterday was one of those days where weeks happen, thanks to a wonderful man named James. But first, the week started by finishing the primer on the kitchen window frames, cutting 3 steel disks for the holes in the roof and side, and removing the hatch and doors:

    It certainly opens the boat a little more, and on Wednesday I picked up the 2 new kitchen windows:

    By Thursday it was time to move, and I set sail in search of some power to weld. After going through two locks with a family and receiving class B drugs as thanks, I reached Stockton that afternoon and asked around for a plug socket. I soon met James, the owner of Stockton Dry Dock, and we started talking boats; he was curious about this project, and couldn't help but laugh when I showed him. We joked about the missing windows and doors, the rusty roof, the illegal gas bottle sat next to my fridge, but I felt a kindred spirit with this ex-programmer. He asked if I was around on the weekend, and said he'd like to help with removing those holes in the roof.

    Come Saturday afternoon we're moving the boat into the mouth of the dock and it's all kicking off, starting with the chimney section after cleaning the area and cutting a new plate:

    There were 14 bits to weld, and I did a little, but it's James I have to thank for doing a wonderful job on the rest, including 3 big holes in the roof and side where vents used to be:

    And the welding did look cool from inside (remember not to stare directly at the arc):

    It's weird to describe how happy it makes me to look at a piece of steel where sunlight used to shine through. By JOVE is it wonderful; a huge milestone on Project Watertight, and the rest feels like a cakewalk in comparison. There's also Project Antirust, which shall resume after the rainfall tonight…

    And by reader request, here's a photo of my kitchen with a salmon salad underway, my evening staple:

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • That factory look

    6th August 2023

    Short but sweet, this week I returned on Wednesday after a 17-hour road trip, so I wrote off doing anything productive 😴. But work resumed the next day! And this here stern is PAINTED (minus the bits-to-be-welded):

    Look at it! It's beautiful! And the view backwards from my boudoir:

    I also cleaned up the gunge from the kitchen window frames and did a few coats of primer on those, along with one of the vents on the roof. The 2 new windows are being made as I write, and hopefully I can pick them up next week for installation. Slowly but surely, this place is becoming watertight.

    Apart from that, it's time to start welding prep — a few steel disks to cut and clean, then a marina to find for some high amperage. Oh, and the hatch and doors! I need to clean and prep those before I can insulate, so given a minute I'll start on those next week as well.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Magnum grinder opus

    30th July 2023

    What a week! It started strong with 8 hours on the angle grinder — sans injury — de-rusting section 4; the stern, the finale, my magnum grinder opus:

    And with that done, the boat is officially no longer a rusty shell!

    As Sean Parker would say…

    "Drop the "rusty." Just "shell." It's cleaner."

    Following that I washed it all down and hoovered up the rusty dust, ready for painting over the next few days. On Friday I finished the 4th and final coat of primer, and buoy does it look wonderful:

    The unpainted parts are where I need to weld — and there are many of them — but I need mains power to get on with that, which I shall find at a marina in the next week or two.

    And remember that window I broke last week?! Well I ordered 2 replacements; one of the others was slightly the wrong size, so when in Rome, etc. On Friday I left the boat for a few days, and will return next week to do the final 2 coats on the stern section and start on the final preparations for insulating!

    Until next Sunday,

    - Nick

  • So. Many. Windows!

    23rd July 2023

    People on the canal are so nice! On Friday a Dutch family helped me through some locks, and today I had 4 lovely conversations with boaters and walkers, curious about what I was doing and offering their encouragement. One guy talked about his motorbike from Myanmar in the second world war that he restored; another looked at my glucose monitor and asked if I was diabetic...

    Me: "Not diabetic, just curious! I like to see how foods affect me."
    Him: "Ahh I wish I could be curious, unfortunately I am diabetic..."


    This week was really wonderful, and I finished installing the 8 saloon windows:

    I'll miss having those vast holes in the hull, there was something freeing about them, but it's a real delight to simply close them when it starts raining as it did on Friday. And only 6 of them leak! That's 25% of the windows that are watertight — double-digit percentages, which is phenomenal week-on-week growth if you ask me. I've ordered some bigger seals for the 4 that open, and I may need some more Sikaflex for the others as well.

    With that done on Friday I could focus on the stern, starting with the rest of the wires, and one thing I did break was the bilge bump... at some point I'll have to dedicate a minute to fixing that: sometimes I forget to re-grease the propeller shaft, and then I'll hear the "drip, drip" as the engine bay starts filling up. Now it's a long way from drowing the engine or sinking the boat, but... you know.

