Sunday, 5 July 2015


Welford Lock

We have not noticed much in the way of Canal traffic on our move along the Grand Union Canal -Leicester Section. In fact I wonder, in Canal time if boat congestion ever happens? Thoughtlessness, yes, in the shape of 2 privately owned Narrowboats moored on the Grand Union on the towpath side of a ‘winding’ hole. Am I the pot calling the kettle black in a small world? Yes but no but..because we were considerate with our encroaching mooring on the Winding Hole, the night before, at the end of the  Welford Arm. We knew there would be no traffic that night and we had cruised off at ‘sparrowfart with the plan of being the first, and as it happened the only boat waiting at the Welford Lock.
Welford Arm meets Grand Union. Turn left!

We moved slowly at ‘tic’ speed most of the way from Welford to Crick, where we spent the night. I wanted to have my birthday in more social surroundings and we were headed Braunston bound to moor up for a while which would, also, give us close access to our Caravan which has the remainder of our life’s laundry. That’s another story.
Navigator luxury

Crick is known, by Canal boaters, for its annual Boat Show and Waterways Festival held every May Spring Bank Holiday weekend. We bought tickets to visit this Boat Show while we were dreaming of having a boat built for us. We drove to Crick, that year, and it was dreadfully wet without even going in the water. Not really our cup of tea but a good visual informational recce to check out engines, boat paraphernalia and to source out suppliers as well as identify other solutions which wouldn’t empty the Bank in our vision of a future DB. I know some boats are eye candy and flavour of the month but I believe that with time, patience and the skills of my husband we have come up with the bespoke winner for us in DolcieBlue.

Crick Canal side, for visitor mooring, is a cyber hole for internet access and with our, almost, daily need for internet connection we were ready to move on almost as soon as we tied our ropes. Awaking, next day, to the early morning bird song I got up and made a pot of tea. While it was brewing I walked Della for her morning constitutional along the straight towpath. Della is a joy throughout the day, always more than ready for action and we are rewarded with her zest for the small things in life. Once her business was completed she hot pawed it back to DB then ran back to me then back to DB and so it continued in rapidly decreasing lengths. Doggy breakfast for her and the final check on the Boat headlamp for us, in the form of the mobile halogen torch temporarily in place for the two tunnels on our route that day.

Crick Tunnel approach

Engine running and mooring ropes coiled up we were off the short distance to pass through the 1528yd leaky Crick Tunnel. The tunnel is wide enough for 2 Narrowboats to pass. It is likely boats will make light contact. It feels good to meet the light at the end of the tunnel.

Under 2 miles from the Tunnel portal the Watford Locks appear. There we were met by C&RT Volunteer John who facilitated our happy descent of the 7 Watford Locks of which 4 locks make up a staircase. John worked with us and had confidence that we could manage without being overbearing with his help. He reiterated the painted paddle workings that applied at the Foxton Locks “Red before White”. I told him the colour combination was a different story with Wine and it goes like “Red after White, you’re all right. White after Red, you’re dead.”
We were out of there and on to Norton Junction, the Mainline Grand Union Canal, 2 miles away, where we turned to starboard. I suppose what happened at Norton Junction was a case of 2 boats meeting at a T intersection. Should have been straightforward but the ‘ancient mariner’ heading in our path was not clear about his intentions and he throttled back which meant we had to and so did the boat coming up behind who indicated he planned to turn to Port. There was little in the way of indicative arm movement or acknowledgement from the ‘ancient mariner’ which would have clearly stopped any guesswork. Ancient Mariner finally pointed his finger desiring to turn into the Grand Union Leicester Section, we needed to turn into his path on the Mainline and boat behind us needed to turn the other direction onto the Mainline. We all needed a helpful little gendarme on a parapet to wave a gloved hand. And dreams are free!

Braunston Tunnel approach

Could all this hot air be responsible for the wild wind blowing into our path? Well the wind was a blowing when I was behind the wheel and while I could avoid the bridge arches I’m sure a cabin height branch scratched 53ft along the side of DB. Not the end of the world. I handed the wheel back to Chris as we approached the 2042yds of Braunston Tunnel. Again, we hoped that we would not meet oncoming traffic but the it was constant with Narrowboats heading the other way. We collected some tunnel wall mostly dust and crumbs and etched a few more marks on to DB. Oh well we got to the Braunston Lock Flight and went through the locks unpaired. Remember we are back to the widebeam canal and the locks can hold 2 Narrowboats. The Canal had a boats heading in our direction so, in that way, the locks were mostly getting set in our favour. I helped a woman who was steering her Narrowboat and travelling alone with her 2 Amazon Parrots (caged) with prime viewing on the Bow. We were waiting for her to move up the Lock so I said I’ll open the gates if she wants to get back on her boat. She did, full of thanks. I had a few minutes to chat with the parrots. The chatty one started it with “Hello” in parrot squawk vernacular. “Hello” I replied. “Hello” it replied. “Bon Dia” I said, testing its Brazilian Portuguese. Parrot was speechless then “Hello”. End of small talk and time to open the Lock gates.

We arrived at the mooring for the last Lock and there were 2 boats breasted (that is tied together) in the Lock and works going on to try and fish out the mooring rope, on one of the boats, that had got wrapped around its prop. Probably not the best place to linger but it was under the supervision of a C&RT Volunteer. We breathed and paced and soon indicated we wanted to get down the Lock and find moorings. Word had it that Braunston was the site of a Boat Festival and moorings were going to be restricted.

There were signs up advising of mooring restrictions but we were OK for a night or two. Rest came easy and we were happy back from where we had started in April.

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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.