Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Whilton Marina is the copyright of Jim Shead - The seventh of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World April 2004.
Whilton Marina is located beside Whilton Bottom Lock at the foot of the Buckby flight. It was built in 1971 by David Steele who had a background in construction and civil engineering but no previous connection with the canals. At that time there were no services here and the site was just an empty field between the canal and the railway. Seeing the business potential of a site so well placed on the waterways network, and having the skills to manage the digging out of the large marina, David Steele acquired the land and established the marina. The water space is still the same size as when the marina first opened although buildings and facilities have been added over the years.
The marina is still owned by Steele family and is now in the hands of David Steele's two sons, Nigel and Richard. I spoke to Richard Scowen, the Sales Manager at Whilton Marina, who explained the history and present day operations of the company. It started off as general moorings and then, very soon after the marina was built, boat sales were started. There was a period in the 1970s when they constructed fibre-glass river cruisers. This only lasted for about 3 or 4 years as it came at a time when canal boaters were turning from plastic to steel.
They have 200 moorings to let for private use plus 50 moorings dedicated to boat sales. Moorers at the marina can join the Whilton Marina Cruising Club. Boat brokerage and sales is the main part of the business employing six people. The marina office is dominated by displays of boats for sale and the water space immediately outside is packed with boats for sale. No wonder that they sell over 200 boats every year ranging from relatively cheap to top of the range new boats. They advertise in the major waterways magazines and have a website which they manage and keep up to date from their office on site.
In addition to the boating side of the business they have storage for 450 caravans at Whilton and also own Cosgrove Park - a 180 acre caravan and leisure park next to Cosgrove Lock.
The facilities at the marina are impressive and include two slipways, two wet docks and access to all the usual engineering facilities as they have an electrical engineer, gas engineer as well as general diesel engineers. There are eight people employed on the engineering work. Over plating, boat stretching and major repairs are done by contractors on site. They now have three boat fitters on site - Evolution Narrowboats, Ebony Narrowboats and Geoff Corbett who was about to retire and in September 2003 and was finishing his last narrowboat. The Sales Office also represents two other manufacturers of new boats - New Boat Company and George Morris Narrowboats.
The whole of this busy marina employs around 20 people in the various businesses. The excellent Whilton Chandlery on the site is run as a separate business by Richard Saillet and is well stocked to serve the boater, the tourist and the passing walker. A stop at the marina can provide all the usual services, such as pumpout, diesel, water and overnight moorings as well as the opportunity to buy a wide range of products and services, from a newspaper to new boat.
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