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!)

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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.