Paul and Karen Williams tell us about their experiences of getting into boating – the buying process, taking delivery of their Bayliner VR6, their initial exploits and the lessons learned.

I (Paul) have always had an interest in, and passion for, boating. Being on and around water makes me feel relaxed and allows me to switch off from whatever else is happening in the world. I can’t book a holiday anywhere without including some sort of boat hire or trip, so Karen hasn’t had much choice other than to develop a love for it too. I just never considered the possibility of actually owning a boat until the lockdowns in 2020/21 gave us too much time to think and work things out. When we considered the possibility of actually buying a boat, we took a drive up to Windermere to see what they had available – only to discover that getting a berth in the marina was going to be very unlikely. However, the salesperson we spoke to told us he was attending the Southampton Boat Show the following month, so we looked into that and decided to have a weekend at Southampton to look at options there.

Paul and Willow’s Dream

Paul and Willow’s Dream

While we were at the boat show, it was Karen who first laid eyes on the Bayliner VR6 that we eventually went on to purchase. We did have slightly different ideas of what we wanted initially, but after spending the day looking around, we both agreed that the Bayliner had everything we were searching for. We were both going into this with a view to leisure use, therefore a ‘day boat’ was fine for what we wanted. We did some research and understood that this Bayliner was considered an entry-level boat, which was fine as that’s exactly where we were.

The boat

The one thing that was important to Karen was finding an open-top boat with room to lounge around, especially during the summer months. The VR6 caters for this nicely with its L-shaped cockpit seating and additional sun pads for the bow. We both wanted a cuddy cabin and a head because, even though we intended to use it as a day boat, we did want the option of staying overnight at the marina.

The new Bayliner VR6 in its glory.

The new Bayliner VR6 in its glory.

I was looking at the more practical features, so important to me were the 225hp Mercury engine, bow thruster, full canvas pack, electric windlass and Mercury VesselView. With being so new to boating, I wanted to ensure we had equipment that would make this as easy as possible. Because we purchased the boat from the boat show as a demo model, it was fully loaded with extras, so we both got everything we thought would be important.

Location

On the lift at Conwy Marina.

On the lift at Conwy Marina.

Once we had secured the boat, we then had to work out where we would put it. Initially the idea was to have it on Windermere, but as that wasn’t possible, we had to look at other options. We didn’t want anything more than a two-hour drive because we really wanted the opportunity to wake up on a nice day and decide spontaneously to have a day on the boat. From Liverpool, the best option was to head south to the beautiful North Wales coast. Conwy was an attractive destination because it is around an hour and a half’s drive, but equally as important is its gorgeous landscape. One of the attractions of Windermere was the walks around the Lake District, but Conwy is surrounded by the Snowdonia mountain range and ticks the box of other activities we were hoping to enjoy around our boating adventures. We took a look around Conwy Marina and instantly loved it. Once again, we were told that berthing spaces were very limited, but fortunately, they managed to fit a boat of our size in. So, we had the boat and we had the location, but the change from a lake to a coastal area brought with it another challenge. We quickly realised that this changed our outlook dramatically with having to learn all about the tide, weather, VHF radio, sill gates and much more!

Preparation

After more research, this time into powerboating and coastal boating, it was apparent that our best option was to start with a Powerboat Level 2 course. We had arranged for the boat to be delivered in the middle of February 2022 before the season got going so we could get out while it was quiet (without making too much of a fool of ourselves). We booked the course in November 2021 and that’s when it felt like our adventure had really begun. We had a weekend of cold but lovely weather for that time of year. The training was done on the Menai Straits, and we seemed to take to both the practical and theory elements of the course. We both really enjoyed it, and it reassured us that we had made the right decision to blindly get ourselves into the boating world. What we didn’t realise until later was that it actually would have served us better if the weather conditions had not been so perfect!

Training day!

Training day!

After we had completed the RYA Powerboat Level 2 course, we then moved on to route planning and ensuring we had all the required equipment before the boat was launched. We planned our routes in the traditional way with chartplotters and had around five prepared. We probably went more into this than necessary given the type of boat we had and the areas we would be travelling to, but better safe than sorry. We also checked that we had all the necessary gear, including life vests, fenders, ropes, knife, boathook, VHF radio (and course), etc. The list was much longer than we had anticipated, but again, as part of our boat purchase a lot of the essentials were included.

Karen at the helm of Willow’s Dream.

Karen at the helm of Willow’s Dream.

We also had to decide on a name and went with Willow’s Dream. With Willow being what I often get called (short for Williams) and the boat being my dream, this seemed a fitting name.

Maiden voyage

The boat was delivered and launched on a lovely but crisp February morning. The guys from Bates Wharf filled it up with unleaded and put it in its berth for us. We were stricken with nerves but decided to take it out for a short time just on the River Conwy to give us a feel for it. Getting off the dock for the first time was fine, and we made it out of the marina and through the first few buoys of the Conwy channel before realising we had no life vests or kill cord on! I think we were just overwhelmed with excitement and nerves, so all of our most basic training went out of our heads.

Sightseeing Conwy Castle

Sightseeing Conwy Castle

Once we had composed ourselves, we decided to head back to attempt our first docking! I think this was the thing I was dreading most, but by taking it very slowly we managed to get back into our berth without any incidents or drama. We decided to come back the following weekend and take Willow’s Dream out for a proper maiden voyage.

