Friday, 24 May 2013


The forecast predicted a mild sunny Sunday (May 19th) and we woke, early, to make the most of the spring day. We travelled at ‘tick-over’ speed to follow the canal for 12 miles and doing a 6 lock work-out to arrive, late afternoon, in Alrewas. The warm sunshine pressed the smile button and the canal was busy with a steady flow of boat life. It is great when boats pass at the lock, it gives a feel of synchronicity over the miles. Our first lock shallow Dallow Lock was busy with 3 boats waiting to go up and no-one coming down. So much for synchronicity! We were in the middle so were taking a slow approach on the helpful side. Matey, in front, was travelling solo and messing around tying his ropes adopting the relaxed single handed approach. The boat tied up behind us was a 20ft ‘Tupperware’ with two aboard. Between us we got the 1st boat on the move. Matey thanked me and left saying “See you at the next Lock”. Maybe, maybe not I thought.

We let the ‘Tupperware’ pass us a bit further along the canal as they were travelling at a faster pace. When we arrived at the next lock, Matey and the Tupperwares had decided that their combined length could fit the lock together. They managed, just, and closed the gates and took their windlasses the shutters to wind them up and open the sluices. There was a bit of fender pashing but it worked for them and, at the same time, an efficient way to manage the water. And as chance would have it, there was a boat waiting to come down. Sharing the etiquette and effort, by all, makes enjoyable cruising on the canal.

The return journey, the following day was a different story but first a few words about our short break in Alrewas. We found a mooring in the Visitors moorings near the Alrewas Lock. It was late afternoon when arrived and there were people wandering along the towpath. It was lovely to see an extended family of possibly 4 generations picnicking on the towpath next to their boat. Della got a whiff of some good food smells but we managed to distract her with a walk in the opposite direction and the delight of freshly mown grass.

We did a circular walk that took us through the church yard and past partially eroded
Grave stones where the weather of at least 3 centuries has taken its toll.
There were daisies and dandelions in abundance and I suppressed the urge to make a daisy chain. I remember, as a child making daisy chains to wear in your hair or around your neck, wrist or even as a ring on your finger! I thought of it more as being a fairy princess than a flower child then. Our walk took us back to the Canal and we chatted with some fellow Mercia Marina Moorers who were off on their six month warmer weather (yeah right!) cruising trips. This time next year we should be on the move in The DolcieBlue.

Next day I woke to the sound of footsteps. It was a quick adjustment to remember we were moored beside the Towpath! Della was happy to step off the boat, on her own, and had a sniff and a pee while we stayed out of sight on AM. Well she thought we were out of sight but I was keeping a crafty eye on her as we are loathe to let her roam on her own. It is reassuring to know that she keeps our location in her radar!

