Saturday, 12 October 2013


The DolcieBlue fit out moved to backstage when we realised there was a summer, this year, we'd would be mad if we missed the opportunity to cruise Avalon Mist and venture to territory we hadn't navigated while we could on our 53 footer. The Huddersfield Narrow and Broad canals became the plan and we left Mercia Marina in mid August. We filled the boat with 4 ‘Besties’ for a one way day non return trip to Alrewas. 6 humanoids and Della are a manageable group on AM for day travel. We plan DB to be spacious enough to cater for overnighters.

The following day, friends gone and a bit of a heavy head, we cruised on to Kings Bromley. The locks at Fradley Junction were quiet considering it was Bank Holiday Monday and there was only a short waiting time to use the locks. A C&RT Volunteer was helping on Lock 3 (by the gongoozler ‘Mucky Duck’ Pub) and as I arrived to take action on the lock, he had filled it to set it for a narrowboat heading down from the lock above. Only that boat was heading to ‘wind’ at the Coventry Canal junction and return up the flight! I think boaters could be better at signalling their intentions. We do a lot of shouting that is often not heard over the engine noise.  In this instance a raised arm moving in a circular motion would indicate that the boat is going to turn (i.e ‘wind’). 

The ‘semi trad’ boat that was ‘winding’ had a mechanical problem which made it a pig’s ear to do anything and it was in the queue at the next lock when we arrived. The mechanical problem was the gear cable had detached itself and ‘the Mum’ was armed with a tool, in the engine room, to put the motor in gear while No.2 son was on the tiller and No.1 son was filling the lock. It was a slow and frustrating process. I opened one of the lock paddles slowly under instruction and after the risk to hit the sill was gone I wound the paddle right up let more water in! Boy did No.1 son get a mouthful from his stressed Mum once the gate was open.  “You let the water in too quickly. Blah Blah Blah!!!” I called out to her that it was my fault. “Blah Blah Blah!!!” Then an older weathered bloke marched up and overwhelmed us all. He was rude and abrupt and it turned out he was in the lock queue and on a mission in his ‘working’ boat. I asked him if he had a windlass. “Of course!” he blurted, lifting his t-shirt above belt level where strapped was his windlass cushioned by his belly. The problem boat left the Lock and ‘matey’ took over.  He was of the opinion that the Mum and sons in the departing boat were fooling around.

At the last lock of our day,’ The Little Chimney Company’ had their boat moored below the lock with the engine in gear. They were not facing the right way to go up Lock. We couldn’t work out why, as it is not helpful to obstruct the pegged lock mooring and they would be considerate, surely. No chance of avoiding contact with their boat as we went in to moor.  All became clear when I went up to the lock and the Chimney people were rope- handling their work ‘Butty’ (they tow it) down the lock. They explained they left their moored Nb in gear as it keeps the boat close to the mooring against the force of the water as the lock empties!  They had only tied up using their central rope.

The next morning we woke feeling bright and refreshed and ready for a day of cruising. There were no locks until we got closer to Great Haywood so I had a spell on the tiller. I have taken my time getting my steering ‘badge’ and so the plan was for me to do more tiller time and we would alternate the lock workout.  I knew that I would need to overcome the magnetic feel I get when I meet moored or moving boats.

Westport Lake
A couple of days later we were on the Macclesfield Canal (‘the Mac’). We had considered mooring the night at Westport Lake on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a pretty spot on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent, but after walking around the Lake we chose to cruise the mile to get the last passage of the day through the Harecastle Tunnel and be on ‘the Mac’ that night. We were the 4th and last boat in our convoy and the boat in front of us had 2 people on their stern. While Chris steered us through the tunnel (30 mins) Della and I sat in the Bow under the Cratch cover and observed the red brown water and the chiselled walls lit by our headlight. I could hear the eerie sound of voices but guessed they were from the boat in front. The tunnel door opened when we are about 10 minutes from the other side. Close to the tunnel portal I went to the stern to check how Chris was. He was good although said he doesn’t like being in the tunnel and he should have put on more warm clothing as it was cold. As we exited the tunnel the ‘tunnel’-keeper was on his mobile phone. He stopped his phone conversation as I called out to him “It’s a bit cold in there, can you turn the heating up please!” He laughed and took the comment in the manner it was intended.

The Macclesfield Canal is a favourite of ours. It has beautiful snake bridges and plenty of Visitor’s moorings. 

