Monday, 17 October 2011

Cutting holes in the hull.

So, having more or less finalised the interior planning, bulkheads (walls), wiring runs, pipe runs etc., we were able to start cutting the holes.  Windows, portholes, hatches, vent pipes and skin fittings.  Skin fittings are pipes through the hull to let out/in water, gas/air.  I was keen to have as few holes below the waterline as possible.  The engine is cooled by a heat exchanger welded into the hull side so no holes for the engine cooling.  All sinks and showers are above the waterline and only the propeller shaft is left below.  This has an old fashioned stuffing seal, yes they can dribble but are far less prone to catastrophic failure, in my opinion of course.

Having marked the position of the windows and designed them I had to then make them.  I used 5mm mild steel angle and had the curved top rolled by a local firm.  They did this two long lengths and I cut off the section needed.  These were then welded up and painted with a holding primer, ready for fitting.

 That was the windows out the way, next the ports.  In order to make the ports I had to get some steel to fabricate the angle as it was not possible to roll the radius I needed locally, if at all without too much distortion.  I used the steel cut from the cabin sides when fitting the main windows.

There were 11 of these so steel was plentiful.  The rings were cut using a 41/2" grinder (115mm) using a thin cutting disk.  Thin disks my be more expensive but I reckon I used less.  I prefer the small grinder as the 9" is not as handy and can kill you rather badly.  So once the rings were cut, strips of steel were welded round the outside. The heat from welding enable me to just use hand pressure to bend the strip to the ring after a rough circle had been fashioned.

The final fabricated angle was ready for cleaning and priming.

There are 11 windows and 5 portholes and the making and fitting of the frames to the cabin took some time but I got there in the end.  Most barges seem to have much wider windows that the ones I made.  I chose ones that would fit between the frames of the boat.  Wider windows would have meant cutting (weakening) the structure of the boat and I was not keen on this idea.  You can see what I mean in the picture below.

 I ended up spacing the windows every other frame and not one frame was harmed in the making of this barge.

I guess it is a matter of taste but I rather like this style over the wider types.  Note that none of the windows open.  Research has shown that opening windows leak, especially the narrowboat hopper types.  This barge is on the salty side and waves and wind will make water go were it doesn't normally go on the inland waterways.  The glass units I had made up by a local firm and I what I should have specified was 6mm toughened with a 12mm air gap and a 4mm toughened pane on the inside.  It is important to specify this 4mm for the inside and I made a mistake initially and had 6-12-6.  The unit was so stiff the seals blew and the panes filled with water.  The 4mm inside pane allows the pressure to alter by bending the thinner pane.  The units are simply stuck into the frames using a proprietary adhesive sealant with suitable primers for paint and glass.  Window technology has come on in leaps and bounds recently.  The marine sector is lagging behind a bit except for the very high end of the market.  Today one can get thermally broken frames and coated glass that make them so much more efficient.  The idea of bolting aluminium to the outside and having it connected to the inside frame thus creating a cold bridge just didn't seem right to me and everyone who has them complains about copious condensation and the cold frames.  But not everyone can afford aircraft grade honeycomb composite structures that are very light and very strong to make their window frames out of.  Because of my mistake in the glass thickness all of the lower units are due to be replaced with 6-12-4 using thermal spacers and low e glass.  This will significantly improve the windows thermally and hopefully get rid of the slight condensation I get at the very edges of the window where the present metal spacers act as a cold bridge.

The other thing that is perhaps wrong with the picture above is the stepped bottom line of the frames.  With wider windows it is possible to follow the curve of the deck (sheer line) which looks rather nice.  My narrow windows only just fit between the frames so this was not possible.  This step line can be disguised by taking the black deck paint up the cabin sides to cover the bottom of the windows.

Next were the hatches and these were fairly simple rectangular steel surrounds fitted between the framing of the cabin top.


  Sections of heavy gauge pipe were welded through the cabin top in seven places to provide ventilation and extraction.  The pipe was sized so that 110mm pvc drainage pipe could be used as a liner.  Temporary hatch covers were made out of pine and ply and given a quick coat of paint.

This is the main hatch and is 3' x 5' and is covered by the rather handy Land Rover short wheel base roof.  Being aluminium it is nice and light and has done sterling service until the dome arrived.  The hole is big enough to get 8x4 sheets below and the huge sofa.

It would be lovely to have a traditional wooden varnished skylight.  But even when new and built correctly they leak.  Even the local shipwright said he couldn't make one that wouldn't leak.  Everyone that has them covers them up in canvas.  1 - to stop the leaks and 2 - to protect the lovely varnish.  To me this was pointless and I went for something completely different and unheard of.  A triple skinned plastic roof dome with remarkable insulation properties and it doesn't leak!

Here it is at Christmas time with snow on the decks.  It took a couple of days before the snow melted on the dome but this is as far as it got.