    I also performed some boat surgery, removing 2 side panels and another one at the stern:

    I didn't cover anything while cutting these out — "It's only a bit of cutting, what's the point?" — which I normally do when grinding the rust away with a wire brush. Buoy was that a mistake. I looked up for a second and there it was, the huge dust cloud, and the sweet taste of steel with my dinner.

    And were they structural? Let's hope not; the bottoms were rusted out anyway, and fingers crossed it's not some Chesterton's Fence. The port-side panel used to support the boiler, but I'll move that to the very back as I'd like 1 continuous kitchen countertop. Moving that and the cooker means I have 2 extra holes in the roof to weld shut, and extra holes to cut at some future point.

    Next up, removing the big kitchen windows — 2 hours tops, surely, and then I can grind away the rest of the rust. 5 hours later, exhausted, they were gone:

    Removing the first 3 went fine, but I put some pressure on the wrong part of the last one, and, well...


    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Rust is falling, all around me, moving kitchens, having fun. 🎵

    This week I installed the first window! It went, well... I needed some rain to test it, and 2 hours later the gods delivered. The rain was heavy, the moment of truth, aaand... drip. Drip. DRIP. Fuck. Still, better than a bin big, and a world of improvement on the gaping holes in the side I've been living with. And soon after fixing it in place I realised the rivets were wrong; these were pop rivets, and mostly too short.

    Still, it looks good! Well chuffed. I'll try a line of Sikaflex along the top to see how that fares, otherwise I can always re-install. And with 1,500 new rivets on route, sealed and countersunk with 3 different lengths, I'm set for the rest.

    I then finished tearing the rest of the stern apart, removing the electronics and final bits of plumbing, including the calorifier — a water tank that heats water either via the engine or an electric immersion heater (the green thing below).

    Did you know that the engine runs coolant pipes through the calorifier to heat water? I learned that when I took it apart, and blue engine coolant came gushing out. Hmph.

    As mentioned last week, the French called on Thursday for help with their revolution, eating cheese and sleeping under the milky way at 2,400m in the alps, so that was it for this week. But I returned to a letter on the door...

    Ominous. Luckily it was only a friendly reminder to get my boat license — which I have! — but the Canal & River Trust couldn't verify as I forgot to replace the boat number sticker after taking the windows out.

    And to finish, here are some photos of the boat, as per reader request, sat somewhere on the Grand Union canal:

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • You get many wonderful neighbours on the canals, and some of my favourites are the ducks and swans. Not only are they funny and sometimes majestic and very edible, they also keep my boat clean. Algae grows on the hull at the waterline, and you'll occasionally hear the rattle of a duck's beak as it works its way along, chomping away. It's a lovely sound that fills the boat as it slightly vibrates.

    This week I started by finishing the overcoats in section 3:

    And looking backwards:

    Ahh! It's glorious! That's 79% of the internal hull prepped, and I'll get started on the final section next week.

    After that I was ill and looking after some animals for the weekend, so a light week. But I did get the new glass pane and learn a few things about re-installing windows. Firstly that completely dismantling the forward 4 was unecessary — most of the glass pane seals were fine, they just needed cleaning — and secondly that "sealant tape" exists. Basically fancy double-sided tape designed for windows, saving on a sikaflex mess. It'll also make removing the windows easier next year when I upgrade them to double-glazed.

    I'll be away from Thursday to help the French celebrate their revolution, but that's time enough to make good progress on the final frontier, starting with a trip to the Chandlery for a roll of that tape.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick

  • Happy July!

    This week was glorious, starting on Monday with a leisurely refurbishment of some windows and a trip to the chandlery, only to find they didn't have the window gaskets I needed. But I did get another spaceship vent — sometimes called a pancake — and another mooring pin.

    And then last night (Saturday), I was making dinner when I heard a Ceilidh band. I decided to follow the music after scrubbing up: across the canal, through some fields, past some chickens and an orchard, and I stumbled upon a community farm having their annual summer party. Without hesitation I danced and drank with the locals until midnight, it was so wonderful. One person said "You don't look like the type of guy who lives on the canal," which I could only take as a compliment.

    Back onboard, I got the final overcoat on section 2 done:

    And then straight onto section 3, starting with shuffling everything backwards and removing the final 2 saloon windows.

    I could then remove the loose rust, pre-drill the baton holes and get out the 'ol angle grinder. Occasionly it "kicks back" if you accidentally touch the spinny thing with something else, and this one time I dropped it, taking some of me with it:

    My first (minor) flesh wound! Exciting. It was about time — I've already electrocuted myself twice. A day was all it took to clean up the area, and just this morning I finished the final undercoat:

    2 overcoats next week and I'll have prepped 14.5 metres of the boat, with only 4 to go (or 21.6%). And that last bit is the easiest, too, with 4 big windows on one side and fewer ceiling supports to paint around. Although I'm not looking forward to re-installing those big windows...

