Saturday, 24 September 2011

Lady Lock ‘n’ LoL

September 21 2011   Alrewas

We are two days away from destination Mercia Marina. We have been on the canals for 3 months more or less now and have travelled more than 500 miles and passed through more than 500 locks. (Sounds like a parody of the Proclaimers song is about to be wrote… “Well I would cruise 500 miles and I would labour 500 locks, just to be the person who could do it cos they could…”) Less than 20 locks that we went through were automated, controlled by Lock Keepers unless they were on their ‘smoko’ break and then I would have to use my Lady fingers to manipulate the controls i.e. press buttons. We have, also, had to raise lift bridges with various lifting mechanisms. You get used to one way of raising bridges and then a new way is introduced, the hydraulic lift using the windlass to wind it is easy, the nut and bolt method takes more grunt as this is not a lift bridge but a swing bridge and needs your body to push it open and closed. My favourite is using the magic BW Key (also used for opening BW sanitary stations) which will lift bridges that have traffic passing over them. Oh Traffic Controller is rather fun in a Lady way. The magic key, when turned in a clockwise direction, emits a siren sound as the barriers are lowered (some lower automatically and some need a manual lowering – can be confusing if your first experience is automatic and the next time the barriers don’t move and your audience start doing it for you) then you must keep your finger on the bridge raising button until it is fully raised. There is time to think as the bridge is going up, what if I took my finger off the button, will it really stop? Then a moment of what if I have misread the instructions and if I take my finger off the button when bridge is fully raised will it plummet back down. And finally should I start lowering the bridge while AM is still passing under so the waiting traffic don't have to wait longer than they need. I'm realizing that being in charge of traffic control is not as easy as I thought! I feel it is important to acknowledge the cars with a thank you “Lady” wave.

Mercia Marina, 24 September 2011. The day after Our Arrival

We made it, well we were always going to make it. But we did have a few miles to cruise once we got through the Harecastle Tunnel. We thought we may as well go along the Caldon Canal which is a short canal that branches in 2 directions. Word had it that the Leek branch waters were low so we headed in the direction of Cheddleton. The canal is narrower than most we have been on, with a spattering of locks and a spittering of rain! I met 3 chaps from British Waterways (BW) who were planning the coming winter works, at the set of 3 locks. They were chatty enough informing me they were going to put in hydraulic ladders which do make it easier for the windlass to wind but they said that the “traditionalists” don'tLL like them. I said in my opinion if it makes it easier to wind then go for it! All BW staff and associates wear an auto inflating life jacket. I asked the chief person if the life jacket works, as we were standing by the fast filling Lock. He replied that as it had a green marker it would work and then he realized I was tempted to push him in to check it did. He laughed, I laughed, we all laughed….of course I wouldn’t push him in. I walked the top gate and pushed it open for AM to come in to the Lock. It is not always easy to push the gate open, bum power works but so does assistance. I thanked the blokes for not helping me! I probably didn’t encourage any offers of help and they hadn’t realized I was a Lady! 

The next locks Chris worked and I steered AM. The Locks are narrow and I did OK getting her in / out. When we neared Cheddleton, a pretty village, we had decided we would ‘Wind” (turn around) AM there. I think this was the 11th time AM had been “Win ded”. It was my first time as Tiller Queen and I was doing it under Chris’s excellent instruction. It would equate to a 10 point turn and I was very pleased. And then I turned AM to the bank to moor, nicely done I thought, and steeped off the Stern with rope in hand and straight into a camouflaged hole where it turned out the bank was being washed away behind the coving. Grazed fingers and bad language were my reaction, dirty wet trouser leg and wet shoe but no broken bones. The chap, in front, with his charity funded boat for Children in Need was able to give me a number for BW who sent someone out immediately to make it safe. I suppose I was a Lady in Need! I was impressed that late on a Friday afternoon BW were able to sort it out.

The Caldon Canal is definitely worth a return trip and is not so many miles away from our Marina. So we headed back to the Trent and Mersey Canal and headed down from Stoke-on-Trent. The locks were pretty deep and there were a number we had to “do”. Chris and I were able to share Lock Labouring, 2 for me 2 for he! We still had strong wind to deal with which freaked me, at times, as steel boat at low speed and high wind are not really compatible to a novice. Even holding AM with a rope was tiring while waiting for the locks to fill. But we go there.

I was ‘Cream Crackered’ at the end of the 3 month journey and close to throwing in the towel and advertising my position! We had travelled 646 miles and done 560 locks (most of which were manually operated). Captain’s log shows we had been on cruise move for 314 hours. And we have been in each others company 24 /7 since 12 June. We have some badges for the different roles ….. General Dogsbody, Admiral, Cabin Boy, Deckscrubber, Captain, Miss-Chief, Lock Labourer, Tiller Girl, Duck Spotter….. 

Now we are at Mercia Marina in Derbyshireand it is like an Oasis. It is centrally located on the canal network, it has a friendly atmosphere, the boats are not all crowded together, there is a “CafĂ©”, a shop, a Chandlery, and we have what I am calling ‘Cell (Shower) Block Latrine’…. The Marina shop is well stocked and they collect mail from the local P.O. (The man at the shop reminds me of Norris from Coronation Street!) Every couple  of weeks the organic butcher and the Italian deli have stalls. When I was buying some meat, yesterday, from the butcher a fellow moorer wanted to buy a small amount of steak as he was almost a vegetarian. I said that the cattle were vegetarians, well it’s true isn’t it?! This morning I walked to our local Cell Block Latrine and had the longest running hot shower and if I had had a (stuffed) cat I would have swung it round cos I could!

Chris has gone into Derby and I have stayed on AM with thoughts I will venture out soon for a walk because I can. It feels great to know we have got here, that we are still in one piece and we will survive. And I am so excited that we will be reunited with our little Della Bella very soon.

Hey and thanks for reading my ramblings on this Blogspot. It is cathartic to write it all down and thanks to those of you who have made yourself known to us and your kind comments. 

For reference if one ever thinks of doing Canal travel, Nicholson Waterways guides is a must. There are 7 volumes. They are more or less accurate but, like all of us, not perfect!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Lady Talk - The Black Hole

15 September   Harecastle Tunnel

Suddenly, that is before we expected, we were at the tunnel entrance. This was 1 hour’s worth of trapped travel! The plan had been to go to the supermarket before we went to the tunnel entrance (who knows how long we could be lost for!) and then arrive on the wait list for the tunnel. But I misread the Nicholson’s map. There were boats coming out of the tunnel and we had to take on avoidance status as one headed directly for us. The ‘Tunnel’ Keeper (TK) was apologetic saying he had told that boat that we were coming under the bridge but obviously boat helmsperson was in a state of euphoria and hadn’t heard instructions. Not a major incident and we were able to get to pre tunnel mooring and the TK was able to give us all the “bad” news that might happen to us as we transited through ‘tunnel land’ and reinforced the verbal with a “safety” notice saying “Mind Your Head” and 3 short blasts of the horn would send a return one long blast of a horn from a responsible person listening at one end of the 2926 yard long tunnel. This would signal that Help, in the form of a brightly lit boat, would be coming to our rescue. No need to worry.

We had been prepared to take the plants off our roof garden but TK said they should be all right in situ. So we took them off! The Skipper requested solitude so his maximum concentration would take effect. So I’m sitting at the kitchen table writing this. All the lights are on and the boat is keeping to the centre of the tunnel. This way the Skipper is less likely to be scalped. I was going to have a shower but TK said “No”. I think he thought I smelt OK although the way he worded it was that we needed to max on the electricity to get the boat safely through the tunnel.

We appear to be the only boat in the convoy – does that mean we are not a convoy? We are cruising solo through the black hole!

So now I’ll return to the Shroppie adventure. After the ‘Bangy’ Canal the ‘Shroppie’ was a joy to be on – a wide and slow flowing canal and warmer temperatures. The wind did not abate, though, in fact it got worse. Later we found out it was the end of the hurricane that had hit the East Coast of the USA. I had looked at the 5 day weather forecast on my phone screen and usually each day was a mixture of cloud, sun & rain forecast, all bases covered every day, but there was one day when the symbols looked like explosions and now I realize they were graphics for severe wind gusts, not the end of the world as I thought they had implied! The wind wins every time with a powerless flat bottomed steel boat. But we survived with Chris keeping control or going with the flow when needed.

