Tuesday, 19 June 2018


Grrr... Last century we were raised with the believed benefits of learning ‘Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic’. 2 out of 3 weren’t bad for me and I could manage mental arithmetic but then mathematics became the buzzword and I was left behind with most of that! I think I have mild maths dyslexia and I fail to count how it has held me back.

Now I have been pondering over what I envisage to be the 3x R’s of the 21stCentury. I am writing examples using my lifestyle as a Narrowboater, in mind. Here goes remembering there can always be two ways (positive and negative) to look at things unless you are opinion struck-out ‘on the fence’
Wide-Beam country looms


Lock          - check the canal for oncoming boats. It’s a fine balance if the Lock is half full or half empty. If it’s you, carrying the windlass -on -foot, who got there first it’s yours. If the other party meet you at the Lock then talk about it at the Lock. It happened to me at one of the Locks near Stoke Bruerne. We were coming down the Lock ahead and a holiday boater moved out of the Lock below and I tried to signal and yell we were going to be at that Lock so LEAVE THE GATE OPEN. They still were not aware of us so I marched down, quickly, to reopen the gate and race back to DB to get her out of the other Lock. In those few moments, another boater shut the gate I had reopened and was winding the paddles to empty the Lock. I yelled out, I cannot write the words I was thinking and I felt no helpful kindness towards him. He got his boat into that Lock and I turned my back totally ignoring him. He was acting strangely pacing the perimeter above the Lock wall while it was filling with his boat in it.
Cptn was Locking, the other day, and he started to fill 'our' Lock after a Nb had left it. He had checked all was clear and assumed the boat moored, below, at the Lock had no active person on board as no intent had been shown they were taking the Lock. Suddenly a person with a windlass appeared and negotiated with Cptn that they were coming up the Lock. OK fair enough it was in their favour. So, paddles down our end and Cptn left them to get on with it. Best way to keep chilled. As the boat was rising in the Lock, I went and found out a bit about them. A team of actors having lunch and cruising to their next location. 

Mooring   - Be considerate when mooring in popular locations particularly where there are rings. We love being able to have solid ground rings in situ to tie DB onto if we are staying for a day or two, and there is usually a sign-posted restricted time limit. We do notice it appears to be popular to leave a gap between boats rather than moor up close and share a ring. Hey, we are 68ft and we can fit if you think to fill the gap rather than mind the gap. Respect!

Tic             - Imagine walking pace. In London, walking pace is a running walk. Those London Narrowboaters sure move faster than Narrowboats doing ‘tic’ out of London. I think it describes the big city speed of life? Whatever, here's a rope hint... triangulate the stern end ropes. Anyway moving at tic passing moored boats on the canal, outside Londonium, is respect.


Shut the gates- unless you are on the River Wey. Some Lock Gates on the Canal take superhuman strength to close them and I verge on being irresponsible if I can’t shut them. I could make it easier if I did a ‘paddle technique’ to get the water to help pull the gate in. Some gates shut easily but will swing open again. Again water can help and you need to take out levelling the water. I put it down to not worth the exercise to do this. As far as the canal code goes I could be seen as irresponsible but I have thought about it. I am not lazy! 
Wind the paddles down, i.e close the sluice - Read the signs on the gate where it will tell you to leave the gate paddles raised when you leave the Lock.

Tie ropes securely – Within 2 days of cruising down the Grand Union we passed 2 non secured boats, they were attached to their moorings with one rope meaning both were ‘swinging-out’. The first was a Nb in Berkhamstead and I blasted my horn in case the ‘Insiders’ were still asleep. I think they had probably gone to work. But to assume makes an ass out of you and me, n’est-ce pas? The second boat was a ‘Broad-beam’, a little way on from Denham Deep Lock and I was pissed off to see this grey monster lurching into the cut. Again, I blasted DB’s ‘car’ horn but as I cruised past it, at London tic speed,  I could see there was no life on board and the boat was in the early stages of being fitted out. How do people get away with this behaviour? Grrr. Chill Sarah chill.

