Monday, 21 September 2015


Leaving Wey behind

The River Thames from Shepperton to Oxford was likely to be the same as our journey last year.

Our first night away from the R. Wey and we tied DB to the Thames free 24 hour mooring rings near the outskirts of Weybridge. No sign of the Dunkirk boats, this time.
We were a short walking distance from a private footbridge over the Thames to Eyot House built for Richard D’Oyly Carte on D’Oyly Carte Island formerly known as Eyot Folly. Eyot House and the Island were recently sold in the region of £4m. There was a small marina business but this no longer exists and no boats are moored on the Island.  Mr Richard D’Oyly Carte was producer of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas as well as founder of the Savoy Theatre, and Royal England Opera House and he founded the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. I hadn’t thought about Gilbert & Sullivan operas in many years but I remember laughing with my grandparents as they shared their enjoyment of these mini opera parodies with me. We must have gone to a movie theatre to watch the Mikado and others. So long ago and so before the techno age!

Desborough Island is a large artificially created Island next to D’Oyly Island and open to Joe Public so a perfect Sunday ‘circular’ family walk, that is Me Him & Della.  Many steps later we were close to DB and we met Merryl and Jonathon, lovely people who were sitting on a bench with a river view, a few yards from our mooring. They had been doing a mega Thames walk from Hampton Court and then we appeared and we chatted together for ages.  We hope that our paths will meet again.
Shepperton Lock

The weather forecast predicted rain and Chris and I agreed to put up the wheelhouse canopy and cruise the Thames rain or shine with it in situ. That was a good decision as we can be fair-weather sailors under cover! We cruised up to Shepperton Lock before 0900hrs, Monday 14th September, and the ‘Self Serve’ Lock sign was showing. This means Do It Yourself. It’s all press button automation with straightforward instructions. I prepared for my multitasking responsibility which included carrying my aluminium telescopic boat hook to be used in hooking DB’s Bow rope to wrap around the in Lock bollard. I arrived at the Lock operation box as the Lock Keeper on Duty was opening the pedestrian gate. He had to get himself set up for the work day and we agreed I would get pressing the buttons to open the Lock Gates. A Lock volunteer  arrived and my Self Serve duty was over. It is necessary to have a boat securely held, fore and aft, as it rises in the Lock. The force of water entering the Lock is substantial and as the levels rise the ropes need to be loosened accordingly. At this Lock, we also needed to get a Thames River License and the Lock Keeper was very helpful. It turns out he is familiar with the area of Spain we will be wintering in.

DB was now legal on the river with a 7 day license. When we got to Staines there were easy moorings and free overnight ones to boot. But we were keen to get past Windsor. I went to a nearby supermarket for milk, probably, and ended up with a couple of bags of stuff. When I went to pay my ‘plastic fantastic’, of choice, was nowhere to be found in my wallet! Thinking back to its last foray was Shepperton Lock and I was pleased to find out that I had left it in the card machine at Shepperton Lock. This really annoyed me but on the positive side it was there and when I spoke to the Lock Keeper I asked him if there was any boat in the Lock who might be heading to Staines. Yes there was a boat on its way; the ‘Lockie’ knew the person and said he was trustworthy. The boat would be passing us in a couple of hours! We reluctantly but out of necessity stayed put. My card was delivered boat to boat and we could get underway.

As the first boat to arrive at a Lock in Self Serve mode, I saw it as my baby. Two ‘Tupperwares’ and a holiday rental Narrowboat arrived and I took on the unwritten etiquette of Lock responsibility. Mrs Lady on the Narrowboat was keen to see how the Lock worked. I asked her if he boat had a ‘Bow’ rope. She said it does but the boat company had seen use the middle and stern ropes if there is only one person on the boat.

 “Der, but there are two people on your boat.” I said.

“Your boat is longer so you probably need to use the rope at the front.” She said.

‘Go away.’ I thought.

The lock is now filling and her Mr Hubby is struggling holding the middle and stern ropes. Their boat went a bit diagonal. Not the end of the world and not worth getting helpful. A Lock Keeper has since told me

“The Lock Keeper is responsible for safety in the Lock. If people are not acting safely then the Lock operation will not be carried out. The boat company is responsible for boat damage.” It doesn't help me with the 'grey area' of Self Serve etiquette.

A few hours later we were moored in Windsor, late enough in the day that no-one, whoever they are not, was collecting mooring fees. Result!

