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James Watt Dock Marina Moves to New Phase

Above - James Watt Dock Marina at Night

In February this year, a partnership between Peel Holdings and Riverside Inverclyde handed over the operation of James Watt Dock Marina (JWD) to Marina Projects. Armed with a very long lease and extensive experience in designing, developing and managing marina and boatyard complexes, the company is ready to take this historic dock into a new phase of development. Carol Fulford visited JWD to ask Jeff Houlgrave of Marina Projects and JWD marina manager Graeme Galbraith to talk shop.

Located on the Firth of Clyde – the largest and deepest body of coastal water in the British Isles – JWD is one of a handful of prime marina sites within the 16 or so marinas and anchorages available on the favoured east shore. “Largs Yacht Haven, Kip Marina, JWD, Rhu Marina and Troon Yacht Haven are probably the prime sites, with Largs as number one on the Clyde,” explains Graeme Galbraith. “But all the marinas and yards are busy, including Fairlie Quay, just south of Largs, which is well known as the main undercover storage facility on the river.”

Although there are nigh on 40 anchorage facilities on the estuary, the east shore offers the road, rail and air transport links to and from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. JWD, in Greenock, is just 15 minute drive to Glasgow Airport and, since opening in July 2011, has become an ideal stop over for the boats heading by sea to the city and for vessels transiting the Forth & Clyde Canal. The location is also home ground to seasoned local sailors who have long appreciated its stunning scenery, safe waters, numerous islands and small towns.


Changing Places

The River Clyde brought prosperity to Glasgow, and successive efforts in the late 1700s and beyond were actually made to deepen it to enable large vessels carrying prime cargoes such as tobacco and sugar to safely travel upstream. By the early twentieth century, Clyde shipbuilding was playing a vital role in the city’s economy but during the 1960s terminal decline kicked in and only a few yards now remain. The merchants who imported raw cane sugar to the sugar sheds at James Watt Dock lasted a little longer but the sheds fell into disuse in the 1980s and the dock became one of the many derelict brownfields sites in the area which are now being regenerated for recreational, residential and business purposes.

The lease awarded to Marina Projects at JWD covers a total area of approximately 14ha (34.6 acres) and includes the marina docks, a generous car park, a boatyard, and land and water space in the adjacent Great Harbour. Boats moor at alongside floating pontoons secured each side of two parallel basins divided by a wide fixed dock. Temporary offices, berth holder showers and toilets, and laundry facilities are located in portacabins installed waterside in the historic sugar sheds. Marina Projects currently has use of the remaining extensive shed space for boat storage but the landlord has longer term plans to restore the entire structure for a probable mix of residential, retail, restaurant and office space. The result could prove to be an exceptional on-site facility for marina users.

Marina Projects has already implemented expansion, adding ten of 40 new berths in July at dockside space just beyond the sugar shed’s and the boatyard. All ten are now occupied. The original pontoon system, installed in five phases from 2011 onwards, was manufactured by Varis Engineering, which is now owned by Inverness based Gael Force Marinas & Pontoons. “We wanted a uniform look for the marina so, although Gael Force has modified the Varis designs since taking over the business, they worked with to create a system that is a close fit,” Galbraith confirms. “We were very impressed with the way they worked with us and cannot speak highly enough of their work.”

The new floating pontoons, like the ‘older’ system, are GRP decked and comprise 2 x 10m (33ft), 2 x 12m (39ft) and 1 x 6m (20ft) fingers. A further 15 x 10m (33ft) fingers are due to be installed this month (November) to provide the extra 30 berths, at least 50% of which are already reserved. Rolec Beliza dockside pedestals are installed throughout.

Above - Luxury Yacht Amarillis at James Watt Dock Marina

Moving Assets

JWD is being driven to an extent by its increasingly successful boatyard and this success will be doubtless build further in future years. “The mooring fields between JWD and Gourock have around 80 boats and there are probably 200 in the area. All need to come ashore for winter so this is very good for the yard,” Jeff Houlgrave explains. “We have limited lifting capacity but still manage to lift about 90 boats during the winter for storage ashore. When we started out, the yard was primarily involved with this winter process but now it’s a working boatyard that’s also busy throughout the simmer. We’ve actually taken on a new team member to help with increased workload.”