On the Shroppie the locks were, now, wide enough to take wide beam boats or 2 narrowboats at a time. The staircase lock at Bunbury needed the thinking cap put on. It was just us staircasing on our way down (we were heading in the direction of Chester) but on the return we were the single boat coming up and there were two narrowboats going down. This is what happened…..Chris takes AM into the empty bottom lock where he stays on their own by themselves. Meanwhile the filled top lock has 2 boats entering it. It makes good sense for the boats to come down as the top lock needs to empty into the bottom lock so that all boats get on the same level and then move between locks. So at lock ‘level’ point the middle gates are opened and one boat from the top lock moves beside AM. In order for AM to move into the top lock, the other boat needs to move to the position that was occupied by their recently departed fellow boat. If a boat has a Bow Thruster (not Elvis Presley) it is easy peasy to move but most older boats don’t have this so it means throwing stern & bow ropes (back and front ropes) to be pulled by helpful crew and me who are positioned on the far side of the top lock. Then AM moves through to the top lock. The boat in the bottom lock needs to be pulled to the spot AM vacated so the other boat can move into position again. The gates between the locks are then closed and we are on our own. The bottom lock has more help than they need and the top lock needs me to wind 2 paddles and open the gate. There is a “renter” lock labourer waiting for the top lock to be vacated by us but getting the run of play from the group at the bottom lock. When she walks to the top lock, I pounced! She could have assisted me.  No Karma for me today!

I have, finally, come round to the idea that it is time I started work on my Tiller skills and share the Lock Labourer tasks with Chris. I felt I was in a better frame of mind to manage manouevering AM. We both needed to understand the different roles we had been undertaking on AM, so I have been working on being Tiller Queen and Chris has done some of the domestic chores as well as Locks. I feel I can now negotiate most narrow bridges (there will always be one that will jump out at you!), go in / out narrow locks and keep AM in a safe position in locks (you need to watch out for the Cill) and pass other boats provided there are no moored boats included in the equation. I messed up on the canal in Middlewich, had gone under a bridge, moored boats on either side greeted me and another boat was moving in my direction. I focused too much on the moored boats to my Right and next thing BANG as steel met steel. Luckily I was going at tickover speed.

(We’re still in the Harecastle Tunnel gliding along, it is like a black hole! Our instructions were to go at normal cruising speed. ……And just as I wrote that, I glanced into the blackness andlight appeared as the tunnel door opened in the distance…..


Sunday, 11 September 2011


I am posting a few photos, here and there, but the latest photos are first in the viewing list.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ladies give Lock Etiquette Lessons

September 8, 2011

We are now travelling on the Llangollen Canal, reportedly the most popular canal in Great Britain, known colloquially as the Llongie  but would be more aptly named as the Banger! It is probably the most popular canal because it is full of rental boat traffic, who have little clue as to what they are doing!!

We had made an early morning start, on September 3rd, entering the “Banger” Canal from the “Shroppie” Canal and were presented with a flight of 4 locks. The 6:45 am start meant we had the locks to ourselves. The locks are really narrow and all side fenders must be lifted to facilitate access. The first 2 locks were  ready for action. The locks were so narrow it was possible to step across the 2 ‘back’ gates when one gate was open. Of course safety is important and I was able to hold the rail on the far gate and step across. Another advantage is having longer legs and no beer belly! As AM left the 2nd lock she got grounded halfway into the ‘pound’. So I had to go up to the next lock and open the ladders to try and feed more water into the pound below. Eventually AM was freed and floating and went into Lock 3. The pound above was now shallow so I had to go and repeat the water flow process from Lock 4. I had visions of emptying the canal! All was well, in time, and were underway as were the boats that had moored at the top of  the locks! Now we had more boat traffic. As this canal is fed by the River Dee we are, in effect, heading upstream, the current is quite strong, our ‘revs’ are the same as when we were on the R. Severn and we are not moving at any great speed.

The next Lock appears. Now we are in a queue, we are boat No. 3 (in-waiting) then 2 more boats arrive and queue behind us. In the case of a boat using the lock prior to your one, the unwritten Lock etiquette is that the ‘Lock Labourer’ presents themself at the lock and offers assistance to work the lock. Not everyone, mostly newbies and renties-day-1 know this. It is annoying when they cluster around their temporary moored boats and watch, from a distance, one person working hard (winding up the paddles to empty the lock and open the gates to let the boat in). This involves walking the perimeter of the lock to cross to the other side (except for the narrow locks on this canal where I step over the gates). Anyway today’s newbies in the boat behind were showing no sign of offering assistance. So I shouted out to Chris “Are they going to help me?” to which Chris said to them “Are you going to help?” And one of them walked up with his windlass. Rather than cut to the throat, I was tactful as I questioned him and he gave a brief history – his friend had just purchased the boat, that morning, from a nearby marina, and they were taking the boat to Whitchurch. So I asked if he would like to know the unwritten Lock etiquette and he was delighted to receive information. (It is a challenge being an Occupational Therapist and not to be over helpful!). 5 locks later they were now learned lock labourers and great students!

The previous day we had experienced old timers, father and son, in 2 narrowboats with no other sign of life aboard. The ‘old’ son had priority to go into the lock due to the lock level being in his favour. So as we were waiting, above, I shut the gates for him and wound up the ladders. This helpfulness speeds up the waiting time. I think he thanked me as he left the lock to moor his boat and AM could go in. He managed to light a ciggy and smoke that before he came back to open one of the lock gates for AM to exit. I did have time to ask him why his father couldn’t help with the locks (“too old and boating has been his life”) and where they were headed. I enquired if his Dad had thought about retiring from boating? Later, I looked up how many locks they would have to pass through – 58 unmanned locks!!

Today, as I write this, I have just worked the Lock and as the Lock was empty and there were 2 small boats arriving below, I opened the gates for them, shut the gates for them, wound the ladders for them and opened the top gate! The second boat was like wondering if it was the invisible man driving it because I couldn’t see anyone. Still they did THANK me! It was there lucky day.

The countryside on the Llangie Bangy is gorgeous, the weather is awful, the wind has been horrible, and the Aqueducts were amazing to cross (birds- eye view we had). The canal current is strong heading ‘up’ canal especially as we headed past Chirk. There were 2 one way  tunnels to pass through  after the Chirk Aqueduct, the longest being 459 yards and the other 191 yards, and I decided I needed to assist AM moving through the tunnels by using both my hands to push along the tunnel walls (hand power not horse power).

The Chirk Aqueduct opened in 1801 and carries the canal from England into Wales. A river flows 70ft below and the railway viaduct is beside the aqueduct and a bit higher in position. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (built by Thomas Telford and opened in 1805) which is 1007ft long and the offside is completely unprotected. It is amazing to go over the aqueducts and I was able to sit on AM’s roof to get a feeling of hovering on the Chirk Aqueduct! The wind was even stronger when we went over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and I was keen to get a place to moor as it had been a long day of travel.

But moorings were difficult to find, and we needed to push on a further 2 ½ miles before we found the last mooring at Sun Trevor Bridge. We were now at the start of the “narrows” for the final 2 mile trip into Llangollen. There are a lot of holiday rental narrowboats on the Bangie canal and if I ever, in my wildest dreams, did this trip again, I would rent a boat. I have found this canal a stressful journey. The “narrows” means that the Canal is very narrow and I needed to walk on to stop canal traffic going the other direction in the really narrow parts, one was 500 metres!

So we got to Llangollen on a day of high wind and rain and decided to turn around and get out of there. Now we are getting close to Ellesmere and Tesco’s and back to a journey of lift bridges and locks. We’ve just gone under the Wrenbury (traffic stopping’) Lift Bridge and luck was on our side as someone else coming the other way was controlling it and we went through first!! The next lift bridge needed me to raise it but a boat was coming in the opposite diresction and they will close it! Well you readers are getting canal action as it happens! The next lock is 15 minutes away and so we move on.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Ladies do Head Banging

September 1st 2011  

Shropshire Union Canal, between Audlem & Nantwich near the Secret Nuclear Bunker

Today, we had a rest day from travelling and a busy day, of course (how could we not), getting AM more prepped for painting which involved sanding and undercoating the side we could get to from the towpath. The side we didn’t do was done about a week ago when we moored just before Wolverley Bridge north of Kidderminster.

The day after Stourport Lock Rage we headed along the beautiful Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal (aka Staffs & Worcs Canal) through Kidderminster which had the usual abundance of charity shops (even one for Staffy dogs!). The moorings, for boats, was beside Tescos. In order to get to Kidderminster we needed to have an anti vandal key, to unlock the ladders to wind up the sluices to the locks. No-one told us about this, so we were unaware of this requirement. Fortunately we weren’t the first boat in the queue to use the lock so the anti vandal key wasn’t needed. The lock we needed to use after Tesco’s had the impressive view of “the dark church of St. Mary’s and All Saints”. There were 6 people seated with their easels painting the church while I pleaded with the woman from the boat, in front, to leave the ladders unlocked! The woman was not too happy about that and did so reluctantly. Of course I didn’t snib the lock after we used it, cos another boat was waiting to use the lock! Then we stumbled across Sainsbury’s and I raced in for some red wine. We went to push the boat out and it wouldn’t move but there were some helpful people from the Sainsbury’s building site who gave us that extra push!

