Friday, September 22, 2017

Herbie in the sky



Here we are this evening, now facing North and high above the surrounding land, except you can't see that for the trees. These steps down to the village will give it away to those who know the GU. (Oh, look, there's William across the other side. That means we might get woken tomorrow by the best alarm clock sound in the world - a Bolinder firing up.)



Yes we are on the Weedon Embankment, up level with the roof of the church! Having strolled into the village below, I'm pleased to report that they have a very good, well stocked One Stop supermarket (not the Tesco Express on the A5), a rare thing on this part of the GU and only a short walk from the canal at this point. For a village stores we thought the prices were very competitive too.

We spent the previous two nights in the long pound in Stoke Bruerne locks, along with some charming neighbours. Here's one of them.



Sorry I don't know his name. To be frank, he didn't have a lot to say, and he was a bit stand-off-ish, but quite passive. He and his family work for the local wild life trust, keeping down the scrub at the brick field nature reserve. I recommend a walk round it. He didn't bother to join us for the pub quiz either. We could have done with some help because it was very hard this week. Predictably it was one by a team of eight. Someone ought to devise a handicap system for large quiz teams.

When we arrived there , the pound was very low. I'm not talking about Sterling here, but referring to the fact that the bottom of the canal was too near the top. We were not alone in sitting on the mud at an angle. Someone must have alerted CRT who switched on a back pump and water gushed from an outfall for at least 36 hours, and the pound was fullish but not overflowing. That's a helluva lot of water.

Kathryn was there to say "Hello, Goodbye" when we came through the top lock. The sun was shining and it was a lovely morning, so of course we then plunged straight into two miles of dark wet tunnel!

Tonight, in the interest of research, we plan to investigate the Plume of Feathers, whose menu looks interesting. I'll report back.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A morning surprise and a night time shock..

Arriving at our favourite mooring at Great Linford, it looked just as attractive as ever.




It's a spot I never get tired of. Very peaceful with just the occasional dog walker.

Next morning however we pulled back the curtains to see half the park covered in marquees, gazeebos and vans! I strolled down to take a look. I was a bit taken aback that it had all arrived that very morning. It was the Milton Keynes Food Festival. Artisan bakers, brewers, distillers, pie makers, ham smokers, cheese sellers, currys, samosas, paellas, and a lot more I can't recall now. Also there was a tent with live music and another with gourmet chefs giving coookery demonstrations. Well what a treat. The only annoying thing was that we had eaten breakfast before pulling back our curtains. Anyhow we got some fab cheese and some great sourdough bread, some Indian pasties and a couple of yummy takeaway curries for the fridge. They're all gone now. - that's both the food fair and the food we bought.

Later that night, about half past ten we were sitting quietly on the boat listening to one of my ace (even though I say it myself) playlists, when there was a terrifically loud bang outside the boat. An explosion in fact.

Looking out into the darkness we could see flames about a hundred yards away. Something was burning fiercely, first in three plumes of flame, then two, and finally one which must have lasted for at least ten minutes. We couldn't see or hear anyone out there. I decided not to go nearer to investigate, in case whatever it was exploded again. Eventually it all went quiet and we went to bed.

Next morning I walked down to investigate and this is what I found.



Three aerosol cans, one of which had clearly exploded and two which had burnt out, a couple of torch batteries and a lot of burnt cardboard, all on top of a drain cover. I rang the police and reported it in case it was someone practising bomb making, but there being no wires or anything like that, I daresay it was kids who set fire to the cardboard, then threw on the cans and batteries and retreated to a safe distance. It was, I assure you, one hell of a bang.

Next day our 48 hours at the mooring was up and we were due to move, but the mooring warden came by and said we could stay another night as it was not busy. Thanks Mr Warden. These moorings belong to The Parks Trust, as do the ones at Campbell Park, where I'm told the warden is not so generous. The overstay fine is 50 quid.

Cruising through Milton Keynes is a genuine delight, over two hours of really attractive park land, all I suppose run by the Parks Trust. Well done them.

