Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Hilperton Marina is the copyright of Jim Shead - The third of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World December 2003.
A few years ago Staverton Marina faced Hilperton Marina across the waters of the Kennet & Avon Canal at Trowbridge. Wessex Narrowboats operated their hire fleet from Staverton Marina, which is well placed for exploring the western end of the canal being in easy cruising distance of Devizes, Bradford-on-Avon and Bath. Then Wessex Narrowboats bought Hilperton Marina so uniting the two separate businesses. In April 2003 the business was bought by Alvechurch Boat Centres (ABC) who now operate it under the name of Hilperton Marina.
Spencer Collins was appointed as Marina Manager in June 2003 and leads a team of 12 fulltime employees offering a wide range of services. Boat hire is an important part of the work as is expected from an ABC base. The present fleet, consisting largely of the original Wessex Narrowboats craft, one is already in Alvechurch colours and the others will be changing to the ABC livery during the winter maintenance period. They are also looking at replacing some of these and increasing the size of the fleet from the present 13 boats. The hire boats are turned round on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays when part-time employees augment the permanent staff.
The marina provides about 50 to 60 moorings, a slipway, dry dock, a repairs, maintenance service and a 7-day call out service. The canalside wharf services include diesel, water, pumpout, gas and a purpose designed facility for the disposal of used engine oil - a service that at many boatyards is hidden away if it exists at all. Two day-boats are also available for hire. When I was there both were booked and the hirers were being given full instructions on the boats and on safety matters prior to boarding. With only one lock between Hilperton and Bath Locks, and some of the best of Kennet & Avon cruising on the way, the attractions of such a trip are obvious. Boat brokerage at Hilperton has the added attraction of giving customers a choice of all the boats available at ABC's five sites. Spencer Collins says this has gone well with a lot of interest from customers. He also explained the plans to expand the existing chandlery with a lot of new lines being stocked and perhaps some mail order sales. The company is also well known as a boat builder and steel shells constructed at their main base at Alvechurch are shipped to Hilperton where they are fitted out in the dry dock and painted. The boats are all built to the customer's individual specification.
Before becoming Marina Manager Spencer was a medical engineer for Toshiba doing service, sales, marketing and a bit of everything but found he was spending too long on the road so looked around for a local job. Although this is his first job on the waterways he has had a long interest in the subject dating back to when his parents took him on boat trips when he was young and his memories of the River Thames. He also took an interest in canals and in 1985 worked for the Waterway Recovery Group, on the Basingstoke Canal, attending a canal camp at the St John's Locks. It was at this time he drove Bantam tugs when they were dredging there, which taught him a lot about boats, the way they performed and how to handle them. For the past two years he has lived on a boat that is currently based at Bath conveniently close to his work without "living over the shop". When I spoke to him Spencer had only been Marina Manager for a matter of weeks and was finding it challenging. He had been leaving home at 7am and getting back at 7pm. Perhaps by now things have settled down but I have heard it said that the first fifty years are the worst.
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