A few days later in River-land we came across a Narrowboat that had gone the wrong side of the green buoys and become grounded in shallow water. We tried to pull him and his boat out of the shallows but without success. He called out he was going to phone ‘River Rescue’. I hope he is free again! Colours are symbolic but I’m confused. The grounded Narrowboat was heading downstream and the green buoys were in line. How was he supposed to know to keep outside the buoys? How did we know? Maybe we knew because we could see him stuck!

Be wary of Buoys. They are there for a purpose.

Did we travel the River Thames with free mooring along the way?

Windsor  - Free (Late arrival and early departure)
Wargrave – Free 24 hour mooring signposted
Whitchurch (Beale Parke) – Free mooring
Culham Lock – Free mooring thanks to friendly Lock Keeper
Abingdon –Free 7 day mooring signposted.

Yesterday we cruised the Thames through Oxford and turned into Sheepwash Channel and onto the Oxford Canal, mooring at Aristotle Park. We had considered carrying up the Thames to Lechlade but reports were narrow river and shallow waters and we thought ‘No’.

So we’ll dawdle up the Oxford Canal and be back to Braunston in early October. The Oxford Canal is notably very, very narrow after spending weeks on the Grand Union, River Wey and River Thames!

Tow path outside Aristotle Park, Oxford

Saturday, 19 September 2015


This blog is a reply to Lisa in response to her comment on my previous blog. Try, as I do, to respond to Blog comments I my posts to REPLY just don’t work. So in response to Lisa....

Chris is Yorkshire born and his family moved to NZ, much to his chagrin, when he was a young child and he was close to desperate to get back to Blighty in the swinging 60’s. And he did. The last thing on his mind, some years later, was to team up with a Kiwi.

Sarah, me that is I, is from NZ and was keen to ‘do’ my OE ( old term, overseas experience,  now known as ‘Gap year’) before I settled down to  ‘normal’ life. I met Chris in London, we moved to Portugal where he had a donkey stable in a field and so began our ‘good life’ in the ‘United States’ of Europe. 11 years later we left our ‘love nest’ and the bureaucracy that frustrated us, and returned to begin a new life in NZ with me thinking this could be our forever plan. Sadly our two dogs, Blue and Dolcie, were not fit for this journey.
Blue & Dolcie

It soon became clear, when Chris was battling a life threatening illness that he wanted and needed to return to England, his ‘mother’ country, and all that could humour and challenge him there along with the possibility of mainland Europe beckoning, as well.

In 2009, a couple of ‘friends’ asked us about possible holiday adventures in England, Chris immediately thought about Narrowboat holidays. The friends ended up renting a ‘Tupperware’ boat on the Thames, and the seed was planted with the dream of us returning to England to live on a Narrowboat-to-be. Chris and I spent a lot of time searching Narrowboats for sale on the Apollo Duck website.

In 2010 Chris flew to England on a mission to either look for a Boat Builder to build us a boat, or to purchase a ‘pre-loved’ Narrowboat should one take his fancy. NB Avalon Mist (AM) was for sale at Devises Marina and Chris made the decision that she will be a good starter for us and we could afford to buy her. Purchase made and the following year, 2011, we both came to England to try out the lifestyle and move AM to Mercia Marina near Derby.
Della holds a mouthful of Ball

2012, we packed up our home in NZ and flew to England in mid March. Della, our Miniature Schnauzer, was flown over seven weeks later to join us on Nb Avalon Mist. 

April 2014 we moved aboard Nb DolcieBlue...........

DB unplugged!
Lock-n-Lol with Nb DolcieBlue

Tuesday, 15 September 2015


The Heron guides the Wey
The Murky Wey
The waters of the River Wey are nowhere close to being clear water but it is a beautiful navigation from its mouth onto the River Thames, at Weybridge (you guessed it Weymouth, Devon, is at the mouth of the 5.5 mile R. Wey). It follows a meandering route through Guildford and  beyond to Goldalming, the end of boat navigation.  
Dunkirk Boats not in the Wey

We moored up in the free 24 hour moorings, temporarily occupied and vacated by the Dunkirk boats, the night before we went on The Wey.

We had an early start and were up and a-Wey to the Thames Lock where we were met by ‘friendlies’ of the National Trust for Historic places and Picturesque bits  who are responsible for the 20 mile River Wey navigation. A very helpful and friendly 30 minutes passed while we shared our DB info, signed an ‘I will obey’ document, handed over money to secure our passage on the Wey, and given the windlass with the long handle that will overcome any challenging lock paddle or person we will or might come across along the Wey. The windlass was loaned to me under threat of payment if we didn’t return it. I couldn’t see any reason to keep it and it was too big to lose.
The sluice is open!