Some of the canal is a bit shallow and we needed to be aware of this as we ticked along. My best purchase, that day, was “The Rocky Horror Show” CD and I cranked it up on the CD player and sang my heart out. We had a bit of a family walking their dog along side us. I asked the boys if they knew the music and they said “no” but their Mum probably did. Later at the next lock, their Mum was able to tell me “it was the best album ever!” The raunchy bits, I did turn down! (Sometimes one has to be Responsible lady!)

I don’t think I’ve mentioned too much about the weather but it deserves a mention again. Crap! But the day, after Kidderminster, dawned with a bit of clearish blue sky and we decided to get on with sanding and undercoating. Actually we had started after we moored the day before. Are you with me?! All the allotment rooftop garden was put on the towpath and the roof got a good sanding and strips were undercoated as we need to make some of the surface nonslip blah blah blah. A woman walking her dogs, stopped to have a chat. A sad story followed as she told of how she and her husband used to have a narrowboat and had dreams of spending some years of their retirement voyaging the canals. Sadly, he fell into a lock and died. Yes, do not take locks for granted and always hold onto the rails when walking across the lock gates.

We finished, what we could, of the painting, before the rain clouds appeared and then motored on up to Kinver passing red cliffs and wooded canal sides. Kinver is very pretty. There are some troglodyte buildings and well worth a revisit, one day.

Moving along the Staffs & Worcs we passed some cute named locks & bridges, amongst which Botterham, Wombourne, Giggetty and Bumblehole made me smile. Then we came to a staircase lock comprising of 3 locks. This staircase had a resident Lock keeper (we bought an Anti Vandal Key from him) who was keeping his son busy in the school holidays by assisting us canal people. The rise went without incident and I relayed our unfortunate Stourport experience to the Lock keeper. On that note, I had written to British Waterways a few days back, to express our experience. Here is the reply I received

“Dear Sarah
Thank you for your email dated 22nd August 2011.
I am  very sorry that you had a bad experience whilst  traveling up the staircase at  Stourport. Unfortunately we are  unable to man these structures, but are in the procedure of putting up extra signage up with the basin duty phone number on so customers can summon assistance.
I have asked members of staff who work at Stourport to watch out at  busy times for this sort of antisocial behaviour.
If you could forward me the details of the boat of which the person exchanged  heated words with and was threatened with the windlass I will pass this on to our Enforcement Team who will investigate the matter.  We would also encourage any antisocial incidents of this nature  be reported to the local police.

I would like to once again say, I am very sorry about this incident you have gone through hope this has not put you off coming to this area again.

Kind regards”

Nice letter, I thought.

Now we are on the Shroppie Canal and it is, again, another lovely canal. Not so many locks but I am having a bit more ‘Tiller Girl’ experience. I still don’t like the locks but there are not so many except yesterday was 20! Little locks and a lot of traffic going up and down so that means we work in with the boats coming in the opposite direction. The locks are narrow and not too deep. I can jump, without danger, onto AM’s roof while she is in the lock and step onto the other side to get to the other gate. Well if you can why wouldn’t you!?! And, if you are wondering, I am now healed from the Hatton flight. Some of the locks, yesterday had veggie, meat, egg & cake stalls. I couldn’t resist ½ doz double yokers. I asked the chap I bought the eggs from if he was Jamie Oliver. He said “no” but he wishes he was as handsome as Jamie. I don’t think Jamie is handsome.

And, now, to my title about Head banging. AM gets sympathy because she gets the occasional bump and scratch. Narrowboats are a contact sport, they expect it. They don’t have feelings and they don’t experience pain! If they bump a lock wall, it’s hard not to when you should see the narrow space they have to negotiate, it is called a ‘kiss’. We all try not to bump other boats and generally we don’t. However either exit from AM within her walls is not always smooth due to me being a lady that multi tasks I quite often bang my freakin’ head. Ouch ouch ouch! Yesterday I was bringing in the dry washing from under the cratch cover in the bow and keeping my eye on the approaching lock and I forgot to duck. The sunglasses, on my head, tried to embed themselves in my scalp, ouch. Then there’s the steel hatch at the stern end which has 4 steps to climb. If the weather is inclement which it can be on a regular basis, then the hatch cover is pulled over making it a keep- low- as- you -exit activity. I’m getting better at avoiding contact but my head is feeling a bit of wear and tear. My advantage is I’ve got ‘big’ hair but I tell ya it doesn’t soften the blow if I make contact.

Laters. We are moving to the Llangollen Canal.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Lady talks River cruises. Then Canal rage!

22 August 2011

Lady talks River cruises. Then Canal rage!

We are cruising along the River Severn, as I pen this. The morning cruise is beautiful and the river has been like a mill pond. We are heading for Stourport-on-Severn and then going to turn onto the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal (Staffs & Worcs).

The River Avon cruise passed quickly. Probably going downstream helped this passage. A pretty winding river with very little, in the way of, free mooring. Most of the locks had overnight mooring but little or no access to nearby towns unless it was possible to walk on water at the adjacent weirs! We had purchased a 7 day ticket (₤50) to use the Avon as this river is not part of British Waterways. (For the use of canals & some rivers we pay a yearly registration with British Waterways). Evesham was a fab Charity Shop centre, and free moorings near downtown. Pretty night light views from our window. A bit of rowing happening on the river in the evening as the club was opposite where we moored. Next day started with a bit of rain and the first lock had some newbies in it. I offered to assist but they were reluctant wanting to do it all themselves. Actually, she was happy for a hand but Mr Captain thought that was not the done thing! I felt their tension and I empathized with her. After they had gone we found a nearly new pair of gloves they must have left behind (just what we needed as ours were at the holey overuse stage). I hope she didn’t get into trouble! The funniest place name we encountered was Wyre Piddle and there was a free mooring site, for a drink, at the riverside pub. The opposite bank (no mooring) was Tiddle Widdle Island. As it was midday when we arrived there we had lunch, had a little walk, had a little beer and headed to Pershore which had the best free mooring on the banks of the park and only metres away from the supermarket and shops. Also the best kept, cleanest and sweetest smelling public conveniences (that’s what they were called) I have ever used! The toilet attendant gave me a card to fill in, in the hope Pershore Public Conveniences would win the Public Convenience competition.

The nearby Pershore lock was a tricky one as the lock was a diamond shape and it was not possible to snuggle AM close to the lock wall. 14 miles later we came to the end of the navigable Avon River at Tewkesbury. A sweet town with some beautiful Tudor and Elizabethan houses………………….

….We had just arrived at the last “manned Lock” on the River Severn, so I had to stop typing and go and assist the safe upward passage of AM and accompanying boats. Avalon Mist was a key part of this lock filling and we had a bit of chat with boaties tied on to us. It was the first time I’d been so close to the front gates and the possibility of water gushing in. But somehow the filling of these locks on the River Severn water doesn’t pour in within view, as is usual on Canal locks where you keep your distance. On  leaving the Lock we came quickly to Stourport-on-Severn. We knew there were Locks to experience in order to leave the River. So the Lock we needed to use was for a 7ft beam. It was a staircase Lock which means it is 2 Locks dependent on the other’s action to work, meaning the boat gets lowered or raised in 2 sequential moves. It seemed straight forward, at the time. We moored in the ‘Only mooring for lock’ and checked out the territory. A short climb and we see the initial staircase. A boat is coming into the top part of the staircase Lock and we liaise with a fellow ‘boatee’ from the last Severn Lock. We thought they were there first so they may as well go in to this Lock after the current boat that was leaving the flight. So we went back and pulled AM into queue no. 1 position. Then we went up to the Lock to help. That done we both had to go back to AM to facilitate her sharp right turn into the lower staircase lock. All good but the gates were not left open. At the gates, I jumped off AM and opened the gates, leaving it for Chris to shut them and I went ahead and to get the Lock above filled. As I went up I saw the lock was full (as we had expected) but the gate was open. I was pushing it shut when this man, windlass in hand, came rushing to me telling me the lock was his, they were coming down and I was not to shut the gate! I said we were already in the bottom lock, he said we must get back out on to the River. Suddenly it was Canal rage. A lot of words went flying and the intensity of the encounter was not pleasant. Windlasses were waved!

Our Lock mates, Barbara & Roy, were really supportive and Roy had come back to help us get up the next staircase, hassle free. Barbara was moored outside the top Lock and was going to stop anyone coming down while Roy wanted to wind up the ladders with me and open the Lock gates. So we got to the marina basin area and on our way to the next Lock we found diesel and gas at a reasonable price. That was good news. And then Chris’s John Lennon prescription sunglasses plummeted into the Canal and sunk! That wasn’t good news.

But we are back on the Canal’s’. The River Severn was an adventure in that we went to Gloucester, stayed in the Gloucester Basin (in the old docklands) with free 48 hr moorings. The city shopping was just down the road and round the corner. So was the amazing Gloucester Cathedral. We had gone from Tewkesbury down to Gloucester, a journey of 14 miles and thought we’d go to Sharpness (on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal). But we decided not to go on to Sharpness but to ‘wind’ and head to Worcester (30 miles away by boat). If we had gone to Sharpness we were only a short distance along the Bristol Cannel to another Avon River and the Kennet & Avon Canal, where our Adventure started.

