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.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Down to the wire

Things can be right stressful sometimes.

Take these new cookers we bought. Brand spanking new New World freestanding gas cookers. Nice looking things in Silver, shiny, clean and new. Did I mention that they are new?

Well, these new cookers failed a boat safety test on Thursday on a boat that's due out on holiday on Friday. The oven burners were producing an orange flame which our gas/boat safety examiner found to be totally unacceptable. We checked the oven jet was clear and also checked it against the manufacturers spec to ensure it was the right jet for LPG. Sure, it was, the oven is only designed to run on LPG.

We had two cookers, one on the boat, the other in store, still in it's wrapping. So, we manhandled the failing one out of the boat, put in the new one and the same fault.

At this stage, there's less than 24 hours before this boat is due to go out and we've got no cooker on board. The stress levels were rising.

A phone call to the manufacturers and the lady couldn't promise me that I'd be seen before the bank holiday. Joy. Now the options were simple; find a cooker that worked and fitted or... Well, that was it really.

We had an old cooker in store but it didn't have Flame Failure Devices on the burners so would have been illegal to refit after having one with FFDs. Tony Urwin from Banks Boats (our Gas and BSS man) got on the phone around some yards as did I. Between us, we located a couple of cookers and it was one of my neighbouring yards that came to my rescue with an old Stoves Vanette, complete with FFDs. It was a bit battered but after removing a panel or two, a couple of blows with a rubber mallet on an anvil soon straightened it out. Then it was out with the new and in with the old and with Tony (pulling out all the stops on his day off) due back with us at 3pm just an hour before the boat was due on holiday, we got it in. Tony arrived on time, tested the cooker and wrote out the Boat Safety paperwork.

In the mean time, the Stoves engineer had actually arrived and was saying that these cookers do burn with an orange flame and that it was pretty normal and had passed the tests like that with no evidence of sooting up. That was until he looked at the two new units we had; he too said that he wouldn't pass them as safe and that we really should take them back for a refund! Later, after he had spoke with his HQ, he explained that the cookers are quite normal to burn as they did during his tests and that the manufacturer could provide a document proving it! Now, we seem to be faced with a dilemma - keep the wretched things and have to produce a bit of paper each year to try and convince a gas engineer that it burning wrong is normal and that he's talking out of his hat when he says he's not going to pass it or try for a refund.

I'll be on the phone to the supplier on Tuesday.....

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Summer's here!

This coming Saturday promises to be one of the hottest, sunniest days of the year so far and what a great build-up to the Whitsun holiday it's going to be. We've got a few boats leaving on holiday this weekend and have a few out already. Our customer feedback this year had been very positive overall and our booking levels are up on last year. Some vessels, notably Song of Freedom have surpassed our expectations; there's just three nights left to sell for June 2010!

Sadly though, you can't please everyone and, purely to provide some balance to this posting, we had some customers out for two nights over the last weekend who absolutely hated the boat and came back with some choice phrases about it. In fairness, a couple of thing did go wrong (about half of which was a direct result of the customer's intervention) but the customer chose not to telephone us to get them fixed and, instead, complained when they returned the boat (more than three hours late, I might add). I really can't fathom why they didn't call as one of their issues was that the domestic water pump wasn't working and with 9 people on board (one a 2 year old) and no water, it's difficult to see how they managed. What's worse is that the problem was as simple as one of the party having turned the pump off via the isolator switch.

It's so disapointing when people decide not to call; we have a dedicated fault reporting service monitored by a number of people, specifically so that we can deal with problems quickly and efficiently. Most customers will report things quickly but there's a few who'll not mention anything until they return when there's nothing we can do to assist.

So, a plea. Please, if you have any questions, concerns or faults to report, please let us know as soon as possible and we'll do what we can to get a speedy resolution.

