Travel: Prepare to cast off from Earls Court: Seasoned landlubber Frank Barrett surveys the holiday companies at this year's Boat Show and tries out his sailing skills on the Norfolk Broads

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The Independent Travel
THE words in the London International Boat Show guidebook seem to sum it all up: 'The people who never count the cost to themselves . . . selfless devotion to the service and undeniable bravery.' No, not words describing the efforts of the hard-pressed boating holiday company executives to remain in business in 1992, but publicity for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's stand at the Earls Court show.

At last year's Boat Show, Chris Gordon, managing director of market leader Sunsail, said things could only get better. After 1991, which saw the Gulf war and the outbreak of conflict in Yugoslavia, one might have supposed the worst was over. After a shaky start, 1992 saw some improvement in business, but not enough for comfort. All the boating holiday companies at this year's show are hoping simply to hold their own in 1993. Bookings have been steady and suggest that business will remain at the same level as in 1992.

Alvechurch Boat Centres (021 445 2909): The largest operator of narrowboats on the UK waterways is offering generous children's discounts this year. If you let Alvechurch choose your boat base, the company offers pounds 50 off for each child in the party - a discount of up to pounds 200 on the cost of hiring an eight-berth boat. New top-of-the- range boats feature colour televisions, vacuum cleaners, radiator heating and stereo radio/cassette players; the kitchens also have microwave ovens, toasters, filter coffee machines, even dishwashers. The area covered ranges from Godalming in Surrey to Skipton in Yorkshire. Prices from pounds 265 to pounds 1,280 per week, depending on time of year and size of craft; boats sleep from two to 12 people.

Blakes Holidays (0603 782911 UK; 0603 784131 France and Ireland): UK boating holidays on the Norfolk Broads, English and Welsh canals and the Scottish lochs. A six-berth yacht on the Broads costs from pounds 216 to pounds 614 per week. A four-berth motor cruiser on the Broads costs from pounds 219 to pounds 880 per week. A four-berth narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon Canal costs from pounds 387 to pounds 1,026. Overseas the company has dropped boating holidays in the Netherlands and Florida and now concentrates on France and Ireland. A four-berth cruiser in the South of France costs from pounds 409 to pounds 817 per week.

Caley Cruisers Holidays (0463 236328): In business on the Caledonian Canal since 1969, now with a fleet of 50 cruisers. Prices range from pounds 297 to pounds 1,190 per boat per week depending on season and size of craft.

Crown Blue Line (0603 630513): Three years ago, Crown took over the Rank Blue Line operation to form the biggest British-French canal operator. It has more than 400 boats for hire in a choice of 11 areas, including Brittany, Loire Nivernais, Burgundy, Vosges, Alsace-Lorraine, Lot, Charente, Aquitaine, Midi and the Camargue. Prices range from pounds 304 to pounds 1,773 per boat per week, depending on season and size of craft.

Greek Islands Sailing Club (0932 220477): Dinghy sailing and windsurfing holidays in Paxos, Cephalonia and Ithaca; villa holidays with private boats and sailing in Paxos, Cephalonia, Ithaca and Corfu. 'Whether your idea of an ideal holiday is gliding gently round to a nearby beach in a Wayfarer for a picnic or screaming across the sea in a Force 5 on a Tiga shortboard, Greek Islands Sailing Club can provide it.' One- week prices range from pounds 395 to pounds 550 per person, depending on season, including return air travel.

Hoseasons Holidays (0502 501010 UK; 0502 500555 Europe): An Edwardian-style narrowboat for honeymooners, a sonar-equipped 'Nessie-hunter' and boats with four-poster beds are among the 1,650 boats in the company's hire fleet this year. As well as the Broads, the UK programme also features the Cambridgeshire waterways, the Thames, Scotland's Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness - as well as other canals and rivers in England and Wales. Prices start at pounds 44 per person per week: boats sleep from two to 12 people. In its France and Netherlands programme, the company offers more than 350 boats ranging from two- to 12-berth; prices start from around pounds 60 per person per week (based on six sharing), excluding the cost of travel from the UK.

Med Choice Sailing (071-439 3080): Former Yugotours sailing company offering flotilla sailing, bareboat charter, share-boat and skippered yacht charters, and a two-centre sailing holiday programme. More than 100 yachts for charter in five cruising areas, including the Greek Ionian islands, the Saronic Gulf and the Lycian coast of Turkey.

Minorca Sailing Holidays (081- 948 2106): 'Established in the bay of Fornells for more than 20 years, we have an outstanding selection of new boards and rigs, many fleets of well-equipped quality sailing dinghies and a wide range of accommodation . . .' Programme includes tuition in sailing and windsurfing, racing and sailing for juniors. A seven-night package costs from pounds 374 to pounds 912 depending on season and grade of accommodation: prices include return flights, tuition and use of dinghies and sailboards.

Rainbow Sailing (0792 467813): Bareboat and skippered charter holidays in Turkey and the Caribbean. In Turkey, boats are available from pounds 540 to pounds 2,950 per boat per week.

Sailing Holidays (081-459 8787): Flotilla and bareboat sailing around the Greek islands. 'This flotilla is, in our view, the epitome of what cruising the Greek islands is all about. Mostly shortish days of 12 to 15 miles, sailing from village to village or island to island, with the occasional longer day for the enthusiasts.' Two-week flotilla holidays cost from pounds 295 to pounds 995, depending on the season and the number of people sharing the boat. The price includes return flight from Gatwick.

Sunsail (0705 210345): The company survived its brief association with the now-defunct Airbreak group. It still offers a wide-ranging programme of holidays, including Mediterranean sailing, Faraway Sailing (featuring the Caribbean, Bahamas and Thailand), Sunsail Clubs in Greece and Turkey and the Emsworth Sailing School with RYA approved courses for dinghy sailing and yachting. 'At Sunsail we believe in giving service and providing proper equipment for our yachts. During the season we employ over 400 staff to look after your every need and we don't scrimp on the extras, either.' A one-week flotilla holiday to Turkey, for example, costs from pounds 270 to pounds 880 (price varies depending on season and the number of people sharing the boat), including return flight from London. A two-week flotilla holiday in Thailand costs from pounds 898 to pounds 2,060 depending on season, including return air travel from the UK.

Top Yacht (0753 646636): Bareboat and skippered charter sailing holidays in Turkey and Greece. A two-week sailing holiday in Turkey costs from pounds 357 to pounds 1,505, including return air travel; price depends on season and the number of people sharing.

The London International Boat Show 1993 is at Earls Court until 17 January, 10am-7pm (except 14 January, 10am-9.30pm); adults pounds 7.80, children under 16 free; after 4pm adults pounds 4.50.

(Photograph omitted)

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