Paul Fenn, Take a Shot Media

After 70 Years of Sailing Straight and True, Norton Yachts Decides it’s Time to Tack

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Ken and Carolyn Schmalenberger, owners of Norton Yachts pose for a pic during the Annapolis Sailboat Show 2015

The letter began, “Dearest extended family, colleagues, and friends, as the saying goes, “You can’t control the wind but you can adjust your sails.” As is so predictable in life, the time has come for Ken and I to adjust our sails.” Carolyn Schmalenberger, Co-Owner, Norton Yachts

Norton Yachts began in 1948 by Ed Norton. In 1961 the torch was passed to Billy Norton, Ed’s son, who took over. Billy had a daughter named Carolyn, who grew up watching her father run the boatyard in the little town of Deltaville, VA. Carolyn had a passion for the water and sailing which she carried with her through her adolescence and into adulthood. In her freshman year at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, she met a tall, good-looking Ken Schmalenberger. They were married in 1978 and by 1983 they had returned to Deltaville to work in the family business. In 1995, the torch was passed once again, this time to Ken and Carolyn who have been running the show ever since.

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Carolyn Norton Schmalenberger literally grew up on the marina property; work there included selling fuel to boaters, cleaning the bath house, and then graduated to painting boat bottoms,  and prepping teak for the “finish” guy to do his magic.

It is truly an honor to say that not only did I spend 20 years with great business people and owners, but forever friends.” Mike Lynch, Yacht Broker at Norton Yachts

In 2004 after a couple of years of banging on their door and basically being a pest, I finally convinced Carolyn to represent Jeanneau in the lower Chesapeake. Norton Yacht’s had been a longtime Hunter dealer, routinely being honored for their outstanding customer service. I knew they would do equally well for Jeanneau, and of course they did!

“Carolyn and Ken made the process of buying and owning a boat a pure joy, but it was clear I’d made new friends, not just a business relationship.” Baylor Fooks, Jeanneau 349  & Jeanneau 469 owner

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The Schmalenberger family including Ken, Kendall, Whitney and Carolyn at the Peter Island Beach Resort during the Jeanneau Owner’s Rendezvous in the BVI -2014

When you purchase a boat from Norton’s you are immediately grafted into Family.  We have purchased several (we won’t reveal the number!) from Carolyn and Ken at Norton’s, and each time the idea of Family is reinforced.” Christopher Lindbloom and Nancy Glinn Powell, Jeanneau 469 (Bolero)

Jiho Han
“Ken and Carolyn treat us like best family.  They are also family to us. I can sail without worry because the Norton’s crew always fixes any issues and problems.  They are simply wonderful people who have introduced us to the exhilaration of sailing and have expanded our horizons.” Jiho and Joan Han, Jeanneau 509

Last year on February 16th, life for Ken and Carolyn abruptly changed when Ken had a very serious skiing accident in Utah. While Ken survived the accident, the recovery has been hard and slow and left him unable to work, at least for now. As Carolyn wrote in her letter, “it’s a miracle that Ken survived.”

And so, after a great run of 70 years of Norton Yachts being a true family-owned business, Carolyn decided that it was time to look for a new owner but only if they met three non-negotiable criteria. First, the buyers would make taking care of their beloved customers their #1 priority. Second, the Norton Yachts team would remain intact and members would not face unemployment. And third, the new owner would take the 70 year-strong company into the future with the highest integrity and best business practices. 

Enter, Michael Kucera and Anton Webre, the New owners of Norton Yachts. Michael Kucera was raised on the Rappahannock River in Middlesex County and is a lifelong boater. Anton Webre has sailed since he was 5 years old, and has completed both trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, as well as numerous trips between the Northeast and Caribbean.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to carry on Norton’s 70-year legacy and build upon the marina’s impeccable reputation. I have known the Schmalenberger family since my childhood, and that makes this endeavor all the more exciting and meaningful.” Michael Kucera

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Anton Webre and Michael Kucera, the proud new owners of Norton Yachts.