Fair Freedom

Progress is still steady but we're horrendously behind on the boat and now have people working long hours on it to get it ready for Whitsun. We've just taken recepit of new headlining material today which we'll be fitting to cabins over the next few days. The outside is in the process of being painted now and the first couple of coats of undercoat are on.

We've got a replacement engine to fit and we're waiting for a local engineering company to produce an adaptor plate so we can connect the hydralic pump to the flywheel.

There's a couple of new cabinets being fitted; one to the saloon and one in the twin cabin and new flooring will be laid too.


The Whitsun week is looking very busy. Pretty much all our boats are booked for the week with the only availablity being to Day Boats and the occasional picnic boat. We still have availability at some of the holiday cottages, so if you're looking to get away, we can do a deal for a cottage and you'll also get 10% off day hire too. Plus, if you're a Facebook Fan, you'll get two free bottles of wine if you book a cottage or boat today (19th May 2010). Take a look at for availability and pricing.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A little history

The Broads, for me, have been a life-long love affair. My first holiday was on board Brooklyn Bridge, an aft-cockpit cruiser from Bridgecraft in Acle at the tender age of about six months. That was my parent's first Broads excursion too and the beginning of many years of boating and chalet holidays.

Over the years we rented countless boats from many yards, most of which are no longer around. I honestly can't remember all the boats or companies we rented from, but here's a few: An Aston Thames class vessel (possibly even the boat that was to become Rambling Freedom) from Loddon, an Horizon 35 from Acle, Connoisseur from Porter and Haylett, a sedan style boat from Womack, Dawn Supreme, a Bounty 35 or 37 from Wroxham, a Caribbean from FB Wildes just after Guinness took over and lord knows how many more.

Some years we'd hire a chalet from Potter Heigham's Riverside Rentals and a day boat from Maycraft. We probably had six or seven chalets in our time and my grandparents would often share the holiday with us. Many great times can be recalled and a few sad ones too. One year, we'd arrived in the most horrendous thunder storm. Fork lighting cut through the darkened afternoon clouds - it should have been seen as an omen. My nan had recently discharged herself from hospital in London to come on holiday, and just one or two days into the holiday, she passed away.

We stayed away from the Broads the next year as the memories were just too vivid and I just don't remember coming back for quite some time.

Many years later, after I lost my Mum, my Dad decided to buy a cruiser and get back to enjoying the rivers. This was in 1992 and we spent weeks trawling around boat yards on the Broads looking for a suitable boat; I recall viewing a stunning timber vessel at Percival's in Horning; it was the right price but we (sensibly) went with our head and not our heart and chose something else.

Eventually, we plumped for a Freeman 23 and managed to mix GRP with a classic wooden interior. Sadly, though, the Boat was not on the Broads but on the Ouse in Cambridgeshire. This ended up working well as it was a much shorter journey for my Dad who lived in London and for me as I lived in Bedfordshire. The shorter journey made it easier to use the boat and most weekends in the summer were spent on-board. We never changed the name her and, to this day, our first boat is still in the family. She's looking a little dejected now as most of my time is spent on the Freedom fleet, but she's got a new coat of paint on the hull is looking better than she has for many years. Time permitting, I'll polish the GRP superstructure this year, renew all the window rubbers and maybe even get the fittings re-chromed. Her name?

Dragonfly, of course.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

All hands on deck

After a very busy Easter, things have quietened down a bit but staff illness (and some idleness (taken care of)) is keeping us on our toes.

We've got more people now working on Fair Freedom which, whilst not looking hugely different from before (hence no photos), is progressing nicely again. It's almost ready for a mist-coat of undercoat and final filling, sanding and then the full repaint. Once the gloss is on and dried, we'll start refitting all the windows (some of which have been refurbished) and re-engine her. Refitting of cabins is also underway.

Fleet Improvements
We've recently re-carpeted Rambling Freedom and Real Freedom and plan to do the same with Absolute Freedom and Flight of Freedom in the coming weeks. also put lino in the cockpits of Pure Freedom 1 & 2 and recarpet the cabins also.

