Go with the Flo

06 December 2001 by
Go with the Flo

Louise Bennett and Craig Ambury run brunch, lunch and dinner trips down the river Orford, Suffolk, on the Lady Florence, a 50ft motor fishing vessel. Bennett describes their day.

During winter I get up at 6.30am to start cooking breakfast. Craig gets up at 7am, when I take him a cup of tea. After breakfast our commute to work takes about one-and-a-half minutes, so we are usually there by 7.30am.

Craig cleans the heads (toilets) and brass on the boat before each trip, while I start cooking brunch for the guests. When it's a full boat I have one person with me in the galley, arriving at 8.30am to help me finish off. It's a very small galley and customers are amazed at what we produce in such a tiny space.

The first lot of guests arrives at 9am and they might have a glass of fruit juice or, if they're celebrating, a buck's fizz. Then we set sail and serve brunch, either full English or American-style.

Quite often we have to pop to our local suppliers between the brunch and lunch trips to pick up more groceries, but I usually do a shop once a week and have a fruit and veg and bakery delivery three times a week.

At 12pm we start all over again, with a four-hour lunch cruise. We base our menus around local produce and the Orford smoke houses. We have chicken, salmon, trout, and duck breasts smoked especially for us. In winter we serve hot vegetables instead of salads, and add an individually baked steak, mushroom and venison pie. The seagulls like any leftovers; they seem to know when to follow the boat.

We take a maximum of 12 people on each trip, who sit around one large table in the dining room. We sail around Havergate Island, a birdlife sanctuary. It's a magical experience.

You need to enjoy talking to people in this job because there are 12 guests, all wanting your attention. We have a broad base of customers, from hen parties to OAPs, orcorporate events.

I prefer a rowdy bunch who are there to enjoy themselves - it does make the day go faster. One group, from all over the country, met on the boat and had such a good time that they come back each year.

With the winter winds, the river can get a bit choppy. We had winds of up to 100mph recently, but the customers enjoyed seeing the waves splashing up the boat while they were snug inside with the coal fire roaring. It's quite exciting for everybody if it gets a bit rough.

I eat lunch when I can and will usually have a sandwich or some fruit. When you are cooking you don't feel like eating all the time.

After the lunch trip there's quite a lot of physical work to do. Craig brings the boat up to the quay, then I do the fenders and ropes, and lasso the ropes over the bollards to tie her on. We take it in turns to clean the heads. We're constantly repainting decks and touching up varnish. I've lost a lot of weight doing this job - it's a good way of keeping fit.

Our working day in the winter is much shorter than in the summer because our dinner cruises don't run beyond August. The last customers leave at 4pm so we are home by 4.30pm to do our office work. Then we're out to the gym.

Depending on whether we go out or have friends round for dinner, bedtime can be anywhere between 11pm and 2am. n

Interview by Veronica Groocock

The Lady Florence

Joint business partners: Craig Ambury and Louise Bennett
Skipper and commentator: Craig Ambury
Cook and marketing director: Louise Bennett
Staff: 9 (summer); 3 or 4 (winter)
Cost of trips: morning trips are £19.95 per person, which includes brunch; whole boat charters are £231. Midday and evening trips start from £10 per person; whole boat charters from £120 (these prices do not include lunch/dinner)

Just a minute…

What message do have for Tony Blair? I am not into politics at all. We don't even get to watch the news.
Who do you most admire in business? Microsoft's Bill Gates, for believing in his idea and pursuing it.
Who would be your ideal dinner partner? James Martin, the chef

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