Winding Holes- With all the mooring spaces on the Cut there is no need to moor on a winding hole. The winding holes are clearly sign-posted and little or large do not need to eat into the space. Some boats are longer than others and all need space to turn. Do not tempt an out of control steel kiss! Steel won’t hurt steel but your paint job might get marked. If you are ‘plastic’ .... I saw a fat Wide-beam in a fitting out stage abandoned moored on a winding hole. The nice C&RT license checker person was cycling past and said a letter had been left on that boat. I don’t know what power the letter has but I guess C&RT will have logged that boat on record. C&RT seem like nice people but have little power in managing responsible ownership. Chill Sarah chill.

Canal town

3.       RECYCLING
'Treasure from the Canal?'

I am proud to be a tidy Kiwi. TV always said we were tidy Kiwis! I am happy to endeavour (nothing to do with Cptn Cook) to be tidy with my rubbish. There is always a heap of poubelle, basura, lixo  yes just unwanted rubbish packaging that fills all our lives now. We all have to deal with it. On the Cut the C&RT provide Biffa Bins at sign-posted areas which are marked on Canal maps or if they have been relocated it is marked along the way. You can be 98% confident of Biffa Bins at Sanitary Stations. The bins are usually 3-fold i.e Glass; Recycling (Plastic, Cardboard/Paper, and Metal); General waste. It’s easy but that doesn’t stop laziness or lack of care. I know I am not perfect, no-one is but we on DB do try to sort out our rubbish ready for disposal to be dropped off as we pass our Canal rubbish stations. Thank you C&RT for making these stations available for us.

Oh so just dump the rubbish?

Well I've had my last ramble being in the F-age. Tomorrow I meet the S- age. I see it as a wise beginning.

Of course life is about being under constant change. Nothing stays the same forever and as much as I am more of a stick in the mud, I need to open my eyes and be happy that future is always on the cards and others, still a ‘sparkle’ destined to be, will live into it and beyond!

Here's a funny incident that happened to me in Berkhamstead. I was calling out Hello to a Fisherman on the other side of the Cut. We got talking and he stopped concentrating on his line. Next thing his fishing rod flew out of his hands into the Canal and seemed to be floating towards my side and DB. Yikes, I got the extendable boat pole but it didn't reach the rod. Rod moves along the length of DB and eventually I managed to 'hook' it with a long bendy plastic tube. I grabbed the rod with my hands and pulled it out of the water. Only to find I had 'caught' a fish. Well there was a fish at the end of the line. Mr Angler was happy he had got his rod back and I was happy to see the fish released after it must have had the swim of its life taking the rod for a swim.

DB was this side and the Angler was on the opposite side.

Saturday, 9 June 2018


The signpost outside my port-hole, where we moored in Milton Keynes, reads 31 miles to Braunston. 

Really, we have done all those miles over a couple of days of cruising not to mention 2 tunnels and 17 Locks. 

We did take a rest day and spent a day in the middle taking time out doing what life on the Canal is believed to be all about. Resting, no hurry, what a wonderful life. The thought is there. We do variations on the thought it has to be said and mostly we are focused on moving!

We moored DB in a Lock pound, 3 Locks up from Braunston outside the pub that does great food, The Admiral Nelson. Our intention was to moor just before the third Lock as there had been space for DB. But when we got there ‘holiday-boaters’ had taken 'our' space. 'You can't always get what you want...' is luck on the Cut. We could have reversed back 100m to a mooring but we were moving on up and that would mean one less Lock the following day. The mooring was good and quiet and we had tied up using mooring pegs. 

