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Part 7 - Plans for Summer (2003)

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Felixstowe, January 2003

“Well, here we go again.”

For the second time in my life, I am standing at the beginning of a new year, cheque book in hand, looking ahead at another summer afloat.

I’ve just had an offer accepted on a beautiful little yacht, a 22 foot Itchen Ferry, and am again planning to meander off into the cool waters of the English Channel, and the hopefully warmer (but grubbier) waters of those French canals. Her name - at least for the moment - is Hatcher, an odd one, and I’ll try to see what is behind it.
At present, as yet without benefit of survey, she looks very attractive and very, very well equipped. Once we’ve had a bit more of a grovel around, and the survey has been carried out, I don’t expect to have too much more to do - this little yacht seems to have been seriously well looked-after.

So what’s the plan ? As previous-page readers will know, I tend not to be too good on plans - or I make them, and then do something completely different.

And in the few weeks between writing the above and this lot, things have changed again!

Hatcher’s owner and I had a chat about the engine, and as a result, her survey was cancelled, and I received my cheque back in the post! It appeared that the engine had an interesting problem, in that it required two people to start it — one on the button, at the back end of the cockpit, and one on the EasyStart... This kind of thing worries me as a frequent single-hander, and a chat with the local Yanmar dealer really wasn’t too reassuring. He was confident of fixing virtually any problem with the little beast,but with the possible costs between £500 and £1000, and the owner not keen to budge himself on price, I decided that I was already paying top wack for the boat, and that enough was enough.

Of course, this left me in an interesting condition regarding one of those floaty things, and the year’s clock ticking by. Looking at survey delays of about 3 weeks, and finding a boat that specifically suited my needs, made me feel a little pressured, and we - that’s Dot and I, who’ve been an item for 15 months now - started talking about alternative propositions.

The ultimate fallback position, of course, was to buy a cheap tent, shove it in the back of my old Ford Escort, and head south. However, I’d prefer to do something boaty if I could, with a bit more comfort, so I started looking around again and thinking about what alternatives we had.

One of the things I thought about last autumn was putting a little motor boat on the French canals; one of the ladies at work was heavily involved in the transport business, and she said we could get something of under thirty feet over the channel for a couple of hundred pounds on the back of a flat-bed truck. We pursued that thought for a while, and started looking at small canal and river cruisers, eventually arriving at the web site of the Wilderness Boat Owners Club.

These quirky GRP boats tickled our fancies, and we travelled out to the wilds of Corsham, Wiltshire, to take a look at them in their home environment with Ian Graham, who was their original designer and builder. It was an accidental journey — we started out with a night in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then phoned Ian in to time to drive south. We liked the boats very much and were inclined to buy one — but there was nothing immediately available.

A couple of weekends later, we drove over to Bristol on a slightly miserable Sunday morning, and spent an enjoyable afternoon inspecting the 23ft Beaver and having a bob-around on Bristol’s really interesting Floating Harbour. The owner, a trucker named Mick, was a friendly host, but when we rung Ian Graham, he told me that someone who’d seen the boat the morning had offered the asking price. . . Not a major blow, we liked it well enough, but not sufficiently for the loss of it worry us too much.

We spent a cheery evening and overnight with a friend of Dot’s, and on the Monday, travelled up the Thames Valley, trying to find a boat or two that actually hadn’t been sold. Then we headed north up the Ml motorway, toward Northamptonshire. We stopped at Braunston, a well-known canal centre, finding a room in a large but surprisingly cheery pub/hotel/carvery there, which seemed to be staffed entirely by people under 25. They were friendly, very cheerful, and did an excellent job of looking after their guests. We had a late afternoon stroll along the cut and enjoyed a chat about fridges with the friendly bloke in the chandlery.

But we didn’t find a boat.

The next morning, Tuesday, we set out for Northampton, our last port of call on this particular merry-go-round. We got to Billing Aquadrome by about 10.30, and by 12.00 noon had written the deposit cheque for Catcho, a GRP Viking 26 stern cockpit cruiser with a 9.9 Yamaha outboard, only a couple of years old.

It was more than I had intended to pay, but the whole kit was very presentable and smartly kept, and I felt very comfortable with it. Guided by the broker, Brian Yates, we had a trip around the marina’s open water, and got a reasonable grip of the boat’s handling characteristics — it is purely steered through the outboard with no additional rudder or deflector fitted, so using just prop thrust will be the order of the day. However, unlike some plastic canal boats, the Viking designs do have distinct keels, which seems to give them reasonably reliable directional stability — they keep going straight, and you can take your hand off the wheel for a decent period of time.

My sister's partner, Frank, and I drove over to Northampton on this Monday (3rd March) and had a little ramble along the river, just managing to slip under the local bridges without problem - what a lovely little boat we seem to have bought.

So that is the state of play at the moment. We’ve bought a boat, it seems pretty reasonable, and it has an engine that seems to be fine. And this year, we’ll spend a few months meandering around the English canals, and let you know where we get to, and how we get along!

© Christopher E. Gosling, January 2003

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