BEING a woman in a man’s world is never easy – but when the ‘world’ is that of boats and things nautical, it presents an even bigger difficulty. But that’s a challenge boatyard boss Jenny Beagle, who runs Bridge Marine in Shepperton, has been happy to meet since she took over the business from her parents in 1998.
“My dad bought the yard for my mum back in 1984 and I’d worked here on a casual basis off and on for some time before they asked me if I’d like to take it over and run it when my mum decided to retire,” Jenny recalls.
“I’ve been around boats all my life – when I was little we lived on a boat at Weybridge and my parents have always had boats – so it didn’t faze me, the idea of managing a boatyard.”
But it IS very definitely a male-dominated business so how did she feel about stepping right into the middle of all that testosterone-fuelled machismo?
“I’m a confident person and I expect to be treated with respect,” Jenny said. “At the beginning, when reps used to come into the chandlery to sell us paint or marine fittings, they’d sometimes ignore me and talk to one of the men who work here. My response was just to tell them to leave and not come back until they’d figured out who was the boss. It’s amazing how quickly the message got through.”
Jenny also reckons she’s just as capable as any man when working on marine engines.
“I suppose it’s just as a result of many years’ experience but I can diagnose most problems with outboards,” she says. “Mind you it helps to have good engineers around that you can ask for advice – and I do do that.”
Bridge Marine has undergone a huge transformation since Jenny and her parents, David and Nicky Prior, have run it.
Jenny says: “When my mum and dad first took it over from Ladyline Boats in 1984 it was very run down. It consisted of around six boats and some very dilapidated buildings and we’ve really just flattened everything and made a new start.”
Thousands of pounds have been spent putting up new buildings, constructing a new slipway and installing high-tech CCTV security equipment. But is it a successful business?
Certainly judging from the number of boat owners who now call the yard home, it’s a popular venue.
“We’ve got around 55 moorers here,” says Jenny, “and they provide the bread and butter income month in, month out. But I’ve also extended the chandlery and taken on a Suzuki engine dealership so we’re looking to expand on a number of fronts.”
Although Jenny calls them moorers, her customers actually keep their boats on trailers in the yard and simply give her a call to ask for their charges to be launched whenever they want to go out on the water. The monthly mooring fees can include unlimited launches and recoveries.
What are the downsides of running a boatyard? Well Jenny can attest to the fact that it can be a dangerous business.
“You have to be on your guard all the time. On one occasion, I jumped off the foredeck of a boat onto the quayside and landed right on top of a bollard. It broke my foot and it was absolutely excruciating. I was hobbling around for about six weeks afterwards. Mind you, it does teach you to look where you’re landing…”
One thing’s certain – Jenny Beagle will keep Bridge Marine striding out in the right direction.