High Anxiety

Some more technical stuff about Whiskey Mac.

control panel comp
Control panel: L to R: through cratch, door on side, behind the door (and more out of shot).

Every four years boats must be examined under the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS).  This is the equivalent of an MOT for a car, but more complex.  Mine was due by 9 June.

Wednesday marathon

It took me a while to find an examiner who could carry out the examination in the timescale and who is “gas safe”. After many emails and phone calls, and enquiries at boat yards and marinas, I found Phil Jones, resident of Acton Trussell, a small village in Staffordshire. He said that if I could get my boat there for Saturday afternoon, 8 June, he would do it then. That Wednesday I was by the Tame Aqueduct on the other side of Fazeley; achievable, but challenging.  In truth, it was the break I was hoping for.

That morning I had set off from the eastern half of Tamworth (between bridges 68 and 69) at 08:30. Whilst unmooring I was passed by coal boat Callisto and another live-aboard. The water was very low, so Callisto, carrying 17 tons of coal, plus gas and diesel, was on tickover all the way and, so he told us at Glascote Locks, hitting things under the water, especially at bridges. Funereal is probably an overestimation of our pace to the locks, where I stopped for water, but below the bottom lock better progress could be made.

After a break near Fazeley, and having a target, I moved on with as much speed as I could muster. One frustration is the frequency of moored boats – one is supposed to go slowly past them, and with good reason – especially long linear online moorings and sporadic single boats. I had hoped to stop at Fradley Junction, partly to dispose of rubbish, but could not moor on the Coventry Canal. That meant navigating the swing bridge, junction, and two more locks (landing at the first is awkward), but I still could not get in above the top lock, so eventually moored above Wood End Lock about 19:45. The engine had been on for 8 hours. A long day, indeed my longest cruise, but it seems churlish to complain given the anniversary of D-Day. Still, I was exhausted, and this was not helped by what I suppose were pre-exam nerves – would the boat fail, necessitating expensive work?! At least the weather was fair. For now …

The bends

Thursday was another marathon, for me, at least. Where the Trent & Mersey Canal passes Handsacre and Armitage, and approaches Rugeley, there are some very tight, blind bends and a narrow “tunnel”, so it is a bit challenging. I stopped in Rugeley to stock up on groceries (the shops, including Morrisons, Aldi and Wilko, are close to the cut), then continued towards Haywood Junction, hoping to dispose of rubbish and top up with diesel. I was helped to some extent with Colwich Lock and Haywood Lock, which saved some time.  Nonetheless, there were no spaces before the junction, and I was too late for diesel.  I continued to Tixall Wide, on the Staffs & Worcester, a favourite spot. I could have continued to Acton Trussell, but that would mean two more locks, and I had already been going for six hours; enough was enough.  (On Sunday, it would take three hours’ cruising to get back from Action Trussell to Tixall Wide in much better conditions.)

Frightful Friday

Next morning I fitted the CO detectors purchased the day before and, while putting tools away, managed to cut the back of my hand – one of those irritating injuries that don’t hurt, but you have to put a plaster on to avoid getting blood everywhere. Next, I walked to the junction to dispose of rubbish, and as soon as I had returned, cast off hoping that the forecast rain would be late. I met another boat at Tixall Lock (only 4’3” rise), so didn’t have to stop to close the top gate. There the rain began. Gently at first, but gradually heavier and more persistent.

Just as I was skirting the north of Stafford the low battery alarm sounded and its red light pierced the gloom. I checked the indicators and there seemed to be nothing wrong; voltage was good for both starter and domestic batteries, and both were charging. When I could I moored just after Saint Thomas Bridge (101). Again, I could not see why the alarm was on. I wondered if some rainwater had affected it, but could not see any damp patches, drip points or leaks that could cause any problem (there is a leak in the engine room roof, but that is away from the electrics and drips collect in a jug). The indicator panel was bone dry.  So, I switched off that panel and relied (as I still do) on the other, less sophisticated, indicator, which was still telling that the batteries were fine. The alternator belts seemed tight enough.  But why now?  Why the day before the BSS exam?

To recreate the situation, I have been running the engine to charge the batteries.  The only difference is that the low battery warning is behaving itself – perhaps it has rectified itself, though 14.2V is a bit higher than normal charging, which usually goes up to about 13.8V.  See images below.

The dials below indicate(d) both starter (one) and domestic (two) batteries were charging and above 12V.  This is why I thought the alarm was an error.  Phil, the examiner, agreed and suggested that the panel had developed a fault.  He doubted that a replacement could be found.  For now I will leave it switched on and keep and eye on it.  If it is reliable it is a useful monitor of how usage, especially television, affects the batteries.

I had no real choice other than to continue. Somehow I managed to rip my jacket and had white, fluffy filling like thistledown sticking to everything. Soon I was following another boat, which was sometimes obscured by the rain.  I caught up with her at Deptmore Lock, more formidable at 10 foot 3 inches. And it was bucketing down. The other pilot, also a single-hander, said that as he wasn’t going far, I should set the lock, and stay on board while he worked the lock, for which I was most grateful; this one is notoriously vicious to ascend, though a pussy cat going the other way. He followed me for a little way, but then disappeared from view. Eventually, I stopped at the north end of Acton Trussell, and got into some dry clothes.

When Saturday came

So, BSS day had arrived. I wasn’t sure if the CO alarms were right, so texted Phil (examiner) to see if he could bring one, which he offered to do (he happened to be at Midland Chandlers). In very light rain I moved down to Acton Moat Bridge, just beyond the winding hole, where we had agreed to meet.

The Test

Phil arrived about 2:20 and set about his work. It was immediately clear that he was a friendly, helpful type, and this was borne out during his visit.

The object of the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) examination is to ensure that the operational aspects of the boat are not hazardous to occupants or to other boats. The main elements are related to electrics and fuel – diesel and gas systems, and solid fuel stove. Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors have been included for the first time recently, though they have been advisory for some years. Two were installed when I bought the boat, but one had failed and the other was probably installed at the same time, so I replaced them. They are not ideal, but are acceptable for BSS.  I will replace them with ones that meet BS EN 50291-2.  (BS EN 50291-1 is acceptable for BSS, but is not boat-specific.)

As he went round Phil explained some things and made recommendations for things I should improve, but these are relatively minor and low cost. I was sure that he would find something unacceptable, but to my considerable relief he said the boat had passed! At least I don’t have to worry about that for another four years – unless the rules change – though, of course, I have to keep her up to standard. (Total cost £175.20 + Paypal fee 3.5% + a few quid for fuse holders, vents and a couple of other odds and ends.)

BSS 2019 extract
Extract from BSS Certificate 2019.


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