The MV Balmoral Trust the organisation which operates the excursion ship MV Balmoral has made a presentation to Penarth Town Council’s Leisure Committee to update councillors on its operations.
Dave Bassett a trustee of MV Balmoral said the organisation had last met the council in October 2014 and said that since then “many positive milestones” had been achieved. Membership of the charity had now been opened to everyone. He said “This is not our ship, this is your ship – the people’s cruise liner, everyone’s ship”
He said the Coastal Communities Fund had awarded £344,000 to the charity with a view to increasing employment and boosting visitors to coastal resorts . All the trustees and directors worked on a purely voluntary basis except for Balmoral herself which is professionally manned and employs 18 .
In 2015 some 30,000 passenger journeys had been made delivering passengers to coastal communities with many favourable comments on how happy the ship is and how welcoming the crew – Mr Bassett said .
In terms of weather however, 2015 had been a “completely rubbish year” – with 25% of Balmoral’s sailings were cancelled because of the weather. Balmoral -Mr Bassett said – can only sail in “clear settled weather” and the office has to notify all passengers of cancellations which is a “hugely onerous task for all concerned”
Balmoral will next be sailing from Penarth on July 29th to Wachet in Somerset and the last sailing in the Bristol Channel this year will be on October 2nd.
Andrew Jardine Director of the ship’s operating company White Funnel Ltd said there would be 27 sailings from Penarth Pier during the remainder of the year until October . Amongst the passengers were a number who were coming on day trips to Penarth for excursions to locations like the Brecon Mountain Railway and others who were coming to explore Penarth and the wider area
The cruise schedule from Penarth, he said, included trips to Clevedon, Bristol, the rivers Avon Severn Wye and Usk , around the Holm Islands, Nash Point, Porthcawl , Minehead, Watchet, Ilfracombe, Lundy Island and even Padstow in Cornwall.
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell ) asked whether there was any data available as to where passengers came from; did they come from the UK or abroad? He asked whether Balmoral tied in with any major travel agencies and whether there was any tie in with cruise liners now docking in Cardiff. Cllr Wilson also wondered if there was data on what people spent their money on.
Andrew Jardine of White Funnel said the bulk of the passengers were from the UK but the organisation was trying to find foreign travel companies and in London had recently met the largest travel agents from Brazil who brought 10,000 customers to London every year. He also said a “positive tie in with cruise liners” was being looked at .
Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines) asked whether the Trust went to “more landlocked areas of the UK” to search for business . It would be a nice destination for people to come to Penarth by coach and then take a cruise from Penarth. Cllr Roberts also mentioned the forthcoming Volvo 2017 yacht race which would be arriving in Cardiff at the end of next May . The event would be held over two weeks and would involve massive numbers of visitors – and was another opportunity for Balmoral
Dave Bassett said that the Balmoral Trust needed to grasp every opportunity it had, and agreed it was important to bring people “from the hinterland” into ports like Clevedon and Penarth.
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) noted there was a two month gap in Balmoral’s sailings from Penarth from May 23rd to July 29th – and unfortunately that lost the impact of Penarth’s Summer Festival from June 7th to 17th when “many thousands of people come to Penarth”. It would be nice if a timetable could be arranged to incoporate a visit by Balmoral during the Summer Festival – he said .
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) noted that the dates of the Summer Festival were selected to conform with the high-tides . Dave Bassett said – “in mitigation” – that Balmoral would be having a stand on the Esplanade at this year’s Summer Festival .
Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell) said he understood Balmoral carried in excess of 20,000 passengers a year and asked how many of those originated from destinations in or near Penarth? Dave Bassett said the figures were available and the origins of passengers journeys could be checked . He said that Penarth “used to be the largest loading pier ” of any of the ship’s destinations
Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth ward ) said that Balmoral had been linked with Penarth for very many years and, for some residents, presented the only occasions on which they could afford to go on a ship.
Cllr Roberts suggested that the Penarth Town Council website should be linked to the Balmoral website and Cllr Ernest asked whether timetables were now available on the pier.
Dave Bassett said the sweet shop [which occupies the former premises of the Penarth Tourist Information Centre] did stock timetables for free distribution. He also asked whether the council could send the Trust a letter of support to assist it with new applications it was making for grants from the Big Lottery Fund and the Coastal Communities Fund
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) said the Balmoral was “an asset to the town “ and whilst the council could not give much in terms of a donation because of budgetary constraints, he saw no reason why the council should not offer a letter of support .
Dave Bassett said the donation from Penarth Council had been a “gesture of support” which had actually encouraged a lot of other people give money to the Balmoral Trust.