LeBlanc Purchases Allen Harbor Marine Service Facilities

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Harwich Port , Waterways

Craig LeBlanc, general manager of Allen Harbor Marine Service for many years, has purchase the real estate associated with the business adjacent to Allen Harbor. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — Allen Harbor Marine Service will be celebrating its 90th year in business this year, and it will do so under new ownership but with a familiar face at the helm.

Longtime general manager Craig LeBlanc purchased the real estate connected with the business last week.

“I plan to carry on the legacy of the (Nichols) family,” LeBlanc said of the marina's 90 years of service to the community. “There will not be a whole lot of change. It will continue to operate as a marina and boatyard into the future.”

The marine service operation along the edge of Allen Harbor was started in 1927 by Donald Dodge, Rupert “Rupe” Nichols Senior's brother-in-law. Nichols, the longtime owner, started working there in 1928 and Dodge sold him the business in 1948, LeBlanc said.

It remained in the family after Rupe Nichols retired in the early 1990s when his son, Rupert “Ren” Nichols – who spent a lot of his childhood around the boatyard and began working full-time there in 1976 – took charge of the operation upon his father's retirement.

LeBlanc said he responded to a newspaper advertisement when Allen Harbor Marine Service was looking for a laborer in 1998 and started as a bottom painter, though the management was impressed that he could back a boat trailer into position. LeBlanc quipped that “was my first step up the ladder.” LeBlanc said he grew up around the water in Yarmouth and knew how to work with boats.

“Ren slowly turned things over to me, but he was here,” LeBlanc said of the bond that developed between himself and Nichols. “Ren had no children and he was looking for someone to take care of the business.”

In 2000, LeBlanc became service manager and in 2004 he was named general manager. Prior to 2003, LeBlanc said, he would have a lot of meetings with Ren and his father, which included discussions about maintaining the facility as a boatyard “to carry on the legacy of the family.”

When Ren Nichols passed away in March 2014, the business was turned over to LeBlanc. Ren owned the business portion of the facilities, while Ren's half brother, Donald Nichols, and step sister, Jane Cartmill, held the interest in the real estate.

“It was always the plan for me to buy the real estate, but it was a few years down the road,” LeBlanc said last week. “I've had a good relationship with Jane and it was not your typical buyer and seller relationship.”

Donald Nichols died this past year and Cartmill, who lives in California, thought it was time to sell her interest in the real estate. So LeBlanc purchased the 2.5 acre parcel and facilities along the edge of Allen Harbor last week. He also purchased the half-acre parcel in Commerce Park in South Chatham which is used for boat storage.

LeBlanc said he was aware of a half dozen parties interested in purchasing the boatyard. He also said periodically they get random calls from attorneys and brokers with a client interested in buying the property. The property was never listed for sale, and there would have been a lot more interest if it had been placed on the market, he ventured.

The new owner said he has no intention of selling. It's a family business, with his sister, father and a nephew working for the boatyard. LeBlanc said he has two small boys, one five years old and the other nine months, and he is hoping they can be involved in the business some day.

“The rumors in Harwich Port have spread like wildfire,” LeBlanc said of the purchase. “The message I want to put out is it will continue to be run as a marina. The business is very strong.”

Allen Harbor garnered its name from a land purchase around the edge of Nantucket Sound in the mid 1750s by John Allen. The area had also been known as Oyster Pond, Gray's Pond and Gray's Harbor. It was originally a shallow, muddy pond with a narrow outlet. It was eventually dredged for boating use.

A couple of years ago, the town, working with abutters on the harbor including Allen Harbor Marine Service and Allen Harbor Yacht Club, funded a major dredge project, removing 40,000 cubic yards of sludge from the harbor.

Allen Harbor Marine Service has a 53-slip marina on the west side, which provides slips for boats 18 to 50 feet. They serve as the mooring master for the harbor and provide valet launching for dry stored vessels on their lot.

LeBlanc said the dredge project has been beneficial in laying out the mooring field, placing moorings closer to the shore in deeper water and providing a good navigational path for vessels moving through the harbor. He said they also provide a shuttle for people with boats moored in the harbor and service moorings along the shoreline of Nantucket Sound outside the harbor.

“There will be improvements to the facilities over time, but nothing drastic,” LeBlanc said. “The focus will be on service and selling boats and engines.” He cited service and boat maintenance as a main focus. They provide winter maintenance and storage, hauling, shrink wrapping, mechanical and Fiberglas repairs.

In 2011, LeBlanc said the marina moved away from new boat sales but is now slowly getting back into it. Allen Harbor is a dealer for North Atlantic Inflatables and Rossiter boats, family cruising boats in the 14 to 23 foot range. They also do a lot of brokerage sales for people interested in selling boats.

The marina will also be returning to marketing at the New England Boat Show in Boston this year, and sell Yamaha, Honda and Volvo-Penta engines. The business has 17 year-round and three part-time employees, and hire two full-time and two part-time employees during the summer months. LeBlanc pointed out Harwich residents Eric Awalt and Garry Ormsby have been working for the company since 1983 and 1986, respectively.

Allen Harbor Marine Service is a community tradition, LeBlanc said, pointing to the 90th anniversary in the coming year.