The dome opens on a double brass screw jack from Black Country Metalworks.  It has a spring loaded quick release so that it can be opened fully for access or serious air.  This together with the front and rear escape hatches and the pipe vents are enough to keep us nice and cool in the northern European summer.

We did consider electric openers and even ones that opened when it got to a certain temperature and shut when it rained.  Perhaps simple is best in the end and it certainly looks nice in a Fred Dibnah sort of way.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Interior planning.

So, amidst all the welding things that need to be done it was time to see if the interior layout was going to work.  As this was going to be a liveaboard home and we were going to use domestic appliances then of course they had to fit in.  I am sure you will all agree it is not an unrealistic thing to ask.  Trouble is with boats is that the walls aren't always straight and sometimes they are not very straight at all.

Now take this bit for example, if the washing machine sits on the floor against the side it will have two feet behind it at the top.  This space is 10 feet wide at deck level but only 6 feet at floor level.  Designers and Marine Architects may cheat a little and, unless one asks otherwise, only give the accommodation plan at deck level.

Once the hull arrived I soon got the sense that things were not going to be as straight forward as I had first thought.  I had delivered numerous sheets of hardboard and I cut up yards of 2x1 batten and proceeded to mock up the inside as per the plan.  I had asked the layout to enable me to walk round the sides of the bed.  This was not to be, having the bed in the front pointy end was not going to make changing the bed very easy at all.  I am thinking about my dotage here, dodgy hips and all that, no no no.

The galley (kitchen) was also not going to allow the appliances to fit in because of the hull shape and this meant the heads (bathroom) would need to be squeezed up, but that meant the shower tray wouldn't fit and......

That £50 spent on mocking up the inside saved thousands and really got me understanding boat interiors a bit better.  The front section is really like a V with the floor at the bottom - very narrow.  If you raise the floor 8 inches the floor width gets wider so by careful juggling of floor heights one could gain precious floor space to enable things to fit.

I made extensive use of Autodesk's QuickCad for the drawing and the amending of plans.  I used it to send working drawings when having things made too.  It has all the tools and features and cost very little but sadly I can't yet find a way to put them in here yet, give me another year or two.  Well may be an hour or two, hey.

So we have now finalised (nearly) the inside arrangements, the windows and ports have been played with and what works on the inside has now been passed as OK on the outside (green on the plan).  This is a critical bit as what works on the inside can look hideous on the outside.  I did get halfway through cutting a porthole in the cabin side and had to weld it up again as it just "didn't look right".

Now you see on this one (rejected) the wheelhouse steps to the aft (back) cabin are in the centre, thus bisecting the dining table but does make a nice entrance to the bedroom.  The shower and heads are on separate sides and make two small spaces instead of one large one.  The doors at the front, heads,shower and office all get in the way of each other and are too busy.  You don't always notice things on paper but when mocked up in real life things become apparent.  The inside black line in the aft cabin and the dotted line in the front section is the real space available not the outside perimeter line.  Shows you just how much space you can loose at floor level.  It's not to say that space is totally lost but that it may only be a few inches at floor level but a couple of feet at deck level, ideal for cupboards and shelved storage or just part of the quirky interior.

See how this awkward space in the corner behind the radiator and beside the steps is transformed into an excellent aired cupboard for linen.

You can clearly see the sloping sides of the hull on this one and the woodstove is into its third incarnation having been moved sideways and turned to face the room more.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

So the wood stove is in and at least I can keep part of me from freezing.  It is amazing just how cold it can get in an uninsulated tin can.  The wood stove is a Morso Squirrel, and technically it is a multi fuel as it has a coal grate and riddle system.  We used to have one in the house and had found it to be very easy to get on with.

It took me right back to Sunday School and the Creation story except this time it was me saying "let there be light".  Four fluorescent strip lights were wires into a switched multi gang socket thus allowing me to switch them individually.  I had a couple of tripod halogen spot lights (courtesy of Screwfix) that gave an intense light and heat and they were used as and when.  It was important to turn things off or the electricity bill got out of hand.  The inside was a dull red colour and always felt gloomy especially as there was no natural light for quite some time.

This photo shows the gloom.  The cream painted hatch cover above the strip light reflects the light so well it looks like daylight.

 This is a bit better and is lit up with the help of those halogen work lights.  Note the outlines for the windows and ports to see if they work with the interior layout.  What worked for the interior layout didn't always look good on the outside so........

The heating system had to be planned and sourced so that the holes could be cut and the bases welded up.  This is in the engine room and the red thing is the drip feed Kabola E7 with the marine hot calorifier behind.  It look similar to a domestic one but it made much stronger to cope with being waved about when at sea.  It also has a high recovery coil as well as a 28mm gravity coil.  Newark Copper Cylinders will make one for you to your spec and very good they are too.

