Paul Power tried swinging moorings to beat soaring marina prices. Here are his top tips for the best swinging mooring setup…
After almost two decades of being marina berthed and concerned with the ever-increasing mooring fees, myself, and my partner, Brian, decided to look for an alternative, cheaper swinging mooring on the South Coast.
An annual marina berth with Premier Marina in Chichester for our 8m Super Seal Stromboli during the 2018/19 season was costing us £3,500 per year.
One of the main reasons we’ve always opted for marina berthing is we sail with our dog, Benny a golden retriever. The benefits of instant access to the shore for comfort breaks and walks, over our imagined hassles of having to ferry him off in the middle of the night as he’s now getting older, had thus far made us stay put.
But as marina costs continued to rise, we decided to investigate more affordable options that would allow us to continue sailing.
Narrowing the search for a swinging mooring
As we were already in Chichester Harbour this area seemed a logical place to begin our search. Swinging moorings here are managed by Chichester Harbour Conservancy. The harbour master was friendly, approachable, and helpful.
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However, swinging mooring charges, together with annual car parking, tender storage, harbour dues (on both Stromboli and tender) along with an additional charge to use the ‘boathouse’ storage, added up to approximately £1,800 per year for an all-tide mooring.
Neither of us thought the saving was enough to justify giving up the relative comforts of our Chichester marina berth.
As we’d previously berthed and enjoyed Premier Marina’s Gosport marina, we moved Stromboli here for the remainder of our berthing contract, using up some of our annual contract’s 42 free visitor nights, and explored the harbour for suitable alternatives.
Portsmouth harbour has a number of mooring operators offering a variety of options and prices. For example, Gosport Boat Yard include a complimentary ferry service for their moorings, and dinghy storage.
At the time of our enquiry, they didn’t have a suitable deep water mooring for our 8m boat, but helpfully offered to inform us if one became available. Costs were cheaper than our current marina berth, but we wanted to make greater savings if we were to give up our walk-ashore pontoon.
As we work weekends in our retail business, the complimentary ferry service schedule didn’t really work for us on weekdays.
Our search continued, and we finally opted for a £500 annual swinging mooring at Portsmouth Moorings, a relatively short dinghy ride from the public pontoon at the Hardway. A pay-and-display car park is located by the pontoon with a larger public car park within easy walking distance, free for up to seven days.
A number of options are available for winter lift out in yards in and around Portsmouth harbour if and when required.
For example, Quay Lane boatyard, who also offer swinging moorings starting at £500, charge approximately £40 a week for storage in their yard, with lift out and relaunch at a fraction of the costs of a typical marina operator.
Joining a club
We also applied for membership of the Hardway Sailing Club which has its own pontoon, scrubbing grid, clubhouse with bar and restaurant.
Visitors can moor to the Hardway pontoon for £20 a night. We enjoyed mooring here and chatting to the friendly club members and visitors while our membership application joined a long waiting queue.
On the first night on our new swinging mooring, we left Benny with relatives and sat on Stromboli’s bow, watching the red glow of the sun gently lower over the top of the trees until all that remained were amazing shades of red – hard to imagine why we’d spent so many years tied up to a pontoon in a South Coast marina.
Later, climbing into my bunk, the cooling breeze coming through our open hatch, the lights of Portsmouth Harbour flickered with the Spinnaker Tower in brilliant bursts of ever-changing colour. I closed my eyes and nodded off listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the hull.
However, our first trip with Benny didn’t go well. He was excited as we put on his dog lifejacket and somewhat reluctant to climb into our 2.6m inflatable, but once underway he settled into his seat at the bow.
Unfortunately, as we left the relative shelter of the pontoon, strong winds over a spring tide created some chop and soon spray crashed over the bow drenching poor Benny.
To our surprise, this usually sea-loving, super swimmer began to whimper and shake as we bounced our way towards Stromboli.
Finally alongside, lifting Benny up wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. Stromboli rocked and raised in the now angry conditions adding to Benny’s anxiety.
Finally, aboard, after drying him with his favourite towel and treats, all was well. We hoped he’d get used to it, but after a number of similar experiences, we decided it was best to leave him with Brian’s mum when we went sailing.
Then we felt guilty when he wasn’t with us and missed his company. As Benny was now 14, we knew his time with us was limited. There was only one solution – return to a marina so we could have him on board.
We took a winter berth with Premier at Gosport. Benny was thrilled to see his old friends, the lovely staff in the marina office who welcomed him with cuddles and treats.
The costs of our winter mooring, including our swinging mooring, now stood at £1,800. At least this was about half of what we had been paying, so we’d achieved our cost reduction objective.
Benny enjoyed sailing with us once more and when the weather was bad, we stayed on the boat and enjoyed walks in and around the harbour area.
Sadly, at Christmas 2019, Benny took his last sail with us in Portsmouth Harbour. When he climbed off Stromboli for what was to be his last time, he paused for a while on the pontoon, looking back at her, saying his goodbyes. A few days later he closed his beautiful brown eyes for the last time.
Just as we were coming to terms with losing Benny, Covid changed everyone’s lives. Thankfully, we managed to move Stromboli from Gosport marina back to her buoy the day before then Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first of two national lockdowns.
Had we not moved it, mooring costs would have spiralled as we’d have been out of any contract. Later the ‘Stay Local’ regulations meant we couldn’t travel from our home in West Sussex to Hampshire.
When restrictions were finally eased and we were allowed to travel again, we decided to move the boat back to Chichester marina on another annual contract. This way, even with a ‘stay local’ requirement, we’d be able to sail her in Chichester.
Being back at the marina was an odd experience. While it was great catching up with friends on our old pontoon, we didn’t enjoy the long queues that come with trying to get out of a locked marina.
Our annual berthing contract had gone up considerably since we were last here. The following year (2022) we were invited to renew our contract, which had increased again.
An 8m boat mooring at Chichester now cost £4,155 per annum if paid upfront or £4,446 if paid in instalments.
Swinging mooring return
At the end of our annual contract and having been accepted as members of the Hardway Sailing Club, we decided to return to our swinging mooring with Portsmouth Moorings.
While life on a swinging mooring certainly has its challenges, the many benefits, not least the £500 per year versus £4,446 mooring fees, far outweigh the small inconveniences. Being moored in a peaceful, picturesque area watching nature at its best, is just one of many.
As we both anticipate sailing for as long as we possibly can, annual marina berthing isn’t sustainable. Perhaps a combination of winter berthing with a swinging mooring during some years may be the best of all worlds.
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This feature appeared in the January 2023 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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