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!

1 comment:

  1. glad to see you are back on the water after your Spanish break


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.