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! 

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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.