Sunday, 9 December 2012


"Dancer" line up pointing to our bright lights

And so December progresses. 

The Marina is lighting up on land and water. It’s kinda nice to have coloured lights, some flashing, if you leave the boat after 1645hrs. A few boats have got a light show switched on and the numbers are increasing daily.  

There is no doubt about the outside temperature. The question is can frozen ice get colder? Some mornings there is a deep white frost on the boats, pontoons, and grounds of the Marina. The road gets patches of ice which I am concentrating fully on when I am walking. Della doesn’t seem bothered by the cold temperatures and doesn’t avoid anything that looks cold underfoot. She loves the muddy walks and tolerates the lower leg wash, that is inevitable, when we get to AM. A very content and happy dog who spreads her affection to people she meets on her daily walks. Lovely.

As usual the week melts and we have been getting AM as watertight as possible. She’s not bad. Most boats have a degree of condensation. I do my Karcher workout daily and sometimes twice a day… but not always. We have tried secondary glazing, i.e. a cellophane sheet, and that seemed to have some effect but we still got water droplets forming inside the window. We realize heating and ventilation are of prime importance with a “live-aboard” and I will be really thankful if we can beat condensation. From our early days of talking toilet and water tanks with fellow moorers, conversations have progressed to heating and ‘how to beat’ condensation.
The View down Pier-Q-liar

And, on land, we have had a day out and driven to IKEA to check functional furnishings with storage solutions to line the walls of DolciBlue. IKEA is a great start to the day and we were early. We saw ourselves at the start of a short queue waiting for the ‘pre-store opening’ which in other words is breakfast at the IKEA Restaurant which opens at 930hrs. 930 arrived, and then 935 and no sign of the door opening until a bloke in the queue did a friendly knock at the door which alerted Security to open the door! The breakfast is a squashed 1/4 of omelette, bacon, sausage, baked beans, potato cake and half a tomato and priced at £1.50 including refillable tea / coffee /hot chocolate. I rate the self serve hot chocolate. Sadly, this visit, the hot chocolate machine was O.O.O. The coffee’s not bad actually.

The lights are on in and out AM
Breakfast over we entered the IKEA labyrinth and, first, in our tracks was the sofa section. The Sofa Assistant showed us a choice of two sofas that give us integral storage plus the potential to be a guest double bed. I was surprisingly surprised. I would agree to either. One is L-shaped and the other isn't! Moving along, with pamphlets in hand we passed Storage, desks and tables, chairs and lights. We didn't hang around. We know folding desks will be useful, and we have our glass dining table from NZ (if there is room). Soon we were in Kitchens. It was easy to identify what cupboards / benches would work in the new Galley. I really like the ‘kitchen’ on AM. It works well, we have ample space, and I would be happy to have a similar layout fitted. We will go for a full size pantry drawer / cupboard.  

After Kitchens we wound our way to Beds. We thought a bed that has accessible under bed storage would be ideal! Thinking about how we are going to position the bed on DolciBlue can present accessibility barriers. A bed is a mattress on a base. To use the Bed base as storage we either need to have under the bed pull out drawers with the bed positioned with access from the side or from the bed end. We needed to see if there was another possibility. (Our bed on AM has been converted to meet our needs. Initially the original bed base was covered to disguise the hollow base. Chris got out the saw and cut an opening on one side of the bed, so we could store our clothes and bags under the bed. That was last year. This year we have been using 2 units that have a series of sliding plastic bins, with our mattress positioned on a board on top. The mattress slides out and then is bolstered on the gunwale side with pillows. This gives us ample sleeping room and a place for Della.)  The helpful IKEA Bed Assistant, who had amazing false eyelashes, showed us a bed where the mattress base can be lifted so opening a bed base of storage room. Perfect. Now is it going to be memory foam or inner sprung mattress? The weight of the mattress will have importance. This will also mean we can have the bed positioned looking down the boat.

Finally we stopped at Bathrooms to look at wash hand basins. A brief stop and then we were at Market Hall. Market Hall begins at the junction of the Restaurant and the main entrance. I decided I had had my fill of IKEA and wanted to race over to BOOTS to buy some false eyelashes. Chris went on to IKEA’s Bargain Basement and we met back at the car.

The Sat Nav was turned on and she proceeded to direct us through down town Nottingham in the direction, most of the time, of our intended destination Newark-on-Trent. Sat Nav didn’t realize that there was a new roundabout onto the A1 and we ended up going a convoluted lesser road way. It involved the decision of should we drive over the swift running ford or not. We drove off in another direction and left ‘her’ to recalculate the route. Eventually we were deposited on the A1. Our plan was to view a block of 4 garages. We were late for our appointment with the agent and he telephoned just after we had got on the A1 to see if we were still going to view. I was able to let him know we were only 1.3 miles away and we blamed her on the Sat Nav, of course.

Funny thought, it took us 3 days by boat to get to Newark and it took us one hour by car!! I know which transport I prefer. 

We went back through the outskirts of Nottingham and went to visit Bill & Beryl who used to be our ‘neighbours’ 20 years ago in Portugal!! It was lovely to catch up and to share with them the rise of DolciBlue.

While we were doing this, snow arrived in England but didn’t appear where we were driving. News reports said snow in the East Midlands but then we must be in the Mid Midlands (I am going to call them the stuttering Midlands).

The other major highlight, this week, is I have booked my return flight to NZ. I am hoping for a bit of warm weather. The Travel Agent, who booked my flight, was so friendly and we had a laugh during the booking process. She needed to write down my address which I gave her over the phone. I took care to say Willington not Wellington. When I got her email with my address written on I had to email back the following to her Woolington is actually commonly known in these parts as Willington!! Just cos I'm Kiwi doesn't mean everything is sheep related!!!!!!”

