Page published 5 September 2023
It was shortly before 14:00 when I got a call from Kathy to say that the launch was about to take place. I popped down to the yard to record the event and arrived to see the tractor and trailer backed up to our boat and men passing straps under the boat. As I walked round the boat I saw Kathy talking to a man in a van. He drove off and it was only then I learned he was the BSS examiner and that he had signed off Singing the Blues. The certificate would be in the post, Kathy said! By then the straps were secured, the boat was raised and the supporting props removed. The short journey across the yard to the slipway began.
As I arrived I found the boatyard's Tractor, with boat sling trailer, backed up to our boat.
Our boat passes the small shed, half hidden by reeds, where the tap is sited from which I obtained water, while cleaning the boat.
Immediately past the shed the tractor turns and reverses down the slipway.
Once in the water, the slings are lowered away and the boat floats clear of the straps. She is then pulled away from the trailer by the mooring lines.
Finally clear of the trailer, it's just a matter of pulling her to the bank and...
...tying her to the bollards.
It had been 14:21 when I took the first of these photos. It was 14:40 when I took the last. After that men went on board again. One continued with his task of refitting the sink unit in the galley. Another set to work bleeding the fuel system so the engine could be started.
The engine fires reasonably promptly, with an initial plume of oily smoke and is then left to run, which it does without any smoke. for a number of minutes.
Once the engine was running the men all left. Officially, that was to allow time to confirm that there was no air in the system, but it did occur at the perfect time for a tea break. Once they were sure that we wouldn't find ourselves adrift in the river with a stalled engine, the plan was for Kathy and I to take a short cruise with their engineer also aboard to check whether their work had cured the problem with the noisy gearbox. After ten minutes the engine did die, but once everyone was back on board and after a little more attention to the fuel system the idea of the need for that short cruise evaporated.
In spite of the gearbox having been taken apart a couple of times while at Buckden with almost 600 pounds worth of parts fitted and reassembled and test run with further parts at Peachment's, the local yard that stocks a full range of Borg-Warner spares, there was still a loud "clatter" when forward or reverse was engaged but no load placed on the engine. If rev'd above much above an idle the clatter disappears.
The next half hour or more was spent discussing what might be the cause and trying different things. Dylan, the young engineer who had got the engine running, confessed to not being an expert the rarer problems on older boats such as ours. Kathy said she would consult with Phil, when he got home at the end of the day. He'd started Moonfleet Marine back in the 1980s when he ran a hire fleet based at Belaugh and understood as much as anyone about the mechanics of our boat. She promised to give me a call later to explain his thoughts but asked if I could re-send the full list of things that had been tried while Singing the Blues had still been at Buckden.
The call was made last night and things didn't sound too positive. I got a further call this morning and popped down to the yard again. By this point some more testing had been done. The prop shaft had been separated from gearbox and the engine had been run again. That had confirmed that the noise was not from the shaft, which was one of the things I had thought it might be at the time of our River Trial and Kathy demonstrated that to me. However, she did show me that the bearing at the mid-point on the shaft was worn and, now that they had it apart, the feeling was that it might be worth replacing it, although it wouldn't help in reducing the noise. I agreed that.
I also requested that the bilge pump be replaced. It had been discovered yesterday that although it works when switched on manually, it does not run when in automatic mode. As any rain that makes its way into either the forward or aft wells then drains into the bilges, we would always need to be available to visit the boat after heavy rain to ensure the bilges are pumped out to keep the boat afloat.
We still needed a decision on how to cope with the noise. While, last night Kathy had been reluctant to ignore the clatter, now she was clear in her mind that it was generated in either the gearbox or reduction gear. She was quite prepared to have the box sent back to Peachment and they had promised to cover any costs related to fixing their work on the box. However, it seemed to me that removing the gearbox yet again was worth it. There's been a number of goes at getting the gearbox to run silently by various people and a lot of money spent on parts.
It seems highly unlikely to me to be a gearbox issue and far more likely that it is the reduction gear that is the cause of the fault. And that's a problem! Whereas parts are widely available for the gearbox, I'm told the reduction gear is a rare beast. The best hope, we're told, is to find a hoarder somewhere who just happens to have one in the back of his shed.
Other options are considerably more expensive. We could, for instance, replace both the gearbox and reduction gear with a second-hand PRM gearbox, but they are much shorter and would require extending the prop shaft.
As Kathy was now more certain the problem lay in the reduction gear, and was sympathetic to our desire to do some boating in the remains of this season, the plan emerged that we should take the boat, as is, and tolerate the noise. While she'll have words with her contacts with a hoarding tendency to see if a second hand reduction gear can be obtained and if, at some point next year, we decide it prudent to convert to a PRM gearbox then she knows where there is one. It seems Phil, her partner and owner of Moonfleet, is a hoarder
While I was at the boat I took the mattress cover home and put it in the washing machine, as it had got rather grubby over the last couple of weeks. The bed had begun to be used as a dumping ground for the galley base unit and various tools and parts over the last couple of weeks. I replaced the cover with some old curtains which we keep them for use as dustsheets when decorating
The original switch, seen when viewing the boat.
The other thing I did was fit the new back-plate to the heater control. You may recall, when I took a Look Around the inside of the boat after its arrival from Buckden, how I hated the home made look to the heater control that Marlex Marine had fitted. It wasn't quite square, Its sides weren't quite straight. The corners weren't all of the same radius. To my eye it just looked so amateur. I had been expecting something that looked more like the original, that I photographed while on the River Trial, a fully branded backplate on which was mounted a switch and indicator light.
I wanted something that was a better match with the bilge pump switch and found a seller on eBay that could supply a 100mm square sheet of 0.9mm thick brushed stainless steel. It was only £3.00, including postage. All it took to make a professional looking backplate was to drill five holes in it. I confess it wasn't quite all my own work. I did file off the corners of the plate, which were rather sharp on delivery, but I don't have the tungsten tipped drill needed to make the holes in a stainless steel sheet that thick, so I got Moonfleet to drill them. They also supplied the screws!
The backplate fitted by Marlex Marine.
The replacement backplate I obtained.