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When the Grey household began a small aspect enterprise promoting canoes out of the again of their ironmongery store in Outdated City, Maine in 1898, they probably by no means dreamed the corporate would turn into among the finest recognized within the watercraft enterprise 125 years later. To outlive for that lengthy means a relentless altering with the instances. And Outdated City kayaks and canoe designs have seen loads of that over the a long time, particularly by the Nice Despair and two World Wars.

The attempt for innovation is one thing Outdated City’s present workers have persistently confused to me. Whereas the corporate is glad to have fun their first 125 years, it hasn’t slowed or stopped them from contemplating their future both.

Re-Inventing the Birch Bark Canoe

A historic picture from the Outdated City manufacturing facility. Picture by Outdated City

In response to Outdated City’s model evangelist Ryan Lilly, the Grey household didn’t got down to re-invent canoes in 1898. However their entry into the enterprise was lucky timing. Their distinctive place on Marsh Island north of Bangor was good. The island is fashioned by the Penobscot River to the east and the Stillwater River to the west. This meant virtually everybody used canoes and flat backside bateau boats for transportation, particularly since roads had been nonetheless lengthy away from being established.

“They noticed a chance to rent a few of the low season log drivers that labored the rivers and floating the logs down the river to innovate and create a brand new canoe that was impressed by the Indigenous birch bark canoes of the world on the time,” Lilly mentioned.

However conventional birch bark canoes are arduous to construct and keep. The Grays employed crafters and boat builders to give you one thing higher. A designer by the title of A.E. Wickett developed the primary canvas and wooden canoe shortly after. These canoes had been simpler to construct and keep whereas nonetheless retaining some conventional aesthetics. The canoes had been an prompt hit with clients, though it was one other 5 years earlier than the corporate was included in 1903. However by 1910, that they had 60 workers working year-round in a manufacturing facility.

Put up Battle Improvements

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A historic picture from the Outdated City manufacturing facility. Picture by Outdated City

Within the early a part of the 20 th century, there was a leisure canoe increase. In response to Lilly, a few of this was bolstered by Boston residents taking over canoeing within the Charles River. Nevertheless, it wasn’t lengthy earlier than the corporate was transport canoes throughout New England. The arrival of the Nice Despair and two World Wars slowed gross sales. However in every occasion, Outdated City bounced again with the affluent years that adopted.

Within the Nineteen Forties, the corporate expanded their product line to incorporate dinghies, sailboats, crusing canoes, fishing boats, and even offshore trawlers. It was within the publish World Battle II years that rivals like Grumman began introducing new aluminum canoes. These boats had been produced from light-weight plane supplies. The Grey household weren’t followers of those new crafts.

“They had been actually shiny, they had been reflective, they usually had been loud,” Lilly mentioned. “And the individuals who owned Outdated City on the time swore they might by no means make a ship out of metallic.”

As a substitute, Outdated City shifted into the development of fiberglass watercraft. And within the early Seventies, a legendary designer by the title of Lew Gilman lastly joined the Outdated City crew, proper earlier than S.C. Johnson acquired the corporate. You might know them for legendary out of doors manufacturers like Minn Kota, Humminbird, and Eureka.

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Outdated City’s outdated services. Picture by Outdated City

Outdated City was an ideal match for that portfolio. Gilman subsequently spearheaded the event of a course of utilizing a composite materials often called Royalex. The fabric was robust, UV-resistant, and excellent for making kayaks and canoes. Gilman innovated a three-layer rotomolding course of that’s nonetheless utilized by Outdated City in hull right this moment. So whereas the corporate is consistently shifting ahead, some elements of the Outdated City course of are timeless in nature.

Fishing Kayaks Take Over

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Picture by Outdated City

Within the Eighties, Outdated City launched their Discovery line of canoes named for the area shuttles NASA was sending into area on the time. It additionally represented a time when Outdated City determined to focus extra on their roots within the private watercraft business. Alongside the way in which, they acquired a number of smaller paddling associated manufacturers to get issues began.

In 1995, the corporate began constructing kayaks and by 2009, the recognition of kayak fishing began to take off. Their kayak strains rapidly overtook the recognition of their canoe strains. In 2013, they launched the Predator collection. This rapidly led to the event of the primary motorized mannequin within the Predator MK.

“We had been actually forward of the curve having one of many first absolutely motorized, built-in kayak experiences,” Lilly mentioned.

Whereas these preliminary Predator fashions offered properly, it was the launch of the Predator PDL that was a smashing success. That boat finally set the groundwork for the place Outdated City is right this moment. The corporate revamped their line in 2020 to simplify issues below the Sportsman line of fishing kayaks. In 2020, they launched their Autopilot collection, which ended up successful finest in present at ICAST.

Celebrating 125 Years

Old Town Gray Ghost

To have fun its a hundred and twenty fifth anniversary this yr, Outdated City needed to discover a distinctive technique to honor its previous whereas additionally seeking to the longer term.

