The Naiad Voyages

Mark Austen

2021.09.15 - The Increased Cost of Sailing in the River Great Ouse

I was somewhat dismayed to learn that the Environment Agency (EA) is intending to increase the cost of having a boat on the River Great Ouse, amongst others, and the proposed new fee structure will increase my EA registration fee from £44.20 this year to £144.80 next year and £150.57 for 2023. An increase of 327% and 340% over this year (2021). And that is only if the length x beam calculation is rounded down from 8.9m2, for Naiad to 8m2 as per the examples. If that were to be rounded up to 9m2, then the figures will be £157.60, £163.88, 356% & 370% respectively.

Needless to say, I'm not particularly happy about this. I don't mind the EA from putting up its fees to try and cover their annual funding shortfall but they way they have done it places a much greater burden on the small boat owner compared to someone with a larger boat.

And the proposed new fee structure is just a tad complicated.

Also, there's no mention of the EA trying to reduce their own internal costs to help close the funding gap. I'd propose that everyone in the EA that earns a salary greater than £100,000 is made redundant. That should close the funding gap considerably, but this is about a likely as being struck by lightning five times in the space of five minutes on a cloudless day.

The EA have, like many accountants, politicians and other people with little of no idea about how the average person thinks, the EA have missed the point and will fall prey to the law of unintended consequences. To wit, they are assuming that all the current boat owners will just pay up and have based their calculations on that. Instead what will happen is that a significant proportion of boat owners will just stop putting their boats on the river and save themselves the money. This is especially true right now as many, many families are feeling the pinch as a result of the Covid-19 problems over the last 18 months. With furloughs, redundancies and business closing down most people do not have much spare money to spend in the next year or two, if any. They are, in my opinion, more likely to decide save some more money by not using their boats at all.

The EA will not receive the increased funding that they expect, again in my opinion.  It would be interesting to see just how much my prediction holds up.

Anyway, this very unwelcome increased cost has made me look at possible alternative mooring spots. The main advantage the River Great Ouse is that it is about a mile away from home, so getting down to the boat is quick and easy. Aside from that, I'd rather have Naiad somewhere where there is open water and I have repeatedly lamented the 6ft (2m) high river banks that grace the River Great Ouse round here and the subsequent detrimental effect on sailing.

So, what are the alternatives?

Two immediately spring to mind, the Broads and the Blackwater. I looked up the available moorings on the Norfolk Broads and the prices range from acceptable to outright ridiculous. Barton Broad is the largest broad and there is a marina just off the broad in Barton Turf. I have contacted them about their fees and available space but not heard back yet. Barton Turf is 60 miles and 90 minutes drive from home. The advantage is a secure marina, a large stretch of open water and no tides.

The Blackwater, well that is something else. You see, Shoal Waters has her home on the Blackwater, previously at the Blackwater Sailing Club (BSC) and currently at the Goldhanger Sailing Club (GSC). The GSC is a small sailing club that has no available space and a very long waiting list but the obvious choice for me is the BSC.

Their fees are £200 annual membership plus £354.75 for a mooring of cruising boat of Naiad's size. That's just over £8 more than I currently pay to be a member at the Denver Cruising Club plus the annual EA fee. The advantage of the BSC is that it is the place where I first learnt to sail, is ideal for Naiad, has a very large stretch of open water called the North Sea and has hundreds of places to visit within a weekend's sail. The disadvantages are it's 90 miles and two hours drive away and has tides which restrict the weekend upon which it is possible to sail given that I would have to drive there on a Friday evening and return on Sunday evening, meaning that I would need to have a suitable tide on Sunday afternoon to be able to pickup my mooring.

The two hour, 90 mile drive is a bit of a binds. I've contacted the BSC to enquire about the possibility of a temporary membership, say two seasons, and I'm interested to see what they say.

Interesting times ahead.