Well bugger, bugger, bugger. Once again the river Trent finds our weak spot. Last year it was the bearings on the fan shaft, and as a result the shaft itself, that needed replacing. This year it's the woodruff key on the shaft driving the high pressure fuel pump that has rattled itself loose, and in the process damaged the shaft.
The first manifestation of this was large amounts of black smoke as we left West Stockwith, which, rather than clearing, got worse. After half an hour or so, the engine started to miss, and the exhaust syack got so hot the paint started to peel off it (and, I discovered on finally tying up, melted through the Hempex back end rope). This, we subsequently learnt, was all because the badly worn drive mechanism on the fuel pump was putting the timing out. We had no idea at the time what the cause was; our first thought was dirty fuel in one way or another, and after that we ran out of ideas.
Anyway, we had little choice but to struggle on to Torksey. There simply isn't anywhere else to stop on this tidal section, apart from Gainsborough, which we had already passed. Torksey is a couple of hours from West Stockwith, and it's three or four more to Cromwell and the end of the tidal section. In contrast to our last visit, the pontoon below the lock was empty, so we tied up with a sigh of relief. The lockkeeper was as friendly and helpful as before, and is keeping an eye on Chertsey for us now, as we have come home to raid the heap of spare parts. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Having ruled out dirty fuel or some other cause of fuel starvation, we were casting around for ideas of who we might ask for help - we'd already tried a couple of people recommended by the lockie, but they were either too busy or didn't want to get involved with an old engine. Then I had a flash of inspiration - Hairy Neil! Wasn't he relatively local... So I rang him to ask if he had any ideas and as he started asking pertinent questions about the problem, I remembered that he was a lorry mechanic as well as having lots of boating experience. Within an hour, he and his mate Paul were there, and not much later, had identified the problem. At this point it looked pretty dire, a new shaft to be made along with various bearings/bushes, and large scale dismantling of the engine to fit it. So, as it was getting dark, we shrugged and went to the pub. I had been looking forward to trying the White Swan's legendary steak pies, as a consolation prize, and while they were perfectly nice, and very welcome, they didn't quite live up to the billing of being out of this world. A minor quibble though; a pie, chips and peas apiece for the four of us, a few pints of Black Sheep, and a log fire, and we were soon feeling more positive. Despite the fact that we still have to be through Fradley Middle lock by November 7th!
Yesterday morning was bright and breezy again as we awoke on the deserted pontoon. Our forays from Clayworth to Retford stood us in good stead when I saw on the bus timetable helpfully displayed at the lock that we could get a bus from Torksey to Gainsborough, as I knew there was one from Gainsborough to Clayworth. We were ready in time to catch the 11.40, which connected faultlessly with the 12.35, and we were back in Clayworth by half past one. I've moaned about buses in the past but this was a most enjoyable journey, and only £2.60 for each leg - longer distances seem to be much better value.
So now we are home, and hopeful that we have a spare, in good condition, of the whole assembly, which might hopefully mean less dismantling. There were other spares too, in even worse condition than the one that's just gone. We now have to wait to get a new woodruff key made for it then it will be back up to Torksey as soon as we an to try, with Neil's help, to fit it, reset the timing, and test it by launching ourselves back onto the tidal Trent. Maybe we'll leave it a year or so after all before we come back.
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All hail the British weather!
3 hours ago