Before we set off, I walked down to the local shops to get some meat, from the best Butcher we have found, and some chutney from a roadside stall. They also had some freshly picked rhubarb and I couldn’t resist that. I miss my rhubarb plant in NZ, it had the chunkiest stems and a great taste. I arrived back at AM and Chris had moved her a couple of boat lengths along to the water point. He was talking to a ‘local’ dog walker who was aghast that I had bought rhubarb as she had loads in her allotment.
“Do you like spinach?” was her next comment.
“Is the Pope Catholic?” I replied.
I rushed on to AM and put my purchases on the bench and took off with Delyse, her dog and Della to the Allotment. We walked through the church yard, and into the large section containing a few thriving Allotments and picked a healthy bag of spinach. No sign of slugs, snails or leaf hoppers that used to torment me on my spinach crop in Tauranga.
We said our farewells, thanks for the spinach, and Della and I made haste back to AM to cast off and get underway before the inevitable rain arrived. The first lock was set for us and an arriving boat below the lock was a good start for the day. I could jump on AM’s roof before she clicked out of the lock. We had 4 more locks to do that day and there was no traffic around. The locks appeared to be set in our favour and my job was to raise the sluices, check for oncoming boats, open the gates and let AM out shutting the gates behind me. One of the locks did not have a direct view of oncoming traffic so I had to walk to where I could get a view. The stretch of canal I could see, at this particular lock, showed no boats in view. The Lock emptied and I let AM out. There is no quick way to close 2 gates, unless you jump off one closed gate to the other side. I did that on the really narrow double gated locks on the Llangollen Canal, but I did not feel confident on the Trent & Mersey Locks. So I have to walk 2 lengths of Lock to get to the ‘last’ gate and close it. I walk to board AM who is waiting for me on the other side of the now closed gates and we move out. Imagine our surprise when we saw a boat approaching us! Show’s you how long this process takes! The oncoming boat was NOT happy that I hadn’t left the Lock ready and he, the Ning Nong skipper moved his tiller into ram mode. Yes he aimed his boat to make a direct hit at us! I was speechless watching his intent and then my words came flooding out as he got into our air waves! Silly old git. I know boating is an unofficial contact sport but to be made an obvious target has no sense. I was miffed that he didn’t make himself known, I’m sure he has a blarey horn to suit his personality. I would have been happy to leave the gates open! In fact this is where C&RT, our Authority, could bring in some commonsense. If you can’t see enough distance ahead from a Lock, then leave the exit gates open. Enough ranting!

We spent the night at Shobnall Fields. It is a lovely space and Della has a good chase of he tennis ball there. We walked a mile or so into the streets of Burton-upon-Trent where Chris had recently discovered The Coopers Tavern .

What a cool pub, good ale and friendly people. It was a bit weird going to the Bar which was full of many different cask ales (my older brother would love this) and sedate tables with quiet blokes sitting at them. It was reminiscent, to me, of a blokes gathering on a street corner in a Portuguese Village where the Senors would meet and sit and watch life go by. We sat in the Snug, a Coronation Street moment, and made a wee nest on the bench seat for Della to curl up on. It is a tiring life for a dog being awake on navigation duties throughout the day and then having to walk the streets…….

The following morning we started to pull out to head to the shallow Dallow Lock and simultaneously a boat moored a short distance in front of us powered up and took off in the lead. It was obvious they wanted the lead position. Nothing we could do except know that the hand of human kindness was not going to be extended to them. We moved at slower than ‘tick’ speed and pulled over to the Lock moorings and let them get on with their business. Normally I am out there helping but they were making it obvious that they expected it by fart arsing around. And we were in no rush.

A couple of hours later we were at Willington and then back into the Marina. The wind picked up just as we motored in. It took about 5 attempts to be able to reverse into our home mooring.

The DolcieBlue is a little delayed in her readiness for delivery but we are aiming for her shell to be one that we can be proud to float in. All going well we are hoping she will be in our hands in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 12 May 2013


The month of May has arrived and we have spent a week undercover at Shobnall Marina. Undercover means not in dry dock but floating moored out of rain’s reach with a lean-to roof over AM.


The day before we went undercover, we arrived a few hundred metres away at Shobnall Fields, Burton-upon-Trent. We moored, on the 48hour Visitor Moorings, beside the late blooms of more than a thousand daffodils. It was a, without question, Spring day, - warm sun and happy people. The cruise from Willington was seamless. We left Mercia Marina on May 1st, departed like we were off on a long summer cruise. I had toyed with the idea of going to Stenson Lock for a cuppa tea and ‘winding’ there, when at the same time the engine would be heating the hot water in the calorifier. Sensibly Chris turned Right, rather than Left at the Mercia entrance and we moored just metres away where there is an open space for Della to chase squirrels and we have connectivity with our phones. No hot water though! And we could lift our ‘Stern’ box onto dry ground so Chris could paint it. While we were there I was able to motivate myself to finish the paua mosaic window sill that I started nearly a year ago.

