Life at the end of the road

November 28, 2016

Not yer typical Sunday :-)

I just do love Sundays at work, I guess cos it comes after Saturday, which is my least favourite day. I say ‘least favourite’ rather than the day I dislike cos on the whole they’re all pretty good. Sad as it may seem, I really do like my job, not because my life away from it is so dull, on the contrary, far from it. The work thing is often a good rest from the labours ‘on the croft’ or at least all the madness I get up to at home.

Sunday is the most laid back day of the week, a late start and early finish with a good space in between to catch up on drills plus maintenance.  Hot on the heels of ‘the longest day’, Sunday is always a joy and we’ve always got ‘the big breakfast’ to look forward to.

Of course my Sunday starts as soon as I get home on Saturday night after the late ferry, it’s usually after 22:00 and there’ll normally be a glass of wine waiting for me Smile My treat of the ‘working week’ is usually a fine glass or two of red that I’ve been dreaming of for almost a week. Well this Saturday night I had a surprise in store, not my usual ‘tipple’ but a beer specially brewed  for the Raasay Distillery and finished off in oak red wine casks.

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Raasay Brewing Co. Whisky Oak-Aged Beer

During the cake competition, some of our R&B team headed off to do a little exciting preparation work for the evening event. Raasay Brewing Company worked with Plockton Brewery to oak-age beer in a Raasay While We Wait red wine finishing cask – and newly bottled they needed labelling! 200 odd bottles later of ‘Groundwork’ we just had time for a quick drive up to Brochel Castle to take in the swiftly-changing view (hidden by magical mist one moment and sunny blue skies the next) before heading to the Isle of Raasay Distillery site for the ‘fire’ element of Whisky, Fire & Song.

R&B Chris Hoban labelling Raasay Brewing Co. & Plockton Brewery collaboration beer for Whisky, Fire & Song  Groundwork Beer by Raasay Brewing Co & Plockton Brewery for Whisky, Fire & Song 2016


Another thing I love about Sunday at this time of year is seeing a little daylight on the commute into work.

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True to the forecast it was a fine day.

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We had however a pretty full schedule of work over and above the usual drills. Checking inside the forepeak for one, even though it was just a ‘visual’ from above the space needed thoroughly ventilating first and checking for noxious gasses and of course oxygen.

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Then, after the boat and anchor drills it was the serious business of doing some work on Hallaig’s battery banks. A minor discrepancy had been picked up on the annual ‘health check’ which is when each of the 216 LiFePO4 modules is individually monitored for performance by the company that installed them, formally IMTECH but now called RH Marine Three of the batteries, modules as they call them were showing some minor discrepancies in their BMS (battery management system) cards. Whilst this was very simple to fix in theory, just a matter of removing the affected cards squeezing the terminals together and then applying some ‘contact paste’, it’s not so easy in practice.

Each battery needs to be removed, the card taken out repaired and then replaced. However, we are talking a nominal voltage here of 750VDC so isolation procedures, insulated tools, PPE and training are mandatory. As of course is careful planning and a risk assessment. So, after the ‘BIG BREAKFAST’ we had our ‘toolbox talk’ filled in the ‘permit to work’ and got on with it.


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The red gauntlet thing is a special tool for removing that big fuse, it’s an old picture with the black glove and long hair Smile  The latest ones are in the first picture, these have to be replaced every 6 months in case they degrade or crack.

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One of the three that had to come out was an end one and they’re a little tricky but once out it’s just a matter of carefully removing the cards one at a time and making the connections good again.


With that all done it was time to check the spare batteries we carry on board, first the meter is put on and the voltage noted, 13.34 so all good.

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Then just to make sure it’s not a spurious reading a headlamp bulb is put in circuit for 30 seconds and the meter observed. The voltage inevitably falls slightly but shouldn’t ‘collapse’ then when the load is removed it should rise again to very near the original reading. This it did, to 13.33 but I bet if I check it again tomorrow it’ll be back up to 13.34. These LiFePO4 spare batteries have never been charged in 3 years!!! That is an incredibly slow rate of ‘self discharge’, any other battery chemistry would be flat after 3 years ‘on the shelf’.


