HIPPO is a floating home, yes, but, more importantly, she is a mobile home, a free-spirit. I am upside-down water creature, with dwelling all around me. Her working engine is what gives me this intense sense of independence and movement, even when I am quite still. When I periodically hear the slow vintage rumble-purr of her engine, my heart expands, something changes in me, and all defences are down. The puht-puht-puht is the reminder that she lives and breathes and is true to her working roots.

Diesel is a trigger for emotion. The gritty active working scent, with all the fantasies that accompany the mechanic theme. When I walk into the engine room, I feel I am at the heart of the story. With the new wooden storage system for trusted tools, new shelving and a bespoke wooden box for rags, this space is my new favourite spot in the ship. Every pipe, valve and filter is labelled in bright colours for me to remember what does what and what goes where. It is a maze of complex working parts, a meeting place of mechanisms and connectors. Its grubby and beautiful.

Last night, sleepless again, with the lockdown body clock of a lost moth, at 4am I resorted to watching a 1970’s dvd on diesel engine maintenance. The charisma side-stepper of a presenter dealt with this potentially exciting subject with the utmost normality. Nipples, nozzles and drain cocks, impeller blades, exhaust (or was it exhaustion by then?), cooling, over-heating and lubrication never sounded so lack-lustre. A steamier teacher and a little humour would have been more fun… I mean, come ON! Next time put a woman in charge of the engine masterclass!

HIPPO is very privileged to cocoon a mouth-watering L.GARDNER & SONS engine. A vast steel hunk which dominates the engine room, dwarfed only by the full-bellied 1100 litre diesel tank. Every boat obsessive who visits goes a little quiet and focused after the initial excited intake of breath when I mention GARDNER. It seems GARDNER is the STRADIVARIUS of engines, though you would not guess this looking at its worn paint and unpolished protrusions. You would imagine a Venetian Vaporetto being propelled by a fabulous italian roar, but no..This British engine company, founded in Manchester way back in 1868, first started building gas engines, and built its first diesel engine around 1903, producing its last engines in the mid 1990’s. The company lived a full and successful life, and it is conceivable that I have been on many rumbling London buses with GARDNERS propelling me to rehearsal.

During WWI (1914-18), GARDNER made munitions and parts for heavy guns and engines for tanks, then in the roaring twenties there was a rapid development in the design of diesel engines, and the first 4L2 marine engine was fitted into a LANCIA bus in 1929. This marine-to-road conversion was so successful that GARDNER then introduced the LW diesel series, at first designed for the road, but modified as a marine engine with factory fitted bilge pumps (love a bilge pump-I have several wired to the wheelhouse with little alarms to warn me of imminent Titanic crisis). For the less initiated amongst you, the bilge is the ‘sea-bed’ of the ship where screws disappear, oil gathers, and condensation collects.. I have found many old treasures there – ancient drill bits, mysterious mementos, forgotten tools and coins from contorted pockets. Though it is beautifully lit, it has a dark slightly ominous space right under the engine, glistening with grease and looking far too rusty and wet for me to relax. Everyone tells me all is peachy, that it is quite normal, the grease will protect the hull.. but hull integrity is my new source of material for fantastical scenarios and neuroses.

During the 1930’s, a number of LW’s were installed in larger luxury cars including LAGONDAS, BENTLEYS, and ROLLS ROYCES. Gasp. This thought fills me with sunshine. HIPPO you are in good company. The GARDNER engine’s reliability and fuel economy (even a two-ton BENTLEY could apparently achieve 30 miles per gallon with a top speed of 80mph), coupled with its remarkable refinement and smooth action, made it the only compression-ignition engine worth considering for luxury vehicles.

The Dutch engine company KROMHOUT MOTOREN FABRIEK – after doing very well in the 20’s – struggled in the early 30’s due to the economic crisis. Searching for new opportunities, it signed a licence agreement with British GARDNER in 1932, and used its four stroke diesel engines in most of the dutch buses, tractors and trucks.

During WWII (1939-45). GARDNER’s war work consisted of building diesel engines of their own design for buses, midget submarines and for the Royal Navy. The LW diesel engine continued to be built for lorries and buses and later, the LX superseded it.

For mechanics!
The 6LX was upgraded in 1967 from 150bhp@1700rpm, to 180bhp @1850rpm. Both have a cylinder capacity of 10.450cc. I will know what all this means only once a mysterious retired GARDNER engine passionate, determined to help, has been to visit HIPPO to recondition her arteries, veins, pumps, nozzles, pfft pffts, squirts, valves, levels and pressures..Unbridled excitement. I will then have a less hazy idea of what happens when an engine is on, and of my routine checks. Total oily immersion – fun though it will be, will never beat learning on the go. An overwhelming thought. Alone at dusk, and the engine goes splut pfft …

• If you love engines, the Anson Engine Museum on the site of the old ANSON colliery in Poynton, Cheshire, England has an extensive collection of historic GARDNER engines, and one of the largest collections in Europe, as well as a working smithy, a carpentry shop and a café. Sounds like a heavenly day out! It is on my list..