It’s All Storytelling with former Jeanneau America President Paul Fenn

jeanneau family boating



Lifelong boater Paul Fenn shares stories about his first boating experiences, his time with boat builder Jeanneau and family boating trips around the world

Anchors AweighAnchors Aweigh Boating Podcast is a podcast for all boaters, from aspiring to experienced. Featuring in-depth conversations with boating experts and industry leaders, and packed full of tips, tricks, gear, and industry info, boaters of all levels will come away with new skills and knowledge each episode.

Boaters carry with them stories of their time on the water the rest of their lives. From the tale of the big fish they caught (or the one that got away), to the great times with family and friends, to the humorous like running out of gas with a boat full of journalists, these stories are the reason we get out there in the first place. And for those of us with shorter seasons up North, they are what get us through the long winter.

Paul FennSpeaking with Paul Fenn gives you an idea of just how valuable, and life-changing, stories from the water can be. I could have extended this conversation all day and he would not have run out of experiences to share. And the real beauty is, his children will have the same vault full of stories they grew up with, and many will be with or about Paul just like his include his father.

Paul Fenn grew up with boats from the time he was born and has never lived more than a mile from the water. He served as President of Jeanneau America, a U.S. subsidiary of the parent company Jeanneau, one of the world’s premier boat-builders, from 1997-2014.

Although he no longer officially works for Jeanneau, he still consults for Jeanneau and provides a host of stories and video content from his many adventures spent aboard the company’s boats from around the world. Paul lives in Annapolis, MD with my wife Kimberlee and his three kids, Will, Mollie and Graham and his dog, Smokey.

Paul’s video production extends to his Take a Shot Media company as well as his personal boating life which you can see on his great blog at www.pfenn.com. We discussed his childhood boating, his time at Jeanneau, family trips, and the importance of video in marketing the boating lifestyle. Enjoy!

Be sure to click on links to listen to the full podcast interview at the end!



Growing up a boater

I grew up on the water. I live steps from it just off the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up in New England in a small town called Noank, just at the mouth of Mystic River on Fishers Island Sound. By the time I was 15, I had access to a thirteen and a half foot whaler and I was the king of the sea in that boat.

His earliest boating memories

We had a little boat called the Skimmer. It was a little wooden boat about 8 feet long, had a wide transom, narrow bow. I remember my dad taking me out and teaching me how to row. Back then we rowed with open oar locks. You really had to get your stroke correct. We had a little 3.5 horsepower engine. I ran around in that at a young age, even by myself at age 9 or 10. My dad loved the water. He loved to sail. When we moved to Connecticut he got into racing small sailboats. He had a boat called the Jolly Boat that he raced with my sister. He loved to be on the water and make the boat go quick.

Racing sailboats

I enjoyed racing but on the Long Island Sound there would be times that you’d go out and there wasn’t a breath of air, so I never became a proficient racer although I still race today when I’m invited to be a guest.

I did a race last year with a dealer of ours who owns a Sunfast 3600. We raced it from Miami to Havana, Cuba. We were out for about 24 hours. You don’t realize how close Cuba is to Miami. But it was a lumpy ride. I just ran into the same folks this last week and we were reminiscing about what an awesome time we had. That’s the way these things go. When you’re out there, you’re getting beat up and ask yourself what you’re doing, and by the time you get to the bar in Cuba you say what an awesome trip, we gotta do that again.

The family trip around the world

It was my wife’s idea. She wanted to take a world adventure before the kids got too old and didn’t want to go with us anymore. We were on the road for three months but probably could have been on the road for a year. It’s not always easy traveling with a family of five.

jeannu boat fun

We sailed in the Seychelle Islands. Thailand was really exceptional. We sailed in Phuket. It was just amazing to sail around these beautiful islands. They’re very mysterious. They have a lot of limestone in the geology which finds its way into the water. The water itself is sort of a milky emerald green, it’s super warm and you get these amazing structures that have been worn down like the inside of a cave.

Chartering boats as a travel option

We had this idea but didn’t follow through on the whole concept. We thought it would be a neat thing to buy like a season pass from a charter company like Moorings or Sunsail or DreamYacht, we sailed with DreamYacht. You pay X amount and you get on and off the boats wherever they have a base around the world.

We chartered with DreamYacht a few different times so they knew who I was, helped me get the boats ahead of time, knew what my itinerary was so when we came in they were ready for us. It wasn’t hard and getting around the world on charter boats is a great way to do it. You can fly in and all you have to do is provision and away you go.

His path into the marine industry

jeanneau 54I went to college in New Hampshire and then I came home after graduating with no real plan. I wound up working on a local charter boat and at the end of the summer, someone invited me to do a transit from New England to the Caribbean. Then I got a job at a small charter company up North.

One thing led to another and I wound up in Annapolis selling boats on the retail side. An opening became available in Jeanneau and I took that job with the idea that I’d stay for five years or something and it turned out being a twenty year career.

In 2014, I passed the baton to a friend who was interested in moving up in the company. I’m still there as a consultant and doing marketing and brand videos. I’m not running the company any more but I’m very involved with Jeanneau and other members of the Beneteau group.

Jeanneau’s current line

We build something like four or five different ranges of powerboats with three or four models in each range. We build sailboats from 30’ up to 64’ and then we have our whole Prestige Yacht range building boats from 46’ up to 75’. It’s a company that has a great deal of expertise and a huge range of talents.

Using video as a marketing tool

We started using video at least eight years ago. We started videoing some of our boats and then we started using video in more of our marketing campaigns. YouTube has become such an amazing vehicle to get the word out. What enables someone like me to be successful at it is that consumers like videos and ones that are authentic and not overproduced. Videos that give good information but are enjoyable to watch and not a corporate video that’s like a brochure in motion.

I’m fond of saying that for social media to be successful, your media has to be social and you have to be social with your media. They’re all a story, some of them are funny and some are a little more serious but it’s all storytelling.

boating sunset

The Jeanneau BVI rendezvous

We started offering a rendezvous for our owners in the BVI in 2012. We have owners all over North America coming from Canada and California and Texas and they all come down and charter a boat and we spend a week together sailing around the BVI. We get something like 20 boats to join us.

We’re going to go back down for 2018. It would have been very easy for us to say this is probably not the best year to go but we just felt that we had a lot of customers down there and if we came we would help the Caribbean recover quicker.

During the Annapolis Sailboat show we ended up raising several thousand dollars for Hurricane relief efforts and we are going to direct that money through the Richard Branson Foundation. We’re going to meet with a representative from the Foundation when we’re down there and hand over this check and get a tour of the islands and see what the hurricanes did. We’re trying to be part of the solution because we want to see people get back down there as soon as possible.

Why he likes boating

I like boating for the simple reason that it gets me away from all the electronics and all the noise of real life. If I can go cruising and wake up in the morning and have my first cup of coffee in the cockpit and just look around, I’m a better person. At sea, offshore, you realize that despite all the advances in technology, when you’re off shore and you’re on the water its exactly the same as it was a thousand years ago. For anyone, being out on the water is a lot of fun. It’s a great social activity available to the entire family.

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Matt O'Hara
Matt O’Hara is the owner, along with his wife Rebecca, of Freedom Boat Club Lake George and the Queen Boat Co marina. After a 10-year career in media sales in Boston, MA Matt and Rebecca decided to relocate and open their own Freedom Boat Club, where they could share their love of boating and Lake George by helping others get on the water. The best part of the new career has been the joy they see families having on the water day in and day out, making memories that will last a lifetime. Matt has combined his background in media with his move to the boating industry to launch Anchors Aweigh, a podcast for boaters.