Tonight we rest our weary feet in Fenny Stratford, having walked over the hill and down to IKEA and back as well as the obligatory traipse through the store. It was worth it, because we now have a load of reasonably priced LED lightbulbs for home, and a few other things we never knew we needed. IKEA is like that.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Glow in the dark canal

Just as we were approaching Cosgrove yesterday, we suddenly noticed that the canal water had turned a really bright green, almost luminous. This continued for about a hundred yards and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. What could it be we wondered? Some sort of algal bloom perhaps, or maybe one of the moored boats along there had spilled something nasty into the water.

When we tied up after the bridge, we chatted to the man on the neighbouring boat. "Oh I know what that is" he said, "I used to work in Environmental Health and we used that stuff." Apparently it is fluoroscene, a harmless fluorescent dye which is used to track water courses, so it may have been used to find out where a ditch or a pipe was leaking into the canal, or vice versa. Our informant said that sometimes they used three different colours to see which of three things was the culprit. Imagine that, a rainbow coloured canal. He also said it glows in the dark so it can be used at night. I'm sure he was right, there were a couple of CRT boats at the site of the dye and men were doing stuff.

I'm very prone to earworms, sometimes they last for days and I can't stop singing or humming some song I don't necessarily even like. Today we passed a boat called Bird on a Wire and that set me off. It's a Leonard Cohen song in case you didn't know. Earlier this year I was forced to send an email to Stanley Accrington, who used to do the folk circuit with daft songs including one with the line Why Must I be a Dyslexic in Vole which I couldn't get out of my head. People of a certain age will know the original song it parodies. I loved the line which went something like, "Each time you touch my hand a tin leg runs down my spine."

I'm delighted to report that our favourite mooring at Great Linford, overlooking the park, was vacant when we arrived, so that's where I am writing this.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chasing the light

Hmmphh! I'm sure I wrote a blog post yesterday, but somehow it got lost. Never mind, life goes on and tonight we are here.





Yup, Cosgrove

The light was good for photos. After taking a lot of pics of the bridge I went off in the direction of the horse tunnel hoping to get the low light streaming through, but the sun had other ideas and did this just before I got there -




That was the last we saw of it. Oh well.


Yesterday after two miles underground we emerged into Stoke Bruerne where the redoubtable Kathryn dropped in for tea and cake, plus lots of canal gossip of course, and then Kath and I dined at the Navigation. Two very good steaks and a bottle of Hardys shiraz for twenty quid. Very good we thought. They had a good quiz too with an interesting format. Twenty five general knowledge questions randomly scattered on a five by five grid. Then at the end, the answers read out in random order and the first to get a line of right answers takes the prize. Needless to say that wasn't us as we were the smallest team.

This morning at half past six, Kathryn came past on Nb Sculptor en route for Foxton and gave us a blast on her klaxon as she did so. I don't think our neighbours were best pleased.

Tomorrow Tesco at Wolverton ( taking care to avoid their mountain as advised by Frank Ifield fifty odd years ago), then on to Great Linford with our fingers crossed that our favourite mooring is free.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wind, Willoughby and a Whizz.

It's Tuesday evening and we're waiting for The Big Wind promised by the Met Office. Stuff on Herbie's roof has either been stowed away or tied down and we are moored in what we hope is a sheltered spot just North of Blisworth. Do you think I should lash Kath to the tiller? Maybe we should have motored into the middle of the tunnel and stopped there:-) Mind you, the rain would probably be worse in there.

Dave, the Eberspacher whizz at Heyford Fields has done his stuff and we now have a working heater. Actually there was nothing at all wrong with the heater, it was all down to a couple of old bullet fuses in the power line that had corroded. The Eberspacher is too clever for its own good sometimes, and if it senses too low a voltage it turns itself off. Listening to Dave talking us through the heater's start up sequence showed us what a sophisticated piece of kit it is. He also fitted us a timer switch so we can program it to start up before we get out of bed. And, here's the good bit, all for a lot less dosh than we had feared. I wouldn't go anywhere else now.