Kaimai View, Dec 2011,  from our old home in NZ

Sunday, 2 December 2012

DolciBlue Dream Weavering

Della glides over frost

It’s wintertime. At least this season seems to be in shape of doing it properly. It is a warm feeling being able to dress in lots of clothes. Longjohns (that doesn’t sound girly but warmer than tights) and layers of clothes to trap the heat. Boots, a long woollen coat, scarf, hat and gloves. No wonder we need more space on the boat!
Our Pier Q...liar

We have been back at Mercia Marina for a month and have settled back. Warm greetings given from the familiar faces of long term moorers and Marina employees. And the daily meeting in passing with our dogs. The other day we went to the Quiz night with our neighbours Takey Tezey. We didn’t win but we didn’t lose. Chris and I got called up for a random quiz into how well you know your partner. It seems after 20 years we know each other very well in the public arena.
Throwing stones doesn't sink them.

We do go to our ‘lockup’ sometimes to try and reduce some of our Life’s Laundry. It seems strange to have freighted all our stuff over from NZ in order to make the decision of what to fill the ‘Sally’s’ bag with. Chris deals with this task in an unemotional way but I’m never a happy bunny on these days. We don’t have to give away everything, he reassures me. We have decided not to get a land base for the foreseeable future and we do need to downsize our material possessions. There is no pressure to offload personal treasures.

Over recent months we have become enthusiastic with living our next years as Water Gypsies and in order to follow that dream we have been searching for a boat that will meet our needs so we can live aboard comfortably. We need a longer boat, AM is 53 ft and an ideal starter boat. We have considered 70ft but have decided 68ft. About 80% of the waterways in England will take 70ft but we have heard that some of the Locks are leaky at the gate ends (not to mention the walls!!) so we need to consider our position in the Lock! We have talked Narrowboat or Widebeam and agreed Narrowboat.  A Widebeam, while having the feel of  a moving house on water with roomier space, does not have the navigable range on the Waterways that Narrowboats have. We have looked at a few Narrowboats, on brokerage, but nothing has jumped out and said “Buy me!” So we have been drifting from do we build to our specification or do we buy a pre-loved boat and modify it..
Similar to what we want

The swing has swung and the outcome is building our ‘DolciBlue’, a 68ft Dutch Barge style Narrowboat. We have commissioned Cole Craft to build her to sail away state. Cole Craft built AM and their boats are quality. Gary Cole appears passionate about his craft, no hard sell, and easy to discuss plans with. We are excited and the build slot is for the end Jan 2013. ‘DolciBlue’ is the name formed from our beloved dogs in Portugal who shared our dream when we lived in that country. It was always Blue & Dolci Doo (Bently Blue the Beastie Boy and Dolcima Dewdrop the Demon Dogette) and now Dolci will have premier position in the naming!! Writing about them makes me wash my face in tears. 

Blue & Dolci

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Fender to Fender Lock to Lock....

6 months in a Leaky Lock

Foulridge is the sort of name that, to me, does not sound very pleasant. But it was a lovely place to moor up with, just a hop, skip and a jump to the C&RT Sanitary block and another hop to Café Cargo which is the renovated Foulridge Wharf building. The Café has a great menu and also a menu for dogs!!! The inhouse dog is a black mini schnauzer with a diamante collar. Yes he is male.

We decided to stay a couple of nights on the visitor moorings and enjoy a bit of exploring on foot. The towpath is paved alongside the canal, which makes a difference to some of the muddy paths we have walked. The towpath does not go under the tunnel but over the top through Foulridge to a reservoir, a pretty setting with a sailing club. We walked the walk around the muddy, in part, track that circuits the ‘lake’. We found out that Foulridge is pronounced Foalridge (of course) and who wouldn’t want to live there? It is a lovely spot.

Back on the move, the Tunnel has traffic lights in operation through the day and it was a green light for us every hour on the hour. It is a 10 minute tunnel and wet weather gear needed for the Skipper as the reservoir must leak. Of course a coffee and a Karcher dealt with the Skipper’s dry mouth and wet seat once we were out of the tunnel.

I have been building my confidence with being Tiller Queen and can now take the helm at any given moment. Chris is keen to do more locks and I, have, reluctantly, been letting him loose with the windlass. We use radio handsets to keep each other informed as it is quite isolating when one is in the depths of an almost empty leaky lock waiting for the gates to be opened. Some boaties call us cheats but I think we are clever. The noise of the engine really does interfere with anyone’s ability to hear. There is a lot of shouting and  upper limb gestures when you are on the move!!! A ‘walkie talkie’ is the answer when one of the crew is off the boat.

We were entering our last leg of the L&L Canal. We had a bundle of locks to do and a couple of flights to do within a few miles of each other. We had decided to stay at the top of the 7 Johnson Locks until a ‘partner’ narrowboat came along. We moored up outside the Sanitary Block just by the top lock as we needed to fill the water tank and do an Elsan disposal. The boaters shower was free and excellent, and I went and had a long hot shower. When I walked back to AM, Chris was talking to a couple of Long Term moorers. They told him of  Nb Daphne who was going to go down both flights. They needed extra assistance to get down the flights and had four people coming to work the Wigan 21 with them the following Sunday. We agreed to go down the Johnson and the Wigan locks with them. So we had a couple of days at the top lock for some rest and relaxation. The pub beside the top Lock was well placed and we walked over with Della. We didn’t quite get to step indoors when Mrs Chef Lady dressed in kitchen whites having her smoko break called out to us  “No Dogs!” We about- turned and said “Bye” and went back to the boat.

My back had been giving me a bit of post swing bridge grief so Chris insisted I take AM down the first flight and he would work the Locks. All went well. No major difficulty with that. The Locks do not  run in a straight line, it was a bit windy and I did give a firm clip entering one Lock so I wasn’t surprised that the glasses had fallen over. One wine glass didn’t make it! We motored on to Adlington and found the Visitors mooring on the edge of a park and close to town. Della was very happy to have a run and meet some of the local dogs. And there was a really friendly pub we went to for our dinner, that night.

