Dear Reader, this is a comprehensive guide to hiring a large glass fibre structure with a diesel engine vaguely described as a boat, which you then drive around the man made lakes and watery passageways of Eastern England. I never thought I’d be the type to write a travel blog. But then I never thought I’d ever be the type to write the phrase ‘watery passageways’.
These were given whilst waiting for a 2ft gaping hole in the pointy end made by previous occupants to be repaired.
A youth described in Norfolkish how the electrically operated sliding canopy worked. Apparently, you push a button marked down and punch the roof several times until the whole structure judders open on wires and ‘yoo ave too moind yoor naaargin’ which, according to Google translate, is: Be careful not to bump your head or anybody else’s whilst operating. The rest, well, we had only been on the Broads for a couple of hours, so were still picking up the language.
Instructions are minimal; another youth who explains that when you push a lever, called the throttle, in an upwards direction the boat goes forwards; push it down and it goes backwards. Oh, and it has a steering wheel like a car. Work the rest out yourself. Whatever.
Navigating your craft
The boats are quite big – our vast Broadsweeper was 42 feet long and 12 feet wide. So, imagine turning up at Eddie Stobart and hiring an articulated lorry. Then having a teenager spend 10 minutes telling you how to drive it (there’s some gears and a steering wheel. Moind yoor naargin‘) after which you are allowed to drive it around the highways and byways of Britain. Not only that, but after a while families start to realise they can have a few drinks whilst their 6 year old child takes over the driving duties. No kidding. I swear we passed a 40 foot double decker cruiser being skippered by somebody sucking a dummy.
Add to the mix the idiots from the home counties who are used to driving their cars at excess speed around the M25. They apply the same philosophy to their holidays, setting their boats to warp factor stupid, overtaking, undertaking and slipstreaming all and sundry. They’ve usually done all of The Broads by day 2. Of course, they are oblivious to boats coming in the opposite direction who have to take evasive action whilst they continue to look steadfastly ahead as if other boat drivers are invisible. Though since most of these other drivers are 6 years old they are rather hard to see over the steering wheel.
Living conditions aboard
Bedrooms are only slightly bigger than a commercial wheelie bin with all the features of a conventional bedroom. Waking up at three in the morning with your wife’s heel in your mouth and your leg stuck in the wardrobe is one of the highlights of Norfolk Broads boat life.
Making toilet can also be an interesting experience, involving pumping away your resultant waste with gusto. We also learnt very quickly to lower the toilet lid whilst pumping to prevent ‘blow back’, after Sarah appeared screaming from the lavatory with a face covered in effluent, efficiently propelled there by the demonic loo.
Other Broads users
There is no need to feel nervous, inadequate or incompetent when travelling on the Broads; remember, almost everybody else on The Broads is on holiday, so therefore are completely inexperienced and not particularly bothered about being a competent boat person. Hence the approach of a plastic pleasure vessel weaving its way along will be full of happy smiling people who only want to wave at you. As was pointed out by The Sexton: when do you drive up the motorway waving at approaching motorists? It still didn’t stop us from doing it, though.
Boat owners were refreshingly cheerful and accepting. Most boat owners I’ve experienced in the past have tended to be rather lugubrious, taciturn types who seem to hate everything to do with water and boats. It’s as if they buy a craft and immediately lose the will to live. But being on The Broads, which is basically built for holiday makers, you’re on to a hiding to nothing if you take it all too seriously.
“Nice punting!” I complimented a young lady who had struggled to heave her sailing boat out of our way whilst the rest of the miserable family crew looked on straight faced. She was forced not only to look at us, but also had to give a forced smile.
“It’s called Quanting on The Broads,” said serious dad.
“What a Quant!” I exclaimed. I don’t think the pirate hat helped.
Norfolkish is a fantastic form of verbal communication. It’s an amazing variation on the south west dialect. I’m still learning, but have become aware the stress on the first vowel followed by a tailing off of the rest of the word is paramount. For example, people from Norwich live in Naaaaarch. We were getting about on ‘a bo.’ Our favourite Norfolk sentence came from a local man who was moored next to us. Looking lovingly at his pug dog, tied up on the jetty, he said, “Lurk, ‘ims twitching is nouws loike a raaabie!”*
Gerald, my old fag from school, wore what can only be described as ’man emulating toddler allowed to dress itself for holiday’, which included a bright pink polo shirt, matching socks and brown dress shoes. He also sported a rather fetching captain’s hat that he brought from home. Which meant it looked slightly different from the ones worn by dads on all the other boats. Some 6 year old captains also wore them, but they tended to slip over their eyes, which made their ability to handle 40 ft vessels even more impressive. I preferred a rather fetching pirate hat, loved by women and children alike, who all waved with vigour and responded to my cries of “avast me hearties!” with laughter and jollity. It was almost worth getting the snake eye from Lady Barton St Mary for being such a prat.
Food in Norfolk is excellent and really good value for money. Even Michael Winner would like it here, fussy git. This may have something to do with Norfolk being a rural area that produces top class food, though how this contributed to my wonderful curry in Loddon, I have no idea.
Windmills. Windmills with sails. Windmills without sails. Windmills with computerised pumping systems. Derelict windmills. Windmills converted into accommodation. In fact, just lots of windmills. Lots of reeds and mainly flat, though not completely, as I discovered when going out for a run, which means the sky goes on forever. This seemed to be disconcerting to some city dwelling holiday makers. We found one family huddled together for protection against the alien countryside in the doorway of an abandoned windmill. They were from Croydon, poor souls.
Health and Safety
If you follow all the health and safety rules, you’ll be absolutely fine. But will look ridiculous in an orange lifejacket trying your best to struggle on and off your boat without falling in. Under no circumstances must you swim in the water because it is cold and wet. However iron man competitors and children from 20 years ago coped, I don’t know. If you do fall in, remember, do not panic. All boats are supplied with a safety ring that can be thrown to you. You should be able to collect it rather easily, since the water is rarely deeper than 3 feet. Which means even your 6 year old captain wouldn‘t be out of their depth.
Any holiday that allows you to lie back and travel at 4 mph to the next pub can’t be a bad one. The Norfolk Broads is a beautiful place and driving around on a boat is great fun. As long as you remember not to run into any posts that stick out of the water at full speed, smashing off your fenders. Not that we did. As far as anybody knows. Nobody saw us and now we’re at home, the people who had the boat after us did it.
Next time though, I want to travel on something that looks like a Butlin’s premier chalet that floats on the water, with a big double bed and patio doors and electric toilets. Skippered by somebody from the local infant school.
* “I say, my canine companion appears to be moving his olfactory organ in a manner to be reminiscent of the mammal Leporidae.”