Last night we were joined by Rick and Marilyn for a bash at the Monday quiz at the Wharf at Bugbrooke. Quite a good quiz. Just before the last round, we were within a single point of the lead, as Rick is fond of saying, general knowledge is our speciality. Then the inevitable popular culture questions appeared and we sank into obscurity. Who the hell is Holly Willoughby? She cost us a load of points. I think we should declare a fatois on her.

This, as you all know is the season of fruits and misty mellowness and we are eating plenty of blackberries with our breakfast cereals and tonight we have blackberry and apple for pud. Typically we have to walk only a couple of boat lengths to stock up every time we stop. I wish hips and haws were more edible - we would be really feasting.

Oo er, the wind is just starting to make loud noises outside. Stoke Bruerne tomorrow if we're spared.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Downhill on the Level


Is it just me, or does the canal here look like it's plunging down hill? You might recognise this spot if you've gone "over the top" from Fenny Compton to Napton. I still can't believe it's on the level, although of course it must be.

Down at Napton, we strolled into the village to mooch around the Village Store and Post Office. If you've never been then make sure you do next time you pass through. This is definately not yer average Spar or whatever, more of a posh deli really and they'll serve you a pot of tea and some wicked cakes at tables inside and outside. Of course you can buy some of the produce of the local buffalo farm which you pass on the way down - burgers, sausages, buffalo milk ice cream(!) and the like. Apparently the herd has grown to over 140 by now. We didn't buy any of that but we were ensnared by a sample tasting of their Bloody Mary Ketchup, on special offer and as you'd expect containing Worcestershire sauce and a touch of vodka. Now we have to decide what food is good enough to put it on. Any suggestions?

Just down the road on the way back to the canal we passed the Napton Cidery. They had some of their cider in the shop but we hadn't bought any. However that evening we of course went into the Folly for a meal - it would be sheer folly not to, as the food and drink their is always good. Anyhow, they had some of the Napton cider on hand pump so I asked for a taste. I like good real cider, but a lot of real cider is far from good. The Napton cider, I am pleased to report, is very very nice, and although stronger than beer, it isn't too strong.

The pub was packed early on (booking essential these days), but as it thinned out later we got a chance to chat to Mark the landlord, who as all customers know, is a bit of a character. He produced a pack of cards and proceeded to show us a couple of really clever card tricks. At the time I had no idea how they might have been done, but after sleeping on it I have some theories. I must call in next time and see if he will repeat them. If I'm right he must have put in a lot of practice at sleight of hand. Well if all that doesn't tempt you to visit the Folly, let me just add that although you have to wait a while for your food when they are busy, it is well worth the wait.

Today we rest up in Braunston while it rains. I have been doing some more on my novel, surprising how you can change the pace by shuffling some chapters about, and Kath has been doing some art work on her iPad, inspired by some bulrushes we saw along the way. She uses an artists App called Procreate, which is very good. Here are a couple of versions of her bulrushes. We can't decide which is best. Opinions welcome.


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

On top of the world



A shaft of September sunlight falls on Herbie as we rest for the night on day 2 of our cruise. Clever so and so's will deduce our position from the second photo. That radio mast is a dead giveaway. Kath has had a long held yen to stop at this spot to enjoy the view so who am I to deny her the pleasure.



Yes we're up on Wormleighton hill heading for Napton, Braunston and the GU.

Next Monday we have an appointment to get our Eberspacher heater fixed and serviced by Boating Leisure Services at Heyford Fields. If the man there is as skilled as he is affable, then it should be a good job. We might even get a programmable time switch installed if it doesn't work out too dear.

