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.