Friday, 28 July 2017

Ravensdale is now seaworthy – we hope!

Photo of replacing a perished fuel return hose

Replacing a perished fuel return hose

Almost nine months after we moved on board, Ravensdale is hopefully seaworthy.

All the problems flagged up by our diesel engine course have now been rectified.
And we are so glad we delayed taking her out to sea until after John Parlane, of Morecambe-based Bay Sea School, came to our boat in Maryport Marina, Cumbria, to do the RYA course with us.

While teaching us how her two 300hp Volvo Penta diesel engines work and how to maintain them, he spotted a number of things that needed correcting before she left the marina.

We also discovered we didn’t have the tools we needed to work on our engines as Phil’s tools were AF imperial and useless on a Dutch-built boat where all the nuts and bolts are metric.

We went out and bought new tools and immediately ordered the necessary engine parts.

Photo of one of Ravensdale's engines

One of Ravensdale's engines

These started to arrive on Wednesday and Phil has spent every day since in the engine room fitting the various parts and dealing with another problem, which occurred while he was working down there.

I did offer my services in the engine room, seeing as how I also have a certificate proving that I successfully completed the RYA Diesel Engine Course, but he said he was happy to do it, if I would hand him the relevant tools.

I can’t help thinking I got the best end of the deal and I certainly wasn’t complaining as I now know just how cramped and uncomfortable working down there can be.

Initially, we were going to wait until we had all the parts to get it all done in one go.

It was a good plan, but like all good plans it didn’t work :-(

In the meantime, Ravensdale’s hull and topside were given a thorough clean to remove the dirt that was beginning to build up since she has been back in the water.

Photo of cleaning Ravensdale's starboard side

Cleaning Ravensdale's starboard side

Photo of cracks in the perished fuel hose

Cracks in the perished fuel hose

And we made sure that everyone who has commented on the fact we have not taken her out to sea yet was aware that she does move – even if it was a case of using ropes to pull her over to the neighbouring pontoon to enable us to clean her starboard side J

New drive belts for the alternator and water pump on the starboard engine arrived on Tuesday and we collected a new fuel return hose for the same engine from Forth Engineering in Maryport on Wednesday morning.
We thought we now had everything we needed to get on with the task in hand.

Photo of the replacement return fuel hose and a spare

The replacement return fuel hose and a spare

As soon as we got back from Forth Engineering, Phil donned his coveralls and we lifted the floor of the saloon to provide access to the engines from above.

He quickly replaced the perished fuel return hose and removed the worn drive belts.

Then we discovered we had a problem.
The part numbers on the old drive belts, which come in pairs, were not the correct ones for our engines, so the supplier gave us the correct numbers, or so we thought, and we ordered the ones they recommended.

The water pump belts fitted perfectly. However, the alternator drive belts were much too long.

A quick call to the supplier revealed that there were two types of alternator fitted to these engines, with the ones requiring the longer belts being the more common of the two. They therefore assumed these would be the ones we needed, but it seems this was not the case.

The company immediately sent out the correct belts, which arrived yesterday, and the wrong belts have been returned.

Meanwhile, Phil fitted the water pump drive belts on Wednesday and tightened some loose connectors on the battery terminals, then had to give up until the replacement belts arrived.

Photo of removing the old water pump drive belts

Removing the old water pump drive belts

Soon after he had emerged from the engine room and we put the floor back, restoring a bit of normality to our sitting room, I tried to run some water to make a coffee. A small amount of water came out of the tap then it spluttered and stopped.

We tried running water a few more times without success, then Phil went back down into the engine room (via the opening under the steps to the aft cabin to save lifting the floor again) to see if he could find out what had gone wrong.

And he discovered that, while working on the starboard engine, he had knocked the pipe off the domestic water pump and it was pumping water out into the bilges instead of through the taps.

We turned the pump off and he tried to sort it, but the pipe to which it had been attached was split and was not long enough to cut back so would need replacing.

We spent another night without running water, making do with a jerry can full of water filled from the tap on the pontoon.

And, as if to add insult to injury, it started pouring with rain at the same time.
For some reason, whenever we're without running water on board, it starts falling out of the sky J

While trying to sort the water problem, Phil discovered that, within a four-foot length, there were three separate hoses connected together with copper tubing and associated jubilee clips for no apparent reason.

