Regeneration continues at Isle of Wight harbour

Bembridge Harbour (above), a picturesque port of call on the Isle of Wight, is very unusual. Unlike other UK harbours, it is privately owned and with its own Act of Parliament that sets out the terms of its management. But, over the years, private ownership has not necessarily been kind to it.

On Christmas Eve in 2011, the current owners Fiona and Malcolm Thorpe concluded a deal to buy the harbour from administrators who had been appointed earlier in the year. Although armed with enthusiasm and vision, the Thorpes knew they had challenges ahead.
Bembridge Harbour experienced torrid times under various private ownerships until the turn of the century but most of the damage was done to its balance sheet and reputation in the decade up to 2010. The immediate issue for the Thorpes was a huge lack of both annual berth holders and visiting customers. A programme of weekly talks to local sailing clubs and associations between Brighton and Weymouth on the English south coast was instigated, along with discussions with the three clubs resident at Bembridge Harbour.
As a result, upgraded longer berthing pontoons with electric connections were installed; more harbour taxis were purchased; better shower and toilet facilities were constructed; and customer car parking was enhanced.
One forward-thinking enhancement was the establishment of a covered drystack facility; still a rare thing in the south of England. A large shed fronting on to the harbour, with a slipway adjacent to the harbour office, was acquired within a couple of years. A Wiggins Bull marina forklift was imported from the USA and full racking installed to create Bembridge Boat Storage, a facility for around 100 boats (mostly RIBS and sports boats) up to 10m (33ft) in length.
“It took some four or five years for the sailing community to realise that the harbour had become a serious destination on the Isle of Wight alongside Cowes and Yarmouth,” Malcolm Thorpe says. “By then we had a resident restaurant – The Best Dressed Crab – operating on one of our berth holder’s pontoons – and we decided to promote the Duver Café and Steve’s Bar specifically for visiting yachts where local yards have a regular evening happy hour together with harbour customers.”
Development is ongoing. “Our present project is the construction of a brand new harbour office on two storeys on the main dock-head overlooking the visitors’ pontoon that will be completed in March 2024. This will include showers and toilet facilities plus the return of our Galley Locker shop,” Thorpe confirms. “This planning approval also includes 13 yachtsmen’s cottages around the harbour to be developed at a later stage.”
Thorpe acknowledges an interesting 12 years at the helm of a fascinating and wonderful location but is it time for more change at Bembridge? “Wishing I was 30 years younger, even I have to admit that, at the age of 75, perhaps it is time to hand the helm over to younger management to take the business further forwards.”
Anyone interested in learning more about a potential purchase of this unique harbour can email:


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