Sunday, 14 September 2014



We had two choices at Napton Junction. EITHER stick with the teamed Grand Union Canal – Main Line and the Oxford Canal OR turn to Port and be on the one and the same Grand Union Canal-Main Line cruising in the direction of Birmingham. This opens up the possibility of turning on to the Stratford Canal at Kingswood Junction. We turned to Port.

Paddle going down

We are loving this Canal. There is little boat traffic and the Canal width is generous in comparison to the Oxford Canal. It is fit for wide beam boats but I've not seen any on the move, only a few moored ones on home moorings. The locks allow two Narrowboats. We had luck at the first of 2 flights of 9 locks to share the space. The people were newbies on boats and had loaned a relative’s boat for a holiday week. The Lock paddles are hydraulic and take a lot of muscle to get them moving. 22 ½ rotations to fully wind up a paddle. I have a painful memory of working the Hatton Flight in 2011 and I was determined not to let history repeat itself. I found that having a wide base of support (feet well apart) and bending my knees as I rocked with each turn of the windlass made a difference. I have been told that the lock takes 2 minutes longer to fill or empty if only one paddle is wound up. The gates are steel (not wood) and heavy, and the ‘bum’ push can be cold and wet depending on weather conditions and time of day.
Strike a pose.

The rural scenery is stunning and inviting with plenty of public footpaths to wander along away from the Canal. The blackberries are abundant and there is no excuse for not picking them for compost, jam, pie....! I say compost with a tongue in cheek memory of a friend who was not a linguist. The word ‘compĂ´te’ didn’t fall off the tip of his tongue but he could swallow ‘compost’ with ease.

Our first overnight stop back on the Grand Union was at Itchington, a pleasant village adjoining Long Itchington where the steel shell of Nb DolcieBlue had been fabricated at Colecraft. Next day a friend met us on the Canal and to take the cruise and the 9 locks to Leamington Spa. A couple of Lock tales from that day....

1. We had been told there were two abandoned Bull Mastiff dogs at one of the Fosse locks. The boater I had talked to said she left a phone message to report the dogs to the local Animal Services. We arrived at that Lock and saw the dogs on the far side of the Lock taking an interest in the boat activity. We kept Della on board and felt sad for the ‘abandoned’ dogs. Chris threw them some dog food and I kept out of the way working the lock. Next day Chris managed to contact Animal Services to express his concern and request they tell him the outcome of their investigation of this matter. A happy ending... the dogs were owned by a local farmer and the dogs had found a gap in the fence where they could get to the Lock! The farmer will repair the fence and ensure the dogs wore collars.

2.  Arriving at another Lock we found the bottom gate open and a Boater roaming around the top of the Lock asking us if we would wait for another boat at the Water Point, below and beyond, filling up with water. We said “No.” Filling up with water is not always a 10 minute task. The Boater was miffed and thought we were being unreasonable. We guessed where the Water Point was located, in the distance, and could see no sign of boat movement. The Boater decided to take the Lock leaving us with instructions to tell the other boat crew  he would wait for them at the next Lock. 30 minutes later we were down the Lock and moving along the Canal. Our assumed spot for the Water Point was wrong. In fact it was further along and the boat was still filling up with water! I shouted out the other Boater’s message. A puzzled expression greeted me.

We tied up for a few days in Leamington Spa.  What a nice town it is, great Gardens with Squirrel tv for Della and the quietness of the Canal didn’t encourage us to change moorings in a hurry. There was a small cafe run by people from Portugal and I had fun speaking my country Portuguese. I couldn’t resist eating an all time favourite of mine from Portugal - Pasteis de Nata- (Custard Tart, yum).

Cape of Good Hope

We moved DB to a good position on the outskirts of Leamington, for a couple of days, and close to Warwick. The advantage was a selection of supermarkets and some friendly gongoozlers. We had been recommended to go to ‘The Cape of Good Hope’ a Kiwi owned and managed Pub at the top of the two Locks in the direction of Warwick. So we moved on a quiet Sunday afternoon and we were fortunate to get a prime mooring outside the Pub. Much easier than carrying Della across the Lock Gate to the Tow path side.

