'Sunk' Bristol Ferry Boat Company back in business again
BRISTOL'S iconic Ferry Boat Company was back in business this weekend less than three months after it seemed to have sunk without a trace.
There were fears that the distinctive blue and yellow boats which plied their trade in the Floating Harbour for the last 35 years were about disappear for ever when the firm which operated them ran into financial difficulties.
But a group of businessmen and women came up with the money to buy the five boats from the administrators in December. And Ian Bungard, the man who originally set up the ferry boat company, has come out of retirement to relaunch the latest venture. After several weeks of getting ready for the new season two of the boats were back out on the water ferrying people around the Harbourside this weekend.
Mr Bungard, who is 65, said: "This is only the start but we are delighted to be back out there on the water.
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"Obviously we are only running a very limited service but once we have done all the work we need to do we hope to get the company back to where it was. There are issues to sort out in terms of the timetable and servicing of the various boats but we are taking bookings again and we are very much open for businesses."
Mr Bungard named two of the boats in his small fleet after his daughters and was something of a fixture on the Harbourside. He originally launched the iconic Ferry Boat Company and ran it until 2002 when he decided to take early retirement after he sold an 80 per cent stake in the firm.
He was approached by the consortium who bought the boats and has agreed to run the firm and the ferries for at least two years with the help of his wife Philippa. He said: "Obviously we still had a 20 per cent stake in the company so we kept an eye on what was going on. We knew there were problems but it was still a shock when the administrators were called in, it was a horrible feeling.
"When I first left Bristol and went to live in Spain I really missed the ferry boats, I didn't realise what a huge part of my life it had become.
"It took me at least two years to get over it and now we are back where we started out all those years ago."
The couple had returned to Bristol to be with their youngest daughter Matilda who is currently taking her A levels.
Philippa said: "We had come back anyway and have been living in a rented house in Bedminster.
"When the consortium got together and bought the boats everyone just assumed that Ian would come out of retirement to run the new company.
"Trying to get everything sorted has been a bit of a headache – dealing with the technology and working out a business plan. But to be honest it feels great to be back in Bristol and we are really enjoying ourselves.
"It has been nice catching up with everyone and it feels like we have never been away. It also suits us being with our daughter and supporting her through her A levels."
Ian added: "I always loved running the ferry boats and it feels like we have come home. There is something great about earning your living out on the water and even though there have been lots of changes it is still the same job. It is great being out on the water and meeting people from different walks of life. You get to meet people from every part of the world and you are meeting people while they are on their holiday.
"We give people a good time and they tend to remember you."
He added: "I have been genuinely taken aback by the level of support for the ferry service, people are thrilled that we are back and have been really supportive. We have taken a good look at the accounts and there is a good business here, we are sure we can make a success of things. The Harbourside is a fantastic place to be and in the busy times there is more than enough work for everyone."
The plan is to run a weekend service and then operate full time from the middle of February.
Two other ferry services are also operating in the city.