A long-established ferry company, 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 the UK’s largest privately-owned domestic ferry operator, Wightlink carries approximately 4.5 million passengers annually on its three routes.
Boasting eight modern vessels, six ro-ro ferries and two passenger-only catamarans, the company carries vehicles between Portsmouth-Fishbourne and Lymington-Yarmouth; Wightlink’s catamarans, meanwhile, 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. Discussing the reasons behind the company’s success, John Burrows, Project Director at Wightlink comments: “Wightlink operates the biggest cross-Solent fleet and runs more services than competing companies, including car ferry crossings in the middle of the night. Our modern ships offer customers a swift and comfortable experience and we also offer regular customers and Isle of Wight residents a range of fare discounts.”
To remain competitive, the company has 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 Wight Taste – a shop selling Isle of Wight produce.
“Everyday maintenance is carried out by crew, engineers and contractors and each vessel is withdrawn from the route for refit each year,” notes John. “Following £70 million investments in the Lymington-Yarmouth and Portsmouth-Ryde routes, it was time to invest in our main Portsmouth-Fishbourne route, which carries most of our freight traffic. The new vessel will use battery power as well as low sulphur marine gas oil.” Other features of the vessel include 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. The vessel, which will have capacity to carry the equivalent of 178 cars and more than 1000 people on each crossing, is under construction at the Cemre shipyard in Turkey and will enter service in the summer of 2018.
Work began on the vessel following the unveiling of a £45 million investment in May 2015 on the Portsmouth to Fishbourne route, the biggest in Wightlink’s history. However, this major investment also includes port improvements at both Portsmouth and Fishbourne. This development includes the enhancement of facilities for customers as well as faster loading and unloading times in order to reduce congestion. Additionally, new boarding ramps will ensure vehicles can 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 the use of the two tier loading system as soon as this is available.
Because 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 improvements are certain to enhance journeys for both islanders and holidaymakers alike when it comes to road and safety, traffic reduction and comfort. A more recent enhancement that is due to begin was announced by Wightlink in January 2017 and involves the installation of a sophisticated ultra-modern mooring system at the company’s car ferry terminals in Fishbourne and Portsmouth. The MoorMaster automated mooring units from technology firm Cavotec will cut turnaround times on both sides of the Solent and thus improve timekeeping and efficiency once installed in the summer of 2017.
While efficiency, innovation and high quality vessels are key to Wightlink’s success, the company is also keen to provide customers with an exceptional on-board experience. As such, Wightlink announced a new partnership with Island Brewery in Newport in February 2017; the partnership, which follows similar initiatives with Wight Crystal, the company’s preferred supplier of bottled water, and Island Roasted, the provider of artisan coffee on board St Clare, will offer passengers the opportunity to enjoy a range of ales at competitive prices during their journeys. The company also recently celebrated the opening of a new shop onboard its flagship vessel St Clare on February 10th 2017 with a number of local producers and suppliers available to meet customers and discuss their products; these included the Garlic Farm, Wight Crystal, Full Spread sandwiches and Medina Foods.
With ongoing investments and improvements within Wightlink taking place, further success and growth appears to be on the horizon as the company as it continues to deliver high quality journeys to its customers. “Our main focus is to successfully complete our investment in a new ship and port facilities, while our strategic vision is to be the easiest way to cross the Solent with outstanding customer service,” concludes John.
UK’s largest privately-owned domestic ferry operator
Investing £45 million in future services on Isle of Wight route
Investing more than 30 million euros on a new environmentally friendly ship