Monday, 5 October 2015


'Are you for real?' Della meets Buster in Oxford

A sharp turn to Starboard off the River Thames moves DB onto Sheepwash Channel and it is not long before we turn sharp to Port and enter our first lock on the narrow Oxford Canal. The narrowness of the ‘Cut’ is a mind swerve after the wide R. Thames. It is a timely reminder that a passing Narrowboat is not out to do a ‘hit and run’. Boat ropes need to be tied effectively with a holding the Bow, and a gunwhale rope closer to stern  and a stern rope with the latter two coming in at an angle so when the boat responds to passing traffic the lurch is buffered. Is that a full and general description? Our first night moored near Aristotle Bridge was a bit rock ‘n roll with DB moving every time a boat went past. The ropes were sorted out before the heavy rain fell and we stayed another night thinking fair weather, be fair and let the sun come out again.
Leaving Aristotle mooring

It was still patchy rain when we moved on, the next day, but the promise of skies clearing gave us hope. Will it be the promised Indian summer? We went slowly past the motley bunch of boats in the Agenda 21 moorings. I know I sound snotty or is it snooty with my choice of word for textured green rusting ‘eye candy’. Then there were the locked lift bridges that needed the BW key to set them free. At least these ones were user friendly to lift.

We were getting close to Thrupp, and I thought I had sussed out with Google how to get to the Sainsburys Supermarket in Kidlington. We moored at the water point and I took off with my trolley, in tow, only to remember that it was not Sainsburys but a mini local Co-op, I have visited before. We cover a lot of miles with our lifestyle and it is fun, on one hand having fresh pastures, but it is frustrating when the memory gets cloudy and I beat myself up.  The friendly Co-op, helpfully, told me that Sainsburys was a good ½ hour walk away. I had a fleeting look on the Co-op reduced priced goods shelf and thought ‘blow Sainsburys I can get enough to fill my trolley here and get back to DB for a late lunch rather than waste 2 hours getting to Sainsburys and the rest!

After lunch and with the water tank replete, Della and I walked the towpath in the direction of our next Lift Bridge in Thrupp. I noticed the vacant visitor’s moorings before the bridge and an attractive warm sun was shining in the late afternoon. As DB got closer I flapped my arm pointing my finger at the mooring to Chris who was nearing on DB. This was a perfect spot to end our day.

Next day, the autumn sun shone and the automated key operated Thrupp lift-bridge was a boon as the following manual lift bridges became complicated. I’m 1.7m tall the same as 5’6’’. I could just reach and grab the short metal chain on the manual lift bridges. To pull on the chain which will raise the bridge was too much of a struggle for me. I think the bridge balance was nonexistent and I kept dropping the bridge. Safety is paramount and it would have wiped out Chris and Della if I had lost my grip with DB passing by. The only solution was for Chris to raise the bridge and for me to steer DB. Chris was able to get the bridge arm to ground level and then sit on it which kept it down.
Yeah defeated I walked off, in a huff, with Della and paced off on the scenic towpath to the next lift bridge about a mile away. I was more than pleased when I saw this bridge was not in situ but resting damaged in a farmer’s field. When DB got close, I got on board and told Chris that I had taken care of the bridge and it wouldn’t bother us or anyone else again!

There was, yet, another Lift Bridge and I went bravely to the task. This bridge was relatively new and had an aluminium decorative pattern covering its wooden arm. There was still a metal chain to pull but this chain could be threaded through the metal ring on the ground. I was able to step on to the chain using my huge foot to help keep hold of the raised bridge while DB passed by. There is only just enough room for a Narrowboat to squeeze past so it’s not like it can move with speed. I literally dropped the bridge as soon as it was safe to do so. There are more lift bridges to pass but they are left fastened in a raised position.

Back to Lock-n-Lol. The Locks on the Oxford Canal are not difficult to operate. I’m aware that if a Lock is in favour of an oncoming boat then with water conservation paramount it is not etiquette to ‘steal’ the Lock. After the debacle of the Lift Bridges I was not happy and when I walked up to Allens Lock to get it set for us there was a Narrowboat mooring up, I assumed to come down the Lock. Courtesy dictates that the Lock being near full was in their favour. I topped the Lock up and opened the gate for them. I did wonder why the ‘lazy moo’ crew was not getting involved.

“We’re not going down the lock.” she said.

“Grr.” Unwritten thoughts.... Takes me back to the word ‘assume’.....makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

I close the Lock Gate, empty the Lock, Open the bottom gate and drop the paddles, DB enters the Lock, I shut the gate, Open the Paddles, and fill the Lock. DB on the rise and Lock filled I move to open the gate. Matey ambles over.

“Can I help you?” he says.

“Grr...” I say. “Don’t moor on the Lock mooring if you are not going to use the Lock. Are you holiday makers? Grr...” Their boat was not a holiday boat!

Breathe, breathe in the air I remind myself. I am hormone deficient these days. Next Lock and I empty it and open the Lock gate. Bleeding gate won’t open fully. I can’t see an obvious obstruction unless it’s my attitude! Chris gets DB’s nose into the Lock and we both think DB might be able to squeeze through with a bit of boat pole leverage. DB got stuck half in and half out of the Lock. Phone C&RT for rescue.
Gate wont't open flush

“Where are you?” C&RT ask. “Someone will be there in half an hour. Don’t panic.”

Seeing is believing. In the meantime I open the sluice on the top gate to let some water flow through the Lock and the force of water gives DB the push to reverse out of the Lock with a bit of boat pole leverage. One problem sorted.
Pole dancer?

Within ½ an hour Cptn C&RT arrives with his set of metal rods that attach together and extend into the longest pole with a rake head. Obstruction identified as drowned twigs matted together. Human effort with an appropriate tool clears the twigs and they get flushed out of the Lock with the top gate sluices opened.
Thanks matey

We’re on our way from misery to happiness.

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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.