“After a 30 year career on Wall St., I am very much looking forward to producing something real, and helping spread the joy that boating has brought to my life. I feel that we have not just acquired a marina from Ken and Carolyn, but a friendship, and look forward to relying on their wise counsel for years to come.” Anton Webre

Last week, Carolyn cleaned out her desk and officially passed the Norton torch that has burned so brightly for the past 70 years to Michael and Anton. It was bitter-sweet for sure but Carolyn has no regrets. “When it’s time to tack, you tack.”

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You can’t control the wind but you can always adjust your sails

The letter closed, “As for Ken and myself, we will be cheering for Mike and Anton and are here to provide guidance during the transition as needed. We will continue to work towards Ken’s recovery and spend more time with our children and granddaughter. God willing, on a day when the wind is perfect, we’ll catch a steady breeze and sail wherever the wind blows. Thank you for the best ride of our lives and please stay in touch.” Carolyn Schmalenberger

As for me, I will miss my conversations with Carolyn, brainstorming about marketing, social media, and the importance of always delivering top-notch customer service. And I will miss sharing a cold one with Ken at the end of those long days at the Annapolis Boat Show. But I look forward to working with and getting to know Michael and Anton and someday in the not so different future, I’m going to make it a point to drive down to Deltaville and go for a sail with my dear friends Ken and Carolyn; because that’s what good friends do, they get together, share a cool beverage, do exciting things, laugh, and have fun.

On we go…

 

 

 

 

 

New Sun Odyssey 349 Proves Once Again to be a Fun and Easy Boat to Sail

One of the better perks of being in the business of building and selling new boats is having them available from time to time to go for a sail on. Such was the case yesterday when some colleagues and I found ourselves with an available Sun Odyssey 349 to sail, a lovely sunny afternoon, a solid 15 knot breeze and a bit of time on our hands. Who could say no to that? Definitely not us, so with a couple of bottles of cold beer in hand, we shoved off and headed out for a late afternoon/ early evening sail.

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A nice shot taken from the cockpit of the Sun Odyssey 349 sailing on the Chesapeake Bay in the late afternoon.

The 349 is a new addition to the Sun Odyssey range with just a handful of boats being delivered thus far. This particular 349 is headed for charter with Sail Caribe in Puerto Rico and is fitted with a deep keel (6’5″), traditional main and 110% jib. The wind was blowing a steady 12-15 which was more than enough to put the lee rail close to the water and get us up to the boat’s theoretical hull speed of 7 1/2 knots. Because the 349 features twin rudders and a well-balanced sail plan, it trucks through the water like a train on a track. The boat pretty much sails itself, even in heavy air.

We made a long stretch to windward across the bay and when we had polished off our first beer, we came about and went off on a new tack that took us more south down the bay. It was a beautiful night to be out sailing and we were enjoying every minute of it. After a while as the sun was beginning to set, we fell off the wind and eventually jibed around and headed for the barn. The sun sank fast into the west and before we were even half way back to the dock, we had pretty much lost our light. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem but this boat was brand new and we didn’t quite have the running lights up and working yet. The wind however pushed us along at a good clip and by the time we had drained our last beer we were sailing into the channel leading into Back Creek where our slip was waiting for us.

Mr. Frederic Gillier, head of the Jeanneau IT program, compently  drives the Sun Odyssey 349 to windward across the Chesapeake Bay
Mr. Frederic Gillier, head of the Jeanneau IT program, competently drives the Sun Odyssey 349 towards home.

In my mind the 349 is a tough boat to beat. It’s priced well, is a blast to sail, has plenty of room in the cockpit, has a great interior layout, and has what it takes to go off cruising in grand style. What else do you need? Well, we could have used just one more cold beer. C’est la vie…

On we go…

Nothing Much Beats Bumming Around on Boats

Last week I was fortunate enough to find myself stepping aboard a brand spanking new Jeanneau 349 at the Vermillion Yacht Club located in the sweet little town of Vermillion, OH. Vermillion, bills itself as a small town on a great lake. Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie between Sandusky and Cleveland, Vermillion has the look and feel of a coastal New England town and is a lighting rod for boaters of all types. It’s also home port to S.O. Bum, the 349 owned by John and Linda Robertson.

