Thursday, 19 October 2017

As another season ends

With most children now off school for the Autumn half term, our final busy period begins tomorrow with five cruisers on hire and a further three on Saturday.

It’s a bit like a bank holiday scenario here, lots of boats and rough weather. The Met office has issued a Yellow Weather Warning for Saturday and we’re having to advise our guests to stay moored up as there are winds of 50mph predicted with gusts up to 70mph.

I recall about four years ago, during the same period, we had similar weather and the ONLY tree to come down on a river came down on Flight of Freedom at Loddon. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and there was just minor scrapes to the boat.

It’s been a busy year at Freedom. We’ve done lots of work to some of the boats and there’s lots more scheduled for the coming closed season. Earlier in the year we built a complete new front deck on Lady of Freedom as the original had become delaminated from the sandwich core material and was very springy. The new deck is more robust than the old one ever was and will last decades.

Most of the major winter work is due to Rambling which is in need of a lot of TLC now having had a hard year at the hands of hirers and, also, it has to be said, catching up with some jobs that have been put off.

The first major job is the rebuilding of the sliding canopy which, although repaired about seven years ago, did not undergo a full rebuild as well as suffering from a couple of errors. Dampness is the killer of any wooden structure and once the moisture gets it, it doesn’t come out and this has done for the support structures that brace the uprights to the roof section. Like any roof attached to walls, the roof wants to push the walls outward and the bracing needs to be solid. Any sliding canopy is vulnerable to damage, especially on a hire boat which is being handled by less experienced (and in some cases less caring) people. Their structure relies entirely on the bracing that holds the sides to the top and they don’t stand up to a great deal of abuse.

So, all of the wooden strengthening within the sides of the canopy has been removed, renewed and replaced, along with forming sandwich sections in the corners. The next stage is for us to put the canopy on its purpose-made jig so that we can set the sides at exactly the right positions and then apply temporary bracing whist we shape, cut and build new internal braces.

The canopy runners are in a poor way also. These are large lengths of hardwood that are bolted through the side of the superstructure and will require the careful removal of the internal panelling in the saloon and cockpit areas. Sadly, this also requires the removal of the pelmets and, possibly even the ceilings. However, this is no great worry as we plan to build and bond on a complete new roof!

Rambling during her new roof work a few years ago

We made a new GRP roof for the front of the boat about four years ago, replacing the original laminated ply one that had served her well. We aren’t’ sure why Astons built the boats with plywood roofs, but it is clear that the boat was built in a number of parts and that allowed them to make them in different lengths. Presumably, this saved having some very large mould tools handing around for a 35ft boat and another for a 40ft boat. I guess that making a ply roof for various lengths made the build easier than having different moulds for different GRP roof lengths.

No matter, we have to skills to build a new one to take the vessel forward for many more years.

Rambling Freedom is the only Aston Bourne vessel in hire anywhere. In her Aston days, she was Aston Mersey and her sister ship, Aston Thames became Pearl Emblem at Ferry Marina when the remainder of the Aston Fleet was sold at the closure of the business in 2007. Pearl Emblem was sold from the Ferry fleet into private hands a couple of years ago leaving Rambling the only surviving one in hire. Though even she was in private hands for some time and was also taken away from the Broads for a time which is why she no longer has her original registration number.

Going back to the late 70s or 80s, my family actually hired Aston Thames for a holiday. There was my Mother and Father, Nan and Granddad on board and I recall our keenness at the time for the then Aston fitout preference for gas water heaters which I believe were fitted to all Aston boats at the time. This meant that you had hot water on demand without the need to run the engine. I guess that gas regulations ended up putting out the pilot lights on these in the end.

We will keep you posted on progress of Rambling throughout the works.

We officially continue to hire boats until 11th November but if the weather stays mild, we may offer boats for longer. We don't hire cruisers in December or January.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Salvage of motor cruiser - sunk on the Broads

Sunday, 18 July 2010

What a day it was

Yep, some things are predictable. It was one hell of a day, so bad that it's one I've tried to forget.

2 breakdown calls in relatively quick succession - one where the customer has dropped the radiator cap into the engine bay and can't find it and other that's lost steering.

The radiator cap one was relatively simple, but the lack of steering was frightening (not least of all for us....) - a 32foot, front steer cruiser. Not a simple job if the cable has snapped. Luckily, our worst fears weren't confirmed; the helm unit casing had failed and fractured and it was quite a simple fix to get them going and then we replaced the unit the next day to ensure no further breakdowns.

