George Darling: Getting Vermonters out on the lake

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George Darling spent five years working at other marinas before he decided to open his own business. In 1978, Darling’s Boatworks was born. “I wanted the challenge and the independence,” Darling said. “There was an opportunity so I took it.”

The busiest time of year for Darling is from mid-April to the fourth of July as Vermonters ready their boats for the summer season. There is a bit of a lull in the summer since most boats are in the water but Darling and his crew are called to action by those who have had accidents and want to have their boats ready to go by the following weekend. “We stay busy year-round,” Darling said. “Things ebb and flow but we don’t take the winter off.” During the colder months, Darling’s crew work on major projects and take care of the well-prepared customers who get their boats ready ahead of the spring crush. “We have full employment in winter,” Darling said “but none of our customers need their boats by the weekend so it’s a bit more relaxing.”

Darling said his work is split roughly half and half between powerboats and sailboats with virtually no commercial vessels. Although there have been advances in paints and epoxies, not that much has changed in the field of boat maintenance, but there have been changes in the industry. “These days, wooden boats are collectors’ items, not day-to-day vessels,” Darling said “but we still do a lot of wood boat restoration. Roughly half our volume is wooden boats.”

Darling works with his wife Pam and a crew of roughly six employees. “We couldn’t do what we do without a very skilled and dedicated workforce,” he said. “Some of them have been with me for decades. Customers thank me for a beautiful job but these days I’m just the manager. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t have to crawl under the boats anymore and get a face full of dust.”

Ironically, Darling and his wife don’t own a boat. The couple has owned sailboats and powerboats as well as ski boats when their kids were young. Their last boat was a 35-foot wooden sloop. Darling found himself working at the shop for nine to ten hours only to come home to work on that boat at night and on the weekends. “It got to be too crazy,” he said. Besides, many of Darling’s customers invite him onto their boats or even loan him their watercrafts. “We get on the water a ton even without owning a boat,” he said.

Darling likes the fact that there are always new things to learn about the business. “It’s a constant challenge,” he said “to come up with better ways to do a job even if you’ve done it a hundred times before. All boats are put together differently and come apart differently so you have to think about solutions. That keeps it from getting stale.”

In addition to the main shop on Ferry Road, Darling takes care of the non-mechanical needs of clients on-site at Point Bay Marina. Since the marina stores over 500 boats, the arrangement works well for both parties. Darling notes that the boat business in Vermont is a very tightly-knit community. “We all know each other,” he said. “It’s a small world and that’s kind of fun.”