Motor Cruising on the Thames by Geoffrey Essenn (1951)

I picked up a copy of this slim (80 page) volume recently for just over £3.00. The forward states that it is not a guide to the Thames, although it does contain useful cruising information, but a “miscellany of facts … based, originally on the author’s recollection of what he wanted to know when first using the river.” This makes it a curious book full of singular tips for boaters. It refers to the popularity Thames boating in the immediate post-war years and is full of information that now appears to belong to a bygone age. It is very much a book of its time.


The book contains some stylised maps of the river with the location of locks, bridges and services that include petrol, Calor Gas and Bottogas (what happened to that brand?). Appendices include a list of shopping places with early closing days (remember them?), the location of sewage and refuse disposal, and rather usefully a list of railway stations close to the river.

Typical map of the river

Some important mooring locations
note that dairies are shown

One of the features of the book is the chauvinist comments on boat handling made by the author. Essenn refers to frayed ropes as being Irishman’s pennants, and to towels hung on deck-rails as "flapping in the wind like a French warship". The First Aid kit is recommended to contain a pair of scissors which you “shouldn’t let your wife borrow” and he refers to the stern of a boat when manoeuvring as “swinging like women walking”!

In terms of dated information, costs are obviously one area that provides some interest. The annual licence for a 30-40 ft boat cost £7 in 1951, but there were also lock tolls. A season’s lock pass for all locks cost £15 for a 30-40 ft boat but you could pay less by using getting a pass for certain numbers of locks. Essenn estimates that mooring at a boat yard could cost up to 12/6d per week.

Although you get the impression that the galley is not his forte, Esseen does have a chapter on Domestic Economy. He recommends that you don’t take too many tinned foods (bulky & heavy) and recommends that a water-evaporation refrigerator (Kepkold) is used. He recommends putting beer in a bucket lowered into the river to cool it. He also suggests that spare milk bottles are kept on board because new bottles are not usually supplied to strangers; obviously a shortage of glass bottles.

War-time related references include mention of the need to take ration books and identity cards, and that an ex-army gas cape could keep you dry if it rained. Biscuits could be kept in ex-army small arms munitions tins which with rubber seals cost 2/6d. Chemical toilets are mentioned but there is an intriguing reference to an electric toilet which works by electrolysis and requires salt to be added to the contents.

For some strange reason Essenn provides drawings for a handy refuse bucket that can be fitted to a galley locker door. He refers to electric lights (I can remember caravans at this time using gas mantles) but he warns against leaving them on too long. To start a petrol engine he usefully points out that you could use torch batteries to supply power to the coil and hand cranking. There is no mention at all of diesel power.

Important cruiser equipment (in 1951)

An intriguing passage is that where Essenn describes how to recover from going aground. If all else fails he recommends a crew member getting into the water and pushing off from the bows. In the charming diagram used to illustrate this technique it looks like a female member that is carrying this out!

How to free a cruiser that has run aground!

All in all, this little somewhat idiosyncratic book provides a fascinating glimpse into boating at a time of national austerity.

Working Boat Images

The weather was great last weekend at the Stoke Bruerne boat gathering so I had an opportunity to take photos of the working boat line-up. I like the light and shade in the tunnel cutting when there is bright sunshine.

FMC Butty Vienna and (presumably) motor Kestrel

FMC Motor Owl

GUCCo motor Stanton

Images of icebreaker Pelican and an unknown vintage wooden cruiser

Erewash CCCo motor Cyprus

FMC motor Plover

Images of FMC motor Clover

Images of FMC butty Fazeley

Archimedes & Ara

At the recent Stoke Bruerne boat gathering the small Woolwich motor and butty pair of Archimedes and Ara demonstrated locking techniques. Operated by the Candle Bridge Carrying Company they looked the part, particularly being heavily laden. The photos below say it all.

Mike Partridge aboard Archimedes

Ron Whithy talking to the steerer

The Candle Bridge web site, which is only partially functioning, has some intriguing images of their boats receiving sign writing. It will be interesting to view it when it gets up and running.

Pirates of the Grand Union

In an effort to raise money for the Canal Museum at last weekend's boat gathering at Stoke Bruerne, the Royalty Class boat George was dressed up as a pirate ship, complete with a figure head. The crew were certainly in character (mostly Johnny Depp) and the effects they used were certainly eye catching. We happened to be in the right spot, by the top lock, to witness their assault.

It started with a load bang (a bird scarer) and continued with an awful lot of smoke from flares. The fiddler playing "devilish music" from the improvised crows nest completed the scene. All good fun and certainly attractive for the young families enjoying the sunshine.

Entrance of the pirates!

NB George as a pirate ship

I hope the rattling of tins produced significant amounts of cash. The pirates, on the boat and along the towpath, certainly worked hard enough. When one approached us, after we had just given, he gave the excellent retort - "but you haven't given to someone quite as charismatic as me!"

Well done pirates.

Victoria - Royalty Class Narrowboat

Having a boat called Albert we naturally keep our eyes peeled for boats called Victoria. We were very pleased in April to meet the Yarwoods-built Royalty Class boat Victoria travelling south near Winkwell towards Little Venice for the Canal Cavalcade. She looked very smart in her new Associated Canal Carrier's paint scheme. I presumed it was based that shown on page 51 of Edward Paget-Tomlinson's book Colours of the Cut.

