This is the first part of our account.
Back in 2012 Mick had received as unexpected inheritance from an uncle. We’d dreamt of having our own narrowboat for sometime and the money was enough to get us a practical boat that we could cruise around the network in. So we visited Crick boat show to look at prospective builders. Two builders were short listed and we arranged to visit them at their workshops.
One builder didn’t see any problems with our spec and sent us a quote. The other had plenty more questions for us and sat down to work through all our requirements. The father (Kevin) and son (Richard) team came across as knowledgeable, friendly giving us advice on things that we’d not thought of. Stillwater Narrowboats Ltd had built our friends boat so we’d been able to quiz them about the company. As with a lot of boat builders they were renowned to be late with builds, we did financial checks on the company which seemed okay.
Stillwater got the job, we paid our deposit and started to plan our layout, 58ft, cruiser stern, reverse layout, bow thruster, cross bed, etc. Our build slot was to be July 2013, so we thought we’d most probably get our boat around December that year.
October 2012 we went to visit them by boat on NB Winding Down (our shareboat) as they had recently moved from Hilton, Derbyshire to Betton Mill, Market Drayton. Kevin had always wanted a waterside workshop and here they had one. My Dad had recently passed away, so he would now pay for the extras that Uncle Mark’s money wouldn’t have stretched to. We came away after a good meeting, contract in hand for us to sign and return, at this point they hadn’t signed it.
We didn’t hear much from them for a time and in April 2013 we got a phone call from Kevin saying that they were wanting to get ahead on themselves and were looking at laying our base plate at the end of May beginning of June. For this they needed our first stage payment so as to be able to order the steel. Kevin was due to have a heart operation so starting earlier may of course not mean that we’d get the boat any sooner. The following day we got a list of all the extras and their prices sent through along with an invoice. We’d still not received the signed contract back from them, but this arrived the following day, a standard contract that most builders use. Our first payment was made. We were excited and celebrated with a bottle of wine that night.
During May we did more work on our plans and finally arranged to go and visit Stillwater on Mick’s birthday. We drove over with plans and a model, had a good meeting, discussed a few alterations, looked round the boat currently in build. All good and very exciting.
We visited Crick boat show again that year, ordered a sofa bed and made note of ideas that we could incorporate into our boat. A helmsman course was booked for later in the year and our share of NB Winding Down was for sale at the show.
Mid July we were starting to get a touch twitchy. We’d sent through our final plans and spec but heard nothing back. When eventually we got through to Richard the steel order had been held up and the Kevin had had his heart operation, which had slowed things down. By the beginning of August our boat was to be the next to have it’s base plate laid.
Mid August. We’d noticed things had changed on their company records, we were wanting to seek assurance from them about this. Mick called to find out that our hull had been started, she was possibly up to the gunnels, but as the steel work was done at another site they weren’t too sure on the latest progress. A restructuring of the company meant that our boat would no longer be transported over to Betton Mill to be completed, they were going to lease a unit next to the steel workshop in Ripley to do the fit outs. Kevin was no longer a director of the company and we were told that they would be trading under a different name. Our excitement that the build had started was tinged with concern.
On the 24th August we headed over to Ripley to see our boat for the first time. There she was up to the gunnels, a giant metal bath tub, pretty much like any other 58ft boat. The gas locker was needing some alteration as we wanted to be able to store our Brompton bikes in it, a new lid had been cut to size and laid on top. She seemed very wide but a quick measure of her width by Richard reassured us that she’d go through narrow locks.
We were handed a letter that should have been posted to us a few weeks earlier which explained that Stillwater Narrowboats had got into financial difficulties. All the boats in build were owned by the customers and would be finished off by the new company CR&S Leisure that had existed for some time. Our first stage payment had actually been made to the new company without us knowing. Richard explained that from now on stage payments would be split into three instalments, so we’d be able to see where our money was going and it would aid with the companys cash flow.
They had already started to move from Market Drayton. A large workshop across the site was filled with narrowboat shells. In all we counted six boats ahead of ours. One thing was certain our boat wouldn’t be ready for Christmas. If they managed to streamline their working practices as Kevin recovered from his surgery, then it was hoped we’d have our boat early next year, 2014. We headed home to alter our Christmas plans, coming up with new ideas for the spec, but lacking the cheesy grins we’d expected to have after seeing our boat for the first time.
A couple of days later we received an invoice for the first instalment of our second stage payment. Before we paid this we wanted to be reassured that the boat we’d seen was ours, so we asked Richard if there were any unique features which proved that the boat was ours. The following day some photographs were sent through to us. The larger gas locker lid had been finished and welded onto the weed hatch was ‘M and P Leckenby’. They had chosen my name as it had less curvy letters than Micks.
We were ecstatic, our concerns vanished. Payment 2A was forwarded to Richard.
Meanwhile back in 2019. 5th April
Today we have left Leeds. Leeds Dock had been a 48hr mooring, but because of attending court we’d asked if we could over stay. We’d been told that if we didn’t hear anything back then it would be fine.
Leeds had served its purposes and we wanted to be off. In between the Waxis coming and going Mick winded Oleanna and brought her back out from the dock whilst I went to get the lock ready. It was full, but the level light didn’t illuminate. I lifted the sluices to top it up and waited. And waited….. and waited the light didn’t come on. I tried opening the gates, but had no joy. Mick tied up above the lock as some helpful gongoozlers tried to push the hydraulically operated gates open, strangely enough that didn’t work!
Mick had a go. Still no joy, so I emptied the lock, then refilled it. The level above the lock looked like it had been dropped, work was going on at the weir to remove a large tree with a crane. Maybe the lower level above the lock was affecting its operation. After a few minutes though the level light illuminated. Hooray!!!
As Oleanna descended the trip boat from Thwaite Mills approached from below. I waited. And waited for the water level light to illuminate. No joy. The gates wouldn’t open. Everything was tried, but still no luck. The chap from the trip boat tried. We waited some more. In the end a call to C&RT was made and we were told someone would be with us in an hour. The trip boat decided to wind below the lock and head back to base just as another boat arrived.
After about twenty minutes I decided to give the gates another go. When I reached the panel the water level light was lit. Brilliant! Gates open and we were on our way. We called C&RT saying we’d got through the lock, but another boat was now heading up, we hoped the gates would work for them.
Back out on the river it was windy. Our fat fender which I’d popped on the roof blew off. Mick reversed to try to get it back just as a swan landed and decided it didn’t want us there. After some discouragement using the engine Mick managed to pull the fender on board again.
By now it was too late for us to see if the water wheel at Thwaite Mills was working again so we carried on to Woodlesford where we moored up. We’d aimed on going a touch further today, but the wind put us off. Once moored up Tilly was allowed out, a happy cat again.
This afternoon we took one of the bikes up to Lidl and did a shop to last us a few days, hopefully until we get near to shops again or can find somewhere to get a delivery.
3 locks, 4.61 miles, 1 wind, 1 stubborn lock, 1 big tree, 1 chat with Margaret, 1 letter, 2 late for the mill, 1 tail held high again.