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)

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“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…

 

 

 

 

 

Living the Dream with Dream Yacht Charters – The Seychelles

Located 900 nautical miles off the east coast of Africa, just below the equator in the Indian Ocean, sits the Seychelles Islands. Well known for its pristine beaches, coral reefs, diving, nature reserves, secluded harbors, and rare wildlife such as the giant Aldabra tortoise, the Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands, most of which remain uninhabited. With all that the Seychelles has to offer, it should come as no surprise that when it came time to pick a sailing destination to cruise for a week with my family, the Seychelles were our number one choice.

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Our adventure began by first flying from Washington, DC to Dubai and then to the island of Mahé, the largest of the Seychelles Islands and home to 90% of the nation’s 89,000 citizens. From Mahé, we took a fast-ferry to the island of Praslin where we boarded a beautiful Jeanneau 469 that we chartered from Dream Yacht Charters. Picking the boat up in Praslin was super-convenient as it put us just a few miles from several smaller islands and saved us the 25 mile sail from Mahé.

I should stop right here an explain that there are two distinct seasons or monsoons in the Seychelles, the summer season and the winter season. The summer season (December -May), is high-season with loads of travelers flocking from the north  to escape the winter chill of the northern hemisphere. The summer season, unlike the winter season, offers much calmer, more predictable weather which is ideal for the visiting yachtsman or visitors in general.  The winter season (June-November) is low season and while the sailing is still good, it’s almost too good in the sense that you can easily find yourself having to deal with 25-30 knots of wind which is more than ideal if you’re trying to relax and have a good time.

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Mollie and Graham at home aboard the Jeanneau 469 as we head out of the channel in route to find our first anchorage

As a family, we have never been very good at getting away from the dock early. We always seem to be running around doing this or that or checking on something before getting underway. I think it was close to noon before we finally cast off the dock lines, raised the anchor and headed out the channel of Baie St. Anne. The wind was blowing about 18K from the west, so once out of the channel, we decided to hook left and shoot down Praslin’s east coast in the lee of the island.

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A view of St. Pierre Island from the deck of our Jeanneau 469

Once out of the wind and the lumpy seas of the Indian Ocean, we had a nice reach down Praslin’s eastern shore. Just a few miles down, we decided to make a stop at the tiny island of St. Pierre to take a swim and check out the island’s surrounding reef. We were expecting to find moorings here as you do in the British Virgin Islands but surprisingly enough, moorings are pretty non-existent in the Seychelles, even in the overnight anchorages. We anchored easily in 15 feet of water being careful to avoid the coral reef below, threw on our snorkeling gear and hopped into the warm turquoise water. We circumnavigated the island finding the snorkeling to be exceptional with great visibility and plenty of sea life. It was a well-worth stop for sure.

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My wife Kim enjoying a swim while anchored in Anse Possession

Just a stone’s throw from St.Pierre, we found a nice anchorage in Anse Possession in about 10 feet of water over a sand bottom just on the other side of  Pointe Zanguilles. We didn’t take advantage of it but just a short dinghy ride away, is the four-star waterfront resort, Le Domaine de la Reserve in case you’re looking for an upscale meal along with a little first-class pampering. Other resorts are in this area as well that are just a short walk from the beach.

On day two, after a leisurely start, we slid over to Curieuse Island. Curieuse Island is a bio-reserve that is managed by the Marine Parks Authority of the Seychelles‘ Center for Marine Technology. Here you will find no hotels, no restaurants and from what we could tell, no permanent residents with the exception of the Aldabra tortoises and other wild creatures that roam the island.

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My son Will getting know just one of the many Aldabra tortoises that live on Curieuse Island.

In addition to the tortoises, there is a beautiful walking trail that winds its way through a dense section of Mangrove trees and weather-worn cliffs that leads to the other side of the island. Along the way, there are some beautiful views of the harbor and surrounding islands.

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A view of the harbor including our boat from the top of Curieuse Island.

We stayed two nights in Curieuse before sailing over to the island of Le Digue. Le Digue offers everything that Curieuse does not; hotels, glamorous beaches, restaurants and plenty of entertainment. There is a clearly marked channel that leads into the inner-harbor. Once inside, you need to drop your anchor and tie-up stern-to, to the sea wall. It’s all fairly easy and there are people around to help you get your lines across to the seawall and secured. A big bonus of coming to Le Digue besides the island itself is that dockage is free. That’s right, free as in “no charge!”