Next day we got close to the Wigan Flight, moored and there was time for me to get the bus into Wigan to visit the Primark store there!! (Long sleeved Tshirts purchased). Late afternoon Chris, Della and I walked in the direction of the Wigan Flight, by road. We had a chat to a couple of high vis community police who thought our chosen mooring spot would be fine for overnight. We sussed out the facilities at the top lock and then walked the muddy towpath back to AM. The following morning we were up early and cruised to the Wigans and Nb Daphne arrived a few minutes later. Water, Elsan and showers were had and the ‘Team’ had arrived.  930hrs and we were on the move. AM tied onto Daphne in the first lock and AM turned her engine off. The Lock begins to empty when Chris, on land, notices that there is a huge piece of plywood, floating in the Lock, behind the gate and the plywood is in the wrong place. So it’s Paddles down at the bottom end of the Lock and Paddles up at the top end. Chris managed to fish it out and I phoned C&RT to get it permanently removed before a helpful gongoozler chucks it back in. The morning was fog-filled and it was really hard to see the Lock in front. I was helpless to steer and could only shut my eyes waiting for the impact as we entered each Lock. Chris and I swapped places for a few Locks and with all the extra help we got down them in record time, 3 ¼ hours. And only a few scrapes!! Interesting to see the boats that are active on the canals, all have scratches and scrapes. ‘Contact’ sport and all that! It is not usual to hit other boats but bridges, lock walls and overhanging trees leave a mark.

We would love to have gone to Liverpool and have only heard good reports of moorings in Liverpool. But we were creeping into the middle of November and realized that stoppages were looming on the Trent & Mersey Canal. So Liverpool will have to wait. After the final Wigan Lock it was a sharp Left Hand turn to follow the L&L to Leigh where we merged into the Bridgewater Canals / Leigh Branch. The run from Leigh to Manchester was a long day, probably because we left close to midday as we waited for the rain and a strong wind. to abate. Then the engine wasn’t running smoothly so Chris needed to attend to that and found shelter beneath a bridge at Worsley. Fortunately the rain was clearing and Della and I were able to walk the towpaths on either side of the Canal. (You don’t see many parallel towpaths and paved / gravelled to boot!!) Chris soon had the problem sorted, litter that had caught on the prop!

At Worsley we were entering the built up area of Greater Manchester and the canal seemed to stretch for miles, particulary after we went across the Aqueduct over the Manchester Ship Canal. Impressive. We were intent on getting to Castlefield Junction where we had every hope of getting a mooring. It was a fabulous sunset, that evening, we waved to the commuter trains and got smiles and waves back. We passed Man. United FC stadium and on the other side was Old Trafford cricket ground.  When we passed Pomona Lock (what takes you to / from the Manchester Shipping Canal), we knew Castlefield was less than a mile away and we would be moored before it was dark.
Nuff said

Mobile audience

Sunrise Sunset
The bright lights of...

At Castlefield, there were a few boats moored up but still space for us. It would be helpful if boaters considered space, in these ‘built up’ boat moorings!! Lucky, for us, there was space under the shade of an autumn leaf dropping tree! We could see no notice of length of mooring time so can only assume it was 14 days or whatever. We stayed 2 nights. Yep, we teamed up with a rental boat that was being returned by long term boaters to a Marina on the Trent & Mersey Canal. The boat had been rented and was affected by the September floods canal ‘breach’. These kind people were being the ‘Good Samaritan’ and returning the boat the only way which is the longest way!! We had walked the Rochdale Canal flight of 9 locks which awaited us, well we walked 6 locks, the day before to check it out. The Canal was very full of water (and rubbish) and the full locks were overflowing. Chris was concerned and phoned C&RT to find out if this was normal. He spoke to the ‘We’ll help you if you need help’ Lock Keeper who was being multitasked by C&RT.

We set off in good spirits along this litter full canal. What animals chuck their rubbish into the canal? Should be a jewel in the crown for Manchester, not a festering cesspit of water washing paper and plastic and cans!! The companies that produce and sell these products should be contributing some of their profits to C&AT to pay for the clean-up and damage caused. You don’t see any bins filled with rubbish. (I was raised in the days of “Be a tidy Kiwi”, it’s happily ingrained!!)

All went well until we got to one Lock where we couldn’t unlock either of the anti-vandal locks on the Paddles. Phone to C&RT and help was on its way. By the time help arrived Chris had unlocked the anti-vandals and we were in motion. The Lock-keepers were lovely chaps and we bemoaned the fact that we didn’t have them present on the flight as some of the gates needed attention and you really need to think through the best way to work some of the locks. First- timers, Health & Safety….. All is not straightforward. Some of the surfaces where you need to stand to push the gates open / closed have the wrong material laid and good tread on the heels and soles of shoes doesn’t hold. No way do I want to slip into a Lock!! A couple of gates were more suited to Hobbits and I climbed into my hole to push open the gate.

This Canal runs close to central Manchester and is in the heart of the ‘Red Light’ district. It is known that you don’t moor on this stretch and, probably not, on the next stretch of 18 Locks (Peak Forest and Ashton Canals). We met a few boats as we neared the end of the 9 locks. One Lock Labourer, of some years, was experiencing acute back pain and that was just his first in the run of 9 locks (but probably not the first in his day!). I really felt his pain and didn’t admire his Superman efforts! My back was fine, I have to say, and Chris and I had agreed to share lock labouring on the the next stretch of 19 locks.

