Before and After – Job Done

Can you see the big smile on my face ?

I have finished the plumbing, cruised to the water point and spent 3 hours filling up. Cosgrove is a very slow tap that does not have enough pressure to expand our expandable hose to even half the boat length. Still at this time of year there are not many boat’s wanting water so it wasn’t a problem.

Full tank of cold water, full tanks of hot water, washing done – no leaks – I am a happy man.

Yes I will admit, I also did some clothes washing – purely in the interest of testing the washing machine plumbing you understand. I have to maintain my male chauvinist image, it could not possibly be so that Cheryl didn’t come back to a full basket of dirty laundry. But I don’t want to set a precedent here ! ! !

Not only am I pleased that the plumbing is done and our boat is back to normal, but now that I have hot water – I shaved for the first time in a few days.





Has it been worthwhile – YES, YES , YES

  • No more hot water from our cold water tap and drinking water tap.
  • No more cold water pipes being hot when they should be cold.
  • No more struggling to get to the drain points.
  • No more water left in the pipes once they’ve been drained.
  • No more wasted diesel heating cold water unnecessarily in the middle of the night.
  • No more sagging unsupported pipework.

Ok it’s a bit soon to know for sure if I’ve fixed all the problems but so far so good and no leaks seen.

All I have done is follow the manufacturers installation manuals and used good plumbing practice. I find it staggering that people, both builder’s and customers are prepared to accept “it’s the way we’ve always done it” when clearly if Firecrest is anything to go by, it could be so much better, easier safer, more economical and durable.

I enjoyed my cruise to and from the water point, in the sunshine, watching the ducks, swans and canada geese – that’s what boating is all about. Not struggling to make sense of plumbing. But best of all, Cheryl will be back home tomorrow and I can’t wait.

We have water – yipeeee

Having stripped out much of the plumbing, arranged bits in the way I was going to use them.  I have now added drain points under the sink, which is the lowest easily accessible place on the boat, added a stop cock between the cold and hot water system so I can work on the hot water system while having cold water through the galley and bathroom tap.

I am adding a water filter to reduce calcium build up in the clarifier, and also the washing machine.  This has meant pushing a 4.5m pipe from the bathroom, behind the dinette, behind the cooker and washing machine to the sink – not the easiest of jobs but it is done now.  Cheryl’s help would have been useful for that but still I managed it.

This is the first time I have used plastic water pipes.  When I re-plumbed our last house I did it all in copper.  I am using the hep2O fittings because these are the ones the boat builder used.  Plastic pipes does make it easier than copper and solder joints.  I do find soldering copper pipes more satisfying, but on the boat I think plastic is a better choice.

It is nice to have cold water through the taps again, instead of having to carefully pour it out of a water container.

No Water

That’s no water on the boat not in the canals.  Not because we have run out of water, but because I am fixing the plumbing.

We have been planning to moor in Wolverton (north Milton Keynes) for some months now so I could be close to DIY shops.  Well by close I mean a 3 mile round trip to Screwfix, 5 miles round trip to B&Q.  Still parts bought by click and collect, Cheryl’s gone home to leave me to it, and now I have started.  Its mothering Sunday so a good time for Cheryl to spend a few days with her mum, and allow me to spread bits all over the boat.

So why am I fixing the plumbing on a new boat?

We have often noticed the water coming out of our cold water tap is warm, sometimes hot enough to wash your hands under the tap.  What is worse the warm water also comes out of our drinking water tap.  I did ask my boat builder about this but was told my boat was plumbed how they always do it – so that’s it – not their fault.

After researching the issues, reading manufactures fitting instructions, thinking about it and examining the plumbing, the issue is there is no non-return valve between the hot water and cold water systems, as is recommended by the manufactures of many of the parts fitted, and other experienced boating people.  To make that problem worse, the pressurised expansion tank is on the hot side of the clarifier (hot water cylinder) so that pushes hot water into the cold water pipes.

While investigating I also found a cold water pipe that was as hot as a central heating pipe 24hrs a day.  It turns out that hot water from the top of the clarifier is self circulating though this pipe resulting in the heat lost cooling the tank.  This explains why I have noticed the boiler turning on in the middle of the night to heat hot water which it should almost never do.  This is easy to avoid with proper plumbing but now requires me to change even more of the system.