“We didn’t simply need to come out with a commemorative boat,” Outdated City Advertising Supervisor Alex Sherbinow advised me. “We needed to have the ability to inform the story of who Outdated City is, and that’s the place the colour is available in of the Grey Ghost.”

The limited-edition Grey Ghost colour scheme options gray, black, and hints of orange. Outdated City produced 125 of every scheme for 5 totally different fashions. Consistent with the give attention to innovation, they went with current boat strains which have pushed the boundaries. The fashions embody the Autopilot 120 and 136, the PDL 106 and 120, and the 106 energy by Minn Kota. Which means solely 625 boats could have this distinctive scheme.

These colours aren’t random. They tie in immediately with a bit of Maine fishing historical past within the well-liked Gray Ghost fly sample. It’s a tip of the cap to Carrie Gertrude Stevens, who first invented the extremely well-liked sample in 1924. She was a self-taught fly tier. On her first journey out with the brand new fly, she caught a 6-pound, 13-ounce brook trout. That fish gained second place in a Discipline & Stream competitors for that fish. Later F&S tales highlighted her fishing and fly tying expertise extra in depth.

“That was to pay homage to Maine ingenuity and craftsmanship,” Lilly advised me. “The fly is gorgeous, these boats are lovely. We’re a reasonably scrappy individuals who take a whole lot of delight in what we do and what we construct, and that was a pleasant tie-in.”

Outdated City additionally spells it Grey with an “a” to pay homage to the Grey household who began the corporate. The corporate additionally added another remaining touches to every of the restricted version craft. These had been to focus on every boat being made in Maine. Every boat comes with a certificates of authenticity.

“We warmth press in a restricted version quantity in order that you already know that palms in Maine touched this boat, it’s signed and authenticated that we constructed these boats in Maine,” Sherbinow mentioned.

A Look to the Future and Sustainability

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Picture by Outdated City

Spend any period of time speaking to Outdated City’s workers, and also you’ll persistently hear them speaking about innovation. It’s one thing that’s a heavy focus for the corporate in every little thing that they do from day after day.

“Our historical past has all the time been innovation,” Sherbinow mentioned. “The best way that kayaks and canoes are constructed over time, we’ve all the time been on the forefront of that.”

Though each Lilly and Sherbinow additionally advised me Outdated City doesn’t got down to innovate purely for the sake of doing it. And each new concept that involves market is fastidiously calculated. The corporate does a whole lot of analysis by client panels, ethnography assessments, and client analysis initiatives. It appears to be profitable primarily based on the devoted fan base they’ve constructed up.

As for the way forward for kayak fishing, Lilly believes there’ll large developments in propulsion methods, particularly the pedal drives. Though he additionally believes manufacturers will probably begin trying extra to chop weight each for storage and transportation functions. Both approach, he says they’ll be ready.

“Once we launch a product, we all know it’s going to achieve success as a result of it was knowledgeable primarily based on what client mentioned that they needed, or what their ache factors had been that we might handle,” Lilly mentioned.

Sherbinow takes a barely totally different strategy to the identical query. He believes there gained’t be a single mass motion in the direction of extra compact kinds of watercraft. Principally as a result of in terms of hull designs and craft sizes, he believes there isn’t a one-size matches all boat. As a substitute, he says their objective is to construct somewhat of every little thing to suit everybody’s area of interest.

“Our mantra internally is that we need to construct a ship for everybody,” Sherbinow mentioned.


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Picture by Outdated City

The massive motion within the out of doors business today is in the direction of greener manufacturing processes that create much less waste and emissions. It’s one thing Outdated City has equally embraced of their manufacturing processes.

“Though we’re a plastics producer, we actually solely have a two to a few % scrap price on our plastics,” Lilly advised me. “For example, if a kayak doesn’t cross our high quality and it might’t be salvaged, we chop our hulls and recycle them.”

What doesn’t get recycled into one other boat is offered to a plastics byproducts firm to be transformed into different merchandise. It’s value noting Outdated City boats have a lifetime hull guarantee. However Lilly mentioned a ship that will get broken past restore by an accident can nonetheless be utterly recycled. He recommends anybody with a ruined boat contact their native recycling facility to learn the way they need the craft.

The corporate has discovered different attention-grabbing methods to make a distinction of their manufacturing facility too. The rotomolding course of creates a ton of warmth. They’ve successfully been in a position to recycle that warmth to heat their services within the winter months just by utilizing the 500-degree ovens. Additionally they converted all the power’s lights to motion-sensitive LEDs. The lights flip off if somebody isn’t utilizing a nook of the manufacturing facility. The corporate’s efforts at sustainability appear to be one more approach Outdated City is seeking to the longer term.

“Our eye is all the time on the longer term and innovation, and the way we are able to construct the on-water expertise to be extra snug,” Sherbinow mentioned. “You don’t get to 125 years in case you purely give attention to the previous.”

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