We left Gloucester with a selection of boats sharing the Lock and cruised out in an orderly line for a mile or 2. Then the bigger plastic boats put their foot down and overtook us. We were heading for Upton-on-Severn, only 20 miles away. Chris put the revs up on AM, as we were going on upstream and we made good time and got to Upton after @ 5 hrs cruising. Upton is a cute little riverside town. Elizabethan houses and 16 pubs. There used to be many more pubs in the shipping days. A big tall wall is planned to be built as a safeguard against the River Severn-in-flood.  

We headed to Worcester, yesterday, and had a brief squizz at downtown, found Tescos then back to AM moored on ₤3.50 overnight moorings. The signage clearly stated the terms of mooring. It is really hard to find moorings on the R. Severn, a high banked deep river prone to flooding. We were preparing to leave this morning when I saw something like a parking ticket stuck on our bedroom window. We had had a calling card from the ‘Park Ranger, he hadn’t knocked or made himself known but he had written us the bill! I was envisaging a trip to the Council office but Chris said he had just seen a high vis jacket in the distance. I ran off and met Mr High-Vis and asked him if this bill was from him. He smiled and said yes, so I gave him the money, he gave me the receipt and I put it in my scrap album.

And then we cruised up the beautiful Severn River. Today it was like a Mill Pond……


Monday, 15 August 2011

Pained Lady Talk

Blog 8

Pained Lady Talk, 15 Aug. Avon River.

Well the Hatton Flight fair stonkered me and I am slowly recovering from that over shoulder workout. I am now a novice Tiller Girl. It wasn’t the best time cos I don’t really enjoy steering AM or any boat. I am improved on my initial foray some weeks ago. In total I have had to steer in/out of 35 locks on this, The Stratford on Avon Canal. Yes, I am learning, and mostly I’m learning, Avalon Mist is a contact sport. I enjoy bringing AM alongside the bank. I have struggled with being able to get her into the lock without solid banging her sides. The locks on this canal are really narrow and when there are a number of them in the space of a mile, it can be tricky. We also had one of those ‘boat-is- going- to- roll-over on its side’ moments and I was on the bleeding boat, inside the lock, descending... I knew I was not resting on the ‘Cill’ (the slightly raised concrete platform at the bottom of the Lock gate generally submerged in water). But Avalon Mist wanted to roll over!! I yelled out to Chris, who once realizing what was happening opened the sluice to let water into the lock so AM was returned to a LEVEL position. Yep it momentarily freaked me.

Our purpose to go on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal was to get to the River Avon and beyond. I’ve been thinking the River Avon is a very long winding River spread throughout England. Chris googled it tonight and it appears that England has 4 x River Avon and Britain, in total, has 8x River Avon. Explain that?!?

Anyway along the Stratford Canal we have gone over 3 aquaducts, the first was hardly noticeable, the second at Wotton Wawen was over a busy road – it was very weird looking down at the traffic. The third was the Edstone Aqueduct which was impressive. I walked ahead of AM (me on Towpath) and then alongside her as she crossed over the aqueduct. Surreal….

Of places we moored at, Wilmcote was lovely and the locals were friendly. W e decided to spend the night there and check out the local hostelry. I, also, cycled down the towpath to the outskirts of Stratford-on-Avon and cycle/walk back again. We were so close to Stratford-on-Avon, very exciting. The next day we decided that we would take AM down the Wilmcote Locks to Stratford-on-Avon. It was about a 3 ½ hour run to get down the 15 Locks to Bancroft Basin moorings in Stratford-on Avon. I was gob smacked when we made the sharp turn into downtown Stratford and Bancroft Basin which had free moorings for boats. We were totally launched into touristville as there was a continual path of people looking at the moored narrowboats. We were literally a stone’s throw from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Christine came up from London for a couple of nights and we took ourselves down river on AM.

We left the bustle of Bancroft Basin mooring and went down the Lock on to the Avon River. This is an experience. A crowd gathers as knowledge of a boat using the Lock spreads. Suddenly the world is my oyster, I have captured an audience. We strut around with our individual windlasses and work the gates. This experience has happened more than twice in the last 2 days! I greet the crowd, say someone will be coming round with a hat (they look disconcerted so I say “just joking”) and get started on the Lock preparation routine. With two of us it makes the Lock procedure easy. The gates don’t always close completely and I am learning that the ‘draught’ caused by the opening of the sluices will probably shut a semi-open gate. (But what if it doesn’t?!! – the uncertainty means I will go back to try and close it again or Chris will have a go). Anyway now the lock is filling up, so as I walk around I pass a guy in the crowd and say “Are you Romeo?” That brought a smile to more than one person and suddenly Romeo is helping us. Who needs Verona?!!

So we were back in Stratford, last night. And, early, this afternoon Chris and I went down Lock and back on to the Avon and covered 9 ½ miles. During this time I managed to maximize on using my smiley Twin Tub and the clear waters of the Avon River. Not forgetting that we have passed through 6 locks on the river. At every Lock the river is divided into two as the ongoing flow passes over a weir. Now we are staying the night at the salubriously named ‘Inland Waterways Association Lock’.


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Going Quackers about Ducks

Evening Lady talk 8/8/11

So this evening, Chris and I were discussing how we don’t miss television. Yes, we do get some news but not to the same scale we used to have in our old daily routine. In place of tv I have started looking at Birds in Britain. We have a tea towel bearing that name (bought from a 2nd hand shop in Foxton, NZ) which we have used as a colourful curtain to cover the glass and booze shelves located close to the dining table cum spare bed.

I was observing a moorhen swimming on the “cut”. Moorhens and ducks are in big numbers on the canals. Swans appear, at times, but are common on the Thames (HRH owns them). The number of ducklings, moorhen chicks and cygnets that we have seen doesn’t make me think these birds are on the verge of extinction. I wonder what they used to eat before canal / towpath traffic entered their lives, as they seem intent on getting food thrown to them. In a way these birds are like seagulls, with food demands, but not as aggressive.

The canal birds appear to have 4 activities
1)      sleeping
2)      eating
3)      cleaning
4)      raising their chicks (that happens fast)

And No.3 on my list is cleaning. The ducks and swans preen and clean themselves on the towpath. If you see a pile of feathers on the ground, it is not the result of a fight but is the result of bird laundry. Sometimes, we have walked past grooming swans. They show their wariness in our presence and look ready to attack us if necessary.

Enough bird talk! Today, we had a BIG day going up the 21 Hatton Locks. This flight of locks is comparable with the Caen flight. We teamed up with another narrowboat, owned by Jean and John. Jean and I worked the locks, while the chaps patiently worked the boats. John kept giving a countdown of how many locks remained. At one stage he said “We’ve done six locks.” I replied “at least it’s not five!” We worked hard and pretty fast. It took @ 3 ½ hours from the start of the flight to the finish exiting the 21st lock. At one of the locks, British Waterways were mowing the grass, and one of the blokes offered to wind up the ladder and open the gate. Of course I said “Yes please and thankyou very much”. It was a grueling run. I was OK until the 16th lock when, I think, my (L) Deltoid muscle had had enough. It was very painful winding up the ladders and I thought I was not going to be able to continue. When 2 people are operating the locks, one stays behind to open / close the gates while the other goes ahead to, hopefully, have the lock ready for the boats to enter. I made my way to Lock 19 where I had an audience of gongoozlers. I greeted the “crowd” and set about to wind up the ladders so the lock would empty out and the gates could be opened for the 2 boats. I slot my windlass onto the ladder and could hardly turn the windlass. Some of the ladders are really hard to turn! Seeing my difficulty, a couple of the chaps came to assist and they were really pleased to be involved in operating the locks. It was great to have their assistance. They also helped Jean out at the next lock and then they left us to deal with Lock 21. I realized that I had been giving my body the start of a RSI by not changing my method of winding ladders. So, on the final lock, I approached the ladder from the opposite direction and it worked, I could do it! Then lashings of arnica cream and a healthy dose of Ibuprofin.

9 August 2011
The day after, and yes it is not all roses in muscleland but it’s coming right. We have just left the Grand Union, after going through the Shrewley Tunnel and have now turned onto the Stratford and Avon Canal. What a sweet canal this looks like. Yes there is the fair share of locks to be done but I’m off Lock Labouring for a wee while and about to build my skills as Tiller Girl. (We got more badges including Duck Spotter and Deck Scrubber!)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Captains Log Earth time 05th August 2011 A week in which sees Admiral Florimondo Blondini become a pensioner.

