Friday, 29 May 2015


Dentist done and dusted, we thought, now it’s onwards and upwards so to speak. It was 12 miles up the Trent & Mersey Canal to get to the River Soar. A repeat of last year’s intrepid journey, maybe. We have to be at Market Harborough mid June and then who knows. It felt comfortable almost exciting to be cruising the quiet Trent & Mersey from Stenson. Volunteers, familiar Mercia Marina faces, were keen to work Stenson Lock and told me to get back on board thank you very much. Bye and we were chugging along voluntarily paired with another Narrowboat. They were in no rush and we shared the Locks until Shardlow.

At Swarkestone Lock (10’11”) I asked a fit gongoozler to help me close a gate as no amount of my strength could budge it. At Weston Lock (10’11”) I was helped by a young woman while her father was moored at the Water Point. They had just come through the Lock and she was keen to pass the time of day helping us. We had to wind the paddle, on one gate, with two pairs of hands on the windlass. I noticed her Dad waving out to get her attention indicating they were ready to move on.

“Do you want to go back to your boat? I appreciate your assistance with the Lock but you don’t need to stay.” I said.

“No, I’ll stay and help you open the Lock gates.” She said.

Her Dad waves his arms again.

“I don’t understand why he does that.” she sighs. “He always says how peaceful and slow the way of life is on the Canal. I don’t understand why he is always in a rush to move on.”

“He might want to see what is around the bend. Maybe he doesn’t realise it drives you around the bend!” I said.

With that, the gates open she walked purposefully back to her Dad and boat.

Aston Lock is an 8’1” deep lock before Shardlow and the Lock was in our favour. The man and boy waiting to come up the Lock on their boat offered to work the Lock for us so I got back on board, thanking them of course. DB and our ‘team’ boat went down as we should until both boats started listing in to each other as the Lock was almost empty. We should still be floating and not touched the bottom of the Lock. We were not caught on the ‘Sill’. It was spooky. We all yelled up to the guys at the Lock gates “Drop the Paddles!!! DROP THE PADDLES!!!” They had no idea what we were saying and began opening the gates. We sensed an urgency to get the boats floating level. Me and the chap from the other boat in the Lock clambered onto the roof and climbed the Lock Ladder. I raced to the opening Gates, telling the guys “Shut the Gates and drop the paddles!” I raced to the other gates and wound up the Ground Paddle and the Gate Paddle with care. Thankfully our boats, in the Lock returned to a level position. We have no idea what caused the problem. As chance would have it the Canals & Rivers Trust (C&RT) appeared on the scene as we were fixing our problem. Maybe they knew about it, maybe they didn’t but they surely did now!

This was definitely a learning experience for me and made me aware of the need of taking responsibility when the boat is in the Lock. All well and good letting others do the labouring but my heart doesn’t need a repeat of that stress. Serious Lady Lock-n-Lol.

One more Lock incident, that day, before I put this Blog to bed was the event of the holiday makers who had picked up their Canal Boat and had had no physical instruction on Lock operation. They had watched the video but reported in their excitement they hadn’t watched it. As the Lock was in their favour, I didn’t turn a blind eye as they appeared around the bend. To say there approach to the Lock wasn’t erratic would be far from the truth. Four people got off the boat, having a laugh, and no sign of any windlasses. They walked to the Lock.

“Have you got your Windlass?” I called out.

“Ha Ha Der Ha ha.” Greeted me.

"Wait until your boat gets into the Lock. Have youse worked a Lock before?” I said.

“Ha Ha Nah Ha ha.”

“OK I’ll give you some instruction. We Boat people are nice people but look and learn. You need to take the Lock operation seriously.”

“Ha Ha Thanks.”

“Right the Bloke on the Tiller is The Captain and he is in command.”

“Ha Ha.”

“You, his partner, are the Admiral and you kids, well...”

“Ha Ha.”

They were willing to Lock and learn. A happy crew and their boat left the Lock.

Fox at Kegworth Deep Lock

We managed to get to our planned destination along the River Soar and moor up after Kegworth Deep Lock. A pretty spot we had found, last year. The air waves quickly reminded us that were on the flight path to nearby East Midlands Airport.

