Perch – Ex-British Waterways Narrowboat Restoration
In this post, we will showcase a narrowboat restoration. Our workboat Perch was originally build in 1976 for British Waterways to service the navigation. After being removed from service maintaining the canals, Perch was left unused in a tidal river. We bought Perch in Spring 2016 as we began to set up our co op.
Craning a Narrowboat
For our narrowboat restoration project, We craned Perch out at Kecksy’s Farm, Sawbridgeworth. This boatyard offers on land hardstanding places for boat repairs. Before the craning took place, we were unsure about the actual condition of Perch’s hull as we had no survey. We knew we would need to do work on the boat’s hull. Perch had been kept on a tidal river with an open cargo hold. There had been easily a decade of constant water ingress. There was visible pitting and corrosion on the inside of the hull in the cabin bilges and we could infer that the rest of the hull would be in a worse state.
We asked Colin Mallard South Dip. Mar. Sur. MIIMS, a well respected boat surveyor, to survey the hull and tell us the bad news. Colin advised us that there was serious corrosion across all of the hull which had previously been below the waterline, and would need fully overplating.
Cleaning The Hull
We cleaned up the hull, ready for welding to begin. This involved removing all rust, dirt, old overplating, limescale mechanically and with a sandblaster. We hired a sandblaster from a neighbouring boatyard to prepare the hull. The sandblaster saved us a great deal of time, the alternative would have been using a wire brush cup ion an angle grinder or a Tercoo blaster to clean the old bitumen off the hull.
Cargo Hold Bilge
The Perch has an open front cargo hold, used for transporting materials to and from worksites when the boat was in use by British Waterways. It was in a poor condition, having been open top the elements since the boat was built. There were several layers of old paint and bitumen, the previous maintenance had been done according to what materials were at hand rather than by what was best for the boat.
Floating Boatyard stripped the bilge mechanically with an angle grinder and wirebrush cup. This was very laborious but was the best way to get the steel clean and ready for a coat of Teamac Metachlor primer. After we applied this, we used a chlorinated rubber paint for our bilge. This kind of paint is extremely hardwearing, much more so than usual bilge paint. As the cargo hold is open to the elements it will constantly be exposed to rain and dirt from our working activities. Ordinary bilge paint, while excellent for engine and cabin bilges, would not be able to keep the hull protected under these conditions. We wanted to be confident that after this narrowboat restoration was complete, we would be able to use and abuse the boat as a workboat for many years to come.
Engine Bilge Restoration
The engine bilge was not in the worst condition, we often see much worse. It did however need a thorough clean and then repainting. The existing coat was already beginning to flake and show rust. It is vital that the engine bilge is completely clean before repainting, as any paint applied on top of oil or grease will not hold. The engine itself was in good condition, it is a Lister SR2 and to this day, runs beautifully.
Bow and Stern Deck Painting
The bow and stern deck painting also needed fully restoring. The decks are made from checkerplate steel. This is very functional for a workboat, as it is hardwearing and gives excellent grip in wet and icy conditions. Checkerplate is also very difficult to strip for painting when doing narrowboat restoration. The crossways pattern means that you are unable to use a continuous motion with the tool you are working with. We also recommend knee pads while stripping paint from this kind of surface. The raised pattern becomes very painful to kneel on after a short amount of time.
Diesel Tank Restoration
During many narrowboat restoration projects, there are certain corners which are often overlooked. The engine bilge is especially prone to rust and neglect between the tank and the swim plate it sits on . When restoring Perch we removed the tank entirely, stripped it and repainted it. We also refurbished the original diesel gauge, which is a nice feature.
Flooring Plank Refurbishment
Replacement flooring planks had been fitted at some point by the previous owner. As part of our narrowboat restoration project, we wanted to make sure that these planks would stay in good condition for many years to come. We pressure washed years of grime off them, and left them to dry out. We then applied a very hardwearing wood treatment.
Andy of Heavy Metal Welding, based in Kecksy’s Farm, Sawbridgeworth took the lead on the overplating of Perch. We cut the steel sheets to size and bent them where necessary, ready to be welded onto the boat. We took all the millscale of the new steel, as we wanted to apply Coflex blacking. Coflex (sadly no longer available) is much more hardwearing than standard blacking. We felt that after embarking on this big narrowboat restoration project, it would be a waste not to use the best blacking we could find.
Floating Boatyard fabricated deck covers for the front of the boat. This is to increase storage space and also give us a platform from which to work on other boats. These are checkerplate steel, and we can lift these to get access to the cargo hold below.
Boat Painting – the final touch to our Narrowboat Restoration
Finally, boat painting is one of the most visually rewarding parts of any narrowboat restoration. Once the hull overplating was completed and the bilges were complete, we could give the finishing touch to Perch. We stripped back the cabin to steel, and applied primer, undercoats and topcoat to the cabin, gunwales and decks.