Well a week into being a pensioner and it is not all that I imagined. First day as an OAP I went down the park with a bag of sweets, something that I am led to believe that male pensioners do. Not really that successful, mugged by fat spotty teenage boys. I am told by those in the know that a kitten or a puppy is the way to go. .I will give some thought to that.
Sarah has kept you all up to date with travels etc so I will fill in some facts for the bead counters.
Diesel is sold in two prices, propulsion and domestic. Propulsion has duty vat etc etc .Domestic only has etc etc. And of course the prices vary, so Yorkshire man that I am I get Sarah to call marinas and get prices. Of course they don’t want to tell you because they know that they are the most expensive on the cut, so they fib, which caught us out at first, but once bitten as the saying goes, so we filled up near to Rugby who told us that it was 84p.p.litre for domestic and 110p for propulsion
We put in 149 litres and told them that it was 40 % propulsion and 60% domestic, it seems that they only sold 60/40 and that was 110p p litre ,only a 15 quid rip off but a rip off all the same.
So some hard facts………..
We spend on average £4.50 a day on fuel, that gives us hot water, electricity and if we choose propulsion for about 10 miles.
Good value.
Food is cheap, especially if you are a good shopper, cheese gets a special mention as we have to resist the urge to buy every thing, so much variety and well priced.
As usual booze is our biggest expense, wine £4.00 upwards , spirits similar to NZ, beer in the pub, cheaper the further you get away from London, last night under £3.00 a pint.
Toilet pump out £10.00 - £15.00 every two weeks [depending on bran and ale intake] water free, waste disposal free, B/Waterways £700.00 per annum rates zero, fun 100%.
So it all seems good, weather very English, but I have only had the full wet weather gear on twice.
Countryside is just Oh so magnificent, sitting writing this as dappled sunlight filters through the trees on to the Grand Union Canal , and the Huddersfield Choral society sing Jerusalem on BBC 3. Why is Jerusalem so damned moving to us Brits??
Boaters come in a huge variety, from the somewhat feral, living [one assumes] in things that very vaguely resemble boats, and cooking in galvanised buckets on the edge of the woods, to the floating white plastic gin palaces on the River Thames with names like Jon Sebastian Bijou Charles 11 who would really rather not share locks with you [or the planet I suspect.] We narrow boaters who are obviously a cut above all the afore mentioned call them Tupperware boats.
I love our twice/thrice weekly visits to the pubs, beer is to my liking and first mates, people have a sense of humour and are keen to laugh, even at themselves.
The negatives……….The weather……….but then Spain is only a few hours away……….. But mostly customer service….seems like the Brits just don’t do it, mind you I cant remember that they ever did.
Tattoos , like everywhere are immensely popular and one seldom sees bare skin, which in a lot of cases is a blessing., obesity not as bad as I had imagined, but then we are not quite in “Chips and curry sauce” territory yet. This morning we are moored on the outskirts of Warwick, in a sunny and not that unpleasant industrial hinterland, the reason for this being that we had a full day in Leamington Spa yesterday, very attractive city, great floral displays and parks and of course the home of tennis [1872 Maj Henry Gem].
We were a bit late leaving Leamington and then passed both a canal side Lidl and Tesco, so once we had replenished stocks and returned to AM it was just starting to rain and the gin flag had been flying for some time and El Capitano was parched, so any port in a storm as they say.
Today is a walk /cycle to Warwick, visit the castle, and hopefully the “Cape of Good Hope” [highly recommended] at some stage.
Tempus fugit

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Lady scripts

28th July
We motored off, early, this morning and headed over to Rugby, by way of the Oxford canal. We parted ways at Braunston, a fine overnight stay, busy traffic on the canal plus the Braunston Marina has a fine selection of boats for sale as well as boatbuilding happening. A bright start to the day with the sun breaking out through the early mist. I maxxed on getting the laundry done. There wasn’t much needing laundering, really, what probably amounted to 2 light loads in the smiley faces of Twin Tubs. Anyway…  But, early days, and this novelty has given me more time to start to settle into life on board. Yes, sure, we are living the dream and how lucky are we. Life is different. It is interesting to see how much space we use and don’t use. The living room is mostly a storage cupboard with a couple of lounge chairs, footstools and a Twin Tub, that are functional. I am starting to feel more at home than displaced. It is lovely to sit out on the stern and watch canal flora & fauna pass by, and slowly build my confidence at the tiller. I’m OK if I pay attention right from the start. The secret is that I need to keep looking in front of me when Chris hands over tiller duties; Chris has had to step in, more than once, and avert potential crash sites. I’m good on an empty stretch of canal, I can pass under curved narrow bridges, I can ‘tick’ past moored boats. I need to pass more oncoming boats and get Lock confident. I know all these things but there’s no rush.

We often go for a walk, or sometimes cycle, along the tow path. Our walks can become quite extensive. The most enjoyable walks include a farmer’s field of wheat where the footpath passes through the centre of it.  Today, we walked into Rugby. The main shopping area was busy, both on the streets and in the large shopping mall. We went to Waitrose, because we could. We picked up a prepared Indian dinner for ₤2.75. Enough to feed us for 2 days.  Found a couple of charity shops, we hunt them down in every village. Rugby feels alive and has more of our favourite supermarkets.

I have been amazed at how easy it is to cook, on board. We have a 9V fridge which keeps the food cool and eats up the battery power. We are now turning the fridge off overnight. No ice!

And now it is August 4th  and raining. We set off from Rugby around 830 am. This involved going up canal to the nearby “winding” point to turn around! Then a short stop to fill up the water tank and head a couple of miles to the 3 Hillmorton locks. Now we are on track to Braunston, then Napton where we make a Right turn following the Grand Union Canal to Royal Leamington Spa, Warwick and move onto the Stratford-on-Avon Canal.

Last weekend we went to London for the weekend, leaving AM tied up and locked up. No worries. The train took 1 ½  hours to Euston Station. We booked the train ‘online’ ₤18 return. Good price at such short notice. The train carriage is slightly wider than AM.  We had a fabulous weekend with friends, good to be on land for a short time and experience big rooms!

Avalon Mist was moored where we left her and no one had disturbed her. The weather has been warm and sunny, these past few days, and suited our plans to get a bit of painting done. Chris got his angle grinder out and sanded and prepped the roof for undercoating. He started the painting and I finished the first coat. Chris, also, put in a new shower and has sorted out the bilge pump.

The canals are busying up with holiday makers.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Oxford Canal, Braunston Bridge 90

July 27th  
Oxford Canal (now sharing it with the Gand Union Canal)   Braunston 

Lady talk…. Pump out the Jam

Well as much as girls will always be girls on the inside, one must realize that on the outside the polite kids see them as a “Lady”. So I have succumbed to Ladyship and will still girl talk but as a Lady on Avalon Mist. 

So the sight in the kazi, this morning, was not really one that anyone would find joy in seeing. I knew what I had for breakfast 2 days ago and did not care to see it as floaters. Enough said we had to get to the Pump out station, pronto, and what a relief to have our tank emptied and a lighter load to cruise over the low water level of the canal. I'm writing this because readers need to know that conditions are not always as we want them. We had to go into a marina for a Pump Out and I had heard the charges were more costly on this canal. So I greeted the nice man with   “What's your best price for a Pump Out? ₤15?” He responded “₤16”. We had thought it would be ₤20 so I agreed and they got the mobile pump out hose and an operator to do the job, so to speak. 

Oh and the weather. Yes there is weather here, similar to an oceanic climate. I am thinking of becoming a weather forecaster as inevitably the forecast is cloud, sun (possibly) and ?% precipitation. We haven’t had much rain but a lot of gray days. Temperatures are not baking but are we bovvered?

The Oxford Canal is narrow, and the locks are narrow and for one boat at a time. There have not been loads of locks on this canal and I am feeling rather old hand at it now. Actually my hands are looking rather old! The gates are a mix of single but double ladders (to wind up the sluices) at one end and double gates at the other end. It is always good if another boat is waiting to come in as we are leaving the double gate end, then I can jump on the boat without needing to close the gates.

When we were in Banbury, I left Chris to fill up with water and get fuel and I took a mega wash to the Laundromat. 2 loads of washing and then drying time cost ₤10. I looked on E Bay to buy a twin tub but thought it would be difficult to get it sent to us at no fixed abode and not fair to have to ask friends to deliver it to us. So I thought I'd soldier on with hand washing. However, we moored at Fenny Compton and the chap moored in front of us got chatting with Chris and said they'd bought a twin tub but it had blown their electrics when they went to use it, as they didn’t have 240V. He had shown a generous streak and bought his wife a large bucket! Chris told me the story, I felt sorry for the wife, but I thought they have a redundant Twin Tub, we have an inverter (240V), and this could have a happy ending. I knocked on their window and within a few minutes I had a Twin Tub to try out. Chris had spent “rest” time, the last couple of days using a sanding disc and wire brush on the angle grinder giving Avalon Mist's body what for then followed by a brush of red oxide. So his “work” clothes were either for the tip or the Twin Tub. The Twin Tub worked wonders on these clothes and, post wash, hung to dry above the bow. Beautiful. ₤55 exchanged hands and we are happy. (The price in the Chandlery was ₤101 for the same Twin Tub, I found out today).