Thereafter, we're not sure where to go. We could plod on to enjoy the delights of Milton Keynes or we might race back down the Oxford and hit the upper Thames. If you don't have a plan, then it can't go wrong. That's what I say.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Journey to the end of the Earith

Richard, our eldest, is a naughty boy. He has lived on his boat Nb Bankside in Hartford Marina near Huntingdon for eleven years and never moved.  Well the boat that is.  Not only tha,t but he has virtually never run the engine.  Anyhow, at last the time has come to repaint the boat, so the inevitable eventual move could no longer be put off.  Bankside is living proof of the folly of painting a boat red.  Over the years all of the red pigment had bleached out of the paint, leaving the boat a mixture of cream and rust. Its fair to say she looks pretty terrible on the surface. Arrangements had been made with a boatyard at Earith to give the rusty old barque a thorough going over top and bottom, after which she will hopefully emerge all clean and shiny in two pack green paint with a cream roof.

“How do you fancy a four and a half hour river cruise in a rusty boat whose engine hasn’t run for ten years?” was the question he didn’t ask but might as well have.  Well it was with some trepidation that I volunteered, inviting Rick to join us as ship’s engineer, expecting every minute for his mechanical skills to be called upon.  I am not normally a pessimistic person but I confess I was not the least confident that the boat would survive the journey.

So last Monday I popped up to check out the engine and running gear.  The prop shaft turned easily by hand so at least that wasn’t seized up.  The engine was a different matter, mainly because the battery, as you might expect, was knackered.  So one new starter battery later and a good cleanup of the contacts by a nice man at the marina, attempt number two was taken.  Blow me down, she burst into life.  What’s more the ten year old diesel in the tank still did it’s job, no hoses split, nothing overheated and the gearbox turned.  I was later to remark that Richard didn’t deserve to be so flippin’ (I may have used a different expletive there) lucky.

So on Friday morning we assembled at the boat with bags full of tools and armfuls of life jackets plus anchor, warp and chain borrowed from Herbie. Nothing like being prepared for disaster!  Kath spent twenty minutes extracting the boat’s electric shore cable from ten years of undergrowth wile I delved into the weed hatch to clear the accumulation of water weed and hand spin the prop which had a decidedly crusty surface.

After starting the old BMC 1.8 once more, we untied the brittle old mooring ropes and punted the boat off it’s pontoon until we were clear of the raft of weed.  Gently opening the throttle and unable to take our eyes off the temperature  gauge and the voltmeter, we crept out of the marina and onto the River Ouse, which along that stretch is very pretty. 

I wouldn’t call Bankside’s engine smooth, or even smoothish, well, it is a BMC that hadn’t run for ten years, running on ten year old diesel, but miraculously it chugged along without doing anything scary and we were soon at our first lock. The guillotine top gates on Ouse locks are frustratingly slow to say the least and we were soon revising our four hour estimate, while Rick did his best to remain incognito, understandably embarrassed to be seen crewing such a rusty old barque.

Then came Hemingford with its beautiful riverside church and then probably the most picturesque spot on the Ouse, the medieval bridge at St Ives. 

stiv1 (1 of 1)

We slunk through in full view of the usual gongoozlers,  trying not to look too rusty,

stiv2 (1 of 1)


and plodded on through the miles to Brownshill staunch where we entered the short (barely) tidal section, then through the final lock and into the comparative safety of the boatyard.

Well, to cut a long story short we made it!  By the time we got there, the old engine was remembering how to run and seemed fairly content in its role. No-one was more surprised and relieved than me, although we still wait to see what condition the hull is in when they get her out of the water.  Whether I will be volunteering for the return trip sometime in October all being well, remains to be seen.  That'll be a good time for some before and after pictures.

Meanwhile, the Great Herbie Autumn Cruise is about to start.  Where will we go?  Stay tuned to find out.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Solar panel connection reseach. Interesting findings on YouTube

Well now, there's a thing! Helpful comments from Frank and Dave (thanks chaps) on my last post caused me to doubt my decision to connect solar panels in parallel rather than in series. Their arguments were erudite and persuasive. So wanting to delve further, I called upon my secret weapons, Rick, the smartest Engineer (with a capital E) I know, and I know a fair few, and Peter my brilliant Cambridge PhD scientist son (well I have to play the proud Dad sometimes) who has taught me so much inluding most of what I know about electronics.