My wife recently pointed out that my hair's got quite a lot lighter and assumes it's exposure to all this sun we've been getting, but I'm certain it's the on-set of grey.....

Empty yard means renewed Fair focus
We're getting into the season good an proper now. The boat yard is pretty empty today and all focus is going to be on finally finishing Fair Freedom. This vessel has cost an astonishing amount this year in repairs and upgrades and we've missed countless bookings on it which have been mightily embarrassing. It's out, for definite, next Saturday and sports a number of upgrades and improvement. We're about to finish installing the new 1800w inverter system which has its own, dedicated battery bank. There's a microwave on-board now too - an essential addition for a 10-berth cruiser.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

What a day!

I'm really not looking forward to today at the boat yard as I'm trying to hold the fort, pretty much on my own.

Yesterday, I took a nice chunk out of my arm on an open drawer I reached over, resulting in a 1 1/2 inch gash which needed steri-stripping together. It's not sore (though I've no idea why) but since the adhesive pad and strips have become unstuck, I've now got it bandaged too and I'm beginning to look a bit like walking wounded and it really needs redressing.

But there's no time; today, I've got Pete and Donna on a day off; that's my engineer and office staff out of the picture. Ordinarily, I've have at least one other yard staff in too, but Colin Facey informed us yesterday that he's running an RYA Power Boat course today and did we want to get our man on it? Well, we have a policy of training all our show-out instructors in boat handling and Rab hadn't yet done his so, I agreed to relinquishing him for the day too. That leaves me with a cleaner and. OK, just a cleaner.

It's a recipe for disaster, isn't it?

Normally, my wife would come in and cover the office when Donna's out, but today she has to clean a holiday cottage that was booked last minute yesterday. Hopefully, we'll see her as soon as the cottage is done.

The phones are still manic; bookings are still thick and fast with September and October getting a lot of interest now. How am I going to cope? All it's going to take is one break-down call and my day will collapse around my ears. If you need to call in today, please be prepared to witness a nervous breakdown and have 999 already tapped into you mobile phone - just run to the top of the road to find a signal.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Busy Busy

Having had little comment on my previous blog, the waves of email enquiries asking for availability continues unabated.

I know everyone is busy, so the web site is designed to make searching for a holiday simple. It seems that it's either not simple enough or I've seriously underestimated how busy people are.

Fair Freedom
Work continues on Fair Freedom, finally towards an achieveable goal of this coming Friday.

Honestly, the sheer amount of effort that we have put into this boat (not to mention money spent and lost by not having her on hire) has been staggering. We anticipated an eight week sabatical for her in one of Ricko's sheds which turned out to be four months as every panel we examined hid away a wealth of horrors that couldn't be ignored.

Finally, though, she's in the water, complete with a total repaint, lots of fibre-glass repairs, refitted windows, replacement engine some new cabinetry and more.

We're still working on her in a frenzy and will post images soon.

Meanwhile, we've got two poorly engines to rebuild this week; again to a deadline.

Our private work continues to increase, mostly with outboard repairs and servicing. Peter is a qualified and experienced outboard engineer and our name is getting round rather nicely. Many of the engines we look after are around the Barton Turf area, thanks to the trust vested in us by the Norfolk Punt Club who's engines we oversee these days.

We also look after much larger outboards like the 60hp commercial BigFoot engine from a Cromer fishing vessel that's down on it's luck right now.

Got a poorly outboard and need a quick fix? If we can't get it running properly within the time frame, we have one or two outboards that we can loan you to get you out of trouble.

That Sinking Feeling
A couple of weeks ago, we responded to a plea for a salvage pump at Woodbastwick staithe for a sports cruiser that was going down. Our 3inch pump was sent out and, along with a couple of 2inch pumps from the Broads Authority, the boat was saved. I thought we were going no need it for Spirit of Freedom on Saturday.

The report came though that the vessel had two inches of water in the cabins. Our immediate thought was that someone had left a tap running in the shower which subsequently overflowed. Oh how wrong you can be.

When we got to Thurne dyke, the poor thing was seriously back heavy. Not on the brink of going down, but certainly on the brink of damaging internal components. The engine was running and the customer was still sitting on the boat. Lifting an engine panel immediately showed the fault and the boat was saved; an exhaust pipe had split and all the cooling water was being ejected into the engine compartment rather than through the exhaust port.

