Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Braunston Marina is the copyright of Jim Shead - The nineth of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World June 2004.
Even by the standards of the British canals Braunston Marina is rich in history. The entrance to the marina and the channel down to the dry docks were originally part of the old line of the Oxford Canal that arrived there about 1774. The arrival of the Grand Junction Canal in 1805 increased the importance of Braunston, a place that has been building boats for over 200 years. Within living memory the site has been Nurser's Boatyard, Blueline and Ladyline, before Tim Coghlan established Braunston Marina in 1988.
Tim comes from a boating family but had not previously had more than a passing interest in canals. He was previously a director of a city firm of stockbrokers, experience that served him well in the long and complicated process of buying the lease of the site and Ladyline's other assets from the receiver. Today he runs the business very much in the style of a city stockbroker's office - he is right there in the middle, sitting with his team, hearing the phone calls, seeing the customers and serving in the shop. His hands-on style of management has worked for him and he believes works in most canal businesses.
When he bought the marina it only had 22 years of the lease still to run. Later the opportunity arose to buy the adjacent factory and to develop housing on the site but Braunston Marina was the leaseholder and BW owned the freehold. It was a chance to tidy the whole site up, bring in main drainage and improve access to the marina. A deal was done with British Waterways so that BW sold the freehold and Braunston Marina sold their leasehold on the land necessary for the housing development. At the same time BW gave the marina company a new 75 year lease which gave BW a 20% share on the turnover of the moorings - increasing the rent by almost ten-fold but avoiding any rent reviews in the period of the lease, thus giving a more certain future for investment and planning development of the business. This is one of the factors that makes moorings at Braunston expensive. "We are the most expensive canal marina in the country," said Tim. A disadvantage they overcome by leading in the quality of service, so that although there are moorings five miles away that are 20% cheaper Braunston Marina is full.
Another factor that adds to the premium rate that moorings cost here is the historic site with many old buildings that take a lot of maintenance. They have a fulltime handyman just fixing problems and it takes between £30,000 and £50,000 p.a. just to maintain the site. This history means they are now in the fortunate position of having docks available but when the company started they were a liability as they all needed expensive restoration and repair - it cost £3,000 just for the roof timbers of one of the docks - and were little used. The docks now get about 98% occupancy due to the increase in boat numbers generally and the lack of dock facilities at many marinas.
The docks are used for blacking and engineering work like replacing stern shafts. For major work like re-plating they lift them out and Dave Thomas, one of the many tenants on the site, does the work. There are about 60 people employed on the site as there are many tenant businesses including; Peter Nicholls boat building, mainly off shore and continental boats; Dave Thomas who builds narrowboats mainly Dutch barge style and does repairs; DB boat fitting and painting; and Merlin doing exactly the same. Braunston Marina itself employs ten fulltime people including four yard-hands.
In the past there have been some well-publicised disputes over development projects between the Marina Company and people in Braunston village. Tim is now concentrating more on boat brokerage as it is one area where he is not dependent on planning permission, BW or any other party. They were selling about £500,000 worth of narrowboats in 1995 and in 2003 they will achieve £3M of sales. The marina is centrally located, right on the A45 and very well known. They also have an attractive marina in which to show the boats. Braunston Marina, offering a myriad of services on this historic site, could not be in a better location, surrounded as it is by canal based businesses in a picturesque village at the middle of the canal network.
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