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Buoy Scouts

Creating a home away from home, on the water

by Cindy Bernhardt

Julie Weaver, Peter Hill, and Jane and Moe GermainIn 1983, Julie Weaver (right) and Peter Hill bought into partnership with Jane and Moe Germain at The Moorings, a Colchester marina where Hill had worked for 10 years.

A community of happy boaters in a quality environment.” That’s the haven Julie Weaver and Peter Hill, partners in life as well as in their Colchester marina, The Moorings, have created for like-minded folks and families who love being on the water. They own The Moorings in partnership with Moe and Jane Germain.

Situated on Malletts Bay with a fabulous view of Mount Mansfield, The Moorings’ docks are home to over 100 powerboats and sailboats during boating season. Weaver and Hill set the tone as proactive, involved owners and fellow boaters.

“Our customers’ quality of life here is really important to us,” emphasizes Weaver. Whether it’s the cleanliness of our facility or safety of our docks, we’re always working to make things inviting so our customers want to be here.” 

“The most rewarding part of the business is the people you meet,” says Hill. “Our customers are extended family and our employees are our family.” 

Weaver and Hill met, appropriately enough, on the water at the International Sailing School in Colchester. Hill was one of the school’s owners and Weaver was there to learn how to race sailboats.

Originally from Long Island, Weaver had moved to Waitsfield as a “quality of life” change around 1979. She commuted to her job as executive assistant to Jim, Angelo, and Remo Pizzagalli at Pizzagalli Construction in South Burlington, where she worked for more than 17 years. 

Hill, born in Rhode Island, grew up skiing and sailing “all size boats all over the place. I don’t remember a time when my parents didn’t at least have a small sailboat,” he recalls. His dad’s GE career meant numerous family moves while he was growing up. After studying recreation, Hill came to Vermont in 1969 to pursue his love of skiing. Before buying into the sailing school, he served on the ski patrol at Mad River Glen for 11 years, eventually becoming director. 

In 1983, shortly after Hill met Weaver, he sold his sailing school interest and took a job at The Moorings. When Germain’s original partner retired in 1993, Hill and Weaver bought in to become co-owners with the Germains. 

While Hill was fully immersed in the business from day one, Weaver split her time between The Moorings and Pizzagalli for another five years. She came on full time in 1998.

The partnership has worked well. Weaver, Hill, and Germain meet daily to discuss details. Germain, Weaver says, “knows numbers and is the statistician. We rely on him for long-term planning and financial forecasting. He and Jane are an important part of this whole equation.” 

Adds Hill, “Moe is the visionary. I’ll ask him if we can afford to do something and he’ll either find a way to do it or tell me I’m crazy. We, as partners, are in this as a whole, not separately.”

“We complement each other very well,” says Germain. “I’m more of a silent partner, really. Peter and Julie handle all the customer relations. I respect Peter’s expertise in running the marina and Julie’s great at managing the office.”

The marina — and its name — had its start as a mooring field in the late 1970s, when Germain bought the two-acre vacant lot with 400 feet of frontage. Explains Hill, “Moe got permits for the original docks in 1978, took out the moorings, and slowly built from there.” 

Most of The Moorings’ customers are repeaters — nearly 30 of whom are 10-year-plus veterans. Demand for slips is “huge,” says Weaver. “People are getting larger boats and cruising more as families. We’ve filled every dock slip every year with a waiting list.

“People can’t get or afford waterfront land. Docks are the most convenient way to use a boat, so a boat in a slip is like having a camp on the water.”

The lot was transformed in 1997 with construction of the marina’s cottage style two-story building. The structure houses The Moorings’ showers, restrooms, and a customer common area as well as the marina’s operations and business offices.

A recent marina expansion added a breakwater dock supplying 16 additional seasonal slips and docking for 23 transients. The dock also gives added protection by subduing waves in bad weather. Next on the agenda is replacement of the marina’s three original docks with new, top-quality structures. 

Hill’s primary focus is the yard work and day-to-day operations. “I like getting my hands dirty and working alongside our crew. I’m a jack-of-all-trades and proud of it,” he jokes.

Weaver runs the business office and maintains the building and grounds and the clubhouse. “I love digging in the dirt,” she says, laughing. A self-described detail person, Weaver jiggles her large ring of keys commenting, “They call me the warden because I’m always checking to make sure everything’s OK.”

Says John Quinn, a 25-plus-year Moorings customer, “Julie and Peter are a good team. They care. Peter is a gem of a person. Nothing’s unimportant to him; and Julie’s so pleasant, keeping everything squared away and in order. She’s in perpetual motion and has amazing energy.”

