Sunday, 16 February 2020

Wild Weather

As we begin to recover from another stormy weekend, I am led to think about how to make the best of a bad weather weekend away from home. Indeed, it’s a hard one for me as I tend to shy away from venturing out in unsettled weather, but there are plenty of people who are more than prepared to do so.

Bad weather whilst being holed up in a boat, caravan or motor home is something you sometimes have to get used to or simply be prepared for. Last year, I wasn’t remotely prepared for two days of rain whilst at a festival and simply spent most of my time in the motorhome rather than getting out and enjoying the music. I moped about and had a thoroughly miserable time. It was mid-summer for crying out loud!

First Boats of 2020

This weekend sees the first holiday cruisers of 2020 on hire for us at Freedom Boats. Of course, with gale-force winds, the instructions to all those on boats was to moor-up safely away from trees and wait-out the storm; if there’s a pub and other facilities nearby, all the better!

But what do you do all day?

There’s the TV of course, but in bad weather, putting a TV aerial up on the roof is inviting trouble. But also, the chances of signal interruption increases too. At home, we couldn’t watch BBC1 last night as the signal quality was awful. DVDs then. A good few films will while away the time faster than you could appreciate.

Of course, most people have phones and tablets for entertainment these days, but these tend to be  more isolating rather than inclusive (though, to my mind, it’s not always so different to watching a group of people in a library just reading and interacting only when someone coughs and then only with a tut or an icy stare).

Card games are always good for inclusion and there are hundreds of options with a standard pack of cards alone. Other generic games like UNO and Dobble are favourites amongst our children; particularly our eldest who’s ability to see the contents of a Dobble card almost instantly is legendary; how she does it I have no idea but she usually clears up at least twice as fast as anybody else. If you haven’t see Dobble, they are circular cards with icons in various sizes; the idea is to match the card you are holding with the card face up on the pack; sounds easy but it seems, at least to this father, it is a game for young people or at least those who have retained all their faculties.

Jigsaws are another option, but the size of them makes it harder on a boat as there is restricted room. Perhaps one of those mats that allows you to roll the jigsaw up would help. Books are an obvious one and why not have a good read?

You could, of course, just roll into the pub and enjoy the hospitality and each-other’s company for the afternoon. Teas and coffees are on offer along with beers, wines and spirits and many pubs also have real fires to enjoy too.

Just Explore

A rainy day doesn’t stop you exploring either. Head out in decent wet-weather gear and go for a walk. If you’re near a bus stop or railway station, get a ticket to Norwich or Great Yarmouth and explore here too. Norwich is a great place to visit with its fabulous undercover market which has been held on the same site for over 900 years and is thought to be one of the oldest in Europe. The Norwich Lanes hide a wealth of independent shops and one of the retail operators in the country, way surpassing the likes of M&S and Sainsburys. Jarrolds, is celebrating 250 years in business in 2020. Of course, there’s also museums, cinemas, cathedrals and an incredible Norman castle sitting high on a mound looking over the city. Sadly, Norwich is often ignored by boaters; it absolutely should not be.

Great Yarmouth is the second largest seaside resort in the UK (Blackpool being the bigger). Its promenade offers the usual seaside fayre, there’s a pier, great beaches (though probably not so great in the rain), decent shopping, cinemas, a circus (I kid you not, the Hippodrome is a real jewel) and a few very good museums with the Time and Tide charting the town’s history, especially as a major fishing port and is housed in one of the few remaining herring smoke houses that used to litter the town. There’s Anna Sewell's house (the author of Black Beauty) which is currently a "Cakery", a historic museum ship in the Lydia Eva and a Theatre too. Incidentally, Black Beauty was first published by John Jarrold Printing in Norwich in 1877.


Very windy days will prevent navigation on safety grounds, but rain shouldn’t so why not just make a rainy day part of your journey and head off to another location; maybe another pub stop for the night.

Really, like any other situation, bad weather just takes a bit of preparation and planning. If you’re like me at a festival and see only the downsides of the situation, you’re probably destined to be bored, maybe even a killjoy. Watch the forecasts, pack accordingly and just go with the flow.

