The Lease They Can Do

A father-and-son team are living the good life

by Will Lindner

lost_cove_lead_JC0009Peter Meyer and his son, Will, launched Lost Cove Yachting after Peter retired from a career with the Public Service Board in 2005. Their idea was to sell annual memberships to lake lovers wishing to have the use of a nice boat docked at The Marina at Marble Island for 30 sessions a summer.

Most people would agree that Peter Meyer has a pretty good gig. Take his commute: He can get from home to work in about five minutes, and there’s not much traffic, as it’s basically a straight shot across Malletts Bay from his home in Lost Cove on the north shore to the Marina at Marble Island in Colchester.

Sure, he could get in the car like other commuters and drive all the way around the cove and to the marina in 20 minutes — but it’s so easy just to jump in the little whaler and whiz across the bay.

Then there are his hours. Meyer puts in a lot of time in April, when he’s coordinating his customers’ sailing and boating plans for the summer — their preferences for “sessions” on the Tartan 3400 and Camano 31, the two vessels owned by his company, Lost Cove Yachting.

But once their plans are in place, the members (which is what he calls his subscribers) largely work out scheduling changes among themselves; everyone has everyone else’s e-mail addresses and they’re quite used to swapping times and accommodating each other when things come up. Meyer can’t entirely put the business on automatic pilot, but he can get pretty close.

There’s lots to do in the spring and early summer in terms of taking the boats out of storage and preparing them for the season, but a long day on a boat is not a daunting proposition. That’s particularly true for Meyer because he gets to spend much of that time with his business partner, his 24-year-old son, Will.

Once the boats are in the water and summer is underway, the members do a great deal of the cleaning and maintenance, because with half-day sessions coming one after the other, Meyer can’t squeeze in a cleaning between voyages. It’s a self-policing system that longtime Lost Cove member Jim Powers of Montpelier says works well.

“Everybody knows that it’s not their boat so they have to leave it in immaculate shape,” says Powers. “Everyone’s a little fanatic about the way they want it when they get on board, and the best way for that to happen is to leave it like you would want to find it.”

Meyer and his son put the business to bed in mid-October, when the season ends.

Meyer does have other business interests. He’s a part owner of the Marina at Marble Island, and he owns a portion of David Coates’ share of the Point Bay Marina in Charlotte — but Lost Cove Yachting is his main gig, and it’s half a year long. A nice deal, but Meyer earned it.

A 1969 graduate of the University of Vermont with a degree in geography, he spent 19 months in the Army before returning to UVM in the 1970s to earn a graduate degree in geography with a concentration in land-use planning.

After a few months as an environmental analyst on a temporary program with the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., Meyer began a 10-year stint with the Vermont Environmental Board, transferring in 1988 to the Public Service Board (PSB) where he served as an environmental analyst and executive director. It was a time of significant development — Green Mountain Power’s Searsburg wind farm, the Ryegate woodchip plant, and other high-profile projects and proposals by regulated utilities — and the PSB (by statute) was in the thick of it.

When he retired in 2005, Meyer’s interests turned back to boating, a passion kindled in his childhood and an interest throughout his life.

One summer, when he was 10 or 11, his parents gave him a plywood kit for a pram — a tiny, blunt-fronted boat — and he “puttered around our little pond in northern Vermont.”

The Meyers lived in New Jersey but owned an old farm property in Woodbury, where Meyer spent summers and winter vacations with his parents and two brothers, Stephen (now an organic dairy farmer in Hardwick) and John (now a forester in central Vermont).

They also had a camp on Caspian Lake in Greensboro, and as Meyer grew up, the pram led to Sailfish and Sunfish (small, flat “board boats”), then to high-performance Lasers, which were great for zipping around the lake. He also sailed in the waters off Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard.

When Meyer and his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1972, were living in Montpelier and raising Will and his sister, Abigail, they always had boats — small cruisers, windsurfers, anything they could put in the water. But Lake Champlain seemed far away, and weekends were short.

The family moved to Lost Cove in 2001, and as retirement beckoned, Meyer began contemplating a future with more and more serious boating in it.

“I tried to think of things I could do from the Marina at Marble Island, since I had an investment in it,” he says. “I discovered this model, called yacht sharing, through a nephew who was involved in a boat club in the Washington, D.C., area. That led me to explore the idea and to develop this variation of it.”

Yacht sharing is different from chartering, because it serves an established membership. “The charter business is more like a rental,” says Meyer. “The customers generally don’t come back to use the same boat. My members are different; they know the boats extremely well and use them time after time, year after year.”

Meyer considered, but rejected, shared ownership of the vessels, another business model. He opted to keep it simple, for himself and Will and for their customers.

“Our concept is to sell annual memberships,” he explains, “so people don’t have to worry about an equity investment in the boats. This model is designed to be as easy and carefree for the members as possible. Their membership gives them a certain amount of usage of the boats over the summer, which they can count on.

“I also wanted to keep this small and uncomplicated,” he adds, “something I could do with my son.”

After experimenting, Meyer settled on a maximum of eight memberships per boat. With Vermont’s short summers, larger memberships can get complicated as people try to cram in their boating opportunities in a compressed period of time.

A membership earns one a right to 30 “sessions” per summer, sessions being half days — the later half includes overnight. People can block-book, perhaps claiming a weekend from Friday through Sunday, which would consume five sessions, or for even longer periods.

By keeping an eye on availability, they can even schedule additional sessions for no extra charge when the boats are not in use.

Lost Cove Yachting’s first vessel was the Tartan 3400, a 34-foot sailing vessel. It has cabin space, sleeping room for six, and a full galley, but is comparatively easy to sail.

Meyer requires sailing experience, but says “there is an opportunity for people with limited sailing experience to become qualified enough to become a member.” He can direct them to courses where they can gain the experience, he continues, “and so long as they can hire an instructor to come on the boat and sail with them, they can use some of their time early in the season.” Meyer spends as much time as necessary helping them learn the systems and the boat.

For some, however, sailing was more challenge than they wanted. “I had a number of people in the first year say, ‘I’m not a sailor, but I love your concept. How about a power boat?’”

So in year two (2007), the Meyers added the Camano 31.

“It’s a trawler,” he says. “They don’t go fast. A lot of boats on the lake are inboard/outboard and they can get up on a plane above the water and go 20 to 30 miles an hour. This one essentially cruises at 7 to 8 miles an hour. It’s for people to go out and enjoy the water. It’s much like sailing, in that most people go out without destinations.

“Trawlers are good for exploring the nooks and crannies of Lake Champlain, going down to the southern end, taking it up the Otter Creek to Vergennes.”

There are occasional mishaps — groundings with the sailboat, dings on the keel of either one from ledges and rocks — but nothing serious. The slow speeds and the dedicated clientele, who treat the boats almost as their own, minimize carelessness. When people terminate their memberships, it’s usually because they’ve bought a boat of their own.

Powers doesn’t see the point.

“It’s a great program,” he says. “You write your check for $5,000 a year and it gives you a nice boat on the lake and 30 days of sailing, and I don’t know a cheaper way to do it. And what’s exceptionally nice, and unique to Peter’s situation, is the fact that you have a slip on the very end of probably the nicest dock on Lake Champlain — the Marble Island Club. The slip and insurance and a boat like that would cost you $50,000.”

Karen continues her day job as vice president of federal, state, and community relations at UVM, but Powers is retired, so he usually takes his sailing time mid-week, leaving the weekends for others. He prefers the Tartan, which two people can sail easily.

“I call up friends when it’s my turn,” he says, “and I can usually find someone who’s up for a day out on the lake.” •