Originating in the 1800s, the classic Adirondack guide boat is designed to be lightweight and have a shallow draft, so that it could be easily used for sporting purposes in mountain lakes as well as portaged like a canoe between different put-ins. We caught up with brothers Justin and Ian Martin, the current owners of Adirondack Guide Boats, which builds and ships the classic craft all over the world. –Pete McDonald
Can you tell us a little bit about your boating background?
Ian and I have always loved boating, growing up on Vermont rivers and lakes and enjoying summers at a friend’s place in Vinalhaven, Maine. We had our first experience with fiberglass when I was 14 and Ian 12. My dad picked up an old runabout that needed some TLC. We did some fiberglass work, painted the hull and got the old Mercury outboard running. From that point on we always had motor boats and enjoyed all the fun that went along with them.
When Mad River Canoe was hiring in our town, I jumped on the opportunity to get a job as a canoe assembler. Ian quickly came on part-time from high school and earned credits by working with us. They had implemented a pay for performance base pay rate…….Ian and I took full advantage and mastered it in the first year. We quickly became department heads and had a say in all the decision making at a young age.
Mad River Canoe headed to North Carolina and we decided to stay in VT. That’s where we met Steve and Dave (former owners); they knew of our composite skills, which they needed. We came on-board in 2001 and took what we knew and applied it to these boats. Lighter lamination schedule and stronger variation of cloth made these boats fast and easy to load on the car.
We never tried one until about 6 months in…….David thought it was about time we tried what we built. The first few pulls of the oars and I knew these boats were special. Ian and I had a new appreciation for a small boat that looked like a canoe but, was far from it.
In 2012 we became the proud owners of Adirondack Guide Boat. It was a surreal dream to own our company and even a better dream to totally believe in the product we produce. It’s now 2020 and we’re very grateful to be here building beautiful boats!
Related: More ‘On Board With’ Interviews
How did you first get interested in building Adirondack guide boats?
Steve Kaulback and David Rosen former owners) came to Mad River Canoe when Ian and I worked there. They took a tour of the plant to see what we were up to. I remember being told about their company but, it wasn’t until the thought of Mad River Canoe moving and a few convincing calls from Steve and Dave that got us to start building guide boats.
What is it about these boats that attracts all types of boaters?
The Guide Boat has such a rich history that has been passed down from generation to generation. These boats started as a tool for guides to bring travelers out for wilderness hunts and fishing expeditions. The Guide Boat was a means of transportation for folks that lived on islands and for some it was their only way of transportation.
Lots of spectators see the boats that our customers have on the water ways and admire these “canoe” like boats. The wonder of how this boat moves so fast through the water and looks so good to the eye is very appealing to boat enthusiasts.
How many boats do you make a year?
Ian and I in our best year under the former owner made 300+ boats in a year. Now that we’re owners and wear lot of different hats we make roughly 150 boats a year and build 3-8 of the cedar (wooden) boats. Of course, we repair a lot of boats as well.
Do you sell them mostly in the northeast or all over the country?
We sell a lot of boats to the west coast and everywhere in between. We have popular states like Maryland, North and South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington State, but we do sell all over the country.
We also sell them overseas; we crate them and ship via ocean liner.
Since we’re a powerboat magazine I have to ask, can you stick an outboard on the back of any of your designs?
We’ve put a few models of the Torqeedo motor on our boats and we’ve made an attachment that goes on the gunnel to support a trolling motor. It’s a nice addition if you’ve been rowing all day and want to motor home.
I can say we don’t sell a ton since our boats are so easy to row.
When you’re not building boats, do you like to boat in your free time?
Owning and being proud of a business doesn’t leave time for much but, we both have kids that love the water. Ian and I take them on our rowboats and our powerboats and explore Lake Champlain, fish, barbecue and enjoy the lake life. In the Winter, we are avid skiers where we enjoy Sugarbush, where we used to ski when we were kids.