Blowing up a shower pump
When things go wrong on Pea Green it is often a cause and effect chain of events, usually all avoidable. This was definitely the case in July 2020 when I inadvertently set about to blow up the shower pump and almost started a fire onboard. So, this is a cautionary tale of a long day, being tired, misreading a situation and the fatal ingredients of being cold and hungry.
It started so well…
I left Crick Wharf early on a sunny, warm morning after a weekend trading. My plan for the day was to travel all of 6 miles to Welton Wharf, so I could cycle into Daventry for a food shop. This meant navigating Crick tunnel and arriving at Watford locks ready for opening at 10am. Normally, in summer, Watford locks are open from 8am -7pm, however nothing was normal in 2020. As a result of the pandemic, Watford locks were only open from 10am-2.15pm.
The wait begins
After an empty passage through the tunnel and despite arriving an hour before opening, there were still 6 boats waiting to descend the locks. I arrived shortly after 9am and found some boats had been waiting since the previous day. Unfortunately, they arrived shortly after 2pm, had been told they were too late and had to wait overnight. There was little option but to join the back of the line.
The Watford flight, opened in 1814, is very pretty. The towpath is bordered by a copse of mature trees running down the hillside parallel to the locks. On the opposite side of the locks are large pounds of water, edged with reeds and a haven for wildlife. Additionally, the cottages and other canal buildings at the top and bottom are well maintained with attractive gardens. There are also thoughtful touches: I particularly like the boater’s herb garden near the top of the locks and in normal times the book exchange (another pandemic casualty).
Unlike Foxton locks, at the other end of this 20 mile pound, Watford does not deal with 1000s of pedestrian visitors and has a more relaxed atmosphere. Despite its attractiveness this location is marred by a single issue – noise.
The issue of noise
The bridge at the top of the locks carries the very busy M1. Traffic noise is regularly punctuated by high-speed trains on the West Coast mainline running parallel to the locks. Unfortunately, for me I was waiting my turn in the darkness underneath the M1 road bridge. After an hour of M1 noise I was relieved when the locks opened and the moored boats began to move forwards. One by one the first five boats headed down the locks, then I waited as five came up. Overall, it took more than two hours before I emerged from the bottom lock and headed on my way.
By the time I left the bottom lock it was well after midday. Additionally, the weather had turned and the hot morning sun had morphed into icy driving rain, a classic British summer day. Unsurprisingly, I was becoming numb with cold on the tiller, not helped as I hadn’t eaten since before leaving Crick around 7am. Despite this I pushed on as I was keen to moor at Welton Wharf only a few miles further.
Captain Monte the Cat
You might well be wondering why I didn’t just moor up and eat, then set off again. The thing to remember is that Monte the Cat – who rules the boat – does not tolerate emerging from his travel box and then being incarcerated again for a second time in a single day. Additionally, if I am inside the boat he immediately expects to be released from his box. Monte is very tolerant of travelling in his cage – after the ‘incident’.
Monte doesn’t fuss, has room to stand and move around, but generally sits facing me on the helm, watching my every move from the cabin. Consequently, once Pea Green is tied up and I am inside she doesn’t move again until the next day. So, the long lock wait meant either mooring up close to the noisy M1 for the night or to keep going.
Finally moored up
After a right turn at Norton Junction Pea Green trundled on towards Welton, finally mooring up an hour or so later. Monte was mightily relieved to be let out of his box. He quickly had something to eat and then snuggled down for a sleep in his hidey hole. Monte clearly did the right thing, unlike his human. I decided that before eating I would just check the bilge to make sure the stern gland wasn’t dripping.
The chain of events begins
I flipped up the engine hatch and was dismayed at the volume of water sloshing around. (Pea Green has a leak when it rains where her wooden top joins her steel hull, extracting the water is a regular job.) Of course, I immediately began the process of removing the water.
