Sunday, 2 October 2016


DAY 1......Bulbourne

We stopped at the bottom of the Marston Locks, near the Wendover Arm Junction, after cruising on from Berko. It was a good journey sharing the Locks with Dave and Judith (she was helming due to sustaining a recent Colles’ fracture) to their stopping place at ‘Pulled Pork’, I mean Cow Roast (A small hamlet in Wigginton, Herts in the District of Dacorum on the outskirts of the bustling metropolis of Tring). A comedy in the making, say no more!

There were a lot of moored boats to pass, after we left our lock buddies, at Cowroast and Tic mode was in operation with me in charge of the helm.

I heard words from a moorer, as we went past “You’re going a tad too fast!”

I returned the comment smiling, with a mouthful “Tie your ropes properly, you mongrel!”

My eyes to the Cut ahead and keeping my pace at tic speed I had to be mindful of the beginner rowers who were strewn on the waters ahead. Some were to Port, where they should be, and some wrongly positioned to starboard and one was in mid-stream. A blast of DB’s horn as a warning and the rower moved in panic. Round the bend were more rowers heading towards us, and their ‘cox’ on a cycle following behind them was of no help guiding their safety. Thankfully no one ended up in the drink and, again, there is comedy waiting to be written.

DAY 2.....Leighton Buzzard

A holiday boat went ahead of us up the Marsworth Locks. We weren’t ready to team up and when we got to the Locks, the lock gate paddles were raised meaning the Lock was empty. I assumed it was the holiday boat that had neglected to close the gate paddles. I got to it and filled the Lock, DB went in and once she was going down the Lock I walked to the nearby Lock ahead. Same thing, oh well I started filling that Lock and returned to help DB move out of the previous Lock.

Then the C&RT bloke appeared on the scene explaining that he had been raising the Lock paddles as a pound a few locks on was practically empty and he politely requested us to wait until normal water levels were restored.

“Sure, no worries, thank you.” we appreciated his help and that he was there sorting it out. Soon we were moving down the rest of the Marsworth Locks, 7 in total, and stopped for breakfast. I had time to hang out laundry on the clothes dryer rack I had put on the stern. It’s not all a holiday you know!
Lock partners following us

As timing would have it, a boat came into view heading in our direction. When they were within earshot I boldly shouted out to suggest we share the locks ahead. We were underway with the owners of a Hotel Narrowboat who were having an end of season holiday. Cptn and I were sharing the Lock and Helm, alternating tasks every 2 Locks. Mrs Holidayboat preferred to do the Locks rather than helm, and when I write ‘do the locks’ she went at them heart and soul and I had to be on my toes to keep up with her. She walked to the next Lock and I followed her at the pace she set but I was not going to run to catch up so I could trot alongside!

Anyway, they were stopping at Church (Lock) and we continued on enjoyed the beauty of the Canal as we approached Leighton Buzzard and moored in time for rum o’clock near some other boaters to enjoy a quiet rural setting.

DAY 3.... outskirts of Soulbury

The day dawned bright and sunny and we got started with decorating the outside of the wheelhouse keeping on with the random sticking the coloured vinyl squares. Cptn peels and I stick resulting with the pattern being affected by the effect. That was fun to do and to write about, the joys of the English language. Now there were no maths involved!
Leighton Buzzard
We could hear the distant sound of the Gardeners busy with mowing the grass edging the towpath. Passersby had alerted us that ‘today’ was the final cut of the season and a final cut meant no boat would be spared by the proximity of the cut. The first Hi-vis walked up to us and told us what was happening. He had the Leaf Blower that he used as a grass blower and he told us that he would blow the cut grass away. Great, but I thought we should get moving to the Tesco ring moorings a ¼ mile away and so quickly the ropes were pulled in and we cruised off. The sky darkened and soon rain was falling, I popped into Tesco and Aldi to give my trolley a workout.