Monday, 25 May 2015


Weather has a profound effect on our daily life. The weather forecast can decide whether or not we untie the ropes and ‘cruise’ on. DolcieBlue (DB) on the move is the way we choose to live. I’m not sure if it’s the trust in the nation’s meteorologists or the weather presenters ‘spin’ in creative presentation of the weather scenario. We live on an island affected by an oceanic climate which, in the big picture, needs to be translated to regional micro climates.  A double tap with the blunt end of an index finger on the barometer can be of more help. OK we are not in the South East, where the weather is likely brighter and warmer, we are in the East Midlands with changeable weather, but usually drier than the West Midlands and Wales. Today it was forecast over 56% possibility of rain. There were a couple of drops this morning but nothing to speak of.  

The step off DolcieBlue (DB) onto terra firma or terra ‘squirma’, depending on the ground moisture content, is mostly on to grassy towpaths where the nearby towpath track is dirt or patchy gravel unless its seal has been upgraded. The Canal & River Trust have responsibility for the towpath and I am guessing they work with local councils in some regions where the towpath is accessed by ‘others’ on the ‘green corridor’, as it is known, as well as boat traffic. ‘Others’ refer to cyclists, anglers and gongoozlers to name a few. Oh yes the diversity of our world.
Kiwis aboard

Nearly 2 weeks ago we left the Ashby Canal to cruise along the Coventry Canal before it morphed into the Birmingham & Fazely Canal which will take us to Fradley Junction. Along the way we had loosely arranged to meet up for five minutes with Kiwi friends who drove to our mobile meeting point. Mobile in that we were on the move and it was through technology of a mobile phone and social media that we could keep in contact. While they travelled by car from Bakewell in the Peak District we were on the move for 10 miles to hopefully meet at our last suggested meeting point at Hartshill Yard near Atherstone. They arrived a few minutes before we did and when I phoned them to confirm we were close they were in the distance walking in our direction along the gravelly towpath. The smiles didn’t leave our faces. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

Catch up done, we cruised a couple of miles to the Atherstone Locks and did 9 out of the 11 locks including a pantry fill up at a nearby Aldi. I found a patch of hardstanding or aka concrete on the grassy towpath between Locks 9 and 10 and we moored up in what felt like the middle of nowhere. This is what is so nice about being Water Gypsies, there is a feeling of space and freedom in this crowded country.

The following day was calm and bright and sunny as was our disposition and we cruised a few miles to Hopwas. I got behind the wheel and could finally understand that no wind gives 120% confidence in steering. DB can keep a straight line with the handles on the ship’s wheel being fed hand to hand. I enjoyed it. It could almost be called relaxing. Oncoming traffic and moored boats were no stress, and a wave or a hello was possible.

We decided to moor for a couple of nights due to the weather forecast indicating 70% chance of showers the following day. I jumped off DB under the arched bridge at Hopwas and the spring in my jump meant my head thwacked the ceiling of the bridge. No damage done to me or the bridge just a quiet “ouch” left my mouth. Recently mown grassy moorings were our chosen spot and we tied up using our mooring rings. I relocated some of the grass clippings so they wouldn’t be walked on or blown on to DB. Once upon a time when we had lawn we used to compost lawn clippings. Good food for our veggie garden. None of this activity for us now. There were a few boats moored nearby and the warm day meant ‘land’ people were walking on the towpath. Della and I went to check out what the attraction was. It must be the Hopwas Hayes Wood and safe to walk through as there were no red flags flying which would indicate the Army were using the Whittington Firing range. The perfume of nature was potent with a spicy floral scent that stimulated my olfactory centre. I didn’t think it was the scent of Bluebells but it might have been. I know blooming Bluebells give beautiful ground cover. The next day under moist grey conditions the ‘heady’ perfume was barely noticeable.
Back to the weather forecast. Fine weather was forecast for the weekend after a day of rain in Hopwas. So canopies down and we headed to Fradley Junction to join the Trent and Mersey Canal and spend the weekend in Alrewas. We know it well, it felt like being back in ‘home’ territory. We thought we’d stay a few days, that is more than 48 hrs so mooring time limit is well marked and we had to reverse back to available moorings.

Some Captain Clever Clogs, in his boat, called out to me “What is that terrible sound coming out of your Bow?” I knew exactly what he was going to say but I looked at him in a puzzled way and hopefully gave him a Manuel from Fawlty Towers “Que”? Irritating Clever Clogs replied “Bow Thruster, terrible Bow thruster.” He left me no choice in my response “Where’s your horse?”
As with all the best planning we became aware the weather forecast had changed and a couple of days later we moved to Willington and moored up at a favourite spot, of ours, an open space towpath side near Mercia Marina. 
Mercia Marina

We had D Day deadline to meet. D Day, loosely speaking, was marked as a family day booked for us some months ago. We all had our Dental treatments. Of course Della was booked in to her Vet’s for a tooth clean.  I hear too often of dogs having their teeth pulled as they get older and think that we can be proactive for Della. Della is not her normal happy self after this palaver, the general anaesthetic has upset her routine. But........

