Saturday, 29 August 2015


Look out!

Berko we planned as our next stop. We have happy memories of our visit, there, last year and we were looking forward to a couple of days tied up. 

Not a long haul to get there and we were on the move early in the day. Of course the weather forecast was for more than a possibility of rain but its arrival to be around midday. The Canal levels look like they could tolerate a fluid injection. 

Low waters of the Grand Union Canal

We became aware that Berko was looming three Locks before we got close to town. We pulled up at Bushes Lock where I was greeted by a chap downing his 1100 hours can of lager. I assume not his first and definitely not his last. He was friendly but kept his distance while I was setting the Lock for DB to enter.

“Your boat is an old boat.” He declared.

“She’s 2 years old.” I said knowing that I was stepping into the trap.

“No she’s an old boat.” He repeated.

‘What a waste of space’, I thought. He took his can in the direction of Chris and repeated his words to him.

Gas Lock 1 and 2 followed. The top Lock was in our favour, just the gate to open and the next Lock was in view and in the process of a Narrowboat and a plastic boat leaving. It was too far for my voice to carry but I waved my arms and windlass in the hope they would be looking ahead. No chance and I watched the gate being closed. I left Chris in DB in the emptying Lock while I walked the 50 metres to open the gate they had closed. As I walked past them they said their boats were ‘doer uppers’. I said they can be whatever but it would have been thoughtful if they had left the Lock gate open.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.” Said one of them.

I walked on and due to it being a leaky Lock I had to wind up the paddle to get the gate open. I wasn’t going to rush back to let DB out. Canal- life games. I was probably the only player! Chill, Sarah, chillax.

Matey appeared later looking for his windlass. I shrugged my shoulders and carried on with my task.
We moved through Berko as the rain pelted down. Our favoured spot to moor was full with Narrowboats and we were tempted to be thoughtless and squash 68ft into 58ft of space before the next Lock and encroach on one of the bollards that are specifically for boats using the Lock. We half attempted to moor but we listened to the call of responsibility and 2 locks later we were tied onto our mooring pins and thinking that we’d stay there until the morning. The rain was easing when a ‘Kate holiday boat’ forgot that their water skier had fallen in and came past us at speed and ripped out our mooring pegs.

We took it as a message to fire up DB’s engine and head towards Hemel Hampstead and chance getting a mooring with rings opposite the Three Horseshoes Pub in Winkwell.
Three Horseshoes Pub to port

And so we did.


Wednesday, 26 August 2015


Opposite Whilton Marina

Focusing on a London visit, we have been moving in 10 mile bursts, probably, most days. I read about the boat that made it from Birmingham to London in 69 hours. Not us no rush. There really is not much in the way of traffic on this Canal.  
Inside the Blisworth Tunnel

And moorings, touch wood, have been available.
Sky colour has changed from grey to blue and back to grey again. Not much wet stuff dropping, only the Canal levels. 
Blackberry compote

Nature’s harvest is ripening for the picking and the blackberries are swelling by the day and make a yummy compĂ´te to cover the morning serve of greek yoghurt, fresh fruit and muesli. Of course the best berries are on the opposite side of the towpath. Passersby are concerned the towpath side berries, low to the ground, will have been peed on by dogs. Yeah right dogs make a bee line to pee on the prickly berry bushes. I see it all the time, not!
Bitch wanted to meet Della

So the low Canal level restricts us from moving DB over to the berries, on the other side. It is best we keep to the centre as we cruise and only move starboard direction when oncoming traffic approaches or we let a faster moving craft overtake us. The latter happened, the other day. I became aware that an ‘eyebrow’ fender on the bow was loose and half was dragging along the water, at risk of getting close to the starboard Bow Thrusters hole which needs to be kept clear at all times to avoid any problems when the Bow thrusters propeller is in action. The thought of an eyebrow fender being sucked in and spat out is unthinkable. Gives a whole new meaning to eyebrow plucking! I walked the gunwhale to pull out the floating fender and lift it to safety on the roof. At the same time DB grounded and I felt like I was higher and drier on a lean to port. I mouthed a few un-write-ables, breathed and walked the gunwhale back to stern base.
Grounded and forgotten.