Instructions on Lock operation were fore and aft ropes to be used when filling the Lock. The water enters the Lock through the sluice at high pressure. Tricky for one person to manage both ropes and winding up paddle. For the two of us it was probably easier but I needed to be in two places at once. Given that I am fit and aging, I was able to move with the flow but I do wish that natures finest natural wooden bollards had a stick-out  t  so the rope could be tied more securely, as the paddle is being raised and the rope is albeit briefly left unattended.

The long handle of the Wey windlass does give helpful leverage to wind up the ‘paddle’ but it needs a straight arm to turn it and avoid harming the sticky out bits in one’s upper torso.
Elvis sings
Weir on the Wey

There are two positives about the Lock gates

1.     1.  As a tree hugger, the wooden gates are large, smooth and not cold to get up close to. An occasional gate hug is necessary to get the open / close momentum started. If that doesn’t work there is a T handle on the end of a chain attached to the end of the gate  that can be pulled to open the gate.

2.      2. Both gates are left open when your boat leaves the Lock. I like this idea.

The River Wey is a relaxing and peaceful and the navigation snakes its way up to Guildford and beyond to Godalming. We went as far as St Catherine’s Lock and winded just before the Lock. The reason being Max Headroom was going to bother us a wee Wey beyond this Lock at Broadford Bridge which is 6’4” at normal water levels. For DB to pass under this bridge we would need to remove our roof paraphernalia, in other words 2 x Roof Boxes! No Wey we thought.
Keith's Anzac Biscuit stop.

We had Keith, our mate, aboard for a few hours so we pulled into the channel just before St Catherine’s Lock and rested with DB’s nose poking out into the river. A ‘worker’ powered dinghy went past and the chap aboard said
“In all my 30 years of working on this navigation I have never seen anyone pull in where you have. Very nice.”
“Look no ropes!” I said.

Newark Lock

Highlights on the Wey are, briefly:
 Remote few and far between moorings, friendly people walking and talking on the towpath, no boat congestion, going rope free down the Locks, the fresh bowl of free home produce with the best windfall Bramley apples.

An aWey day and more is a MUST.

                                                                   Surrey rules OK.

Friday, 11 September 2015


We were keen to get moving on from our night’s mooring near ‘grounded-zero’. I walked back to the site of our mishap and saw C&RT works vessel moving through the bottom lock of the Hanwell Flight. I decided to inform them face to face about our murky muddy mishap.

“Yes we know about it. Heavy rain flooded the Brent River and swept the sandbank out. A dredger will deal with it in a couple of days.” He said. “We are going to clear the debris at the weir.”

“Good” I said “but a sign is needed to inform boats leaving the Lock to keep to the Right due to risk of grounding.”

“A dredger will deal with it in a couple of days.” He said.

Broken record kicked into play with me too. “A sign indicating a high risk of grounding, now, would be helpful, please.” I said.

“I’ll tell someone.” He said.

‘Yeah right sometime never.’  I thought.
Loch Ness Monster?

We moved on down through the last two Locks into the basin at Brentford. I could feel that the metal gates on the Grand Union Locks had tenderised my tail bone and I came to the realisation that a large bubble bum, like Kim Kardashian’s, would be ideal in pushing the gates.  On second thoughts I could design a hi-vis quality fashion bum belt with encased ‘gellies’ that may as well incorporate a windlass holder as well and to seal the package could be sold with a Drone that could be used to  check out boat movement near Locks with a view towards water conservation.  Just need to find an Engineer to put together a prototype. #I’M ON TO IT

We chose to moor up before the A4 bridge opposite the GlaxoSmithKline building. The road noise was constant with heavy traffic but it was all right until we had put our ‘intel’ into the area. Passing gongoozlers went by and a small child peered in our window with the hanging Elvis. She looked troubled when she saw my face behind the little Elvis. I don’t think Elvis looked scary but it could have been my giant face!  

I stepped outdoors to say “Hello” and let her mother know that I was not an alien. Kiwi accents prevail and the long and short of it is we had both lived in the Bay of Plenty NZ. Chris used to write, sporadically, in his own inimitable style to her parent’s weekly newspaper. Her Uncle is a close friend of mine and I probably knew him before she was born. It’s a small world.

Next morning on the Della walk, Chris said he had met Mr Wellington. That meant he had met someone from NZ, on a Narrowboat, who comes from Wellington. The side hatch, on their boat, was open as we walked past so I called out and we had a conversation with him and his wife. 