I’m aware that talking Locks can get quite boring but when you are on the move there seem to be a lorra lorra Locks and the stretches with no Locks are soon forgotten. We were now off the Rochdale and on the Peak Forest and Ashton Canals. The difference was we were now back in Narrowboat-land i.e. Locks and bridge widths for Narrowboats. Temptation is to step across an open and shut gate! I only did it once!! Nah I didn’t fall in.

Leaving the Rochdale we had an early warning that a 70 ft traditional working boat was heading in our direction. We had to move under 2 bridges (the 2nd a 90 degree turn at each end) and on exit we met a gusty breeze. We saw the boat coming through a narrow stretch ahead, so we pulled to the right and waited. Our ‘friends’ on the rental boat got caught by a gust of wind and were unable to move out the way. The working boat could not reduce its speed in time and there was a BANG as it hit the mid point of the rental boat which in turn went Bow end into the canal wall. No injuries sustained. Glad it wasn’t us.

We gradually worked up the next flight. It helps when there is a boat following because one unlocks the anti vandals and the next boat locks them. Somewhere along the way we became a flotilla! There were 3 narrowboats. We were the lead boat. Chris took his turn working the locks and he was Lock Labourer near  the site of what looked like a new suburb of Manchester being built. Turns out the suburb is the new grounds for Manchester City FC. There is some money there!!! The lock gates would not close properly, I think they were jam packed with leaves. It took ages for the Lock to fill and I had to use the force of AM to get the gates to start swinging. I cruised to the next Lock, slowly, I didn’t notice the gates were open (time to get my eyesight tested) until I got closer. I edged the Bow into the Lock and then heard the sound of grounding, a groinch under the stern and then no movement. Yikes, a bit more power and the exhaust fumes enveloped me. I put Della indoors, as I didn’t think the fumes would do her any favours, and then waited for Chris to sort it out. It appears that Boat No.3 were in a hurry and had been opening the Locks ahead so that we could all move swiftly. Fine in theory but the pounds were emptying and AM was resting on the ground. So, now, we have Mr Very Helpful telling me what to do. I thought he was from C&RT because he had his standard issue life jacket on. I was upset that I was grounded, I couldn’t make the boat float and I was getting asphyxiated with the fumes. I was ready to end my boating lark there and then. But common sense kicked in. Water was being let into the pound by raising the paddles at the top end of the Lock and AM gradually floated out and I moved her back into the Lock. Took 3 attempts to get her all in. Gates closed and off we went. Chris was not pleased with Mr Very Helpful but we carried on. We had 4 more Locks to do and the heavens opened. I was working those Locks and at the last Lock, Mr Very Helpful appeared, again. I was soaked to the skin and we had had a long day, 27 locks and we did not want to keep this person in our sights. There was a Basin with permanent moored boats straight ahead of us and we went there to take shelter and hide from the Helpfuls! We ended up staying the night there, kind permission given us by the site’s Chief Controller. Thank you for taking pity on the wet and dishevelled  Left early in the morning and had a Lock free day finishing near the Hyde Bank Tunnel.

It was a relief to turn away from Manchester and head in the direction  of Marple  We found ALDI supermarket with a mooring site alongside. They had mustard coloured steel capped lined ‘boater’s boots in their bargain bin. Boater’s boots is my name for them for obvious reasons. So Chris went and got his boots while I started a fry-up. After the late breakfast, I popped into ALDI for a few provisions and on my way back to AM, I could clearly hear a security announcement that had been activated earlier on. It told me “ATTENTION ATTENTION YOU ARE BEING FILMED FOR SECURITY REASONS”. I called out to the late morning drinkers and had a bit of a laugh with them. They probably didn’t understand a word I was saying as I’m beginning to realize that my Kiwi accent and dialect is pretty incomprehensible to most, in this fair land.
Please take a seat, your comfort is important to us!

Onwards we moved and were hopeful of finding a mooring before the Marple 16 Locks. We were going through the Woodley Tunnel (308 yds) and a towpath walker called out that there was an armchair floating in the canal near the end of the tunnel. You expect to see this sort of thing all the time. Time for pole action. Choose the right length pole, we now have a choice of four ‘dancers’. Luckily Chris suggested the longest one and not the one that gives splinters. I carried it in pole-vault fashion though the boat and was able to shout out “contact” when I could push it. Easy push with the thrust from AM. Out went the chair and I snuggled it in bank-side on our left where it sat in the Canal! (There’ll probably be a happy duck discovering that.) Then I phoned the generic number to C&RT who put me through to the local office. I was surprised that someone answered the phone! In my recent experience one gets put through to an answer phone. ‘Floater Armchair’ duly reported. How did an armchair end up in the canal? And it looked such a nice part of town!
Room with a View

Eventually we found moorings before the Hyde Bank Tunnel. Quiet, a couple of other boats and a beautiful sunset. I got chatting to the people in the boat moored in front and they identified themselves as Continuous Cruisers. I got a different feeling about continuously cruising and thought I could be in for that lifestyle if our boat-to-be meets our needs.
Viaduct  from the Aqueduct

The day of our Marple 16 Locks was beautiful and sunny. We began with the Hyde Tunnel (308 yds) followed quickly with a grand view through the arches of a railway viaduct while we crossed on the Marple Aquduct. Once again we shared tasks and Della had a great time being Lock Labourer’s dog. I started off working the locks and all was good. I asked Chris to call out when the stern had passed the gates inside the lock as the walls of the pedestrian bridge obstructed the view down. Della responded to one of his calls and leapt up to the top of the bridge wall and quickly reacted when all she could see was water and no boat! Clever dog, she really has got a sense of danger and quick reactions. She does it once she won’t do it again!
Going Up

Gone up!

Looking back

There were a couple of  ‘bogan’ types in narrowboats, unhelpful, unfriendly and one boat was not currently registered. Shock, horror, his was not the only unregistered boat we saw. One boat that caught my eye had the yearly registration sticker penned out with FREE TO MOOR WHEREVER I CHOOSE. My blog is subjective and there are different types of water gypsies. No different to the makeup of any society / community we live in.

