Friday, 27 June 2014


DB moved us to Crick for our next rest stop. The settled weather means we don’t have to assemble the canopies and can sit out on the open deck. As per usual we talked to foot traffic mostly with dogs walking past DB. Della feels her job is to meet and greet.  Della is interested, sometimes, to meet dogs and she gets very excited the bigger they are. We talked with the owners of Chico, a calm Jack Russell, who is getting fame for ‘his’ Narrowboat diary. It is giving me an idea to pen ‘Paw Prints’ on behalf of Della who is a deep thinker rather than a barker and the delight of the many humanoids, she ‘knee’ hugs.

The weather bode well for the journey through the leaky Crick Tunnel and beyond to the Watford Locks. The Crick Tunnel is a wet ride of 1528 imperial yards, and I’m sure sun or rain makes no difference to the traverse and you can be sure the Captain and the boat get a free wash. Della and I stayed indoors sitting on the Daybed and listened to the whoosh of water washing the tunnel walls. I cast my eye through this week’s ‘OK’ mag, speedily handed to me along with a door stopper of this month’s ‘Marie Claire’ as we left our Crick Mooring. The Marie Claire reminded me why I only bought it when I was living the best 10 years of a woman’s life between 28 and 32. The only substantial thing about it was its size.

At the end of the tunnel, as darkness was replaced with daylight, Della and I went back up on deck, with me mop-handed to put the free wash of DB’s deck to purposeful use. I had hardly begun when we got grounded starboard side. The new Ash pole is securely locked in place on the roof and there it stayed. Chris took hold of the short Blue pole (from AM days) and I used the plastic handle of the mop stick to push the bank away as we floated into position and full speed ahead.

In next to no time at all we were pulling in to waiting position for the first of the Watford Locks. These are 7 Locks of which 4 form the Staircase Lock. The Locks were being manned (they were blokes) by two C&RT Volunteers and were getting busy. It is important to inform one volunteer who acts as Lock Keeper (‘Lockie’) that you were in line to ‘come down’ as it was important for those waiting to come up to inform the ‘Lockie’. It transpired we were now part of organised chaos and boats at the bottom of the locks were moving to the small pond at the bottom of the Staircase Lock before they let the ‘Lockie’ know they were awaiting instruction. I would have organised it differently but that’s my opinion and that’s all I’m saying. We were 2nd to last in the line of 4 boats moving down the Locks before the boats at the bottom came up! My feathers were ruffled at the end of that work out and the serenity of the remainder of the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal was welcome.

Norton Junction is an easy turn to Port to follow the Grand Union Canal eventually taking us to London.  We were immediately at the ‘Top Lock’ of 7 staggered Locks that leads to a clear Lock free run to the Blisworth Tunnel (3rd longest tunnel on the Canal network).  A helpful C&RT volunteer arrived at the Top Lock with his windlass, at the ready, and I didn’t need any persuasion to stay on DB as we went down the Lock. The Locks were, again, the size that would fit a Wide Beam boat or 2 Narrow boats again. (Widebeams cannot pass the Foxton and Watford Locks.)

We moored for a couple of nights below the Top Lock with the thought of relaxing. Truth is I rarely relax as there is always something to do but it was good not to be on the move. When we are on the move, Chris spends hours standing at the Wheel and having to concentrate on steering, which is not the same as holding a Tiller. On the ‘To Do’ list the Wheel needs to be raised to give a better steering position.

Chris has the fortune, in his golden years, of having a Bus Pass and used it to free -ride the local bus, to Daventry, with DB’s ropey- looking shopping trolley and did the grocery shopping. His report of the journey was the helpfulness of the other people on the Bus in making sure he got off at the right stop. He returned with a trolley full of groceries and fresh broad beans from the market. The broad beans were good but not on a par to the ones we used to grow in our sustainable garden in NZ.

Later, in the day, we walked the towpath and passed the 6 locks we would do the next day. I suggested we start early in case the day became hot like it was during our reccy. We were down the six locks before we had our breakfast at Whilton Marina. Even better Della enjoyed Rabbit TV in the Pet store near the Marina. She just stands with her paws planted in Fight or Flight position, nose twitching with the smell of live Rabbit and selective hearing in place. The only way to move her is to pull her, by lead, along the slippery floor. Note: To reduce risk of dog choking remember to make sure dog wears harness.
Fool's paradise The M1 is over there 

The day was warm and we cruised on beyond the glimpses of the M1 and the busy railway line. We moored at Weedon and watched a bloke poling his working boat past us.  The conversation went like this
Are you really going to pole the barge to London?
Have you considered using a horse?
“Yes but they are too expensive to look after.”
Oh well you’ll put muscles in your arms as you train to be a pole dancer. Byeee.