Absolute Freedom has had a new CD Radio unit fitted which includes an Aux-in socket for MP3 players (and will play MP3 from CDs too). 

True Freedom has had a brand new cooker installed and Tranquil Freedom was finally finished in time for Easter. The emerging work on Tranquil was quite staggering and really swallowed time. The original plan was for a simple removal of the old galley equipment and cabinets and replacement with new units, cooker, hob and fridge. Well, that was the plan; sadly, unseen leaking windows had damaged hidden fixings and panels and we ended up removing two windows, all the wall panelling, some floors, the entire helm unit and seat and replacing. It's now looking really good - new steering unit and stainless wheel, new control switches and engine control, totally re-laminated to fit in with the new galley colours and, of course, the new galley equipment as previously seen plus a new CD/Radio player as per Absolute Freedom.

New images will be uploaded soon - some IT difficulties have caused various problems over the last couple of weeks and delays in certain areas.

May Deals
We've got a busy May Day bank holiday ahead of us with virtually all the larger cruisers booked and healthy interest in Picnic and Day boats.

Also, there are some great deals to be had for May holiday savings on both boats and cottages.

Boat Sleeps From / To Nights Was Now Save
Sweet Freedom 2 12 - 15 May 3 £316.29 £280 £36.29
Real Freedom 2 8 - 15 May 7 £552 £420 £132
Real Freedom 2 15 - 22 May 7 £552 £420 £132
Song Of Freedom 5 5 - 10 May 5 £370.14 £300 £70.14
Song Of Freedom 5 8 - 15 May 7 £583 £450 £133
Tranquil Freedom 6 8 - 15 May 7 £700 £500 £200
Tranquil Freedom 6 15 - 22 May 7 £700 £500 £200
Fine Freedom 6 8 - 15 May 7 £803 £523 £280
Fine Freedom 6 15 - 22 May 7 £803 £523 £280
Spirit of Freedom 6 8 - 15 May 7 £725 £550 £175
Spirit of Freedom 6 15 - 22 May 7 £725 £550 £175
Flight of Freedom 6 8 - 15 May 7 £772 £572 £200
Absolute Freedom 7 5 - 10 May 5 £491.71 £400 £91.71
Absolute Freedom 7 8 - 15 May 7 £808 £558 £250
True Freedom 7 8 - 15 May 7 £974 £774 £200
True Freedom 7 15 - 22 May 7 £974 £774 £200
Rambling Freedom 8 5 - 10 May 5 £438 £400 £38
Rambling Freedom 8 8 - 15 May 7 £714 £580 £134

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Easter rush

Sorry for the delay between postings - it's been really manic trying to get everything ready for Easter.

Poor decision?

I've tried to be honest and open in my previous blogs and it seems to have got me into trouble. It's always a fine balancing act between what to write and what not to, particularly in relation to what we're doing to our boats and this is where we came unstuck.

Fair Freedom has featured heavily in my text on this blog; how she's been in need of being taken apart and rebuilt and the process of doing this. I made no secret of the enormity of the job which is some we simply didn't appreciate until we started getting her apart; emerging work all so often swallows more time than you ever imagined the job would.

Well, the Easter customer happened to read the blog and emailed in horror as they realised it was their boat. A week before we got that email, we were quiet confident of finishing her off for Easter but as that week went on, we had major problems with engines which just swallowed our time on other boats. This left Fair untouched for the week.

The next week, we had more engine problems with the fleet.

And the next. In all, we've hoiked out four engines in March with each one being stripped and rebuilt - sadly two were too much work for the time allowed and so replacements were sourced.

All this meant that Fair Freedom is still in bits up at Richardson's and our customer was upgraded to True Freedom.

We'll be back on Fair over the next few days.

