Page updated 30 July 2023
We'd reached the point where we were considering our future. The conclusion of our discussions was that we should find a new house, one that required less work, and give ourselves more time to go boating. Initially, we focused on finding a house with a mooring, but quickly decided that you pay too much of a premium for that and, at a price we could afford, we'd lose the sense of rural isolation that we have become used to and, in many ways, would prefer to retain.
When we met, Diana had been based near Blackpool and had owned a large cruiser which had been kept at a marina on Windermere and I had my little yacht moored beside the Pleasure Boat Inn on Hickling Broad. Over some ten years together we had spent a couple of seasons as part owners of a narrowboat. Someday I'll get round to recording how that went and why it wasn't for us.
To make it worth buying a boat rather than hiring one from time to time, as we do at present, we'd need to plan to get out on it every couple of weeks for a night or two. We'd also want to have it ready for day trips when friends or family were visiting and be able to do both throughout the year.
Sailing craft were out. Diana claimed I was far too competitive when out on Just 17. I always looking around at how other yachts were performing and trying to get Just 17 to perform better. There is some truth in that and while Just 17 was an ideal craft for my solo sailing, she was cramped with two aboard, and it's why she was sold after standing for five years on our drive.
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"Wandering", a Hampton Safari Mk III, as she appeared on the broker's web site.
It wasn't just a cruiser that was needed. We wanted it to have to all- weather, all-seasons capabilities. That counted out traditional aft cockpit cruisers. Their cockpits, which cannot be effectively heated, limit their use to fine summer weather. Their canopies, intended to protect you from wind and showers, are often complicated to erect and usually offer very poor visibility when erected and which you have to lower to get under bridges.
Those issues also limit the number of centre cockpit cruisers that we might have considered. In my youth I would have opted for one of that type as they offer the best all round visibility from the helm but, these days, our priorities are different. By their nature, centre cockpits separate sleeping and day cabins and boats of the size we wanted would only have one toilet which tend to be sited alongside the shower compartment and opposite the galley, in the day space. The prospect of clambering out of bed, up steps over the engine, through the wheelhouse and down again into the other cabin in the middle of the night did not appeal.
That left us with the style of cruiser that became popular in the mid- sixties, those with forward control and a single level cabin that stretched from stem to stern. Of course, there were finances, and running costs, to consider too. Smaller craft have less to them, so cost less. A mooring for small craft will also cost less than that for a larger boat and you pay less for their river toll as well. This all meant that the range of boats suitable for us to be quite limited.
The rather small Weston 670 was briefly considered. Although, externally, it has a the appearance of a centre cockpit, it has a flat floor throughout as it is just the driver's seat that is raised. That's only possible because it is normally driven by outboard, although some examples are seen with a inboard engine and stern drive. However, it was eventually rejected as there is no room for a shower on board.
Also on the possible list was Wild's Calypso 28. Most examples have an internal layout very similar to the Hampton Safari. The main difference being that the engine is transversely mounted at the stern with a hydraulic drive rather than the traditional in-line engine and shaft drive. It's a feature I like, as having an engine alongside you while travelling must mean you'll hear more engine noise than you would if it was at the far end of the boat. However, in our searches, the only example then on the market didn't meet our "tidiness" criteria.
As a result most of the craft in which we took an interest were either Mk II or Mk III versions of the Hampton Safari.
From the 1960s till 2002 Hampton Boats ran a hire fleet from a yard at Oulton Broad where they developed the Safari 25. It was based on a smaller wooden boat built by the company. The new larger GRP version proved very successful. Two hundred and fifty six were produced between 1969 and 1982 with many sold as bare hulls to other yards who fitted out their own versions of the boat.
The Mk II has a large sliding head to the saloon and large foredeck, whereas the Mk III saloon has a fixed head with sun roof and a well that replaces the foredeck.
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The forward well of a Mk III Safari.
While there's plenty of seat there's not a lot of space for feet. Open air dining could be tricky.
The Mk II, which is the version built in the greatest numbers, had a number of minor refinements over the Mk I that the casual observer might not notice, but retained two key features of the original version, a large sliding wheelhouse and a spacious foredeck. On the Mk III these two features were replaced with a sliding hatch over the saloon and forward cockpit.
While the Mk II design makes sense for hire fleets that operate mainly in the summer months, the sliding wheelhouse does present some draught-proofing issues at colder times. It also presents some problems when mooring, particularly in wet weather, as to access the foredeck from the saloon one had to slide back the heavy roof and climb a set of steps beside the helmsman's seat before you can reach the foredeck.
Although the saloon on the Mk III is more enclosed and, perhaps, less attractive on perfect summer days, it has the considerable advantage of making mooring easier, particularly when cruising with only two on board, as one simply exits through the door into the well and then climbs onto the seat then the deck. Dropping the mud weight over the bow is a little safer too, as that can be done from within the well.
Given the number of builders it is inevitable that you will find many internal variations in a Safari, the more so as so many have been in private hands for 25 years or more and some have undergone complete re-fits.
The example we went to view, on Wednesday 16 November, was at a brokers on the Great Ouse at Buckden. It was a Mk III and built in 1978 for the hire fleet of Johnson's Yacht Station. The company still has its yard at St. Olaves on the Waveney, but on changing management several years ago ceased operating a hire fleet.