We are on the move again under the mixed bag called the Weather. Will summer be here next week?

Thursday, 14 May 2015


I am not planning to talk Bull-Ox about this question. There are definite advantages to Me, the Admiral, steering DolcieBlue (DB). I like to believe I am gaining confidence behind her wheel. That I can legally drive a car 130kmph is no comparison to being in charge of 20 tonnes of floating steel moving at a mere 2 knots.

Tiller Queen 2013
I was slow in getting my NB Avalon Mist ‘Tiller Queen’ badge which I, albeit briefly, wore proudly and I envisaged to achieve steering prowess and get my  ‘Wheel’ Badge was a fathom too deep for me (Imagine outstretched arms to describe this feeling)!

We are on the 22mile lock free Ashby de la Zouche Canal, known as the Ashby Canal which is entered from the Coventry Canal. The weather was unsettled and we moored up after Bridge 2 for the better part of a week. I captured some lovely rainbows on my camera.

When the wind briefly settled and the weather reports indicated sunny weather, we moved to     sign posted 48hr mooring at Bridge 5. We could keep our canopies in situ until Bridge 15 (which fellow boaters told us was low) and so we did and all was calm. Our dental appointments are looming and we wanted to ‘do’ the length and back of the Ashby Canal before heading in the direction of Burton- upon - Trent so canopies were removed without argument and off we went.

We battled with gusty winds for this journey passing beautiful farmland with fields of flowering Rape plants and a few scattered villages. 

Historically we cruised near to the site of the Battle of Bosworth 1485 where Richard 111 met his death, the last English monarch to die in battle. A few hours later I decided it was now or never to take my turn at the wheel (no pressure from the Captain), and Chris readily agreed. It is tiring standing to steer as I was about to find out. The wily wind does interrupt the smooth passage of a flat bottomed floating steel boat and it takes manually controlled rapid wheel movement to keep DB in line. Not to mention the ‘Ashby’ is shallow and reduces rudder efficacy. It has nothing to do with the hands on the wheel handles. 

And there are 61 Bridges of which many are arched and positioned on an angle. Reverse throttle is essential and the bow thrusters are useful. My biggest gripe, that day, was the unattended boat moored on a bend just before a bridge. I needed Chris to fend off the boat with hand power. It played contact sport, on the following day’s foray when Chris was at the helm. No more said. We spent the night, after 12 ½ mile cruise, moored near the friendly village of Shackerstone. The village is near to the site of Gopsall Hall where Handel is reputed to have composed ‘The Messiah’ in 1741 at the Temple in its grounds. 

The Shackerstone Railway Station has been retained by enthusiasts and a Steam Train operates historical journeys in the weekends and Bank Holidays.  

Up bright and early and expecting a fine day for cruising we found the skies were overcast and the wind was blowing a gale. We kept to the original plan and braved the pesky wind to get to the Ashby Canal terminus. More bridges, a 250yd crooked tunnel and a couple more bridges and we were there. ‘Winding’ in the wind involved a several point turn and then the sun came out. After breakfast I offered to steer DB back to Shackerstone. 

This was the first tunnel I have ever steered through. There was no wind in the tunnel, of course, but its crooked and narrow width guided by our headlamp was a challenge. I did it although I cannot report DB was untouched by my novice steering ability. The Tunnel had short Stalactites hanging from the ceiling and large spiders hanging about on stumpy webs. (Spiders don’t freak me out, maybe if I was in Australia I would be apprehensive.) I know what the tunnel ceiling looks like because I was ‘Lady holding the Lamp’ when we first passed through.

Tunnel completed, I felt competent to continue steering. I passed a canoeist or was he a kayaker rowing in the opposite direction and managed to yell out ‘Hello, you are smaller than me.” DB’s engine drowns any distance conversation. He was lucky as the wind was giving me grief. I approached a bridge and I was being edged closer to Port and the angle of the bridge and a craft moored near the exit of the bridge gave me no room to manoeuver. Do I need to say any more? The result was a spontaneous etch on the arch of the bridge as the side of the wheel house was being ripped off and the bow was stuck in the hedge growth. “Help ME!!”

All’s well that ends well. Captain got her sorted and I continued behind the wheel a while longer. I learnt that when in doubt throttle back and move slowly. Don’t panic. Keep a handle ahead of the wheel!

