In the early 1990s there was renewed discussion on the need to “do something” to improve the facilities for visiting boats at Rothesay, given the increasing importance of the leisure sailing market and the poor berthing facilities offered at Rothesay Harbour compared to the growing number of well-equipped marina facilities in the Firth of Clyde area.
The former Isle of Bute Tourist Board put together time and effort into identifying a solution and, following discussions with Argyll and the Islands Enterprise (now subsumed into HIE), moorings were provided by AIE for visiting boats in time for the 1993 summer season.
As part of the provision of the moorings, it was agreed that a locally-based company be set up to manage the facilities on behalf of the community, which resulted in the formation of Bute Berthing, with a board of directors, giving their time on an entirely voluntary basis, supported by a small; operational team. Prominent among those who stepped forward were John Hallgren and Bill Hassall. Bill is still involved with the company.
The new moorings were an instant success, but it was clear that better harbour facilities were essential in the longer term.
To this end HIE and then Strathclyde Regional Council provided pontoon facilities at the Outer Harbour, with Bute Berthing undertaking the daily management.
Like the moorings the harbour pontoons were immediately successful, so much so that, soon afterwards, additional capacity was provided at the west end of the pier.
The ultimate goal of all concerned, however, was to see the development of the Inner Harbour.
Thanks to the efforts of Argyll and Bute Council, working with a range of partners, this long-held ambition was eventually achieved as part of the overall development and upgrade of the pier facilities and the provision of the end-loading ferry linkspan.
Bute Berthing was again invited to manage the enhanced harbour facilities on behalf of the local community.
The provision of additional pontoon resulted in a significant drop in the boats using the moorings, which were eventually discontinued as they required expensive renewal, and allowed the business at the harbour to develop and raise its potential.
There is no doubt that visitors to the harbour contribute significantly to the island economy.
Numbers of boats using the harbour naturally fluctuate from year to year, as it is a strongly weather-dependant business.
Over each of the last three seasons, however, an average of 6000 visitors have made use of the harbour pontoons. A good proportion of visitors are regulars, who return year by year, and indeed many come in frequently during the course of a season, underlining the enduring popularity of Rothesay as a destination for the sailing fraternity.
Apart from individuals and families, Rothesay Harbour is popular with a large number of clubs and groups, such as the Clyde Cruising Club, Royal Scottish Motor Yacht Club, Serpent Yacht Club, Neptune Sailing Club and the North British Police Sailing Club, among others.
More unusual visitors have included the Cornish Shrimpers and Crabbers, and the famous ‘Fifes’, from the yard of William Fife, Fairlie, who return to the Clyde every five years.
One recurring request from visitors was the requirement for 24/7 toilet and shower facilities.
This was achieved in time for the 2016 season following discussions between the Isle of Bute Trust, Bute Berthing, Bute Victoriana (operators of the Victorian toilets) and the council. This significant improvement to the service has been warmly received by users.
Looking ahead, options are being explored for the replacement of the original Outer Harbour pontoons.
Everything is now in place for the 2017 season.
The nine-strong board of directors has been busy planning for the coming year, and supported by David McFie, pontoon supervisor for the past 12 years, and Kathleen Macqueen, administrator, who has been with the company since day one, are looking forward to another busy year for the harbour and the wider island.
“All we really need,” said BBC chairman James McMillan, “is some decent weather.
‘‘But as we have learned over the years, that’s something we have no control over!”