Your turn

What ideas to you have for enjoying rainy days on a boating holiday?

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Winter Boat Hire on the Norfolk Broads

Why would anybody want to have a Norfolk boating holiday in winter? 

It’s a curious question and not unlike others, such as, why do some people like Marmite or why is it always only the Toffee Coins left in a box of Quality Street.

Not everybody is the same. As I write this, Storm Ciara is battering my home on one of the few hills on the Norfolk Broads and being three storeys up also makes me very happy for our central heating. I toyed with the idea of doing a video blog earlier. I thought about going down by the river with the camera but I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to get dressed up in warm clothes, lace up the walking boots and drag my sorry backside out of the door; it’s just too uninviting outside today.

However, I have heard plenty of people passing the house and have even seen videos from Robin Shepard on Facebook down at Gorleston Pier at 8am showing me moving pictures of why I prefer to be indoors today.

Whilst Robin and many others are quite happy to get out there, I am not and this simply serves to highlight how different we all are.

Our winters have certainly become milder over the last few years and, apart from a blip two years ago when the Beast from the East left snowdrifts for three or more weeks, we have seen very little very cold weather recently (though it doesn’t stop my teenage children from moaning how cold it is outside despite the mercury reading eight or more degrees). 

A question of demand

Thurne Mill at Sunset - Feb 7th 2020
The actual dates of winter (and other seasons, I guess) often confuse people. Around these parts, Winter begins on the 22nd December and ends on the 20th March, or there abouts depending on the year. So, February is technically mid-winter (in astronomical terms) but it is generally this month that sees the demand for winter holidays pick up. By way of illustration, I was at Thurne Mill just a couple of sunsets ago and there were three hire boats moored up when I arrived and a further two cruised in before I left. If you think about it, that’s quite busy for an out-of-season mid-week.

Freedom’s cruiser bookings start this year at the end of next week with four boats booked and we have already sent our first day hire boats of 2020 out yesterday. I believe I am right in saying that we are the only yard on the Southern Broads to offer Winter Boating Holidays. I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong, but with so few of us left down south, it’s quite easy to keep up. 

But what’s the attraction of Winter?

Leaving today aside (which has turned into a monsoon, let me tell you),  there are a few key features to an out-of-season Broads Boating Holiday:

In no particular order:
  • Cost. February and March are typically the cheapest time you can have a boating break on the Broads
  • Wildlife. The Broads is the UK’s largest wetland area and attracts many migrants that you simply can’t see during the Summer as they simply aren’t here. Other species also appear that are more hidden during times of more human activity.
  • Weather. As already explored, not everybody is put off by the fact that the temperature isn’t in double figures. And, it’s not always cold either.
  • Solitude: you just can’t beat. Whilst there might have been five hire boats in Thurne dyke one evening this week, that’s a fraction of the actual capacity of that inlet which is usually heaving in summer, so much so that spaces are rarely available after 3pm.

Waking up at a mooring with absolutely nobody else about is wonderful. It is truly magical if there’s fresh snowfall too; the only footprints being those of animals. The header image of this blog really conveys this, I think. This was a February morning in 2019 with a stunning sunrise. The absolute peace and quiet of a winter on the river with nobody else around is unbeatable and virtually unattainable during Spring, Summer and Autumn when there’s always someone around.

Winter considerations

Winter holidays do pose more problems to a hire boatyard. The key one is power; as the days are shorter and colder, there is a bigger demand for power for lighting and heating and so the risks of customers running batteries down increases. There’s also the possibility that people will want to cruise after sunset as the days are short; this, if you didn’t know, is illegal.   

Our main restriction is that during Greenwich Mean Time, we don’t allow boats to turn north at Reedham or St Olaves to gain access to Burgh Castle, Berney Arms, Yarmouth and so on. We are often asked why this is and the answer is quite simple; Safety and Access. If you run into any kind of problem around in these hard-to-get-at places, our ability to get to you is significantly decreased as there are just so few boats out there to help.  Also, we are typically subjected to stronger tides with bigger highs and lower lows.

What about a Christmas holiday?

