Bristol Packet is getting ready for their busy summer season by putting the final touches to a new floating cafe and bar near the ss Great Britain.
Also acting as a waiting area for their popular boat tours, it will give new life to the Greenshank, a traditional narrowboat and a disused member of Bristol Packet’s fleet.
“The Greenshank used to be a boatswain’s locker, a locker with ropes and tools,” says Luke Dunstan, who has grown up in the family-owned business and is a driving force behind the new cafe.
“It was on the verge of sinking and was in a terrible state of disrepair. If we didn’t take it out of the water, it would sink,” he says.
“So we pulled it out delicately, cut the bottom off and replaced the bottom of the hull, and realised we had what could be a nice space. We then formulated the idea of having a floating cafe.”
Indoor seats and a bar are being built inside the Greenshank, but the cafe’s outdoor seating will be on a different boat beside it. The company purchased the large flat bed vessel in Holland and had it trucked all the way to Bristol.
“We’re hoping it’s a way of expanding and growing our business,” says Luke.
He explains that he “grew up in the front cabin here”, living and working on the boats since his parents purchased the business in the early 1980s.
“It was a very different place,” Luke says. “It was still a commercial port then, and we started doing trips up and down the area. There were always ships coming in and out back then.”
By building the cafe and continuously maintaining Bristol Packet’s boats, some of which are nearly 100 years old, Luke hopes to help Bristol reconnect with its maritime past. He waxes nostalgic about a Bristol that disappeared centuries before his birth.
“Two to three hundred years ago, in this stretch of water there would have been so many boats, you could walk across the harbour on the decks of the ships. It would have been a forest of masts. It would have been incredible to see.”
At the moment, Luke, his family and crew are all hard at work on the new cafe, but that won’t stop Bristol Packet from continuing their meanders along the Floating Harbour and River Avon as far as Beese’s, which begun in 1973.
The company has also relaunched the zero-emissions ferry, Hydrogenesis, for private hire tours. The boat became a political football when it received £225,000 in government funding ahead of the Green Capital competition.
Read more: Bristol’s ‘white elephant’ boat relaunched