Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Dream That Turned Into A Nightmare.

Or how our boat sank immediately after "professional" blacking when it was relaunched with a hull resembling a sieve!

Some who might read my posts from time to time might have been wondering why there was a dramatic and unexpected change in the format of my blog, when back in April I announced "Our boating days are over"!

Happier times-a July 2009 cruise of the Llangollen Canal.
I can now reveal the reason why that was, after seven months of worry, devastation, hard work, inconvenience, frustration, expense - and any number of other emotions that you might think of. You see, our boat was due to be blacked, a process I have written about previously for the benefit of those arriving here that needed to know what that was, what it might cost, how it is achieved, and why it needs to be done - regularly, usually at no more than two year intervals if the standard bitumen type of blacking paint is used.

In February this year, the time had arrived to consider blacking once more, and I entered negotiations with the local marina that is closest to our home mooring, into what my requirements were to take my boat, now approaching 10 years old, into its next 10 years in what I believed would be a superbly maintained vessel. After the two previous blacking applications had been in bitumen, this time I wanted the hull to be grit blasted so that the much more durable 2-pack epoxy blacking could be applied. I negotiated a price that would include the use of a slipway, the grit blast, followed by the usual inspection of all underwater aspects of the hull while it was ashore, before re-painting. This would be with the same marina that had completed all previous work of this nature for me. (For those who are unaware, a 57 foot steel narrowboat such as ours has a displacement weight of around 16 tonnes, in some cases more, making a thorough condition inspection an important part of the blacking process, as this is the only opportunity to monitor the natural deterioration of the steel hull, which is slowed down by maintaining a sound coating of paint, and of course for any damage that may have occurred to the running gear and sacrificial anodes). This is a process that should be carried out by default by any reputable boat yard, but on each of the three occasions I have submitted our boat for blacking over our 5 years of ownership, I have actually asked for this to be done.

On this occasion I put my request to check aspects of the underwater condition in writing to the marina manager prior to the job.

The price of £1,768.70 was agreed to complete the work over an agreed two week time-scale. This was not our cheapest quote, but our boat had been blacked at this marina on the two previous occasions, and its location was very convenient for us. This time I also included my wish to replace the stern tube packing while the boat was ashore, not that it was leaking, I just considered this to be good practice to take advantage of the boat being out of the water, and the seal flange had been adjusted annually while in our ownership. This also formed part of my written specifications for the job I wanted to be done on this occasion. This is the email I sent to the marina manager on 4th March 2014 confirming the work I required:

Dear XXXX,

This price of £1768.70 inc. VAT is fine, and is more or less what XXXX quoted 'off the top of her head' as a rough figure last week.

We would like to proceed with the grit blasting and 2 pack epoxy blacking at this price to protect the boat for her future.

There were a couple of other requests on my original work sheet. The main one I would like doing in addition to the blacking is to pick out the old wadding from the stern tube glande while out of the water, and re-pack with new. As far as I am aware this has never been done in 10 years, and water ingress while motoring under power is now more than it used to be, with grease starting to ouse from the flange. As far as I am aware this is not a major job, and hopefully should not impact greatly on the total cost in the grand scheme of things, but it needs to be done in any case on this occasion.

Also a couple of checks please. Please could the anodes, rudder and propeller condition be looked at and verified also while out of the water. Hopefully these will be in good enough condition not to require further work, which could add significant cost. From what I have seen of the anodes through the water, they don't appear too bad to me, I would just like this confirmed.

My last query relates to the new 2 part epoxy paint finish. I am no expert in this field, other than my own research tells me this type of finish, together with the grit blast to provide a sound backing, is the most durable option to go for, and one I would like, due to the age of the boat and the fact it is starting to rust at the waterline.

However, a friend who had the same job done informed me that information given to him at the time of re-painting was that the nature of the 2 pack paint is that it will turn grey or brown after a short time back in the water, and to prevent this a final top coat of a vinyl type paint was applied over the 2 pack purely so it remains black in colour.
I have no doubt that your painters are very well experienced in this type of job, and I would readily accept their advice, but have been left wondering if my friend's information is correct or not about the greying of the 2 pack finish. Under no circumstances would I want to return to the bitumen type of top coat, which can't be re-finished in the future with anything other than that type of paint.

My only interest is in receiving my boat back with a finish that will be durable, and resistant to further rusting at the waterline for the immediate future. The last time she was blacked with bitumen in Spring 2012, the waterline rust was back within a month or so. For future reference, please could you also include the brand names of materials used on invoices, as if possible the same should be used when any re-painting is done.
I have read the attached information sheet re grit blasting and will attempt to tape windows and use covers over furniture as indicated.

We will bring the boat in during the weekend preceding Monday 17th March, either Saturday 15th or Sunday 16th. There is no immediate deadline to get the boat back completed at this time, which could be delayed slightly due to weather conditions as mentioned, but initially we intend to collect it the following weekend, so could you inform me during the week whether this will be possible.


Peter Berry

The time-scale was later amended by the marina manager when we left the boat to collect 2 weeks after we delivered the boat to the marina, to allow for sufficient paint curing time.

After the grit blast process was completed, the new epoxy blacking was applied over what I later could see for myself, when the boat had to be withdrawn from the water again, was a severely pitted hull. I wasn't notified of the need of further work, something that in my opinion was unfortunate whilst this work was being undertaken by so called "professionals", very unfortunate. One of the many pits is now known to have penetrated the full depth of steel, although that remains pretty much it's original 6mm thickness throughout. This went unnoticed as the boat was re-launched late on a Friday afternoon, and a full week before the end of the time scale we had agreed with the marina manager to undertake this job. Our beautiful boat sank while unattended, overnight at its temporary mooring within the marina.

