MDL at 50

Celebrating 50 years of successful marina operations

50 years of MDL

Over the last 50 years, we have grown into the UK’s leading marina and water-based provider and one of Europe’s largest marina groups with 18 UK marinas and one in Spain.

Our story is not dissimilar to that of the British marina industry itself. Fifty years ago, if you owned a boat, you most likely kept it afloat on a pile or swinging mooring. It had been like this for generations, with few boat owners aware of the changes under way on the other side of the Atlantic.

Perhaps used to higher standards of service and convenience, American boat owners were beginning to keep their yachts and motorboats alongside floating pontoons, with access to the shore and facilities such as showers and chandleries, and where security could be provided.

For the last five decades, we have helped change the landscape for boating in the UK. We've developed a network of marinas in stunning waterfront locations which uphold the highest level of customer service, provide state-of-the-art berthing facilities, and support a sustainable approach to enjoying time on the water.

As the biggest operator of coastal marinas in the UK, it might be surprising that our first venture as a newly formed company, back in the early 1970s, was far from the sea amid the water meadows of the Thames Valley.

1973

1973

Penton Hook, on the non-tidal reaches of the River Thames, became the first marina to be acquired, founding the group in 1973.

Penton Hook in 1973

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1976

1976

After protracted negotiations we purchased Windsor Marina in 1976. One of the few custom-built marinas on the Thames, it was developed in 1974 by Meeks of Marlow who originally had just a slipway and boatyard on the site. Tucked away on the south bank just outside the town, it’s now become an intimate and friendly haven on the Thames.

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1982

1982

Our first saltwater site was purchased at Cobb’s Quay in Poole, plus two river marinas at Hartford, on the Great Ouse and Upton-upon-Severn. With a total of 1,200 berths this was a significant leap in size, doubling the size of the company overnight.

Early days at Cobbs Quay

1983

1983

Bray Marina acquired, increasing the company’s presence on the Thames. After discussions with berth holders, redevelopment of the marina began with upgraded berths, shower and toilet facilities and landscaping shaping it into the country park it is today.

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1984

1984

We stepped in to rescue a floundering marina project in Torquay. This turned out to be a complex development involving a multi-story car park, retail units, and the rehabilitation of the Edwardian Pavilion, which proved to be a sensitive and expensive restoration task.

Torquay under construction

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1985

1985

Howards’ Way was first aired in 1985, dubbed the ‘Dallas of the sea’ it was the BBC’s answer to the American super-soaps of the 80s. The ‘gin and Jag’ set of the Solent coast were seen as providing perfect material for a Sunday night drama. Hythe Marina and Ocean Village were depicted from their initial development and used as filming locations. In order to keep experienced sailors on the edge of their seats, storylines emphasised big events in the sailing calendar using real footage, with characters taking part in very believable mocked-up participation.

Howards' Way

1986

1986

  • In 1986 Robin Aisher and Peter Aisher sell their 40% stake in the business to a group of city investors headed by old friend David Heimann and the Bourne brothers, Graham and Robert, who take over the business. With a tide of financial good will, a rights issue was planned and the Rank’s Marina Group was purchased for £25m bringing with it Port Hamble, Mercury Yacht Harbour, Northney Marina, Woolverstone Marina, and Troon Marina.
  • The board takes the decision to float the company on London’s junior stock market. Shares were successfully floated at 110p, valuing the operation at £8m.
Port Hamble Marina

Port Hamble Marina

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1988

1988

  • The company adds Hamble Point Marina to its portfolio, securing an important and strategic site at the entrance to the River Hamble.
  • Our Sail Training Awards were created to reward inspirational young people between the ages of 12 and 18 who have overcome adverse personal circumstances. The awards run in conjunction with Ocean Youth Trust (South) and now each year provide 12 spaces on board the sail training vessel Prolific. Since the awards’ inception over 30 years ago, 140 young people have experienced a life changing voyage onboard Prolific.

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1989

1989

Dean and Dyball accepts MDL’s takeover offer of £18.5m adding Dartside Quay, Millbay Marina Village, Hythe Marina Village, Ocean Village, and Shamrock Quay. The deal also included a 50% share in Queen Anne’s Battery.

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1990

1990

  • MDL is now fully listed on the London Stock Exchange, with the Yattendon Group gradually increasing its stake in MDL to 29%.
  • Named after William of Orange who landed in Brixham in 1688, Prince William Marina was the brainchild of the flamboyant Philadelphian entrepreneur Charles ‘Buck’ Fleming. Blaming the ‘persistent malaise’ for the British economy after his investors retreated, we purchased the site from the receivers, and subsequently renamed it Brixham Marina.
  • Tracy Edwards triumphantly brings home the all-female Whitbread Race crew of Maiden in May 1990. An estimated 50,000 people welcomed them to Ocean Village Marina.

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1991

1991

Our UK headquarters moves from Windsor Marina to Outlook House at Hamble Point. The marketing team has new offices built in the space of an old squash court.

1992

1992

Lord Robert Illife, Chairman of Yattendon, offers the institutional investors a fair price for the remaining shares and the company is back in private hands. “Private companies tend to be able to look at more distant horizons,” said Illife at the time.

Lord Iliffe

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1995

1995

MDL becomes the sole operator of Queen Anne’s Battery, Plymouth. “On a sunny evening when the marina is busy with live music from the bar and restaurant – I don’t think there’s any better place on the whole of Plymouth waterfront than QAB,” said the then Marina Manager.