A sunny clear blue sky, the following day, encouraged an early move. We were planning to do the 21 Locks, known as the Hatton Flight later in the week but decided that should a boat with more than one person aboard turn up we would ‘team’ up! A brief reverse up the Saltisford Arm, in Warwick, to visit the Sanitary Station and an attempt to moor in the shallow waters by the Grand Union Tow  path to eat breakfast saw us arrive early at the bottom Lock of the Hatton Flight. I had time to get my breakfast cereal in its bowl but eating it was another matter. 

A boat had arrived soon after we had moored up, we agreed to go up together and next thing they were on the move and entering the Lock! As luck would have it the crew on this boat Nb W. Anchor were being joined by 4 willing friends to lighten their journey up the flight! Yes they were fabulous and we sped through Lock after Lock. Again, little Lock traffic and we caught up with a holiday boat who happily let us move ahead of them. In an ideal world they could have teamed up with a boat, that was 2 Locks ahead! At Lock 13, it felt like we were on a downward slope in an upwardly mobile way. 8 more Locks is more than manageable. 

I remember the 19th Lock from Nb Avalon Mist days. I hurt so much at that Lock, I couldn’t even wind my windlass. This trip had not physically hurt me. This time we were waiting for an “old Lady” reported by the Volunteers who was coming down the 2 Locks, ahead of us, in her boat. That was misrepresentation by the Volunteers. It turned out the “old Lady” was a 63 year old woman who was travelling on her own. Luckily she was paired with a boat with 2 people aboard (Australians) and she had the Volunteers on her side.

The available moorings at the top of the Flight are in the shade of the tree covered hill side and we decided to move on to find a sunnier spot which was past the next bridge. Lovely countryside but the noise from the nearby railway line meant moving on the next day. I did make time to collect blackberries and yellow plums. Being a responsible dog owner means I always have a bag handy!

A move the next day through the Shrewley Tunnel and we have found an idyllic spot looking over fields in Warwickshire. 

Chris went and collected our car from Mercia Marina and we will rest here for a few weeks. The Stratford Canal is about 2 miles away. A cruise to Bancroft Basin had been the plan as Della is booked in for a 'groom' in Stratford-upon-Avon. But we will drive!!



Saturday, 6 September 2014


The Oxford Canal

The Thames Cruise was all over before we could stop it. Of course the River Thames doesn’t run on water alone and we needed to buy a further 2 days extra Environment Agency license for DolcieBlue to be legit. The ‘Lockie’ at Goring Lock calculated DB was 41 sq. metres in size. The previous license was calculated at 40 sq metres! Wow unbeknownst to us she was taking on delusions of size. However it was a matter of Metric v Imperial!!

We were keen to return to the Canal community. The southern Oxford Canal had been cruised by us on Avalon Mist in 2011 and we had fond memories of that journey. Yes I became the proud owner of the smiley lidded Twin Tub washing machine that washed 4 T-shirts all at once!

Meanwhile back to the here and now on the R. Thames and the ‘Lockie’, at Osney Lock, our last R. Thames Lock gave us helpful and clear instructions to find the Sheepwash Canal which leads to the Oxford Canal.

“Sharp turn to Starboard at the end of the Allotments.”