Each year, we have to fend off a number of enquiries for Christmas and New Year boat hire. I guess we could probably have half the fleet out if we were prepared to open; which we are not. For a small boat hire business, the main boating season is a full-on work-fest of cleaning, repairs, maintenance and other related tasks. We simply have to stop some time so that we can carry out big repairs, paint boats and so on. And, crucially, we also need get a decent holiday of our own. Sorry folks, but we will not hire holiday cruisers in December or January though we may offer day boats depending on the situation at the boatyard.

Oh, and the Quality Street Toffee Coins? Traditionally, we left them for my Grandad who loved them and made us all laugh when they stuck to his false teeth.

You can reserve a holiday directly off our web site:

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Ready for a rut - the role of stag and hen parties on the Norfolk Broads

Why Stag and Hen Parties are important to the hireboat industry.

Stag Each year you will see people moaning on social media about a group of men on a boat having fun. Sometimes that fun is at the cost of someone else’s enjoyment, probably by bad behaviour and occasionally through being drunk in charge of a vessel.

You rarely read the stories about the 20 or more groups of people that go out most spring and summer weekends from the likes of Herbert Woods, Richardsons, Barnes and ourselves at Freedom who cause no problems whatsoever and who are thoroughly nice, normal people. The fact is that nobody wants to hear about normal; abnormal is what makes us get on our soap-boxes 

In fact, reading some facebook groups, forums and such might have you believe that the Broads is awash with badly behaved people hiring boats and getting up the hooters of others. This isn’t the case at all and, in the grand scheme of things, it’s fair to say that Stag and Hen groups cause relatively few problems on the waterways and in the pubs.
I would argue that rather than malign these groups, we need to embrace them. My experience of hiring boats to these groups for over a decade is that they are generally courteous, decent people looking to create a memorable celebration for a friend. They are rarely yobs but more commonly respectable people and the Broads needs them just as much as it needs family groups.

The boat yards need parties of people to hire their larger boats and these groups are typically away with friends for a weekend away; rarely are they particularly large family groups. Stags and Hens generally keep our larger boats in regular use and are responsible for a not insignificant amount of revenue.

The pubs and restaurants need them too. A round of drinks for 10 people will come to at least £40 and a sit-down meal will produce vital revenue that a seasonal business needs to survive and be there for seasons to come.

The Broads needs them too. A huge number of people visiting the Broads in a group have been before – as children. Their memories of childhood holidays on a boat are brought to the fore and the likelihood of them coming back with their families increases.

We are all guilty

It is easy to sit back and have a moan about a rowdy crowd; we have all done it. But how many times have you done the same about a couple of children who are running around without any parental guidance? What’s the difference?

You might say that the children don’t know any better and are just being children; you might be right. However, the parents should know a lot better and for whatever reason aren’t properly looking after their offspring. But here’s the crux of the argument; you don’t see people making a point on Facebook about this or local newspaper headlines like “twins, aged 11 and 13, run amok at the Saddlers Arms” (that’s the kind of journalism we have come to know in these parts, by the way). 

I think people choose to malign Stag and Hen parties because they are easy targets. Some of us have forgotten how to have fun (and I think some of us never really learned). Some of us are always looking for peace and quiet and don’t want to be disturbed. Some of us want to have a good time and are vocal about doing so. In this world, we can’t please everybody all of the time and as much as many of us try, letting our hair down occasionally is always likely to have a negative effect on someone. That is a fact of life and just because you are on holiday, it doesn’t give you a right as such. Life is about a bit of give and take, surely.  

There are, of course, lines that shouldn’t be crossed and when they are, steps need to be taken to curb bad behaviour and they are. Did you know that Broads Beat asks all boatyards to inform them of stag, hen and single-sex parties arriving for boats? Or that most boatyards take a significant deposit from such groups? These measures are mostly precautionary but give the law enforcers a head’s up should anything go wrong.

What’s more, as a company, we want to know about bad behaviour. There have been many cases where we have intervened and re-read the rule book to people that have strayed into areas of unacceptable behaviour and do you know what? Most of these cases involve family groups or others that you would not necessarily expect, rather than Stags and Hens.

If you are organising a Hen or Stag party, we have some Hen and Stag Party guidelines on our web site that you should take a look at.