Back to the Marple flight. On my shift with the tiller, Chris had offered one chap and his daughter a ride on AM into and up one of the Locks. I was Tiller Queen and they brightened my day by really enjoying the ride. I kept my nerves under control and didn’t mess up. He said he had seen me enter the previous Lock so had no concerns. (Trumpets blowing!!!)

In summary the Marple flight is many locks, pretty countryside, helpful gongoozlers and we got grounded, again. Once you’ve been grounded, it’s not so bad. The situation can easily be rectified.

At the top of the Flight, we were in Marple, I think, we needed water so went off course to the Sanitary Station. Visitor moorings were taken so no chance to look around but we could fill up with water and went along rhe Macclesfield Canal until we could ‘Wind’ and head in the direction of Bugsworth Basin, near Whaley Bridge. Shame we couldn’t visit Marple. When we passed through a couple of days later, 2 of the 3 boats were still moored opposite the Sanitary Station with no sign of life.

The Peak Forest Canal is beautiful, grand views over the countryside and Bugsworth Basin ( a wharf used in the boat transport of lime) was close to empty with moored boats. Great walks and the old pub, Navigation, that Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) used to run. The Basin is still called Bugsworth Basin but the village is now called Buxworth. It was a brief visit but we know we would like to return. No locks on the Peak but a couple of swing and a couple of lift bridges. I forgot how much winding you have to do with the windlass to raise a bridge! Still it beats a butt push like those on the L&L. 

Hovis Mill

Snake Bridge

Best Mate

The Macclesfied Canal which begins at Marple is another must to return to. The rush was on to beat the weather and the stoppages so we only stopped before nightfall and 3 days later were down the Bosley flight of 12 locks (well presented and in good working order) and through the bottom Lock (hardly a lock really) and ready for an early start to the Harecastle Tunnel. A proper Tunnel. Chris got through to the other side in under 40 minutes. I never saw the outside of the tunnel. He radioed me when he saw the door opening at the end of the tunnel.

Yay, we were back in almost familiar countryside and made it to Stone, 13 Locks later, that evening and got our favourite mooring. Great little town, Stone, and I found the best winter coat (new wool, lined, a nice cut, blue wine colour and midi length….all for £3.99).

From Stone we went to Great Haywood, mid autumn swim, and on to Alrewas through Fradley Junction. (a series of tough locks). We like Alrewas, it is an old village with Elizabethan style houses. Sort of chocolate box look. A couple of nights there, near the Lock followed by the final leg to home base Mercia Marina.

Della has graduated to a position on the roof of AM where she can keep lookout and she seems100x happier with her promotion. Who knows what goes through a dog’s brain apart from food. Her nose was in twitch mode as we turned into the Marina. She saw a coot and that excites her and she seemed to be aware of her surroundings. All these weeks of new smells and then she is back in familiar territory.

And, here we are back at Mercia. It is nice to feel at home, to see and chat with familiar faces.

In my world, nothing stays the same for long…………

Autumn leaves are falling

Sometimes I sit and sometimes I sit and looks.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

I Fell In, to a Murky Pond of Water

Leaving Great Haywood

I am going to have to write a catch up blog or 3 when we get back to Mercia Marina. We are about 3 days away from Willington and the thought of electricity has an appeal. Not that it has been a problem. It is the change in climate, it’s getting colder and being able to have the heater plugged in continuously will be good.

The clocks went back, yesterday, and I went in for an early seasonal dip! It was the most unpleasant incident and I have no plans to repeat it. We had been moored at Stone and it was either go to the Launderette or move along the canal a few miles and look at some boats at Great Hayward Marina. Rain was forecast and there had been a bit of the wet stuff earlier but it looked reasonably clear in a grey sky way. So we untied the ropes and as we pulled out another boat had got the Lock first. I went to help and all was good. That boat went down and as it was leaving the lock they called out there was a boat arriving to go up the Lock. Their crew (that is one person) arrived and the boat went in. It was a holiday rental but they were, or worked for, the company. The skipper called out to his wench to help me, the ‘lady’, close the gate as I was struggling to swing the gate as it was in a tight location with not enough safe room for the ‘butt’ push. (there was a yellow sign also stating the danger of lack of  space and to operate the gate from the side I was trying to swing it from). As I was walking past the boat, matey advised me that using your butt to push the gate is the favoured option. Well he got a mouthful from me as I take pride in my knowledgeable position as a veteran lockie! We didn’t bond.

And off we cruised in the direction of Great Haywood. There was the occasional Lock but no great shakes, I even had time to make a small batch of fruit and date scones. Della and I had to spend time indoors as the rain started to get heavier and Chris was wet weathered up so he could deal with the conditions. At the locks I had to take extra care as the surfaces were getting slippery.
Great Haywood Marina

We arrived at Great Haywood Marina and went to tie up near the office but we were told to moor on the pier next to two boats for sale. Chris got us in position to reverse alongside and I took the centre rope and stepped off on to the pontoon. I remember stepping on to the pontoon and I glided as my foot slipped on the wooden surface. Shoot, there was no way out of this! My feet were of no use and my bum was suspended, briefly over the water and gravity pulled me down. It was certain I was going to hit the water. Either that or I’d hit AM and the water! All I knew was I didn’t want what was happening to happen. I think having layers of warm clothing helped my entry into the water and I floated briefly. Chris says he saw me get off AM and then I disappeared! He realized I must have gone in and he put AM into neutral, then reached down and hauled me out of the water. Man I was in shock, I know that, and I was not happy at being so wet! A woman came over to check I was OK and I was, I was not in any mood to talk. My Tourettes took hold!! Thinking about it now, I was really lucky that Chris acted so fast and he was able to lift me out of the water.
As a result we ended up spending the night on a berth at the Marina. We had electricity and we could use their Launderette. I’m laughing about my Splish Splash, now, and have no aspirations to be a mermaid let alone repeat swimming in murky waters.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Almost back where we started so I'll finish before the inbetween. That will come later

So to make a cruising ring get finished. Here it is. We did the Wiggles, the Mannie, the Ashton & Peakey, stayed at Bugsworth, went down the Mackie, Thru the Harey and have stopped at Stone on The Trent & Mersy. We are a few days from Willies and I'll blog proper soon. But in case you were wondering we are A+W. Trick or treat??