An essential element of long term plans, the boatyard will relocate to an interim site at the far side of the existing dock but will ultimately occupy a prime waterside location of the Great Harbour, where Marina Projects also plans to build an additional 200-berth marina. The new site has exceptional access and will have an extensive quayside and enhanced lifting equipment. “We’d like to have a pillar crane with, ideally, 30 ton lift,” Houlgrave muses, “But it depends on budgets.”

The first priority is to construct a permanent waterfront administration building that will sit on the peninsula between the existing JWD marina and the proposed new marina in the Great Harbour. Designed by Richard Robb Architects of Gourock, the £1.25 million building, which currently awaits planning permission, will give the marina an improved operational office and new first class facilities for marina customers. A bespoke bistro café and three retail and office units have been incorporated in the design, all enjoying commanding views over JWD and conveniently located for ease of access by land and water.

The design process, led by Marina Projects executive chairman Geoff Phillips, focused on a building design that meets the future needs of the marina while also acknowledging the local environment. The result is a modern concept, which uses carefully selected materials that reflect the architectural heritage of the historic docks. When the building design was announced in August, the investment was described as forming part of an ongoing and long term commitment by Marina Projects not only to the expansion and development of the JWD business but also to raising the profile of Greenock and Inverclyde within the marine leisure sector. This commitment also extends to the generation of local employment and, where possible, the engagement of regionally based professionals and contractor organisations as the development works progress. Phillips commented: “From the outset it was our stated intention to bring together a regionally based project team for the new marina administration team for the new marina administration building and I am pleased to say that in addition to Richard Robb Architects the project team includes Fairhurst (Glasgow), Allied Surveyors Scotland (Greenock) and Butler Consulting.”

Construction of the building, due to be completed by 2020, will follow a rebuild (by the landlord) of the existing footprint, and completes a major phase for redevelopment of the existing JWD framework.

Next in line will be the Great Harbour marina and the final location for the boatyard. “Building the marina will be market led and it may be built in phases,” Houlgrave reveals. “In terms of timeline, if we’re now starting year two, we’d be looking to do this in year’s five to eight.”

Above - The plans for the new Richard Robb designed Marina 

Attracting Customers

With 125 berths and 155 by close of year, JWD attracts a large range of boats and has a competitive edge in terms of pricing. “Our mooring fees are lower than some of the larger east shore marinas but I think we attract customers mostly because we take a very personal approach to customer service and word gets around about this,” says Galbraith. “For example, we have one customer who knows he can moor up and go out for the evening because the staff on night shift will happily walk his dogs for him.”

“Little things like that are big deals,” adds Houlgrave. “And it’s very important to talk to people and to talk to them about their boat. After all, it’s their pride and joy.”

Most JWD berth holders are very local:“Sailboats dominate and are typically 10-13m [33-43ft] – slightly smaller than on the English south coast. This is typical of the Clyde throughout although there may be an above average amount of motorboats at Largs,” Houlgrave observes.

Visiting boats arrive in all sizes and have included many superyachts, which can be comfortably accommodated on the sheltered dock alongside the sugar sheds. The water is very deep and the only restriction is a 24m (79ft) beam. “We’re ideal for superyachts because we’re so close to Glasgow airport,” he continues. “Owners like the traditions and the culture of Scotland – history, scenery, golf, whisky. And some like to go north and head round to the Baltic.”

Safety and security are also essential, especially in the superyacht sector. “The site is really safe. We have excellent CCTV and good security gates and no need for 24 hour patrols although we will probably look at this when our expansion is under serious consideration. We also have a couple of live-abroads and although we don’t encourage this, it’s an extra means of security,” Houlgrave notes. Fuelling is also to hand at the on-site fuel dock and by special arrangement, and a portable pump-out unit is available. JWD has a major oil spill response plan in association with Peel Holdings.

With no permanent facilities building currently at JWD it lacks a social centre. The marina helped to fill the gap in the summer months by organising a party for berth holders, and event hosting is definitely on the JWD agenda. “All yacht racing takes place between JWD and Rhu Marina [across the estuary] and this could increase our potential to host events in the future,” Galbraith asserts. Houlgrave picks up, “We’ll be better off when we have better facilities in place but even so we would agree to host events now. We have the space and the capability to do so.”

This article was written by Carol Fulford and features in the November/December 2017 issue of Marina World: http://www.marinaworld.co.uk/latestissue0116Tv.asp

To learn more about James Watt Dock Marina visit: http://www.jameswattdockmarina.co.uk/ 

Published: 16/11/2017