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Our Jeanneau 469, securely docked in downtown Le Digue

We stayed three nights in Le Digue for the simple reason that we were enjoying ourselves. We rented bikes and zipped around the island from one end to the other, more than once! We treated ourselves to dinner out and somewhere along the line found this great spot at the top of the mountain that we hiked up to and indulged in some great, all natural, cold tropical drinks. It was terrific as was the view!

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Mollie and Kim sip their drinks while enjoying the view over the beautiful Indian Ocean

There are many other islands worth exploring but the wind continued to blow fairly hard for my young crew so we opted to keep things simple and head back down the coast of Praslin to Baie of Chevalier and Anse Lazio. Voted by Trip advisor as the 6th best beach in the world, anchoring off Anse Lazio is quite simply hard to beat.

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When it comes to beaches, Anse Lazio on the tip of Praslin is pretty much second to none

When all was said and done, we didn’t put a whole lot of water under our keel and didn’t get to as many islands as we would have liked to. But, we had a terrific time exploring the islands and harbors we did get to and decided as a family that we’ll just have to come back and visit those islands a little further off the beaten path the next time around.

For now, it’s off to Botswana in Southern Africa for a safari adventure, then onto Phuket, Thailand for some more sailing with our friends from Dream Yacht.

On we go…

This is What it’s All About

The Sun Odyssey 469 and 509 lay along the seawall in No Name Harbor moments before departing for a sail across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas
The Sun Odyssey 469 and 509 lay along the seawall in No Name Harbor prior to departing for our sail across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. It was an awesome trip!

A year ago last February, just after the close of the Miami boat show, we had the idea of sailing Jeanneau’s newest model at the time, the Sun Odyssey 469 and her big sister, the Sun Odyssey 509 from Miami to the Bahamas for a photo shoot. Actually, this had been arranged before the Miami show but it was all scheduled to take place immediately after the show ended. The trip was meant to serve two purposes. The first was to capture some great pictures of the 469 in a great location, the Bahamas. The second objective was to have a magazine editor come along for the ride to review the boat, by putting it through its paces and publish the findings. With this in mind, we would be joined by well-known marine photographer Billy Black and his assistant Megan as well as Herb McCormick, Cruising World Magazine’s senior editor. We also needed a few people to help sail the boats so we ended up with a good chunk of the Jeanneau America staff coming along including Jeanneau’s product development manager, Erik Stromberg as well as yours truly. But wait, can’t very well have a photo shoot without having a few good looking models on board so, we were “forced” to bring along with us some cute females to help fill the frame of Billy’s camera and to help the boats shine as bright as possible.

Valerie Toomey of Jeanneau with Meagan Beauchemin and Stefanie Gallo relaxing while sailing offshore from Miami to Bimini, Bahamas on the Jeanneau 509.
Valerie Toomey of Jeanneau with Meagan Beauchemin and Stefanie Gallo relaxing while sailing offshore from Miami to Bimini on the Jeanneau 509. Billy Black never stops, he’s always shooting.

Pulling all this together required a fair bit of coordination which we were a little shy on come takeoff time. There were a myriad of little problems, all of which caused us to get underway much later than expected and which you can read about and amuse yourself with by reading about them in a previous post of mine titled, High and Dry in No Name Harbor followed by the sequel, Unstuck and Underway. All of this being said, at the end of the day our trip across the Gulf Stream and back was a huge success and was a lot of fun for all involved. So, where am I going with all this, why am I bringing this up?

The answer is this, after the trip we thought it would be fun to make a video of our adventure; a transparent, behind the scenes view of a photo shoot in the Bahamas. We did this and it has been happily living on YouTube ever since. And, at the time of this writing, is close to having had 30,000 views; close to 30,000 views but not quite. But wait, there’s more. During the Annapolis boat show this year, I ran into a customer who recently purchased a Jeanneau 509. He told me that while he had considered other boats, he had decided on the 509 after watching a video of the boat sailing in the Bahamas as part of a photo shoot. Specifically he said, “there was a scene right at the end when the crew is bringing the boats back across the Gulf Stream and the sun is going down and the guy sailing the boat (that’s me by the way) says, “this is what it’s all about, being out here with the sun going down and the moon coming up behind us, it’s so nice being out here.” And I thought to myself, this could be me.”

