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  1. Day One: For some months now I have been having a growing number of subscribers on You Tube lamenting the 'good old' Captain's Blog's. It is all well and good owning boats and charting your adventures and life with them, but what about the hire boats they have said? The reviews and general blogging the day as it happens seems to be missed so it is time to come back for the first such trip this season. While Shiela and I were away in Whitby for a holiday away from all things boating, I began to look at the boatyards websites to see if there was any deals to be had since I can be taken away only for so long these days from the pull of the water and boats. With the fact Shiela would be with me, it opened up the possibility of yards previously out of bounds to solo helms like myself (and of course Richardson's have stopped allowing that too now) so we were looking for something a little different and first looked at Faircraft Loynes and Horning Ferry Marina - but the prices were pretty steep, Zircon Emblem, though very nice and new was over a £1,000.00 just for a 3 night break! I was told to go for something not too fancy, but comfortable. It could not be a 'bath tub' and needed a decent sized shower. I got looking at Herbert Woods and before long, just two days before we would be arriving in Norfolk the boat was duly booked - Western Light was the chosen craft. Now I have always wanted to go on one of these 'classic' boats formally of Connoisseur Cruisers yet never have had the chance previously so this would make an ideal opportunity. It was £527.00 all in and so having come back from Yorkshire on Thursday evening we had a rapid turn around in London before heading to Norwich the following day. We arrived early and headed to Morrisons via B&M (think Lathams on an industrial scale) both of which were not much of a walk from the station and used this time to buy a bunch of shopping and other items and duly looked at the end of it as if we were spending a fortnight afloat with a 6 man crew. Taxi duly ordered it was off to Potter Heigham and away from the temptation of more shopping! We arrived at Herbert Woods and the reception team were very helpful and pleasant to deal with and said the boat was ready for taking over and was on A Section. We were handed a folder and our paper work and headed off to A Section to board the boat prior to finding our man to do the formal take over. We could not locate the boat anywhere though! I then left Shiela with the shopping, suitcases and Herbert Woods own trolley full of things to find someone to help show us to the boat - but here we ran into the first bit of red tape. You see I could not get shown to the boat unless I had the paperwork and got my life jackets, and the paper work was with Shiela. Back I walked to where she was waiting and she and I complete with all out stuff then made our way to the 'hut' where one collects life jackets from. However, the fact we now had caused some congestion with our suitcases, shopping and trolley with the cleaning carts and staff meant the first rule was over ridden by another chap who said he would just take us to the boat. We headed to down towards the car park and to another section - over on the side of the yard where the boats are up for sale. Since some of the way was gravel, it was not possible to pull the suitcases through this, so another trolley was found and the suitcases loaded into this before we carried on. By this point I was feeling like I was causing such a circus in the place. We got on the boat and began to unpack the shopping, dropped the suitcases in the cabin and then we both went off to the hut back at A Section to collect the life jackets and there, another chap said he would come over and do the hand over. He used to work at Brooms, and was keen to hear about Independence and being a Trader 535 Sunliner. How did she handle and what engines she had and so on. I thought we might get let off with an easy hand over but no, first we had no mop, then we had a missing fender, and a port head rope. With these sorted out (just taken off boats to the left and right of us) it was time to go through the boats systems - the basic stuff. How to turn the water pump on and off, gas taps etc. What I did find a real shame was a gentleman with clearly a great deal of experience in boating having to 'go by the company policy' and tell us things that he and I knew were frankly nonsense. Examples we were told were: You could not run the heater for more than 2 hours, and if you wished to you must run your engine for 20 minutes for each additional hour's use. (Now people who moan about hire boaters running engines this could be where it is coming from). That once the voltage gauge showed 14v our batteries were fully charged, that if we hit any other boat or were hit by someone else, we should not worry and not admit anything and just take a note of the reg number and call the office who would sort it all out for us. You get the idea. Once this was complete, and a checklist of items was gone over and I countersigned I guessed it would be out and away on our travels, but no back to the company policy - we were not allowed to take the boat out of the berth alone. This I was told was in case we hit another boat in the Marina which seemed funny, as if once out on the main river hitting other boats no longer became so much of a worry to them. I just went along with it all and let him do the steering and I did the ropes. We were let go just by the bridge and entrance to Herbert Woods and I immediately gave Shiela the wheel lol and all liability to her (okay not true as I was the actual named hirer). Both of us had been suffering for a terrible cold and cough during our week away in Yorkshire, and as I sit and write this up now I still have the remnants of the cough even now, as does Shiela too. This did not so much put a dampener on things but would have been nice to have felt and sounded 'normal'. We decided that we ought to go for a bit of a run for we had no idea how long the boat had been left and with no shore power what state of charge the batteries had. Why not see how full Ranworth Staithe would be? So Shiela helmed all the way there - although she still point blank refuses to attempt any form of mooring. We arrived at Ranworth and found the Staithe was not too full - and once moored up got to unpacking out cases and decided that we would go for an early dinner in the Maltsters. In the Christmas period of 2016 we had some great food in their, in fact spent three evenings over our trip eating and drinking there. Over 2017 Christmas periods we again wanted to but they were open for shorter periods and would change the times of when they were serving food day by day - but one the day we did manage eat there it was almost as good as in 2016 - Ribs and Hunters Chicken were had just as we always have in there. So this visit in April 2018 were knew what we were going to eat but oh...Same prices, same description of the food but goodness things had gone downhill. No little salad on the side of my Hunters Chicken, no pot of coleslaw for the Ribs, the chips were smaller and not as 'chunky' and the fresh battered onions rings had given way to 'catering pack' type - you know, the ones with the mashed up onion covered in a breadcrumb type coating with added onion powder as part of the ingredients. The Ribs were almsot identical to Whetherspoon - e.g. not cooked from scratch over a grill, but microwaved in a bag. It was then we overheard people talking at the bar asking where the Landlord was - and told he would be back later was not but was out at Macro buying more stock. This therefore may explain the change over two years and variable results in their food. You can in my view only cut back so much before the end result no longer is of a good enough quality to warrant the same price charged. Now it was not bad by any means, but it was not 'worth' what we paid and was a real let down compared to 2016 and 2017 where we really loved the food and could not praise them enough. These days when you have the likes of the Lion at Thurne doing such great food, and the Acle Bridge Inn who are well known for their good food, it really can mean a lot to get it right I think. I hope the Maltsters go back towards where they were in 2016/17. Well food had it was time to get on with the drinking and Ale turned to more warmer ideas to calm ones throat - Brandy. Well you have one double and then another and then Shelia is worried my breath might catch light so we opted to go back to the boat. Of course we had tired earlier to get the heater going and after three goes I knew the boat did not have enough capacity in the batteries to fire it without the engine running first, at 5 minutes to eight in the evening and with one of the Broads most noisy boats we had to fire her up to get some heat. Even now it took two smokey attempts for the old Webasto to fire up - and once it had it too was noisy, but at least with the engine off did give us several hours of use. It was an early night as they go, and I hoped that come the morning I might feel a bit better.
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