The third problem that needs fixing I did not discover until I tried to drain the system.  After 2 hrs of trying to get a tool to the drain point which was sandwiched between the 22mm heating pipes and the clarifier, I ended up having to undo another joint to drain the system.  This is particularly bizarre because if you leave a boat unoccupied in the winter it needs to be winterised, which involves completely draining all the water pipes and water tanks to ensure there is not damage from freezing, and subsequent flooding.

Hopefully I will have cold water back by tonight.  I have fitted an isolation valve between the cold water and hot water systems which will allow me to completely re-plumb the hot water side over the next few days, while still having cold water to use.

Looking back over 2017 part 4

For those of you who like statistics here are some from our first years cruising.

Cruising Stats 1/6/2017 – 31/12/2017

Miles – 536
Locks – 331
Swing Bridges – 5
Aqueducts – 109
Tunnels – 20

Propulsion Stats 1/6/2017 – 31/12/2017

Miles travelled – 536
Cruising time (approx.) – 265 hrs
MPH (including locking) – 2mph (average)
AMPs used for propulsion – 33A (average)
KWs used for propulsion – 1.7kW (average)
HP used for propulsion – 2.28hp (average)

Living Stats 1/1/2017 – 31/12/2017

Diesel used – 1,363 ltrs
Cost of diesel used – £971
Generator run time – 298 Hrs
Battery cycles – under 50
Shore power use –  11 full charge

Alternative energy

Miles walked – 1,467.24
Steps taken – 3,298,280
Daily average steps – 9,036
Pints drunk – too many to count


Cruising stats are for the 6 months after our boat was completed when we could finally leave the boat yard.  Since we lived on the boat from January the living statistics are for the full year.

It is interesting to see how little power we use to propel the boat – just 2.28hp.  If we did not use electricity for lighting, cooking etc. we could cruise for 32 hours on a single battery charge.

We use diesel for all our heating, hot water, and charging the batteries other than when charge from shore power.  It is noticeable how much more we use now the weather is cold.

Unlike a diesel propulsion engine our motor only runs when needed to propel the boat so it is only used for perhaps 10 seconds at low power in a lock and not at all while waiting for a lock.  So flights of locks use negligible battery power.

One full battery charge last us about a week, but in reality we prefer to run the generator several times a week for shorter periods.


I was told to go fast – so I did

Kidderminster Trip Day 3 – a technical perspective

Travelling through the 1.66 mile long Harecastle tunnel was an experience.  We had been warned to go quickly by the attendant, and that most people with new boats go too slowly and end up zigzagging, hitting the walls and scratching their paint.  I took the man seriously and took my first opportunity to see just how much power we have from out electric motor tried to see just how much power our boat has, my first opportunity.

We travelled through the tunnel in exactly 30 minutes at 580RPM, at 147 amps, (7.5kW).  In total we used 73.5AH (3.7kW hrs) traveling through the tunnel at an average speed of 3.3MPH.  That is the equivalent of less than 1.25 litres of diesel or 89p at the price we pay.

I was pleased with this because we were told that the normal time to do the tunnel is 40 minutes and we did it in 30 minutes.  Apparently one boat the day before 1 hour 15 minutes.

We travelled from the tunnel to Stoke at high speed because the canals were wide, deep and with very few boats allowing me to test how well the boat performed in wider canals, at higher speed.  The boat handled well and I had plenty of extra power in reserve.


Distance cruised – 15.3 miles
Locks – 11
Tunnel – 2,675m
Cruising time – 8 Hrs 40 mins
Battery used – 358 Amp Hours (33%)
Power used – 18.6 kW hrs
Average speed – 1.8 MPH

9 hours crusing for 1 hour generator use

Kidderminster Trip Day 2 – a technical perspective

We cruised for 9 hours and covered 13 miles, and lost 110 feet of altitude.  I was particularly interested to see how the electric propulsion working through the lock flight at Bosley.  12 locks in the space of one mile.

I have to say it was lovely coming down the flight, no noise of engine or exhaust reverberating around the stone lock chambers, no diesel fumes to breath as I wait for the locks to empty, and able to hear Cheryl from the lock side.  I think Cheryl would say it was B#### hard work – the locks gates weigh about a ton each but are surprisingly easy to move for their weigh.  But some of the lock paddles are really hard work to wind up.