We gave him plenty of chance to pole-on while we went to explore the limited delights of closed antique shops in Weedon. We agreed to move down the canal and found a quieter location just passed the Rugby Boats office. Well it was quieter when the noise of the ride-on mower cutting the massive lawn canal side of the big house, opposite us, had finished giving the grass its No. 1 cut.


Della is booked in for a groom next Monday near Bridge 76 in Milton Keynes which means our stops are limited until then.
Is using strength of arm to pole mean your boat is powered? 

Yesterday’s cruise took DB through the Blisworth Tunnel (3057 yards) to Stoke Bruerne and slightly beyond. Della and I remained calm, indoors, while torch and DB’s headlights lit the shiny walls of the tunnel.
The Black Hole is near 

We met 2 boats heading the other way and passed without incident. Again as daylight got close, Della and I left our comfortable and dry space.

That light in the distance is oncoming craft and not the end of the Tunnel 

Unexpectedly for us, we had gongoozlers greet us. I got mouthy

There is light at the end of the tunnel. We have come out of a black hole. Is this other side?

In their response I heard the Kiwi dialect and then I noticed the map of NZ on a T shirt.

 Kia ora bro!

Yay and they were Mainlanders. We moored up and I walked back and asked if they’d like to have a wee cruise with us to Stoke Bruerne. It was lovely being able to share a snippet of cruising on DB with Maureen & Ray (from Mosgiel NZ) and Jan & Mohammed. Great that DB can take 4 plus us on board in the stern /wheelhouse area not to mention the laundry drying (the Tunnel wasn’t too leaky) on the clothes rack in front of the directors’ chairs. Della took up her cooler weather position as Navigator sitting in prime position on the ledge above the Wheel. The Locks appeared as we arrived in Stoke Bruerne and thanks to Ray for helping with the 2nd lock. Chris says you guys thought I was strong! Thanks, you should have seen me later! We went down 2 locks with the Kiwi crew, said our farewells and then thought we would find a mooring spot before the next lock.

Chance would be a fine thing but the boats we passed were erratically moored and there was no space for 68ft of DB. I wish people could think to move closer when moored in limited space. No mooring meant we had to go down 5 more locks which was really hard work. We were both tired and I needed to open and close both top gates for DB to enter the lock and to open bottom gates for DB to leave the lock and walk to the next lock to get it ready while DB was going down the Lock and back to let DB out and close the gates and the ‘pounds’ were very full and the locks were overflowing and I lost my cool demeanour if I ever had it...... It was tough but a “Big Up” to the random help I had at the 3rd and 5th Locks.
Thankfully we found a good mooring where we could bang in our pegs and tie up before it started raining.
And still the complimentary comments and smiles for DolcieBlue keep us buoyant.
“She looks just like my home.”

DolcieBlue is our home.

Thursday, 19 June 2014


Phew summer has tried to arrive and we realised that the heavy rain, while we moored at Kilby Bridge, had put the River Soar into flood and stoppages were happening on waters we had cruised! We had luck to get through the Soar in good weather.  

 I had to ‘work’ 7 locks to get to Newton Harcourt where a scenic mooring spot, near Ivy Bridge, was recommended to us. (The best way to find out the good, the bad and the ugly places is to talk to fellow boaters.)  6 out of the 7 locks were not set in our favour. The top gates were open, due to the high water level in the canal. This meant double the physical effort to shut the gates but I knew by winding up a paddle to open a sluice on the near gate will assist by drawing the water to pull the far gates shut as I begin to close them. No shortage of water! Big BANG as the gates slammed under pressure. The one lock that was in our favour was deceptive. The gate was open and DB crawled in. I put 115% physical effort in to close one of the gates behind DB and it would not budge. Chris tried to lever it using the boat pole on DB but it would barely budge. The solution was Chris climbing the lock ladder and our combined power made it easy. Then he closed the other gate and I got the ground paddle in motion to start filling the lock. Della stayed on DB as we haven’t taught her to climb ladders yet. Chris, on the ground held the middle rope to keep DB secure as the lock filled and raised DB. Once the water is over the ‘cill’ then the gate paddles can be open. Chris got back on DB before I attended to those paddles. Being Lady Lock’n’Lol is a responsibility!
We chose the recommended spot near Newton Harcourt with the free million pound view. We did our best to moor DB snugly on the bend leaving room for another boat should one come along. As long as DB’s stern is close to the bank then it reduces Della’s risk of falling in. She doesn’t find walking the plank to her liking. Well who does?? . Barbie & Mike came and moored in front of us, lovely people and with a recommendation for the Butcher Squ!sito in Yelvertoft, when we get closer to Crick.  

