I can remember back to what may, in the future, be called the 'hiring heyday' during the period (say 2002 to 2006) when on the Trent & Mersey Canal around Fradley Junction it seemed every other boat was a hire boat, writes Ralph Freeman.
Canaltime, for instance, had a large fleet of boats based not only at Sawley, but a fair number based at Alvercote on the Coventry Canal too.
In fact many of the so called hire boats weren't hire boats at all but operated on a time-share basis. That has changed of late and many of those involved have reverted to a more conventional hiring method of business.
The majority of the large fleets that used to frequent the canals of the Midlands have either downsized or left the area altogether. Canaltime for instance no longer operate out of Alvercote and I see far fewer Black Prince bloats about too.
'Tasted' canal cruising
I think many holidaymakers have 'tasted' canal cruising on a hire boat. Those bitten by the bug have either bought a boat themselves or more likely taken a share in one of the many shared ownerships boats I now see on a regular basis.
This makes good financial sense to me. Such is the price of hire boats these days I suspect hiring a boat for your holidays year on year, does not make much sense from a financial perspective.
Fresh customer base
So maybe part of the problem is the hire business is constantly having to seek a fresh customer base? It is noticeable that the number of hirers from abroad seems to have dropped dramatically with the end of the time-share boat companies or is it just exchange rates have pushed prices up too high?
Personally I find, in general, hire crews to be a cheery bunch who appreciate a hand here or there or the odd tip on how to do things 'the easy way'. I echo Kevin's sentiments and agree we need hire boats to bump up the number of boat movements on the lesser used parts of the system.
That makes it harder for the Ivory Towers brigade to leave such branches and arms to silt up, and thereby pursue a 'closure by stealth' policy. Having in recent years cruised the High Peak and Caldon canals, that unpleasant thought crossed my mind on more than one occasion on seeing the state of them.