The following day I took to the helm again. The wind was still gusty but I kept calm and concentrated. I have had a further long stint behind the wheel after the Atherstone Locks. What a difference no wind makes! It makes me think that all my excuses about high wind and shallow canals were not a figment of my imagination. I could actually steer without needing to over correct and face oncoming traffic and bridges without going around the bend!

Saturday, 2 May 2015


Our 2015 cruise season has started. I flew back into spring in England
, a couple of weeks ago, after visiting my dear family and friends in New Zealand. Heartfelt thanks to them all for their love and hospitality. I appreciate that you all have busy lives and were able to make time for me who flits about!

This trip I found out I had finally reached the status of seasoned air traveller. Shame the airline of my choice doesn’t put me in that league! I had no signs of time zone jetlag on arrivals ‘Downunder’ and return to  ‘Upover’ following the long haul of at least 27 hours, each way, including transit stopovers. I was aware, this trip, of my fading memory and the realisation that I am well and truly ‘Muddle Raged’! Hiss and snarl with low capacity for frustrations of daily life. The words “Don’t you remember?” have become irritating and invite thoughts of dementia marking my ‘sidelines’.
I understand my lifestyle is enviable but then so are reminders of a ‘normal’ life that escaped me. I am now living a life of ‘dreams’ that unwittingly happened to me. No I am not sobbing about it; in fact I am embracing my luck and good fortune. ‘Don’t dream it be it’ is my mantra.

I was better than pleased to get to the tail end of my flight Auckland-Brisbane-Du(don’t)bai-Birmingham International. In my state as free spirit with no alcohol I passed through the Immigration eye scan, collected my semi smashed 4 wheeler suitcase and traipsed past ‘Nothing To Declare’ to the Arrivals hall. I was brought to a halt when the Cabin Crew, in front of me, stopped walking. Their uniform indicated this was the crew of my flight. Not being slow in getting my mouth to work I had words with the uniformed Captain Pilot in front of me.

“Keep moving I want to get out of here. Oh and thank you very much for a great flight.”

The pilot appeared happy with my brief words of appreciation and did not hang around. Or was it the ubiquitous passenger had become a person?!

I was ecstatic to be reunited with my hubby and dog and keen to be back on DolcieBlue. It did take me a few days to really feel back in my place at ‘home’. I certainly am there now and it’s lovely.
DB had a few days tied up at the water based workshop at Braunston Marina, while I was away. There was essential work to be done on the stern deck to gain access to the 5 batteries in situ near the engine. The original floor opening to the engine was suited for a short small skinny person. You get the idea!

The new hatch in the foreground

The boys at Colecraft didn’t look this skinny or the other S words above! Be warned no Boatbuilder is perfect but we love our DolcieBlue.

Now with the modified access the Captain is able to happily go into the engine chamber and deal with all that needs doing down there. And being the bottled blonde I am, I like the aesthetic of the new stern covering.

Another boon is the proper ships wheel. I had never thought what a difference 6 integral handles would make. Gone is the excuse for a steering wheel with its whirly wheel and in its place is the real thing! Steering DB has taken on a new meaning. This has been helped with some technical adjustment that means steering the rudder doesn’t take an excessive amount of turns. Even I, the self appointed Admiral of DB, have begun steering not only on the Captain’s command but at my whim as well! Hallelujah.

Indoors, I wallpapered the ‘living room’ last November and the porthole liners are permanently in situ (for as long as permanent is) in the living room and bedroom. (I cannot bring DB to berth category!) The bedroom portholes also have foam plugs that are easily put in situ at night. The battle with condensation on these windows is over.

The latest installation has been doors into the bathroom which means the bathroom can be shared when we have guests. No need for the Thetford toilet now in the small room with the inverter. Yay.

That’s the nuts and bolts of home improvements to date. There will be more.

We are now in Cruise mode. We left Rugby, yesterday and moved along the Oxford Canal passing, and I quote “That bloody (excuse for a swingbridge) bridge at Roses’ “. 

At Hawksbury Junction a bloated floater, probably a stoat or possibly a badger, was sadly at the gate to the Stop Lock so I phoned C&RT to report it. I felt I should let the Authority know as someone who has an ‘ology in Elf and Safety needs to grapple gently with this. I am not qualified.

Saturday May 2nd and here we are moored up on the NO EXIT Ashby Canal (aka Ashby de la Zouche Canal).

NEWSFLASH .....We have heard NB Avalon Mist has been sighted in Willington (Trent & Mersey Canal) and good reports have been announced. Sweet as!

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.