Yours truly with Stefanie by my side just before sunset on our way back across the Gulf Stream to Florida.
Me with Stefanie by my side just before sunset on our way back across the Gulf Stream to Florida.

After the boat show, I went back and watched the video a few more times and was reminded of how much I liked it and what a good time we all had making it. I was also impressed that it had been viewed almost 30,000 times (29,793 to be exact). The fact that someone had liked it enough to inspire them to buy a boat was real icing on the cake. And so I thought I would blog about this a bit and include it here for all to enjoy. And, to ask a favor of you, that if you like it, let me know by giving it a thumbs up and help send it on its way to reaching 30,000 views and more. Better yet, go buy your own boat, set the sails and take an awesome journey. After all, this is what it’s all about.

Enjoy the show!

Sailing with Murphy

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Murphy’s Law

I didn’t even see him slip aboard but then again, when it comes to Murphy, you seldom do. He’s tricky and just when you think all is well, he sneaks by you and quickly tosses a wrench into the works. He’s been around since the beginning of time and he rarely misses an opportunity to create havoc whenever and wherever he can. I am convinced he does his finest work while on a boat but I am sure he is a credit to his namesake on land as well.

The air was fresh and strong when we threw off our lines and headed out for an afternoon of sailing, aboard the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 469. Sailing with us was John Kretschmer of Sailing Magazine and John Armstrong of Canadian Yachting who had come aboard to assess how this new model of ours would perform. The waves were steep and the current strong as we made our way out of Miami’s Government Cut Channel under power.

Miami’s Government Cut Channel – Photo by Ross Cobb

I knew that we were seriously low on fuel but I didn’t expect to completely run out; unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Damn I thought, Murphy is here. I don’t mind saying, it’s an awkward feeling to lose power while in the middle of a busy shipping channel with lots of wind and tide. Fortunately, we didn’t totally lose our heads and much like Harold with his purple crayon, we came up thinking fast and quickly set sail. We turned on our heel and with the wind behind us, we began sailing back into Miami Harbor. We knew the fuel dock was just in front of us and while sailing to the dock is something more commonly done in smaller boats in calmer conditions on say a lake or cove, we decided to give it a shot.

We approached the entrance to the marina under mainsail alone and at a pretty good clip. As we got closer, I said to my friend and colleague Erik Stromberg, “let’s lose the main, we’ve got plenty of speed.” Erik quickly furled the mainsail just as I made the final turn and headed for the end of the fuel dock which was thankfully unoccupied. Docklines and fenders were rigged and in the final few yards just before we made our landing, Erik gave the engine one last shot to see if there was any life left in it. To our surprise it started and I was able to quickly shift into reverse and make a perfect landing right on the end of the dock just like we had done it a hundred times before. “Well done someone cried, great boat handing!” I smiled to myself and thought… ha, take that Murphy!

John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy
John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy

With our fuel tank now filled, we headed back out the channel, leaning hard on the throttle in order to make up for lost time. The sea was still steep and the wind still piped hard but all was going well untill Murphy appeared on deck and unexpectedly dumped our anchor and chain over the bow. “Crap” I said under my breath, “this is not good.” John Kretschmer, our fellow crew member, accomplished sailor and the author of several books, rushed forward and begin to deal with the problem. Erik joined him on the bow and together they began the task of wrestling the anchor back on deck and regaining control of the situation. After several minutes, and with the help of a good sharp knife to remove some unwanted fishing line, the anchor and chain were once again back in their designated places. Again we powered forward and once we cleared the last buoy, the sails were hoisted, the engine shut down and the boat took to the sea as she was meant to. It was, in the end, a great day to be on the water and under sail.

In my mind, sailors are a great bunch, they expect the unexpected, remain unflustered when the boat does cartwheels across the waves and while they wouldn’t deliberately invite Murphy to take the wheel, they know that he is always on board and as long as he doesn’t completely sink the ship he is a welcome crew member.

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Jeanneau 469 sailing off the Florida coast. Photo by Billy Black

I have to say that I have had smoother test sails in my life. But, if I have learned anything at all, it’s that Murphy’s Law always holds true, “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”  It’s just the way life is and in my book, it’s not such a terrible thing. Not everybody can hit a curve ball and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can, it means that you’re just that much further ahead than the next guy.

I’ve always taken the approach that life is meant to be lived on the balls of your feet. This way, when the music suddenly changes, you can quickly change tempo and dance away to the new beat.

On We Go…