Well, once more my son got me to work on an untreated road without mishap, no thanks to ‘Highland Region’ though. He went off to school for the week and I started my last couple of days at work this shift. First job was to chop down a whole load of stainless steel M20 screws from 80mm to 40mm, methinks someone cocked up on the ordering Smile

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Trick is to put a nut on, set it to the right height then cut them with a 1mm thick cutting disc using the nut as a guide. Next debur with a file and clean with a wire brush. I was very proud of my ‘ten little soldiers’ but forgot to take a picture Smile

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The clam diving boat Auk was once more ‘picking away’ in the narrows, methinks it’s an Aquastar 40’ with an extended wheelhouse. A fine choice for a group of divers, stable, fast and comfy Smile

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This morning had us sampling some fine homemade black pudding from one of our customers. This will be from Cuddy and we were much impressed, there seems to be some fine black pudding makers here on Raasay. Calum Don, Andrew Palmer and Jessie Nicolson’s  are some of the few I’ve sampled but I’m certainly not going to start a war by passing verdict on here Smile Suffice to say they were all first class Smile

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Another of today’s jobs was replacing a thermal trip relay for a drive cooling pump. A simple enough job once it had been isolated and photographed so I could get the wires in the right place Smile

That’s it really, only one more day and I’ll be starting my ‘rest period’ as CalMac call it, aye right Smile

November 26, 2016

Just a typical week aboard :-)

Filed under: boats, daily doings, Trucks and plant — Tags: , , , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 7:20 pm

Well, I managed to get into work without any drama for the rest of the week, mainly on account of the temperature rising but also because the gritter arrived on Wednesday.

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A nice shiny Mercedes that made a splendid job on all the worst bits, they didn’t do the whole road right enough but I guess they only had so much salt on board and had to ‘eek’ it out. There are still no piles at the side of the road right enough and who knows when they’ll be back but it’s a start I suppose.

After Monday’s episode I must confess to not having slept so well that night for I had a dilemma, what to do about Tuesday morning! Sure, I was pretty confident I’d get down the road at the helm of the ‘Old Girl’, after all, I’ve some 15 years of experience in getting up and down that road, even when a snow plough and JCB couldn’t.

Thing is, my boy was going to accompany me once more and should I let him drive? Would he want to after Monday’s epic? Well a cold frosty morn greeted us as we departed at 6:00am and I nervously asked him if he wanted to drive, half hoping he wouldn’t. It was of course a superfluous question and brimming with confidence he jumped in. A touch more cautious and with invaluable experience under his belt he delivered me safely to the Hallaig and we sailed on time Smile

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It was a lovely morning indeed looking down towards The Moll and Scalpay at just after 8:00am, not that I saw a great deal of it as we’d a couple of engineers aboard.


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Gary from Macgregor Cargotec working on the hydraulic pumps and Owen from Mitchell Power Systems  on the Volvo’s. 

Gary was resetting the hydraulic pumps which had been ‘expertly’ adjusted at dock Sad smile whilst Gary was checking all the alarms and shutdowns on the main engines as part of the annual overhaul. He was also doing a modification on the belt tensioners for the water circulating pump at the front of the Volvo D13.

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The new (green one on the left) is thicker than the old one and is fitted using longer bolts. Apparently some have been failing in service so Volvo are changing them under warranty. Ours showed no signs of wear or imminent failure though but they probably have an easy life compared to some industrial engines.


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DG3 had also been smoking and running a high exhaust gas temperature but low boost pressure. Turbo failure was suspected but it turned out to be a faulty ‘waste gate’ actuator. The waste gate is designed to open as turbo boost pressure increases to prevent over pressure. Too much boost means too much heat and that can lead cracked heads, pistons and or gasket failure. I guess our high exhaust temperature would have been caused by too much fuel rather than the boost pressure. Normally as pressure increases so does the fuel but it would seem DG3 was increasing fuel without pressure. The waste gate was actually working cos we checked it, obviously it wasn’t working enough Sad smile Anyway, Owen sorted it, like he usually does Smile Owen is moving to ‘pastures new’ next week and I guess Mitchell’s and ourselves will miss him, he’s a damn good technician!!!