So what do you do first when confronted with 13 tons of steel loosely described as a "replica dutch barge"?

It can be overwhelming but you wouldn't be here if you hadn't given it a lot of thought, I least I hope so.  The list of jobs is endless and the idea is to get them into some sort of order so that you don't mess up what you have already done.  It would have been very tempting to have given the inside a coat of light paint to get rid of the gloom but there are 101 welding jobs to do and that means the paint will get burnt off and everywhere would be covered in smoke smuts.  Paint doesn't really like cold, damp conditions so any painting has to be done when it warms up and stays warm.  We are talking over 10C really and preferably more or it takes forever to go off.

Welding jobs.

Well there is finishing the work of the hull builder who will inevitably have missed at least the odd inch or two off the miles of welding they have done.  Often in a dark corner or in the back of a tank or the awkward bit where the deck beams meet the cabin sides.  Then there is the steelwork to attach the inside of the boat to.  Sometimes there just aren't any frames near enough and you end up having to put in an intermediary.  Anything you want on deck, fender eyes, rigging attachment tangs etc. need to be done before you paint and insulate the inside.  Unless you specify, tanks may only come with one inspection hatch.  That's all you need surely?  Well that's what I thought but try painting the inside when the inspection hatch is in the middle and the baffles stop you reaching the sides.  Hence two baffles means three inspection hatches.  I had three tanks put in and needed to cut and make another six hatches.  Putting the tanks in meant that the builders had to take out the steel frames that would hold the floor.  Lack of attention to detail meant that these were slightly out which meant the floor wouldn't be level.  These had to be cut and re-welded, it is not a criticism of the builder as I bet no one thought it would be a problem.

Kemppi Mastertig 1500 hardly any bigger than a welding helmet.
What did I use for the welding?  A secondhand Kemppi Mastertig 1500.  It cost around £750 and was bought off hire in Holland and is still going strong after overplating another barge and repairing a narrowboat, not to mention the building of Bonnie of Clyde.  You can' beat a good inverter welder.  It is almost light enough to use the carry strap and weld up a ladder.  Not that I advocate such unsafe practice you understand but one does have to reach hard to get places sometimes and 14kg helps enormously.  It may all sound like a load of money but good stuff can be sold on at the end of the project.  If you use cheap stuff hard you end up buying again anyway.  All you need to use the TIG is a bottle of your favourite gas and you can fabricate all your own stainless stuff.  It's nearly, if not as cheap, to make in stainless these days as it is to get things galvanised.

An automatic welding helmet is brilliant too, no "flash" to worry about or the pain of "arc eye" to contend with.  They are so cheap these days, it's not worth doing without.

The R-Tech Speedmaster light reactive welding helmet is a high quality welding mask featuring variable shade from 9-13 so is suitable for all welding jobs. Solar powered with battery backup. 
  • UV/IR Protection up to DIN 13 at all times
  • Large viewing area 96x42 mm
  • Light state DIN 4
  • Variable shade adjustment 9 - 13
  • Lightweight welding helmet
  • Time from light to dark: 1/10,000 Sec
  • Time for dark to light: 0.1-0.9 Sec. Adjustable stepless
  • Power supply: Solar Cells with 2 Lithium Batteries
And all for under £50 from R Tech Welding Direct and the shape means that less hot rocks go down your neck!  And that was just a quick search on the net, my, there is some flash gear around now.  I blame American Hotrod.

Monday, 10 October 2011

So the hull arrived on 20th October, a little late for any outside work so it was all go to get it weather tight and get some decent access sorted. I was already fed up with the ladder and that was on arrival day!

I had been planning since the previous Christmas so and I had rather a lot of gear in stock ready. This gear included a multi fuel stove and its chimney and this was the first thing to go aboard after the shed was built over the wheelhouse and a temporary floor had been laid.

It was going to go against the bulkhead that was going to support the mast and that was a fixed position. So a hole was cut with the 41/2" grinder with a steel cutting disc in it. It is amazing just how much of a curve can be cut with one of these machines.

Ordinary black stove pipe was used on the inside to radiate as much heat as possible.  Outside a double skinned insulated flue system was used.  It has two metre sections and is supported as the photo shows.  This can be reefed for sea work if necessary by taking the top section off.  But this height does ensure a good draft and the smoke is kept above the wheelhouse roof.  The other black half buckets upturned on the cabin top are the steel upstands for the vent tubes.  The upstand for the forehatch has also been welded in now.  the Tabernacle also supports the overhead electricity supply.  Two 13 amp extension leads were used for the power supply as the bench saw needed nearly three kilowatts alone.