He decided they would be better replaced with one length of hose so, on Thursday morning, we headed off to Forth Engineering again to buy a suitable replacement and some new stainless steel jubilee clips to fix it in place.

On our return, we lifted the floor again so he could get into the engine room to carry out the work and restore our water supply.

Photo of changing the water pipe

Changing the water pipe

Photo of the new impellers and extraction tool

The new impellers and extraction tool

He also fitted new water pump impellers to both engines after discovering they had not been changed or checked when we had the engines services in December of last year. It was obvious that this was the case as the screws holding the covers in place had been painted over some time ago and had not been removed since.
Removing the old impellers, which are a series of vanes moulded around a hub, proved a difficult task as the removal tool we had bought did not fit the old impellers. Replacing them with the new ones was even more difficult.

But, after a bit of experimenting, Phil found a way of doing it much more easily.
He tightened a cable tie around the vanes before inserting the impeller into the housing, cutting them off when it was half way in. He was then able to push it in the rest of the way.

He also refilled the greaser for the stern glands, which keep the propeller shafts watertight.
Photo of refilling the stern gland greaser

Refilling the stern gland greaser

And we've started collecting up all the spares we need to carry in case we have a problem at sea.

So Ravensdale is now seaworthy, or at least we've done everything we can do to make her as seaworthy as possible.

All we need now is some good weather to coincide with the tides so the marina gate will be open at a time when we want to take her out into the Solway Firth.

We've also sorted through all Phil’s old tools and managed to find some that could go to make room for the new ones as space is finite when you live on a boat.

Photo of sorting through our old tools

Sorting through our old tools

Photo of grey mullet swimming around in the marina

Grey mullet swimming around in the marina

On the wildlife front, we've been watching the grey mullet swimming around in the marina, some of which are getting quite big now.

But they didn’t seem interested in the bread we threw into the water to try to attract them to the surface to have their photographs taken.

Photo of swans - but no cygnets

Swans - but no cygnets

And a pair of swans continues to pay regular visits to the marina, but without any cygnets.
We are not sure whether this is the same pair that brought three cygnets into the marina last month. Hopefully not as this would mean that they've lost their young.

Photo of Ravensdale looking clean and shiny in the sunshine

Ravensdale looking clean and shiny in the sunshine

Photo of a sunset over the marina

One of the many beautiful sunsets we have enjoyed lately

Friday, 21 July 2017

Diesel engine course proves we were right not to rush out to sea

Photo of our diesel course certificates

Our diesel course certificates

Phil and I both completed the RYA Diesel Engine Course on Wednesday.

And it seems we were right to have put off our first trip out of the marina gates until after we had done the course as it flagged up a couple of jobs that needed doing before we take Ravensdale out to sea.

John Parlane, of Morecambe-based Bay Sea School, travelled to Maryport to deliver the RYA Diesel Engine Course on our own boat.

There are two ways to access the engine room – by lifting the steps that lead down into our bedroom and stepping down onto the floor or lifting two large sheets of plywood that form most of our sitting room floor and climbing in from above.

We cleared the sitting room, including removing the bench that runs along the starboard side of the cabin, lifted the carpet and removed the boards before John arrived to allow the engine room to cool down a bit as it was a very warm day.

Photo of Ravensdale's two 300hp Volvo Penta engines

Ravensdale's two 300hp Volvo Penta engines

Initially, John explained how a diesel engine works by showing us a demonstration on our dining table using a Perspex tube sitting on a block to replicate a piston.

John Parlane's diesel engine demonstration

He placed a small piece of cotton wool in the bottom as fuel and pushed a plunger down into the tube at speed causing the cotton wool to burn.

This was particularly useful for me as I had no idea how compressing air could create enough heat to run an engine.

He explained that this demonstrated the fire triangle – air, fuel and heat.

And I can’t repeat Phil’s response when John asked if we had ever heard of the four stroke cycle – suck, squeeze, bang and blow J

He took as through the basics of the diesel engine using a presentation on his laptop, answering our questions as we went along.

We then donned our overalls to learn more about the two 300hp Volvo Penta engines that power our Neptunus 133 cruiser.

Checking the oil level using the dip stick

Conditions in the engine room were not particularly pleasant due to a lack of headroom when entering under the stairs and cramped spaces if climbing into the gaps between the engines and the hull on either side of the boat from above.

