Wednesday, 9 August 2017


Etruria Sanitary Station.

We are loosely following the 4 Counties Ring so why not use the possibility of 4 weather forecasts to predict the conditions we may be cruising under. It’s all very well to hope that cruising will only take place, for us, under predicted fair-weather. The %-age risk of rain minimally varies but the time it may fall differs. Gone are the days, here, when the heart spoken words “What a glorious summer day” could last for the whole day let alone ½ a day. We are on the west-ish side of the Island and maybe that is part and parcel of the land/Oceanic climate here. But for the sake of sanity under the Jet Stream the polar front has stalled over the UK bringing wet and windy weather. Then the talk moves to Jet Streak... So much information, maybe it should just be called Jet Maelstrom. Anyway, instead of saying “What a beautiful day”, I am saying “What a warm sunny day at 9.30, this morning, and now, at 10.53 it's raining cats and dogs.” The weather may as well be timely in its description. 

One morning, on the Caldon Canal I woke up, I wake up every morning, the day was dawning treating me with a clear blue sky and when I rose a ray of sun shine beamed through a crystal hanging in the port hole window. Happy vibes! I dressed, early, to take Della for her morning walk. Della is a creature of habit and knows that when she has done her business it will be her same-as- always doggy breakfast, James Well Beloved biscuits soaked in water with a taste of added Pilchards. So we get off DB and I look into her black dog eyes to tune into which direction to take the walk – I look and point saying “That way, or the other way?” Decisively I command “That way.” I want to take a photo of nasty Bridge 42 while we are moored at Cheddleton.
See the gouged bridge!!

The arch of the Bridge is low over the Canal and has bitten other boats and it grabbed the starboard side of DB's front wooden wheelhouse panel. Honestly truthfully I wasn’t going fast and I had throttled back in reverse to slow almost to a stop to avoid contact. I turned on the bow-thruster, bzzt bzzt sounded as I buzzed to Port too late and the panel got grabbed but not swallowed. It looked and sounded worse at the time it happened. I am not happy about being involved in damage.  

Beyond the weather has been the journey along the Caldon Canal. We went on this Canal as far as Cheddleton in 2011 on Nb Avalon Mist. I remember it was and still is a narrow Canal and there were some windy days. I had my first attempt at ‘winding’ (turning the boat around) at Cheddleton, we didn’t venture to Bridge 42! 

Cheddleton, AM 2011...hi-vis marks the spot
After ‘winding’ AM I had jumped onto the towpath holding her stern rope and one of my feet went straight into a one-foot deep muddy hole. That must hold some humour! I wasn’t happy but no bones were broken, I remember it well. BW (British Waterways) were quick to the scene with orange high-vis to mark the point of danger!

I like the Caldon Canal, it is a quiet Canal with little boat traffic. Once we had moved out of the Potteries area and the Stoke-on-Trent ‘burbs we went past Hanley Park, nice but I wouldn’t moor there, and out into beautiful rural land. We moored further on, past Milton, and chatted with happy people walking the clean asphalted Towpath and picking the ripening blackberries.
Near Milton

“You wouldn’t think there was this beauty so close to Stoke.” said a happy pedestrian. 
I think  ‘Keep that a secret from the Southerners.’ 

We turned onto the Leek Branch of the Caldon Canal to make the short 2-mile cruise to the end of the Leek line. It was well worth it, the countryside is gorgeous green forested and lush. There was wood on the towpath from a fallen oak tree. Tempting but the canal was too shallow to get alongside the towpath and the lengths of tree were too heavy to ‘person-handle’. 
Leek Branch

Further along is the 130 yd Leek Tunnel. 

No difficulty for us to go through this tunnel, and it was the cleanest tunnel we have seen in our experience of passing through Tunnels on the waterways. There are a few moorings at the end of the Leek Branch but the moored boats were not close together and we struggled to moor. We tied up and met land friends who had driven to Leek to meet up with us outside Morrisons! Their journey was 25 miles, by car, and took just over an hour. When I phoned them to say we were close to Leek, our journey was about 1 1/2 miles, by boat and 1/2 mile on foot and took us about 1 1/2 hours. It is an IQ challenge to work out distance and timing as a water gypsy!

Later, we cruised back to be near to the Caldon Canal for an early start, the next day when we cruised as far as we could along the Canal past Cheddleton and onto the River Churnet. It was like being in the Botanical Gardens on the R. Churnet. 

R. Churnett

Beautiful and a couple of floating tree trunks purposely blocked the weir meaning a sharp turn to Port put us back on the Canal cruising a narrow stretch past the Consall Railway Station.
Consall Railway

We had to wind at Flint Mill Lock as DB is too wide at her cabin top for the Froghall Tunnel. Nevermind, next time I will walk the towpath!

The Holly Bridge, Denford

The Caldon Canal is worth the cruise from the beginning of the Canal at Etruria off the Trent and Mersey Canal. There is history along the way and there is no need to cruise the distance at speed. Be wary of the bridges, they are low. Another small accident was the low chimney got taken out under another bridge arch. That was owner error and I should have made sure the flat chimney cap was in situ! It was time to replace it, anyway!

The days' end of our journey was a fast, we thought, 2-mile cruise from Etruria to the Harecastle Tunnel. 

We thought being so close to the Tunnel we should measure up with the skilful advice of the Tunnel Keeper to see if DB would be able to make passage through it one day in the future. "YES" was the answer but we would be placed at the end of the queue so we would have no pressure to move at speed. It is a long tunnel, and there are low heights to be wary of. One day I will steer her through. Cptn has taken AM through 3 times and doesn't enjoy it. I think our lighting is better and I'm up for the job! 
Measuring up!


We thought that we would be able to Wind at the tunnel. We tried but we are too long.
Clear this bit away and it may be possible to Wind!!

Reversed back to Westport Lake, the Bowthrusters battery was tired but Cptn did the job well. Next day it was only a couple of bridges and the battery had recharged and we were able to wind and head in the right direction along the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Reversing looks easy!


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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.