Once the rain had passed we finished decorating and Cptn went into town. I probably blogged. It’s never a write up on the day; I’m always busy doing something else! Leighton Buzzard has so many ducks and they are fed by every child in town. They, the ducks, give the impression that they are never fed and delight the children by taking bread out of the hand that feeds them! I think the environmentalists are encouraging people to feed ducks raw vegetables. I have tried with parsley, basil and lettuce but you can be sure bread is their choice. Even Della walks past the ducks now, she will try to grab a morsel of bread but doesn’t see the point in getting playful.
Afternnon sun

The mid-afternoon sun was warm and it was time to move on. The Lock had a boat in it and we were happy they were getting on with the job. While we waited another boat appeared and we could share the Lock with them. They were returning their boat to Braunston. For a minute, I thought we may end up travelling together. Round the bend was The Globe Inn, which is close to the site of The Great Train Robbery, and we pulled into ring moorings right outside the Pub. We waved farewell to the holiday makers. About 10 mins later we got moving again. The location of the pub car park meant that traffic would go past DB and I had the feeling it could be a ‘raspberry jam’ risk for Della.

We didn’t go far but we were pleased with the country mooring we found. It was near to the mainline railway and there were a lot of Virgin Trains running until the small morning hours. The passing noise sounded louder at night and it was good to know I had gone to sleep when I woke up!

DAY 4... Milton Keynes

The canal feels like it loops around Milton Keynes, but it doesn’t. It just seems to have the built up city on port side all day long. There are very few Locks to work and there are quite a few stretches with linear moored boats, and minimal boat traffic. In fact, there has been little boat traffic on this GU trip. Leighton Buzzard area had some hire boats on the move. Where are the Continuous Cruisers?

There was a volunteer helping out at the Soulbury Three Locks, our first Locks of the morning. The boater that shared the Lock with us was intent on tying his boat rope on the Lock Bollard and winding the paddles. I helpfully suggested that he stayed on his boat and I and the Volunteer would work the Lock. That was obviously the worst idea that had ever been presented to him and Cptn and I planned to get well ahead for the next Lock.

It was my turn to Helm so once we passed the moored boats I gave the throttle a nudge which meant we were now out of sight. The next Lock was busy with a boat of holiday makers and we left them to it. Matey, from the previous Lock, arrived, and he managed to get in behind DB to wait with us. We didn’t share words. That was the last we saw of him and we began covering the miles around Milton Keynes.

We chose a choice place to moor up, it felt like the middle of nowhere, and there were some good tracks just inland from the Canal. Della could hear Cptn’s voice when we were walking along one of the tracks below but in line with the towpath. She wanted to race off but I advised her there was no exit through the brambles!

DAY 5.. Bugbrooke

Early start and a quick take-off as a large boat were heading in our direction. It must have moored up as there was no sign of it as we went over the aqueduct before Cosgrove. The nearby visitor moorings were empty with a meaningful sign, occasionally seen along the Cut, 14 Day Moorings. No, return within a Year. That’s telling you. They don’t have that at Brentford.

It was a quiet Lock-free run for 5 miles and then the start of the Stoke Bruerne Locks appeared 7 in total. I quickly jumped off to get to the first Lock 20 and was surprised to see someone had taken the Lock and not seen we were nearby. I was not slow in letting them know that I was unhappy that they had not waited for us, saving water and all that! Cptn 'Mad' had a crowd of 8 friends he was taking for a day out and they were clueless, I mean novices in how the Lock worked. Cptn 'Mad' agreed to wait at the next Lock for DB and we could share the remaining 6 Locks. I’m not going to write too many words on this.

Here’s what happened, in brief:

11.       We shared Lock 19 and then moved to Lock 18.

22.       4 of the ‘party’ went ahead to Lock 17 to get it ready. I think they hadn’t observed what exactly had been happening with the 4 Locks they had been helping with. They didn’t realise that a Lock is like a chamber that has gates either end and to empty the Lock all the gates need to be shut and then the sluices are raised on the gates that will be opened when the Lock is empty. About 10 mins, later, I looked up to the Lock and saw there was a lot of water gushing out from the gate sluices.

33.       I ran up and shouted at the sunbather to get off the gate arm and drop the ‘paddle’, and I yelled to the party animals at the other gate “Drop the paddle!” I saw the gates at the far end of the Lock were both open wide and the muddy floor of the pound was appearing.

44.       I ran to Lock 16 and opened the sluices on all the gates so the pound below would fill with water, which is so there would be enough water to fill the Lock below and for the boats to move over without getting grounded. It’s not rocket science! But it is an unfortunate scenario and can have consequences on water levels above and below!