QAB under construction in 1985

1996

1996

BT Global Challenge fleet set sail from Ocean Village Marina. The brainchild of Sir Chay Blyth took a fleet of one-design steel yachts, crewed by ordinary men and women, round Cape Horn and through the Southern Ocean covering a distance of some 29,000 nautical miles.

1997

1997

Ocean Village Marina’s deep-water berths prove the ideal mooring for Adela and Adix some of the world’s finest classic yachts which moored there after the 1997 Atlantic Challenge.

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1999

1999

MDL purchase Saxon Wharf, just north of Shamrock Quay on the River Itchen, with a commitment to invest around £6 million in the site. The development offers refit and repair facilities to leisure and commercial vessels up to 75 metres.

2000

2000

  • Our first dry stack installed at Cobb’s Quay Marina in Poole. The four-storey rack provides dry berths for boats up to 13m. A specially designed forklift truck, imported from the USA, lifts the boats from the rack and into the water.
  • The world’s fastest catamaran visits Ocean Village Marina. Club Med, skippered by Grant Dalton, was visiting following an extensive refit in Vannes, France. With a total surface area of 6,222 feet and a wing mast towering to 135 feet, the giant cat is the largest yacht to have been in the marina since it first opened in 1987. Club Med set a new world sailing record of 625.7 miles in 24 hours with speeds in excess of 25 knots. WOW!
  • MDL signs a management agreement with the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) to manage the new Chatham Marina on the River Medway.

Chatham in 2002

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2004

2004

A deal agreed with Wifi SPARK following trials at Torquay Marina proved a big hit as Wifi was rolled out across the marina estate. As the technology improves small upgrades are made and the dream of working from a boat becomes a reality.

2007

2007

  • Sparkes Marina in Hayling Island is acquired, and a young but experienced Mike Glanville is appointed Marina Manager. Mike later becomes MDL’s Managing Director in 2018.
  • During the Collins Stewart London Boat Show, we offer visitors the last opportunity to reserve a lease berth at our new Sant Carles Marina due to open in Catalonia, Spain, in spring 2008.
2011

2011

120 solar panels installed on the roof of the Saltmarsh Building at Cobb’s Quay Marina, and 210 panels on the top deck of Ocean Village multi-storey car park as part of our green plan to help reduce our operational impact on the environment.

2012

2012

We won a PBO (Practical Boat Owner) Green Award for ‘Best Service and Support’. Our Marketing Director commented: “We are delighted to have won this prestigious award and to be recognised for our efforts in reducing our environmental impact.” Well done team

2013

2013

MDL signs deal to grow network to 70 marinas across Europe joining French marina operator Segamor to offer cruising opportunities to berth holders. The deal, signed at Tullett Prebon London Boat Show, and still running today through the Otium points-based loyalty scheme, allows berth holders to join “Passeport Escales” to gain access to free visitor nights at marinas in France, Spain and Portugal.

2017

2017

The five-star luxury Southampton Harbour Hotel and Spa officially opens at Ocean Village Marina. It costs from £175.00 per night, and has a spa, gym and even a small cinema for guests. Platinum Plus Otium members can redeem points to get free access to all the hotels facilities when their boats are moored in Ocean Village, making the city centre marina an even more exciting destination.

2018

2018

  • MDL group acquires the riverside holiday park situated next door to Mercury Yacht Harbour, minutes from Hamble Village. It’s later renamed Mercury Yacht Harbour and Holiday Park, and over £400,000 is invested into nine new holiday homes providing ideal accommodation for berth holders’ guests if space is tight on board.
  • Woolverstone Marina Lodge Park wins 2018 Diamond Award for its exceptional and outstanding customer service. The marina lodge park is set in 22 acres of riverside woodland and currently features 10 lodges.
  • 100 solar panels installed on the Chandlery Building at Hamble Point Marina.
2019

2019

The South Coast Boat Show launches at Ocean Village Marina. It’s judged a stunning showcase for global power and sail brands. The show has now become a secured event in the marine calendar and already has the colloquial nickname of ‘the buyers show’ for its focused approach.

2020

2020

Our Otium Rewards loyalty programme is launched. Latin for leisure time, Otium gives MDL customers the chance to generate points from purchasing services, which can then be redeemed on future services. Its specifically designed to give more choice about how customers discounts can be used.

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2021

2021

  • MDL Marinas widens its brand offering with the launch of MDL Fitness, a new range of green gyms where the fitness equipment converts human kinetic energy into electricity. The AC power generated by our members is sent back through the power grid to offset the company’s energy consumption and reduce its carbon footprint.
  • We partner with Aqua superPower to become the first marina group to install electric boat charging network as part of our Green Strategy. Each station is built to IP65 standard, providing simultaneous DC charging to 75 kW.
  • Green Tech Boat Show launches at Queen Anne’s Battery to coincide with the G7. It highlights how the UK Government and the maritime industry can set sights on achieving net zero.
  • We renew contract with leading waste management specialist SUEZ with a zero waste to landfill policy.
  • 270 solar panels installed at Cobb’s Quay Marina, 122 panels at Saxon Wharf and a further 230 panels at Hamble Point Marina, making a total of 1,052 panels across four MDL sites.

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2022

2022

We offer new glamping accommodation in four large bell tents at our Mercury Yacht Harbour and Holiday Park.

2023

2023

Our Wi-Fi network is upgraded to WiFi 6 bringing the next generation of wireless infrastructure to our marinas and providing a faster connection to boats.

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