... ... ... Seven years in an unassuming narrowboat on the waters of the "longest, friendliest village in England"  

The Real Deal ... ... avoid buying a pup AND a dog at the same time as a pig in a poke


I once was told that 36' Springers were originally built with a "5mm" steel hull. They weren't! Not ever!

As of Friday 13th Jan 2012, I am obliged to Ray Smith at the "JustCanals" forum for the following:

"Most of the early 1972/5 Springers ... were 3/16" [plate]

Some were done in 1/8th plate

("cruiser" style V hull without a fore-deck).

[Ray] had one of these new in 1975."

Note that "cruiser" means what it meant in 1975, basically a 'sea-worthy' leisure boat in steel. Back in the day, most leisure canal boats were actually trailerable cruisers or cut'n'shut commercial adaptations. Sam was a formidable innovator and attempted to produce a steel boat that could be used like a cruiser. To keep the weight down he used 1/8" imperial steel plate, which was perfectly legal at a time when galvanic corrosion was not fully appreciated. Sam would try anything but always erred on the right side.1/8" imperial is actually 3.175mm 

Pentargon has a cruiser stern and [almost] no fore-deck. She is  skinned in 3/16"imperial plate right up to the gunnels! I had the transverse sole plates (landlubbers say floorboards!) lifted during 2012 to remove almost a metric tonne of concrete paving slabs as part of a re-ballasting exercise and had some random ultrasound testing done from INSIDE. All the returns were in the order of 4.75mm

Ten years previously in 2002, the [then current] owners decided to do a '20' year survey, based on [erroneous] advice that the boat was a late '70s build. (It was actually built in 1973) They were 'advised' that the wetted hull was 'iffy', and they should have it 'bottomed'. This tidbit, gleaned during early enquiries, became the major factor in my decision to proceed with a survey. The yard where the steel-work was undertaken was deemed to have a 'reliable' reputation and if I was ready for libel it would now be named. What they did was 'shoddy' 'slipshod' 'opportunistic' and it would be reasonable to describe the principals as 'downright rogues'. My lips are sealed as to who buggered up a simple job in the most stupid way possible.

 The Real Deal ...  ...WHAT INSURERS REQUIRE

For comprehensive insurance, a narrowboat needs to show a minimum skin thickness of 4mm.all over the 'wetted surface' and this is to be demonstrated by an ultrasound device which has been calibrated and certified and used by a tester certified to use the said device. A single pit-mark down even 1mm, if found, must be brought up to show 4mm+ on ultrasound. This is why you can find "nominal" sheet thicknesses described as 8/6/5, 8mm being the bottom, 6mm being the sides and 5mm being above gunnel height. It is simply insurance against subsequent pitting, caused by Galvanic Corrosion, Owner Stupidity or Skipper Naivety. (Two of those three invariably go hand-in-hand).

In the case of Springers, numbers like 5/4/3 are often quoted but are rarely found and when they are, it usually turns out they are springer replicas. Sam Springer was a master of ingenuity and a secret of his "mass" production was to minimise steel and then add ballast to bring down the Centres of Gravity and Buoyancy. Sam's original gasworks sheets (that story, by the way, is total fiction but never let truth get in the way of a good story) were less than 5mm because Sam used imperial measures back in 1973.  Pentargon's original bottom would have been less than 5mm from new because Sam's 3/16" is 4.75mm. 3/16" was a real measurement not a nominal one.

 Come 2002 and the numbers coming from the surveyor for Pentargon's wetted hull were alleged to be showing possible and slight breaches in the 4mm defence. There was no evidence that the 4mm minimum had been breached, just that the gougers said they found readings close to 4mm. The then owner, a careful and trusting soul, decided that patching was asking for trouble and, I'd have agreed. But, in hindsight he really should have done nothing. Sam Springer's 3/16" steel sheet is well over 4mm on Pentargon to this day ... seventeen years on from the botch up and 46yrs after she was built. In the surveying methodology, ultrasound picks up only the nearest layer of steel. It 'ignores' what may be underneath. The previous owner fell for the most basic bit of roguery on the cut: doing work that was patently not needed and I'll bet he got charged an arm and at least one leg for it.


Like any decent gentleman, he left the work in the hands of a 'reputable' yard to do the "necessary"!! You don't need a degree in rocket science to figure that sheeting in 4mm sheet would not make much sense, because you would be starting off at the minimum acceptable. However, if you were then told that 4mm is 'nominal' and understood that to mean 'in name only' " you'd be right. Industry standards allow an almost unbelievable 10% margin on reality. Imagine going out to buy a litre of milk and 'legally' receiving 900mls.