Test of strength

Easter was a success with an empty boat yard for the first time since the October 2009 half term holiday. Sadly, the weather put paid to walk-up bookings for some of the day boats, but all things considered, we've done well in terms of both getting the fleet ready (though I'd have been happier if we could have done some more polishing) and in terms of the booking levels.

However, it was not without its problems. Quite apart from the occasional engineering call-out which we half expect on the first busy part of the season, our roller iron started blowing the main fuses on Saturday. This is catastrophic; this old-faithfull bit of kit is a king-pin in our laundry system. Replacements cost over £900 and we simply had to have it working for the Monday turn arounds. Luckily, we found the problem and now it's a good as ever, but, for a while, there was panic.

Panic over, it's now 7:15am and time for me to head back to the yard for another day.

Monday, 15 February 2010

To flange or not to flange

Fair Progress - not

Fair Freedom has been the subject of previous blog postings here and work continues on her.

We hi-jacked Clive Richardson's thread about his new cruiser on the Norfolk Broads Forum a week or so back and talked about some aspects of bonding the hull to the superstructure and the different techniques. As part of this discussion, it transpired that people were interested in the kind of work we're doing on Fair Freedom and wanted details and pictures.

Well, you asked for it!

We've done a huge amount to this boat already but feel that we've barely scratched the surfrace. The boat's booked for Easter (eeek!).

The main issues with Fair Freedom are:
  • Poorly repaired damage
  • Damage to bonding between the hull and superstructure
  • Dry Rot
  • Wet Rot
  • Leaky windows
In early 2009, we stripped the rear two cabins to starboard and replaced floor bearers and floors; built a new washbasin cabinet, repositioned the clorifier and aft toilet tank and remodelled the aft cabin from a double to a twin/double conversion. This year, the work is far more extensive.
As part of the work, the entire deck-level rubbing strake has been removed. This is the old-style strake which is a heavy plastic electrical conduit that fits (very awkwardly) over a flange. In removing this from the boat, we found large areas that had already been attended to in the past. Some of the work had probably been done by Richardsons as Clive told us that one of the things that they do with these Bounty's is to cut off the flange (it's part of the original GRP moulding) and replace it with an alimunium one. There are plenty of sections on the boat like this and it certainly seems to be a good idea; the flange itself seems to be a really vulnerable part of the moulding. Some effort was made previously to strengthen this as the flange itself is packed full of some kind of epoxy filler, much of which has broken away.

The overall problem with this kind of joint between the top and bottom mouldings is that the external elements are prone to damage. As the top and bottom flanges take knocks, the GRP weakens, the joint flexes and moisture creeps in. That's not to say that this is the only bonding between the two halves; it's not. There's also a GRP mat bonding inside the mouldings.

The problem is that as the joint flexes and lets moisture in, the gel coat also cracks and allows that moisture to seep into the GRP layup. One of the interesting things about GRP is that it is not waterproof - only the gel coat is. So, as the gel cracks, water gets in and over time starts to separate the GRP matting. Only in extreme cases is this really a problem; when laying up the original mouldings, the GRP tends to be layered whilst the previous one is still tacky. This "wet edge" technique gives a better bond between the layers which would find it very had to separate. However, when you're bonding the two halves, all the GRP will have set hard and so the new bond you make won't be quite as strong - this is unavoidable.

Now, add to this the perpetual ingress of water into this joint and the occasional flexing from some fool ramming the quay heading. The net result is lasting damage that will simply get worse even if it never took a knock again. Welcome to our world.

Ricko's idea of taking the GRP flanges off is sound and it's one that we'll probably follow all around the boat. It does mean grinding it all off, rebonding everything inside and then completely filling all external cavities with GRP strand, sanding down and re-gelling the whole bond.
What we plan to do after this is (if funds allow) totally discard the old rubbing strake and replace it with new rubber D section all the way around. I say "if funds allow"; this stuff is expensive at around £13 per metre - we need about 40 metres.

