Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Cowroast Marina is the copyright of Jim Shead - The eighth of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World May 2004.
Cowroast Lock marks the end of the Grand Union Canal's climb up from the Thames at Brentford to the Tring summit level. Beside the lock is Cowroast Marina, built in about 1980 by Peter Topping. He later doubled the marina area to about 100 moorings.
In 1996 Laurence Dykes bought both this marina and Fenny Marina at Fenny Compton on the Oxford Canal. Laurence came from north-west England and was new to boating. He had been in ill health culminating in major open-heart surgery. Because he was not able to retire at that time he looked for a business with a relaxed atmosphere and decided the marinas would fit the bill. The original plan was for Laurence and his wife, Evelyn, to run the marinas while his son Phil was to start a gardening business back in the north-west. After a couple of months in the business Laurence asked Phil to come and help him on a temporary basis but Phil found he loved the marina business and has been here ever since.
At first the marinas had quite a lot of staff, including people devoted to boat brokerage, the office and chandlery. As time progressed people left and the Dykes, having learnt more about the business, took over the work. Now at Cowroast Phil has an engineer and a site maintenance man who also does boat blacking and other similar tasks. Phil's partner, Karen, also works part-time on the accounting side of the business and works in the chandlery in addition to looking after their young family.
Meanwhile at Fenny there is Pat, a fulltime secretary, the engineering side there is run by Stephen Goldsbrough Boats. This means they have professional engineers on site but don't have to manage that side of the business. This is a strategy which they are looking to apply at Cowroast as they have a very good engineer there who started as a trainee at Cowroast when he was 16 and has now been there for about 16 years.
As Phil explained to me "There are so many aspects to this type of business. The chandlery is very absorbing. The moorings and the brokerage are almost fulltime. I feel that rather than pulling in outsiders, who take a long time to train, it is better to have someone who is excellent at the job working for themselves and know that the people in the marina, and passers-by coming in with engineering problems, will be looked after a hundred percent."
At present Cowroast provides engineer call out from Monday to Friday. They will also undertake fitting new engines, re-building old engines, over-plating, welding, painting, internal woodwork. They don't do boat building or fitting out but can do boat stretching. A covered slipway is provided for DIY blacking at weekends and is used for other work during the week.
Boat brokerage is an important part of the business and up to 15 boats are available in the marina for sale. Sales particulars are available from both marinas and are advertised in the major waterways magazines. They also have their own website which has really taken off in the last three years.
Currently all the moorings are provided with electricity and water. Leisure moorers are the main group in the marina with only a couple of residential moorers permitted for security reasons. Security is further enhanced by lighting in the marina and secure hedge and fence around the perimeter and a gated water entrance under the towpath bridge.
The normal services of pumpout, diesel, coal and gas are provided and opening hours during BST are 9.30 to 5.30 at weekends and 10 to 4 on weekdays. In the winter the hours are 9.30 to 4.30 from Monday to Friday, 10 to 4 on Saturday, and they are closed on Sunday.
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