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.

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.