They live in the same street as one of our nieces and she had told them that we were on a Narrowboat in England. Of all the canals and Narrowboats in England..... They also know another of our nieces in Christchurch and are related to her husband. It was a squeal moment again and I was full of amazement with the connections we had experienced in 24 hours.
Look beyond the close up!

We decided to move to the 14 day visitor moorings at Brentford Basin and I must say we got the prime mooring close to the facilities block with free hot water showers. 
We got it!

A  Widebeam boat informed me they were leaving at 1300hrs so we made sure to be hot on their tail to take the vacated mooring. 

We planned to stay a couple of days and then cruise the tidal Thames, downstream, to Limehouse. The weather forecast was suspect with a 43% chance of rain. The Lock Keeper, at Thames Lock Limehouse did not give us confidence over the telephone.

“The deadline to be at Limehouse Thames Lock is 1730hrs on Sunday and if you arrive later than that you will not be let into the Lock until morning high tide. When you get on to the Thames at Brentford, at 1445 you will be punching the tide for an hour and then you will be moving with the tide.”

Yikes.  We were aware that there were three elements in the equation, the weather, punching the tide would slow us down and the surly sounding Lock Keeper.  Over the past week we had become aware of the effect of the‘super moon’ and  ‘super high tide’ and we wanted our ‘super life’ to remain without risk.

A new plan took shape. I cancelled our booking at Rembrandt Gardens, in Paddington, and we decided we’ll go up the Thames to Lechlade and then head back down river and get on the Oxford Canal.

A day before we left on this new mission we decided to explore the River Wey. We could get a 24 hour license for the River Thames and then chug up the River Wey.

We booked the Thames Lock Brentford to open their gates for us at 0745, as the tide was still rising, on a day that promised warmth and sunny blue skies.
Early morning on the River Thames

"I'm up for it!"

Brentford to Teddington Lock took 1 ½ hours where we purchased the £10, 24 hour river license and cruised on to 24 hour moorings below Shepperton Lock where the Dunkirk boats were temporarily moored on the Dunkirk Veterans cruise.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


The cruise from our mooring near the Maple Cross sewage works to the bottom of the Hanwell locks near Brentford is worth comment.

Our day began under sunshine and clouds with a chance of rain. The first Lock of the day had two boats, a 40 ft Narrowboat and a 24 ft Tupperware boat at the ready to enter. I’m guessing their length but suffice to say we could have all shared the Lock. She, who owned the ‘tupperware’ was not agreeable to sharing the Lock with us and brought damage control into the equation when the maths clearly added up that there would be room for all three boats.

“I’m really sorry” she said “I’ve only owned my boat for 2 months and I’m worried your boat will squash it.”

“Okay, it’s your call. We wouldn’t touch let alone squash your boat. Sharing locks is necessary to conserve water but it is not the end of the world” I said.  ‘Precious moo.’ I thought.

I worked the Lock for them and refilled the Lock for DB. Eventually we were underway and at the next Lock we met up with Shirley and John on was it Nb Prospero? I remember the people names! I had met them the day before when I was walking Della and I had hoped we would be able meet up with them.  We shared a number of similarities with our lifestyle adventures. It was a good pairing and we hope we’ll meet up again.

We parted company at Bull’s Bridge where they turned onto the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal and we continued on towards Brentford. There were 10 more Locks to go through before we would get to Brent Lock. We were on new turf. I was surprised that there were C&RT volunteers at the Norwood Top Lock and I was happy. I left them to work the Lock for DB and I took off, on foot, to get the next Lock set. I saw a volunteer speed past on his bike. I didn’t see him again. Must have been his 1600hr curfew.

About two hours later we were in the penultimate lock of the Hanwell Flight and a Narrowboat was in the Lock below on its way up the flight. 

The person who was waiting to work the lock had little to say apart from telling me that we needed to keep to the right when we left the bottom lock as we may get 'grounded'. The same warning was given to me from the skipper of the waiting boat. I passed the message to Chris. We, both, couldn’t understand why boats were moored on the towpath side, the side we had been warned to avoid.

Little did we know that the River Brent had flooded 24 hours before and a sandbank was, now, hidden under water. Long story gets longer. We ran aground. We couldn’t move backwards or forwards or sideways. We were stuck. Chris carried the long pole to the Bow and attempted to push us back with me giving the throttle a burst in reverse. No go. I walked the gunwhale to the Bow and had a poke with the pole. Deep slush with nothing solid to poke into. 

We were fortunate that friendly gongoozlers were keen to assist with refloating us. The only way we could get moving was to throw a rope from the stern. This meant the gongoozlers had to rip their way through a field of overgrown weed and pull the long rope we threw to them.

Phew we were freed.


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.