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…

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell Valerie Toomey and Bon Voyage

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Valerie Toomey at the helm of the Jeanneau 509 crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas for a 2013 photo shoot

It is said that the true character of a company can be found in the people who work for it. Valerie Toomey joined Jeanneau America in 2010 bringing with her an over abundance of positive energy and a unique style all her own. Now, 5 years later, she leaves us… not for a bigger or better job or to seek out new opportunities, but to do something most of us who love spending time on the water only dream of, going cruising.

Beginning in July, Valerie along with her husband, syndicated cartoonist Jim Toomey, and their two children, Madeline age 12 and William age 10, will head to Les Sables-d’Olonne, France where they will move aboard their brand new Lagoon catamaran. From there, they’ll spend the next year (maybe more if Valerie gets her way. And she usually does!) cruising through the Mediterranean and eventually south across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. It will be a grand adventure I’m sure.

“When I started working for Jeanneau, I really wasn’t a sailor but over the past 5 years, after organizing numerous boat shows, photo shoots, owner’s parties and rendezvous’, I have learned a thing or two and discovered that I love sailing and being aboard a boat” Valerie says.

Pirate Night during the 2014 BVI Owner's Rendezvous (L-R: Rosie Rigaux, Catherine Guiader and Valerie)
Pirate Night during the 2012 BVI Owner’s Rendezvous (L-R: Rosie Rigaux, Catherine Guiader and Valerie Toomey)

It’s never easy to lose a good employee or say goodbye to a good friend. But the fact that Valerie is headed for an adventure that’s right out of one of our brochures, somehow makes it all a little bit easier to accept. So Bon Voyage Valerie Toomey and thanks for shining your light on Jeanneau. It’s been a great 5 years!

Valerie and her girls at the close of the 2013 Annapolis Sail Boat Show
Valerie and her girls at the close of the 2013 Annapolis Sailboat Show

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!