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What Happened To The Small Boatyards?


750XL

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As a family we went on the Broads a few times when I was a kid, probably in the late 90's or early 00's. I vaguely recall us picking up boats from Richardsons in Horning, Richardsons in Stalham then and another small boatyard near Hickling (Whispering Reeds perhaps?). I also seem to vaguely recall my obsession as a child looking through all the boats in the Hoseasons brochure, and inevitably looking at all the ones we couldn't afford as a family!

Looking at information available on the internet, there seems to have been a wide variety of yards hiring in the late 90's, but now that seems to be down just to the 'big 4' yards. Indeed, during my last few visits (as an adult now!), I see old signage etc at various places for old hire yards. Loddon is the first that springs to mind. We hired from Waveney River Centre last year and it seems they've also stopped now.

What happened to all the smaller boatyards? Why did they go out of business? 

Interested to learn more about the history of these yards, thank you!

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Our expectations in a boat went up. 
our first hire in the early nineties had wall mounted gas heaters. 
I think the cost of upgrading a fleet must have been a challenge. 
plus owning a boat is not the status icon that it used to be. The new car and better house have taken its place. 
New hirers we have introduced just never thought of hiring on the Broads, canals yes. 
Is the Broads as well known as other parks or the canal network?

lastly I remember an ad in the 80s messing about on the water theme. 

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The package holiday boom of the 70’s changed the way families holidayed , guaranteed sun cheap booze and exotic destinations became the norm.

The last 18 months has seen the resurgence of U.K. holidays being forced upon the populous and IMHO the next few years will remain so .

Provided U.K. destinations do not take the profiteering route whilst they have a “captured trade” the future for U.K. leisure and holiday companies is looking bright for years to come .

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We're booked to go again in October, this time for 11 nights which we're very much looking forward to. But, I can see it is a pretty niche type of holiday not suited to everyone's taste.

The biggest complaint I see of first time hirers is the lack of mooring space, especially on the North - to which I'd agree. We're happy mudweighting or taking a few of the 'wild moorings', the thought of trying to find moorings each day near pubs etc is too much stress! 

We did struggle on a few occasions last year finding suitable water points to top up the tanks, especially at the busier locations.

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36 minutes ago, Cheesey69 said:

New hirers we have introduced just never thought of hiring on the Broads, canals yes. 

The canals have gone the same way. Three big multibase companies dominate the market. There are still a fair number of smaller yards, but nothing like there used to be. We first hired on the Thames and that's also gone the same way. Very few hire bases there now compared to before. More money building riverside apartments.

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I have never known a boatyard refuse water. Sure on turn over day which was always a Saturday in those days you may have had to wait a little while, but never refused. 

Please tell me that has not changed.

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2 hours ago, 750XL said:

We're booked to go again in October, this time for 11 nights which we're very much looking forward to. But, I can see it is a pretty niche type of holiday not suited to everyone's taste.

The biggest complaint I see of first time hirers is the lack of mooring space, especially on the North - to which I'd agree. We're happy mudweighting or taking a few of the 'wild moorings', the thought of trying to find moorings each day near pubs etc is too much stress! 

We did struggle on a few occasions last year finding suitable water points to top up the tanks, especially at the busier locations.

Top up tanks daily if you can then less panic if you miss a day ( with careful use)

 

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This subject has been covered in past - In the boom years of the 1970s & 80s there were twice as many hire craft. Many of the large yards were taken over by the big companies ( Coral & Guinness and others) sold back when the bubble burst then lean years when economy & accountants came to the fore as in most business's 

Economy of scale now rules aided by the growth of short breaks especially off main season added to the mix (the traditional Saturday to Saturday relied on a lot of school age staff being )  I suspect a bit of Health & Safety is involved (Qualifications to work on gas & other technical equipment also a factor)

All in with investment needed for what is still a seasonal trade the use of booking agents mostly investment companies not good old  Hoeseason's & Blakes any more.  Even the internet has totally changed the world. 

 

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11 minutes ago, YnysMon said:

There’s a list of ‘amenities’ including water points on this site:

https://www.mynorfolkbroadsboating.co.uk/norfolk broads water and electric points.html


 

We managed to find the water points ok, but a few times they were all occupied (Ludham, Neatishead, Womack and somewhere else I forgot). We did survive without running out of water though

 

Thanks for the replies, informative and interesting as always 

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An old theme but an important one. 
The lack of mooring and what I consider, the disappearing basics, water, fuel and pump outs at easy to access points. 
Wondered why the BA can’t run a sort of service station for boats. 
As to mooring, the loss of those smallest yards has really added to the problem and I don’t think it’s ever going to be solved

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1 hour ago, Cheesey69 said:

An old theme but an important one. 
The lack of mooring and what I consider, the disappearing basics, water, fuel and pump outs at easy to access points. 
Wondered why the BA can’t run a sort of service station for boats. 
As to mooring, the loss of those smallest yards has really added to the problem and I don’t think it’s ever going to be solved

In 1969 there were some 22 hirefleet yards in Wroxham/Hoveton, all offering mooring, water and fuel. Now there are 2. All those moorings are now private properties. The same applies to all the other Broadland towns and villages.