Well on that clean note, I must go and get dinner ready.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sometimes girls have to scream.

July 20th   near Banbury

We motored on to the mighty Thames, a river where BIG fiber-glass cabin cruisers are available for rental if you don’t own one. A bit too flashy and soulless for the likes of us and I did put it to one of the ?owners sharing a lock with us as to whether the boat indicates the personality. I got a smile out of him.  

The Thames is a beautiful river and I love the weeping willow trees which grace the banks. The foliage looks like a bushy haircut and there was a lot of it! We saw a lot of swans and Canadian geese, even shared one of the locks with the Swan family who paddled in as the gates were closing, and were the first out when the gates opened. The Lock Keeper was not impressed, probably because he couldn’t charge them!

We had to pay ₤22 per day for registration to be on the Thames. The temporary registration papers had to be placed in a window on either side of AM. In effect we had 2 ½ days to get to the Oxford Canal, a journey of over 40 miles. I’m not sure what ₤22 paid for apart from trendy locks which were sometimes operated by Lock Keepers. If there was no Lock Keeper then the “Self Service” sign was up and that meant do it yourself pressing buttons. I was told about 12 locks later that if I was operating the lock then I would be responsible for any other craft sharing the lock. I found all this out because an empty passenger boat, which had sped past us, had closed the lock gates on us just as we were close to entering the lock. I was pissed off with the bloke and went up to have words with him just as the lock keeper appeared. They were obviously matey but I said my words and it made me feel better. And matey said that he hadn’t seen us, and that even if he had then he couldn’t have us in the lock as he was not allowed to take that responsibility. I digress….

We decided to turn right off the Kennet and Avon Canal and go a couple of miles down river to Sonning. Sonning is a pretty village and Chris remembers it from his Windsor years. Of course it had an attractive pub and we tasted the water before ‘winding’ and heading up to Thames side of Reading opposite Caversham.. We moored on the banks of a park and by the rowing lanes as it turned out. The bank was awash with swan & geese pooh! (They need Mole from Wind in the Willows to do a bit of cleaning up). But the view over the river to the posh houses was interesting and watching the rigorous rowing training was an eye opener and it certainly rocked the boat. The first rock of the boat made me squeal, a little, as I was in the little room and I thought that we were going to be rocked all night. But when I realized it was the Rowing club, I knew they would be packing up before nightfall. They did restart around 6 a.m.

Day 2 on R.Thames saw us powering along at 4 miles an hour covering distance. The gardens of the posh and fabulous are glimpsed as we pass by. I did wave at some of the houses and photographed more than I needed to. We were going to stop at some of the towns but finding moorings was not easy. We thought we would spend the night just after Day’s Lock where Dorchester was in easy walking distance. Another Self Service lock and after leaving the lock in the way it is supposed to be left, I jumped on AM and we were moving towards a spot we thought we’d moor in when the bleeding canoes turned up and took that exact same space! Kind of 3 Men in a Boat and their support boat or two. So we moved along and found a nice spot away from the pretenders but also no Footpath to Dorchester.

Day 3, our final day of big river motoring, we stopped in Abingdon. Had a walk into town, a cappuccino, and a look at a chandlery (Boat shop). On returning to AM we had a bench seat of 4 gongoozlers, so I had a quick chat with them. I noticed the Bow had what looked like wet white paint spattered on the floor, and I was told it was from a White Heron that had flown by! Dirty White Heron, I wonder what its diet is? I really am getting C – anal! More cruising and we were at Oxford. We had been advised to take the Thames to Duke’s Cut rather than entering the Oxford Canal at Sheepwash Channel. Looking back it would have been a sharp Right turn at Sheepwash and I don’t recall passing it. The signage on the Thames is a little hit and miss, and I think the Environment Agency that take our money could use it a bit to cut back foliage so we mere mortals could be kept in the picture, rather than trying to read trees. Leaving Oxford we passed some open land where there were wild interbred horses sharing space with cattle. They didn’t look like they were socializing. And so arrived the last Thames lock for us, none of the fancy automated system but a job the Lock Keeper seemed to enjoy. (He’d only been on the job a couple of days and was still waiting for the uniform – well that’s what he told us). After King’s Lock we had a right turn into Duke’s Cut and within 15 minutes we were greeted by the single gate lock that is the Oxford Canal. At first we thought we had misread the sign and the river ran out! But on a closer look, yep there was the narrowest lock and through it we went.

So life on the boat, yes I screamed when the horn gets blasted and just about blows out my eardrums. Chris fixed that, yesterday. Most days I’m good with living on board, sometimes it feels too small, sometimes it feels just right, sometimes I’m impatient. All the time I imagine having Della with us, there are dogs everywhere, this country just loves them. I’ve removed the fly spotted pull down blinds, by pulling down the blinds to where there are no fly spots and cutting the dirty bit off. I know I run the risk of calling “Curtains” on this adventure by getting involved in curtains! But I’m good. We had a visit from the expat Kiwi London crowd, last Sunday, most enjoyable. But that will come in under the Oxford Canal episode, to be written next.

Oh and the weather. Yes the forecasters get it right every day, sun and cloud and rain. I think the summer is hanging around waiting for a curtain call.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Girls keep on Talking

13 July 11

River Thames.

Yesterday we completed the Kennet and Avon Canal at Reading where the Canal meets the Thames, thanks to guidance from hard copy Nicholson ‘Waterways Guide 7’ (gifted from Pops) and a little bit of help from Tony, Dave & Sandy, and Mark along the way. I feel like I have earned my Lock operation  badge and am in process of biceps & quads formation, abdomen flattening, and lower spine torturing. Yes we did 94 locks since leaving Bradford on Avon not to mention all the others we did with Tony when we left Devizes for the Caen Hill Flight. The locks were not in as good condition as the Caen Hill locks. The tourist rental companies, reportedly, give minimal instruction and do not  stress the importance of using the windlass to control the speed of the ladders as they drop to shut the sluices! Many rentees drop the paddles, a loud sound is emitted which in effect damages the paddles causes the lock to need repairs blah blah blah.

We also did our fair share of swing bridges. The first one of our last day on the K & A Canal was jammed as it had been overswung and a bolt was blocking its swing. A towpath user gave me a helping hand and he pushed the bridge while I jumped on and it worked! Of course the responsible person trapped inside me phoned British Waterways and reported the problem to their answer machine. Most of the recent swing bridges involved stopping traffic all by the turn of a key and the press of a button or two at the handily located control boxes. And there was the Aldermaston Lift Bridge which resulted in traffic being stopped for approx 30 mins while 2 boats went through one way, then 3 boats went through the other way including one of the boats that had already gone through and needed to turn around. And then all of this meant we lost our place at the next lock, but it’s not a race!

On the outskirts of Reading we came to Fobney Lock (at the waterworks) which looked perilous for post lock “me” pickup, as the strong weir stream came out at right angles to wear I would be picked up. I thought I was better to open one gate for AM to exit from and then climb down the ladder and jump on to AM’s roof before she left the lock and not bother to close the gate. Chris did his best to control AM and make sure I left the slippery ladder in safety. We left the lock and, amazingly, the gate closed behind us. How thoughtful!

The second to last lock, in Reading, was an interesting affair. It had 4 paddles either end  for the windlass to wind, then drop. Then once AM was out of the lock, Chris waited for me at the temporary lock mooring where the local drunks pushed the traffic light button for us and we got the green light to pass through Reading CBD. What fun, lots of waves from the lunchtime crowd and then eventually to the last lock which, although self operated, gave us a taste of Thames River lock operation…automatic, tell your father!

And so to the Thames, what a beautiful river. More on that next Blog. But suffice to say there are some big cruisers and makes me wonder what the size of your boat says about your personality.
So what’s life like in one’s narrowboat home. Firstly, it is rather busy on the canals. If you are on the move then there seem to be a lot of locks, and little time between them. My job, until I get my steering competency badge from the captain, is to open and close the locks. This means timely departures off the boat at landing points so I can ready the canal.The plus is I keep fit and sleep well at night! But there are other tasks to do, I am demonstrating some of my domestic- goddess- in- the-galley abilities which I had put to bed some years ago! Many of you will know that Chris is a fab cook and has kept me well fed over the years. So now the worm has turned. The laundry is sometimes taken to the launderette for ₤7 (machine wash & dryer) but I have reinstated my Portugal hand washing skills using the kitchen sink, wash basin, and hip bath for all laundry except towels. I am a good wringer but towels I’m not interested in. We are currently building up a used towel collection!

We fill our water tank usually every 2-3 days so we know that we won’t run out. We think the water tank holds 300 litres. It seems to take longer to fill it than it does to use it! (Filling station traps are marked by a tap icon in the Nicholson’s book). The shower is great. The hip bath is similar to a shub but not as big. The shower spray has good pressure (the water is on a pressure system) and the calorifier heats the hot water when the engine is running. I had a hot shower, this morning, from water that would have been heated yesterday. It was lovely.