We met a couple of ‘locals’ (Mum and son) who were walking their young pup ‘Scrappy’ and I offered them a short cruise on AM. They had not been on a Narrowboat, before, and it was lovely to hear their joy on the short trip with us. We dropped them off and then we carried on to Bridge 85 and moored. We took a walk on terra firma following a Public Footpath uphill to Mowcop where there is a castle ‘folly’ and grand views. The walk included a field of potential murderous cows and I wasn’t keen on returning. I’m sure the cows were okay and only a couple of them gave Della an interested eye. The media had recently reported heinous cow incidents with Joe Public.

What goes up must come down and the Canal was about 3 miles walk away. We decided to take the road walk, back. We checked our route with a helpful Mowcop resident, who was unofficially counting the number of times a pretty woman was running around the block. He gave us directions and off we went and we were on a steep downhill stretch of road (steeper, I think, than Baldwin Street in Dunedin, NZ) and our helpful Mowcopean arrived in his car full of apology that he had misdirected us and was concerned that he had sent the Kiwis the wrong way! He insisted on driving us back to AM. There is human kindness.
We enjoyed the warm weather and the leisurely journey we could take on AM. Along the way we moored at Congleton, Poynton and, this time, there were moorings at Marple. We moved on to the Peak District Canal and went to Whaley Bridge / Bugsworth Basin intending to return to Marple and head for the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and Standedge Tunnel. I phoned C&RT to book our passage for the tunnel  and was surprised when the woman I spoke to gave us the boat height restriction. I just assumed we were OK and went on and booked it. Chris was belt and braces and measured AM and it looked like we were a couple of inches to high at the peak of the Bow! He spoke to C&RT and we decided that we couldn’t take the risk of being turned away at the Tunnel Portal. Oh well, a sometime never trip that one! A suggestion to C&RT for their Waterways website would be to inform us of the accepted boat measurements with a diagram, for the Standedge Tunnel passage.

So instead of moving in the Manchester direction we went back down the ‘Mac’ thinking we’ll go back to our base at Mercia Marina. So rain threatened when we left Bugsworth Basin. We looked for rural overnight moorings closer to Marple There are plenty of lovely spots but mooring is impossible as The Peak Forest Canal to Whaley Bridge is in dire need of dredging and we kept grounding with each attempt to moor. The lucky boats that were moored don’t indicate how long they will stay. Some looked more permanent than others. Luckily, we got a Marple mooring, again. We almost fit into a mooring slot but we needed about 10 inches more to be comfortably moored. The Nb behind couldn’t move any further and the Tupperware moored, in front, hadn’t considered another boat mooring! I am reluctant to move boats but all this involved was to move it along one mooring ring. So I did it and I ‘fessed up when the Tupperware owner returned. He apologised for his thoughtlessness. No harm done.

Next day we stayed at Gurnett a pretty spot past Macclesfield. I was gaining confidence with steering remembering to react to obstacles in timely fashion and focus on one side of the boat when passing close to others. Harecastle Tunnel was my aim!

 There are two bridges before Macclesfield that require operating. The automated bridge is straight forward, put in the key, turn the key and keep your finger on the button! Stop the traffic stuff. The other, a manually operated swing bridge was problematic when we were going ‘up’ didn’t want to swing but this time it swung! AM got grounded on a concrete slab at the mooring point and Chris attempted pushing her out using the pole. I swung the bridge to halfway point so I could get on the towpath and use another pole to see if 4 hands could budge AM. She floated once Chris got on land and could use his pole as a lever while I used mine to push her. Della stayed on board watching from her vantage point! Still water has its advantages. Chris insisted on working the 12 locks on the Bosley Flight and I was on steering duty. No worries.
Chris was steering when he lost his concentration (we were having a chat) at a crucial time as we came to one of those bridges where the walls jump out at you. We ended up banging into the bridge wall and experienced a ‘boat-shake’. I went indoors to inspect damage. There was a lot of stuff strewn on the galley / living room floor and one glass broken! Steel boats don’t bruise. No outstanding marks that a lick of paint won’t hide.

