Business People Vermont April 2017 : Page 3

I Lyman Leader demonstrates why. She and her husband deliv-n an entirely professional sense — but a sense, nonethe-ered the boat to Snake Mountain last July, and, says Haigh, “I less, grounded in an appreciation of beauty and mean-was expecting it would be done in September or October.” But ing — Michael Claudon of Weybridge and Sue Haigh as Claudon and his crew began stripping away coats of aged of South Hero were made for each other. They are, varnish and taking the boat down to its skeleton, problems respectively, artisan and customer. revealed themselves one after another: the transom (rotten); a Claudon is the founder and owner of Snake makeshift plywood deck added years ago by her brother Tom. Mountain Boatworks (named for a nearby ridge with “Then I get a call from Michael. ‘Susie, we’ve gone this far; a commanding view of Lake Champlain). He and his skilled do you want to do the keel?’ I said, ‘Michael, you’re talking employees, John Lafountain and Roger “RJ” Towle, restore about major heart surgery on the boat?’ He said, ‘No, that was vintage wooden boats. the transom.’” Haigh is the inheritor of a 1949 Lyman Leader, 17 feet 4 Throughout the process, Claudon documented the work with inches long, which was purchased new by her father in Dallas homemade videos, a practice that shows customers not just the in 1950, before she was born. Her older brothers had kept it deterioration that Claudon, Lafountain, and Towle are encoun-patched together, more or less, before Haigh and her husband, tering, but the slow and deliberate progress they’re making. Dana Bromley, rescued it from a Pennsylvania barn last June, Necessary patches are laboriously integrated into the seasoned, where it had lingered, unused, for more than 15 years. stable wood; coats of new varnish are given ample time to dry. Wooden boats of a certain age are not mere vessels to their In March, Haigh’s boat was one of seven in Claudon’s shop owners. (others were on a waiting list), but the work was nearing com-“I have a picture from a photo album, from the first day pletion and Haigh was thrilled. the boat arrived,” Haigh explains. “When you have a boat like “We’re going to have a boat this summer, and we’re going that in your history, a fiberglass boat just isn’t the same. You to take it to the Vintage Boat Show in Burlington. I’ve always can’t have the same kind of affection for it.” dreamed of this!” she exclaims. When Claudon started Snake Mountain Boatworks in 2010 One might think that such a business, launched after an after retiring from a 41-year career teaching economics at arduous academic career, was the long-awaited fulfillment of Middlebury College, he was certain that potential customers a lifetime dream. But one would be wrong. Claudon, who is like Haigh were out there. In a Middlebury course designed 73, grew up in Millbrae, California, and had no exposure to, to inspire future entrepreneurs, Claudon had framed what or particular awareness of, vintage boats until the year before he believes are the three key questions for start-ups: 1) What he retired. problem are you solving? 2) How else is it currently being “But I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life,” he explains. solved? and 3) Who is your customer? Before boats, it was antique clocks, and before — more accu-“When it came my time, that’s the same way I started this rately, concurrent with — clocks business,” he says. it was sheep. Claudon met his The problem to be solved future wife, Shirley Kratky, in was restoration of historic Baltimore, in the 1960s. He was wooden boats. Others were pursuing his Ph.D. in econom-actually addressing it (num-ics at Johns Hopkins University, ber 2). Indeed, Burlington res-and Shirley, a recent gradua-ident Bill Truex, a member of tion of Goucher College with a the Lake Champlain Chapter degree in education, was teach-of the Antique and Classic Boat ing English in Baltimore. At Society, and a wooden boat some point in their courtship, owner for 68 years, says the area Claudon recalls, “It was time to has three or four good practi-meet the parents” (hers), and tioners of the craft. that meant driving to South But Claudon concentrated on Royalton, Vermont. They question number 3: identifying crossed the state line in a rag-his customers. ing snowstorm, “and I thought “There are maybe 10,000 I’d gone to heaven.” wooden boats in the Lake He jumped at a job offer from Champlain basin and surround-Middlebury College. “I accepted ing region,” he explains. “But the offer and began teaching in there’s a small subset with the 1970,” he says. “Then I finished emotional investment and the my dissertation in the spring financial capacity to do this to the highest standards.” of ’71 and went through gradu-Among his mentors, Claudon ation then.” count s Peter Ma rkowsk i, Shirley took a teaching job at founder and CEO of Restoration Otter Valley Union High School and Performance Motorcars — later transferring, for most of of Vermont in Vergennes. He her career, to Middlebury Union adopted Markowski’s view of an High School. They bought a appropriate customer: “(They) small property in Addison, Claudon’s first hire, John Lafountain, head, don’t ask how much, and they and a quartet of sheep to, as hull restoration, has been with him since the don’t ask how long.” Claudon says, “mow the lawn.” beginning, having helped rehab the barn. Haigh’s experience with her But the lawn mowers went forth BR AD PET TENGILL BUSINESS PEOPLE–VERMONT • APRIL 2017 3

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here