Then there is the toilet, yes you know you don’t want to know but you do want to! All I will say is that we only put what needs to go in the toilet in the toilet, so we can limit our need  to “pumpout” the contents, as British Waterways want ₤10 for each ‘pumpout’. I didn’t think our shit was so valuable! The old Elsan loo is free disposal but we have seen a composting loo on one of the narrowboats and thought that’s the ticket. So on that wee note, I’ll go. Laters.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Where are we?

Girl's keep on talking!
We are in HUNGERFORD, still on the Kennet & Avon Canal. Since the last blog at Honeystreet we have covered 17 miles, 23 locks, 1x tunnel and 2 swing bridges. The weather has been the weather. At least one day the weather didn't listen to the weather forecast and we cruised under warm sunshine. The majority of the locks were yesterday when we teamed up with Arthur and his narrowboat. Much easier to be sharing lock duties with good company included, thanks Arthur! (Sorry that we couldn't sort out a space for you to moor in Hungerford).
The weather was pretty wet this, morning, and we decided to cast off when it looked like the black clouds were turning grey. We saw the last lock we had gone through, yesterday evening, was overflowing so I went up, windlass in hand (windlass is the tool of the lock operation Trade, not forgetting the toughened coccyx of my person), thinking that I'd wind up the ladder of the bottom gate and empty some of the lock but the flow stopped and I saw that Mike & Liz who we'd met on the locks, a couple of days ago, were going down. So we agreed to do the lock trail to Hungerford together.  That worked well and we saw the benefit of having a 'bow thruster' (what moves the boat from the front in a sideways direction) - good for position in the lock and good for moving into a mooring. The most interesting lock, today was the Hungerford Marsh Lock with the Hungerford Marsh Swing Bridge (over lock). Yes the bridge was over the lock and you can't go into the lock without moving the bridge!
So now we are in Hungerford. We've checked out the shops, got 2 litres of  semi skimmed milk for 80p (reduced cos it's 2 days til it's use by date)! We are happy to be back in internetland, funny we never used to need all this connectivity.
Sleep comes easily when you are a locklubber. Soon I'll fill you in on what life is like, for me, on a narrowboat.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Girl Talk - Flat bottom boat you make the rockin' world go round!

5 July

Honey Street, Pewsey. Moored up outside 'The Barge Inn"' circa 1810. We are less than a stone's throw from the door to the pub!

We left Bradford-on-Avon a couple of days ago and swiftly chugged, via 15 locks on Sunday, to the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight. We wanted to have an early start on the "Flight" on Monday and let Matey Locky (of NZ "dog" notoriety) know our plans as he passed by on his 4 wheeler. Well he asked us first! We teamed up with holiday makers ( 2 women and an 11 yr old kid) who were in a narrowboat rental (probably 40ft) to go up the flight. Easier to do it with 2 boats than solo! Means teamwork working the locks. So 3 hours and 50 minutes later we were in Devizes. On the way up the "flight" the 11 year old was skippering their boat. He was doing a fantastic job but it didn't go without incident. On about the 7th lock he slipped in the stern on the slippery floor, as he was using his pole to keep the boat in line after entering the lock, and slid into the water. This happened just as Avalon Mist was entering the lock! Quick action from Chris in stopping Avalon Mist and encouragement from we women above averted tragedy. It took a lot of effort for the boy (Alex) to haul himself back on deck and he was briefly in shock but got his breathing back in control and then on with the job. In Devizes we stocked up on groceries which involved a bus ride to Lidl. (Kind of like Pak'n'Save in NZ and a supermarket we used to go in Portugal). We were moored, overnight, opposite the Devizes slipway wharf. We decided that we have our own reality tv station - 'Channel Can(n)al' Hanging out for some of the afternoon was a young woman who had the most annoying laugh, worse than Vicky Pollard if you have ever watched "Little Britain", and couldn't say a sentence that made sense. Later in our viewing was Canoe/Kayak school which would allow audience interaction. Dad and 2 sons in the canoe, Dad and the older son rowing and young son in the middle being young son in the middle. Chris commented to them how lovely it was to watch them busy and learning how to paddle. Youngest son said "But I'm not doing anything!" Later, just before sunset, the Swan family promenaded along the wharf. Then mum and dad Swan jumped in the canal followed by their 6 developing Cygnets and paddled over to see if there were any treats for their performance. No such luck!
The weather, the past couple of days has been warm and sunny. This morning started off sunny but the forecast was a 50% chance of precipitation and yes, as chance would have it, they were right. But are we bovvered? The laundromatted washing is hung out in the bow, under the cratch cover. We have now moved ourselves 7 1/2  miles in an eastward direction, from Devizes, and the adventure really begins. We moored for lunch (savoury scones) followed by a road walk into the pretty village of All Cannings and a field walk back to the tow path (2 miles we are guessing). The village was full of thatched houses, chocolate box pictures thought Chris. The village shop was run by volunteers from the village with pricing geared at encouraging the villagers to shop affordably, there, rather than pay the 2 pound return bus fare to Devizes. What a great idea and what a sense of community. They also had an old red phone box on the side of the footpath which was used as a book exchange (i.e. bring a book and swap it for another).
Now we are at Honey Street, in view of the 'White Horse" on the hill and  temporarily moored at The Barge Inn which was once a slaughterhouse, a bakehouse, a brewery, and a grocers. It is also the International crop circle centre. I reckon it's the White Horse that does the crop circles.
Right off to investigate. It could take some time!  Laters!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Girl Talk again


Just checked the date as I need to confirm that today is actually today! And, yes, I had it right but only after thinking about it for a minute or two. So, somewhere along the calm waters 10 days has passed since we added to the Blog. Yesterday, we were in Trowbridge (‘.row..’ is said like row your boat, not ~row~ with someone. I tried the ~row~ way with the bus driver and he said “where?”), for cheap shopping and a WiFi connection where we uploaded some photos on Blogspot. The photos were taken after the Caen Hill Flight, so we will post some of the previous ones once I have sorted out downloading them off my mobile phone. (Our current internet connection on AM is non existent where we are moored.)

So to backtrack (or do boaties say  to ‘backwater’?) we departed Devizes Marina and headed the short distance to Devizes on Tues 21 June and found a mooring on the canal close to the town centre. I managed to jam a fingernail as I was sliding the metal hatch cover and closing the metal door to the stern. That hurt, and I high tailed it to Superdrug to get some Arnica cream applied as quickly as I could.

The next day, Tony arrived from Eastbourne and we set off under rainy skies towards the Caen Hill flight of locks. We had six locks to pass through before hitting the rapid 16 flight of locks. Initially the rain got worse and we thought we’d moor up and carry on the next day. Then the sun came out and we got stuck into it. I say we, but I was not lock active until mid flight when I was allowed to take hold of the windlass and wind the paddles up or down. All I know is some are easy and some are not, definitely an Upper Limb strength builder. Then there are the gates to open and close. Once the water in the lock is level with the water outside the lock the gates can be opened / closed, one’s bum is generally used to push the wooden gate lever over the space of a wide semi circle. Over a series of locks the tail area starts to feel a little tender! The last 3 locks of the “Flight” were assisted by the British Waterways Lock keeper who was keen to get us out of the monitored are so he could have an early end to his day. When he found out I was from NZ, he said that he has one word that he associates with New Zealand and that is “DOG”! We looked at him in surprise and he asked us to guess what he was talking about. I said “Fred Dagg, get in behind”, and he said “Footrot Flats”. Yeah right whatever! I told him that Caen in Portuguese means Dog. By that time we were on the last lock of the day and we cruised off to moor up and find a pub. We found a place to moor but there was no pub a short walk away! So we watched the sun set from Avalon Mist, had drinks and dinner then went to bed weary from the days efforts. It had taken us @ 7 hours to do 1 ½ miles that day!!

We woke up early, and after our standard breakfast of fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt and milk we were off to the first of 13 locks that day. There was good distance between locks and we went just over 5 miles. Apart from locks there is also the occasional Swing Bridge to open. Locks and bridges mean getting off the boat to operate them unless there is other canal traffic that will do the work. The locks need to have their gates and shutters closed unless someone is going to use it straight after we have, and the sing bridge needs to be reinstated for pedestrian or vehicle use. This means many jumps on and off the boat depending on the frequency of the aforementioned. ‘Fit not Fat’ are the words of the moment. I enjoy the graceful glide of Avalon Mist as she is gently pushed out from the edge of the Canal as I climb aboard.

So that evening we were in Semington, a stone’s throw from the Somerset Arms Pub. The Pub had a nice drop of real ale and I was partial to the one called ‘Gem’, same name as my parents dog! We ate, on board, then an early night and I was up early for a morning walk on the tow path. What a fabulous time to take photos. I posted some of the shots on the Blog. I am now waiting for delivery of a battery charger as I left mine in NZ thinking my battery was compatible with Chris’s and it isn’t!

