Wednesday, 13 August 2014


Wild flowers at Cowley

Is it a Boat?

Ponder this. The estimated population of Greater London is 8.3 million people. People living on boats on the canal system in London

Almost 3 months after cruising off from Willington, Derbyshire, on Nb DolcieBlue we arrived in London. The excitement level was not high, on board, as we cruised the final frontier towards Little Venice with no idea what our chances of finding vacant Visitor moorings. Word on the ‘Cut’ had been passed with pouted puffs as to you will be lucky to find a mooring unless you double berth (i.e. tie up to a moored boat) or you may have to keep heading East. 
Big Brother

It's a gas!

The green green grass of home

There were plenty of moorings canal-side of Wormwood Scrubs, opposite Kensal Green Cemetery, but we were not intending to do time there or read the tombstones!  Little Venice Visitor moorings was crowded and we were annoyed to see a widebeam boat being fitted out there. Hardly the place for that. Yeah we know there is a Continuous Cruiser culture in London but I cannot understand how a boat being fitted out is fit for cruising without a safety certificate. I can only guess that C&RT are showing due care and diligence respecting diversity and equality on the Cut as they do throughout their network. Oh it is a minefield and we people from up north were not happy with the London boatie attitude to sharing the canal.

But we were here and now and all we could do to rock the boat and lighten our load was to try to pull in to the Little 'Menace' Sanitary Station and block the canal while we got rid of our rubbish and emptied our ‘potty’.  A Narrowboat conveniently broken down at the Sanitary Station meant we had to be creative about mooring and the big arse green painted Widebeam Boat that had been following us had to wait impatiently while we offloaded!

All our hope for a mooring now rested on Paddington Basin where there are Visitors moorings. Heads up we cruised into the Paddington Arm. Were the Visitors moorings to the Right at the start of the Arm?  Can we moor here I called out to a face on a moored boat. “No”. We thought there were no other moorings but as we cruised around the bend we saw Narrowboats and a huge mega Dutch Barge moored. As luck would have it there was one mooring left and it was ideal. The smiles couldn’t be wiped off our faces and we found out we could stay for 7 days without charge. We could stay longer if we had needs that would satisfy the welfare or, failing that, the mechanical break-down arm of C&RT. Crikey we had only intended to be there a couple of days and then head up the River Lee & River Stort.

We stayed 7 days and thoroughly enjoyed the location sharing it with our dear and lovely friends from years gone by. Last century, when we lived on land in London, Paddington Basin was rubble and not inviting. How times change. 
Narrowboat with crane attachment

Paddington Tube Station was a couple of minutes walk away and easy for friends to visit us. Hyde Park was a 20 minute walk and dog friendly. Edgeware Road and Chapel Street were 5 minutes walk and one night Della and I and a couple of girlfriends ventured on to busy Edgeware Road. It was like Little Egypt with all the Hubbly Bubbly apparatus, to smoke shisha tobacco, fired up outside the cafes. Della took it in her stride but the noise of the big double decked London buses make her nervous so I carried her and she took in the sights nestled calmly in my arms and with a better view. She is so cute to carry as she hangs her front paws over my elbow and wraps her hind around my lower back. Our Vet, in NZ, did tell us she is a dog not a handbag!

Thursday, at Paddy’s Basin, we woke up to World Food Stalls being set up. So thoughtful they were located close to our mooring and how convenient we had friend’s visiting. There was a Stall set up with ‘exotic’ creatures, as well. Not on the menu, thankfully, although I would prefer they were in their own habitat but I made sure Della didn't get the scent of them as they were taken out of their ‘containers’ for close inspection! I was attracted by the  Tarantula, a ‘ginormous’ hairy spider, that I had personally encountered many years ago, last century in fact, in East Africa when I had washed my shoes and not banged and shaken them to remove any uninvited passengers before I put them on. The furry feel touching my toes is memorable, for me. I don’t think the Tarantula survived. The next time I washed those shoes I did bang and shake them only to feel a sharp needle-like prick in one of my toes......great it was a scorpion, thankfully it didn’t have a lethal dose of venom although it did get my blood pumping with fear of death. My targeted foot and lower leg were in pain for 24 hours. Another story but back to real time in London and DB cruising.
Della relaxing with stranger

We were ready as much as we were reluctant to leave the safe harbour of Paddington Basin. Although talking with London’s continuous-not cruising fraternity baits us with apathy to C&RT we know we are lucky that we are fit and without financial restrictions to live this lifestyle. 

In Paddy’s Basin we had met two Narrowboats with ‘Autumn’ in their boat names. The owners were going to cruise up the River Thames from Limehouse Basin within the week so we invited ourselves to their flotilla and arranged to meet the day before the appointed date at Limehouse. Chris phoned up the Limehouse Lock Keeper to book us in.

We left Paddy’s Basin after the Friday raising of the bridge designed by the creator of ‘The Shard’, a newish landmark building in London. The bridge rolls up into a circle and then unrolls, thankfully, to be a bridge again.