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Yep, remember the big boom was post war, a lot of those yards when the owners retired, the builders put in the biggest offer for the site and built houses on them..

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1 hour ago, TheQ said:

Yep, remember the big boom was post war, a lot of those yards when the owners retired, the builders put in the biggest offer for the site and built houses on them..

And you just can’t get that land back. 
for me, Horning, wroxham and Brundle might well not exist because as a private I just can’t moor there. 
Not much financially to the towns but hundreds like me adds up

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7 minutes ago, Cheesey69 said:

And you just can’t get that land back. 
for me, Horning, wroxham and Brundle might well not exist because as a private I just can’t moor there. 
Not much financially to the towns but hundreds like me adds up

Never had a problem mooring at Wroxham in our Sealine. We just moored at Barnes Brinkcrafts yard. They never turned us away.

Horning we could usually get in somewhere even if it was one of the pubs then have a drink and nip to the shops.

Brundall I agree is a pain for mooring and we very rarely stopped there due to that. We did once get on the BA moorings there and walk through bug infested swamp to get to the shop. Never again.

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35 minutes ago, Cal said:

Brundall I agree is a pain for mooring and we very rarely stopped there due to that. We did once get on the BA moorings there and walk through bug infested swamp to get to the shop. Never again.

Brooms let me moor Goosander (which is of course a private boat) for a couple of hours without charge. If I'd wanted to stay overnight, I was told the charge was £17.50. Don't think I would have been welcome on a changeover day though.

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Why? Obviously, there are many, many reasons. BUT, the main reason is simple. Money. 

Running a hire fleet is an expensive and not very profitable business until you get into large numbers of boats. Around 10 is the only starting point that it becomes remotely viable in most cases and at that, it's sodding hard work as there's not enough cashflow to pay enough people to do the work to allow any time for oneself. 

Boats are not cheap things to buy. Even if you had 10 £10k boats, that's £100k of investment in something that gets beaten up each week and requires a lot of maintenance and repair. But they're not £10k; a decent boat that people would want to hire starts at at least £20k and runs to £250k for a new-build. Then there's the need for operational tooling. A new pump-out machine will cost a fortune that could be measured in whole numbers as a percentage of the value of a boat, you need heavy lifting equipment, maybe a crane, you need infrastructure, waterside property (incredibly expensive) and so much more. You need experienced engineers, boat-builders, cleaners, office staff. 

Many of the smaller yards realised the value of the land and that was that. Those that grew in the earlier years are the ones that have been able to survive and they survive on volume and/or multiple income streams. Very few small yards remain and whilst I see investment from Richard and Fiona at Pacific as well as the Bedwells at Bridgecraft, there's only Whispering Reeds and Martham Boats left beyond the end of this year with Sandersons closing at the end of the season. Sure, there's Silverline, but that's not a small operation and it has multiple income streams.  It's VERY hard work. Over 14 years, it wore me down. Sure, it kept a roof over out heads,  but so would a job - infact, I used to earn vast amounts more when I ran the Intranet systems for Dow Jones. Freedom cost me a decent family life: we had just 5 family holidays in those 14 years: Freedom was a prison for me. Add to this the fact that we rented a boatyard from someone that I would politely describe as "challenging" and the enjoyment factor that was once the main driver was depleted annually. 

Had the money been good, I might have been prepared to continue, but it wasn't good enough for the investment of our money and time and this is the main reason that there are so few yards left: It's a way of life and not a get-rich business. Covid lockdowns and related issues would have caused every broads hire business to have a serious look at how it operated. For me, I was the perfect time to bail and go and do something else. 

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I own a boatyard (I don't really, but bear with it)

I have to employ staff, run a payroll, work out rotas, arrange cover for sickness, I have to be an accountant, an HR executive, a personnel manager etc, etc, etc.

I have to maintain my fleet, and if I want to survive I have to budget upgrades and refits to what I have plus renewing boats completely now and then to stay current. 

I run 12 boats, the average hire price is £1k per week, we have a twenty week season and my boats are fully booked every week. that's an income of £240k per annum

Sounds great yes? 

Then I pay the rates, the river tolls, the staff wages. I pay the insurance, the maintenance, I sell an old boat and buy a new one. I pay all the other bills and hopefully I have enough left to live on. 

Then a developer comes along and says "sell all your boats, they're worth 30k each, thats 360k. Then sell your boatyard to me and I will build 8 super luxury riverside apartments on it worth £3.2m, your cut of that is 800k, 

Thats £1.16m and no sleepless nights wondering if you will make this months insurance payment, of if you can pay your broads tolls on time, or if you have enough money to pay the wage bill at the end of the month. 