55.       I walked, a good distance, to Lock 15 and emptied it, The Lock gate on the (R) wouldn’t open fully so when I saw DB, I signalled her to go in on the (L) side and bow thrust to take the (R) of the Lock chamber. Cptn 'Mad' was closing in from behind and I gestured to him to STOP. Of course, he didn’t and he came into the Lock and rammed into the side of DB as he pushed her into the semi-open Lock gate. The boats were jammed together with the gate and it wasn't an easy release. I was happy to let them get on with it. Out of sight out of mind.

66.       The last Lock, Lock 14 and I stayed clear. I was over it and them.

 DB had some heavy metal music clanging from her hull and a clean out of the weed hatch didn’t 
put any light on the matter. The noise went away and we went through Blisworth Tunnel. I had been going to take the helm through the tunnel but I wasn’t in a happy tunnelling mode!

I did get behind the Helm after the tunnel and was beginning to chillax again. It was a Lock-free run and we made headway passing the Northampton Arm and beyond. There seemed to be more boats on the move, heading in my direction, and it was fortunate that I blasted my horn when I was nearing ‘blind’ bridges. I had a horn sounded back at me and a couple of seconds later the bow of a wide beam carrying military red coats in wheelchairs came into view. Thank goodness for reverse throttle and a wheel that works. One old soldier called out “G’day cobber”. (I get so many comments about being Australian and I fly an NZ flag!)

Bugbrooke mooring, Wheel House Canopy in situ and rain for the night.

DAY 6. Braunston

Again, there was more boat traffic in motion probably holiday makers. We stopped at Rugby Boats to fill up with diesel. Good price and good to have a full tank, winter is approaching!
We ate breakfast as we moved along. No one to share the Buckby Lock flight but it didn't concern us, we appreciate our independence doing 3 Locks then changing between Lockie and Helm. I was at the helm getting DB in position for the Top Lock. There is a bit of a tight turn to get to the Lock mooring and drop off the Lockie. The Lock was in the initial stages of emptying as I managed to drop off Cptn and DB swung out but I recovered position and reversed back down the Cut to get away from the flow. A year ago, I would have panicked and thought the world was going to end! Did I mention the wind was blowing a gale?

I went into the Lock and was greeted with kind words by someone who recognised DB and us from Debdale Wharf. Cptn got on board as we left the Lock and we were soon nearing Norton Junction. A Narrowboat pulled out from the Leicester Section of the GU and was in front of us moving at Tic speed. I wasn’t sure whether I could pass or I would have to crawl behind. I saw my opportunity as we were on their tail dawdling along a bit of a ‘straight’ before a bridge and the boat heading towards me was far enough away not to be a problem. I gave a blast of the horn amd throttled up. I think it was a first, for me, overtaking on the Cut! The people on the holiday boat were the couple we had shared the Lock with after Stoke Bruerne! So once we got through the Braunston Tunnel we knew who we’d be sharing the Locks with. Good result!

I was going to take the Helm to “do” the Tunnel but I realised I hadn’t put the dinner on to slow roast a shoulder of lamb. I know you’re not supposed to have the oven turned on when you are in the tunnel but...
I managed to have the meat in the oven just as we entered the Braunston Tunnel.

‘It’s now or never’ I thought and said “I’ll take her through” to Cptn. It was an experience. I wasn’t happy knowing there was a boat in the distance heading towards DB but there was no turning back now. We have good lighting from DB, shining ahead from the Bow and softer lighting putting an 'aura' over the Wheelhouse. It's definitely 2,042yds keeping eyes straight ahead, kind of known as tunnel vision. As we got closer to the approaching boat I started to throttle back.

“Keep up some speed, don’t throttle back, you’ll lose your steering.” said Cpt.

I had her at Tic speed. The Tunnel had a few sticky-out bits and one of those 'bits' got DB and she had a measured ‘Westie’ with the passing boat. Really the tunnel looks too narrow for 2 Narrowboats but there is just enough room. A ‘wide beam’ must call C&RT to get clearance to pass through the Tunnel. Do they pay for that?

OK, we got out at the other end and it was a worthwhile experience for me at the Helm. We shared the Locks to Braunston town and moored up for a couple of nights.


This butterfly arrived as we DB was going up a Lock

Nb... I haven't taken my ususal number of photos as I have been busy!! 

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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.