Beautiful white houses as viewed from the deck of S.O. Bum, line the channel that leads into the town of Vermillion.
Beautiful white houses as viewed from the deck of S.O. Bum, line the channel that leads into the town of Vermillion.

John and Linda Robertson are no strangers to sailing nor are they strangers to Jeanneau; their previous boat was a Jeanneau 54 DS that they purchased in 2005 and sailed extensively throughout the Great Lakes with their 4 children until 2010 when they sold it to purchase a Sabre 40 (I know, they went to the dark side but at least they picked a classy, good looking, good quality boat!). They upgraded from the 40 to a Sabre 48 in 2013 but John and the rest of his family never lost their love for sailing, hence their decision to purchase the Jeanneau 349.

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John and Linda Robertson with daughters Olivia (L) and Victoria (R) and their Sabre 48, Bumboat. This latest Bumboat follows a long tradition of Bumboat’s that the Robertson family have owned and enjoyed over the years including the Jeanneau 54DS.

The air was warm and the sky robin-blue as we climbed aboard the 349, Son of Bum and headed out the channel for Lake Erie. On board was my wife Kim, Rob Morley of Riverside Yacht Sales, John Robertson, and his two daughters, Olivia (24) and Victoria (18) and myself. We were 6 all together. On a normal 34 footer, 6 people in the cockpit may prove to be tight but the 349 has a tremendous amount of beam aft, making for a huge cockpit and plenty of room for everyone.

Olivia and Victoria Robertson hang on the rail aboard the Jeanneau 349
Olivia and Victoria Robertson hang on the rail aboard the Jeanneau 349

As soon as we cleared the channel we hoisted the mainsail and unfurled the 110% genoa. The 349 if offered with your choice of a furling main, traditional or classic main or a performance main. I was happy to learn that John had gone with the performance main which is squared-off on top providing for more sail area and hence better performance, especially in light air. The wind wasn’t overly strong, about 8-10 but despite the somewhat light breeze, the 349 scooted off to windward in good style. A few other notable features of the 349 include the use of twin wheels and twin rudders. The twin wheels allow the helmsman to sail from either the windward or leeward side of the boat while the twin rudders provide for excellent stability by almost completely eliminating the issue of weather-helm even in heavy air.

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Yours truly at the helm. I’ve always enjoyed sailing from the leeward side. It puts me close to the water and gives me excellent sight-lines to the telltales on the jib.

Winch placement aboard the 349 is also super convenient with all lines leading aft so the helmsman can tweak the sails to his or her liking. German sheeting is utilized as well allowing for the main to be trimmed from either side of the boat.

DSC02018In lieu of traditional genoa tracks, the 349 utilizes two  friction rings that provide a fair lead for both the main sheet and genoa sheet. This clever system saves both weight and cost and works great.

We were having so much fun sailing the boat we didn’t really spend anytime below but this boat has a ton of interior room for a 34 footer. Son of Bum has a 2 cabin arrangement with 1 extremely large head but a 3 cabin arrangement is also offered.

We sailed for a couple of hours and then unfortunately we had to head back to the dock. It wasn’t such a bad thing however because soon after tying up, a front moved through and dumped a boat-full of rain on us. Timing is everything!

You might be saying to yourself that Bumboat and Son of Bum are peculiar names for a boat, I know I did. When I asked John what the significance of the name Bumboat was, he responded by telling me that it’s a long story but that I could read all about it on his web site, www.bumboat.com. It’s an interesting story so I encourage you to give it a read.

When I was a kid growing up in New England, I spent my summers bombing around on Fisher’s Island Sound off the Connecticut coast in a 13 foot Boston Whaler. Ever since that time, I’ve always loved bumming around on boats. I guess I always will.

On we go…