Well last weekend we went to the Canal Museum Boat Gathering at Stoke Bruerne. Towards the end of Saturday afternoon Victoria appeared from Blisworth tunnel and I was able to take more pictures of her new paint scheme. I also talked briefly (during locking) to her steerer. It appears that the signwriting was carried out by Phil Spheight and they think that the framing of the panels as shown in Colours of the Cut is not quite right and have used a bright yellow. However, whatever the merits of the arguments about colours, I think the heavy Victorian scrolling and idiosyncratic location of the name Victoria looks first rate.

Victoria arriving at the Bruerne boat gathering
(having a last minute brass polish)

Victoria's side panels

Bob Westlake, from Yardley Gobion, managed to take a number of photos of Victoria at last year's Stoke Bruerne Boat gathering. Thanks to him I can show "before and after" images.

Victoria, before transformation, 2009 Stoke Bruerne boat gathering
(courtesy Bob Westlake)

Ruston & Hornsby 2YWM

When looking through past postings a few days ago I realised that, although I have often mentioned Albert’s classic-styled engine and I gave some brief details when starting blogging in 2005, I have yet to post about the background to the engine, its design and our experience of operating it.

Ruston & Hornsby 2YWM Mk V

On the cut, despite the Ruston badge on the pigeon box and the Ruston & Hornsby plaque on the engine room wall, I often get asked if it’s a Russell Newbery, a Lister, or occasionally a Gardner. Those interested in narrowboat engines, but not enthusiasts, appear to be generally more familiar with those marques than R&H.

The Ruston & Hornsby Company was based in Lincoln and had a long history that can be traced back to the earliest developments of the diesel engine. Its predecessor company, Richard Hornsby Ltd., which operated from 1828 until 1918, developed the Akroyd Stuart oil engine which could be argued to be the true starting point for modern diesel engine; its development in Britain pre-dated the Rudolf Diesel patent. As someone who lives near Milton Keynes I find it interesting that Hornsby’s first heavy oil engines were built in Fenny Stratford and installed at a pumping station at nearby Great Brickhill, both locations close to the Grand Union.

So what of the lineage of the 2YWM? According to Ray Hooley, who worked for many years as librarian for Ruston and continues collecting and restoring their old products, Ruston produced a wide range of engines but between the wars they identified a gap in the market for smaller vertical “high-speed” diesel engines. As a result they joined with Lister, the leaders in this field, and produced an engine under joint production, the well-known 'JP'. Ruston produced the larger components while Lister produced the smaller. From this experience Ruston soon produced high-speed diesels wholly of their own design. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Ruston Y series is quite similar to Lister engines, particularly the JP. The Y series has water-cooled (YW) and air-cooled (YA) versions. The first figure quoted in the model number is the number of cylinders, the M was added to denote marine use. Ruston engines were widely exported and production of many smaller engines was “off-shored” to India where they were used to power irrigation pumps and generator sets. Manufacturing in India was based in Bombay (now Mumbai) by Ruston & Hornsby (India) Ltd. From what I can gather from Ray Hooley’s web site, production of the 2YW series ceased at Lincoln around 1968 with the Mk2 version, but production in India continued up to the Mk 5. It is similar to the story of Morris Minor production.

Through various amalgamations and sales, by the late 1990s the Ruston & Hornsby trademarks had become part of the MAN Diesel Group in Germany. By then Ruston & Hornsby (India) Ltd had become part of the Greaves Cotton engineering conglomerate that were still building and selling the Y series. Ever vigilant over protecting their trademarks, MAN stopped the use of the Ruston & Hornsby name on products they did not manufacture. As a result from the late 90s the 2YWM had to be sold as a Greaves product. This is despite the fact that the engines still carried R&H identifications, particularly on castings. Today the main contact for the 2YWM and similar “R&H” engines in the UK is Phil Lizius of Longboat Engineering near Blisworth. Phil carries all the spares required for the YW series (and many more) and would love to import more complete engines, if he could only get Greaves to produce them.

The Engine
Albert’s engine is a Ruston & Hornsby 2YWM MkV a two-cylinder vertical water-cooled engine which was manufactured in India, probably in the late 1980s. It was sold by KE Jones (Steam Cruising) to the first owner of Albert, Mike Hurd, in 1994. Supplied with the engine was a 1985 parts list and a 1982 operator’s manual, both of which I find invaluable. The serial number is 21510200142. The engine was supplied complete with a PRM 160 gearbox with a 2:1 reduction. It has Mico (i.e. Bosch in India) direct fuel injection and is fitted with two alternators; a Bosch 90A to supply the domestic batteries which is driven by an oversized pulley, and a 35A driven by the original pulley system to charge to engine start battery.

Belt drive for domestic alternator; the chain is for the hand-start

The engine is keel-cooled using a non-pressurised system (open header tank) with water circulated via the centrifugal pump (automotive style) as supplied with the engine. The engine has a Bowman oil cooler and a raised hand start. The engine capacity is two litres and she has a heavy flywheel – just try turning her over by hand!