Rick has never looked into Solar energy in any detail, but his knowledge of electrics and his sense of logic led him to side with me in so far as recognising that serial linking two panels with similar voltages but potentially different currents might not be advantageous. I left him to ponder.

Peter had never looked into solar power either, but he is nothing if not a quick researcher (with a good knowledge of electronics) and went off to look at a lot of graphs and interview the internet. One of his many mantras is that "Theory tells you which experiments to run" so he set out searching for people who had actually compared series and parallel solar panel connections and taken proper measurements under different conditions. What he found was very interesting.

There is a series of YouTube videos presented by a smart lady called Amy from the eltstore which I believe is in Canada. I wont go into all the detail here, but she connects up panels one way and then the other and takes readings of panel volts and amps and the amps delivered by a connected MPPT controller. If you go to Youtube and search for solar mismatch, you'll soon find her.

I was particularly interested in the mismatch topic because my intention is to add a new panel with an old one, and to some extent they will have different characteristics.

What Amy's tests clearly demonstrate is that when adding a second panel with a similar voltage, but materially different current from the first one, it is much better to connect them in parallel. All the specs and graphs i have looked at show that panel voltages are nearly always remarkably similar and stable but amps generated vary a lot with panel size and solar energy input. Furthermore, and most interestingly she demonstrates that under partial shading, series connections suffer a much larger drop in ouput than parallel. Go see for youself if you don't believe me. The videos are very good. She also does a good demo of the effects of tilting the panel in low sun, and another on the effects of temperature on panel performance.

This, as I see it, is the difference between ideal conditions and the reality of solar panels on a boat. Frank and Dave are quite correct and in ideal conditions I would follow thier advice to the letter. The ideal would indeed be for me to have two identical panels, each with their own controller, and each receiving the same amount of sunlight. The next best thing would be two identical panels connected in series to one controller and getting the same sunlight.

But that ain't gonna happen. I will have two different panels, generating different current, but closely matched voltages sharing one controller (because of expense and installation challenges), and on many occasions when we have to moor under trees or next to a wall or building, or the morco chimney casts a shadow over part of one panel, we will encounter partial shading. Unless anyone can prove Amy wrong, I'm going parallel. Having seen her videos, I might even consider getting a 150W panel rather than a 100W to add to the existing 95W.

Now I need to remeasure the roof space.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Solar expansion planning

Having decided to up our solar power on Herbie, there’s a bit of technical/ electrical planning to do, so for the record and in case it helps anyone, I thought I’d set out the considerations here.  Also, people cleverer than me might spot a flaw in my deliberations and put me straight.  Please feel free to correct me if am wrong.

Our current (gettit?) arrangement is one Kyocera 95w panel charging through an Emponi MPPT controller which is OK up to 100w but no more.  I also have a shunt type ammeter in the negative line between the controller and the batteries.  This shows we can make anything up to 6 amps when the sun is strong and in the right place.  More often we are averaging something like 3 amps.  we would like to double that by adding another 100w panel.

So if we have two panels, should we connect them in series or parallel?

I first decided series might be best, so the voltages are additive, and higher voltage in the cables means less resistance losses. Also, daisy chaining up the panels would be simple.  As I understand it, the down side is that if one panel creates more current than the other, there would be equalisation losses.

Now I’m more inclined to connect in parallel,  This way, as long as the panels generate the same or very similar voltage (much more likely), the currents are additive.

So what do I have to check in choosing a new panel?

Voltage is the main thing.  Panels specs should quote  the open circuit voltage Voc, typically about 21.5 volts and a maximum power point voltage Vmpp typically between 17.5 and 18 volts.  For parallel connection a pair of panels need to have these values as similar as possible.  Our current panel has a Vmpp of about 17.6v which I have checked with a voltmeter to be sure it hasn’t deteriorated in this respect.  I’m not sure but I suspect panels deteriorate more in amps than volts.

