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.


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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.