The pub dinner was excellent and we slept well that night. I woke before 4am as dawn was over. I got out of bed and I immediately realised  DB was leaning to port and there no motion of being on the water.  A look through a Porthole confirmed the ‘pond’ was empty and we were grounded on mud.
View ahead

“Right” I said, “DB has grounded and I’m going outside to check the Lock below to make sure the paddles have not been left open and then I’m going to walk up alongside the 3 Locks ahead and wind up the starboard paddles and get water flowing to flood ‘our’ pound.”
Who pulled the plug?

Wow, once upon a time when I was a ‘newbie’ boater I couldn’t have acted dynamically in this situation! Now it is the obvious solution and with my windlass. at hand,  DB refloated within 30 minutes. Luckily Cptn, carrying a windlass was following my footsteps and wound the paddle I had missed.

Anyway I had planned for an early start because the Braunston Tunnel (2042yds) was close and I was chancing that there would be no oncoming boats and I could get DB through that black hole with no steel on steel kisses.

As soon as DB was floating Cptn untied the ropes and I got the Lock Gates open. We were underway. I worked the Locks and took over the helm before the Tunnel entrance. In my head I crossed my fingers for no boat traffic and once enveloped by the tunnel the view ahead was the dim daylight at the exit hole beckoning a long way away. But I could see it and the tunnel was clear. Focus Sarah focus. You may think helming a more-or-less straight path of water would be easy but to keep DB in line meant constant turning of the wheel (clockwise..anticlockwise..). Cptn says the tiller is easier than the wheel negotiating a Tunnel. I had one meeting with the wall of the tunnel but I got myself in line. 

My line of vision in the black space is always looking along port (left) and using the water line as the measure. The tunnel opened in 1796, is 1.867m long and 4.8m wide 3.76m high. It has a slight S bend. There is room, just, for 2 Narrowboats to pass. I was glad to get to the end and said “Yay no boats!” as DB exited the tunnel.

I shouted (that’s the only way to be heard over a running engine) to the first oncoming boat that met DB and I said with a smile “Nice morning, good to see you, I’m glad we didn’t meet in the tunnel. Haha.”
Wide Locks, DB can share or stretch out

We teamed up with NB Elizabeth Jane to go down the 7 Buckby Lock flight. I and the Cptn from NbEJ worked the final 4 Locks after helming down the first 3. There was a boat, in front of us, who were new owners and they got into difficulty at the next Lock. Obviously when you are Locking you keep your eye on traffic ahead which determines whether to leave the Lock gates open or shut them. I could see far enough in the distance that the boat ahead was going up the Lock, the paddles were up letting in water and the Stern end of the boat was coming into view. Aha he people in front of us. Hmmm what is going on. Once I had opened our Lock Gates I walked the distance to the next Lock and met a slightly distressed woman who had managed well when their boat had got its ‘prop’ caught on the Cill as the Lock was emptying. Quick reaction means close the paddles immediately to stop any more water leaving the Lock and open the paddles at the other end to refill the Lock until the boat is floating again. I think that it happens to every boatie, once and then it will never happen again.  It has happened to us. Always keep the boat stern forward of the white painted line marking the Cill when going down Locks. I gave reassuring words to the woman and her partner and said it happens to most people on canal boats and that was part of the boat learning curve. Respect for the Cill and staying alert working the Lock.

Next day I had another Tunnel and Lock challenge. The Blisworth Tunnel opened in1805. There was major rebuilding of the Tunnel in the 1980’s. It is 2.813m long and 4.6m wide. There is enough room for 2 Narrowboats to pass. I just realised, as I’m writing this, that the Harecastle Tunnel is 2.676m long, hah 137m shorter than the Blisworth!! 

This is like my view helming the Blisworth Tunnel.