So I sold all my boats, and let the developer build his riverside apartments. Now I live in a villa in the South of France. I made a few decent investments and bought some property and I'm very well off thank you very much. When I finally shuffle off this mortal coil my kids will have a healthy inheritance not a mill stone of a boatyard to deal with. 

That's what happened to your small boatyards.

 

 

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Well worth listening to Andy on this subject, as like me, he has been there and got the T-shirt.  Unless you have seen all that you have striven for and invested in for several years, come to nothing for reasons beyond your control, I very much doubt if you can imagine what a trauma it really is.  Paul N is also right with his scenario of the figures, but only up to a point!

So what happened to the small yards, is the question.  Many different reasons and all going back into history.  To understand, I think we have to start at the beginning of World War 11.  Broads holidays were still advertised but the Broads themselves were effectively closed : some businesses (viz : Woods and Percivals) had gone over to the building of gunboats and small craft for the Navy; others had closed when their owners and staff were called up; others were moved to work in shipyards on the south coast.  The boats themselves were either moored on broads as a deterrent for enemy seaplanes, or were simply laid up ashore and left to rot for 6 years.

So the whole thing had to be re-started and built back, in the late 40s, sometimes by the same family businesses and sometimes by people coming home from the War and wanting to start up on the Broads.  My father, at Hearts Cruisers and Miles Simpson of Stalham yacht station (also ex Navy) were typical and there were many others.  Leslie Landamore had been a Spitfire pilot in the War!  You can imagine that there was great pride and very healthy competition between the yards, but there were a lot of problems as well.  There was still rationing, right up to the end of the Suez Crisis and marketing holidays was not easy.  The 50s were a real high time, when the Broads were probably at their very best, in my opinion.  But by the early 60s, the first big recession had set in.

Over the years it has been possible to recognise a 10 year "wave" in the fortunes of the boat business.  For 5 years, business goes down and recession sets in.  But for the next 5 years it all comes back again.  This has been true right up to the late 80s but after that I'm not so sure.  I think from then on, it has been downhill all the way!

The reason for the 60s recession was bad press publicity, owing to pollution and overcrowding of the north rivers.  The two main agencies fought back with films such as "The wind in the reeds" and by organising the installation of pumpout toilets.  At this point, the first big and small yards started to get out of the boat business by selling their hire fleets to Jenners and doing other things, such as building private boats, renting moorings or building holiday cottages.  At this point we lost some famous yards, such as Landamores, Moores, Windboats, Dawncraft  and many other small ones.

Bizarrely, the failure of Jenners a few years later flooded the market with second hand hire boats and allowed many small businesses to buy them, and start up a new hire fleet.  I was one of them, so were Sabena Marine and there were almost countless other small family concerns.

Until we get to the mid 70s and it all goes wrong again!  This time it was partly the rise of foreign package holidays but we can't blame Freddie Laker for all of it!  There was an awful nationwide recession which meant people couldn't afford holidays and businesses were  hit by raging inflation and sky-high interest rates.  Inflation was about 11%, the bank base rate was 13% and for 2 years I was paying 22% interest on a business bank loan.  It actually became cheaper to pay it off and then pay less interest on the resulting overdraft!

But I think what really killed it off, in my experience, was what became known as "investigative journalism".  In other words gratuitous muck-raking, with no regard to the personal consequences of any victims of this Crusade for the Truth at all costs.  Every time there was a new pollution scare, or a drowning, we lost another season's bookings as a result. Remember the drought of 1976, which dried out a lot of mud in the marshes and infected a lot of duck with botulism?  The press decided it was possible for humans to catch it and said so in banner headlines.  Totally untrue, but that was the end of the bookings for that year.  Remember the Eleni V disaster?  A small oil tanker ran aground off the east coast and started leaking oil into the North Sea.  The press announced that the oil was "encroaching on the Broads" and would cover everyone's little children with a deadly oil slick.  In fact this never happened, due to a boom across the river at Yarmouth Haven but the press didn't bother to follow up with that news - never mentioned it. Not sensational enough. So bang goes another season's bookings.

The final straw for me was one day in the early 80s when I read the papers and there was a two page spread in the centre pages of the Sunday Express with a banner headline right across the top of both pages, saying :

JUST THE PLACE FOR A FILTHY HOLIDAY.

 The article was full of the usual doom watch revelations about dead fish and overflowing bins and I realised that for me, this was the final straw.  At that stage, my hire prices had been the same for the last 4 years and the next year they were due to go down by 10%.  With inflation at 15%.  I realised I was just working for the bank and not myself and put the yard up for sale.

ROSALIE HORNER. I shall never forget that benighted woman's name, who wrote that rubbish and finally put me and so many of my good friends, out of business.

 

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1 hour ago, Vaughan said:

The final straw for me was one day in the early 80s when I read the papers and there was a two page spread in the centre pages of the Sunday Express with a banner headline r

Surely everyone knows that if it's in the Sunday/Daily Express, it must be true?

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