A boat can actually be quite a dull thing. In fact at worst, it can be an expensive, logistically complex and labour-intensive way of moving from A to B in chilled and dejected discomfort. In order to stop it becoming that way, it’s plain that you need to spice up your season with some events and activities - and yet the perennial fragility of the UK events calendar can sometimes make that quite difficult...
Only last year, we saw the abandonment of the London to Monte Carlo race. There was the sidelining of the PBR Round Britain Challenge, the end of the Sandbanks Boat Show and the continued contraction of the London Boat Show. Plus we saw the soft, low-profile demise of various small-scale regional gatherings, like the Dragon Boat Runs in Emsworth, Knottingley and Oulton Broad, the Boat Race and Bridge Jump at Mappleton and the Classics event in Fowey. In fairness, some of these were to do with poor weather rather than inadequate funding or support, but either way, it seems that those in search of maritime entertainment have a little work to do.
Well fear not. We have put in the hard miles on your behalf. We have scoured the UK for genuinely memorable boating events to bring you a set of 2015 highlights that will have you counting your boat among the most sage and brilliant investments of your life…
(1) A cruise in company
UK digital magazine, Motorboat Owner (MBO) has established a cruising club for its subscribers. There will be two events this year – a Channel Islands and France cruise (May 31 to June 13) and a Dunkirk and Opal Coast cruise (August 2-15). Whichever you favour, a trip like this in the company of experienced professionals enables you to venture offshore in a flotilla of leisure boats with advice and assistance on hand whenever you need it. All the logistical arrangements are taken care of, so (assuming your boat is properly kitted out and can cruise at 16 knots for a minimum range of 100 nautical miles) you can just turn up and enjoy a holiday you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
If you want a safe, fun and sociable way to broaden your experience, build your confidence and expand your cruising grounds, there is no better way to do it. With free subscription to the magazine and a price per boat fee of less than £400, it’s also great value. Visit Motorboat Owner for more.
(2) An inland festival
Whether you attend on your own inland boat (moorings available) or rock up on foot (in which case, camping is also available), the Crick Boat Show is a blinder. Held from 23 to 25 May at Crick Marina on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it’s grown from its introduction in 2000 to become the undisputed king of UK inland exhibitions.
Expect countless narrowboats, some of them of genuine historic importance and all of them dressed up in bunting. There will also be plenty of stands selling new boats and equipment, plus free boat trips, live music, a real ale marquee, free children’s entertainment and lots of regional food and drink stalls. You can book your tickets online, or find out more by calling 01283 742950.
(3) A seafood celebration
An oyster festival is a great thing – partly because it puts fishermen right at the heart of a seaside town where they belong and partly because it strips away the elitist sheen of a foodstuff that has always been the common man’s staple. Two of the very best happen in Falmouth (Cornwall) and Whitstable (Kent).
Head for Whitstable on the opening weekend (July 25-26, 2015) for a whiff of how a salty southeast fishing hub feels when London’s prissy second-homers are submerged beneath a happy tide of crusty feel-good shuckers.
Alternatively, head for Falmouth (October 8-11, 2015) for sea shanties and cooking demos, against the backdrop of the beautiful River Fal and the National Maritime Museum.
(4) A classic rally
For its scenery, its multi-national turnout and its engaging variety of boat types, the longstanding British Classic Motorboat Rally on Lake Windermere is a great event - but for those in search of the full family experience, the Thames Traditional Boat Rally and Festival is the one to seek out.
Held at Henley-on-Thames, it supplements its fleet of classic boats with stalls, a boat jumble, children’s entertainment, food and drink and music.
There are also vintage cars and bikes and onsite camping facilities for those who want to make a full weekend of it. In didn’t happen in 2014 because of flooding but it’s back in a big way for 2015.
(5) A boat jumble
Not only is Beaulieu one of Britain’s most difficult places to spell; it’s also one of the prettiest. Though famous for its classic car museum, annual Boat Jumble day brings exhibitors and punters from all over the country. True, its deserved fame means that prices can sometimes seem slightly inflated by jumble standards - and if you want to stay locally and make a full weekend of it, you need to book early. But there’s something special about snuffling for bargains among a kaleidoscopic clash of briny maritime stands. While all 35 jumbles in the UK calendar are good fun in their own right, Beaulieu (April 27) remains the jewel in the crown.
(6) A free event
The annual Eastbourne Air Festival is without question the most memorable weekend of my boating season. This massive, award-winning, international air show runs on Eastbourne seafront (see Pier or no pier: Eastbourne is Britain’s coolest town) over a four-day weekend and includes military jets, helicopters, parachutists, aerobatics displays, exhibition stands, evening concerts and fireworks. Even the Red Arrows put in an appearance. It is great viewed from the beach, among the bustle of the spectators and the festival stands, but viewed from your own boat, it’s even better. The logistics are simple too.
You can use the magnificent Sovereign Marina (a 24-hour, 800-berth haven a mile east of the town) as your base and then just head out to witness what must surely rank as the UK’s best and most dramatic free-of-charge coastal show. This year’s event runs from August 13-16, 2015. Don’t miss it.
(7) America's Cup action in Portsmouth
The excitement is already building as Sir Ben Ainslie pushes ahead with his challenge to win yachting's Holy Grail: the America's Cup. The famous "Auld Mug", the world's oldest international sporting trophy, has never been won by Britain, although its beginnings lie in a race held round our own Isle of Wight, which was won by the yacht America back in 1851.
Ainslie hopes to bring the trophy to back to its birthplace. The 35th America's Cup match is due to take place in Bermuda in 2017, but in the run up to the main event, the America's Cup World Series will be touring the world (for a taste of the action see Ben Ainslie Racing video: flying in Bermuda), and this summer will see its first visit to Portsmouth - home to Ben Ainslie's challenge. Tickets are selling fast to see the racing - which runs from July 23-26, 2015. Read more here.