Type of cell is another issues. Monocrystalline or polycrystalline.  Poly is cheaper, mono is a bit more efficient so panels are a bit smaller for the same output.  They also tend to look a bit nicer. This is where you have to consider space on the roof.  I haven’t made a final decision on this yet, although the difference of up to £50 spread over ten years isn’t a lot. The narrower the panel, the less chance of tangling with Herbie’s centre ropes.

The panel frame is a bit of a consideration, but most of them are ok.  I just need to check the side of the frame is deep enough to take the screws for my tilting stands. 30mm plus is ideal.

Quality.  This is a tough one.  Panels come in a variety of prices for similar specs.  How do you avoid getting inferior quality without paying too much?  My gut feeling is that most panels are OK irrespective of price, but for something I want to work well over many years, I’ll stick to suppliers I think are reputable.  Our last one came from Midsummer Energy, not the cheapest but still reasonable and they are more than just box shifters.  I’ll probably stick with them.  Bits of cable and plugs etc I’ll source from ebay I think where they are a lot cheaper.  Little bits like that can soon add up.

Controller.  I’m going to have to buy an uprated one as the Emponi won’t take 200w.  Choosing MPPT is important, dearer but much more efficient.  Google it if you don’t know why.  Size matters too.  I want to fit the new one in place of the old and space is tight just there. Some of these controllers are at least twice the size of others.  And then there is cost.  Some come with more bels and whistles like remote monitoring etc.  I just want one that is efficient, has the right overload etc protections and from a good manufacturer.  Victron (well known in boat electrics) do a good small 15A MPPT controller for about £80.  That’ll do nicely.

Connections – how best to wire up in parallel.  I am pleased to discover than using the industry standard weatherproof MC4 connections, you can get natty branch connectors to plug two cables into one, which is what you need.  Lots of videos on YouTube show how to do it.

Cables.  Cables get hot and waste power if they are too thin.  They could even catch fire. I checked our existing cables. They are 4mm squared which will be OK to carry the increased current. Phew! I didn't want to have to take the boat ceiling down again for a new run of cable.  I need to check the cables between the controller and the batteries and the fuse too.

So I’ve done my homework.  If you can spot any flaws or omissions I’d be glad to hear about it.  I’m reckoning the panel, plugs, cable, controller, new tilting frames (see previous post) are going to add up to in the region of £300+.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A new solar panel frame plan

I’m astonished to look back at old posts and find that it is seven years since we fitted our solar panel on Herbie.  Perhaps that roof corrosion cause by the magnetic panel frame feet is a bit more forgiveable after all.  Anyhow it looks like I’ll complete the roof repair and repaint before too long so it’s time to think about what comes next.  More solar, that’s what.   I can’t remember what I paid for our existing solar panel but I’m sure that prices have dropped by something like half since then.  So we’ll be getting a second panel soon.

My ingenious two way tilting panel frame has done pretty good service. 

It does what it says on the tin (sorry, aluminium), but it’s a bit less sturdy than I would like, and it can get it’s knickers (or knees at any rate) in a twist during the folding and unfolding, so I’m thinking of a stouter and simpler design.  Hunting round the web I found some that work like this.

frame1

Basically three bits of aluminium angle at each end of the solar panel. The prop piece can be placed where you like using the holes and screws attached to plastic knobs, and when you lay the panel flat, the screws secure the panel flat using the end holes.   As you can see, you can tilt the panel either way to face the sun. (Our own measures show that titling the panel makes quite a difference in the amps generated a lot of the time.  You can buy frames  like this for £50 a pair (for one panel) plus carriage. It might seem dear, but if you cost up all the bits and pieces and include their labour and profit, it’s not unreasonable.

