Thursday, 12 March 2015


Dona Pepa Sunset

The end of a ‘holiday’ arrives quickly when it is expected. Happiness does not stall time.  As our luck has it the end of this adventure is our return to life as water gypsies on Nb DolcieBlue, who has been floating on still water waiting for us.

I remember the haste of moving from water to motor vehicle, early December, and packing all and sundry in anticipation of almost three months of winter sun. ‘All’ equates to clothes, electric blanket, woolrest and books. ‘Sundry’ is the perishable food. Nothing much really, but it was a careful carful that left a mini lounging space in the back seat for Della aka The Navigator!

The new SatNav, an EBay bargain or was it Amazon, is helpful once we overcame the scant instructions on ‘hard copy’!. This sort of thing ages me beyond my years! The English ‘Man’ sound-voice pronounces “Over” as “Offer”. He always stated we drive “offer” the roundabout. Our local journeys in the Costa Blanca were mainly carried out using hard copy map reading, initially, until the roads became familiar. I remember the frustration, at first, with the map trying to identify where we were....the landmarks all looked the same! I did improve, in time, and began to drive on my own by myself. 

I joined up with the ‘Ukeaholics’ a Uke Group/workshop that consist of a few ukulele players having fun on a Friday afternoon. I will rejoin them next winter in Spain. I will practise.
We really enjoyed the winter sun in Spain, an event to be repeated by us for future winters. The language transition from my ‘pombal’ Portuguese to ‘paloma’ Spanish is working. I recognise many simple words, even though they are spoken faster with a guttural sound. My favourite words are “La chica guapa” (‘Beautiful girl’ said to us by dog lovers in reference to Della) and “Vale” (pronounced ‘Baley’ meaning OK or Cool).

So on the last day of the short month of February we got in our packed car and headed north. I insisted on being the Driver all the way to London. I was dreaming of kudos in my action to do the end of March I will have driven sizeable journeys in Spain, France, England and New Zealand! The European leg was fantastically organised on the SatNav by Chris. He made sure we followed the excellent toll free roads in Spain and instead of motoring towards Madrid and onwards to Burgos, which we know well.

We exited the Valencia region and spent the first night in Tereul in the Aragon region. 

The next day, we drove slightly off route to take a glimpse of the nearby historic village of Albarracin and have breakfast. 

A big drive followed to Pamplona via Zaragoza and bed for the night in the mountain town of Irurtzun, Navarre region. Day 3, on the road, was the winding descent of the Pyrenees to Bayonne. The road was like a goat track and it was raining. Bayonne was busy and, like everywhere these days, roundabouts were abundant. Eventually we found our way to the péage motorway and 130kph to Bordeaux. Best to just pedal to the metal to drive up the East Coast of France. We took the free RN 1 in the direction of Niort. Comfortable sleep, that night, in a typically quiet French Town where everything was either closed either for forever or at 1600hrs. Made sense, to us, that I had made Chorizo and Egg Pie for the trip.

Day 4 saw us on more country goat tracks to get us back to the RN 1. I’m sure the rural roads look scenically fabulous in the summer but in late winter, I find no appeal! It was at least a 6 hour drive, in the rain on péage motoway, to get us to our last night’s accommodation, inland from Le Touquet leaving an hour’s drive to the Ferry port in Dunkirk. Phewwww! I celebrated our safe arrival with spilling Della’s container of dog biscuits on the ground, only to carefully retrieve them and leave the container behind the next day!

We were booked on DFDS Ferry to Dover and had planned to leave more than adequate time to get to Dunkirk. Driving along the motorway we could see no outstanding sign to the Car Ferry and once the signs to Dunquerke stopped appearing a mini panic took shape. And we had still to fill up with diesel! Speedy Sarah tail gated the cars and gave noises to the ‘Froggy’ drivers who couldn’t react quickly to a ‘green’ light. Suffice to say we found Carrefour for diesel, I drove one red light, and we made it safely to the Port with ½ an hour to spare. Della passed the Pet check through the car window and I found her microchip with the hand held scanner. Dog aboard sticker put on the windscreen and we were in the boarding queue. Fabulous crossing, in a classy Ferry, that was almost empty.
For our future reference Brittany Ferries are dog friendly and we will investigate Portsmouth to Le Havre or St Malo rather than driving up to Calais or Dunkirk.
Who cleans the windows?

I finished the day off driving to Dartford to stay the night with friends. I had bought Hot Water Bottles on Amazon to be delivered to them so we could be certain, the next day, we would be warm in bed on DolcieBlue (DB). All was spot on.
Della & Ruby

The final day’s drive, and Chris is at the wheel. I'm tired! Minutes after we had left our friend’s place we were in the Dartford Tunnel and my phone rang. I was gobsmacked when our friend told us we had left the Hot Water Bottles behind. No chance we could go back and get them! Dam bugger and blast. I beat myself up for a while and then I got over it.

DB had been ‘turned around’ at the Marina. We cannot understand why they did that but it was probably helpful as there was a fierce wind blowing when we arrived. Her engine started straight away and Chris was able to take her on to the Canal to meet me in Braunston, less than 2 hours later, where we would unpack the car.

Grand Union Canal, Braunston.
How exciting to return to our home in DB. She is in great shape and cosy warm once the fire was lit. There really is no need for the Hot Water Bottles!
Spring sunset

Right enough Blog. I must literally F L Y yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

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.