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Passing the Kellingley Colliery

Rising Coal
oh the power and the passion

And so we made it to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal following the Aire & Calder navigation which at times becomes part of the River Aire. Before we reached Castleford we had passed a couple of coal fired electricity plants and the Kellingley Colliery. Mounds of coal and high barbed wire fences were our view and I got camera snappy. How handy that a power plant was next door to the coal mine. It made me think of power usage and how our days of living without electricity, in Portugal, made me mindful of how much power gets wasted. I know I can be a pain (in many ways) and one of those is always turning out lights when no-one is in a room where the lights are turned on. On AM we charge up our leisure batteries when the engine is running and these power our low voltage lighting and shoreline fridge, and by using the inverter we can charge the mobile phones, computers, Twin Tub (not much thought of using this these days!!) and the hand held vac and the super KARCHER. The Karcher is my new essential gadget which sucks the condensation dripping down the windows on a cold morning! It is amazing how much water it sucks up.
M1 bridge over River Aire

We spent a day and the rest cruising along the ‘Navigation’. Some of this is the River Aire and we were lucky we had done this prior to the last heavy rains which closed the river for several days while it was on red alert. Arriving on the outskirts of Leeds was exciting and we knew we would be able to get visitor moorings at the centrally located Clarence Dock just after going through the final automated lock. We headed for empty moorings and got caught by the wind as we were reversing alongside a pontoon. It was a close call missing the contact sport with a moored boat and big thanks to a fellow Moorer who took the ropes and helped to secure us. Once tied up we found out we were in the Long term moorings and were supposed to be on the other side tie up and double berth to another boat. There was no way I wanted to move AM out in the wind and then not have easy access for family we were expecting to visit us. Word had it to stay where we were and if C&RT wanted us to move wait for them to come and tell us. We called into C&RT’s plush office nearby and the 2 receptionists told us the computer says “no” when we asked if we could pay for the mooring, or better still, speak with the person who was responsible for the moorings. So we decided bah humbug we’ll just squat! And so we did, perfect.

Next morning, with our Jayne aboard, we started our adventure on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Journey planned was Leeds to Kirkstall. Rain was in the air and we needed to get off the River Aire by going through River Lock which is the start of the L & L Canal. We went in the right direction but the Lock we saw didn’t look like it was in operation, no signage to identify it and no welcome to the Canal. So we continued on the Aire in the direction of the Railway station where the River must flow into the darkness below. We quickly decided this is not right so reversed back to the Lock and I alighted on to the smallest less bollarded platform I have seen and went to inspect. Yes it was ‘our’ lock and I got on with winding up the gate paddles to empty it. At the same time another Narrowboat came alongside AM, at speed, and banged into the gates. I heard the bang and yelled out a fighting response, in fright, to the boat I couldn’t see!

So began numero uno experience of locks on this canal. We are on the up hill climb. All manual operation…. anti-vandal keys to unlock, ground paddles and gate paddles to be wound. I can do gate paddles, no problem. I have had some dealings with ground paddles but not the same variety of mechanisms that are on this canal. The ground paddles have different operational techniques. The first ones had no instructions and I realize, now, that I turn them clockwise to open. Anticlockwise to close. Der! It would be helpful if the lock came with written instructions particularly the first lock. Ground paddles are always opened first to fill the lock and as the name implies the water surges in at ground level. Once the level has reached the sluice level on the gate, then you open the gate paddles. If you want to have a water fight with the bow end of your boat then open the gate sluices early on. The lock fills fast but the water spurts out at pressure and will wash your Bow if you are not paying attention. Best practice is for the boat to be held close to the back gates. Once the lock water level is level with the canal level then the gates can be open and boat leaves. Some of the gates are a back breaker to open. Some of the paddles are extra hard to open. Always remember to close the paddles and the gates and to BREATHE! Later on along the Cut you get the ground paddles, wooden ones, that need to be lifted up in one swift motion. If you get halfway and it stops then you need to try and push it back down so you can lift it, again, in one swift motion. That you haven’t fallen in, in the process is always worth praise! Hard hard work!
Bingley 5 Staircase Locks

Ground Paddles open & leaky gates

There's an AM on the rise

It's a long way up!

The staircase locks are manned at the Bingley 3 rise and the Bingley 5 rise Locks and a couple of the 2 rise locks. Lock Keepers are a valued necessity at these locks. We really needed them at a couple of other 2 rise staircase locks. I lost any cool I might ever have had at the Newlay 2 staircase lock. This particular staircase was in flood when I got to it but I couldn’t identify the problem so I just set to and opened the lower lock so AM could get in. The top lock appeared too full but I emptied it into the bottom lock so AM would be raised to get into the top lock. The top lock wouldn’t totally empty and AM was now floating dangerously on top of the lower lock. The gongoozlers were totally in the way, the youth appeared on their pushbikes and got a mouthful from me! I had to walk through the flooded edges of the bottom lock and get the gate paddles open again. I was mortified! I swapped places with Chris and sat on AM with Della and phoned the emergency services. They told me a Lock Keeper was on his way and would be there in 40 mins! The only place I didn’t want to be was where I was!! Some time later Chris managed to get equilibrium between the 2 locks and I steered AM into the top lock. It turns out the ground paddles at the top lock had not been closed but the anti vandal keys had been secured. Not so confusing, now, but that was a learning curve for me in my risk management assessment (or lack of). Do not assume other boaters know what they are doing!