We moored overnight at Dog Lane Aqueduct (Congleton) and moved on the following morning to the Trent& Mersey. As planned, I was on the tiller as we approached the Trent & Mersey Canal and was prepared to turn right to the Harecastle Tunnel but in a spontaneous moment we agreed turn left and do the 12 locks of ‘heartbreak hill’. We took 3 locks-in -a -row turns and made Rode Heath in the late afternoon. As usual, we gave Della her early evening convenience explore walk, and walked past the canal side Broughton Arms Pub and did a double take at their menu. The Monday special was any two meals from the grill menu for the price of one. We were very happy with the mixed grill x 2. It set us up for the 17 locks, the next day, to Middlewich. 
The cruise we were doing is called the ‘Four Counties’. The only bit of canal we hadn’t previously done was the Staffs & Worcestershire [North] Canal. We left Middlewich and the rain came down. We had moored near Kings Lock beside a busy road. There was no need to stay more than a night and I walked Della before we made our move. We passed a dog that looked familiar but I didn’t recognise the owner. It was only when we cast off and the owner called out my name that I realised he was a ‘newbie’ on our Pier at Mercia Marina!!

And so began a wet weather day on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Chris was suitably attired in his wet weather garb and I only ventured out to partake in 5 locks, and 2 were before the rain. We made the mainline Shropshire (‘Shroppie’) Union Canal and were yelled at by a discontent grunting-moorer who thought we were speeding past him. We know what ‘tick-over speed’ is and what is going backwards speed. There were boats on long term moorings on either side of the canal and a boat coming in the opposite direction. Some people have to get a life! That evening we moored after the Llangollen Canal ‘Hurleston Junction. We had had enough rain and there was no point going any further.
 I enjoyed Della’s morning walk alongside the 4 lock flight that we weren’t going to do, and remembered when we had done it in 2012. I had found 15 euro’s near the lock gate at the top lock! There was no abandoned money this time.

The rain had stopped and we moored at Nantwich, a pretty town, with an abundance of charity shops. As we had Della, with us, we needed to find some outdoor seating and proper coffee. A pot of tea is reliable but a coffee that has colour is, sadly, hard to find in England. They have the coffee machines but it is only the big franchises that appear to have Barista trained staff. I did have a great ‘flat white’ at a non franchise cafe in the centre of Nantwich.

Nantwich didn’t attract us for an overnight stay, the sun was shining and we cast off and enjoyed the Shroppie, passing a lot of ripe blackberries. We pulled in at one spot but we got the stinging nettle instead of blackberries. So gave up on that one! Next year!! We had a few miles with the occasional lock and called it a day when we got to the bottom of the Audlem Flight. We immediately took Della for her walk and realised it would be better to take AM up the first 2 locks, now, rather than get caught with lock jam the following morning! So we did that and one more! I checked space above the 2nd lock and there was a vacant mooring alongside The ‘Shroppie Fly’ Pub. We had a pre dinner pint, then back to AM for an early night.  
I was awake before 6 a.m. and toying with an early start. Half an hour, later, I was walking Della and one Nb went past us and I heard the paddles in action emptying the lock they had just left. Right, it was time for us to get going. We let the next boat go past and then followed it before another boat went past. That day we did 22 locks, 13 locks (of the 16 lock Audlem flight) to start the day! There was a flow of traffic on the flight. A mile after the last Audlem locks there are the five’ Adderley’ locks. We met Liz & Robert, Nb Blue Point, at the start of this climb and they followed us up. Liz, kindly, helped us with Locks as she needed to set them after we moved out of the Lock. It was a chance meeting and we all got on really well. We were of the same thinking about helping at the Locks. I think I left them a few items at the wonderful canal side Farm Shop, at the top of this flight. I know I got a good supply of freshly laid eggs!
New mooring!
The Shroppie passes through some attractive countryside and we were enjoying the journey very much. Not far from Wheaton Aston we saw some end of field moorings where people had little gardens, sheds and decking and we thought ‘one day’......   Closer to Wheaton Aston (WA) we noticed a handwritten sign advertising an end of field mooring. We called out to two blokes who were standing on one of the moorings and they yelled “Come back!!” And so we did and the following day we had ourselves an end of field mooring! Our first thought was to bring DB and AM to WA but sensibility came into play. We will spend the winter at Mercia and get DB habitable and AM ready for sale. In the spring we will head to WA and a life of continuous cruising with a ‘home base’.

It took us 3 days from WA to cruise back to DB and Mercia Marina. A total of 152 locks and some miles this holiday! We’ve been back at Mercia for about 3 weeks, now. DB is a work in progress and next blog will be the rise of DOLCIEBLUE.

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.