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Jackie and Jeff's Thomas 50 barge (PolyJ) is currently being fitted out by themselves at Port Medway Marina in Kent. Construction to a sailaway level and delivery via Kenet & Avon, Thames and Medway can be seen by clicking here. Over the next few months, the fit-out progress of PolyJ will be depicted here.
The following paragraphs show the conclusions of much research and advice from barge owning friends, Ian’s web site, and the DBA from its magazine and Internet discussion forum.
Although not strictly necessary on the Thomas 50, a bow thruster is a luxury that Jackie and I will probably opt for. They make close quarters manoeuvring so much less stressful and are invaluable for getting in and out of tight spots when single-handed.
The Vetus catalogue is invaluable for calculating the correct size of thruster and the range and reputation of their products is such that there is bound to be a suitable high quality unit for most situations. They have recently introduced a new ‘super efficient’ six bladed version that reduces current consumption by 10%, increases thrust and reduces cavitation and vibration. It is also sealed watertight to IP65 and ignition protected, so that its operation cannot ignite gas or petrol fumes. The model that is best suited to our requirements is the Vetus BOW95 and full information and the sizing guide is available at www.frenchmarine.com
This is a subject that should be taken very seriously, particularly if a barge is to be used or kept in tidal waters, or on fast flowing rivers.
It is not difficult to picture a traditional barge anchor, but relying, as they do, largely on weight rather than on design to hold fast, they have to be huge in order to hold a barge in severe conditions. Unlike a sailing boat, a barge will normally only have one means of propulsion – its engine – and if that fails, it is only a swiftly deployed anchor that can save you from being swept into peril. The problem with a very heavy anchor, is that in combination with 50m of suitable chain, it will need some massive equipment to get it back on board.
For barges that are designed with a hawse pipe, the only anchor designs that will stow neatly are the Halls type - which are the traditional ones - or the Danforth type, because both of these have articulating heads and straight shanks.
The traditional Halls type anchor is known as 'low hold' whereas the ‘Fortress’ anchor is a ‘high hold’ Danforth type, which consistently ranks in the top two best performing anchors in independent tests.
It is worth looking at www.fortressanchors.com/weigh_options.html for a comparison between high and low hold anchors. It describes a Navy anchor, which is similar to a Halls, needing to weigh 180Kg in order to give the same holding power as the 31Kg Fortress.
For coastal work, no less than 12mm chain should be used for a barge of this size and it needs to be at least 50m long and so will weigh approx. 130Kg.
In the spirit of ‘see what they recommend and go one size larger’ Polly J will be treated to a Fortress FX125, which is a weight of 31Kg and has a holding power in soft mud of 3.6 tonnes and a great deal more in sand.
The total weight of the chain plus the anchor will be 161Kg. The windlass needs to be able to break the anchor out of the mud – with some help from the engine - and to lift the tackle back onboard the barge. Electric windlasses are often sold by giving their maximum lifting power, which is always a lot higher than their constantly rated capacity. The Lofrans Project 1500 is a 1.5Kw windlass, with a maximum pull of 1.5 tonnes and comes equipped with a rope/chain gypsy and a separate drum for independent rope handling. This model will be fitted, together with a remote operation panel and chain counter for installation in the wheelhouse. The full range of Lofrans windlasses, together with advice on choosing the most appropriate model, can be found at www.ecs-marine-equipment.co.uk
Due to the fact that we have been used to owning a sailing boat with very limited opportunity to recharge the batteries and no shore power, we are no strangers to the use of highly efficient equipment and the concept of renewable energy. The new barge is to be fitted out with all of the conveniences necessary for living aboard, but so as to be as frugal with power as is practical. Ian’s electricity consumption spreadsheet was invaluable for calculating peak and average demand and total usage over a period; so do ask him for a copy.
Low energy light bulbs have come on by leaps and bounds recently, with LED cluster bulbs that can be inserted as a direct replacement for both their 12 and 240 volt halogen equivalents. One can now get them in a warm white as opposed to the cold blue shade of white that originally made them so unattractive. They are also available with an inbuilt voltage regulator, which solves the problem that plagues halogen bulbs with them regularly blowing when the house batteries are being charged at in excess of 14 volts. They can offer a light output equivalent to 15 watts but with a power consumption of just 0.07 amps at 12 volts. These and many more low energy bulbs can be found at www.ultraleds.co.uk
Fridges and freezers can be responsible for most of the overall power consumption on a boat, so refrigeration is an area that deserves careful thought. Domestic equipment that runs on 240 volts AC is becoming increasingly efficient, with brands such as Miele producing a standard sized freezer that consumes just 135 Kwh per year and a larder fridge that consumes just 84 Kwh per year. 12-volt DC equivalents should also be considered, although these may possibly be considerably more expensive, but have the advantage of not needing a constant supply of 240 volt. For 12v and 24v refrigeration, try www.boatfridge.com
According to ‘Shoreline’, a 12v fridge such as the one that Ian uses will consume in the region of 19 amp hours per day. A high efficiency 240v larder fridge will consume about 20 Ah (at 12 volts) over the same period allowing for a 5% inefficiency from the inverter. At –18ºC, a ‘Shoreline’ 12v freezer is said to consume 44 Ah per day, whilst its 240 volt equivalent is rated at just 33 Ah (at 12 volts) over 24 hours.
