Strong links

A long-established ferry company linking the Isle of Wight with the mainland has embarked on a £45million investment in future services. Work has begun on a new €30million ship with innovative environmental features for Wightlink and port improvements are underway at Portsmouth and Fishbourne on the Island.

Wightlink and its forerunners have been providing efficient, safe and high quality ferry services to and from the Isle of Wight for more than 180 years. Today, as the UK’s largest privately-owned domestic ferry operator, the company carries approximately 4.6 million passengers per year on its three routes. With eight modern vessels, six ro-ro ferries and two passenger-only catamarans, the company carries vehicles between Portsmouth-Fishbourne and Lymington-Yarmouth while its catamarans carry Islanders and holidaymakers from the end of the historic 200 year old Ryde Pier to Portsmouth Harbour railway station for connections with London and beyond. The crossings take 22 minutes by catamaran and from 40 minutes by car ferry with almost 46,000 sailings a year.

Over the last seven years, Wightlink has already spent more than £70 million on new ships and port facilities. Three new ships purpose-built for the Lymington River were introduced on the Western Solent in 2009, followed by two new catamarans, robust, new-generation, single-decked, purpose-built vessels that have ensured increased reliability with a superior customer experience. Flagship of the Portsmouth-Fishbourne route, St Clare, was refurbished in 2014/15 and now features a branch of the nationwide coffee chain Costa as well as the world’s first on-board bakery from Greggs.

This latest £45 million investment was unveiled in May 2015. It is the biggest in the company’s history. The new ship, as yet unnamed, is being designed and built specifically for the company’s key Portsmouth to Fishbourne route and will have the capacity to carry the equivalent of 178 cars and over 1000 people on each crossing.

Under construction at the Cemre shipyard in Turkey and due to come into service in 2018, the vessel will boast a range of features to reduce the ship’s impact on the Solent and its shoreline. These include the use of MGO fuel for diesel-electric power, a sophisticated power management system with eco-efficient lifts and LED lighting, an optimised modern hull to create low levels of wash and the ability to recycle engine heat for accommodation and water heating. The use of sustainable hybrid battery technology in the new ship will not only reduce Wightlink’s carbon footprint but will also make the ship quieter to operate. Furthermore, to ensure the ship meets all relevant legislation, Wightlink has commissioned environmental specialists throughout the project. Once in operation, this state-of-the-art flagship will be the most modern, comfortable and environmentally friendly ferry to serve the Isle of Wight.

Alongside the addition of this new vessel to the company’s fleet, Wightlink is also improving its terminals at Portsmouth and Fishbourne with enhanced facilities for customers and faster loading and unloading times to reduce congestion. Furthermore, new boarding ramps will enable vehicles to be loaded and unloaded simultaneously on two levels with less noise. In line with this investment, St Clare’s capacity has been increased so it can also benefit from use of the two tier loading system as soon as this is available.

As round-the-clock sailings between the Isle of Wight and the mainland on Portsmouth to Fishbourne vehicle ferries carry the majority of Wightlink’s freight traffic and passengers, these enhancements to the route are certain to improve journeys for Islanders and holidaymakers in terms of road safety, traffic reduction and comfort.

This major investment followed the acquisition of Wightlink by Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners (BBIP) in February 2015. Taking over from Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF), BBIP saw the opportunity to invest in the successful ferry operator and aid further growth. With BBIP at the helm, Wightlink will maintain its focus on safety and customer service; its staffing, pricing, routes or schedules will not be changed as a result of the change in ownership.

Since the change of ownership, the ferry operator has continued to invest in its services and listen to customers. In line with its commitment to using local suppliers, Wightlink has now partnered with The Isle of Wight Ice Cream Company to sell tasty tubs to weekend travellers at its Portsmouth terminal; Island firm Full Spread is also supplying sandwiches, wraps and baguettes to five of Wightlink’s ferries as well as at Fishbourne terminal.

Keith Greenfield became Wightlink’s new Chief Executive in early June 2016. A chartered engineer with a background in transport and telecoms, Keith has been Managing Director of Heathrow Express; he brings a strong track record in customer service and safety management to the company. John Burrows, who has been acting as interim CEO, reverted to his former role of Chief Operating Officer.

With a new CEO on board and the holiday season coming up, Wightlink looks set to continue to ride the waves of change with ease as it maintains its solid reputation for delivering choice, good value, efficiency, availability, comfort and speed to its many customers.

Wightlink

  • The UK’s largest domestic ferry operator invests in a new €30million ship
  • Under new ownership
  • New CEO in June 2016