Our 50th Anniversary
In 2016 our family celebrated 50 years in the boat hire business. Apart from freezing all our prices, we celebrated with a Summer BBQ where we invited staff from as far back as 40 years ago, as well as holiday customers who had been with us for over 30 years, staff from the Environment Agency, Blakes Holidays, our Community Police Officer, Postman, Accountant, British Marine, Insurance Broker, Web Designer, our IT and Bookings Programmers, Builder and many other businesses who have supported us over the years, not forgetting our Landlady Queen Elizabeth, who unfortunately was unable to attend.
The Early Days
Len and Lou Clark owned their own wooden boat called Iverna, launched the Clark Family into boating when they bought John Hicks Boatyard back in February 1966. Both having been involved with Penton Hook Marina with Lou as club Secretary, the original intention was to slow down and take semi-retirement. They started hiring out punts, with the boatyard mainly being filled with private moorings. Within a couple of years Len started his hire fleet Castle Line, with his first wooden cabin cruiser, and In 1971 he built his first new wooden cruiser, Castle Two, which is still in private hands to date.
Our current proprietor, Chris Clark, along with his wife Pam, started helping his Dad out part-time in 1974 and joined full-time in 1978 with their first two cruisers, both Elysian 27’s, Lady Lynne and Lady Karen sleeping 2 to 4 people.
By 1982 the Kris Cruisers fleet had increased to 5 boats accommodating 2 more 2 to 4 berth boats and a 6 berth boat called Lady Mary, which at the time cost as little as £188 for a whole weeks holiday. In 1983 the fleets of Castle Line and Kris Cruisers increased to 19 boats which included the running of 3 boats for Consort Cruisers. Later that year the 3rd generation arrived straight from school in June 1983 namely Paul, but come September he was off to Kingston College to study Marine Engineering, through the old YTS scheme. This was also the year we left black and white brochures behind and produced our first colour brochure.
In 1985 Chris and Pam’s daughter Karen joined the family business as a young 14 year old boat cleaner. Karen later became our cleaning supervisor before moving into the office on a part time basis, as most of her time was taken up as a swimming instructor. After 33 years Karen left the family business in 2018 to become a full time swimming instructor. The fleet increased further to 20 boats accommodating Lady Alice, a 42′ cruiser sleeping 9 to 11 people. Lots of changes arrived in 1986 as Len & Lou Clark took a well deserved retirement. In the same year Chris’s sister Brenda, bought 4 boats, which included 2 from her parents creating King Craft, and ran them alongside her brother. Kris Cruisers bought the majority of Castle Lines boats along with Consort Cruisers and just for fun purchased an extra 5 boats. The 2 fleets then stood at 27 boats in total, the largest size fleet to be run to this very day from Datchet.
1990 saw even bigger changes with the decision to reduce the fleet in size but increase in quality. The reduction in fleet size to 24 was to allow space for the introduction of 2 Brand New Luxury Cruisers, Lady Alexandra and Lady Kristina costing £60,000 each. They were designed with a low wash hull and were the first brand new hire boats on the River Thames in nearly 10 years. Two years later saw another 2 brand new boats, Lady Emma B a 45′ narrow boat and Lady Victoria a 42′ alpha craft which is still with us although she is now in private ownership. 1992 was the year Windsor Castle caught fire, which started in the Queen’s Private Chapel at 11:33 am on Friday 20 November. In May 1993 the family celebrated Paul’s marriage to Donna with a Sunday wedding, to avoid a Saturday turnaround of course.
The fleet continually changing up and down in size, saw another change in 1995. For the first time Kris Cruisers was the only boat hire company operating out of Datchet. The fleet was reduced to 22 boats when Brenda and King Craft left Datchet for Abingdon ,when Brenda along with her Husband Len bought Abingdon Boat Centre, where they operated their cabin cruisers, a fleet of day boats, rowing boats and a good chandlery. In April 2015 Brenda and Len retired selling the boatyard to Salter Brothers.
The Millennium Forwards
The next 5 years was another important time in our family history starting with big changes in 1998, when we sold 6 of our older boats to make way for 4 newer boats costing £250,000. Lady Selina was 4 years old, Lady Pamela 3 years old, Lady Jane 2 years old and Lady Louise 1 year old from Greenway Marine in Norfolk. In 1999 we exhibited at our first of 11 London and Birmingham Boat Shows with Lady Selina, where she was on display in Earls Court in the Pool. Three brand new boats arrived one after the other with Lady Sophie in 2000, Lady Nicole in 2001 and Lady Natalia in 2002.
In 2004 we bought Lady Elizabeth our biggest brand new boat to date, 48′ in length and 13′ 6″ beam, built by Haines Marine, she was one of the largest cabin cruisers for hire in UK waters, costing around £170,000. Lady Elizabeth was our first boat to have a bow thruster and our 1st boat to have 24hr heating and hot water. She was quickly followed by Lady Annalise in 2006, 42′ long, 13′ 6″ beam with three en-suite double cabins costing around £180,000 and in 2008 Lady Chloe, built by Sheerline, arrived with 2 en-suite cabins costing around £160,000, all built to the same very high standards. In 2008 the first of our 4th generation arrived with Len’s Great Granddaughter Keeleigh, following in her mum’s footsteps as a part time boat cleaner before joining full time working in the office. Paul’s eldest son Martin followed in 2010 joining the family business on a part time basis at the age of 13, starting at the bottom like his father, cleaning hulls and windows. Martin left school in 2013 following in his father’s footsteps to Kingston College, although it was to study Aircraft Engineering. Martin joined British Airways in 2016 where he still works today, but in his spare time has qualified as a Master Scuba Diver. When not at the airport he is still happy to help out the family business as one of our divers, for the rare occassion when a rope or mystery object gets caught around a propellor. Keeleigh has always had a desire to work at the airport and after 10 years working part and full time, made the decision to leave and joined British Airways in July of 2018.
Our next brand new boat, Lady Jennifer was built by Norfolk Broads Direct, arrived in 2012, 40′ in length and with a master cabin to beat all, with an en-suite corner bath and air spa. In 2018 we introduced a new name for our best boats, ‘Elite’ and with that arrived Lady Donna, a Haines 32 was added to our fleet, although not brand new as she was originally built for the private market, with 2 en-suite cabins she is a very worthy addition to our 5 Star Elite boats.
Over the years, we have had many members of the family join us, from sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles, who have all helped our family to establish us as a premier company enabling us to celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2016.
With a New Website for 2020 comes our latest Brand New Boat, and in keeping with our tradition of using family or Royalty names, costing £200,000, Lady Victoria will arrive in time for the 2020 season. The name Lady Victoria is a name we have previously used, but she will be a very worthy addition to our 5 star Elite fleet, a 35′ boat sleeping 2 to 4 people.
In terms of quality, our customers appreciate that not only do we have a modern fleet of excellently maintained boats, we also give a friendly personal service that is the hallmark of a family-run business. This also explains why so many of our customers keep coming back to us year after year.