I do not like it when we scrape rock bottom or slide at an angle along slush bottom. DB, 68ft of her, either sounds off metallic ‘GROINCH’ or gravelly ‘SCHLURUP’ and we lean either to port or starboard and loose stuff on the kitchen bench has been known to take it out on the floor, the soft close cupboards open menacingly and the daybed drawers reveal their hidden mess. Get the picture!
Meanwhile back on deck tenacious Chris gradually levers DB, using a boat pole from a pole stash in easy reach, back into free float position. I am more than tempted to be helpful but I keep my lips zipped about using the very long and flexible teak boat pole that is safely padlocked out of reach and temptations way. Now I can write about it, living the dream and all that.
Moored opposite between Milton Keynes and Leighton Buzzard

Not long after this incident and up and out of the next lock we took refuge, briefly, at a nearby water point while we explored mooring potential on the other side of the bridge. The gap between two moored boats looked promising and Della and I waited, on guard duty, while Chris fetched DB. All good and we were soon in moored position tied onto our mooring rings and floating level. We were keen enough to walk to the pub that was more than a hop skip and jump away. Country roads, OK if you are behind a steering wheel but a little scary to walk when there is no path for most of the way. Della doesn’t like these walks as the sound of vehicles, she can hear but not see, freaks her. So she takes up a comfortable position in my arms and does not squirm or fret to be released! Same for the return to the Canal, shortly after a white wine spritzer for me and a pint of ale for he.

Next day the Blackthorn bush (Sloe Berries) in the hedgerow turned out to be a Damson Plum Tree with a bumper crop of damsons. A search with Google verified they were Damsons and within 2 minutes I had picked a guesstimate of 500gms to turn them from a tart tasting inedible plum into a jar of sweet sour jam. My recipe instruction warned me to avoid burning my finger tips as I removed the plum seeds from the now hot and simmering plums, by using a slotted spoon in one hand and a fork in the other. Perfect. A further 5 minute collection of damsons was gathered for a friend who will make Damson gin.
Ice cream 'shack' yum yum

We moved from Slapton to meet mates who came up from London for a day cruise on what must have been the second hottest (30C) day this summer 2015. It was a beautiful day and lots of laughs were had.  And we several locks were achieved with us finishing a bridge on from the Wendover Arm in the direction of Berko.
Hot summer day in Marsworth

Friday, 14 August 2015


So I wasn't concentrating, I was tired and sitting on the new bench seat on the starboard side of the  stern deck under the warm sun as we cruised along the Grand Union Canal near Lower Shuckburgh in the direction of Braunston. I’d worked more than 10 Locks, earlier, and had a brief steer of DB while Chris ate his lunch. Now I was sitting down absorbed in a bit of Android Therapy on my phone and paying no attention to what was viewing on the Canal! In hindsight I would have been safe seated on the port side bench where my location would be mid Canal. This stretch of Canal was busy with boat traffic either on the move or moored up meaning that boats can be 3 abreast at times. I was confident with Chris’s skill on the wheel and had no reason to be watching our movement so I jumped out of my skin when 'THWACK' suddenly my open Right eye got punched out by a giant overhanging branch. “AAAARGHHH!!” It was a powerful and my phone flew down on the deck. I was in shock and feeling the pain. I took off to the bathroom guided by my Left eye and placed a wet flannel over my damaged eye. I didn’t want to check out my eye socket straight away! I was ranting and raving to myself, as no one else would hear, and I was so pissed off that I hadn’t been watching the overgrown foliage on the Canal bank and taken cover!

At the time of writing this I have put 2+2 together and can confidently add up what happened to DB's name on the stern! The 'UE' must have been damaged just after my eye took the beating. I removed the L but that's another Blog.