There is a Paddle Board hire business being run from a Narrowboat , moored near the Visitors Moorings in the Basin. I informed them we would be on the move at midday as I had seen a group of people, their customers, getting ready to paddle their boards. I’m not sure why I told them because a number of their customers had just set out on water as we did. They were in our path and they did not cope well with getting out of our way. 68 ft of steel boat in the windy basin could have caused injury. It was close and the responsible person gave us a mouthful! Silly cow, I hope they reflected on this and will treat boats with respect! I mean, steel boats do not have the ability to jump out of the water!

A friend joined us for the day’s cruise. A right turn out of Paddy’s Basin and we were on the Regents Canal to cruise through the short Maida Hill Tunnel (272 yds) and chug past Regent’s Park and London Zoological Gardens. A sharp turn left to pass by Primrose Hill and an unofficial, I think, memorial to Amy Winehouse close to the Camden Locks. 
Amy Winehouse tribute


The Top Lock was worked with the help of a volunteer. There was no place to moor, so I walked the gunwale to get to Lock-land. There were lots of people lunching where there would have been mooring space so we had the eyes of the gongoozlers on us. The next lock was unassisted and we had to moor up where legs dangled in our way. The ‘land’ gate for me to access the Lock was blocked by a couple of people eating their lunch. Close to the bottom Lock was a selection of people feeding their drug habit. One bloke was jumping on a tourist boat as it was leaving the Lock thinking the passengers were laughing with him, not at him. We were next into the Lock and we passed through ignoring the behaviour on show.

We moored up before the next Lock for lunch and agreed we were ready to stop for the day as soon as a mooring possibility arose. A brief cruise took us to the plastic grass terraces below Granary Square. We thought we’d stay a few nights although the first night the party people voicing-off meant noise from dusk until dawn. Word has it there is a Nightclub (Egg) nearby. Granary Square, itself, looks a nice place with water features and deck chairs. There are a couple of Cafes, one called ‘Caravan’ owned by Kiwis. Sadly 'Caravan' only had designated a small part of their outside area as dog friendly and there was no room for us. The take-out flat white was good though.

 We went back to DB and found a message on our boat asking if we could give up our mooring as another boater had planned a birthday bash in that spot. Chris contacted them and said “Yes, but where would we moor?”

 The outcome was we could spend the night on their permanent mooring. I walked along and checked out the location. I couldn't believe that it was the mooring I had enquired about, last year, on the canal alongside the National Volunteers Council HQ! Now the mooring was rented out and we were going to stay there the night! It was one of those 'small-world' occasions. Of all the moorings in London........
The mooring was ideal and we were very safe in Kings Cross. We did venture out to a nearby Pub, King Charles I, that had atmosphere and a handful of people. It was not a clip joint or 'chain'. Back on water we had a mate over for dinner and it was a quiet evening. No need for ear plugs that night.

We woke early and went for a Sunday walk to see where we were headed as the Canal exited the 960yd long Islington Tunnel and what lay in store for us there. It was a good walk and we meandered into Chapel Street Market as it was being set up. Instructions from the street cleaners, in Angel, put us in the direction of the Canal and we found an ideal mooring as long as it was still available when we got there on DB.

And it was! Perfect and we decided that the location would do us for the 3 nights before we needed to be at Limehouse Basin. A designated quiet zone as C&RT attempt to keep in favour of Boris and his people. The noise of a boat engine, running for more than an hour, is not in favour. The noise of a group of drunks, from the Eastern Bloc, is acceptable from dusk into the small morning hours.

We were ready to leave London. We had one day of being moored with no extra steel attached followed by two days of being double moored. I got requested to turn DB’s engine off, in the middle of the day, being reminded of the rules by a friendly C&RT employee who was moored behind us. I didn't understand why she had let the chap moored alongside her leave his engine running more than 3 hours the evening before!! I suppose it’s not what you know but who you know. Getting out of the inside double berthed position took a bit of working out. We knew what needed to be done but the travel writer moored next to us was not bothered. She would be at work when we needed to leave and I was not going to re-position her boat. She was too busy to move the boat when we discussed the plan, late afternoon, and I had to bang on her door 3 hours later to change our boat positions. I suppose the life of the London based Continuous Cruiser is a chilled Hakuna matata ("no problem" in Kiswahili).

Our original plan had been to cruise up the River Lee and River Stort but word on the Cut has it there is a lot of river weed and lack of mooring space due to the continuous cruise-nots. We are ready to get out of the big City and back to rural England. The thought of cruising up the Thames from Limehouse is exciting. WOW!!!

The final 8 Locks on the Regents Canal were shared with another Narrowboat, another Autumn!. It was a pleasant surprise to have Volunteers working the Victoria Park Lock and I could deal with a Sanitary call at the dirty Elsan station. Keep the ballast in check where possible!
Canary Wharf in the distance

Limehouse was the end of our London run and we met the ‘Autumns’ in our flotilla. They informed us they were fair-weather boaters and the forecast the next day was for rain so they had rebooked for the day after! We agreed cruising the Thames through London would benefit from a sunny day and we could hold off for a better weather forecast. Our flotilla number was now 8 Narrowboats. We had met a Narrowboat crew who had just cruised down the Thames on a windy day and in the afternoon. They reported the big tourist boat traffic created sizeable wakes.

Moored in Limehouse Marina

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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.