Views of the Harbour Master
"What's in a name?" was the question asked by a local sailor recently. "Why isn't the Port of Wells just called Wells Harbour?". My explanation was simple. The harbour commissioners are proud of the port's history; and yes, maybe the commercial shipping trade has ceased and is unlikely ever to return, but the port logo, dating back to the 1700s, clearly states the 'Port of Wells' and that is how it will remain during my tenure.
There have however, been many changes to the port or harbour — whichever you prefer to call it — over the years. It is probably as busy as it has ever been and the responsibilities of the commissioners continue to grow. Much of their time is spent looking at strategy, in plain English — the way forward for the port — including the future of the fishing industry, windfarm vessels, angling charters boats, the Albatros and ferry trips. These commercial interests bring local employment, which means that they will always take a certain priority. But we must also consider the leisure sector, including the hundreds of visiting sailing & motor vessels that come each year, the dinghy sailors, ski boats and old lifeboat trips. Then, there are the land based activities to consider, including protecting the local environment, the maintenance of the creeks and monitoring and managing the impact of the many thousands of people who visit the quayside and harbour estate each year. Alongside our consideration of the environment, we want to ensure that every single visitor enjoys their experience, remains safe and leaves with wonderful memories of Wells.
But this only scratches the surface of the roles and responsibilities the commissioners have today. I could write pages on the red tape, bureaucracy and many rules and regulations they must comply with. The form filling, reporting requirements and procedures that are expected, indeed demanded for the development and legal responsibilities of administrating a small port. These take up a great deal of the commissioners' time and energy and they do this without payment. Their only motivation being to have a positive impact on their port and community.
As harbour master, I have a requirement to undertake CPD 'continual professional development'. I am expected to gain a certain amount of points over a given time frame and it never fails to amuse me that successfully piloting a vessel into harbour in the dead of night results in a zero development points, whilst giving a talk to a Women's Institute in a remote village in Norfolk gives me two points towards my personal development!!
Looking back over my last 28 years at the harbour and more recently my 17 years as harbour master, I can see that the port has changed in many ways, yet in other ways it feels exactly as when I started. We still have an amazingly tight knit community, with new characters coming through as some of our older characters sadly pass-on. I assume this is the same for all small harbour communities around the UK coast, but in Wells, these characters bring value, in the form of knowledge and thoughts on how the harbour should or shouldn't function and in most instances, I find these incredibly helpful and beneficial to the Port and wider community.
I would encourage people to question and when they feel necessary challenge us, but this should be done openly and positively and with a desire to find a resolution. Just to complain for the sake of it or without discussion can become tiresome and disappointing, especially when we as a harbour authority are very keen to listen to our stakeholders. I do appreciate that some people are concerned or indeed afraid of change. But I firmly believe that the port needs to evolve and that change does not need to be negative or detrimental. As a harbour and town, we need to move with the times, without, of course, losing the character and strength of this wonderful harbour.
In times past, during the days of my predecessors such as Frank Taylor or Charles (Chick) Smith; the harbour master with the commissioners were expected to 'just get on with it' and do what they believed was in the best interests of the harbour and community. I have no doubt that previous harbour masters and commissioners had the same vision as we have today. To operate and have a thriving port which maintains and indeed creates new employment opportunities, so that people can remain within this harbour community for generations to come. But in the past, they did not have to be accountable to a plethora of government organisations and private bodies. I can only imagine how they would react to some of the requirements of today!
On a more personal note. My role as harbour master has changed beyond all recognition and in truth, some of these changes have made the role more challenging, as Wells harbour has become a major business with many gaining employment from the success. For myself this is very satisfying and rewarding and makes my role as enjoyable as ever.
Finally a much-respected local sailor and harbour helper, Fred Painter sailed over the bar for the last time in 2017. Fred was one of the 'band of brothers' who for many years supported me and helped out around the harbour, long into his retirement. A few days before Fred passed away he gave me some advice, "Robert I don't know where the time has gone. I have arrived here in a flash. Make sure you live your life to the full, as every second counts".
Wise words indeed.
Robert Smith MBE
A Message from the Chairman
This year is an exciting and challenging year for myself as I have been selected to take on the role as Chairman for Wells Harbour Commissioners. As much as this is an honour and I am very proud that my fellow commissioners have put their trust in me, I know it will also bring its challenges.
