I pinch myself every day, feeling lucky to be in the business I’m in, working with the amazing people that I get to work with, building boats for clients who love their lives and their lifestyles. How many people get to work with clients every day who are living the dream? It doesn’t get any better.
But how did I get here, you ask? In my youth I enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost and, in particular, his poem “The Road Not Taken.” The last stanza of that poem reads:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I suppose that wanting to be different and rejecting the status quo is what led me to the place I am in today. I was not a great student and I spent most days dreaming of being outside the classroom rather than in it. As choices in direction presented themselves, I always have tried to choose the least popular direction and that has never disappointed me. But I am already ahead of myself. Let’s go back to where it really began.
I grew up in Montreal and my father introduced me to sailing when I was 10, and that led to a love of sailing and of boating. Those first few minutes on a sailboat as a young man, when the wind drove the boat forward and I was skimming across the harbor of the yacht club — well, I was hooked. From there it was junior sailing, teaching sailing and learning about sailboats and motorboats. Water skiing and just plain “messing about in boats.” Summer after summer, my life seemed more and more to be inextricably attached to boats and the water.
Around the age of 30 I was working away at a small distribution business (nothing to do with boats) and a friend asked me if I would like to represent a boatbuilder from Ontario. I thought about it for about five seconds and said “sure.” And that decision led to becoming a moderately successful sailboat dealer. Truth be told, I was one of those who could barely afford to buy stock and cringed every time the dreaded “trade-in“ was mentioned.
But as luck would have it, growing up in Quebec meant that I spoke both French and English, and a few years later I was approached by Beneteau to be its “agent commercial” for Canada. They liked the fact that I knew the boating industry and that I was bilingual. My years there were busy, and we had a great deal of success developing the Beneteau brand in Canada. I established a solid dealer network across the country and we had some amazing years. In 1986 Beneteau really stepped things up by building a facility in South Carolina, and I then moved to be part of the North American head office.
I learned a tremendous amount from my days at Beneteau USA and enjoyed my time there very much. But when Sabre Yachts came under new ownership in 1993 I was approached to see if I wanted to move to Maine and be part of the management of the company, responsible for sales and marketing, and I accepted. I am more of a northern boy than a southern boy, and being close to family in Montreal was very important for me.
My decision to move to Maine and work for the smaller, handcrafted-boat builder may seem mad for those who would like to be working for the world’s largest boatbuilder. In this case the “road not taken” is an amazing company that now employs 350 souls, each of whom is extremely proud of the work they do every day.
Bentley Collins is vice president of marketing and sales at Sabre Yachts and Back Cove Yachts.