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It wasn’t just the engine room that was busy, so was the deck, not with traffic, it was pretty quiet on that front. Sandy and Finlay were busy splicing new ropes up for the winter ahead.

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Though there were a few days when winter seemed a long way off.

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There were even days that I felt like going clam diving again, the Ullapool registered Auk having been in the narrows for most of the week.

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Guess what

We’ve a big job on the horizon next Sunday as one of the hydraulic rams fitted at dock needs replacing!! so I’ve been doing some ‘prep work’.

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First you take an old steel salmon cage hinge then cut the tapered end off with a cutting disc. Well you cut most of it all the way around as a 115mm disc isn’t deep enough, then you twist the end off with some BIG adjustables.

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Then with the end lopped off you mark its ‘point of balance’

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and drill a 20mm hole, which takes quite a while Sad smile

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Next step is to insert a 100mm M20 threaded rod though said hole and retire to do lots of paperwork ready for the next stage.

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Voila, several sheets of paperwork later a nice big drift for belting out ramp hinge pins. The long handle means I can keep my hands clear whilst my ‘back to back’ belts it with a 14lb sledge hammer Smile

Christmas sea food

That’ll be the salmon farmers heading to work the other morning just after 8:00, seems like there’s a lot going on round at the Moll fish farm. Harvesting for Christmas I guess as they’ve been coming back home in the dark, as has ‘Emma C’ who’s been berthed behind us most days and keeping similar long hours.

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Most of the fishing boats have been making the most of the good weather and prices as we head up to the festive season. There’s been a noticeable increase in the velvet crab fishery and a few boats even out on Sunday.

More Volvo work

As part of the regular 600h Volvo service is an inspection of the Jabsco water pump impeller, though they’re normally good for much, much longer than that. Normally I guess we change them at around 1800h or longer as they’re running in a sealed system with the lubrication benefits of the corrosion inhibitor.

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I did change the 1 on DG1 when I serviced it the other day, though more as a precaution than through need. DG2 however had a pump that was in a pretty sorry state.

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It was still performing just fine and I’ve seen them working OK in much worse condition than this but that’s usually in ‘open’ systems that have either got blocked and dried up, or sucked in debris with the sea water. Anyway, a new impeller and back plate sorted it out, had it been mine I’d have just turned the back plate around. Volvo charge £90 for what is essentially a small round flat brass plate with four holes in it. They then cut the name Volvo into it to discourage conscientious engineers from turning it around. I guess it is just feasible that the logo could damage the impeller, highly unlikely but that’s what they’d say!!!   

‘Build a better mousetrap’

Well, I don’t think you could,

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these ‘The Better Mousetraps’ really are the best. I got mine from Harbro in Portree but you can get them off eBlag and they’re deadly, easy to set and idiot proof. Our cats never followed us from ‘Number 3’ though we do occasionally see them over here. With three cats we were never bothered by mice at ‘Number 3’ but here at Sonas we go through spells of them. Don’t see any for months on end then I guess with the drop in temperature brought them in the barn. The ‘tell tale’ chewed foam insulation indicating their presence even before the droppings, last thing I need is chewed wiring here at Sonas. The wee blighters caused me a lot of grief in the past, must have been one the cats missed back at ‘Number 3’ for I once had a spell of inverter tripping back there that was driving me mad for months.

The Trace kept randomly tripping with an ‘overcurrent’ indication and there was no rhyme or reason to it. I spent hours looking for it and isolating various circuits but to no avail. Then one day I happened to be near the inverter when it tripped and I heard a crack from within the dry stone wall behind it. When I pulled the cable out, there it was nicely chewed by what I guess was now a dead mouse Smile 

So that’s it really I guess, Saturday night now, ‘the longest day’ and we’ll be sailing soon and rumour has it that darling wife is going to open a bottle of wine as it’s the weekend Smile

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