Our view looked over the canal to fields with sheep grazing and people walking. The joy of the Public Footpath, in England, is the ability to walk ‘off road’ and enjoy communing with nature. Della loves the rural walks, and is taking too much interest in the taste of fresh sheep pooh. She has started eating the fresh grass and lying on the ground. Baaah!

We explore the countryside, wherever we moor. I had to bin my favourite shoes after they had got through their first and only recycle fix, at the end of Winter 2013. The re-heeled boots and mastic filled cracked soles were well past their second sell-by date and they went in the big rubbish bin on land. My pair of Gumboots/ Wellingtons/ Muck Boots, whatever their name is, have been put back to use and my dry feet are happy. Della has a useful ‘Happy Pet’ paw rinser when there is no way for her to avoid the mud on the towpath. Sensibly, DB’s floor is a product called ‘Antica’ i.e. non slip vinyl strips that have the appearance of wood, easy to mop and quick to dry. We were close to ordering engineered oak, which would have added more weight to DB and reduced the floor to ceiling height. Comments from taller people are favourable as they notice there is ‘air’ space above their head. Not like in a house but more than a Narrowboat.

The gravitational pull of liquid out of the sky ceased and we left our beautiful mooring on a cool but clear day with the hope of settled weather. I’m continuing to question the creative weather forecasting in this country. “A fine day with a couple of showers possible”.  

 A series of 5 locks, yes still the problem of open gates, a crooked Tunnel (Saddington) and 2 swing bridges brought us to the Market Harborough Arm of the Grand Union Canal. We ticked along to the end of the Branch at Harborough hoping there would be a mooring for us, as it was now late afternoon. We had to ‘wind’ in the Basin and there were a few gongoozlers watching DB go through her manouevers.  The wind was blowing and blew DB in the direction of boats moored in the Basin. Chris did a brilliant job of using the wind favourably and although we got up close to the noses of some boats DB made no contact!! There was applause from the watchful audience.

 As luck had it we got the last mooring at the entrance to the Basin. A little ‘Tupperware’ boat had to move up one bollard so DB’s stern wasn’t kissing it.

Our mate Phil came up to see us for a couple of days and is our first guest to stay aboard DB. We have been told the Daybed is very comfortable!

 ‘Arborough is a beautiful town full of happy chatty people, a lovely park and handy supermarkets. DolcieBlue certainly attracted positive attention with comments galore “Fabulous”, “Very very nice”, “Astounding”, “Love your boat”, “When did she go in the water?”, “Don’t see boats this big around here”, “She’s lovely”, “Do you live on her?”.

We returned to Foxton on DB and spent a couple of days checking out the popular Staircase Locks, the Public Footpaths and enjoying the sunshine. We met Devereau and Patsy who were enjoying cruising on a Narrowboat rented from Union Wharf in ‘Arborough and were heading back to base. We had them round for dinner on DB after we cruised back to ‘Arborough. It was a lovely evening and we hope that our boats pass again somewhere in the world.

2 days later we were back in Foxton to go up the locks in the late afternoon. They are the easiest paddles I have ever wound and the easiest gates to open. A one armed bandit job! There is one C&RT volunteer in charge and usually 2-3 volunteers there to assist. On the day we went up, there was only one volunteer so I was able to work the locks under his instruction. There were a couple of gongoozlers taking an interest in us going up and I started to talk with them. Charlotte was from Auckland and Chris was from Newcastle, they had not been on a Narrowboat so I encouraged them to jump aboard and go up the remaining locks on DB with Chris and Della. Nice to be able to share the experience of a Narrowboat on the move.

Another tunnel loomed and quite a long one to pass through, after a night at the top of the staircase locks. The tunnel is 2 way and takes about 15 minutes to get through. Some plonker couldn’t wait a few minutes to let us get all the way through. He didn’t even give himself enough time to turn his head light on. Of course we saw him but it looked like we were following him as an oncoming light would indicate direction. We ended up rubbing alongside his boat and scraping along the tunnel wall. Oh well, no big problem.  A few metres out of the tunnel we came across another boat heading to the black hole and he had no sign of a headlight. He shrugged his shoulders when I asked him where his headlight was!

We turned into the Welford Arm of the Grand Union, enjoyed another simple to work Lock and moored overnight at the blunt end of the Arm. A tricky 'wind' to get back in the right direction but made simpler with spinning using the Bow rope. Now we are back on the Grand Union and officially in the County of Northamptonshire enjoying a rural mooring for a few nights. We did a circular walk to Yelvertoft and found the recommended Butcher / Deli. We’ll moor here, a few days, and enjoy the view of the field of happy sheep before heading to Crick and an even longer tunnel.

There is more traffic on this part of the Canal but it is still not busy. I managed to call out to the ‘working’ barge that was going past this morning and we filled up with sensibly priced red diesel.

Sarah was Wheel'y' reluctant but....

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.