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Special feature: Seventy years on and March boating company continues to float on



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From a little wooden dinghy in a garden shed 70 years ago, Charlie Fox's legacy continues with a vibrant boating company looking forward to the future.

Fox Narrowboats, will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, and Charlie's company is still in safe family hands.

Charlie started his life as a boat builder in 1952 when he took on the challenge of building a wooden sailing dinghy in the garden shed at the family home in Gaul Road, March.

Charlie Fox in his early boat building days. (54257589)
Charlie Fox in his early boat building days. (54257589)

He then went on to complete his boat building apprenticeship with Appleyard and Lincoln of Ely and from then on there was no stopping him or his business.

In 1963 he moved to West End in March where he started building larger clinker fishing boats, along with canoes and rowing boats.

Having dipped his toe in the boat building industry with his smaller craft Charlie took the plunge to start his first hire fleet which comprised of rowing boats and canoes.

An aerial view of Fox's marina in March. (54257544)
An aerial view of Fox's marina in March. (54257544)

Later in the 1960s he started hiring out a retired lifeboat, offering overnight stays for the first time.

By 1973 the business was thriving and the firm's first narrowboat was built at its premises in West End for local boating enthusiast and former town mayor Bernard Keane.

Just a few short years later in 1976 Fox's launched its first narrowboat hire fleet, allowing people the chance to cruise the River Great Ouse to Cambridge, Huntingdon and Bedford or River Nene to Peterborough and Northampton.

The business was thriving so well by 1980 it had outgrown the riverbank premises in West End and a purpose-built marina was established by Charlie on the outskirts of town.

Fox Narrowboats at their former base in West End, March. (54257610)
Fox Narrowboats at their former base in West End, March. (54257610)

And it continues to be the home to Fox Narrowboats and can be seen from March by-pass

Not only did this provide space to operate the hire fleet but it also enabled the firm to rent out moorings to private boaters.

In the 1980s alongside offering holidays on the River Great Ouse, building narrowboats for

its own hire fleet and private boaters, Fox Narrowboats built three ocean going yachts and a pair of wide beam hotel boats.

Little did Paula realise when this picture was taken with her dad in the 1970s that she would end up running the family firm with her sister Tracey.
Little did Paula realise when this picture was taken with her dad in the 1970s that she would end up running the family firm with her sister Tracey.

By the end of decade the firm was once again in need of more space and so the marina underwent an extension which was completed in 1991 to accommodate a further 100 moorings.

During the 1990s Fox Narrowboats was building special commissions which included three purpose-built vessels for the St John Ambulance to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to have some time afloat.

And then in the late 1990s Charlie handed over the reins to his daughters Paula Syred and Tracey Baxter.

Charlie on his own narrowboat. (54257595)
Charlie on his own narrowboat. (54257595)

One of their first projects was to build a narrowboat for export to Blackstone Valley Tourism in Rhode Island, USA; this was 12m wide beam semi-trad.

In 2001 space was again becoming tight, so an extension was completed to the east, alongside the bypass to accommodate another 35 narrowboats.

The business was renamed in 2004 to become Fox Narrowboats Ltd and in 2015 Fox's welcomed Emily, Paula's daughter and Charlie’s eldest granddaughter, to the marina team, something he would have been very proud of.

Rural Fox pictured in Upwell is a very popular vessel with holidaymakers.
Rural Fox pictured in Upwell is a very popular vessel with holidaymakers.

Seventy years on from Charlie’s first foray into boat building, Fox Narrowboats is still offering boating holidays, building and repairing boats, and providing moorings on the Middle Level.

Its hire fleet currently comprises of three holiday hire boats and two day boats.

But new for the 2022 season the firm has invested in a new 60ft purpose- built narrowboat, Cape Fox, which will start her hire life on April 1 2022.

Charlie Fox pictured at the opening of the east basin in 2001.
Charlie Fox pictured at the opening of the east basin in 2001.

Building on the success of Rural Fox, a 2/4 berth boat launched in 2018, Cape Fox sleeps up to six people in two cabins, each with its own bathroom, plus a convertible seating area.

She comes with a fully equipped galley with fridge/freezer, cooker and microwave. She is already proving extremely popular with our customers with much of her maiden season booked up.

Cape Fox is the 124th steel boat built and fitted out by the company in March.

Charlie Fox at work in the boat building shed. (54257569)
Charlie Fox at work in the boat building shed. (54257569)

The Covid pandemic has proved challenging to the business, with parts of the past two seasons lost or restricted by regulations.

But with the inability to travel abroad, many people have tried holidaying afloat with one of Fox's Narrowboats and the company continues to thrive.

The first of Fox's hire fleet pictured with Charlie at the helm in 1976.
The first of Fox's hire fleet pictured with Charlie at the helm in 1976.
Fox Narrowboats marina pictured in its early days in the 1980s.
Fox Narrowboats marina pictured in its early days in the 1980s.
The first steel hull narrowboat built by Fox's. (54257558)
The first steel hull narrowboat built by Fox's. (54257558)
A family enjoys a day out on one of Fox's narrowboats. (54257578)
A family enjoys a day out on one of Fox's narrowboats. (54257578)
Charlie Fox busy boat building at his firm's previous site in West End, March. (54257572)
Charlie Fox busy boat building at his firm's previous site in West End, March. (54257572)


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