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.


  1. Hello there!!!
    Think I´ve managed to suss out how this works!!
    Sounds like your having a LOVELY time on board. You make it sound very quaint,visiting all the pubs and sampling their ales! After the long days of "locking" and "swing-bridging" I think you more than deserve a wee drinkie! Keep up the writing, it makes me feel as if I´m there with you, but WITHOUT all the hard work! Big Kiss Cxx

  2. I wonder why we have so many friends called anonymous ??


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.