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!

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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.