Sounds like you were building a bomber there FHG! I have never used anything but hop pellets. I wish I had an option, but my LHBS doesn't carry many varieties of whole hops. I always compensate for the wort I know I will lose. Its probably about 2-3 liters for me every time.
How does hydrometer read plain water? If its not zero, there likely is something wrong with it.
My brew day was a good one too. There are two things that I want to improve on though. How long it takes to get a boil and how long it takes to cool the wort. Both are taking me way too long. I get a wussy boil going and I cant boil more than 12ish litres.
If you were to invest some money would it be on a 30L pot and a burner or would you spend it on an immersion chiller?
O&B Dream Team
Bill Barber - Bobby Clarke - Tim Kerr
Mark Howe - Chris Pronger