Buoyed by the Boat Business

Posted on 23 September 2011

Whatever floats your boat: Lou Grignon is the proprietor of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard.

Whatever floats your boat: Lou Grignon is the proprietor of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard.

By Bryan Boyhan

In the 18 years Lou Grignon has owned the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard on Bay Street he’s seen the village emerge as a popular destination for yachts cruising the eastern seaboard. With its broad offering of cultural activities to its collection of restaurants, Sag Harbor has joined the ranks of Savannah, Block Island and Bar Harbor as popular ports of call for a leisure class that continues to fuel the economies of maritime communities.

Grignon’s yacht yard and its ship’s store have benefited from that growth, and he has seen his number of employees double in the nearly two decades he’s been in business here.

“We currently have about ten guys working in the yard, there’s Robert in the ship’s store, and another couple who work in the office,” said Grignon in an interview this week. “That’s about twice as many as I had when we started.”

The type of boat coming into the harbor has changed dramatically, said Grignon.

“The scale of the boat has come up quite a bit,” he said. “The first boat tenders we saw were all inflatables. Now we’re seeing yachts with 20- or 30 ft. center console tenders.”

Much of the business is in maintenance, service and storage, and indeed the property surrounding the building at the yard were packed with boats in the day or so leading up to the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene. This week, the yard is again wide open, as all but two boats were returned to the water in the week after the storm passed. This is an encouraging sign, and indicative of boaters’ changing habits.

“It used to be after Labor Day, and with kids going back to school, many people would start puling their boats for the season, and by the time Thanksgiving came around we were just about done,” said Grignon. “Now, we’re still pulling boats in the first and second week of December.”

“Those who have boats out here want to wait until the bitter end,” he said.

The rhythm of the business dictates a rush in the spring to get boats in the water, but after that the yard generally quiets down.

“Once the boats are in the water the yard’s pretty much done until something breaks,” said Grignon

But, he said, in recent years the have seen a growth in the maintenance sector.

“Someone will want another coat of varnish for their boat, or we’ll pull a boat for a power washing,” he said,

The demand for varnishing alone has caused Grignon to hire someone who specializes in it.

“I brought this guy up from Antigua” he said, “and all he does is varnish and paint. That’s a position I never had three years ago. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve given him his own helper.”

Grignon said he noticed an upswing in the arrival of larger boats — those 60-feet and bigger — about ten years ago. It’s a boon he said, not just for his business but for all the marinas in the village.

“You see all the yards inside are full, and Waterfront Marina and the Yacht Club are full,” he said, “you can see the number of mega yachts lined up.”

What’s driving all this interest?

“Sag Harbor’s a destination, boaters want to come here,” said Grignon, who noted Bay Street Theatre, the art galleries, and local restaurants just steps away from the waterfront as a big draw for cruising yachts. “There’s a real connection between the dock and the street. You don’t have that in Montauk or Southampton.”

He added that he has seen a growth not just in visiting yachts, but in the number of local boat owners as well.

“You’ve got all these local guys out there in their center consoles fishing out of Sag Harbor and the popularity of the Wednesday night sailing races has really grown,” said Grignon.

Grignon, who bought the business and its store from Jim Briggs in the early 1990s, and then the real estate from Pat Malloy about five years ago, has expanded the retail part of the business, growing their stock of general marine supplies and expanding their lines of supplies for Honda and John Deere engines. In particular, he said, they are dealers for Yanmar engines— which, he said, are in about 80 percent of all cruising sailboats — and carry a full line of Yanmar parts.

“The guys come in and get what they need,” said Grignon, “but that’s left women largely outside,”

So the ship’s store has also expanded its line of name brand weather gear, with such manufacturers and Henri Lloyd. In the coming year he said he will also invest in stock for UV protective clothing.

“A lot of people are asking for it,” he said. “We’re all getting older, and concerned about the sun.”

All in all, Grignon is optimistic about the growth of the maritime business here.

“The only thing that’s going to hinder Sag Harbor is that they’ve got to maintain the channels and the mooring grids,” he said. “Over the next five or ten years that could be a problem.”

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