Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Heath Robinson School of Engineering

A friend of mine who frequents the Hole Making Shop is also a liveaboard boater who moors upriver in Cambridge.

He loves a chat, and one day, as I was drifting about No 6 shed's R&D bench, we stopped for a natter.

Turns out he had been sold a reconditioned engine for his boat by someone who had removed the old engine, taken his money, then buggered off leaving both engines on the bank.....

It's a long story............

My chum is self-confessedly clueless about all matters mechanical, but was clearly in some distress. He had been engineless for some weeks. Someone else had been along and told him a load of fibs about the 'new' engine being unsuitable as it was petrol (it wasn't:........I have yet to see a petrol engine with diesel injectors.....), but not to worry, they'd re-fit his old one for him and take the 'new' one away........

Time to call in The Royal Engineers!

My friend Mark, who is in the Corps, kindly visited the boat, had a look at the engine, declared the old one scrap and the new one viable, and offered our services to a) get it off the bank and into the engine room, and b) get it plumbed in, wired up and working.

Yesterday was the day for executing part a) of the plan.

The title of this post is in no way a reflection on the skills of The Engineers!

Rather the reverse, in fact.

The job was made very challenging by several factors. It was a Bank Holiday, (the only day for a while when we were all available), so all Plant Hire shops etc were closed for the duration.

This meant we had to lift a BMC 1.8 diesel with no crane......

How did we do it?

Well, I could tell you but then I'd have to shoot you.

No, actually, I wouldn't. :-)

The engine was slid off the trailer it had been sat on for months onto a dolly that I'd picked up from Milton Tip ages ago on the grounds that it 'might come in handy one day'. (Wives and partners in the "What Do You Want That Thing For?" Society, please take note.....)

The wheels of the dolly were in rails formed by two substantial RSJ I-beams I acquired from work some time ago, then hid from Jackie in my friend Jane's back garden. ( WDYWTTF members, see ibid.....) This meant rolling it up the gradient from the bank to the back deck was relatively easy.

It then started to get a bit involved, not to say tricky....

I had thought to take some photos but fortunately, I forgot the camera.

('Fortunately' because the improvised lifting gear involved the two RSJ's, some substantial baulks of timber, a borrowed chain hoist and a bent pin - that's pin: mooring, not pin: safety)

I think the Health and Safety Executive would have been most displeased, but we did a full risk assessment:

John: "Reckon that'll hold?"

Mark: "Yeah, it'll be alreet"

And so it was.

Though there's a good chance any photographic evidence might have had us up for a Darwin Award, it wasn't nearly as skoshey as it looked, I promise!

Further problems were that the person or persons who removed the old engine had done so by grinding through the welds of the channel sections to which the mounting blocks attached.

No, we couldn't work out why either......

Oh, and the engine didn't come with a flexible drive coupling, and the one on the old engine had been completely mullahed by the trained chimps who took the old engine out.

Anyway, this meant that by 17:30, (we arrived at 09:30 sharp....) we'd gone about as far as we could: the replacement engine is in the engine bay, but not connected up or indeed attached to the boat.

I am going to ring round mobile welders in Cambridge and get some quotes for re-attaching the channel sections, but the welding itself can't be done until we've sourced a proper-job flexible drive coupling.

Anyone got any suggestions as to which one's best?

Once the drive is nicely lined up and shimmed to a thou-or-so of perfection.....( ! ), we'll get the welder in to nail it all down.

Then I need to find an Alternator for a marinised BMC 1.8.

Again, any suggestions as to which is best for my friend's needs?: He's a full time liveaboard, so I was thinking 110 amp, but there's a further snag: he's on a tiny pension and the ne'er-do-wells who got him into this mess have used up most of his spare cash. I was thinking, then, a good used car alternator from the local scrappy would get him some sparks for very little outlay. Anyone got any better ideas?

As for the prop, well, we're just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that when it's all up and running, the boat will glide serenely through the water at tickover revs without a trace if cavitation........

To be Continued...............!


  1. Hi John,

    Last time I needed a new alternator for Innocenti I went to a specialist starters-and-alternators place. I'd recommend it, but it's in Wakefield... I dare say that would find you somewhere similar that's more local.

    Beware that fitting a large alternator (Marelli 110A in my case) to a BMC engine block can cause you trouble with tensioning the fan belt, as the body of the alternator fouls the injector pipes. This was the root cause of nearly all Innocenti's engine problems!

    1. Thanks Mike! I'll bear that in mind! I think a trip to the auto-dismantlers at the exquisitely named Grunty Fen may be in order..... :-)