So the time had come for our first real adventure! We had recruited Karen’s brother to come along with us in case we needed an extra hand, and the three of us set out on course for Puffin Island. This is a place we went to during our training and we couldn’t wait to go back there. Once again, we left the berth without too much of an issue, although straight away I could feel the difference in the wind and did have to work harder not to drift too close to the nearby boats. The wind on this day didn’t look too bad, but this was down to my inexperience, and I hadn’t looked at the proper information to see what gusts to expect, which were more like a force 4–5.

Paul at the helm, mindful of the speed limit

Paul at the helm, mindful of the speed limit

Getting out to Puffin Island was cold but the sea conditions were manageable. We got to the north point of Puffin Island, where we could see the seals as well as puffins in large numbers. It was fantastic. But I did notice a massive change in the sea conditions at that point, so we headed around Puffin Island to come back to the marina. That’s when we faced our first realisation of how seriously one should take the weather and sea conditions! It quickly became apparent that we had been travelling with the wind on the way out, but were against the wind coming back in. The waves were smashing straight over the front of the boat, soaking all three of us, which, mixed with the cold conditions, made for a very uncomfortable and scary journey back. Karen and her brother clung on with their heads down while I motored us back towards the marina, catching every wave with my face. I really feared for us going back because we hadn’t experienced this in any of our training (not their fault, the weather was ideal), so we were massively unprepared. It had become ‘Willow’s Nightmare’. About halfway back, I saw three dolphins jumping in and out of the waves, which did give us a bit of joy in the madness. Karen and her brother managed to lift their heads just enough to see them but still didn’t speak during the sighting.

When we eventually got back to the buoyed channel, the conditions started to calm down, so we felt more relaxed, until we realised we had to dock the boat in a wind that we hadn’t experienced before. Once again taking it very slowly, I thought I had mastered it with Karen ready with the ropes, but the bow took a swing just as we were about to land. Karen’s brother took the brave decision to jump off (I think by this point he just couldn’t wait to get off!) and he managed to pull us in.

This experience definitely taught us to respect the elements. It had actually started to put doubts in my mind about how much use we would get out of Willow’s Dream if conditions weren’t great. Fortunately, that was the only bad experience we have had, and since we learned the hard way what people kept telling us, we have never made the same mistake again. Respect the conditions …

The summer

Entertaining on the sun deck

Entertaining on the sun deck

We went out as much as we could before the summer months and really started to feel comfortable with the boat. However, when we did get to summer, that’s when boating became the real pleasure we thought it would be. It genuinely brought us closer to family, friends and nature. We hardly had a weekend without somebody visiting, which was really nice. We have seen dolphins again (when we could enjoy them), plenty of seals and birds, and the views just don’t seem to get any less exciting. We did over 40 hours on the engine, but we had plenty of time anchored up and at the marina too. Our friends and family have brought their kids, who have had a magical experience, and we have enjoyed some ‘adult’ days with a few drinks involved (once safely back at the marina for the captain). We have been out in the day mostly, but also at sunset, which can be breathtaking. Lockdowns and travel restrictions did help us to appreciate what we have on our doorstep, and although we will still travel to take in other cultures and experiences, this has given us a great break from the working week. We are already looking forward to next summer and will definitely take some time off work to extend our weekend visits.

Reflection

From initially looking at putting a boat on a lake to where we are now, it has been a very enjoyable journey. We have learned a lot, made new friends and really looked forward to our boating weekends. We don’t have any regrets so far and hope to continue our journey into future years. The Bayliner VR6 has provided us with everything we needed for beginners. I think we have been lucky so far and we have yet to do any real maintenance, so I am sure we have more testing times to come, but we will be ready for them.

From initially looking at putting a boat on a lake to where we are now, it has been a very enjoyable journey

Future plans

We are already thinking about an upgrade. We would like to get more adventurous and travel further out with probable overnight stays. Karen still loves having the open boat, so we will try to stick with a similar style but with a more practical cabin and facilities and a second engine. Other than that, we would stick with all the upgrades we have on Willow’s Dream.

Features

Bayliner VR6 Cuddy

  • Year: 2022
  • Length overall: 22ft 4in
  • Beam: 8ft
  • Engine: Mercury V6 225 XL unleaded (196L fuel capacity)
  • Digital dash with VesselView 9in upgrade
  • Electric windlass
  • Bow thruster
  • Full canvas pack

Being new to boating, anything to aid us on the water was a welcome addition. The Mercury engine is a definite highlight with its low noise level and enough power for some sporting use on the River Conwy. The bow thruster was also something important to us as beginners. This has been used less and less as we have gained more experience, but the feature was well utilised in our early days and is always at hand to bail us out of trouble if we find ourselves drifting in the marina. The full canvas pack has been an important feature for us as we like to spend time on the boat when docked at the marina – this keeps us dry and warm in the unpredictable UK weather. It has also been used by a couple of guests as overnight accommodation with the seating layout changed to the sun pad configuration.

The proud master!

The proud master!

About Paul and Karen

Paul and Karen are both from Liverpool, have been married for eight years and work full-time. Both jobs are full on Monday to Friday, so boating has become a great hobby to give them a break from working life at weekends and refresh themselves for the week ahead. Paul works in sales, with his main interest outside of work being football, and he is a keen Liverpool fan. Karen has her own bookkeeping company, and outside of work she enjoys reading and travelling. They have similar goals in life in that they both want to work hard in order to play hard! They have a strong work ethic, which enables them to enjoy their other interests, especially in these difficult times. They appreciate any little luxury they have as if it could be gone tomorrow, because you never know what is around the corner.

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