Your views and comments are welcome as ever. 

Stag image credit:  Tj Holowaychuk

Friday, 24 January 2020

Walking Pace is flawed


Calculating your speed in a boat is challenging, especially if you’re not used to it. What’s worse is that there are many written resources out there that will throw you off too. For instance, you’re likely to read elsewhere that you travel at walking pace. The Broads Authority suggests this, so it must be right, right?

I have a counter argument to this idea of travelling at walking page.

I am sure this is the advice given in many places as it’s a relatively simple thing to understand. However, I am not sure it’s too helpful. Whereas this might be an easy to thing to understand comprehend (everybody understands walking pace, right?), it is important to fully recognise that  walking pace is very individual.

We are all individual (rip Terry Jones)

An average fit 20 year old walks about 75% faster than the average 80 year old. In general, if you assume that you walk at between 2-3mph, you’re not going to be far out. But, even this 1mph difference gives a margin of being a third faster or slower. Step onto a boat, cast off and you now have an additional problem of judgement because you are invariably looking at a reference point on the bank as it’s the only fixed thing to compare. That reference is a number of metres away so parallax issues creep in too.

I have heard some people argue that that the difference between 2 and 4mph is negligible anyway, but you would be wrong. It might be slow, but 4mph is double 2mph – that’s 100% faster. Expressed like this and you begin to see the importance. And for the record, it’s usually those people I have had reported to me for speeding that make these and other claims (your honour).

The effects of speed

Speed has a direct correlation with wash. The faster you spin the propeller, the more it digs the rear of the boat into the water, the more turbulence is created and the greater the wash. Wash has many important factors that are environmentally bad; a heavy wash will cause bank erosion, it upsets other river users (just imagine spilling boiling water all over yourself as some plank hurtles past you whist you’re making tea), causes damage to boats and can kill wildlife. This might sound fanciful, but consider the possibilities of wash causing eggs to fall from nests, Kingfisher nests being flooded with helpless young inside and so on.
More than ever, we have a responsibility to look after our environment and by committing fewer selfish acts like speeding on the Broads, we are all doing out bit.

How to properly measure speed.

Historically, hire boats have been fitted with a plaque at the helm that gives you am idea of the speed when the engine is doing specific speeds as shown on the rev counter. Historically, this was about the best measure that was necessary and it still works today. It is arguably much better than the idea of gauging walking pace to my way of thinking. But still, it is of course, prone to considerable error, particularly if you are being pushed along by a 3mph current and have the revs set at what the plaque tells you is 6mph. You’re probably doing 8, that’s a 25% increase.

These days, there is no excuse. Your smart phone will have a full GPS receiver built in to it (I don’t think there has been a smartphone device since the introduction of the iPhone 3G in 2008 that hasn’t). What’s a little more difficult though is finding an app that is capable of measuring such low speeds because many road-based mapping systems aren’t concerned with anything below 5mph.

The Map view of Aweigh App on Android
Aweigh - Map View
There are a number of apps that are designed for boating though. Until recently, we were recommending Sail Droid for Android devices. But in summer 2019 a killer app was launched for Norfolk Broads boaters and that app is Aweigh.

Up, up and Aweigh. 

So, what makes this the best app for your boating holiday? The key attraction is that it is actually designed for the Norfolk Broads. It shows where you are on a live map, gives you tide data (for the current day only), emergency numbers should you need them, access to What Three Words and, crucially for this blog, your current speed.

Download it and become familiar with its simple user interface before you arrive on holiday and you won’t have any rangers waving speed paddles at you or pulling you over for a quiet word….  

Aweigh is available in the App Store and Google Play and is entirely free to download. It comes highly recommended.

The current environmental data view of Aweigh on Android
Aweigh - environmental data
And, if you are wondering over the spelling, it isn't some random cleverness on the part of the developer; it is a naultical term referencing the anchor of a vessel. Most of us would have heard Hollywood captains giving the instruction to "weigh anchor", but fewer would have seen this written. To Weigh Anchor means to begin to raise the anchor and so begin a voyage. At the point that the anchor is free of the sea or river bed, it is said to be aweigh

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.

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.