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.