We travelled 13 miles and used 198AH (10.4KWhrs) from our batteries, which means we used just under one fifth of our battery capacity cruising today.  That equates to just under 3.5 litres of Diesel and at the price we last paid works out at £2.50 for the whole days cruising.   We can replenish that much power in about 1 hour from our diesel generator.

I measured the power we used during the lock flight itself and in the 1hr 40 minutes it took us to do the 12 locks we used just 16AH (0.8KWhrs) from our batteries, so we used the equivalent of under a quarter litre of diesel to come down the flight.

I am closely monitoring our batteries to see how they perform.  We started the days cruise with the batteries at 52.4 volts and ended it at 52.3 volts.   For people who are used to Lead Acid or almost any other type of battery such a tiny volt drop after using a fifth of the batteries capacity is unheard of.  But our LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries have almost no voltage drop between 20% and 80% state of charge.

Over all I am pleased with how little power we are using to cruise, its is a little less than I had allowed for from all my research and calculations.

1 step forward and 3 steps back

I have been running my own business since 2002, and each time I upgrade my computer I keep the old one mothballed to support old projects.  Cheryl would never have allowed me to bring all these old PCs onto the boat, but one of my customers now wants a significant update on a circa 1998 product.  Well you can guess what’s coming next.

The snag being, one of the tools I use runs on Windows XP and I only have Windows 10 – 64bit on the boat.

The more frustrating thing is I had the ideal PC which could quickly load Windows 2000, Windows XP and the customer’s software.  In the effort to downsize ready for the boat I gave it to charity (tools with a mission-TWAM)  having not even turned it on for 6 years.  It would have been perfect for what I need – C’est la vie.

Since I use Windows 10 Professional, I can run virtual PCs with other operating systems without interfering with my normal desktop.  Something I have never done but Google came to the rescue finding me some instructions on how to enable it, and how to find a Windows XP virtual machine to load. It turns out Microsoft has recently removed their downloadable copies of a Windows XP virtual PC from the usual page, I guess in an attempt to stop people using XP, but luckily they have it hidden away in another location so I down loaded it anyway.  At home I would have downloaded the Windows 8, Vista, and Windows 10 in 32 and 64 bit versions while I was at it, but as we have to use 4G I have to not waste our download limits.

Still with me?

Got all that done – I have Windows XP running on a virtual PC in a window on my desktop and can load software as if it was a standalone XP PC – brilliant.

Well not quite.  The virtual PC does not support USB, which was the whole point in the first place.  Still, I found another interesting article on how to use USB devices with your virtual PC and what’s more, gives the advantage of full screen use – brilliant.  Well no.  Unfortunately, you can only use USB devices that will talk to your host operating system, which the device I want to use does not, which is the reason I started all this in the first place.

After a few days of research and playing around getting my Virtual Windows XP PC working – I am still back at square one.  So now I am going down the route of buying an old laptop with Windows XP professional on – just so I can use two old and obsolete USB devices.  The alternative is to go back to Suffolk and work from home for a few weeks, perhaps not, I don’t think Cheryl would let me do that either.



Boating with a difference, How to spot a Firecrest

Narrowboat design is evolving to take into account modern technologies.  We’ve tried to incorporate a lot of the benefits behind the facia of  Firecrest.  We’ve chosen to embrace the environment, making Firecrest, albeit a very beautiful one, a means to an end, our comfortable home from home that maximises our ability to explore and enjoy our surroundings.  We’re reading that more and more boaters are pushing the boundaries of how much you can fit into a long metal box.  We’re loving the interest shown in our boat, and likewise how interested we are in the more traditional.

Firecrest’s features aren’t unique, just not as traditional as a lot of modern boats.

What makes her unusual.

1) Instead of a diesel engine we have an electric motor for propulsion, giving us totally silent cruising.

2) We are a gasless boat, so don’t use bottles of LPG for cooking as is usual, instead we have an electric oven, an electric induction hob, use an electric kettle, and an electric toaster.  These are all powered from the batteries so we can use them any time day or night without running the generator and disturbing the neighbours.

