Whilst trawling through the Broadland Memories news vaults last week, I came across a rather amusing little article from the late 1960s which relates, not to hoards of drunken stag parties descending on the Broads, but to a hire fleet with a rather unusual set of names.
The news cutting was dated to 1968 and concerns Ron Wilkinson who ran the Waveney Hotel at Burgh St. Peter, alongside which he operated a fleet of hire cruisers and a boat construction business. I’ll start by saying that I know very little about the Waveney Yacht Station boatyard, nor do I recall seeing mention of the names of the vessels in his fleet before.
Mr Wilkinson had launched six new boats to join his existing fleet of 20 hire cruisers and had decided to name them after the range of Whitbread beers he sold in the pub, with a further twelve new craft to be built and named after other beers produced the group. Examples given were Mackeson, Gold Label, Brewmaster, Tankard and Forest Brown! Mr Wilkinson cited a lack of ideas as the reason behind the naming of the fleet, but I wonder whether it was more a case of being an interesting marketing ploy. The article goes on to say that Mr Wilkinson planned to ask Whitbread’s 8500 licensees throughout the UK to act as booking agents for him, giving regular customers of those establishments a discount on the hire fee. Was it an idea that worked though? The two boats in the foreground of the photograph which accompanies the story were Elysian 34′s – D325 is nearest the camera with what appears to be D149 alongside it. By 1973 it seems that some, if not all of the WYS fleet had been purchased by Bob Richardson at Stalham – these particular vessels became two of the Fairway class whilst the Freeman 26 Forest Brown was renamed Helmsman.
If there are any hire fleet operators who fancy doing the same thing today then there are a number of local breweries offerings to choose from. I know I’m slightly biased, but Adnams have some rather appropriate names amongst their range … Broadside, Regatta, Spindrift and Explorer all have a certain boaty ring to them. Mind you, as much as I love the beer, I’m not sure that I’d want to hire a boat called Ghost Ship!