Mopping the bilge is a precarious activity. I begin by kneeling on the stern steps and leaning over the engine. Next, I balance a bowl on top of the engine and having loaded my mop from the bilge, I pull the mop out and wring it into the bowl. Sooner or later, if the bowl’s balance shifts, it will tip and the water will end up where it started. The game is, of course, to empty the bowl before it falls.
Emptying the bowl also requires gymnastic balancing . Firstly, I lift the full bowl out of the engine, then clamber the stern steps, next I balance with one foot on either side of the open engine hole before finally pouring the water overboard.
Hole in the hull?
Now, in this instance I was in a rush, because I hadn’t eaten and was very cold. Plus, I was not thinking rationally. Each time I pulled the mop out it looked like the water level was rising in the bilge. Logically, I knew this was all in my head, but in hungry/cold mode the only conclusion was that Pea Green had a hole in the hull and would sink. For this reason, my mopping action became frenetic and I wasn’t as careful each time I balanced on the engine hole to empty the bowl.
Flyng cat litter
As I leaped up with the full bowl of water I missed my footing. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem except the battery cover, where my foot was heading for, is a tiny area and home to Monte’s litter tray. As a result, my booted toe, missed the minute floor space and clipped the edge of Monte’s toilet. Consequently, flipping the tray, and its contents, down into the engine. Now, I had the double whammy of water sloshing around and insidious cat litter falling into every engine crevice, the bilge and the box housing the shower drain pump.
If you have ever dealt with cat litter you will know that when dry it’s very easy to sweep up. However, wet cat litter is like sand dipped in treacle, it sticks everywhere and is almost impossible to remove. I was now faced with wet smelly litter all over the engine and lots of water.
I decided the best thing to do was to continue removing the water, then later I would work on the cat litter. I also had a brain wave; if I squeezed mop water into the shower drain the pump would remove the water much more quickly than me. It simply did not occur to me that I might blow up the shower pump.
DIY shower drain
Now, I should explain my shower drain ‘system’. Basically, a pipe from the shower tray goes into an old 1 gallon ice-cream container. Next, the shower waste water is pumped out through a bilge pump, also located in the ice-cream container. The container doesn’t have a lid, so it was easy to add more water from my mop. But, with no lid the shower drain had also caught a fair amount of cat litter.
A cunning plan…
Having added more mop water into the shower drain I switched on the shower pump and the water went down. Result! Feeling a bit smug (and hungry/cold) it seemed I had finally found a faster way to remove the water. Additionally, this new approach saved me from climbing and balancing to throw the water over the side.
While the pump was doing its thing it began to make a funny noise, so I turned it off, let it sit a while and then turned it on again. Now it seemed to be running without any problems. As the water dropped in the container the pump automatically cut out and I continued bailing the final water via my mop and bowl. Having removed most of the water and finding there was no hole in the hull, I breathed a sigh of relief and left the cat litter until later.
Ta-da… or not
I closed the engine lid and with found something eat. I immediately began to feel a little bit more human – I often forget there is a direct link between food and warming up. Though, as I munched through a peanut butter and jam sandwich, I noticed a burning smell. A bit of sniffing revealed the odour was coming from the engine hole.
Bulging bilge – let’s blow up the shower pump
So, once more I lifted the hatch and pinpointed the smell as emanating from the shower drain pump. As I pulled the pump out of the ice-cream container, having turned it off, I realised the pump had, quite literally, blown up. It had gone from bilge to bulge in a matter of minutes. Also, it was hot to the touch and on its way to burning. Without trying to, I had blown up the shower pump. My dipsy move of using the shower to drain the water had also clogged the pump with cat litter. As a result the pump had jammed and seriously over-heated.
And that’s how to blow up a shower pump…
The simple task of mopping up water had turned into a full scale saga. On the positive side the hull didn’t have a hole, and it was clear of water. On the negative, I still had an engine covered in cat litter and now the added job of removing and replacing the shower pump. Plus, no shower until it was fixed. The moral of this tale? Don’t blow up the shower pump? Maybe I should have moored up after the locks and ended the day near the M1 ….