The latest update to Shorelines website no longer gives power consumption figures for freezing to –18ºC, they only quote figures for –12ºC which prevents comparison with domestic freezers that have to give figures for the lower temperature.
There are certain pieces of domestic equipment that will almost certainly need a 240v AC supply, for instance vacuum cleaners and washing machines and some others that make sense to run on 240 volts, for example microwaves and irons. For these it will be necessary to invest in an inverter of at least 2500 watts capacity, as no front-loading washing machine that I have been able to find has a peak demand of less than 2300 watts. Unlike fridges however, these items are only run for short periods of time, so the constant draw on current that is inherent with inverters does not impact greatly on overall usage.
Charging the batteries
The primary source of charge will come from the dual alternators on the barge’s John Deere diesel engine, whose output will be combined by an Adverc charging regulator to provide a potential total of 230 amps. In addition to this and at some point in the future, wind turbine power generation may be added and so too may solar power play a part.
Even amongst people who are keen to do all they can to preserve the environment by the use of renewable energy, there is much doubt that life on board is possible without a generator. There is in fact no shortage of electrical energy available from the wind and Sun, given a large enough wind turbine and a sufficient area of photovoltaic panels. The challenge is to reduce ones need for power to the minimum and to have enough battery capacity to store the energy from when it is available, to when it is needed. A barge is the perfect platform for solar panels with all of that deck area and before you mention the cost, how many panels could you buy for the 4 or 5 thousand pounds that a marine generator would cost. And then there is the cost of maintenance, consumables and, of course, fuel. It is a sobering calculation to work out the true cost of 1kW of electricity when using a generator. Many solar panels are guaranteed to produce power for upwards of 20 years with no fuel costs or maintenance at all.
The combination of wind and solar power is perfect for weekend users, as the batteries are nicely topped up from Monday to Friday, in readiness for the following weekend. For a week’s holiday on board, the engine will be in use and should be capable of supplying all of the power that is needed. Most live aboard barges will have access to shore power, and so have no need for separate diesel generators. All assuming that high efficiency, low energy electrical equipment is used throughout.
There are many companies supplying devices for the generation of renewable energy. Take a look at www.futurenergy.co.uk as an example of a wind turbine that would be suitable for mounting on a barge. At just 6 knots of wind speed it is producing some 26w, 8 knots gives 53w, 10 knots 114w, right up to 660w at 32 knots of wind. The official average annual wind speed where our barge is to be kept is 9 knots, which on average would supply 2.4Kw per day (200 amps at 12 volts).
Photo voltaic, otherwise known as solar panels can also be worthwhile, but chiefly in the summer months. Uni-solar produce panels called ‘triple junction’ which are ideally suited to our latitude, because they still operate reasonably well on grey and overcast days. Their US64 model is rated for a peak output of 64w in bright sunshine, but probably half that on a dull day, so a couple of panels would be capable of supplying the needs of a high efficiency fridge and freezer for much of the summer period. Have a look at www.solarboat.co.uk for the full range of sizes and prices.
When electricity is generated via the engine or by the sun or wind, it must be stored in batteries so that it is available whenever needed. Not all batteries can stand this continuous charging and discharging without being damaged, so it is vital to obtain traction (deep cycling) batteries for the job. These are not cheap, but the best manufacturers such as ‘Rolls’ supply a 10 year warranty and expect them to last a great deal longer than that. Take a look at www.barden-uk.com/rolls-marine-batteries.html
In the forward cabin will be installed a diesel ‘Bubble’ stove, which is capable of producing between 1.4 and 5Kw of heat. They are very efficient and need no electrical power once they are alight. With the superb degree of insulation provided by the 50mm thick layer of PU spray foam, combined with double-glazing to all windows and hatches, this will keep the main cabin as warm as toast and provide background heat for the bathroom and aft cabin. For instant warmth when first arriving on a cold barge, and a welcome boost to the output of the ‘Bubble’ stove, another heater will be fitted. This time a forced air heater made by a Scandinavian company called Wallas. The ‘30D’ runs on Red diesel or paraffin (kerosene) with no modification, producing between 1 and 3Kw of heat at the flick of a switch or time clock and thermostat. It is totally room sealed, uses a miserly 1 – 1.9 amps of 12 volt and in contrast to its competitors, it is almost silent in operation. It is rated for continuous use and a friend of mine has clocked up over 7000 hours of use with his over just 3 years, with no more than an occasional D.I.Y. service. Details of this and the other models in the range can be found at www.kuranda.co.uk
Storing hot water in a cylinder is the most usual choice and the engine’s waste heat can be used to heat it for ‘free’, providing you don’t mind having a large, heavy, calorifier hidden somewhere. The problem with that, is that in our experience, 90% of the time spent on board, the engine is not used and the water might not be warm when you actually need it and certainly not when you first arrive on board. The use of a diesel or electric water heater is a possibility, but not very efficient, as stored water can only lose energy with time. The most widely used alternative is the gas instantaneous water heater: this heats water very efficiently and only on demand. These heaters have fallen out of favour due to the lack of room sealed models, which are stipulated as part of the ‘Boat Safety Scheme’.
