Giving berth to a dream

ROB MARSH has a dream. He wants to make Shepperton Marina the best on the Thames – no small ambition when you consider some of the competitors he’s up against.

ROB MARSH has a dream. He wants to make Shepperton Marina the best on the Thames – no small ambition when you consider some of the competitors he’s up against. But the 39-year-old managing director of the Felix Lane yacht haven is a determined character who exudes an infectious enthusiasm and as you listen to him talking excitedly about his plans to expand the marina, you cannot help but be caught up by his vision.

Plans to enlarge Shepperton from its current capacity of 250 boats up to nearly 500 were approved by Spelthorne Council earlier this year and preparatory surveying work is already under way.

The first block of 50 new berths will probably not be ready for occupation until spring 2009 at the earliest, but Rob, who spent 15 years of his life working for a merchant bank as a bond trader, is adamant that Shepperton will expand in a controlled and environmentally-friendly way.

“It’s important to us to grow in a way that will benefit boat-owners and look after the local wildlife,” he says, pointing, as an example, to the excellent relationship the marina has with the neighbouring swan sanctuary run by Dot Beeson.

“We renewed a lot of our pontoons recently and passed the old ones over to the sanctuary to help them out. We believe in supporting local charities like that.

“The Environment Agency is keen to get boats off bankside moorings and into marinas like this but there are simply not enough berths available because of the rapid growth in the number of craft on the Thames,” he said. “We’ve had these plans to expand for some time but it’s great now that we’ve got the go ahead. A real bonus is that we already have the lake here so we don’t have to worry about gravel extraction or having heavy lorries running up and down the road. We just have to put in place the infrastructure to support extra moorings.”

That infrastructure will consist of the installation of a new electrical sub-station to supply power to the additional berth-holders and a fresh water distribution system along with new toilets, showers and a laundry block. The marina will also benefit from the modernisation of its workshop facilities with the construction of a new service centre.

Rob and his operation manager, Steve Gray, agree that one of the major expansion areas for Shepperton will be catering for canal boats.

“That’s a real growth market,” says Steve Gray. “You can buy a decent-sized narrow boat with excellent facilities and a reliable diesel engine for under £100,000 now and potter about on the canal network. But there are relatively few places where boats of 50-or-so feet in length can moor. We’ve already got a waiting list of 50 people wanting narrow boat moorings so we hope to be able to address that need.”

So good news for boat owners with the prospect of a steady stream of secure, well-equipped new moorings coming on line in the years ahead.

I wondered whether Rob Marsh had a boat himself. He grinned, pointed out of the window and chuckled: “Yes, too many of them…”

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