However, being born and raised in this community I understand the traditions that go with the harbour and also have a clear understanding of what makes the harbour tick. Firstly, my family have been associated with the harbour for decades with my own father starting up the shellfish stall on the quayside in 1954 and I have been working as a fisherman from the harbour since I was sixteen. During my time I have seen many things change and improve within the harbour. The buoyage and facilities have gone from strength to strength and personally I feel are second to none.
Fishing has a long tradition within the Port and I feel is vital to the community especially through the employment that it provides. For every three men working on one vessel there are five people working ashore. For every three boxes of crabs that I catch will provide an individual with a day's work ashore. With the fishing vessels getting bigger and having to steam further afield in pursuit of their catch it is vital that the dredging of the harbour channel is maintained to provide the maximum tidal window, so I will champion the dredging for all users.
Of course I have a passion for the fishing industry, but I fully understand that Wells Harbour has a lot more activities than just fishing. I will be continuing to support the local sailing club wherever I can in particular to help them encourage young people to sail. When I am heading to sea or returning in my fishing boat Arandora Star it is a pleasure to watch the many sailing boats under full sail. I will also be keen to protect all the other pastimes that use and enjoy Wells Harbour whether this is wildfowling, people just pottering about in boats or one of the many others. I will also look to encourage more businesses to use the harbour as they do today, with the angling charter boats, trips on the old lifeboat, sailing adventures in the creeks and local ferry. This gives many people the opportunity to enjoy the harbour and sea that normally may not have the chance. I am convinced that Wells as a town and its businesses continues to do well when the harbour is prospering. People visit Wells as a town because of the harbour, it's the hub of Wells and why many people come, it's probably the top visitor attraction alongside the beach, as I hear people say it regularly at the shellfish stall.
Finally we recently have had some staff and Commissioner changes and I would like to thank all those who have moved on, for their input and wish them well in their new pursuits. I would also like to assure all my fellow Commissioners and staff that I will support and encourage them whenever possible and to all the stakeholders/users of the harbour, I would like to say, I can often be seen working on my family's shellfish stall at the quayside and my door is always open.
The Port continues to be a busy tourist hub for visitors to the North Norfolk coast, whether it be by sea or land. Our visiting pontoons remain in high demand during the main tourist season. It is unfortunate that we cannot take prior bookings but due to limited pontoon space, we have to offer a first come first served policy. Having said this it is always very useful to know of your intended arrival in advance. We always do our best to accommodate visiting vessels, but in busy times you may have to raft with the Carnival week always being our busiest time.
There has been much media attention around plastic pollution of our oceans with new campaigns raising public awareness. The Port's initiative of introducing eco friendly crabbing gear in 2016 is increasing in popularity seeing a 80% increase last year. We hope that more visitors choose to hire from us rather than buy the plastic buckets which invariably are fragile and break easily with many ending up lost in the harbour finding their way out to sea.
Speaking of crabbing or gillying, as it is known locally, we are seeing an ever increasing number of people treating the little harbour crabs with disrespect and we intend to educate the public more on this delightful species which brings such joy to children and adults alike.
With our beach being listed as one of the most beautiful in the country we respectfully ask all dog walkers to adhere to the dog friendly area on the beach and clean up after your four legged friends. The impact loose dogs can have on plant communities and wild animals that populate and live on the area can be devastating .
Some news that I am sure all stakeholders will be delighted with, the Commissioners have frozen fees for 2018, so your 2018 charges are the same as 2017. This decision was taken after reviewing the Port reserves and as a goodwill gesture to all our stakeholders for their continued support. Obviously this cannot be guaranteed for future years, but we hope that you appreciate this gesture.
Many of you may remember Terry who used to clean for us on the quay every morning. Terry passed away peacefully on the 4th December 2017 after courageously battling with illness. He was a wonderful kind hearted man who would do anything for anyone, he never moaned about his health and always put other people before himself. He was one of the nicest kindest human beings I have ever met and sadly missed and I send my sincere and deepest condolances to his family.
Our harbour at Wells-next-the-sea offers the visitor such an eclectic mix of leisure, angling, commercial and fishing boats, a beautiful vista and a ferry to give visitors a unique experience on the water. So whether you be visiting us by sea or land we wish you an enjoyable stay and if you are one of our residential boat owners we wish you an enjoyable season out on the water!
Louise De Lisle