One of the oldest and most respected manufacturers of LPG water heaters ‘Morco’ has recently released a new model: the ‘F-11E’. It is totally room sealed and provides a modulated output of between 6.7 and 19.2Kw depending on demand for maximum efficiency. It is capable of instantly providing piping hot water at a flow rate of 11 litres per minute and at only 592mm x 330mm x 247mm, it is perfect for installation within a high level kitchen cabinet. For further details and prices, have a look at www.midlandchandlers.co.uk
The cost of Propane purchased in 13Kg cylinders is similar per kWh to that of domestic electricity. As a fuel it is clean and instant and probably the first choice for cooking and in our case for water heating. LPG does need to be treated with respect and installed by a CORGI registered engineer, but given a few precautions it is a very safe form of energy. Our 4 Propane cylinders will be housed in two independent gas lockers, which will be situated on the foredeck and drained via pipes overboard. The ships galley with its gas cooker and instantaneous water heater will be directly behind these lockers at the front end of the main cabin, so as to reduce the pipe run to an absolute minimum. There will of course be installed gas detectors at floor level and in the bilges to guarantee safety. The water heater, being of the balanced flue type, cannot introduce any products of combustion into the living area and the cooker will have flame failure devices on every burner.
The biggest question for the smallest room is whether to go for a shower or a bath. Although most people shower most of the time and showering uses far less of ones precious water supply, there are some other factors that are worthy of consideration. There is nothing to say that you can’t shower whilst standing in a bathtub, as opposed to using a shower cubicle. In a small room, although a bath may be have a larger footprint than a cubicle, once the shower curtain is drawn back, the eye tends to focus on the wall behind as if the bath were not there. A shower cubicle on the other hand, even though it may be clear or translucent, has the effect of making a small room look even smaller. In addition, a bath on a barge is a very useful receptacle for washing large items or rinsing off muddy clothes.
One might think that the choice of toilet would deserve a couple of sentences, but it is a subject upon which opinions vary. It is worth remembering at the start, that even if sewage holding tanks (‘black tanks’) are not compulsory in some circumstances as yet, it is only a matter of time before they will be. Our new barge will be fitted with a polypropylene ‘black tank’ of 800l capacity. This should be adequate for at least 6 weeks use for two people.
Traditionally, ‘sea toilets’ were used on barges and indeed on most other boats. These days, there are many domestic style alternatives that flush into an onboard tank, for emptying at an official pump out station or discharging overboard where the regulations allow.
If there is one thing about which there is unanimous agreement, it is that the worst job on board any boat is unblocking the heads, especially when someone else has blocked it! For this reason, whatever else is considered before making a choice of toilet, its ability to function reliably without blocking, even when abused by guests who perhaps attempt to flush away things that they shouldn’t, should be right at the top of the list of priorities. After months of asking various people’s opinion, together with relentless searching on the Internet, I reduced the competition down to a short list, which I took with me to the London Boat Show. Here were on display working exhibits of all of the front-runners and only by close examination and the flushing of each one was I able to confirm for myself what I had already established from my research. The ‘Silence’ model from Tecma was, as its name implies, almost silent when flushed. It is also exceptionally well built and has a unique grinding system that it’s many owners describe as nearly impossible to block, as can be seen at http://www.tecma.eu/products/toilets?steID=1&catID=885 . This unit is the choice of the major mega-yacht manufacturers and many charter companies and if it is good enough for them, then it will do for us.
The build time, although sometimes frustrating, does provide an excellent opportunity for in depth research, so that many decisions concerning layout and equipment can be made in advance. Now that our Thomas 50 is safely on shore on the bank of the Medway, it is time to put the theory into practice and to commence the fit out.
Please note: whilst we have tried to establish facts
wherever possible, any views given are only our opinions.
If you have any questions, I will be happy to forward your emails to Jackie and Jeff E-mail Ian
Created 10th July 2007 - Last updated 02 March 2013