2020 certainly has been a strange year and as for the boating season, it didn’t get started here until half way through. Most boats didn’t get launched until late June or July so we have all been trying to extend the season and enjoy some quality leisure time for as long as possible.
Boating has been the perfect vehicle for this – fresh air, isolation from others and perfect for family and family ‘bubbles’.
For most people the season in the south of England has hitherto ended in September but actually there are many days in October (and even later) that are perfectly good for a cruise (the racers will go out in any weather!) and we had one of the best with a memorable sail to Bembridge for a seafood lunch! However the sail back was to windward and with the short days and the sun going down, we certainly needed our thermals and waterproof clothing!
A week or so later we had another great sail over to Cowes in a good 25 knots of wind. It was great fun for the active sailors on deck but by this time of the year the spray had a real sting in it!
And our season wasn’t finished then; my daughter and young family wanted to show us their new RIB which they had hardly had chance to use all year. However the only day we could all be together had 18 knots of wind and rain to go with it! Still we had a wonderful time blasting up and down Southampton Water but we all got very wet.
And then it dawned on me. We all go to boat shows and look at boats and their videos showing them being used in wonderful weather in warm locations. But more often than not that is not reality. If we want to get more out of our boating year and we are not going to travel so freely in the future, we need to think more practically about the boats we build.
It may be wonderful to dream about large open companionways, bimini tops and large sun lounging areas but I would have given anything to have a small doghouse or inside steering position on those late (or early) season outings. What’s more it might have made the difference that the less keen members of the family might have come too as they certainly would have enjoyed lunch in Bembridge or a glass of ‘fizz’ whilst moored in the River Medina.
My daughter and family will certainly be changing their boat for one with more weather protection as soon as they can and I would never own a sailing boat without a comprehensive sprayhood, but I believe if we want our customers to get more out of their boating season we need to think more about those who boat in the reality of a temperate climate and for whom a little more structured weather protection would mean they and their families would get far more enjoyment and for longer.
There are also areas of the British Isles where better weather protection is essential. One of the World’s greatest cruising areas is the West Coast of Scotland, but it is often said that you can have all seasons in one day! It is majestic and magnificent with numerous protected lochs and islands to explore but you may well lose at least one day a week to the weather. There is not much use for a bimini or cushions on the foredeck in that situation. What is more, it is not easy to charter a suitable sailboat for these waters. Anything built to be cost effective for the charter market tends to be of French or German origin who seem to have their sights firmly fixed on the Mediterranean. Could decks not be designed so a proper ‘hard top’ could be offered as an optional (or standard) extra and if the mainsheet is moved out of the cockpit and a rear folding hoop fitted, it can be used to create a full cockpit tent to extend the living space in poor weather.
Similarly, the ability to fit a small ‘cuddy’ on any motorboat gives the driver and crew some weather protection and the ability to be out of the wind and the waves. I am surprised that more small boats are not designed to be adapted to take a small wheelhouse or frame with zip-out canvas panels.
If we want our customers to get more out of their boats we need to make them more user-friendly and that means for temperate climates as well as tropical ones.
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