It’s a simple principle but I plan to make something a bit different in that in the ones I have seen  the top piece is a length of angle that sits under the solar panel, whereas I plan to rivet a flat bar to the side of the panel frame, but deeper so as to make room for drilling the holes.  Making my own reduces the cost considerably of course, and it’ll be more bespoke to my solar panel sizes and be a bit of fun to make.  Making two pairs, one for the old panel and one for the new makes economic sense as postage for the aluminium costs no more for two lots, saving £15.  The best price for the aluminium, in case anyone wants to get some, seems to be at aluminiumwarehouse.co.uk where they will also cut pieces to your required length for a small charge.  Not a bad idea as the full lengths of stock angle are and unweildy 2.5 metres.

My idea is to have the bottom rail and the upright in 50x25mm angle for rigidity and as I said the top piece as a flat bar rivetted to the side of panel frame, but much deeper to allow for drilling the adjustment holes.  All 3mm thick, which should be plenty strong enough.

This time I won’t be using magnetic feet, which as we now know are prone to rust unless you buy prohibitively expensive ones.  I’ve been looking at adjustable furniture feet, the sort you find on steel desk legs, which I think I will glue to the roof.  People seem to recommend the adhesive/sealant Sikaflex for this sort of job, so I’ll give that a go.  Various screwed knobs can be found on ebay.  You have to shop around for this stuff if you don’t want the costs to run away. The building ought to be easy, mainly a matter of drilling holes, which in aluminium is simple.

So that’s the plan for the frames.  There is still time for someone to point out any flaws before I order the stuff.  Next post I’ll tell you my thinking on the solar electrics.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Roof painting –be patient, work quickly

Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  Let me explain. 

The paint on a boat roof has a hard time, sun, rain, frost, lying snow, poles, planks, solar panels etc all take their toll.  I reckon the paint on the roof is lucky to last half as long as that on the cabin sides.  Herbie’s roof is no exception, suffering particularly where it comes into contact with roof “furniture”  Even a bag of coal left on the roof over the winter caused a lot of paint damage and resultant rusting because of the film of rain water that lingered under the bag.  Repairing and painting the whole roof in one go is nigh on impossible unless the boat can be taken indoors for a week, so I’ve been doing it in sections.  Learning more and more as I go.

I’ve talked to a few people who “mean to get round to doing their roof one of these days, but it all seems a bit daunting”.  I also spoke to someone who was quoted £1000 for having it done professionally. So for the record and in case it helps or inspires anyone to have a go, here is how I’ve been doing it. 

I suppose the first thing to say is that just patching over little bits of damage is only a stop gap at best.  New paint never matches the old. In an ideal world you would take the whole roof back to bare metal and start again, but I don’t think you can do that out of doors unless you have loads of time and fantastically lucky weather. The better way is to repair/ make good  damaged patches and then repaint a whole section of the roof at one go.  Then it’ll look OK.  Two years ago(?) I repaired and repainted a 20cm wide strip along either side of the roof  to fix a lot of small scars and wotnot  caused by boat hooks, gangplank, autumn leaves etc.  You can just make it out in the second photo below. Then last autumn I repaired the section where the coal bag had lain.  I wish now I had done that better because the repaint still bears the unevenness caused by pitting in the rust.  Then a couple of months ago I had a go at the central section of the roof, around the stove chimney, where there was a fair bit of corrosion.  That time I used filler to even the surface and got a much better finish.

So now I move on to a ten foot section towards the rear of the roof which includes where the solar panel has lain.  The magnetic feet of my fancy titling panel frame are the main culprits here.  Ordinary magnets rust like crazy and attack the roof at the same time.  A lesson learned!

This is the point where I should show you a photo of the damage, but stupidly I forgot to take one.  Sorry folks I’ll do that next time when I attack similar damage under the feet of the roof box.  By the way, another big lesson is revealing itself here.  The best way to keep your roof in good nick is not to store anything on it!

So, to the process.  This is where the patience comes in.  Even if you are repairing and repainting a tiny area, you need several days to do it, because of paint drying times.  Yes you can claim to be working whilst spending twenty three hours a day watching paint dry. That means at least four consecutive days with suitable weather, no rain (especially in the mornings), not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not too dusty.  Flippin’ ‘eck!  Does that exist? Well last weekend it looked promising so I had a go.