To add "insult to injury", it was me who found it that way when we attended the marina to collect our boat at 9.00am the following day, Saturday 22nd March. None of the marina staff had noticed it lying on the bottom, although I saw something was amiss as soon as we approached it. I opened the doors to discover about 3 inches of water above floor level over half the length of the interior cabin, having spilled over the water proof bulkhead between the cabin and the engine bay, which was also now full of canal water, level with the air intake on top of the Barrus engine. The boat was aground at the stern, and suspended from its bow rope, with a severe list to starboard.

If only I had been informed that further work was required on the hull at the appropriate time, after the grit blast, and before the new paint application, then all my worry and sleepless nights of the last 7 months as a result of the sinking could have been avoided. Whatever their reason, the marina made the decision to re-launch the boat as it was, and of course, had it not sunk, then I would have continued to use the boat blissfully unaware of the hull's obviously deteriorating and poor condition.

I wouldn't mind, but the severe pitting, as well as other issues I will describe later, were blatantly obvious to me once I saw it back on hard standing out of the water.

On 7th November 2014, we disposed of our once beautiful boat to the trade for the 'teeth clenching' sum of only £18,000 after enduring months of what can only be described as hell. I am now able to make the details of our experience known, so that those who might be researching the costs of owning a steel narrowboat prior to their own purchase might use our experience to their benefit, and also to make those who already own their own narrowboat aware of the possible serious pitfalls that can occur without you even realizing what is happening when trusting a third party to carry out "maintenance" on your pride and joy and you are not present to witness their work.

The story will be a long one, so I will split it into episodes, each with a label "Boating Disaster" so that in the end our story episodes will  be grouped together to be used as reference for those who want to learn from it.

I will try and refrain from naming names and making allegations, but will just relay what happened to us, step by step, together with images where appropriate, and in a way that does not highlight or exaggerate any particular aspect we have encountered. In other words I intend to tell it as it is, so that you, the reader, can make up your own mind, and act accordingly. I can however say that I am extremely angry at what happened (or was allowed to happen), to our boat, and that is coupled with my apparent and frustrating inability to be able to do anything about it.

Our damaged boat just before selling to the trade November 2014.
The next episode: "The Start Of Our Trail Of Devastation", will detail how we bought our boat in March 2009 as a 4 year old, where we moored it, and how we cared for it, regardless of cost and according to the well documented requirements of a steel narrowboat that spends its life immersed in fresh water. I am sure you will be shocked as we were, how easy it was to lose everything, at the same time being so difficult to be able to do anything about it.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The New Hull Blacking Is Complete.

The following is a post I saved to draft way back in March during the time our boat was out of the water for routine blacking. It was written in anticipation of receiving it back to enjoy again for the start of the new 2014 spring / summer season as an information post for others who may be researching having similar routine narrowboat hull maintenance done. It was intended to be published on the 29th March, the day we should have received our boat back from the marina that we had trusted to complete the work on our behalf.

Unfortunately things did not go as I planned, so although the title is true, the outcome fell far short of what we hoped it would be. Over the next week or so I hope to post a series of stories which will make up a factual stage by stage account of what actually happened, split into episodes as there is so much to tell. In the meantime, the account below is what should have happened, and is now a prelude to my story of how things actually turned out.

Our boat sank overnight at its temporary mooring within that same marina that had been entrusted to undertake the work after they relaunched it, late on a Friday afternoon and informed me to collect it the next day.

"Our boat is now back out of the boat yard on her home mooring complete with her new 2-pack epoxy blacking. We took her down on Saturday 15th March and after taping all the window seals and door gaps, and covering all the interior such as the bed and chairs with plastic decorators covers, and left her in the hands of the marina.

She was scheduled to come out of the water and be grit blasted on Tuesday, and luckily the weather was kind to us. This particular marina, which is the one we have used for this type of work ever since we bought the boat, purely for the convenience, uses a trailer dolly and slipway to remove the boat from the water.

Once grit blasted, (which we were pre-warned would get everywhere - hence the taping of the windows and doors), the hull's integrity was checked along with the anodes and running gear. Then it was time to get on the first coat of epoxy as quickly as possible, due to the fact the hull was now bare steel. As the curing of this type of paint is by way of a chemical reaction, it is important to leave sufficient time between coats. It is also susceptible to discolouring if condensation were to form on the surface during curing, but as I said - we were lucky with the weather. One other thing that must be noted is that the hull can only be painted in a small area at a time, as small amounts of paint must be mixed due to the possibility of it curing in the tin before application.

We opted to just have the 2-pack blacking, without the Comastic vinyl tar final coat I had considered as a cosmetic finish. I also had the packing in the stern tube gland replaced while out of the water. Here are the costings for our 57 foot boat:

Slipways                                                                                          £116 X 2              £232

Grit blast up to rubbing strake                                                           £16 X 57              £912

Vessel movement from blast area to hard standing                             £49 X 1                £49

Blacking 2-pack epoxy resin                                                             £10.10 X 57         £575

Total                                                                                                                             £1768.70 inc VAT

Had I chosen to have the final cosmetic finish in black Comastic, that would have been an extra £4.60 X 57, a total of £262.20 inc VAT for the one coat. The reason I didn't go down this route is that it would have been back to a single pack tar based finish, after all the expense of obtaining the epoxy finish, although above the waterline touch-ups in the future will probably be done in this paint, not the standard bitumen based stuff.

Hopefully, the integrity of the hull will now be maintained for years to come with this new tough finish on top of steel with all traces of rust removed."

Tomorrow I will publish the first episode of a story telling of a devastating series of events that took over much of our daily life over the following months.