With deadly accurate rollers, 4mm sheets can and do extrude to 3.71mm. That Indian multi-billionaire steel-man wot put up that funny metal tower in Stratford for the Olympics got rich not on 3.71mm he actually sold but on the 0.29mm that he did NOT sell but got paid for. 3.71 reality is priced at 4mm nominal. You won't find that kind of shite going on at the Waitrose cheese counter. They weigh the cheese and only then put it in the bag. Check out their Sharpham Savour by the way. To die for! If only marinas, canal-side fabricators and canal dry-docks worked the same way.


But what about a yard that patches the undersides of Pentargon with 4mm nominal, albeit with large patches that stretch as far as the protruding stringers? That's what was found at my survey. Nothing else had mattered to me other than that the hull under water be sound. Nothing else would be questioned. Ultrasound had to return the numbers, impossible in the circumstances and by definition as it transpired. It's the way the test works. 

Even though surveyor and purchaser both knew there was good steel under the 'patches' we both knew that the surveyor (who is one of the best in the country) had to work to the standards imposed by his licence.


I invoked the get-out clause and got-out.

Down £1000 and nothing to show ...


Survey day Plus two

In my favour now was the fact that Pentargon was unsaleable. Since it had been correctly and fully surveyed and certified as uninsurable, the broker was stuck with it and the seller would have been mad to get salted for a second time by making her saleable. However she was sailable. Once 3rd party insurance was in place the boat could be sailed away. BSS has no interest whatever in the hull and such things and Saga Insurance was not worried either.

Since 1973, most of Pentargon's wetted hull had held onto all of it's 3/16" steel and the original skin passed my surveyor's ultrasound in 2012 where-ever he found it. It was the 4mm nominal put on at .. OOOOPS .. in 2002 which failed it, by definition. The boat could continue sailing for maybe another 25 years just by re-doing the prow which showed signs of softening under the surveyor's hammer. I'd have fixed the prow anyway.  

But I could never sell Pentargon with or without a clear conscience to some dope. It might even be 3rd party un-insurable at some future date. It was a gamble and I needed at least 24hrs to gauge the odds. I'd spent £1000 thus far and dedicated at least ten days and hundreds of diesel miles on Pentargon ... I needed to focus my thinking overnight; luckily, I've lived on the balls of my feet for most of my life. 

After letting the brokers stew awhile, I came back and told them I was willing to take Pentargon 'as was' at  half my previous offer. Remember I'm out £1K for the survey and pull-out. They huffed and puffed, trying to raise the ante but I stuck fast and they caved in. On MY terms. Pentargon became 'mine' subject only to the clearing of a cheque, which eventually happened some 13days later on Thursday 26th January 2012 and then only because of my applying irresistible pressure.

Canaltime works unerringly on all facets of in-activity on the cut.

I went to Welton Hythe Marina on Friday 27th January at 3pm, collected the keys and  drove out their front gate onto the Leicester arm. I had not even known how to start it, let alone drive it, and there was no-one there to help me. The staff had all been let home early, apart from the receptionist. I had to self-educate myself as the sun went down on a Winter afternoon just to get the bloody boat out of the marina. I couldn't wait to see the back of them. I found an isolator switch that enabled me to power the starter on the key. The boat had no electricity, no water, but it had some diesel. As soon as I got round the first corner, I practiced mooring and breasted up to a BW butty and then a proper mooring for the night in fading light. The marina never knew that just for trying to fool me, they had been comprehensively stroked. For under 6K all-up Pentargon was mine. They'd misjudged me because I look like a cretin, sound like a cretin, and act like a cretin. ... It's a major part of the magic of being Irish. 

addendum: It took from 1st Feb to late March to actually get Pentargon into dry dock and early April before work actually started. By mid April, the job was 'proceeding' inexorably but not yet finished. Pentargon eventually came out of dry dock at Hillmorton on Tue.7th May 2012, three months to the day after she was supposed to go in for ten days. The work done at Hillmorton by Paul was of the very highest standard and he can be recommended for any welding you will ever need. But the boat went in and came out if the dry dock a number of times during that three months, to make room for others booked in for blacking by guys who were erm cash rich and time poor."Canal Time" is NOT a fact of life on t'cut for these gentlefolk. They just pay their way around any time problem. Not so Pogue. In Irish "tomorrow" is 'amárach' .Kinda like the Spanish 'manyana' or the Cornish 'drekkley except that the Irish word conveys totally no sense of urgency. Canal time is beyond  'amárach'.