Wendy Stowe on her new role as Harbour Master of the Beaulieu River

Photo by Jason Allen

Photo by Jason Allen - Credit: Archant

The only female Harbour Master on the South Coast, Wendy Stowe has recently taken over management of the Beaulieu River. Claire Pitcher meets up with her to see how she’s settled in to her new role

Wendy Stowe, new Harbour Master at Beaulieu, lives with her other half in the village of Warsash, just a ferry trip across to Hamble, where she was previously Deputy Harbour Master. This couple are both very career minded: “He works away in Aberdeen Monday to Friday, which is difficult sometimes. We work hard, but enjoy our weekends.”

Life in charge of the river and now the boatyard in pretty Buckler’s Hard has already become hectic, so grabbing those few hours off is all the more important.

“Both our families live quite close by, just across the border in Sussex. If we’re not visiting them, we’ll either be enjoying a round of golf or exploring the countryside close to us.”

The golf course must have seemed like a world away when we first spoke. Wendy and her team were in the process of dealing with the damage made by Storm Katie a couple of days before.

“We’ve had boats break free up on the mud that we’re still trying to retrieve at the moment. There were other boats damaged too. It’s been keeping us busy.”

The team has also taken over the management of the boatyard, as Wendy explains: “There’s over 100 boats - so it’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle keeping track of when they come in and when they’re going out.”

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Overseeing the workings of the boatyard is a new skill of Wendy’s, as in her previous role of 18 years her responsibilities centred on the river. “Hamble was a busier river, in that there were a lot more boats, but day-to-day, Beaulieu is a lot busier,” she admits.

Wendy brings with her a boatload of experience, having gained a degree at Southampton Solent University in Maritime Leisure Management while doing seasonal work at Hamble. She made the right impression, as she then settled into a permanent role.

One of the first women Harbour Masters in the country, the news of a female getting the job attracted attention in the local press. Wendy makes no big deal of it however.

“At the end of the day there aren’t many, but I’m not the sort of person who focuses on things like that. I’ve worked hard and I got this job on my own merits. It wouldn’t matter who the person was. If it helps other women think they can do it and join the industry then all the better, of course.”

She goes on to explain how, traditionally, Harbour Masters tended to be ex-naval officers, but that’s already changing.

“The UK Harbour Masters Association has bought in new qualifications. You can come in via an academic route, opening up the industry to more people.”

According to Wendy, the job is very different now as she tells me, “Harbour Masters of today are not the ones going out collecting visitors’ fees, it’s more of a managing director role, more about strategy.”

All this has given rise to the ‘Competent Harbour Master’ qualification, which needs renewing every five years. Wendy is about to finish hers - which is yet more work to do alongside the busy day job. “The new qualification will encourage more people into the industry. There are more apprenticeships now too, meaning we’re starting to see younger people interested, which is great” she continues.

Things have certainly changed in the last 20 years. Wendy describes just some of the things taking care of the Beaulieu River involves.

“We look after navigation safety for all users. From lights and marks to moorings. There are also the safety aspects involved in making sure children swimming are safe, as well as anyone crabbing or driving motorboats up and down.

“We have a duty of care to the environment too, so we make sure there’s nobody breaking any pollution laws - oil spills - that kind of thing.”

The area the team covers spans all six miles of the river, from the marina all the way up to The Mill Pond. Lucky then, that she had a handover from Mike Nicholls, Beaulieu Harbour Master of 40 years experience. “We had a few months transition, so I started here in January and he retired on the 25th March. Mike knows the river like the back of his hand. I was able to learn a lot from him, which was invaluable,” recalls Wendy.

She also reveals that it’s “turned out to be completely different to how I thought it was going to be. I imagined it was going to be quiet, but it’s the opposite. I start at seven in the morning and I’m on the go for the next 12 hours.”

Thanks to her time with Mike she now knows what to expect, but she also has her own aspirations “What I want is to bring my experience from Hamble over to Beaulieu. I have a lot of respect for the charm of this place.”

Wendy hopes to introduce a lot of her “own little touches. Bring us slightly into the modern age, but keeping the old charm. I’m talking about your normal day-to-day things, such as improved WIFI and giving the patrol staff tablet computers so they can take credit card payments out on the water, little things like that. It’s all about better customer service really.”

She’s about to move closer to the Harbour Master’s Office too, as she’ll be renting one of the properties belonging to The Beaulieu Estate, perhaps even the one overlooking the Mill Pond.

“Hopefully we’ll get a dog too, new friends and a new life for ourselves. It’s certainly going to be quieter, other than the tourists,” she laughs.

Wendy’s comfortable at home in Hampshire she shares, “There’s everything you could ever want. You can live right on the coast, but you’ve got Southampton on your doorstep. Then there’s the wonderful New Forest 40 minutes away.

“I do feel that if you go out sailing on a sunny day here there is nothing better.”

Wendy has been involved in yacht racing for the last 20 years, owning her own boat for 12. “We raced in everything from Cowes to Round the Island, in among the professionals on our little boat,” she recalls.

With her new life underway in Beaulieu, it’s not only a dog, it turns out, that will be helping her settle in to her new house: “We’re actually just looking at buying a new boat this weekend, so who knows? “We might be doing Cowes and Round the Island again sooner than we think.”

More Beaulieu…

What’s on offer in the village of Beaulieu - One of the most visited villages in the New Forest, Beaulieu is picturesque, bursting with fascinating places to explore and has a real sense of community says Claire Pitcher

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