To find a ‘positive’ in this painful experience, I am lucky my eye wasn't plucked out and I am fortunate the injury is minor to the white aka sclera of my eye and has not interfered with my vision. I haven’t got a black eye so I can’t blame Chris for beating me up. He wouldn't do that anyway!
Yep my eye is a little sore but is healing. Now I need to write to C&RT and point out where the overgrowth on the Canal needs pruning. More importantly if I am going to relax outdoors as we cruise then always sit where no danger lurks!

On a happy note, later that day, we moored up in front of NB Waiouru. I had met up with Tom and Jan, last year, on the Oxford Canal near Braunston so it was pleasing to reacquaint with them. Given that there are a number of Narrowboats with Maori names, it is good to meet Kiwis that occupy them! 

Nb Waiouru, in behind

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


Della's view

As much as I can imagine, or is it dream, what our cruising plan is I have come to the realisation, albeit belatedly, that I am not aspiring to be prophetic! Just got to learn keeping my lips zipped is the best solution.

We are on the border of Shakespeare territory which must inspire Blog soliloquies. Ponder this Shakespeare reborn as a motivational Canal Boat Blogger wordsmith. 
Whether it is the call of the 21st Century ‘random’ ticking a box, 
Or to wear a Hi- vis jacket under the gaze of ‘Elf n Safety, 
No more algorithms flowing in my chart, 
The flesh is tough and the mind is withering under the torture of Bureaucrapolgy. 
Learned Billy silly Billy wherefore-art-thou Billy? 
The madness is on the rise!

Back to DB and our reality. Up until a few days ago we were moored outside the Navigation Pub, near Bridge 65 on the Grand Union Canal. Nice spot. The weather, yes the weather, has clearly been overcast more often than clearly clear. We are comfortable on our Ark and the threat of rain is up to the meteorologist, 52% at midday today. Seeing is believing and I saw nothing! I think I just get sick of the days when they are gray/grey... Whinge on.....
What does he think?


We were almost cajoled by a couple of warm days featuring  patchy blue sky to plan our cruise down to Sharpness and cross the Bristol Channel, with a pilot of course, to Bristol and travel up the Kennet & Avon Canal (yes, there is another River Avon, flowing down there, in the Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset area.) A series of 3 investigative visits to Bridges 40 and 41 on the Stratford Canal armed with a boat pole and tape measure, using our eyes to keenly observe the transit of Narrowboats through Lock 31 into Bridge 41 we made the decision that DB would take the plunge and head to Stratfor-upon-Avon. Then we read the projected weather forecast for August and decided that rain and wind in the West was not favourable. We also heard that Narrowboats were waiting days at Sharpness, to cross the Bristol Channel, due to high winds. Oh well there is always next year. Let’s turn around and go down to London.

Before we left our Navigation Pub mooring, we gathered some seasoned wood in the form of up to one metre long logs that were lying at the side of the towpath camouflaged under the green hedgerow. 2400 return steps away from DB. Two sack trolleys and 4 trips later, we were in business. Logs stacked on DB’s Bow we set off for Rowington Ridge stopping to fill up with water at the fast fill Tom o’ the Wood water point. Next day Chris was in his element with the chain saw and I was in my element chopping rounds of wood with the axe. I find it cathartic don’t ask me why! Now we are prepared for cold weather with wood stacked away in various nooks and crannies on DB.
This is the proper way to see things.

Since beginning this Blog we have come down the Hatton Flight. This time we made a good choice with our ‘partner’ boat with 4 of us working the Locks. I even decided to have some time steering DB into the Locks. “Slow down” entering the Locks was helpful feedback. I have to say that watching DB go into a Lock from the ground always looks like it is travelling at speed and I tend not to watch DB going into the Lock these days. Practise will build my competency.
Snug fit at Hatton Lock

We passed through Leamington Spa, yesterday, and filled the cupboards with provisions leaving us enough time to get to Itchington. Another good Lock share, and a peaceful night in the country.

I have walked 119kms since 20/07/15. I am thinking I could offer my services or is it charge my services to trial walking shoes for Boaters!

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.