It's now a toss-up between refitting what we have and making a better job of it or doing the job properly. Handling the existing rubbing strake material is a real nightmare - it's very difficult to work with, is a plyable as a brick and damn heavy to boot. Will we spend almost as much time and effort in refitting the old stuff as we would in doing the job properly? We think it's a close-run thing. My preferance would be to renew all round but the additional cost will impact on other planned works.

We'll let you know what we decide. Meanwhile, here's a selection of images of the work.

There's two initial layers of mat, followed by a line of foam stripping which we hope will provide some shock proofing and additional strength. Over this, there's another four layers of mat. 

An example of an old repair. This gaping crack is in the underside of the front starboard deck just in front of the front window.

It was originally bridged by a plate of plywood and was simply bolted through from the deck and glassed over, you can see the bolts where we're ground them off. This will be relaminated shortly on the inside using the same foam technique as on the bonding. Once this is all cured, we'll expose the crack from the top, clean it all up, fill it, glass it and re-gel it. Sadly, there are plenty more of these kinds of repairs.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

When the dust has settled

Most of our time this week has been spent on Fair Freedom.

This old lady has had a tough life. I'm not sure of her full heritage but she was part of the Benson fleet on the Thames for some years and was haulled back up to Norfolk and put to work as part of Horning Pleasurecraft, later being sold to Woodsdkye Boatyard.

Freedom bought the vessel from Ferry Marina in 2008 (Len Funnell having bought Woodsdyke's site and fleet in late 2007).

It was one of our best decisions that year; Fair Freedom is a remarkably popular vessel that's well priced.

However, she's now showing real signs of abuse and it's time for open-hull surgery and a partial refit of the saloon area.

This week we've stripped out the saloon to bare grp. Floor boards are being replaced, new cabinetry will be fitted and remaining surfaces will be overhaulled.

The entire vessel is to be repainted and all the windows are being removed to assist in this and to ensure that a good, water-tight seal is put in place upon refitting.

The front of this 44ft boat can take a real pounding and so far we've completely replaced the bonding that holds the superstructure to the hull from the helm position forward to the bow. Ventilation will be put into the hull along both port and starboard sides to cut down on condensation (I can't believe that it wasn't there before).

We have other plans for improvements too but we'll have to see where costs of repairing her end before we commit to things like 240v systems, flat screen TVs and so on. She is, afterall, on of the lowest priced 10 berth boats on the Broads.....

Some pictures next time.....

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Four Seasons in one day

10% Discount ends 31st January

If you've not yet booked, please note that our 10% summer holiday discount offer ends on the 31st January.

Time has very nearly run out.

Full details on our web site:

Four Seasons.....

Friday 29th Jan and the weather simply won't make up its mind. One minute it's grey and spitting. Sixty seconds on and it's a hail storm and then the pelting of the ice slows on our roof and we can hear again but now it's snowing. 15 minutes late and it's a brilliant sunny day.

This pattern seemed to be repeated throughout the whole day and, finally, overnight we had more snow. I awoke to this view from my office at home - anyone who knows the area well will probably be able to work out where this is.

This is such a far cry from the weather on Tuesday afternoon which was just glorious for a winter's day. I was taking Fine Freedom up to Stalham for much needed winter work and couldn't resist a few shots on the Ant.

Not so Fair Freedom

Fair Freedom is in a bit of a state now. Last year, it being our first real season on our own, we had very limited funding in the winter and only did the absolute minmum of work to this boat which has held together very well overall. January/February 2009 saw us ripping out the rear two cabins to deal with rotting floor timbers and bearers. In the process, we refitted the rear cabin as a twin/double conversion rather than the fixed double that it was when we bought the boat, giving the vessel more flexibility for cruising parties.

This year the task is equally mammoth with knocks all around the gunnels that need grinding out, strengtheninig and repairing. Half the problem is the lack of care that hirers have over this kind of craft; it's a budget boat that's 44ft long, steers from the front and houses up to 10 people.... Out of all the vessels we have, in the "I couldn't careless, it's not my boat" stakes, Fair scores the highest.

