A Monaco Quest

in Features

Thousands of yachts come our way entering and exiting the Mediterranean just like the larger vessels. The Rock’s two marinas are generally full to capacity 24/7, so it must follow there’s a need for more berthing slots to accommodate this busy trade…

You may hear it said sometimes, Gibraltar could become another Monaco at this end of the Med. To my mind a somewhat grandiose idea considering that although our Main Street has much improved in what it has to offer over the years, the absence of top brand names in haute couture fashion, jewellery and other items in our shops and stores – bar one or two – as well as Michelin star eateries evidently found in top Mediterranean ports, indicates we’re still quite a few years behind. Not least, the lack of attraction for high end passengers on those glistening, luxurious, floating-palace-type, super yachts we see berthed at our marinas.  They therefore come with no passengers and use Gibraltar as a service stop, unless the `parking lot’ is full! 

In the case of normal sized yachts, the lack of marina berths at peak times is an even greater problem “and then they head off to the Alcaidesa Marina around the corner which has plenty of berths,” Managing Director at Sheppard’s, Micko Capurro tells me. “Luckily we can supply those yachts a lot of what they want and don’t completely lose out as they can walk in to buy equipment and spare parts and many other items which we have in our well stocked store here in Marina Court by Ocean Village.” So maybe, the `Monaco dream’ should perhaps be put on the back burner for now and time be spent concentrating on improving the product first.

It was 1960 when, on a muddy piece of land which led out into the watery harbour where fish and other sea life lived, the idea of a marina came about. To the south of the mud was a stone quay (Water Gardens now), where commercial barges were berthed three deep ready to be tugged out to cargo ships bringing in goods for the local populace. Land was reclaimed and Micko’s dad Hector, whose idea it was – already a businessman in the motor trade, a director of AM Capurro on Line Wall Road – set up Gibraltar’s first Marina which was the only one in the Mediterranean at the time. 

Sheppard’s Marina had berths in waters now occupied by Ocean Village but it also had a chandlery shop and workshops on the current site of Royal Ocean Plaza.  The whole thing was modelled on marinas set up in the 1950’s in the USA. 

In the 1980s, a boat yard was opened and the place became what is known as a full service marina. 

There was an increase in yachts coming into the port of Gibraltar in the late 60s so the mid 70s saw Marina Bay open up and larger yachts were arriving.  

Many will recall the slip way and crane that hauled out the small and larger boats to be cleaned and the pontoons which were part of Sheppard’s Marina also. “We had around 150 berths, about 50% of which were taken up by locals with a few boats used as living accommodation. We also had a pontoon which was exclusively for visiting yachts: those which are in for a week or so calling for supplies and spare parts and out again thus allowing for more business that also benefited local stores, bars and restaurants. That’s an idea that needs to be exploited in all marinas because most of the yachts currently in our marinas are berthed for long stays and contribute only minimally to the nautical economy, whilst visiting yachts coming in and out of the Med will stop here, spend, do their business – some on their way across the Atlantic – and off they go again hence freeing up berths for more visitors.

In the late 90s it became apparent that some re-investment was needed at Sheppard’s but Hector decided against it and surrendered the majority of the premises in favour of Ocean Village at the end of 2004.

Michael took over the chandlery business, now in the ground floor of Marina Court, and retained the boatyard equipment and cranes with a view to setting up an operation on a planned land reclamation to the north of the runway.  “Pending that development, we moved our workshop and hauling out operations to Coaling Island with our store remaining in Marina Court. We were meant to remain at Coaling Island for a temporary stay of about two years. We’ve now been there for 15.” Well, there are plans for a Victoria Keys development on Coaling Island Micko, so sit tight!  

Michael, or better known to everyone as Micko, always had an interest in the sea. Boats were his hobby since he was a child, and not surprisingly he raced his Victory class boat (with some success) at the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club for 50 years, eventually becoming Commodore (President) of the Club during the 1990s.  Micko ran the old Sheppard’s – his dad’s business – from 1979.  “I have to say we had some very good years in the boatyard business especially from the mid 80s to the mid 90s but the whole thing is now much reduced, with no marina and a boatyard too small for yachts”.  Micko says they’re quite busy with the yearly servicing and bottom painting of some of the small boats owned by locals “Yes, all become encrusted below the waterline so they need to be hauled on land, properly cleaned and anti fouling paint applied. Also, outboard engines need to be serviced out of the water.” Yachts at the two marinas also need some service and repair work, which gets done subject to berth availability. 

So where does that leave our desire to enjoy a bigger bite of the visiting Mega, Super and smaller yacht cake? Yachts large and small which enter the Med in their hundreds come May and exit round about October, need to be attracted to berth for short stays at our marinas. Situated as we are at the mouth of this Mediterranean Sea, it’s clearly an area which needs to be exploited further.  The Blue Water project on the eastside of the Rock has not yet materialised and in Micko’s view, due to the strong easterly winds and swell on heavy levanter days, the breakwater necessary to protect a marina would not be cost effective to any developer, not to mention the possible need to reclaim waters encroaching the controversial isthmus evidently contested by some! Of late it’s been mooted there’s a possibility of the ship repair operation in the dockyard closing down, freeing off `water space’ that could provide more berthing opportunities for visiting yachts and even liners. But that for the moment is only a plan. Consequently if we’re serious about making the most of the lucrative yacht support business and offering some competition to the likes of St Tropez, Palma de Mallorca and of course Monaco as well as many other marinas further into the Med in Italy and Greece – whilst not forgetting Alcaidesa just around the corner – perhaps more effort is called for if not already there. We need to build more marinas and despite our limited sea-space we have to create them somewhere. 

There is a clear requirement… so let’s keep on looking!

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