Tony buoyant as River Bann cruises set sail

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A COLERAINE businessman and sailor has succeeded in attracting Ireland’s largest boat hire company to Coleraine, the Times can reveal.

Tony Hodges of Tony’s Marine Services approached river leisure company, Carrickcraft, with the inspirational idea to open a cruising business in the town.

And since the River Bann is the longest river in the country, CarrickCraft’s owner jumped at the chance to get involved at the hub of the country’s busiest tourist destination - the North Coast.

Although the first boats won’t depart Coleraine until next March, CarrickCraft held an official launch on Wednesday of last week to let would-be cruisers know of the new venture and its online booking service.

Speaking at the launch party in the Harbour Office on Wednesday, CarrickCraft’s owner, John Morton, previous owner of the Coleraine Times, singled out Tony Hodge for special thanks.

“This will be CarrickCraft’s fourth base and much as I would like to say that our venture onto the Lower River Bann was a flash of inspiration, I can’t. Credit for this must go to Tony Hodges who first ran the idea past our Financial Director, Andrew McBride.

“Tony will be running the operation here in Coleraine and will be our man on the ground - or maybe that should be man on the water!

“Tony has a wealth of experience in boating and a lifetime of knowledge of the River Bann. Although new to the quirks of the hire-boat industry, I can’t think of a better man to run the Coleraine operation - welcome aboard, Tony,” he said.

Carrickcraft, which operates over 90 boats from three existing marinas will be offering something for everyone with a choice of seven different sizes of boat ranging from the 27ft Carlow Class to the 48ft, ten birth Roscommon Class.

The firm’s most popular boat is the 34ft Kilkenny Class, a 4+2 berth boat which, for the layman, means it has four fixed cabin beds and two more convertible berths in the sitting area.

CarrickCraft will begin their operation next March with three Kilkenny Class cruisers and three Carlow Class cruisers (2+2 berth) from the new pontoons at Coleraine Marina and will run through to October each year.

So far their largest customer base is in Germany but John hopes Northern Ireland will break that record with the opening of the Coleraine venture.

“Our biggest market is still Germany, followed by Ireland, Switzerland, England, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands,” he revealed. “But we hope that many of our past customers will want to visit the new waterway.”

Surprisingly, no experience is necessary: “half of our customers have never been on a boat before,”continued John.

“We are very proud of our training and instruction programme and I am sure Tony will enjoy the teaching part of the job too.”

Anyone requiring further information on cruising the River Bann, should contact the sale office on 028 3834 4993 or point your mouse at www.cruise-ireland.com.