Friday, 2 June 2017


R. Thames


David an Englishman from Staines now lives in New Zealand. He is very interested in my life cruising on a Narrowboat along the canals and rivers in England. He shared, with me, fond memories of a boating adventure in 1947 when he was larking about with 3 other boys all aged less than 12 years old. Picture yourself in this group on a ‘punt’ (a long flat bottomed boat square at both ends propelled with a pole) on the River Thames at Staines. There was one boy either end of the punt and two in the middle! David said the boys had promised their mothers they would be careful; there were no other rules that he recalls restricting their adventure. Now 70 years later he is smiling as he remembers.
“You wouldn’t be allowed to do it these days” he said.
“So tell me about your journey” I asked.
He began “We left from Staines. It was hard work punting up the river. We went up the river to Oxford.”
I think he was wearing rose coloured glasses for the memory and to be able to get so far, so quickly, would take ‘superboy’ strength. I know that pumping our Narrowboat along the Thames at a max speed of 1700 rpm, it still takes us a few days to get upstream from Teddington Lock to Oxford. On the canal, unless we are going at tic, 970 rpm (slow walking speed), we will be cruising max revs at 1300 rpm that. I get mathematically dyslexic trying to work that into mph or kmph. I can say we go faster on the River Thames than we do on a Canal.
Supervised entertainment on R. Thames 2016

David and friends must have needed food to fuel them and sleep to restore them. I’m not going to mess with his fine dream. How different life looks through the eyes of a child. He does remember going through a lock or two where he recalls the Lock-keepers were very helpful.
I mentioned boat ropes to him and he swiftly moved on to the return journey which was downstream. His face was filled with joy picturing him and one of the boys positioned at the stern of the punt holding either end of a rope laced through a big piece of canvas to catch the wind returning the punt back to Staines.
Oh what joy, what freedom! David thank you for sharing your boyhood adventure of life post WW2. Sounds like Swallows and Amazons.

Robin Redbreast perched on fence with natural graphics.

Our boat license is valid until June 2018. We are cruising. I knew I needed to get behind the boat wheel hoping the steering and length of the boat would feel familiar, like it had felt at the end of cruising 2016. It’s a similar situation as driving on the road whether it be England (stay left), Spain (stay right), NZ (stay left), oh here comes a round-a-bout. Normally I’m driving in a manual car, then in NZ I’m driving an automatic car..... Safe to say I managed.
We left the Marina on May Bank Holiday Monday, the day before Ashwood Marina ‘Crane’day, as we did not to be in the way of ‘swinging’ boats. We moored above Greenforge Lock on the 48 hr mooring, ideal because the waterpoint was as near as alongside and Cptn could pressure wash the stern, as well as the grubby wheelhouse canopy that had been in situ for 7 months. It was dirty but not green!
Moving to Hinksford

After a couple of nights in the shady mooring we moved the short distance into the light near Hinksford for the night. Della and I walked a triangular walk that followed a public Footpath edging a Livery and a field planted in wheat, now knee-high. I noticed a horse with rider heading in our direction so I followed tracks going downhill and came out on the Swindon Village Road. A dog walker heading towards us pointed out where the canal was and Della and I could get back to DB without having to re track our steps. This is the best sort of walk. Back on DB we lowered the wheelhouse, next day, and moved to Swindon. A bridge and 2 locks meant DB needed to be ready for height restrictions!

My junky eye now gungy eyelid needed medical attention so I made an attempt to book in as a non-resident patient at a GP practice that was only a couple of miles, more-or-less, walk away. I had phoned in the morning and was told to phone back at 1 pm to make an appointment for that afternoon. I set my timer and dead on 1 pm I phoned, engaged! I redialled continuously until I got a ringing tone. The ‘emergency’ appointments had been taken and I was told to go to a walk-in centre. Where is the walk in centre, and I was told it is only a 15-minute taxi ride away. So, literally, I can’t walk in. I found a pharmacy who said the prescription I needed could only be given by a Medical Doctor. I was getting frustrated as the antibiotic eye drops I had been given, over the pharmacy counter, a week ago had caused my eyelid to fester. I decided stuff and blow it, I’ll use good old warm salt water eyewashes. See, I think my eyelid is getting better!!

That Lock nearly has my name!

I was keen to get DB on the move, June 1st was here and we could get underway. I walked Della along the towpath and checked out the nearby Locks. One was straight forward followed by a staircase Lock and I decided it was now that I needed to get behind the wheel. I did and I was pleased that steering felt natural. I adjusted position and line up to enter locks with ease. Yes, über cool! All was great then we got to the ‘manned’ Bratch Locks which are a well known feat of canal engineering. They look like staircase locks but they have ‘impossibly’ short pounds between the Locks. What I experienced waiting for a Narrowboat to come down the Locks was an incredible force of water that took all my strength to hold DB with her centre rope wrapped around the bollard at the Lock mooring.
I was relieved when I got into the bottom Lock and thought ‘the only way is UP’. As I was moving between Lock 2 & 3 over the ‘impossibly’ short pound DB’s engine cut out. I restarted her and she choked and died! Before the engine had carked it DB had enough movement to drift into the next Lock but I had no power to stop the movement so her reliable nose made sure . Now I was captaining a disabled craft. The Lock Keeper saw a rope floating out of her ‘prop’! I saw the other end of the rope taut on its stern ring. It had strangled the propeller! OK so we need to get up and out of the Lock. I called out to the Lockies, ‘Take her up real slow!! I have no control!!’ Help was at hand from a Kiwi turned Ozzie, it happens. DB got pulled out of the Lock and I could use the bow thruster to keep DB out of harm’s way as she went round the concrete curve of the Lock mooring!
Cptn pulls the Propeller Strangler

Cptn soon had the weed hatch removed and got busy with the bread knife cutting the rope to ease it out of the prop! Problem sorted and we were off. It was still late morning and I had my mind set on getting to Dimmingsdale Bridge where I remembered there were ring moorings. I had one more go with taking DB into a Lock. This time there was another strong wash of water near the Lock entrance and it tried to sweep DB into the weedy bush before the Lock. Rather than panic, I dealt with it and I got into the Lock. End of story. I’m taking the ‘Mindful’ approach.
Canal calm.

As chance had it the ring mooring I had in mind is ours, sign posted 5 days max.  

There’s work to be done.

Our view for a few days

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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.