PUBLISHED: 10:40 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013
Located on the natural haven of the Walton Backwaters, Titchmarsh Marina has resulted from the vision and hard work of three generations of the Titchmarsh family. Cathy Brown reports
IMMORTALISED as Secret Water in Arthur Ransome's classic children's novel of the same name, the Walton Backwaters really are one of the county's best-kept secrets.
Tucked away behind the coastal resort of Walton on the Naze, the Backwaters - an arm of the sea that stretches inland - are an internationally-renowned nature reserve and a favourite haunt of East Coast yachtsmen.
Titchmarsh Marina, in the Backwaters, is home to more then 500 yachts afloat during the summer, and even more ashore during the winter. It was also one of the first purpose-built yacht harbours in this UK.
'The family has always been hands on. There has never been a silver spoon,' said Chris Titchmarsh. His father John and grandfather Percy worked together building wooden boats. But then came the fibreglass revolution.
'My father decided we either had to get involved in mass producing fibreglass yachts or start providing marina berths for all those yachts,' explains Chris. That was in the mid 1960s, and the marina opened for business in 1971.
'It was hard going. They didn't borrow millions to do it,' adds Chris, who is 40 this year and grew up in a house boat on the developing site. His parents had sold their house to finance the business. 'Marinas were unheard of in those days. Local people thought it was completely mad. Fortunately it has worked.'
John and his wife, Pat, worked until fairly recently, but the marina remains a family business. Now Chris is the marina manager and his sister, Helen, and her husband, Alan Pudney, look after the financial side of the business.
Chris went to work in the marina straight from school - building the facilities, maintaining the pontoons, extending the hard and doing the boat handling. 'The good thing is that I know every aspect of the business and can do it. It is quite surprising to see how it has all changed,' says Chris.
Today's state of the art marina is the product of continual expansion and improvement. It has everything the resident or visiting yachtsman could want, from shower blocks and a launderette to wi-fi access. There's a restaurant, an impressive chandlery, and boatyard facilities including two 35-ton travel hoists, workshops and marine engineers, plus a yacht brokerage and a sailing school.
Some of the businesses are franchised. The marina employs 18 people directly, but altogether it provides a living for around 50 families. And the business is still expanding - new workshops are to be added this winter as well as more hard standing, and there are hopes to extend the marina basin itself. Chris always welcomes the opportunity to add, 'a bit of finesse'. Trees have been planted and a fresh water pond dug to provide space for berth-holders to have barbecues, and for children to run about.
A high priority is managing the marina to protect the wildlife and the character of this timeless, tranquil landscape, with its growing seal colony - at the moment there are about 80 grey and common seals. The Backwaters seals are notable for their rusty red coats, coloured by the iron oxide in the mud where they bask.
The Backwaters is internationally renowned for its birdlife, but for Chris the best thing are the sunsets here. 'They are fantastic,' says Chris who serves on various committees dedicated to protecting this special environment. 'Sea defences and coastal access are major issues. We have three helipads on the site, but helicopters approaching the marina have to skirt round the outside, and not fly right across the Backwaters out of respect for the wildlife. Speed boats and jet skis are not allowed to use the marina. We are very anxious that the Backwaters is not turned into a giant theme park.'
It is Chris' aim to encourage people to enjoy the Backwaters responsibly from their own boats. 'You don't have to remortgage your house and buy a huge ocean-going yacht. We have got moorings at all prices. We don't like noise, speeders or wash. But kayaking, dinghy sailing and rowing are all welcome. You can get on the water for a few pounds or a few million pounds. There is something for everyone's pocket.'