Monday, 10 August 2009

Lessons learned in Shotley - a cautionary tale

August 1st - 2nd 2009
One of the advantages of chartering for the weekend is that you can give the yacht back after a few days on the water. For us hard-working people, half a dozen weekends doing this works out to be pretty good value for money compared with owning your own boat and all the marina fees and upkeep that it involves - and at the moment half a dozen weekends would seem like a luxury to us!
On an evening round our friends and fellow novice sailors Robert and Tina, we decided to have a jolly weekend away. Hamble Point Yacht Charter were very good when we chartered with them in March but we all quite fancied the East Coast so we booked up with a well advertised sailing school which also charters yachts. In fact the reason we decided upon them was because Marco and I gained our Comp Crew there. As the yacht has to be in one person's name, Marco booked and so he automatically became 'skipper'.
The day before the charter began, we were told that our chosen boat was 'unavailable' and we would be getting an alternative.
We turned up excitedly on the Friday evening with our weekend provisioning boxes, filled in the paperwork and were shown to our yacht.
At this point, we were advised that the depth gauge wasn't quite giving the correct information....oh and the furling drum on the genoa needed to be 'handled with care'. Huh.......try telling the wind to pipe down in case it hurts our furling drum!
All went well on our first day. Ok so we drifted off a bit and came a bit close to grounding - it happens! And me and Tina set fire to a tea towel. Oh, and near the end of the day it absolutely poured down but we heroically all did our bit to get into Ipswich marina and spent a cosy evening 'at home', pretty pleased with ourselves.
Next day, going down the Orwell, the wind was right behind us and while Robert helmed, Marco was on the sails trying to ensure that we didn't gybe. Once out, the wind picked up and we were able to have a great sail, tacking all the way out towards Walton, before turning back because of the time. A fraught time was had as we got a little bit close to a green can and Marco was 'forceful' in giving out his instructions. In fairness there had to be one skipper as there was no time for us all to sit down and have a pow-wow about it but it was an awkward half hour as all our nerves and patience were wearing a bit thin by now.
I excelled myself by not reading the pilot guide for Shotley Marina (there's a dirty great lock with an inogon system) where you have to line up the chevrons to avoid the silting either side of the narrow channel.

We grounded. Not badly, although is there a 'nice' way to ground a yacht? We scraped the bottom and came off again into the correct channel and vowed to do better next time.

Alas, there will be no 'next time'.

We gave back the yacht, and the charter owner was on another yacht chatting with some people. We waved and gave him the key back and were on our way.

Next day Marco got an email. The furling drum was bent. It was beyond repair (allegedly) and would have to be replaced. The company was taking our deposit which was another £600.


We learned an awful lot that weekend. Not about sailing, but about human nature and trust. We shall share these via this blog so that other novices can learn from what happened to us.

1) NEVER accept a yacht that has to be used 'with caution'. It's impossible to do.......and in any case, why the hell should we? We paid over £600 to take a yacht out on East Coast windy, rainy conditions it's very hard to pootle along as if you are on the Ionian. The company changed our yacht at the last minute, and gave us what was, in effect, a sub-standard replacement. We should never have agreed to this.
2) ALWAYS take pictures of anything that doesn't look right. I should have photographed the furling drum on the first night to compare with the photos we were sent by the company.
3) The fear of a libel case prevents me from naming the company involved in this shambles. But there are clues. The owner tried the old "You should know me better than to think I would try and con you" trick. But we think that is exactly what he did. We were all novices and he knew that. We WERE competent to take the boat out, but we were all naive in our knowledge of the mechanics of a yacht and I think he took advantage of that too. The drum was already on the way out and we helped him pay for it's replacement. Marco and I became a couple of mugs who ended up parting with half the cost of the charter plus the entire deposit (over £1000) for a two day weekend. Not that we're bitter.......!

And of course, he's shot himself in the foot. Marco and I would definitely have chartered again and again with this company, the East Coast being so beautiful and relatively uncrowded. As it is, the £600 extra that this little outing cost us, is the last money he will ever see of ours. We will never use him or recommend him to anyone else.

...........prefer Cowes anyway.