I entered the Blisworth Tunnel with obviously the boat light on but the tunnel is dark with no glimmer of the tunnel exit ahead. Cptn had turned on a halogen light to shine out from the wheelhouse but this was too light-bright near me. I struggled with myself keeping DB comfortably in line. I had a mild panic but held it together and was better when the halogen lamp got moved out of my visual field. All I could see was the shine of the water in my visual-line beside me and I aimed to keep that as my marker. For a short time, I was going at tic speed and Cptn said it would be better to increase my speed so I did. Phew no oncoming boats, and it seemed like ages until I saw daylight signal the end of the tunnel in the distance. Focus Sarah focus. There were the occasional heavy showers of water along the way. First I could hear the sound of water then I could see DB getting the shower of water which meant I was going have a hair wash. Oh well the shower was over until the next one.

What joy to get out of the Tunnel and I was keen to operate the 7 Locks at Stoke Bruerne to take away my tunnel tension. That turned out to be physical work-out. Those Locks are hard, it wasn’t winding the paddles but the weight of opening some of the gates into the overfull pounds. Quad strength and good shoe grip were called for! Man I’m nearly 60 but the girl is still there!!!

Live and let live. Hopefully my hormones are moving towards an even keel!!

Inside DB looking out! 

Sunday, 3 June 2018


We’re on a mission, probably my mission by admission to get to London. I have waited three score years for the day to arrive and I wasn’t sure until recently where I wanted to be! Is this a little bit cryptic? Whatever!

We have a couple of weeks give or take to get there and although London is about an hour away by train, it’s a different scale in Canal-time. Now that we can both Lock or Helm it means we can travel further in a day. But then isn’t life on the Canal meant to be a chillaxed journey?

The Canal planner app times our trip to cover 170 miles and 118 Locks from Willington Bridge (Trent & Mersey Canal {T&M}) to Paddington Basin taking 85 hours and 9 minutes. We were thinking of going along the River Soar and through Leicester which is a few more miles but 151 Locks. Chillax prevails!

So up the Canal to Fradley Junction, met with Baz & Celia on Nb April Fool and had a uke blast joined by a mandolin on the brief R. Trent stretch before Alrewas. Baz’s glasses fell into the water and he couldn’t locate them with the blind magnet. I thought they would not be found and he, reluctantly, stepped barefooted into the thigh-high waters and foot-felt finding his glasses. Result!

The grey sky dissolved with blue coming into view. Yay! I keep singing, in my head, that song “When the weather is fine, you know it’s the time for cruising along on the river.” I must cana-ba-lize it!! At Fradley Junction we left the T&M taking a family of gongoozlers for the short trip onto The Coventry Canal (or is it the extension of the Birmingham-Fazely Canal, am I bovvered?). We meet people, occasionally who are interested in what it must be like to move and live in a floating container, I mean a Narrowboat. It is interesting getting 68ft around a 90°bend at a watery T intersection. Get the picture? Not forgetting there is a boat moored at striking distance in the turning circle. I don’t believe in doing a ‘Westie’ so I need to concentrate doing my helming manouever. Great I went round the bend, no steel kiss BUT damn bugger blast I didn’t accurately judge the narrow channel where the swing bridge sits and the concrete hit port-side. No damage but I’m a tryer not perfect!

There is a lock free long chug to Fazely Junction so we made a good start before mooring for the night. In the morning there was a bit of traffic, in our direction and I had to wait for 2 boats to pass before I could move out. Matey, in the front boat  NB Blue Sky was determined to maintain the speed of ‘Tic’. The NB, filling in the middle of the boat sandwich was not being assertive in showing intentions to get past. I blasted my horn but Mr Blue Sky didn’t hear me and tic tic tic. I told passing foot traffic, in jest, that Mr Blue Sky was running the risk of thunder and lightning. Ha ha. Chillax Sarah. It was probably for a couple of miles we followed Mr Blue Sky and us, the followers cheered with thumbs up when he moored at the Junction.

Just like that, DB was on her own and all was good for 2 minutes. A narrow stretch opened into a tight bend and I was being followed by a ‘plastic’. I knew the locks were near and I wanted to keep my position of being first in the queue if there was a queue. But I didn’t manoeuver DB easily around that bend and got her nose into the trees. Guess what the name of the plastic was? ‘Misty Blue’. I think Blue was the magnetic name pull that day! Breathe Sarah breathe.