Then there are the swing bridges! We have had to deal with more than 40 swing bridges. Most are manually operated needing an anti vandal key and the power of your butt and then ‘swing out sister’! One bridge needed 3 more people to assist me. It was a rural property and I was pleased it was a multicultural experience! A couple were semi automated bridges, read the instructions. Flashing lights and bells doesn’t mean the bridge is always on an automated opening system. Nup your butt will be the power of movement! There was one fully operational bridge that I couldn’t find where to insert the key!! The C&RT emergency service was able to locate it for me over the phone!

Along the way we broke down. Fuel was not getting through and AM limped to a stop outside a Boat yard, luckily. We had John, the mechanic who worked with Chris to identify the problem. Chris walked about 5 miles to get spare parts and the next day AM was purring again. Our fuel tank was not properly cleaned after the fiasco earlier in the year. Probably bits of dirty diesel got stirred up along the way and …….. I better understand how to use the kitchen.
Mandarin Duck we saw swimming along before Bingley 3 rise locks

Oh how we needed some rest and aimed for Skipton as our holiday mooring. The day before Skipton, high in the Yorkshire Moors, we spent the night at Kildwick. The following morning we had a chat with the vicar at the impressive CoE St Andrews Church which had an amazing graveyard with many aged tombstones. Some of the tombstones were used on the paths and the graveyard had been documented. Some of Chris’s family is from this area and likely they have been buried here in the 1700’s!!

Then we got to Skipton and spent about 5 days in the 3 day visitor moorings. What a pretty town with a market 4 days a week. Beautiful walks but probably too pricey for us to consider living here. The charity shops had too much stuff overpriced, I thought.
The new Lake District near Kildwick


It was really nice playing the we are on holiday game. We did have a long walk back along the canal on the muddy tow path. I slipped over but no injury sustained. (My favourite shoes with no tread had to be replaced the next day!!) When it started raining, Della had to wear her new raincoat! She absolutely does not think a raincoat is needed in her world! We think differently and she will be wearing it, and its thermal liner when necessary, you can be sure. We walked to the village of Cononley, in the rain. Located a couple of houses where the Laycock’s of the 17C have lived and then popped into a local hostelry and were greeted with warmth. Della made a hit and had to have her photo taken with an admirer. We got the train back to Skipton. Sunday and a free ride!!

We were ready to move along the canal as the forecast looked promising for a few days. More likelihood of sunshine than rain. We were moving towards the highest point in our journey so that meant a few more locks. We teamed up with another Nb (Narrowboat). I think matey thought we were newbies and he was very helpful, so helpful, I switched off! Next day his wife worked the locks with me and we all got on a treat. Really nice people and again makes me realize what affect over helpfulness can have. Note to myself, only be helpful when it is asked for Sarah!!!!

We moored the night at Wilkinson’s Farm. There is a Livery there. Happy young women giggling about the naughty horses. The horses have a mechanized walking roundabout, so they can be exercised. At night we got the light show from the heap of steaming straw manure that was in a heap. There was no smell blown in our direction!
Wilkinsons Farm steaming pile
The Penine Way

The Yorkshire Moors are stunning and we were beside the towpath that is briefly a part of the Penine Way. A further 3 locks brought us into Lancashire. We refuelled, it is best to check out best value for red diesel and I steered us towards Foulridge where there is the traffic light operated tunnel. I am doing more steering these days. I think I am better than, last year, and can now get under bridges with more speed. Well that’s what I thought until Bridge 151. Bridge 151 is a sharp Left hand turn and the speed I approached it was too fast and I was too late in thrusting the lever into reverse and BANG I hit the Bow and BANG I hit the stern. We did take a few crumbs of bridge with us and I left Cptn Faithful to sort out the direction of AM. Still steel boat is OK and so are the glasses that got upturned in the cupboard.

We found excellent moorings at Foulridge.

In summary, a long blog, a physically exhausting canal, sore lower backs, more rain than sun, little traffic, radiators on board are working, beautiful countryside, friendly people and we are now on the down hill run.

Green means Go through the Foulridge Tunnel

Friday, 14 September 2012


I keep thinking about writing my Blog and that is pretty much where it stays in ‘Thinkland’, but the time has come for pen to paper then finger to keyboard and all (well all I want to write) will be written.

We are on to Day 12 of our Avalon Mist ninety day 2012 Canal adventure. We have given summer every chance to arrive but summer seems to have been “packing a sad” this year in Blighty. We did escape the wettest drought for a few weeks in July when we took our ‘Boat-on-Wheels’ on an 8000km drive through France, Spain & Portugal. We do have a tendency to keep on the move and we did find summer halfway through France and then melted when we got to Spain and Portugal. The air-con made a marked improvement in our comfort although Della needed the coolness of a wet towel to cope with the sun beaming through the car windows. When I think back to those years we used to drive in these countries with no air-con….. a plastic water- filled spray bottle and open windows were our cooling system.

We had happy days with our friends and neighbours in Portugal. We so enjoyed our stay at Encontro de Amigos (our former local bar/restaurant), it was like we had never left. And then as quickly as we arrived we were on the road again.

For anyone interested in pet travel between Europe and the UK, we found the process worked favourably using the Pet Passport scheme. Last century, there was a 6 month quarantine period for any dog entering Britain from Europe! Della has her Pet Passport and all we had to do was make sure she visited a Vet between 24 hours and 5 days prior to entering England and have her microchip read, give her a tasty worm tablet (it must be Drontal) and ensure she was in good health. We did this in Portugal and cost €30. At Calais, the ferry company dot the I’s and cross the T’s, read the microchip and ask us to place a big sticker on the windscreen with ANIMAL written on it (and this is an extra £30 included in the ferry ticket). There were no further checks when we landed at Dover.