Sweet-as. Noses quivering and eyes wide open we identified the Canal and with the aid of the Bow thruster DB turned off the Osney Cut on the R. Thames and entered the Narrow waters that lead to a T- intersection with a sharp turn port to directly moor up for the first narrow Lock. Piece of cake to turn the Lock paddle with the windlass. Concentration, judgement and skill from Chris guiding DB into the ‘skinny’ lock. No ropes needed to hold DB rising as the Lock filled.
Aristotle Park mooring

Our mission, now, was to find a suitable mooring for the night where friends could meet us. We remembered from 3 years ago moorings were, reportedly, impossible to find so we had thought that was still the case. Imagine our surprise when we found plentiful moorings at Aristotle Park, our overnight garden, and free parking for our friends. We were in easy walking distance of some fine pubs and cafes in the Jericho area. The Gardeners Arms in North Parade was our choice. Della had a big fuss made of her.

Next day we cruised up Canal and dropped our friends at Thrupp. 3 ½ hours by boat and 20 minutes by Bus for them to get back to Oxford and their car! How lucky, are we that life doesn’t pass in a rush.

The Oxford Canal is windy and windy. A number of moored boats on ‘home’ moorings have wind energy generators which makes sense with the strong winds we encountered. I can only assume the wind doth blow lots! The Canal has tight bends and the water level is low (late summer and little rain) meaning Chris had a long work out, cruising days, with DB’s wheel. Occasionally we got grounded when oncoming boat traffic meant we had to be right of canal centre. Oh what fun to see the innards of DB on a lean! I am getting wise to making sure breakables are not in the zone!
On the straight and narrow

It did feel like a trip down Memory Lane mooring where we have moored before.... Aynho Wharf, Banbury, Cropredy, Fenny Compton and bottom of the Napton Flight of 9 Locks. I like Banbury and we stayed for close to a week.
The coloured marks of our Waterways adventures.

We were told, on route, to Banbury that it was busy and little in the way of available Visitors Moorings. Complete rubbish we found out. I assume many people do not like to moor anywhere where they may have to walk more than a few unnecessary paces. What a shock for your body to have to put weight through your feet!
Are we in Canal Central?

And, finally, the Locks.... Yes they are narrow and some of them are not deep.
Nell Bridge Lock was about 8’ deep. One of the gates would not fully open and DB had to pass under a low bridge to directly enter the Lock. She pushed the gate fully open as she nudged it on the way in. Soon after DB was stuck and any amount of throttle didn’t get her moving. Chris handed me the long wooden boat pole and I attempted to lever DB as he raised the revs. No success so we swapped places. Oh the strength of my man. He levered and I pushed the throttle and DB moved. We jammed against the wall and I pushed the wall and DB moved fully into the Lock. Word, on the Cut, informed us that the water level was low and the bottom of the Lock was silted up. The water level was about a foot lower as, allegedly, a farmer had been filling their reservoir to water crops.

Cropredy Lock is 5’6” deep. A Risk Assessment, by Chris, was needed before we put DB into danger!
Obstruction. The wooden walkways attached to the 2 open Lock gates minimised ‘straight sided’ DB’s headroom.
Items on the roof that are close to the edge. The wheelhouse frame may get damaged. DB may get jammed under the wooden walkways.
DB may get stuck in the Lock. We would not be happy. We would have to take the wooden walkways off the gates and would need to be restrained from burning them.
Measure twice. Observe other boats using the lock and measure twice again. Check again with the boat pole. Keep the gongoozlers away. Move DB slowly into the Lock. Clear communication between Lady Lock’n’lol, on the ground (at the Lock), and the Captain at the wheel. Four eyes open.
So we did and DB sailed through with no ill effect. No need to review or revise that one. The funny thing was that as we left the Lock, a rental boat was heading towards us on the wrong side of the Canal and made us head into the low branches of an overhanging tree. I passed on a few friendly words to them.

Near Napton on the Hill

Buffalo Girls Go Round the Outside....that's why you only see Buffalo in this photo

The Oxford merged into the Grand Union Mainline, at Napton Junction and we turned port on to the Grand Union Mainline to head in the direction of Birmingham. 
Napton Junction

Neither Chris nor I are in a rush to cruise the Oxford Canal again. DolcieBlue has the capacity but on the short and narrow she does feel BIG. 

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.