As the end of another year approaches, I am thinking back over 2023 which was another busy year for our teams both on and off the water.
Commercial trade has been disappointingly quiet in Fowey this year with both exports of china clay and aggregates below anticipated levels. The industry is continuing to feel both the impacts of world events and the impact of high operating and fuel costs. There have been major investments made in developing the aggregate trade by project partners in London and Cornwall, so we remain optimistic that the aggregate cargoes will grow in the coming years.
Demand remains high for our tug services outside of Fowey and one of our tugs is permanently stationed in Plymouth to fulfil services to support the hydrocarbon and cement industries within Cattewater Harbour.
Due to the uncertainty of commercial cargoes in Fowey, the Commissioners have made a conscious decision to target their efforts into increasing cruise calls, a sector that they can influence. A Cruise Manager has been appointed to better market Fowey to the cruise industry, but this will take time to come to fruition as cruise ships tend to book 2 to 3 years in advance. Cruise days bring business to the town from not only ship’s passengers, but also locals and visitors coming into town to see these impressive vessels. I don’t want Fowey to be overvisited, rather retain an air of exclusivity, we are envisaging the number of ships to remain similar at less than 20 per year, but we are working hard to improve the passenger experience and are engaging with local businesses and excursion destinations.
The leisure sector has seen another busy season. Although our statistics show that the numbers of visiting boats were slightly down on last year at around 5000, there continued to be extremely high levels of casual users including day boats, kayaks and paddleboards using the harbour and estuary. Our primary function as a Harbour Authority is to manage the water space and ensure the safety of all harbour users, it is essential that we remain dynamic in our approach to safety and management of the various activities that take place in the harbour.
If you’ve made a visit to the Harbour Office recently you will have seen the display from our improved port radar and CCTV systems. This integrated system logs vessel speed and course and alerts us if limits are exceeded, so be warned that you’re being watched (and recorded!).
The Commissioners have continued to focus on improving the facilities available to users and our team. The petrol facility installed at the start of the season has proven popular and convenient for both leisure and commercial users. The main section of Penmarlam pontoon was replaced ahead of the season with power and electricity extended to all berths. Grid Irons and visitor pontoon 3 were also replaced making further improvements to our facilities for visiting and resident boats.
Although as I look out the window now, most leisure boats are laid up ashore for winter and their moorings are empty, we use this period to undertake our extensive mooring maintenance programme for the 1500 moorings which we license. This involves lifting and servicing all moorings as well as diver inspections of the trots and commercial moorings. We also use this opportunity to dredge within the mooring areas and hard to reach parts using the ‘Lantic Bay’ which has recently benefitted from a new digger bucket.
The Harbour Commissioners are keen to minimise our impact on the environment and will soon be installing electric vessel charging points at both Berrill’s Yard and Penmarlam. As a partner in the ZEVI Project FHC will be operating two electric powered work vessels as part of a 3-year trial to evaluate their performance.
Demand for resident berths and storage facilities remains high and we continue to assess how we can improve useability and provide extra capacity to encourage people to get afloat. It is incredibly frustrating that another year has passed and the devolution of Caffa Mill still remains incomplete. The waterside storage that this site provides has great potential but at present is in a dilapidated state. We continue to challenge Cornwall Council about the safety of the site and slipway, something which will need to be rectified once the site is devolved to us. This is a project which the Commissioners acknowledge as growing in complexity and cost as time goes on.
We have pressed on with restoration works at Whitehouse Pool and would like to acknowledge the financial support received from the community via the crowdfunding appeal led by Alan Giles and Matt Akrigg. The conversion of the former toilet block into a café outlet and toilet facility should start in Spring. These investments will benefit the wider community, revitalising this area of the town and provide facilities for ferry passengers and beachgoers.
Another project scheduled for 2024 is the start of the long-overdue renovation of the workshops at Brazen Island, this will not only improve the working conditions for the team but also modernise their workspace.
Fowey’s waterborne events calendar was in full flow again this year with the Classics and Regatta sailing events along with the Ex-Lifeboats and visiting rallies, but a particular highlight for me was the Morvargh Sailing Project’s Aspire 360 Round Britian challenge. This took young people from all walks of life on a journey of a lifetime sailing around the country. It was a such a pleasure to welcome the Helen Mary-R and the crew back to their home port of Fowey, seeing their smiles as they literally danced on the deck and a few tears as they saw their families after their epic 5-week voyage. This project inspired the Commissioners to explore what could be done to better facilitate our young people getting afloat, through sailing, rowing, paddling and school activities. There has been very constructive discussion already through the Fowey Port User Group and we look forward to being part of this project as it develops. We want to inspire our young people and introduce them to the wide variety of potential maritime careers as they will be our water users, and maybe even staff, of the future.
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of the Fowey Harbour Team, although a relatively small team of less than 30 staff, we undertake a whole host of tasks, and no day is ever the same! We continue to invest in our people providing them training to develop their skills and knowledge in their professional development towards the skilled roles such as Tug Skippers and Engineers, which take many years of training to achieve.
Finally, to the financial situation, I have outlined the turbulences to our income this year especially from the commercial sector and that, coupled with continued increases in costs of materials, fuel and labour along with our programme of investment to improve facilities means that our costs have been high this year. This has led to an increase in your invoice for 2024, although we have tried to keep increases to a minimum as we acknowledge the general rise in the cost of living. We know that for many of our users, boating is a luxury that may be adversely affected by these rising costs. We will try and help where we can to assist in spreading the cost, please do discuss your needs with us as early as possible.
Please make sure the details we hold for you and your boat are correct it is essential that we have up to date address and telephone details. You can use your customer portal to pay invoices online, manage your account and update your contact preferences. Details of how to log-in and your unique renewal code can be found on your invoice.
Moorings are allocated by vessel size, type and length overall and our approval must be sought before any change in boat on any mooring, including pontoons and frapes. You risk being found liable for any damage resulting if you are oversize. We do our very best to ensure boats do not come into contact with each other but without the right information from you, spacing and swinging room is sometimes insufficient and vessels can come into contact. Please also ensure you always have adequate fendering arrangements in place, responsibility for the safety of the vessel always lies with the owner.
As part of the terms and conditions of taking a mooring, you undertake to ensure your vessel has adequate insurance cover (including wreck removal). We will continue to request proof of insurance from a small number of customers annually to ensure compliance. We also recommend noting serial numbers, marking and ensuring sufficient security of your boats and engines as a deterrent to marine crime.
A reminder that pontoon tender licences are only issued to boats of less than 3.65m. We have received a number of complaints this year about congestion on the pontoons and identified some boats that were oversized or unlicensed. If this issue continues we may be forced to limit the numbers of licences issued, so please ensure your tender is the correct size, that you moor considerately and abide by our pontoon rules.
Before the season starts, make sure to check that your safety equipment and lifejackets are in good order and that flares are in date. The RNLI’s sea safety team are also available to offer further advice and guidance.
We hope you have found this newsletter informative and useful. We are here to help so please feel free to contact us if you have any specific queries or require any further information.
Don’t forget you can also get more information from our website www.foweyharbour.co.uk
I wish you a safe and enjoyable time afloat in 2024.
Paul Thomas, Harbour Master