So Europe summer escape completed, we decided that rain or shine, it was time to get moving on AM and to begin heading up canals and rivers in a northerly direction. On September 1st our time was up at Mercia Marina and off we cruised on to the Trent & Mersey Canal heading the short distance to join the River Trent. We have passed through Nottingham via the Beeston Cut (the only way to get back on the River Trent), gone through Newark-on-Trent (we like that town) and turned in at the Fossdyke Navigation with a relatively straight run to Lincoln. There are many ‘tupperware’ boats (aka ‘plastic fantastic’ boats) moored up, as well as Dutch Barges. The canal leads to Boston and out to sea. There isn’t any Tea Party at this Boston, I am told.We winded and headed back to Torksey Lock.

Let’s talk about Locks baby….. I know I’ve blogged a lot about locks in last years travels and that some of my beautiful lady friends find it a tad on the boring side to read – but locks are dangerous and important and on the tidal River Trent are operated mostly by men from the Canals and River Trust (CART), the former British Waterways (BW). We did hear there is one woman Lock Keeper but didn’t meet her as she was unwell. Cromwell Lock is the beginning of the tidal river, all straight forward and the Lock Keepers along the way book you with the next lock, and work with the right timing of the ‘flood’ or ‘ebb’ tide so we can get to the next lock with every chance of being able to get there safely. He also phones ahead to the next lock to let them know your E.T.A and find out what traffic we may encounter along the way. Torksey Lock was straight forward enough as there was a little inlet to the lock gates and, if you don’t want to go up the lock, there are floating pontoons to moor on. To head back on the River again you need to book with the Lock Keeper. Leaving Torksey the narrowboat we shared the lock with had Captain ‘Diamond geezer’ from Essex. Not my cuppa tea, he knew everything although he’d never taken his boat the direction we were going, he didn’t have river charts and he didn’t know how to wear a life jacket so he didn’t wear one! He wanted us to follow them!! We let them race ahead. Stockwith Lock was potentially a boat banger. The Lock Keeper was essential in yelling out directions to Chris to steer into the lock without the pull of the ebb tide causing us to knock on the wall! (I stayed indoors and did not offer any unhelpful advice). Amazing and they scored him 10/10.

From Stockwith Lock (gateway to the Chesterfield Canal- it’s worth writing about in a later blog) we made our final River journey to Keadby Lock. Keadby Lock is sometimes blocked by a sand bank but all was clear for us. Chris started turning some metres before the Lock and I had to call out to him, from the Bow, to check he had seen the Lock. He had and he was using the ebb tide to help draw him close to the Lock Gates. Della and I sat in the Bow until I thought we had better move indoors because I was 99.9% sure we were going to have contact with the concrete wall. But we missed and, again, passed through the gates (not the ‘pearly’ ones!!) I felt elated. Exceptionally well done Chris. The Tidal Trent is 45 ½ miles.

The weather indicated the start of an Indian summer and, now on Day 12 (as I first wrote this) we are moving with rain falling. We are on the South Yorkshire Navigation and teamed up with Roger in his narrowboat. Our mate, Ian, who is travelling with Roger for this leg arranged that we should travel together for this leg as there are 7 bridges to operate and easier to share the load. I have just operated my first swing bridge, this year, with the BW Key. There was a bloke in the booth near the bridge operation box and he didn’t appear until I had turned my key clockwise. He shut the rail barrier gates and indicated I needed to shut the road barrier gate at the far end of the bridge. I had tried to shut it on the way to the machine, but obviously the key needs to be turned to unlock it. So I walked back (yes it is raining but not heavily) and try to shut the gate but it wasn’t budging so I return to the machine and Mr ‘Helpful’ says I have to shut the gate manually, so I return to the gate (feeling blonder with every return trip) I returned to the machine and pressed OPEN and nothing happened. Mr ‘Helpful’ said the gate I closed is not shut properly. So I walk back and make sure it is properly shut. I am getting a little edgy. Back to my bleeding machine and I press OPEN and it opens. Boats go through. I press CLOSE. Bridge swings close. I walk to open road gate and gate won’t budge. Back to machine and Mr ‘Helpful’ says you have got to turn off key and wait for motor sound to subside. Turn off key, walk to gate, open gate, walk back to machine, remove BW Key, Walk to AM and get on board, think “Fit not Fat”.

The rain got heavier, Roger did the next bridge and then it was my turn again. I thought that it would be straightforward but no it freaking wasn’t. This was no OPEN & SHUT machine job. This was manual! The key would only unlock the road gates so I could physically shut them. If they weren’t shut properly I couldn’t physically lift the bridge unlock mechanism. I got WET, saturated from the thigh down. I ranted and raved and thought I had been set up. I checked the gates, some evil force had meant one gate wasn’t holding in place. I ranted more. Then I managed to get back to the lever and it lifted about 10cm and locked into place. I knew I had released the locking mechanism but I wasn’t sure if this was a swing or a lift bridge. Eventually I worked out that it was a swing bridge and I had to use bum force to put pressure on the fancy steel lever to swing the bridge around. I got stuck on ‘F’ in the alphabet and the boat people knew I was not happy and the rain was not putting out my fiery temper. After I restored the bridge to its functional position I walked to AM, boarded, Shut the door and removed my wet gear. I squeezed out my trousers in the kitchen sink and put them back on.

I had one bridge left to work. The rain stopped and the bridge was fully automated, it even had red flashing lights, automatic road gates and I calmed down. The boats went through and we headed to Thorne and the final bridge. The other boat stopped to work that one and it didn’t work. They had to phone CART, who turned up 15 minutes later.

If you think life on a narrowboat is like sailing down the river on a Sunday or sunny afternoon, it is not!!

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.