Restoring boats and a lost industry to Chichester Harbour

James Bellhouse has started a new business Harbour Craft in Chichester Harbour. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-160525-154709008
James Bellhouse has started a new business Harbour Craft in Chichester Harbour. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-160525-154709008

The rich history of boat-shaping and building around Chichester Harbour looked to have come to an end with the demise of Southerly.

The company, the harbour’s last remaining boat-maker which was based at Northshore Shipyard in Itchenor, went bust for a final time in August 2014.

James started working on boats with his father 16 years ago

James started working on boats with his father 16 years ago

But now one long-time resident is one of a handful of people bidding to resurrect part of the industry locally.

James Bellhouse has launched his own company called Harbour Craft, which offers boat care and restoration for owners in and around Chichester Harbour.

James, who has lived in Chichester for more than 20 years, has honed the skills needed to maintain and restore boats to the very highest quality.

“When I started 16 years ago my father and I mainly focused on maintaining classic yachts, re-varnishing, re-painting and restoring them,” James, 32, said.

He has converted a van into a mobile workshop

He has converted a van into a mobile workshop

“After a few years I decided to try and learn more about fibreglass and GRP and this led me away from the harbour to other marinas to try and hone my skills.

“I could see that this newer build method provided a quick and easy solution to the time it took to build boats and I thought that having the knowledge to work with this product was essential.

“After a few years working with other firms, I decided it was time to try and build a company that I could consider a legacy.

“I want to provide a new experience for boat owners that allows them to really become part of the care and maintenance schedule for their boat and I’m going to do this by taking the time to walk them around each and every job so they can trust me to care for their boat the way they would.”

James is currently working on a classic offshore racing boat as well as four classic charter yachts owned and run by Classic Sail.

Around 50 people were understood to have lost their jobs when Southerly finally went under. The company had been one of the biggest names in luxury yacht making, at one time employing more than 160 people at Northshore.

James says the recession also had an impact on Chichester Harbour, but now out of the gloom he wants to be a central part in its bright future.

“When Southerly closed its doors the harbour took quite a hit, but I don’t want boat owners to become disheartened,” James said.

“The harbour is still one of the most beautiful places to be and if you own a boat, you can have a different view of that beauty.

“I think another impact on the industry came from the recession. I noticed more boats up for sale and more boats in a bad way.

“Chichester Harbour has been through some dark times but I feel that recently the clouds have disappeared and it’s getting back on its feet again.

“All the traders seem busy, the boat owners are happy and good changes are taking place. I hope to be a part of that change.”

James said his specialist talents lie in paint applications and anything to do with classic boat restorations, gleaning skills from talented people he has worked with who have taught him how to cover all aspects of interior and exterior restoration.

His van doubles as a mobile workshop, and he also has a private yard with a workshop capable of accommodating most boat sizes.

He also wants to engage with the local community, and plans to give talks at schools at other local groups around the area about what he does.

“I am focusing my time skills on providing the best service for the customer,” he said.

“I want them to have a hassle free boating experience but I also want them to have something to be proud of.

“The local area has been great to me in the past and I am seeing a great response about my business, I’m really busy.”

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