There is a hefty CAV electric start motor operated from the engine-mounted control panel. The panel, which I remade in brass, has an hour-meter, water temperature gauge, ignition switch, oil pressure gauge and a large diameter mechanical tachometer driven from the crankshaft. The tachometer has a built-in hour-meter which reads in equivalent hours at 1,000 rpm operation; the rated speed of the engine. The power is rated as 15 BHP at 1,000 rpm but peak toque occurs at 1,800 rpm. Maximum power is about 24 BHP. The Newage PRM 160 gearbox drives a straight propeller shaft to a standard stern tube with greaser and Crowther 22” x 16” propeller.

Control of the engine is via rods to a speed wheel and a forward-reverse lever at the steering position. There is also a remote engine stop lever. This makes for three brass rods connecting to the engine. In addition there are two brass tubes, one acting as a barrier to avoid the control rods being used as support when walking through the cabin and the other carrying the capillary connection to the water temperature gauge mounted in the pigeon box on the engine room roof.

Control rods

Alongside the roof-mounted water gauge is a large oil pressure gauge. Both read in Imperial units (PSI and degrees Fahrenheit). Oil pressure is invariably steady at 20 psi and water temperature when cruising is in the range 80-100 degrees F.

Pigeon box and roof-mounted gauges

The exhaust is roof mounted close to the pigeon box. A standard lagged silencer is mounted above the engine and I have a selection of exhaust pipes. The normal 2 ft high pipe has a hinged break-back to cope with the inevitable encounter with passing trees. It has a brass cutter which is vital to avoid scouring the debris from tunnel roofs – the exhaust is quite powerful. We once went through Blisworth Tunnel without the cutter in place. The boat roof and I got fully coated in a mixture of soot (residue from the days of tunnel steam tugs) and debris from the tunnel roof. Occasionally, particularly on rivers such as the Nene, a fixed short pipe is used to enable us to easily get under low bridges.

Engine installation

Using the engine
The 2YWM is definitely simple to operate. Although it has high compression (40:1) its large starter motor usually turns over the engine quite rapidly and once primed, it fires up readily. After a long period without use I decompress the cylinders and use the hand-start to turn over the engine. This gets the oil moving and appears to help firing-up. However, for normal starts it usually fires-up after one revolution. My only start failures to date have been when I have left the engine-stop lever out. It is spring-loaded but sometimes sticks.

As supplied, normal engine tick-over is about 500 rpm but a spring loaded system fitted to the engine stop mechanism, has been added which allows tick-over to be reduced to around 400 rpm. Canal cruising is usually at about 600 rpm and river cruising is at around 750 rpm. The power available has been more than adequate to cope with the Thames Tideway and crossing the tidal Great Ouse to Denver Sluice.

The sound of the engine underway is quite memorable – basically it thumps. I often get complements from the towpath. Once at Great Heywood I got “that’s a lovely sound – I could listen to it all day”, to which I replied “I do!” Stopping using reverse is not like a modern designed engine, particularly since Albert displaces around 22 tons, but there is ample power available; you just have to think lon enough ahead. The only drawback with the 2YWM is that after a period waiting in locks at tick-over the exhaust can smoke. Like most diesels the2YWM likes being under load and working somewhere near its design speed. Certainly on rivers the exhaust is very clean.

Because we use an Adverc battery management system, the morning period when the domestic batteries are being charged at high current means the engine noticeably works harder. You can hear the change in engine note, as the management system cuts in and out.

I keep an engine log so I can check on oil and fuel consumption. Fuel consumption is, on average, 1.25 l/hour and oil consumption is at the moment low. I regularly service the engine based on the “real” hour meter, not the mechanically-driven equivalent. At the moment the engine has just short of 2,500 hours on the clock; we have put on about 1,500.

Do I like the 2YWM and would I recommend it to other boaters? Well the answer is yes to both. It sounds right, looks good, feels good and is easy to operate. What more would you want from a classic-styled engine.

New keb (weed rake)

In June 2007, at the Stoke Bruerne boat gathering, we got Denis Fellows, the travelling blacksmith, to make a keb for us out of an old garden fork. It worked quite well. I noted in a posting in August of that year that I first used it at Someton Deep Lock on the Oxford Canal. Three years later I used it at the same location to remove a very large clump of floating weeds but it broke. Not only had the handle snapped but the iron fixing had corroded away making it terminal failure - to use technical term.

I consider that they are handy tools, particularly on weedy rivers such as the Nene. Often weeds collect just above locks creating problems operating gates and causing propeller fouling. I searched the net to find a replacement, and via a handy WRG document describing canal restoration tools, I found that kebs or weed rakes are also called drag manure rakes. This led me (via Google)to a tool site which had one made by the famous hand tool maker Spear & Jackson for £22.

Our new keb (or manure/weed rake)

It came complete with 6ft smart profiled handle that looks the part. I made a protective holder to avoid the fork prongs damaging the boat roof or being a trip hazard and we are now "back in business". The web can be remarkable when you know what questions to ask search engines.