If you already know how to suck eggs, you can either stop here or read on and tell me what I’m doing wrongSmile

Day one. Sand off the rusty patches, feathering them out as best you can so as to help with a smooth finish later. Your patches will now be twice the size of the original damaged area. I used a nice little palm sander, only thirteen quid from Wickes, and ideal for this job. While you’re at it lightly sand over the whole area to be repainted, I expect you’ll find little nicks in the paint here and there.  Treat them just the same as the bigger patches.The sanding also helps get rid of any accumulated grime etc. on the “sound” paint. Wash it all off with clean water and over the exposed metal patches  brush a coat of Fertan rust converter, which is easy to apply and is happy in the wet.  Total time taken, about a couple minutes per patch.  No more than an hour for the whole day’s work.

Day two.  Areas of rust converted by the Fertan will have turned black. Wash off them off, lightly sand the patches again and when the roof has dried, mix up some filler.  I used Isopon which sets really fast so you have to mix smallish bits at a time. Smooth the filler over the pitted area and beyond the edges of the exposed area.  Each patch will now be three times the area of the original damage!  You can sand the Isopon after only an hour drying out.  It sands very easily.  You should end up with a smooth surface right across the patch, extending it still further to blend in with the roof surface.  Sand harder at the edges to feather out. At this point I brought out the little hand held Dyson and sucked up what dust I could before washing the whole area off again. If the weather is right, the roof dries in minutes. (If it steams, stop right there, it’s too hot to paint). When dry, brush on some good metal primer, again extending beyond the prepared patch and feathering out as best you can. That’s all you can do today, most paints need sixteen hours between coats. Again only about an hours work.

Day three.  This depends a bit on how many days you can spare in total.  Another coat of primer would be good.  I didn’t have that much time, so after sanding down and washing yet again, it was on with a coat of some high build undercoat.  By now the patches over smallish areas of damage seem enormous.  Here I do have a couple of photos.

roof1 (1 of 1)

roof2 (1 of 1)

Some of those smaller patches cover an area where the damage was only a few millimetres across.  Yet again, less than an hours work today.

Day four. Another undercoat would be a very good idea, but I didn’t have any days leftNow you might say just leave it for another time then, but undercoats and primers are pretty porous and it’s not a great idea to leave them exposed to the weather for long for the damp will get in. So I pressed on. Out comes the old sander again – last chance to get a smooth surface before the top coats. Feathering out still further.  It can seem a bit daft slapping on all that paint then sanding half it it back off, but that’s what you have to do.  Then, a final light sanding over the whole area to get it clean and smooth, a quick vacuum if you have one, and a good rinse with clean water.  When that is dry, a final wash with a white spirit soaked rag to remove any grease and you’re ready for the top coat. Getting it all really clean is vital. Work so far today, about an half hour. 

Now the first top coat of, in my case, raddle paint.  Four inch brush, well stirred paint and work as fast as you can to keep a wet edge, working the paint in then quickly laying off the paint side to side right across the roof. I was cursing the met office because half way down we got a short light shower of rain. I stopped and waited for an hour.  It dried off and looked ok.  Better to start off against a touch dry edge than a half dry sticky one.  That ten foot section took about twenty minutes. Here and there the paint “grinned” a bit (showed through). Ignore that and keep going, never go back over sticky paint, the second coat will sort out all that.

So that’s where I stopped because we had to go home.  That single top coat will hold out the weather till I resume sometime soon, but I will have to sand and wash again first.

So that’s four days to do less than five hours work.  Each time I chose to do the work mid morning, after any dew has gone and leaving plenty of drying time before the evening damp descends, and  hopefully before any sun makes the roof too hot to work on.

On the other hand, also this weekend I went from this:

frontb4 (1 of 1)

to this:

frontafter (1 of 1)

in about five minutes.  Yes I just screwed on the front panel I had painted indoors at home.  I think it has worked out OK.  Herbie looks instantly smarter.