Time and tide shape marina industry

By Bill Fallon

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The Long Island Sound and its marinas bob with pleasure craft six months of the year. But for the full length of Fairfield County’s shoreline in winter, phalanxes of boats on blocks in white plastic wrap dominate the scene, looking more like buoys than boats.

Come April, with May the busiest month for launches, their hulls will again crease the waves. At the Greenwich Water Club, however, the door swung open on a cold January day to find the office busy with clients.

Rick Kral, left, and Pat Bradbury of the Greenwich Water Club. Photo by Bill Fallon
Rick Kral, left, and Pat Bradbury of the Greenwich Water Club. Photo by Bill Fallon

“Between the two yards, we wrap about 400 boats,” said Rick Kral, principal and founder of the 25-year-old Greenwich Water Club at 49 River Road in Cos Cob. The club maintains two marinas: a 6-foot-deep facility in Cos Cob with 270 slips and a 15-foot-deep marina in Shelton with 60 slips. All serve the same type of boats, with the average length 28.2 feet and most in the 18-foot to 40-foot range.

The tidy white bubbles lined up in the Greenwich Water Club parking lot appear to grip the boats, but mostly they do not. The process involves washing and blocking the boat. All sensitive areas – like electronics arrays — are protected from the plastic. As such, the dayslong process involves creating a wooden structure to keep plastic and boat separated.

Standing beside employee Pat Bradbury and several wrapped boats, Kral said Greenwich Water Club wraps for “about 90 percent” of the club’s clients. Some, Kral said, use their boats year-round, even if they never leave the dock.

The protective plastic is completely recycled come spring, Kral said, noting. “We reuse the wood, as well.”

Some boats — those for sale are wrapped in clear plastic for inspection by prospective buyers. The charge to wrap a boat runs $15-$25 per foot.

Kral said the top-tier boating world sails on and largely kept its sails full during the recession.

“The high-end boats were always there,” Kral said. “It’s the bread-and-butter, blue-collar boater who is doing the belt-tightening. Boating can be both expensive and time-consuming. I don’t believe the industry will see big improvements in growth, but we can sustain where we are.

“Consumers are looking for value added, and that’s where the club comes in – a whole social community comes into play,” he said.

The club’s motto is “Recreation Redefined.” The clubhouse features leather furniture and boating-themed retail goods. According to the company, “The four-season, waterfront retreat and recreational facility for men, women and children offers something for everyone.”

Programs and opportunities include rowing, a fitness center with personal trainers, the clubhouse with annual events and three swimming pools. Classes include mat Pilates, yoga and indoor cycling. There are also junior aquatic programs and team competitions.

The club also offers power boats, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks for members. Other amenities include the New-England-style inn, full-service marina, meeting rooms, a nursery and dining room with outdoor dining deck.

“The challenge is to make an industry that’s inviting to the entire family, and that’s where we’re going,” Kral said.

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About the author

Bill Fallon
Bill Fallon is editor of the Fairfield County Business Journal. He has worked at Westfair Communications for more than five years, previously editing an upstate New York daily and a national motorcycle magazine in Nevada. He attended Iona Prep in New Rochelle, N.Y., and the University of Virginia.
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