I'm off to the shed later to continue the work else we may never get it ready for Easter!

Tranquil Progress

Tranquil has progressed rather well since my last post, but, as is often the case, the job had got bigger due to "emerging work".

The new worktop was cut and profilled a week or two back and prefitted but in doing so, we noticed that the laminates on the wall were rather looser that we first thought. So, we decided the best approach would be to replace them. Once off, it became apparent that the window frames were leaking and that the plywood wall substrates were rotting - oh joy.

Further investigation found that the forward window was in a similar condition. So, now, both windows have to come out, the ply wood walling needs replacing and relaminating and in doing all this, we've also decided to relaminate part of the helm assembly too to pull together that whole side of the boat, visually updating it.

On Wednesday we also noticed a collection of icicles running down the galley headlinings so a large portion of the ceiling is now down too trying to find the source!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Stagnant - recut teaser video

Just a quick post to say that the chaps at Fear Driven Films have recut their teaser video for the anticipated film set on the Norfolk Broads. You can view it now on their Facebook page.

The facebook page is:

Fear Driven's web site is:

Thursday, 14 January 2010

That sinking feeling

The ferry's out and the problem seems to be as we thought.

The propellor clomped a few bits of ice the other day and it seems to have pushed the shaft a little up the tube and fractured the fibreglass where the sterntube comes through the hull.

Thankfully, a relatively minor problem and a simple repair.

First (only?) casualty of winter

Yesterday, we arrived at the yard to find our ferry boat sitting on the bottom, sunk.

Thankfully, it was in our slipway so she wasn't flodded over the gunnels and so the salvage pump was put to work. Well, I say work.....

We spent most of the morning trying to get the wretched thing to actually prime up and pump. It's always been a bit tempremental, but today it was being little more than a waste of petrol. Finally, we fitted a transparent header tank to the pump body and it became apparent what was wrong; it was drawing in air - lots of it. Some investigation later and we found that the hose clip on the inlet was just a tad loose. It was one of those wire ones that came with it and we flet it better to replace it with two Juliblee clips. It wasn't very loose, but it was amazing just how much air it was pulling. Certainly more than enough to stop the pump from working. Well, another lesson learned.

Once it wasn't drawing air again, this baby emptied most of the water from the boat in just a couple of minutes. However, the problem with a 3 inch water pump is that it can't pump water if it's less than 3 inches deep (3 inches is the bore of the suction hose) and trying to manouvre a spiral reinforced suction hose around to get the hose flat on to water isn't easy. So, with most of the water out and it's back to the 3/4 inch bilge pump which also kept it afloat overnight.

So, what caused it? We don't know yet, it's got to be something to do with us using her to break the ice on Woods Dyke on Tuesday in preparation for this weekend's bookings. She's being lifted this afternoon so we'll know more later. We are hoping that the stern tube has been knocked by ice and fractured the joint with the hull. Fingers crossed.


We've reorganised some of our storage space this week too. The life jacket store has been moved and we've taken down the wall between engineering and the old life jacket store to enlarge our engineering space. It may only be another five foot, but it's made all the difference. We've now got space to properly work on engines and we're also gearing up for working on outboards more efficiently. We've been servicing a 60hp unit recently for a Cromer fisherman and look forward to establishing ourselves as a major player in the outboard engineering field locally. 

Things are looking up

On the plus side, bookings are doing quite well. Rambling Freedom is proving to be a very popular boat this year - there's just one August week left now. We've also got a few more out-of-season bookings and enquiries, though, sadly due to the weather, we've had to put a few people off and postpone one holiday already. Hopefully the 7 degrees that are forecast for Saturday will see the end of the ice and snow.

Cottage holidays are selling well too as the booking season takes hold.
The Old Post Office has got a February booking and is so far, the most popular of all our cottages this year. This is quite unusual as the chocolate box Garth Cottage normall ytakes that position, regardless of the season.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Still Cold.

