When is a skiff not (just) a skiff?
The answer: when it's a Maritime. The company that made its name building solid (if somewhat utilitarian) powerboats has undergone a transition in the last two years with new owners, a new name, a new look and new models.
What hasn't changed is the commitment to building boats that are stable, seaworthy and easily driven with lower powered (read: more economical) outboards.
Three principals of Kenway Corporation in Augusta, Maine - the company that began manufacturing components and subsequently took over assembly responsibilities - purchased Maritime Skiff and moved the assembly and distribution operations to Augusta. In the process, they formed Maritime Marine LLC in 2007 as a sister company to Kenway's industrial business.
The new Maritime is owned and managed by second- and third-generation family members. Kenneth G. Priest II, a professional engineer, is the company's chief executive officer. His brother, Michael Priest, is vice president and is involved with production. And Ian Kopp, who is married to the founder's granddaughter, Holly, is president and chief operating officer.
A gradual transition
Peter Galvin, Maritime's vice president of marketing, says some of the key assembly people from Massachusetts moved to Augusta before the sale to smooth the transition as Maritime took over total manufacturing and assembly of boats in Maine.
"We worked with Paul very closely in that assembly role so that there was no interruption in how we should do it, in how it should be done. We wanted to make sure we did it properly to maintain the success of Maritime," Galvin says.
The essential concept, adds Galvin, is that these wide-beamed, foam-filled, "unsinkable" boats are easily maintained, can operate efficiently with low- to moderate-sized engines, and are easy to rig and service.
Maritime's new owners wanted to keep the basic hull designs that had made the boats appealing in the first place. Galvin credits the hull shape below the waterline (as developed by Paul Hureau) for what Maritime continues to promote as a very stable and dry ride, even in its smaller models.
"The bottom has all the sea-keeping features of offshore fishing boats, including spray-deflecting lift strakes, wide chines and a variable deadrise bottom. As a result, they run very flat, keeping the bow in the water."
The boats have fiberglass grid systems bonded to the hull to provide strength and rigidity. They also feature solid composite cored transoms that the company says have never experienced a failure since the first Maritime was built.
The company's current product line includes four skiff models, four center consoles, five center cabins, three with a classic aluminum-framed windshield, and two cabin models at the top of the line.
Two models were introduced in 2008: the 18-foot center console Defiant and a 25-foot model with an extended transom and a variety of shelter configurations. Also in 2008, Maritime began providing a 10-year transferable hull warranty and a lifetime no-rot warranty on all models.
Boats can be set up for fishing, family fun or commercial use. Plus, there's a commercial product line that features beefed-up construction.
Galvin also credits Paul Hureau with giving the hull a "twist" - creating a variation in the deadrise - wide chines and a semi-deep vee so it would perform with low horsepower and be fuel-efficient.
"He was ahead of his time, because he did this in the early '90s before the gas prices shot through the roof like they did last summer," Galvin says.
What's in a name?
The new owners decided not to give the company a major makeover. Instead, they chose to rebrand it as Maritime Boats.
"All those same core principles are reinforced to us by the customers and dealers today over and over again, and that is the central aspect of the boat that we don't want to move away from," Galvin says.
"We may grow the boats and change the boats, improve the fit-and-finish and configurations, and branch out into new areas, but fundamentally we have no intentions of changing what this boat's success is based on."
Maritime's president Ian Kopp concurs.
"We don't believe in a 'one-size-fits-all' philosophy," he says. "We try to build a good base-level boat that's well-featured that anybody can go out and enjoy, but then allow customers to add features and accessorize the boat as it suits them, so it becomes their boat. It becomes a personal boat and not just one that was handed to them."
Research with dealers and customers during the transition reinforced that, but it also gave them an insight into some changes that did need to be made.
"What continually came back was [the perception] that the boats are too much of a workboat. There were not enough amenities on them to appeal to a wider audience, so that some people come and look at the boat and all they see is a workboat and they don't go any further."
One of the first changes they made was to introduce a more finished 18-foot model.
"Historically, the 18-footer has been the strongest boat in the product line," says Kopp, "so the 18 Defiant that we introduced shortly after we purchased the company is a more finished version of the 18-footer, sort of the 'non-skiff' version so to speak.
"And then we've also introduced this year a 25-foot version, which is basically a stretched version of our 23-foot models with enclosed transom and stern platform."
In the beginning
The company was founded in 1991 as Maritime Skiff Inc. by industry veterans Paul Hureau and Bev Brown Hureau. Paul drew on an industry background that included 18 years with Boston Whaler, where he was involved with the development of their commercial product line.
Hulls and decks were assembled in Massachusetts from components that were manufactured to their specifications in Maine. When the time came to change suppliers in 2004, Paul and Bev signed a contract with Kenway Corporation in Augusta, Maine.
Kenway first built his own designs in wood and then transitioned to fiberglass. That led to being sought out by companies that wanted fabrication work done for industrial-strength components for the pulp and paper industry.
In 1966, Kenway stopped building boats and was renamed Kenway Corporation as it moved full-time into custom-engineered composites for industrial applications. However, in 2004, as a result of its new contract with the Hureaus, Kenway began manufacturing components for five models from 14 feet to 23 feet that Maritime was finishing and shipping to dealers.
Kenway subsequently took over assembly responsibilities as well. And when the Hureaus decided to retire, the three principals of Kenway purchased Maritime Skiff and moved the assembly and distribution operations to Augusta.
Rebranding as "Maritime"
Kopp says their research also indicated that calling the company Maritime Skiff pigeonholed them with potential buyers.
"People immediately thought of other skiffs in the marketplace. They thought of a simpler boat, one that you have to build yourself that only can go in flat water and, again, is designed solely as a workboat," he says.
They started consciously branding the company solely as Maritime, something the prior owners had already started doing on the bigger boats, 20 feet and up.
Another question that came up was how to make the product appealing not just to the experienced, second-time boat owners but also to first-time boat buyers. So they started making changes in terms of accessories and standard options.
And this year, the company has introduced what it calls "Best Value Packages" that are boat/motor or boat/ motor/trailer combinations based around their 1690 and 1890 models.
But ultimately the thing that convinces customers to purchase a Maritime is to try it out for themselves, Kopp says.
"We tell our consumers 'Don't just believe us. Go to a dealer, pick an awful day and take a boat for a ride. Then you understand what we're talking about.'
"As our dealers understand and we understand, this is a long-term investment and a long-term plan," Kopp says.
Kopp says refining their 14- to 25-foot product line is where they're concentrating right now.
"We're really focused on further developing product within that range and refining the manufacturing process, refining the fit and finish of the boats. But still it's the same core hull design that the boats have been using for years in each model line, and we'll continue to do that.
"If it's not broken," he says, "don't fix it."
For information, visit www.maritimeboats.com.
This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the February 2010 issue.