At one point, I thought I was well and truly trapped down the side of the port engine, but I somehow managed to extricate myself.

I’m really going to have to lose some weight if I’m planning to spend much time in the engine room J

It was also very hot down there so I was pleased when we returned to the comfort of the seating around our dining room table to complete our course.

John explained what each part of the engine does, tracing the routes taken by water, oil and diesel, and explained the importance of the various checks that need to be carried out at regular intervals.

To help us remember the checks that must be done before going out to sea and daily while cruising, he suggested we remember the acronym WOBBLE (definitely a good aide-memoire as I’m never going to forgot a word like that J).

The letters stand for Water, Oil, Belts, Bilge, Leaks and Electric, which includes batteries and fuel.

We checked the drive belts on both engines and were amazed to discover that there are two water pump drive belts and two alternator drive belts on each engine.

I couldn’t help doing the maths in my head and, even though I didn’t know the cost of the belts, I calculated that replacing them all and buying spares was not going to be cheap – especially as they have words “Volvo Penta” on them J

That was the first time that we realised just how good a decision it had been not to go to sea before doing the course.

Both of the water pump drive belts on the starboard engine were slack, one much more so than the other.

John told us how to adjust and change them and Phil tightened them as much as possible, but they were obviously beyond saving.

Photo of Phil tightening drive belts on the starboard engine

Phil tightens drive belts on the starboard engine

We asked John if he would be happy going to sea with them as they were and he said that he would not. They really needed to be changed before moving Ravensdale again.

We also checked the pipes and hoses and discovered that the fuel return hose on the starboard engine was badly perished and could have burst at any time – another job that has to be done before we leave the marina.

Other jobs that we need to do asap include replacing rusty jubilee clips on some of the hoses and tightening some of the connectors on the battery terminals.

Photo of Phil and John checking the bank of batteries on board

Phil and John checking the bank of batteries on board

John also showed us how to carry out all the tasks needed to service the engines, including changing the oil and the air and fuel filters.

And he ran through the likely causes of various problems and which ones we could hope rectify ourselves and which really needed the involvement of an engineer.

Further topics covered included winterising the engines, although he said that, as we live on Ravensdale, she is unlikely to get as cold as a boat that is left empty during the winter months.

We now have a list of spares we need to carry to ensure we are as prepared as possible to deal with any breakdowns.

And we discovered that we didn’t have many of the tools we needed as most of Phil’s spanners and sockets were imperial when the boat is Dutch and all the nuts and bolts are metric so we have since been out to get the tools that will fit.

Photo of Phil checking out our new tools

Phil checks out our new tools

I am so proud that I now have a certificate stating that I have successfully completed the RYA Diesel Engine Course to go with my certificates for the RYA Day Skipper and Yachtmaster Offshore theory courses and my Short Range Radio Licence.

If anyone had told me 10 years ago – or even a year ago – that I would complete such courses I would have laughed at them, but I’m so glad that I’ve done them now and have enjoyed every minute of it.

Over the past few months many people have asked why we haven’t taken Ravensdale out of the marina yet and we are now very glad we stuck to our guns.

One other job that has been carried out since our return from Scotland was replacing the waste water pump for the wash basin in the aft heads and the shower.

Photo of Phil preparing for the installation of the new pump

Phil removes the old pump and prepares for the installation of the new one

It broke down the night we got back from our holiday – not the best type of welcome home present but not totally unexpected as it had been making a horrible noise for the past couple of weeks.

We ordered a new Whale Gulper pump (love the name and it is very descriptive of the noise it makes while operating J) on Sunday and it arrived Tuesday lunchtime.

Photo of the arrival of the new waste water pump

The new waste water pump arrives

Phil had it fitted and working in no time so normal service was resumed once again.

Photo of a weasel running along the pontoons at Maryport Marina

A weasel runs along the pontoons at Maryport Marina

Meanwhile, the latest visitor to the marina as far as wildlife is concerned was a weasel that I spotted on the pontoons as I was walking down the ramp one morning.

I immediately stood still and watched the tiny creature scampering along the pontoon, unsure what I was looking at, but determined to get a photo that would help me identify it.

I managed a couple of shots with my phone, but it was too far away to get a decent image. However, the images I did get were sufficient to look it up and it was definitely a weasel.

