Waterfront Port | A Day In The Life...

Associated British Ports (ABP) is the UK’s leading ports operator with 21 ports and boasts the UK’s leading export port for agricultural products at Ipswich.  In the latest of our regular features our editor spends a DAY in the LIFE of ABP’s Deputy Harbour Master – Cpt. Nick Shaw and gets a behind the scenes look at the operation of the lock gates.

Captain Nicholas (Nick) Shaw comes from a seasoned maritime background, having joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet at 16 years old.  From ship’s command, to serving the Port of Felixstowe for 13 years, 65 year old Nick then joined ABP to work alongside friend and previous Waterfront Life interviewee – Jerry Coleman - as a lock operator, 4 years ago.

Retirement doesn’t figure in Nick’s immediate future plans and with longevity established, I then ask the most basic question possible to get us underway…..Why does the marina need a lock!?  I’m told that, at low tide and with other factors working against the Waterfront location, without a lock in place, the river Orwell would suck the water out of the Marina and all vessels would end “on the bottom”. “With the lock in place, all vessels have 24-hour access to the berths” explains Nick.  “High or low water; the vessels stay afloat”.

Whilst predominantly now catering for the leisure crafts that visit or are berthed at the Marina, the need for a lock dates back to 1839, when the first stone was laid at the original site of the first, commercially required, lock (mid-dock).  

ABP runs a tight ship!  Vessels call up on Channel 68 (although I am amazed to learn that not all leisure craft are required to have a radio….or keep it switched on!) and alert the Harbour Master’s office of their impending arrival.  Those without a radio, just show up!  “The Marina can get ‘full’, but generally speaking, berths are normally available and you can get up to 16 yachts in the lock” says Nick.  “But you can’t pre-book space, so some warning of arrival is ideal for planning”.  

It can take up to 45 minutes to adjust water levels that can start 3 meters apart and this cannot be rushed, such is the wave that could be initiated by letting water through too quickly.

During high-water - a twice a day occurrence - water levels are identical in the River and in the Marina and the lock gates are open; facilitating immediate access in & out, subject to the operation of the swing-bridge of course!