AM had never lost the aroma of diesel even though the fuel tank was repaired last year. Chris lifted the floor over the ‘Bilge’ (i.e. where the engine is located) and noted that the area was covered in shallow water with a film of diesel floating over it. The motor hadn’t been started for some time as we have been static in the Marina, and the rain has been less than in former months. So here we are on the move, again, and the injectors are spitting diesel. The bilge had to be emptied and there were two possibilities for disposal and only one choice. Chris chose the clean way using a plastic hand pump thingy (I’m a bottle blonde, now, I don’t retain the words like I did when my colour was natural mousey brown) and he quickly filled a large bucket with the cocktail of water and diesel. As chance would have it he found the perfect receptacle for disposal, on his Della circuit the next day, in the Marina rubbish area. One Man’s junk is another Man’s treasure…..(kind of…).

It’s been lovely to be back on the Cut with different sounds, smells and smiles. After two nights close to Mercia we set off, early morning, at ‘tick’ speed to Burton. Breakfast was at Willington Sanitary Station because we could and we needed to make use of the facilities. It was a slow trip with Chris and Della at the helm, while I set to with necessary tasks to do on my laptop.

Just before entering the outer ‘burbs of Burton we go through our first lock shallow ‘Dallow’ lock. I call it shallow cos it’s not deep. We are now in Narrowboat area. Not fit for Widebeams, here, but 70 ft Narrowboats are accommodated. About 200m further along we get to grassy Shobnall Park. We see NB Global Spirit, from our Pier at Mercia, and moor just in front of her. Global Spirit (Maisie) has just begun her 5-6 month cruise. Della has suddenly come alive with the bounty of park life, and apart from her being drawn to anything human, she is overwhelmed with her memory of having the tennis ball thrown. She loves the chase and barely gives me a chance to step off AM before she is trying to bite my ankles and bark, yes BARK for the ball! We managed to run her off her feet that evening.

Next day, Shobnall Marina was our destination. Another 300 metres away so we thought we’d breakfast before we chugged along. As we started moving along, the rain started and persisted with force! The case of ‘If’ we had waited for breakfast we wouldn’t have got wet. I didn’t get wet but Chris did!! There is a sharp turn at the ‘Winding’ spot outside the Marina entrance which took us under a narrow towpath bridge. The Marina has prevented unauthorized entry by having a footbridge under the bridge that has to be raised by someone in the know! We stayed under the bridge and waited for a boat, on our booked undercover space to move. During the wait Chris was able to retrieve our boat-on-wheels, which he had parked down the road and round the corner, and park it at the Marina.

As soon as he arrived back at AM we were given the all clear to move to our mooring under cover! Sheer luxury and the sun was shining again. We got started straight away with getting plugged in to the electric and our sanding tools were shimming over the Port cabin side. (Port means Left, Port and Left have 4 letters!). A few hours later we had the first coat of satin Grey done. Chris, deftly, used the mini hand roller and I followed using a ‘dry’ paint brush in a rapid horizontal then vertical brush stroke manner. Writing it makes it sound easy but Chris had been slowly and surely working, over the last 10 weeks, towards prepping the sides to make this work stint go smoothly. The next day, the paint had dried, and we gave AM port-side, the second coat and turned her around to repeat the process on the starboard side. Shobnall Marina is compact compared to Mercia, and to turn around with minimal effort takes good planning and instruction. My job was to stay on shore and hold the Bow rope tight while Chris reversed the Stern out and I did a hand held pivot! Flat bottom boat smooth water glider!!

In the midst of painting, we had the Mechanic give AM a service. He did a great job and as a result we have a healthy sounding engine and the diesel smell is a distant memory. The contaminated receptacle was sent to the place where it should go.

Yesterday, our time was up at Shobnall and we left and returned to Shobnall Fields. We thought we might moor up for a few days, there, but the weather is inclement so we have returned to Mercia Marina.

Now Chris is finalising the completion of DolcieBlue and fingers crossed we will get the boat shell of our dreams. All I can say is watch this s    p    a     c     e!!!!!!!!!

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.