We got there just in time really as the water level was about an inch off of all the eletronic devices in the engine bay; simple, inexpensive things like the Eberspacher heater, inverter, fuse panel, etc.

Oh, the fun of running a boat yard.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Procrastination spoils holiday plans

Personally, I feel that is an easy-to-use web site and the vast majority of our customer feedback suggests so too, but I need your opinions also. There's a growing number of people who will send an email using the contact form on the web site asking us for availability and pricing.

Now, to my mind it is blindingly obvious that all this information is already on the web site; there's even a great big orange arrow on the home page drawing your attention to the area of that page (and virtually every other web page on the site) where you can check these things; yet, the number of email enquiries grows.

Out of the busy booking times, this is a trickle of enquiries. Right now, it's multiple enquiries per day and that's a problem. Here's why.

Availability is vanishing fast - people are desperate now to get a summer holiday booked and gaps are being filled at a rate that's creating a significant backlog in the office. At the best of times, responding to an email that says "I want a holiday from 7th August for a week on a boat, please advise availability and prices" eats time as, commonly we don't get any information about the party size or a phone number to call. The response to such an email has to be along the lines of "Thanks, but I can't really help you as you haven't told me how many people are travelling. If you refer to the web site, you can check live availability and pricing; alternatively, give us a call and we can check for you.".

No matter how we word this, it's not a lot of help to the customer.

When availability is getting scarce, every hour (minute even) can be the difference between getting a booking or not. In the 15 minutes I've been writing this blog, at 7am on the 22nd June, I've had two booking requests in for July and August. If those people had sent me an email, by the time I had responded and they had read the reply and replied themselves, high season might be sold out.

So, how can I make it more obvious that all the information that they seek is right in front of them before they take the time to email me and introduce the very delays that might prevent them getting a holiday with Freedom? Your input is welcomed.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Boaters with attitude

Has anybody else noticed how unfriendly some boaters can be, especially towards hirers? Whilst the vast majority of boaters will smile and wave to others as they pass, there's a number who either wear a face that looks like it's been slapped or simply stare straight ahead in an attempt to ignore you.

Sadly, this is most noticeable in private boat owners; people who should know better. Whilst there are plenty of hirers who'll go out of their way to be anti-social too, but there's definitely an "air" about some boat owning people. I can say this with a degree of certainty as, whilst I own my own private boats, I rarely use them, preferring to use fleet boats when they're available so that I can trial them in a real environment, seeking out foibles and looking for improvements. To everybody who doesn't know that this scruffy, long haired, four-eyed guy owns the business, I'm your average hirer out on a hire boat and I'm regularly ignored, most commonly by private boat owners. Hey, perhaps they do know who I am and it's deliberate....

It's also fair to say that many private boaters were once hirers; they've been in the holiday maker's shoes too. It's also reasonable to suggest that the boat they're on was once a hire boat; so many were.

I had a story recounted to me some time ago about the MD of a boat builder and hirer taking out his new flagship vessel on its maiden voyage. How accurate this is, I don't know, but I can well believe it. He was mooring up astern at a popular location between a group of private boat owners who all stopped to scrutinise his maneuvering and watch for the merest nudge on their vessels. They then proceeded to gas on about the scourge of hirers on the Broads well within earshot of this person. After a while, he'd had enough and introduced himself, much to their embarrassment, and was quickly offered a glass of wine.

It takes all sorts to make the world go around but there really is no need for people to be like this. Hirers may have a reputation for ignoring rules, speeding and so on but then again, private boaters can be just as bad. Hirers may not be able to afford £30k or more to buy a boat themselves, but some have paid up to £1500 for a week's holiday on the Broads. Hirers are not second class citizens and should be welcomed; without them, the Broads Authority would not be able to maintain navigation without trebling (or more) the price of river tolls, local businesses that supply the tourist trade would vanish and the local economy would be in ruins. 

It's a real shame as, no matter why you're on a boat on the Broads, you're in one of the most brilliant wetland landscapes on the planet. The Norfolk Broads are a relaxing place to come and unwind and, whether you're here because you hire or you're here because you are fortunate enough to be able to own and have the funds to keep a boat, please, smile about it and share your enjoyment with others.