After running along the pontoon for a while, it came to a join between two sections, upended itself and dived down into the gap.
Photo of the weasel disappearing down a gap in the pontoons

The weasel disappears down a gap in the pontoons

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Boats R Us – our plans for a boat-free holiday turned out to be anything but...

Photo of mefFishing - or at least trying to fish - on Loch Awe

Fishing - or at least trying to fish - on Loch Awe

We're just back from a week staying in a cottage on the shores of Loch Awe in Argyll, Scotland.

Part of the aim of the holiday was a break from Ravensdale. Much as we love her, she has presented us with one problem after another lately and we thought it would do us good to get away for a while.

Having decided that we wanted to go away, I said I wanted to stay in the middle of nowhere and Phil said he wanted the opportunity to do some fishing.

We lived in Scotland for 16 years before selling our house to move onto a boat and both love the landscapes the country has to offer so decided a peaceful loch-side location would be an ideal getaway.

Photo of Tarbert in the sunshine

Tarbert in the sunshine

However, we ended up spending the best part of two days at Tarbert visiting friends with boats in the marina there and another day on a boat we hired in attempt to catch fish on Loch Awe.

Photo of Barr-beithe Upper

Barr-beithe Upper - the cottage where we spent a week by Loch Awe

As we booked just four days before we went away, we got a very good deal with Blarghour Farm Cottages and got a three-bedroom cottage that could accommodate six people for the price we were expecting to pay for a property that sleeps two.

And the location was lovely.

It was 19 miles from the nearest shop with an amazing view of the loch. In fact, it had beautiful views from every single window.

Photo of the view of Loch Awe from the cottage

The view over Loch Awe from the cottage

Photo of one of the beautiful sunsets we enjoyed during our stay

One of the beautiful sunsets we enjoyed during our stay

We were also very lucky with the weather. We had a couple of very hot sunny days – not what I’d been expecting of a holiday in Scotland J

A couple of days were overcast but dry and on the days it rained, it dried up at the time we wanted to go out and started again once we were safely back indoors.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of fish – or at least fish that were willing to allow us to catch them L

Photo of Phil fishing on Loch Awe

Phil wrapped up to protect him from the midges while fishing on Loch Awe

We both bought week-long fishing licences on our arrival, before discovering that the loch was practically surrounded by trees, making it virtually impossible to fly fish from the shore.

We tried fly fishing from the one clear area to which we had access on the shore below the cottage, but without success. We didn’t even see any fish rising. Phil also tried spinning, but still had no luck. Meanwhile I wandered around with my camera, snapping the beautiful scenery.
Photo of Loch Awe in Argyll

Loch Awe in Argyll

Photo of another shot of Loch Awe

Another shot of Loch Awe

Photo of a sunset over Loch Awe

The sun sets over Loch Awe

Photo of Phil fly fishing on Loch Awe

Fly fishing on Loch Awe

It was during our first attempt at fishing at this location that we became reacquainted with the Highland biting midge (one thing I certainly haven’t missed since moving to Cumbria).

However, we had remembered to pack Smidge insect repellent, which made the biting beasties just about bearable.

Having decided we were wasting our time on fly fishing, we decided to hire a boat from Loch Awe Boats and had a lovely day pootling around the loch in the sunshine.

We tried trolling, fly fishing and spinning, but again without success.

The only fish we saw all day were shoals of tiny fish in the shallows as we took the boat out and brought it back in at the end of the day.

Photo of Phil trolling on Loch Awe

Phil trolling on Loch Awe

Despite the lack of fish, it was great to be out on the loch admiring and photographing the beautiful scenery, which made both of us a little bit homesick for the Highlands.

Photo of a beautiful sunny day on Loch Awe

A beautiful sunny day on Loch Awe

Photo of reflections on Loch Awe

Reflections on Loch Awe

We also enjoyed our visits to Tarbert. It is such a pretty harbour and bustling with life. 
Photo of Tarbert Harbour in Argyll

Tarbert Harbour in Argyll

Photo of colourful fishing boats at Tarbert

Colourful fishing boats at Tarbert

Photo of another view of Tarbert Harbour

Another view of Tarbert Harbour

Photo of Tarbert fishing boats

Tarbert fishing boats

The water was beautifully clean and the boats can get out to sea at any time of the day or night as there are no tidal restrictions on access to the harbour.