    Until next week!

    - Nick

  • Hello and happy Sunday!

    The last 3 days I was AFK, or "Away From Katona," visiting Denmark to celebrate St John's Day with my family. That normally means a bonfire on the beach, but with the lack of rain the Danes decided to ban any and all fires. So:

    But that did not stop the boat from sailing. On Monday I cleaned 2 of the 8 saloon windows, re-ordered another pane for the one that I broke, and put the final coat of primer on the forward saloon section:

    That Wednesday I removed two more windows in the next rusty section before spinning the boat around, as they're much easier to take out when they're towpath-facing. Then the first coat of white paint, followed by a second ceiling coat on Sunday just before writing this. Unfortunately the tin was empty before I could do the rest, and you can tell the difference with the patchiness:

    It says leave "48-72 hours" before coating the red primer with a solvent-based paint; colour me naughty I only gave it 48, but I could feel it wanted another day. Next time!

    This is only the metal interior so the white isn't strictly necessary, as there's insulation and wooden panelling to come. But it looks wonderful, and I'll still see it, like the back of a cabinet you know was done well. That'll feel good, and I'm also living with this for the next few weeks before I can insulate, and it makes the place a lot lighter!

    Until next week!

    - Nick

  • The downside of living under trees is that it rains for hours after it officially stops. This week there were thunderstorms (there's even one as I'm writing this), and although slightly inconvenient as I have to cover the now-windowless holes in the side, they're useful for a shower to save some water.

    On Monday after removing the other 3 windows and pre-drilling holes for the support batons, I got to work grinding away the rust in section 2, the front part of the lounge/saloon. It is dirty work...

    It went well for 2 hours until the angle grinder stopped... again. And this was the new one, not even 24 hours old. WTF. I tried cleaning it inside and checking the connections, but still nothing. Makita be damned, I got me an equivalent one from DeWalt at Toolstation, which I sure hope DeWon't give up. It's been wonderful so far and the switch is easier to engage, which makes a difference on your thumbs after a day.

    Most of the rust didn't survive past Monday, but a thunderstorm hit in the afternoon and I had to wait until the following evening to finish up (Tuesday is for work, I'm a software engineer):

    Then, with the dust settled, I could get it ready to paint. Now my usual tactic for this is reams of blue roll and a spray bottle, meticulously wiping away all the grime and dirt. This works fine, but it's slow. Very, very, very slow. I did this for the ceiling and part of the sides on Wednesday, and then I had an idea: I'm next to a near-limitless supply of not-too-dirty water, and I have a sponge.

    An hour later with a handful of buckets, the rest of it was clean and primed to paint. It takes about 5 or 6 hours to do one coat, and this Sunday I finished up number 3 after being away on Saturday:

    It felt like this would've taken me 4 weeks 6 months ago, but to go from rusty metal to 3 coats of paint on 1/4 of the boat in 5 days is wonderful. There's another coat of primer I'll do, and then 2 white overcoats for the looks (not strictly necessary as I'm insulating over them, but extra paint can't hurt and I want that factory feeling). Oh and the windows... they need cleaning and re-installing, and I have some glass to order for the one that I broke while removing.

    Until next week!

    - Nick

  • Leaving the boat by the canal side for more than a day is often unsettling, but I've always been delighted to find it in the same place, with everything inside. This week I was away until Friday for reasons, but these last 2 days still proved plenty to make a delightful mess, starting with the chimney section and collar:

    This is what holds the chimney in the roof, and should ideally have a watertight seal. After cleaning it on Saturday and running out of battery with this cordless angle grinder, I was already sweating and it was only 11am. A steel tube with direct sunlight is a little uncomfortable, so I decided to find some shade further down the canal, and with fewer neighbours. Just 1 problem: the engine wouldn't start.

    I checked all the obvious things: diesel, oil, air intake, but nothing. The starter whizzed away, but wouldn't fire. A little concerned, I checked my "guide to diesel engines" and had a google, but nothing, nada. That was until I realised there's one thing they forgot to mention: check the engine kill switch isn't engaged. So it was, and off we went...

    It was only a few hundred meters to find some tree cover by the forest, just after a winding hole, which is a place to turn boats around. This was more comical than I expected, when a bickering couple came by...

    "That way! Dick head!"
    "Fuck off."
    "Left! We're going that way! Turn left!"
    "I'm going this way."
    "Dick head."

    He reversed and came alongside, asking for my help: "Which way is, uhh, Warwick? No, Wigram?" I pointed — in opposing directions — and asked where they were going.

