Heidi Reid of Stur-Dee Boat Co Interview



I knew I was running late for the interview.  My phone decided to go into a reboot cycle and I was flying blind with no GPS.  I had been to Stur-Dee Boat years prior, but nothing looked familiar to me.  I could remember that day about 10 years ago.  I was a new-to-me Stur-Dee Catboat owner and I needed some advice getting the combing replaced.  I knew it was oak, but it must be steam bent to take that graceful bend around the cockpit.

It was a September morning about 10 years ago that I remember rolling up to a building just off the side of the road in Tiverton, RI.  It was a simple, square, steel-sided building.  I walked inside and was instantly graced with that wonderful odor of epoxy resin.  Half-built hulls and molds were strategically positioned, maximizing the small space inside.  A young man crouching down behind one of the boats working on something glanced up at me as I closed the door.  He gave me a half of a grin and a nod and continued his project.  Across the room I could see a small office constructed out of plywood with a middle-aged woman and an older man inside talking intently about something.  The older man looked out the door of the office at me and stared at me as if waiting for my question without wanting to bothered with any sort of introductions or small talk..

“Hi,” I started.  “I just wanted to come by and see the shop and get some advice on replacing the combing on my Stur-Dee Cat.”
“What do you need to know,” the old man replied in a gruff voice.

I dove into a number of questions about steam bending and building a proper steam box and my plan for doing so.  The old man glanced at the woman in the office while I was talking.  She smiled warmly back at him as if they immediately felt bad for me and my line of questioning.

“Steam bend?  What the hell do you want to do that for?”  He asked.
“Um.  To bend the wood…into place…right?”  I was suddenly unsure of myself
The old man chuckled out loud.  “Nah.  Sounds like a lot of work.  Just put some muscle into it and screw it in,” he said.

The woman in the office saw my hesitation to ask any further questions fearing the wrath of the old man and she came out of the office to rescue me.  Her name was Heidi Reid and the old man was Ernie Gavin, Heidi’s father and the brains and brawn behind Stur-Dee Boat Company.  Heidi introduced herself to me and kindly walked me through the whole process of installing the combing.  She gave a quick tour of the shop and the Stur-Dee Boat building techniques.  Heidi and I spent the next hour having a wonderful conversation about everything from kids to family run businesses to boats to politics.

As I was reminiscing, there it was on the side of the road.  It was still the same old, green, metal building with a sign out front.  I wasn’t too late and I was excited to see Heidi again and to hear the whole Stur-Dee Boat story.  Ernie has since past, but his soul lives on in the handmade Stur-Dee boats.  The lessons he left behind are what keep Heidi going every day and as she frequently says, “I am doing what I love and we are still here.”  That seems to be the motto at Stur-Dee Boat given all of the hardships it has gone through over the years.  From the reluctant move to fiberglass in the mid-60’s, to losing the entire business in a fire in 1988, to family disagreements, to Ernie’s passing, Heidi has managed to pick herself up by the boot straps and continue building beautiful boats that will carry the Stur-Dee name for generations to come.

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