In fact, we were so impressed that we decided to find out a bit more about the possibility of taking Ravensdale there at some point in the future.

Photo of a fishing boat tied up on Loch Fyne at Inverary

A fishing boat tied up on Loch Fyne at Inverary

We also spent a pleasant day out in Inverary, where we enjoyed a fish and chip lunch at The Inverary Inn and wandered around the shops. On the way back we stopped at much photographed Kilchurn Castle, where we took a few photos of our own.

Photo of Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

Photo of a wider view of Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

A wider view of Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

Another great feature of the cottage was that its location meant we could walk straight out into the hills behind it from which we had panoramic views of the 25-mile long loch.

Our love of hill-walking was the main reason we moved to Scotland from Wales in 2000 and it was great to be out in the hills again.

Photo of me walking in the hills above our holiday cottage

Walking in the hills above our holiday cottage

Photo of the impressive view of Loch Awe from the hills

The impressive view of Loch Awe from the hills above

Photo of another view of Loch Awe from our walk

Another view of Loch Awe from our walk

Photo of Phil out walking in the hills

Phil out walking in the hills

There was a good breeze during our walk so the midges weren’t a problem and it stayed dry while we were out.

We felt the first drops of rain as we were walking up the drive to the cottage on our way home .

And, as we got indoors, the heavens opened and there was an almighty downpour.

We are not normally so fortunate J

The week passed too quickly and I was sad that the holiday was over, but at least I no longer return home from a break knowing that I have to go back to the “real world” (as I used to call work) on Monday.

Life is one long holiday now and it’s good to be back on board Ravensdale.

And, as if to make sure we really knew we were back afloat, there was a good swell on our first night back to rock us to sleep :-)

Friday, 14 July 2017

A prawn in the hand...

Photo of one of the prawns from our first catch

One of the prawns from our first catch

Crabs, eels, prawns, herons and seagulls have been keeping us entertained at Maryport Marina in Cumbria.

We have often wondered what sea creatures were living in the mud beneath Ravensdale and decided it would be fun to find out so we bought a prawn pot to see what it would catch.

Phil baited the pot with a piece of frozen mackerel and dropped it over the side to see whether anything would take the bait.

Photo of lifting our new prawn pot to examine the catch

Lifting our new prawn pot to examine the catch

The following morning he lifted the pot to find it had trapped around a dozen small crabs and a handful of little prawns.

Photo of some of the crabs we netted during our first attempt

Some of the crabs we netted during our first attempt

Photo of one of the prawns we caught laying on Ravensdale's aft deck

One of the prawns we caught laying on Ravensdale's aft deck before being returned to the water

We had no use for any of them so we returned them to the water, re-baited the pot and put it back to see if we could catch any other types of sea creature.

The next time it was lifted, it again contained little crabs and prawns. A larger crab was clinging to the outside of the pot, but it let go and fell off as it was lifted out of the water.

These were also released and the pot returned to the murky depths under our boat.

The following morning we discovered it had trapped two eels, each about 18ins long.

Photo of the eels that were caught in our net

Slippery customers - the eels that were caught in our net

We will continue to put the pot down to see what we can catch, more for interest than anything else, but Phil is considering using some of our catches as bait for fishing trips in the future.

Meanwhile, one of the herons that are frequently seen around the marina came in for some unwanted attention from one of the local seagulls.

Photo of a seagull dive-bombing a heron on a pontoon

A seagull dive-bombing a heron on a pontoon

The heron was sitting on a pontoon watching the water for fish when the gull started to attack it.

Photo of the heron squawking at the seagull to frighten it away

The heron squawks at the seagull in an attempt to frighten it away

The sea bird flew high above the heron and dive-bombed it at speed many times in an attempt to get it to move on.

I watched and took photographs from our boat for a while, then decided to try to get a bit closer for a clearer shot.

I was able to walk a little way along the pontoon and get a few more shots before the seagull flew away.

Photo of the heron posing for photos after the seagull flew away

The heron posing for photos after the seagull had flown away

However, the heron stayed and watched me taking photos of it. I’m sure it was giving me the evil eye so I decided to walk away and leave it in peace.

The images of it looking straight at me look like a completely different bird. Without its long pointed beak, it looked rather like an emu :-)

Photo of the heron watching me take its photograph

The heron watching me take its photograph