As with many Mk IIIs it was fitted out with a three seat dinette as the internally hinged saloon door prevented the fitting of the four seat dinette that is common in the Mk II boat. Only having three berths was of no consequence for us as we only require a fixed berth for the two of us and only plan to have day guests aboard.
The layout of the Safari we viewed.
The engine is in the centre of the boat under the wider bench of the dinette with the gearbox under the shelf aft of it.
The old hire boat warning sign still in place.
A boat that has been in private ownership since 1990 can be expected to have been customised by a string of owners and be left with an assortment of ugly holes cut into the cabin linings. These would be where now obsolete devices had been fitted only to be removed at some later date. One of the attractions of this example was that it seemed to be very original.
One of the examples of its originality was to be seen beside the "Engine Stop" knob to the left of the instrument panel at the helm. The boat still had its warning notice to hirers requiring them to use the Bridge Pilot at Potter Heigham.
Others notices found around the boat include warnings not to block the space around the hatch in the saloon, or to store things, especially bedding, in the cupboard where the the central heating unit was found.
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The helm and saloon with the dining table stacked between the seats of the dinette.
Stepping into the saloon from the front well, you find the interior finished with what appears to be mahogany panelling. However, you soon realise that much of it is MDF faced with a laminate veneer. The soft furnishings appeared in very good order pleasantly toning with the colour of the superstructure. One can guess that the boat has not been used much for overnight trips as the light fittings hold miniature fluorescent tubes rather than modern and more efficient LEDs. Why the cabin should be decorated with bunting remains a bit of a mystery.
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The galley features a two burner stove with grill and oven. There's also a fridge located under the angled worktop in the foreground. The door to the left accesses the toilet and shower,
Spinning round from the previous photo you see the galley is sited to port, with the door to the shower and toilet to starboard. In this area the panelling is a light blue patterned Formica rather than having a wood grained finish.
The surveyor we employed to examine the boat did express some concern about the curtain that hangs over the stove although there was no mention of this in his formal report. We might have to consider how things can be done a little differently. Certainly, the full height hopper windows can't neatly accommodate curtains.
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List up the central floor panel to reveal a small shower tray. The toilet is the typical marine manually pumped device with a waste holding tank below.
One area of wear that will need to be tackled throughout the boat are the MDF panels where they pass under the windows. Most are blown, presumably after years of condensation dripping in them. On some of the windows an attempt has been made to hold them together by doubling the number of fixings, as can be seen in the shower room.
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The double berth has only one open side with much of the far berth under the gunwale allowing almost no headroom. It's clearly not designed for bedtime reading.
One slightly intriguing feature in the aft cabin is a blackout curtain hung from an expanding pole above the edge of the bed. Why would you want it there? Such things are common in craft with crew working in shifts. A curtain provides some privacy and darkness when others on duty might frequently be passing by, but surely not on a small boat with only one other berth.
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The cupboards and drawers may appear shallow but they reach under the very wide gunwales. In this photograph the shelf indicated on the layout plan is hidden behind the external door that leads to the small aft deck.
In the aft cabin there is a return to wood grain laminate on the MDF panels. The drawers and cupboard door, however, are solid wood and help to give the cabin a traditional feel.
What hasn't been apparent from this set of photographs are the grills that feed warm air to the various cabins. The air is heated by a small unit located under the shelf that would probably have been described as a dressing table in the brochures when the boat was in Johnson's hire fleet. The brokers description did warn that the Wesbasto heater had been decommissioned and it was assumed that this was because it had reached the end of its life.
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The door from the aft cabin leads, via steps, to the small aft deck. Beside the door you can see the vent for the central heating unit. The hatch to starboard covers the storage locker for the gas bottles that fuel the cooker.
Once outside you see the wonderfully wide side decks that contrast with those you find on a narrowboat. They make manoeuvring around the outside of a boat so mach easier and safer. You also notice a set of turn-buckles along the top of the transom. With others they are the fixings for awnings that cover both aft and bow wells as well as both sets of side windows. Apart from the flagpole socket, the turn-buckles are, perhaps, the only fittings added since the boat was sold out of the hire fleet.
One thing is certain. The name of the boat will change in our ownership. Renamed for the fifth time to "Wandering" whilst still on the Broads, it seems once moved to the Great Ouse it was registered under the name "Wandering Star" but clearly the second word had never been added to the boat.
While we both have some experience of boats we are not ardent DIYers. We'll always use professionals to sort out mechanical issues and our efforts at TLC are likely to be limited to basic housework. With that in mind, we had picked this boat to view as it was the tidiest looking amongst those then on the market.
In seeing it in the flesh we found nothing to put us off. We made an offer £2,000 below the asking price hoping that would cover the cost of replacing the Westasto heating unit and curing the noise that I was concerned about in the transmission. The offer, which was subject to a river trial and survey, was accepted and the following day we paid the required deposit. The next step was to arrange the river trial.
Unfortunately we were told levels were very high on the Great Ouse and the Environment Agency was advising against any boat movements. It meant we had to wait until the river was quiet enough for the trip.