There was yet another blanket of snow awaiting us yesterday as we went into work.

The yard is frozen in - ice seems to be getting thicker and with the additional snow each evening (it seems to be each evening now), we'll soon be needing waders again to cross the carpark.

Here's a shot of the large chunks of ice that I pulled out of the ferry boat on Thursday and threw onto the frozen dyke. You can see why the ferry service has been suspended....

Galley Fever

Work continued on the galley in Tranquil. Here you can see the old cabinets having been ejected from within with some of the old framing on top. Waste-not-want-not, we're reusing some of  this timber for supports, battening and so on.

Progress always seems slow when we're in the throws of a project, but in reality, it's going quite well.

We've now got all the cabinets in place, leveled and properly fixed. The new new oven has been pre-fitted and a new power line is in for the oven igniter/light and new fridge. The next big job is to fit the new worksurface.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Ferry Service - Suspended.

The yard was closed yesterday as too few people were able to get there safely. However, we've been waiting for a fuel delivery for over a week now and I arranged to go in to meet the tanker. I got there on time along easily passable roads and found the tanker delivering to ANH on the other side of the dyke.

With my little dog, Ollie in tow, we waited and watched, and waited and watched for what seemed like 30 minutes. Now, I know that ANH has a large fuel tank, but 30 minutes?

Then they started recoiling the delivery hose and the tanker left. I assumed it was coming to me next. 10 minutes later, nothing. So, we called the supplier only to be told that the tanker's pump had broken! Great - that's two hours wasted.

Still, the wait gave me an opportunity to start bailing out our ferry boat which is open to the elements. The huge amount of snow had caused it to sit a good six inches lower in the water and much of it was now ice. Naturally, I'd forgotten to take my phone or camera with me so there's no evidence of this, but I was removing sheets of ice from the floor of the boat that was one and a half inches thick. Breaking the ice around the boat showed the water in the dyke to be at least two inches thick and that's just around the boat.

Needless to say, the ferry service has been suspended until the ice has gone.

Galley Fever

Tranquil's galley is making progress.

We've got all the old cabinets out and are in the process of fitting the new units. So far, there's been very little modification required and it's going in quite nicely.




More work will be done today and pics posted shortly.


Thursday, 7 January 2010

Taking a Punt

Terry asked to see images of our 1932 Motorised Punt. Here she is

She was built by T Timms of Oxford and is believed to be one of only two made. It's powered by a Stuart Turner 2-stroke petrol engine which chugs away nicely and is really easy to get going (which isn't a common trait of these old engines).

There's a side mounted steering wheel that uses a rack and pinion gear to control the rudder and there's also a small tiller.

As you can see, there's a nice sun-shade canopy which also extends to cover the entire vessel to make it a camping-punt.

It's remarkably stable too and just glides through the water with barely a ripple.

We did hope to put her out as a charter vessel in the summer for romantic picnics and so on but really don't know what the market will stand in terms of pricing. Perhaps followers might make some suggestions.

I'll also sell her if the price is right. We've got quite a lot of history on her including the identity of a past owner who was once very famous.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

January Hardship

January 2010 and one day already gone.

Amidst the the freezing pipes, icy water, frozen carpark and cold, cold office, we set to work. One of our number is off for a couple of weeks to warmer places bringing our workforce down.

January's work consists of ripping out the galley in Tranquil Freedom ready for new cabinets and appliances, some private work on a customer's 75Hp Outboard (gearbox seals all gone!), trying to get our 2010 brochure complete (Quark Xpress has failed on me!) and reorganising some of the yard to get us additional engineering space.

We also plan to launch the private boat in the shed which has had a full hull repaint and, time willing, get our 1932 motorised punt tidied up a little. Still not sure what we're going to do with this cute vessel - if anyone's interested in buying, do drop me a line