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…..


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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.