I grew up in the Philadelphia area from the 1950s to 1965, and we vacationed in Avalon, N.J., for two weeks every summer. I loved the beach, but I really loved renting a small wooden boat with a small outboard to go fishing and exploring with my dad and cousin.
It was all I could think about all year — returning to Avalon and getting back into that little boat.
The boats had very small outboard motors, and I wanted more speed to explore and fish other areas, so I purchased my first outboard motor during the winter of 1955 — I was only 12 years old — with money from my paper route. This jump-started my love of boats and salt water.
Fiberglass boats were available for rent, so I needed a larger motor, and the disease grabbed hold of me permanently. I purchased my first boat when I was 15 — a new 14-foot Wolverine molded-plywood runabout.
I have owned many boats and have loved every one of them in many ways, always looking for the next-larger outboard and larger boat. The love affair continues, driving my wives crazy, but fortunately they put up with me and my dreams.
In 1999 my wife, Susan, and I were looking to replace our lovely 36-foot Sabreline Fast Trawler that we purchased new in 1992. She was a pretty boat with nice lines and had served us well, but she only loved flat water and calm seas. She wanted her trim tabs down and to be run hard.
As we looked for our next boat, both of us wanted something that could handle New England waters under most conditions. I looked hard at the Newport and Norwalk boat shows in the fall of 1999. I liked the Nordic Tug 37 and wanted a sea trial, and I was ready to purchase the local dealer’s stock boat.
After many, many phone calls, we got a sea trial on a nasty, windy day out of Bristol, R.I. The boat performed better than our expectations. The wife gave her OK, so this should have been an easy deal.
Here is where the problem started. The local dealer sold his stock boat and said I could have one late the following summer, but he needed it for the fall boat shows through Annapolis. I could finally have the boat to use in late October.
The dealer was a part-time local dealer. He moved to Annapolis as the season changed, and then to Florida for the winter. He was only in New England for about five months a year. What a way to run a business.
In my quest to purchase a Nordic Tug I called the factory directly and spoke to the sales manager first, and then the president. I discovered the company had other dealers: one in Manitowoc, Wis., and another in Richmond, Va., who was a part-owner of the company, and a quite a character — a funny guy who used friends of his to show and sell boats in the Maryland area — and he covered all the way to the Florida Keys.
A friend and neighbor joined me on a trip to visit the factory to try to better understand what made Nordic Tugs tick. I enjoyed the factory and was very impressed, and I bonded with the president. We discussed many things, including the company’s lack of a true dealer network, especially in New England.
He suggested that I purchase my boat from the Virginia dealer, so I ordered my first Nordic Tug in the late fall of 1999; it was scheduled for delivery in late April or May.
At the time I had sold my business in Massachusetts, where I was in charge of sales and marketing. The company that purchased us was destroying every business it bought, including mine. I could see the handwriting on the wall. I retired in 2000, disgusted with the large corporate world.
My wife suggested that I sell boats and talk to Nordic about being a dealer. I know that she did not want me sitting around the house, driving her crazy. I thought about this for about five minutes, and I had to agree with her. I booked tickets to visit Nordic again in Burlington, Wash., to make my pitch for the dealership in New England.
Having no experience selling boats — all I had done was buy way too many and use them — I started on a marketing plan to sell myself. Nordic was skeptical at first, but I was persistent. I told company executives that they needed a full-time, committed dealer to be successful. They made no commitment, but I was encouraged.
Never one to give up, I hounded them monthly and made another trip to the factory. There were still no promises, but I was feeling better about this crazy idea. I had no office, no docks, no staff, only a new dream.
Nordic suggested that I come to the company’s rendezvous in Sanibel Island, Fla., at the end of March 2000. The Virginia dealer and the new sales manager from Nordic were running it.
On the second night of the rendezvous, during cocktails, the Virginia dealer and sales manager introduced me officially and announced that I was the new dealer for New England. My wife and I looked at each other and laughed. It was quite a surprise for both of us.
So the dream began. I had to find an office and people to assist me. My territory covered eastern Canada and all of New England, including New Jersey and half of Pennsylvania.
I found the perfect location for my office — the Lighthouse at Essex Landing, Conn. I opened my office in June of 2000 and started marketing the product. My first boat show was in Norwalk, Conn., in September, followed by a TrawlerFest in Solomons, Md. I was fortunate enough to sell my two stock boats that first fall, a 37 and a 32.
Business took off very well, with many orders for spring/summer 2001 delivery. My wife was extremely happy. I was out of her hair and had more than enough to occupy my time. Business continued to be brisk, but Sept. 11, 2001, brought quite a shock to everyone in the United States.
I remember it well. We were sitting in my office when friends came running in and told me to turn on my TV. We were all shocked, to say the least, but we vowed to not let any terrorist destroy our lives. Business was hurt for quite a while, but we all recovered well.
The recession that started in 2008 was a challenge. Sales of new and pre-owned boats plummeted. We were very lucky to survive the downturn.
Wilde Yacht Sales has done very well selling new and pre-owned Nordics. We have sold more than 375 since I opened in 2000. Normally we are the largest Nordic Tugs dealer, selling all of the new boats we can get every year.
We opened an office in Rock Hall, Md., four years ago to cover Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, and we have just taken on another boat line — Rosborough, a Down East-style boat made in New Hampshire.
It is a niche boat, but it fills a need for an entry-level boat. The new boats will be on display at the Bay Bridge Boat Show in Maryland in April and the local Essex show in May.
It’s been a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun. I do not wish to do anything but fool around with boats and spend time on the water.
Ben Wilde is the president of Wilde Yacht Sales in Essex, Conn.