Oh well, off we went to Bradford on Avon, a further 5 miles along the canal in the direction of Bath. Tony left us the following day, and we went on to Bathampton, 6 ½ miles. Moored up close to “The George” Pub for 3 nights. We took our bikes along the towpath and checked out the locks that take the boats down to the Avon River. We had decided that we would go no further than Bathampton in AM but it was great to have the bikes to see what we were missing out on. We were just turning the bikes around when Steve and Prema phoned us to say they were at AM. for a visit.

So we winded (turn around) at Bathampton and went to Dundas wharf to fill up with water and then stopped at Limpley Stoke for the night. Had a fab walk through 2 villages (Limpley Stoke and Freshford) which involved walking through fields and ended up in Avoncliff at the “Cross Guns” pub drinking ale from Box Steam Brewery. A quick, just over a mile, walk got us back to AM and we found ourselves cramped in by a tourist wide beam boat. So we moved and next day headed to Avoncliff and we have been in that area for the past few days. Dave & sandy came and stayed a couple of nights and we took them up canal a little way which included going up (and down) the Bradford on Avon lock. We have met some lovely English people (Ian & Sonja) who have a beautiful narrowbeam boat and they went ‘up’ the lock with us as I was needing some instruction cos I realize that as the lock is filling there is a risk of water flowing over the bow and I don’t want that.

And here we are, it is now July 2nd. Chris has fixed the dripping tap in the kitchen and sorted out the alternator position so that the fan belt won’t get chewed up again! Amazing how he can do these tasks. I’m so lucky. We are finding canal life is very pleasant. Having said that, our days have been busy and, today, I am trying to relax.

I’m very happy with my Trolley. I wheeled it to Sainsbury’s, yesterday to get some water, milk, Stilton cheese and other things which seemed to fill the trolley! Then as Sainsbury’s didn’t have an adjustable spanner or white spirits, I hauled the trolley onto the Sainsbury’s bus to be dropped near the hardware shop in town. I sat on the bus and the driver said to me “are you going to buy a ticket?”. I said “I thought it was a free bus” and he said  “no” so I said “I’d better get off” and he said” haven’t you got any money” and I said “no” and he said “oh well I’ll just mark you off as having a bus pass!”  Nice bus driver.


Friday, 1 July 2011

Ships log July !st

Its been busy. I think that we thought that we would be updating every couple of days, but what with the initial sort out, cleaning, putting things away [the narrow boat has enough space but it needs good sorting, a system, and a bit of discipline]
So we are making progress in that direction.
Sarah has got most of the moss off the windows, and is being a bit of a domestic goddess, and has taken over my roll as cook, which I’m enjoying.
We have had minor mechanical adjustments, dripping taps, a fan belt eating alternator, but things are getting sorted, and I have even had the angle grinder out knocking off rust and red leading [or not] probably red lead is illegal these days.
We have met a lot of really nice people, especially Ian and Sonia who have been so helpful with advice, giving us maps etc etc. Thanks new mates.
We have a rough itinerary, [thanks new friends] it goes as follows, but of course could change………….
Kennet & Avon to Reading………. On to the Thames to past Oxford……….on to the Oxford canal and along to Warwick……..poss. detour to Stratford on Avon,,,,,,,,,,, Tewksbury…….Worcester….and on to Birmingham………...on to near Liverpool then double back to Stoke on Trent {Robbie Williams, Potteries etc] and on to Burton on Trent and Derby where we hope to get winter moorings.
So lets get this posted and will try and be more regular with the blog.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

short update

Just been down the pub, few pints of real beer. Sarah started out on halves, finished on pints. We are just having the very best time. Haven't seen anyone in black clothes with silver ferns. Love my country.............its civilized.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Girl Talk contd.

Well the longest birthday (for me this century) on almost the longest day has passed. And it was great to have so many birthday messages, e cards, and one actual old fashioned card card.

As Chris mentioned I did have fun with the Avalon Mist's shopping trolley, yesterday. I had to leave the Marina on foot and get out through the locked gate. I was told to press a button near the gate but I couldn't find the bleeding button, it was hiding from me!. I phoned Chris for help and before he came to my rescue, Norman appeared on the other side and let me out! Now I know where the button is, it took me all my strength to open the highly strung gate. Th trolley and I  made 2 trips to the supermarket and I made a third trip on my own to return a flat pack pine footstool which we didn't want as we have a blue plastic similar item already. The trolley is an icebreaker in meeting people (normally Della serves that role!). On my first trip to the supermarket, I needed directions and a woman in her early 80's walked with me along the pavement. I heard her say to her husband that she was going to show a lady how to get to the supermarket! No words to define me in a particular age group. Funny I am a "lady" now, not "young" lady or "relatively young" lady or "old" lady. Anyway I spouted forth about the joys of trolleyhood and that a trolley should not just be seen as equipment needed for old age or infirmity. It encourages fitness and independenc for me cos it means walking from the boat, means one doesn't need to have a coin to get a supermarket trolley, it can hold the heavy stuff, and the trolley can be filled without proper packing until after it has been checked out. This means identifying the length of conveyor belt needed and placing items so the heavy bulky stuff is at the front and the squashables are last so that I can pack with efficiency. Do not be fooled that you need to fill the trolley right up, each time, you go shopping!
We are now awaiting the hot water to heat up so that we can shower and be ready for cruising off after Norman has come to do the last minute mechanical thingies. The motor is running to charge the batteries blah blah (trolley talk is easier!) and it is rather loud. Oops Norman has just arrived and turned the engine off. Peace but hot water yet??
News just in .....the horn and the spotlight are now working! Watch out world!

Time to get this show on the canal. Laters......

A brief history

This is a blog set up by Chris and Sarah so family and friends can catch up with their travels on the British waterways in the summer of 2011. In 2010, I went to England with the idea of getting a narrow boat built. I had specific requirements so I thought that a new build may be the way to go. I e mailed to numerous boat builders, a great percentage of whom ignored me. The problem of having a family name of Laycock is that hotmail and a few others think that I am a porn star. At an early age you learn not to put C Laycock on your school books. But I guess that my nephew Paul did worse. Anyway I spent a very pleasant few weeks driving around the beautiful English countryside visiting boatyards, marinas, boat builders and just a few pubs. I had narrowed it down to two builders and in the last week I was in Devizes Wiltshire when I came across "Avalon Mist" 54 feet of throbbing neglected narrow boat. The past owner had lost interest, hadn’t maintained her and to add insult to injury had been made redundant. After a very short negotiation I was able to buy her for a pretty fair price. On the day the sale took place I had to beg her to take her trainers and a few rather suspect items of clothing, in other words she left everything. Lock stock and barrel.

Soon after the purchase I flew to California to meet Sarah and have a short holiday. Once back in NZ I started to try and organize works. The first thing that I learnt was that the marina does not allow any contractor on site, only their chosen ones, the excuse given is a concern about insurance, the suspicion is, graft, pay back, baksheesh, call it what you like. It is possible to take the boat off the marina to have the work done, but not really practical.

The first job to be tackled was to “winterize” the boat, i.e. drain off all the water, check the anti freeze in the engine and central heating and fit an automatic bilge pump.

No real problem there except communication, the mechanic just didn’t answer e mails. Difficult to do business like that.

The nice marina lady had a quiet word with him, and things did improve, thanks Debs you have been a star through out . He later confided in me the reason for this was that he was dyslexic, apparently a malady [he] claims affects a lot of mechanics.[It turns out that he is a great mechanic and a nice guy to boot].

That goes pretty high on my list of lame excuses, the top one being a really nice Irish guy Pat, who I had employed as a carpenter years ago when I lived in London. He was always a bit late for work, when I finally collared him about it; he said he could never decide what to wear to work.

Nice one Pat.

I digress, the boat was winterized, which was just as well as it was a cold one and the whole marina froze over.

Next job was to have her taken out of the water, have the hull stripped back to bare metal and have a bit of over plating done. There were a couple of areas where there was pitting, and I though if she’s out of the water, may as well do the job right, so a small amount of over plating and then the hull was blacked, and the engine bay partially de-rusted and then back in the water.

Seems like a good job was done, I had the marine surveyor who had done the original survey, check out all the major works and give me written reports and photos, so all good except once again communications.

I then came across a great guy, the partner of the woman who runs the marina and a carpenter/narrow boat fitter outer .He replaced the stern deck and did a great job, also did a great job on de-greasing, de-rusting and painting the engine compartment. A job I should have done myself, but I just didn’t fancy it, not only that be was great with communications and chasing other people up

So that takes us up to present.

There needs to be a bit of electrical work, not much. The outside is badly in need of paint, Sarah and I can do that and a bit of a tidy up inside, and then she will be a really nice boat.