An Eventful Two Days at Northolt

On the morning of Sunday 12th June we left our mooring in Little Venice to return home to Yardley Gobion. Overnight it had rained and it was drizzly. Just before moving off I noted that I couldn't pin back the engine room door - the door bolt wouldn't fit in the same hole. It looked like the small instrument panel on the side of the engine had moved, or perhaps the door had moved on its hinges. Both explanations didn't hold water but I was at a loss to understand what had happened. We decided to move off and everything appeared to be OK.

After some time Maggie travelling came to the helm to say she thought I was moving quickly because the engine was noisy. She also pointed out that the speed-wheel appeared to be further along the threaded rod than normal. I began to think about the symptoms and then realised that I had probably got something around the propellor and was using more power than normal - although not enough to cause black smoke and other classic  problems. I eventually pulled over just after Alperton close to Northolt and I set about the weed-hatch. I had indeed picked up a load of the usual city rubbish - plastic bags, weed and rope all it a tightly tangled mass. It was quite bad and enough to cause the engine to labour. We then relaxed for a while, had lunch and then prepared set off down the cut.

It was then we realised things had gone "pear-shaped" in a big way! As I put the boat in forward gear the engine moved alarmingly and the exhaust rocked violently. Quite simply the engine was loose. I looked over the engine, tightened some of the bolts holding the engine to its frame and then tried again with the same result. A close inspection of the front right engine mount revealed the problem - the mount was cracked in half! We were going nowhere!

I called up River Canal Rescue and they promised an engineer in around 40 minutes. We were not close to a road so I walked up the towpath to the nearest bridge around the allotted time to hear my mobile phone ringing and to meet an RCR engineer ringing me! It was like a Dr Livingstone moment - we were only 5 metres away from each other. The engineer, John Wood, came to the boat and, looking at the engine mount, he suggested we limp on tick up to a bridge close to High Line Yachting's Northolt base. He then set about investigating the problem, Various ancillary engine gear required removal (mostly the fuel injection system) but soon the broken engine mount was off. It was broken in two places - right through the metal (an old fracture) and along the weld (which was of poor quality).

Front right engine mount in three pieces

It appeared that the mount had been broken along the old fracture for some time and the recent "stuff around the prop" had finally caused the bracket weld to fail. Phil Lizius of Longboat Engineering confided to me over the phone that he had seen this sort of thing happen around 4 or 5 times with Rustons. At this point I thought we were looking at leaving the boat in London and were were due for an expensive (slow) repair job. However, John from RCR just shrugged his sholders and declared that he would get home and repair it - "after all I was trained in metal fabrication".

And that's what he did. Monday morning John turned up with a re-fabricated bracket painted in red oxide. It looked the part. Installation was not quite as straightforward as the removal (then it never is); it was particularly difficult because of the need to move the heavy engine back into place. It was at this point when I realised that all the little symptoms I had ignored (see first paragraph) were because of a loose engine. John quickly found that not only had the front right mount broken but also the rear right - although only along the main weld. This meant another session in the workshop with the welder. Later that the evening John arrived with the second refurbished mount and after jacking up the engine with a scissor jack he got both mounts fitted in place.

The first test was "does the door pin back?" - yes! He then had to refit the fuel system and finally we ran up the engine - well after 9:30 PM. It ran sweetly immediately and with less vibration than it has had for years - maybe since we got Albert back in 2003. The large crack in the front engine mount may have been there for a long time and it was not noticed because it acted a bit like a ball and socket in a hip joint with the weight of the engine holding it in place but allowing it to vibrate.

The refurbished engine mounts (red oxide)

The whole episode was a credit to RCR. John was great in diagnosing the problems and sorting out a repair. We were on our way again on the Tuesday morning with a quieter engine producing less vibration.

It was whilst at Northolt I noticed that John was featured in the latest Towpath Telegraph as a new recruit. We have passed on how pleased we were with the way John handled our breakdown - he was brilliant.

John Wood featured recruit to RCR

So what of Northolt itself. Moored up near the centre of the old village we found it had lots of facilities, some very pleasant parkland (Belvue Park) and importantly a good pub (The Crown) right in the centre of the village green. We had Monday lunch there and enjoyed it. There are certainly worse places to breakdown and it is certainly suitable for an overnight stop.

One of  the four Northala artificial hills that are visible from Northolt's Belvue Park
The hills are from rubble from the old Wembley Stadium!