3) With my background in electronics and computer control, we have a modern computerised CANbus wiring system so all our lights, water pumps etc., are powered and controlled by a system much the same as is in all modern cars, lorries, coaches, and many commercial boats.  This gives me a lot of flexibility how things work, greatly simplifies the wiring, and reduces the amount of wire needed too.

4) Instead of the normal deck at the bow that is above the canal water level, ours is below the water level, a dropped well deck, at the same level as the rest of the interior of the boat.   Instead of the canvas cover (a cratch cover) we have extended the steel roof over the bow deck to make it an indoor sitting area, with headroom to stand up, and overhead lighting.  We have cratch sides that can open up, or be removed completely allowing us to have fresh cool air, but also shelter from wind.

5) Since we don’t get “free” hot water every time the engine runs, we have a modern high efficiency diesel boiler for our central heating and hot water, more like the ones found in homes with oil heating than the typical boilers used on narrowboats.  This means we have hot water all the time, Cheryl can wash up as many dishes as she likes and take as long in the shower as she wants.

6) We’ve opted to have a waterless Eco toilet, (composting toilet.) which are becoming a more and more popular choice for boaters. One of the biggest benefits is because we don’t flush, we don’t have to fill up the water tank so often.  And no, it doesn’t smell.

7) Our battery charging system is also computerised, and nothing like the usual alternator run from the propulsion engine.  This I have had to write the software for.

8) Our batteries are LiFePO4 (a type of Lithium battery that is much safer than the ones used in phones and laptops).  These have very different characteristics to the usual leisure Lead Acid batteries making them ideal for our boat.  These are charged from an onboard GenSet or shore power when available.  These need electronics and software management which I have also designed and built myself.

Lots of people seem interested in our electric propulsion and how we charge our batteries so I will add some “techie” posts in the future to describe that in some detail, and how we find it works in practise.

For all of Firecrest’s individuality, she still requires polishing and painting to keep her looking good.

Battery Charging Day

Having had a cup of tea at 5:30 am because we woke early, come breakfast we had no 240V power – oh well no coffee.

Opps – we had run the batteries flat and the Inverter had powered down as it should.  I knew the batteries were low, but declined to run the generator the afternoon before because our neighbours were enjoying the sun and the peace fishing off the bow of their boat, and I thought we would do it today instead, and let them enjoy their afternoon.

We ran 3 cells out of 32 – 100% flat – opps not the best thing to do for longevity, but once in a while is OK with our batteries, but something I intend to ensure does not happen again.

It has given me the chance to check the state of all the cells, and assess the state of balance, and we now have a fully charged battery, and I have lots of measurements for each cell.

I am installing electronics that will monitor the batteries all the time, and will eventually start the genset automatically if they get too flat, but I have not installed that yet – ironically I was going to make a start today.  This will also keep an track of exactly how much power we have left.

Normally it is best to keep LiFePO4 batteries between 10% and 90% charged.  The normal practise of charging Lead Acid batteries to 100% and float charging them is a really bad thing to do to Lithium Batteries, so I have been very careful not to charge them too much.

Still it has been a nice day – and we have a nice view over the wide’s – with pairs of Geese being very territorial, and chasing the swan away.



Ran out of water today

Today we ran out of water, quite deliberately, as we wanted to measure the tank capacity and get a feel for how the water gauge relates to the amount of water we have left.

Our water tank is in what is usually the Gas Locker.  For none boaters that is the very bow of the boat.  This means it has a complicated shape which is small at the bottom and large at the top.

As we filled the tank I measured the voltage from the water sensor every 5 minutes and noted how  full the tank gauge read.

It turns out that when the gauge says we are half full we are in reality a quarter full, and when the gauge reads a quarter full we are very close to completely empty.  To give you an idea of how extreme this is, the gauge read nearly a quarter full after filling for 5 minutes but it took 1 hour and 50 minutes to fill the tank.

This graph illustrates how quickly we run out of water once the gauge shows a quarter left.

CHart showing water level

Of course, the aim is never to run out of water, so todays measurements will help us manage our water supply and to plan when we stop at water points to take on more water.

Water points are distributed along the canals and clearly marked on canal maps.  As we intend to continuously cruise (move on every few days) we should be passing water points every few days as we go.