There is an awful lot of work to build a barge from the hull onwards.  Jobs have to be done in a sequence to make sure you don't have to undo what you have already done.  Planning is the key and with a bit of foresight serious snags can be prevented.  I used to work in agricultural engineering and was used to making do in the field.  Coming up with solutions with what I had.  Working on farms later led me into the whole scenario of maintenance in the widest sense of the word.  Plumbing, electrics, woodwork, welding, spraying, upholstery, I can turn my hand to most things.  Not that I am clever at all of them but I can get by with a bit of time and thinking.  The internet was brilliant for research and ordering parts and gear.  I confess I rather liked ordering and had my own mini warehouse with parts and equipment just ready and on the shelf waiting.

Tools were another thing.  I bought two DIY bench saws before buying an Elektra Beckum with a sliding table and rear out feed.  £1100 it cost at the time but what a piece of kit.  I sold it at the end of the job and it is still working hard for a cabinet maker.  The repeatable accuracy is the thing with a good piece of kit and it was well worth the money spent.  The amount of grinders and drills I got through before buying Makita gear was amazing.  I had made do with cheap tools as they used to last me fine for the odd job.  I might be grinding for a week at a time or drilling a thousand holes.  Not the situations for the cheaper end of the market.  Bench drill presses and bench grinders did not have to be so expensive as they only had occasional use, I guess it's horses for courses and you need to be a bit canny and not spend money when you don't need to but don't skimp when you do.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The beginnings.

Strange isn't it how things work out.  We ended up getting into the housing market, buying at the bottom and then watching the prices rise and rise and rise.  But all the fuss that goes with owning a property, the maintenance, what happens if you want to move.  In the end it wasn't for us, I guess we are just not that type of people that can be nailed down like that.

My beloved came up with the idea of living on a boat.  We already had a 25' sailing boat so boats were not new to us.  We looked at thin boats and fat boats, we looked at floating cottages and ex fishing boats.  We looked at rather a lot of boats.  They all had one thing in common, they were old and needed work.  To do the work the sometimes beautiful interiors had to be ripped out and often they were not designed for that.  You end up with years of diy and additions on extensions on bodges.  Fine for some people but not for a fusspot like me, I just couldn't cope with it.

So in the end we went for a new build hull and I was to fit it out full time funded by the house sale.  This more or less coincided with the top of the housing boom so our foray into the property market turned out not to bad after all.  We moved into the little 25 foot boat in March with our two collie dogs and two cats.

As you can see, it's not a very big boat and the tide does cover the pathway now and again, but we managed somehow.
After months of preparation and planning the hull finally arrived.  The build by South Holland went well except for a hiccup with the transport arrangements.  The original company had a problem so Sealand stepped in to save the day.  But it arrived late as a consequence and I only had the crane booked this end for a certain time.  My hair thinned out that day and stressful it was but Cadmans as usual did a brilliant job with the crane.

The carriage ways of the slipway had to be overhauled and greased up.  RSJs and railway sleepers were used as chocks to keep the hull off the floor.  Remember the tide covers the road to knee height and more.  Didn't want the boat floating too soon.

The hull was designed by Nick Branson and is 55 feet long with a beam of 12 feet.

This version, a Katherine Class, has an aft cabin with a centre wheelhouse.  The design draft is around 2 feet 8 inches.  I had the minimum done by the builders mainly because I didn't know where the windows were going to go or where I wanted the hatches.  Rubbing bands were added latter too along with some other steelwork for the masts, vents and various housings.

Careful angling of the block she sits on ensures the hull can't topple sideways and make a mess as at this stage the hull weighs around 13 tons.  The boards in the foreground are douglas fir and will be used as a temporary access staging before being cut for the interior.

 We just had time to lift the engine in before the crane had to leave.  It is a six cylinder Ford 2725 marinised by Lancing Marine and develops 120hp.

As you can see the road was blocked for a wee while and it felt that most of the village were in attendance.  Years later folk still say to me "I was there when it arrived you know".  My mind is a blur so it's good to have the photos to remind me.

The paint outside is blast primer and was touched up with single pot holding primer on the welds.  This was to last nearly three years before the blast and paint.  I spent a long time with a 20 ton bottle jack and an extended handle levelling up hull fore and aft as well as side to side.  Boats are funny thing to work on and a datum is essential as there is seldom anything straight or level to work from.

The planks were made into an access ramp to wheel some heavy gear into the barge.

When the snow came the ramp became a scene from "Cool Running".

A more othodox stair arrangement was designed.  I had to take rather a lot of weight at time s and I can't event begin to work out how many times I went up and down.  Note the logs, the first thing that went in was the wood burning stove.

Later on in the build the mast tabernacle was made and galvanised.  This enabled the mast and boom to be used as a derrick and meant that heavy stuff could be craned directly in through the hatch which is under the landrover roof panel. Notice also the temporary shed built over the steelwork for the wheelhouse.  People thought this plywood and felt construction was the finished item.