Sean GowlandSean Gowland (left) has been with The Moorings five years full time, year-round. He coordinates service work, acts as operations manager, and oversees the marina’s website. He is pictured with Peter Hill.

The couple are quick to note they’re blessed with a crackerjack crew. Says Hill, “Having a crew that’s worked together for so many years is instrumental to keeping operations smooth and functional.”

Sean Gowland has been with The Moorings five years full time, year-round. He coordinates service work acting as operations manager, and oversees the marina’s website. 

Joe Schraml is also full time. The son of a Moorings customer, Schraml was 7 when he started shadowing Hill. He began working part time at the marina as a teenager, graduated top of his class from a marine mechanics school in Florida, and has been with Weaver and Hill ever since.

Rounding out the crew is Chris Downing. Adept with gelcoat and at fixing scratches, Downing is deft with riggings and sailboats. A ski coach in the winter, he has spent the last 10 boating seasons with The Moorings. 

Docking and storage are the bulk of the business. During the winter, The Moorings is home to some 200 boats, and the crew hauls another 40 or so for customers to trailer home. The process of putting boats in winter storage and re-launching them in spring can be all-consuming but Hill’s crew has it down to a science.

“We can, on a good day, haul, winterize and put away as many as 16 or 17 boats,” says Hill. “In the old days, when we had older equipment and fewer people, it was only 9 or 10 per day.”

A new Marine Travelift, purchased in 1995 to pull boats, plus an updated yard trailer to transport boats and cradles into storage have increased efficiency tenfold, notes Hill.

It’s all about “equipment, teamwork, and cross-training,” he continues. “The four of us can do any of the jobs involved in putting boats away to keep things going efficiently. We’re like a well oiled machine.”

“It’s become our signature,” says Weaver, “to be the first marina in the Bay to get boats in the water.” Adds Hill, “Last year we were ready to go three days after the ice went out. 

The service end of the business is growing “leaps and bounds,” says Hill. We’re developing a reputation for service that brings people in.” 

Services range from general repairs and sailboat rigging to engine and outdrive work and towing and rescue. The Moorings is Lake Champlain’s only certified installing and warranty dealer for Raymarine, an electronic navigation equipment supplier, and services FloScan fuel monitoring systems.

Joe SchramlJoe Schraml, the son of a customer, began shadowing Peter Hill at The Moorings at age 7. As a young man, he graduated at the top of his class from a marine mechanics school in Florida and now works full time. He’s pictured installing a radar assembly.

As boaters themselves, Weaver and Hill are mindful of other boaters’ needs. “With such a great crew in place, we’re able to take a boat trip every year,” says Weaver. Those trips, adds Hill, “give us a real perspective from a customer standpoint about the marina business elsewhere.” 

“Quality is important to us,” says Weaver. “We’re big believers in capital improvement and want to create a place that’s absolutely top-notch.” 

Understanding that transients need information about nearby services and stores for re-provision, they provide an informal concierge type of service they hope to expand in the future. 

“If a transient boater has a need, we find a way to accommodate it whether it’s a ride to the store or a trip to the Laundromat,” says Hill.

The Moorings offers free wireless access, has an arrangement with a nearby campground for customer access to washers and dryers, and is working with local restaurants to expand hours and provide shuttle services. 

Flexibility in the marina business, Hill and Weaver believe, is key. “We’re on call 24/7 from May 15 to Oct. 15,” Weaver says. 

“You have to be able to shift gears at a moment’s notice,” says Hill. “There’s always something different on your plate. You may start the day with Plan A but by 10 a.m. be working on Plan C or D. It’s not a cookie-cutter job.”

During the off season, Weaver and Hill recharge by taking snowmobile trips to Canada. Weaver, a longtime personal trainer and group exercise instructor, finds time to do her “gym rat thing.”

They also support the broader community, beyond The Moorings. Free dock space is provided to Colchester Police boats; various local and state rescue organizations conduct dive and ice training at the marina; and Hill and crew assist the Colchester Marine Division and Coast Guard with rescues should a need arise. 

Then there’s The Moorings community itself. On-site every day during the season, “by June 15, we know everybody by name, by boat, and what dock they’re on,” says Hill. 

Dennis Goyette, another longtime customer, says, “We all watch out for each other. If there’s a problem, everybody helps.”

When storms occur, says Weaver, “we’re here all night surrounded by the Dennis Goyettes of the marina — customers who care and are involved — helping check lines and boats or whatever’s needed.”

As Quinn says, “They make every effort to be there and want to know people are happy.” •

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