Making history on the Solent

Keith Greenfield talks to Rebecca Gibson about the investments Wightlink is making to ensure its fleet remains fresh and environmentally friendly

Making history on the Solent

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Wightlink Ferries will make history in summer 2018 when it launches the first-ever hybrid passenger ferry on the Solent between the UK and the Isle of Wight.

Currently under construction at Cemre Shipyard in Turkey, the £30 million (US$37.5 million) newbuild will be the most environmentally friendly ever to serve the Portsmouth to Fishbourne crossing. The 1,000-passenger vessel will have two fixed vehicle decks for 178 cars, and use Wärtsilä’s hybrid battery technology to improve efficiency, reduce the exhaust emissions and lower noise levels.

“We replace our ships at intervals and as part of this, we have commissioned a new ferry using hybrid battery power,” says Keith Greenfield, who was appointed as CEO of Wightlink in June 2016. “We’re also carrying out substantial port improvements as part of our £45 million (US$56.3 million) Investing for the Future programme.”

In another first for the UK ferry industry, Wightlink will install MoorMaster, a vacuum-based automated mooring system, at the Fishbourne and Portsmouth terminals. The system from Cavotec uses remote-controlled vacuum pads on the quayside to moor the ferries in less than one minute and hold them in place during embarkation and disembarkation. St Clare will use MoorMaster from summer 2017 and it will also be used by Wightlink’s new vessel, and may be modified for use by others in future. New two-tier boarding ramps will also enable more efficient loading and unloading at both terminals.

While much of Wightlink’s focus is on preparing for the ferry and completing the terminal upgrades, the line has also continued to invest in improving its existing ferries.

Currently, Wightlink’s six car and passenger ferries and two passenger catamarans operate 46,000 sailings on three routes each year, carrying almost five million passengers from the UK mainland to the Isle of Wight. Car ferries St Clare, St Cecilia, St Faith and Wight Sun all operate 45-minute crossings on the Portsmouth to Fishbourne route, while Wight Light and Wight Sky provide 40-minute services between Lymington and Yarmouth. The two passenger catamarans – Wight Ryder I and Wight Ryder II – sail 22-minute journeys from Portsmouth to Ryde Pier Head.

“Some of our vessels are more than 30 years old, while others are less than 10 years old, but we do our best to keep each ferry looking as smart and modern as we can,” comments Greenfield. “Each vessel goes into dry dock every year for essential routine maintenance. This also gives us the opportunity to invest and install new furnishings and fittings.”

In January 2014, Wightlink invested £1 million (US$1.25 million) to completely refurbish two passenger decks on flagship ferry St Clare, which resumed service in mid-March. In addition to refreshing the vessel’s colour schemes and furnishings during the two-month dry dock, Wightlink added a soft play area for children and a Teen Scene zone with TV screens and music. The line also brought the first Greggs outlet to sea, allowing passengers to purchase a selection of savoury pastries, sandwiches, sweet treats and freshly ground coffee from the UK’s largest bakery chain.

“Although our crossings are short, customers rightly demand high standards and they expect to travel in comfortable passenger lounges and enjoy quality refreshments,” says Greenfield. “We regularly carry out surveys to find out what customers would like to see onboard and which facilities are the most popular. We were delighted to see that both the children’s play area and the Teen Scene zone are well used and greatly appreciated by the younger generation of passengers.”

All six of Wightlink’s car ferries and terminals have food and beverage outlets. “We offer the popular Costa range from one of the nation’s favourite coffee chains onboard our car ferries and at our terminals, and our customers definitely like the familiarity of the high-street brand,” comments Greenfield. “Wightlink also has an ongoing initiative to increase the number of local food and beverage producers and suppliers we work with.”

In recent months, the operator has teamed up with multiple Isle of Wight-based food and beverage companies, enabling passengers to purchase produce from The Isle of Wight Ice Cream Company, The Isle of Wight Sweet Company, The Isle of Wight Biscuit Company of Arreton, sandwich company Full Spread and Goddards brewery. Family-run business Island Roasted provides its award-winning drum-roasted coffee onboard St Clare, while the ferries on the Portsmouth-Fishbourne and Lymington routes sell garlic-infused chutneys, mayonnaises, sauces and beer from The Garlic Farm. Meanwhile, Wight Crystal is now the preferred supplier of bottled water for the line’s ferries and its onshore retail outlets.

Working together with leading brands and our island community gives us a range of tasty treats to offer our customers,” says Greenfield. “However, sometimes the simplest options are the most popular – often the travellers on our early morning ferries seem to just want toast!”

According to Greenfield, Wightlink’s most recent upgrades have improved both passenger satisfaction and the company’s financial performance.

“New ships and terminal improvements are inevitably multi-million pound investments, but if the money is spent wisely, it has a direct benefit for the Wightlink’s bottom line,” he explains. “However, less expensive changes to services can also effectively improve financial performance. This could be enhancing customer care, and updating the customer relationship management systems with targeted marketing messages to attract more passengers. We’ll continue with such investments in future.

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