Tuesday, 20 October 2015


Water Point bottom Watford Lock

We were warmly welcomed at the Watford Locks by the friendly volunteer ‘Lockie’ we met a few months back coming down the same said Locks. Nb DolcieBlue has a recognisable unique aspect. Shame about her owners!!

We had left Norton Junction, early in the morning and cruised under the newly risen sun to get to the Locks early so we could fill up with water and eat breakfast. No we didn't go to the nearby M1 Watford Gap Services. The approach to the Locks runs in view of the Services, the noise is loud but I was almost fooled into thinking it was a camping ground. I must have been dreaming when I thought I saw pitched blue tents.

The Lock rule of thumb is 6 boats up locks then 6 boats down and that worked in our favour as we were placed to be No.5 going up. I made the snap decision to take the helm and steer DB through the Lock sequence of 7 Locks which includes the staircase of 4 Locks.

I practised my ‘learned’ recent instruction to ‘SLOW DOWN’ when entering the Locks and achieved the skill in nudging or edging DB into position as she smoothly enterered the narrow space of the Lock. Once her ‘nose’ is in then DB glides along the water and when her stern is about to get level with the Lock cill marker I move her throttle to gently reverse as the Lock gates are being manually closed. Easy peasy.... The Lock fill is barely noticeable and there is no boat movement reacting to water gushing through the open sluice like in many Locks!

My manoeuvring challenge occurred exiting No.2 Lock into the pound before the staircase Locks begin. Any boat cannot physically turn until its stern is out of the Lock. DB needed to move say  a wide 30 degrees and then straighten up to line up to enter the next Lock by bringing the stern to the Right. Now this probably reads like gobbledy gook but I really wanted to point out that it involves skill to inch a boat, metrically speaking, into position without causing damage or an outbreak of verbal Tourette’s. I was ‘onto it’ and my success, in this, was acknowledged by Chris and the 'Locky'. Of course, the 'Locky' did say that he had seen a few boaters perform this better but I had a Bow Thruster in the equation! I can best answer this with my parody of Fred Dagg’s Gumboot song “If it weren't for your Bow Thrusters where would you be?”

On the rise, behind is the Pound challenge!

We were heading to Welford but realised that it was too far to go in one day, 16 miles more or less, and we needed to remind ourselves that we do no need to rush! The leaky Crick Tunnel loomed and I happily stayed indoors with Della as Chris steered DB through. Only one boat coming the other way this time. One boat is still one too many! We didn’t stop in Crick Village. The internet connection is non-existent and we wanted to be able to ‘go on line’. An hour or so later we found a beautiful rural mooring with unobstructed all day sun. We used our mooring chains to tie up and I took Della for her territory marking walk. She likes to know her boundaries so we won’t get lost!

NB What a Lark blinded by the sun.

A few boats cruised by on their way to somewhere but not here and the words spoken with a smile across the Cut were “Couldn’t ask for a better day.” Then we recognised W-a-L (Nb What a Lark) approach and turn in to moor in front of us. We spent the afternoon and the next day chatting almost non-stop to Lisa and David.

Sun going down

I highly rate this Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal. It hosts beautiful countryside and gives a sense of freedom. The towpath has a few ankle deep holes in it and I took a fall as I was too busy looking ahead when I was walking. The secret to falling, apart from ‘Don’t Fall’, is don’t put your hand out to save yourself just roll when you land. I let the workmen grouting a nearby canal bridge know of my misfortune. I also found a sizeable stick to plant in the hole as a warning. Impale at your own risk!

Sun rise

Two days later we were on an early morning move in the direction of the short Welford Arm to spend the night in Welford. We said our ‘see you later, whenever and wherever that may be’ to Nb W-a-L.
We were hopeful we would get to the end of ‘Arm’ 48 hr mooring at Welford and we did. As part of my tactic I helped a rental boat with a friendly couple aboard to ‘wind’, and moor in a shorter length mooring space available nearby. They could have moored alongside us but in the next few hours that space had been filled and then another three boats had creatively tied up meaning we were boxed in and the water point mooring was blocked. No worries, next morning we were freed and moved in the direction of the Foxton Locks. Chris took the helm, to get us on our way and through the Husbands Bosworth Tunnel. I took over steering while he went indoors to have his breakfast. I heard the blast of a boat horn from behind me and looked back to see who it was. NB W-a-L. Nice photo of DB on the move thanks Lisa, a rarely seen picture from our point of view!

It's moi!

I almost had a close encounter with an arched bridge, a bit further on. A boat had appeared from around a bend heading towards me. Navigation rules means traffic steers on the Right when oncoming traffic approaches. I got over to the Right and became slightly grounded. It happens. I used my nouse to get moving but the bridge was close and I had to take effective action to deal with the situation. Chris appeared and offered to take over. I refused his help as it is important for me to be able to cope with all and sundry!

That day, we stopped about a mile from the Foxton Locks. There were the last of the blackberries ripe for picking and compote to be made. More good Lock-ins could wait for now.

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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.