    "How about Braunston? Rugby?"
    "Both that way," I said.
    "You shouldn't have turned around, you dick head," I heard.

    Dear reader: she was right. He sheepishly turned the boat back around, and 10 minutes later after some laughing and more arguing, they were finally heading the right way again and on their way to one of the above places. They waved and wished me well, telling me about how they spent 12 months renovating their boat. It was indeed beautiful, and I hope they're doing well.

    After setting up in the new shaded spot with the generator out, I pulled the start cord and! Nothing... again?!

    Engine switch? On. Choke valve? On. Oil level? Correct. Fuel valve? Off...

    I got to work cleaning up the chimney area and grinding away the old bits of metal, having a great time, until the angle grinder cut out. Now I could've switched to the cordless one — the batteries were now charged — but it only lasts about 5 minutes on full pelt; they're really designed for little one-off jobs, not sitting there for a long time. Work came to a stop, and I spent the rest of the evening servicing it:

    It was full of dust and the carbon brushes were knackered, but even after cleaning them I could only get it working intermittently. I've ordered some replacements, but ever the impatient one I couldn't resist getting a spare grinder, and Screwfix opened at 9am.

    On Sunday morning I ran some errands, picking up the new angle grinder, food shopping and acquiring a new 55 litre rolling water tank:

    Water was becoming an issue; the boat's 1,500 litre tank isn't ready yet, and the few 5 litre bottles I have don't last long. I use a whole one for a shower, and with washing up and drinking water they're gone in few days.

    Back to work, and after some more grinding, cutting the new plate and cleaning it up, it was ready to install. Welding is one of my favourite things; always a little scary, but there's something incredibly powerful about joining bits of metal.

    Geared up and welder on, I put the wire to the metal, pulled the trigger and... the generator spluttered, and the breaker switch tripped.

    Even on the slower setting at half power, spluttering and squirming the little generator could not handle this welder. 45 amps was far beyond the 13 amps it expected, let alone 90 of the better weld setting. That was my fault, I should've read the generator specs, but they could at least write it in big letters on the side: "NOT FOR WELDING."

    At least it's now ready to weld, but that great big hole in the roof shall live another day. I have some other sections to weld as well, so I can get everything ready for when I next have shore power.

    Until next Sunday,

    - Nick

  • Post 1, and week 54. This is my journey of renovating a narrowboat that I've had since summer 2020. Photo evidence of tearing it apart starts on the 23rd of May 2022:

    Last summer and autumn I dawdled, not really sure what I was doing, and it wasn't until September I decided to commit. By then it was getting cold, and it was slow progress over winter getting the front section ready to live on, which I now do as of a month ago:

    "Camping on a boat" is apt. But unlike camping, I have all the property rights to build a home.

    This is what it used to look like:

    And after painting, before insulating:

    (I promise the red is paint; I forgot to pre-drill holes for those wooden batons and in doing so damaged that nice white coat, requiring a touch-up.)

    Since moving aboard I've left the marina in Warwickshire and am renovating en route southwards. There's much to do — it's still mostly a rusty shell! — and this is where I'll document it.

    The boat has 5 inside areas which I've mentally split into 4 sections, working backwards: my room and bathroom that I've painted and insulated and made cosy; lounge section 1 which I'm working on now; lounge section 2; and the kitchen/garage1 area. The lounge sections each have 4 windows, and the kitchen has 4 mahoosive windows on the port side (they're stunning, but need re-installing). A diagram:

    For water I have bottles and they're a cold joy to shower under on the towpath, as long as nobody is around. For electricity I have the old solar panel and boat batteries, along with a portable camping battery and panel. They keep my devices going and charge some Makita batteries that I use for a drill and angle grinder.

    Work tools really are just devices for spinning exotic things around. Drills, saws, sanders, angle grinders... shape rotators.

    That's where I've got to, and now for update number 1:

    This has been a slow week (and month), but on Thursday I finally removed one of the lounge windows! And dismantled it! That's been such an aversive task, but getting the first one done sparked some confidence and I'm excited to do the rest. Worried for a moment they weren't refurbishable, or that I'd break something when taking them apart, but nope: patience, soapy water and white spirit.

    I did however run out of duck tape while covering the opening and had to leave the boat for a few days... that may happen again, so I'll wait with the other 3 until I've fixed the chimney area and removed all the rust.

    Besides that, I cleaned up the worst of the rust on the port side of the lounge, now ready for a day with a wire brush on the angle grinder.

    Until next Sunday!

    - Nick


    1. By "garage" I mean the rear interior, somewhat of a porch; a place for tools, plants, shoes, coats, a bike.

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