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.

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.