This month, ChesterBoat managing director Brian Clarke celebrates his 40th year working on the River Dee. From his humble beginnings as a boat skipper in 1979 to buying the business in 2003 with successes and adventures along the way.
Brian started his career in 1979 as a boat skipper. The first employee of previous owner of Bithell Boats, Robert Adamson, Brian was instrumental in assisting Robert in turning around the failing boat business which had been purchased from property developers Pochin. Their interest was in the development of The Groves and the riverside.
As a skipper, Brian worked on small wooden boats which required regular maintenance. The Prince Charles, The May Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Princess Anne, and The Raglan formed the wooden fleet. It was two years later that the Lady Diana was introduced to the fleet as the first modern steel passenger boat, a much larger and more comfortable boat with a bar. The heated and enclosed Lady Diana enabled the company to offer a year-round service.
The Lady Diana has remained the flagship, joined by other boats such as the Mark Twain, brought up from the River Thames and remodelled at Birkenhead’s famous shipping yards under Brian’s supervision.
Brian’s hard work and vision paid off as he was offered shares in the business in 1989 and then bought the business outright in 2003. “It was a great opportunity for me to realise my vision for the leisure trips on the Dee,” Brian commented.
Never one to stand still, Brian spotted an opportunity in York to undertake a new venture. He took the last of Chester’s wooden fleet, The Prince Charles, and built the business before eventually acquiring the main boat operator.
“It was fun in York,” Brian said, “but my heart lies in Chester. It is where I started out and where I live. I love Chester and particularly the River Dee, so selling the York business was inevitable and selling to UK City Cruises in their first venture outside of London was a good move for both businesses.”
Brian also developed the passenger boat business at Shrewsbury, building the business before selling to a local who continues to operate the service.
Brian is no stranger to adventure, having motored his private 45ft motor cruiser from Chester over Chester Weir and out to sea to France and onto Gibraltar, and later from Spain through the French canals to Paris before returning to Chester.
Back in Chester, Brian has developed the commercial side of the business, Commercial Boat Services, providing safety boats, tugs and cranes nationally, including the amphibious rescue service for the construction of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, and more recently to transport the Liverpool Giants across the Mersey.
ChesterBoat and its three leisure cruise boats now carry an estimated 100,000 passengers a year from all over the world, enjoying the relaxing leisure cruise on the River Dee.
Happy 40th anniversary Brian!