A narrowboat renovation project by Nick Goodall.

Ready to weld with hilarious neighbours

11th June 2023

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:

Rusty chimney area Chimney 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:

Servicing angle grinder

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:

Camping 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.

Clean chimney area Chimney plate for welding

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

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