I was feeling close to calling it a day and we chugged along, after the locks finding the perfect spot to moor and enjoy relaxing in the sun. I got my Uke out and had a good play. The can-you-believe weather forecast was good for the next couple of days and we thought we’d stay a couple of nights in situ before doing the 11 Atherstone Locks. 

Next day morning arrives and it was not promising weatherwise. We moved and did those locks, sharing helming-locking. I’m always keen to keep up with onboard provisions and I did a fill my shopping trolley at Atherstone. Until I started walking to the shops, I couldn’t recall their location. Then it all came back to me. I am familiar finding my way to supermarkets in so many towns, on the Canal network now. I don’t always remember their location in my memory cell but generally, it comes back pronto with visual prompts. Mobile data is a great help! 

Knowing that 91% chance of rain is high likelihood that it will rain, I was ready to take the helm dressed for conditions. And it rained quite a lot in the morning. Cptn brought me out a bacon egg and tomato sarnie covered with a good quality paper towel. I got through ¾ of the yummy sandwich but gave up on the sodden last ¼. It rained most of the morning and my almost waterproofs got a good try-out. I think it was at lower arm level they struggled but nature brought in a bit of dry warmish air mixed in with my body temp to dry them out.
Narrow narrow it's narrow but no problemo.

It was a novelty, for me, to helm in such wet conditions. But I’m not put off with it. On that day DB cruised 17 miles. No locks make it an easy path of water to cruise along. There were a couple, well 3 events that need to be noted.

11.   Hawkesbury Junction is the start of the Oxford Canal (North) and is a fine wide but sharp entrance to the stop lock. I excelled in my negotiation of this entrance and I received lovely compliments at my management of this turn. Chest puffs!!!

22. There are some holiday rental boats on the move near here and there are some blind bends. Chances are boats will be coming round a blind bend and meeting could be the end of a happy occasion. Toot your horn Toot your horn, can you hear me!! I had a meeting of such but thankfully a ‘Westie’ was averted. Reverse thrust and loud horn turned on by me. I had a brief glimpse of concerned looks from the approaching bow. Crisis averted!

33.  And No. 3. This one shook me up! I phoned C&RT up, my cathartic approach after the event. Here is what I recall happening. DB got to the swing footbridge at Stretton Stop, no problems the end of the journey, Rugby is getting closer. DB goes under the next bridge and there is a long stretch ahead. Soon I see what looks like a craft heading in my direction but it is a long way off. As I get closer to it I realise it is static orange things, floating carrots. I think this is not right obviously it is a signal of some obstruction. Orange means caution Red means danger. I hadn’t seen any warning sign alerting me to a problem ahead. There is a NB coming the other way, it hasn’t stopped and nor have I. I have slowed down and after I pass the obstruction I have moved DB more to the right thinking I’ll stay close to the Towpath. Next thing that happens is DB tilts 45° and it feels we are going to go over. Bang crash as things topple indoors and Cptn yelling out for information on what is happening. Of course I have automatically put DB into neutral. It is not a pleasant occurrence. No injury, no damage... But there is another NB coming the other way and the young fart (well he's younger than me I assume) on the helm is yelling at me with 4 letter words...I switch on selective hearing.......Man what’s his problem, I had no idea of the danger putting me at risk. I don’t need Canal rage. Chillax. I phoned C&RT. They were very empathetic. They said they will check the signage. Apparently this obstruction has been there for years and they do not have the money to undertake this repair. Please, I said, ‘high-vis’ it. It is dangerous. One way traffic it!!
BEWARE OF THE CARROT!! It was carrots, like these more in number but less in size, I think I saw. 
It has been an eventful trip.
After the day is almost over.

We have made it to Rugby and beyond. There is more to write... keep tight and stay on the right!

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.