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 “Café”, 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!

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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.