Though Vineyard harbors are empty of most boats, and the North Wharf boat lift is quiet, George J. Rogers Jr. and his wife Sheryl, owners of Edgartown Marine, have been working through the winter, morning until night.
Last June, the two left a world of corporate finance and took over the company as on-site owners. Up until then boating on Martha’s Vineyard was an avocation; now it is their vocation. Mr. Rogers was born and raised on the Vineyard and he and his wife’s decision to take over Edgartown Marine was tied to looking for a successful business he could return home to.
“It’s our first winter,” Mr. Rogers said in a recent interview. “Every day is a fresh experience. It is a bit overwhelming at times. You don’t know what to expect. It comes to you from all different directions.”
Most of the work being done involves getting boats ready for launching in spring. There is the smell of fresh paint and varnish. In the large boat shed, the work areas includes a number of outboard powerboats and a sailboat. Boats are moved through the space almost daily, depending on the work that needs to be done. On this day, John Smith, a senior technician at the shop, adjusts the pintles and gudgeons of a 28-foot wooden Herreshoff that was built in 1984. It is nearly ready for re-painting.
A few feet away, David LeCoq, another senior technician, uses his wrench to put in new spark plugs in a large Mercury outboard. A blue Boston Whaler fiberglass boat is nearby, having its gelcoat lightly sanded in preparation for polishing.
Mr. Rogers. 58, said he finds it amazing to watch how the boats come in to the shop and get repaired and serviced in a fashion that operates with clockwork efficiency.
In the winter, the boatyard has nine full-time employees. In summer it jumps to as high as 21. The boatyard has about 600 boats under their charge and many of them require some winter work. One large powerboat in the shop named Apachee Too, which belongs to the owner of an NHL hockey team, is getting two new Yamaha 250-horsepower outboards. The lift will start putting boats back in the harbor in mid-April.
The couple says they often leave the shop at 8 p.m., and Mr. Rogers sometimes works in his home office until 2 a.m. This is the time of year to do inventory. It is also a time to learn a lot about the workings of a boatyard. The new owners have made several trips to meet with other boatyard owners.
The first weekend in February, the couple attended the International Marina and Boatyard Conference in Orlando. Later, they went to the New England Boat Show in Boston.
At the most recent monthly meetings of the Cape Cod Marine Trades Association in West Yarmouth, Mr. Rogers said: “We shared the issues of the moment. We talked about dock space, EPA requirements, talked with harbor masters from the Cape. To some degree, everybody thinks the economy is getting better. People are spending more money,” Mr. Rogers said.
The fast track to learn more about running a Vineyard business has taken Mr. and Mrs. Rogers far from the boardrooms of their past, which included General Mills, Paine Webber and Fidelity Investments. Mr. Rogers said he and his wife attend local chamber of commerce gatherings. “We talk a lot about owning an Island business. When you own an Island business, we’ve learned it is your life, especially on the Island. It is competitive. And we have to look out for our employees. You have to find ways to meet their needs, with medical insurance. It all doesn’t stop with the end of summer; we have to deliver to meet their needs.”
Of the company’s employees, Mr. Rogers said: “They are the backbone and the engine. We may oversee the process, but they turn out a product every day.”
If there is a disappointment, it is the slow pace of change. “We thought we could have accomplished a lot more,” he said. “We wanted to move faster, but it is the general nature of the business. The process takes longer. Everything in our business is geared to customer satisfaction,” he said. The challenge is not to disrupt a work flow that has gone on for 40 years. “We have to learn the way these guys function and respect that,” he said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Rogers said he sees upgrading the retail Ship Store at 32 Herring Creek Road, which occupies the front of the main building. The couple want to make it more customer friendly and raise its profile in the waterfront community. He said he also wants to configure his office so he is closer to the customer. Right now, Mr. Rogers office is a loft above and behind the work space. He wants to have more visibility.
There is a greater perk to owning Edgartown Marine. Mr. Rogers and his wife feel they’ve filled their lives with new relationships and friendships. It is a tough business on the waterfront, but there is warmth.
“It gives us a deeper connection to this town,” Mr. Rogers said. “We are getting to know the Steve Ewings and the Mike Hathaways of the world. They are the face, characters and personalities of Edgartown.”
Add to that the reconnecting to the oldest of Island friendships, those friends of his youth, and connecting in a new way.
“This is the greater pleasure,” Mr. Rogers said.