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.