Interview by Joe Cooper
Hayley Fraser is the General Manager of Dutch Harbor Boat Yard, a full service boatyard in Jamestown, RI that boasts a spectacular – and exceptionally well-organized – mooring field.
Coop: Hayley, thanks for making time for me today. Just give me a quick overview of your background. You were born in Rhode Island, correct?
Hayley Fraser: No worries, thanks for the opportunity. Yes, I grew up in North Kingstown, Bissel Cove, near Fox Island.
Coop: I don’t know that detail of the West Bay, but it sounds like you were hard by the water. Was “the water” a thing in your family when you were a kid?
HF: Oh yes, my family was very much a boating family. I spent my childhood at the beach. I would walk to the beach; we had kayaks there. We had a mooring about 75 feet off the beach. We would swim out to the boat and go to Wickford, Dutch Island. I spent my summers camping in Dutch Island…when it was legal! (chuckles). I went back and forth from NK to Jamestown and spent all my summers on the water.
Coop: You’re a card-carrying Water Rat then?
HF: Yes, I love it. Kayaking was my favorite things to do. You can go anywhere, then go and explore. I hung out at what is now Chaffee Preserve, before it was named.
Coop: And you went to NK High School I imagine?
HF: Yes, I graduated from NK, went to CCRI for two years and got an associate degree in Financial Services, then onto Rhode Island College and completed my degree in Business Management.
Coop: Did you sail in high school?
HF: I did not. I worked the entire time I was in high school. I managed a clothing shop in Wickford, working weekends and after school.
Coop: Ah, a lot like the average high school kid’s life. Get a job, make money…
HF: Yes. I grew up in a bakery when I was younger. It was the family business, until the recession. So, weekends, holidays, all the time.
Coop: Yeah, well bakeries are by the looks 23/7 operations?
HF: Yup, always on. No sick days, always on time, gotta get it done. That is where I got my work ethic.
Coop: I understand you were a launch driver here at Dutch Harbor. When did that start?
HF: Right after high school. I got my launch license when I was 17 or 18, then started driving the launch here. That was when I learned and developed boat handling skills: how to dock, get off the dock, come alongside a customer’s boat, with the customer looking over your shoulder. I trained here for about three months. Then before I knew it I was running the launch service, doing the schedule and so on. At that time the then owner was in the process of selling the yard and the new owner lived in Cape Cod, and there was no one to run the office.
Coop: Ah, right. “Here Hayley, can you sort this out”?
HF: (Laughs) About right. So that’s when I took over the office and basically started from scratch. Eventually we built a new office, then the owner bought another marina, so then I was jamming, this one and one in Warwick called Fairwinds Marina. In 2021 the owner sold Dutch Harbor, so I focused on this yard, working to make it an even more special place.
Coop: So, you came in the box as it were?
HF: Yeah, it just worked out. This is my third set of owners.
Coop: Working as the female launch driver, was there any tension with the yard guys, or were you just another member of the crew?
HF: Oh, I would say I was definitely considered an equal. There was a woman owner and a woman yard manager, Patty Magna, and collectively they ran the show, and they were hands-on, so the guys were used to having women bosses and I just fit right in.
Coop: Yes, I know Patty has been around the game forever and knows her stuff.
HF: Certainly, she is my go-to if I get stumped on something. She can answer anything and she knows because she’s experienced it.
Coop: It’s not unusual to find women launch drivers at marinas and yacht clubs, but now, having moved up the hierarchy to this leadership role in the yard, do you have episodes where some crusty ol’ coot steams into the office demanding to speak with the manager? What kind of look do you see on the guy’s face?
HF: Yes, we do get those situations. And yes, they are often shocked. They are not expecting to see a woman, or sometimes two. Patty is here too, and they are taken aback to be facing two women. I introduce myself and say, “I am the general manager and Patty is the yard manager. How can we help you?”? Then we try and help them the best way we can. After a minute or two usually it becomes obvious that we know what we are doing and can solve their problem. Sometimes after a few minutes, some people say, “Wow, we have not seen woman managers here in the office able to help me in a boat yard before.” And a lot of people remark on how organized everything is.
Coop: Yeah, I’m looking at the yard apparel on the shelf here and it is like upscale retail organized. And the mooring map board…Yikes, super organized.
HF: I need things to be organized. The mooring map is just how I organize my life. I need to be able to find things. If someone says, “Where is that box of filters?” I need to be able to put my hands on it.
Coop: With the increasing complexity of new boats, working on them must be getting increasingly complex too and so this fierce interest in organized must be a big help?
HF: No doubt. A business like this must be organized. Parts, work orders, calendars, it MUST be organized. And I am very honest with people. If it is going to be to weeks or a month, I tell them. And particularly now, getting parts is very hard, so I need to be up front with the customers. Everything I do is on Excel spreadsheets. The whole yard is on spreadsheets, so I can do reports and know with a few keystrokes everything that’s going on. Excel is my best friend.
Coop: Taking on this management role was a pretty good use of your formal education, Finance and Business management, seemed to be a near perfect match for the job versus, say, someone coming in with a degree in Sanskrit?
HF: Yes, my degree taught me how to be organized on a daily basis. What is most important? How can I be more efficient? How can I delegate and have full details?
Coop: Do you still have women launch drivers?
HF: Yes. Some are college kids, and others are retired and work a couple of days a week, for fun really. Some have been coming to us for years – they just don’t want to miss out on Dutch Harbor.
Coop: What are the things that make you think, “I’m gonna quit and become an astronaut”?
HF: Storms. Storms are the most stressful thing we get. We send out the email and it becomes straight panic mode. The phone starts ringing, and emails are coming in. Some out of state owners cannot get here, and some boaters want to come here because it can be a hurricane hole, but we cannot take any additional boats in a storm. We take care of our boats. We haul nothing – everything goes on a mooring. We are about 90% sailboats, so just over 100 boats and they all need to have sails removed or otherwise secured. When we get to the 24-hour windows we are all hands on deck, all out there doing the best we can.
Spring is tough, too. People tell us they want to be in the water 15 June, then the first of May is a beautiful day, and they call and want to bring that date forward a month. Or in the fall, they’ll say, “Oh, November 15 is fine,” then in October there’s a storm coming and they call and ask, “Can you pull my boat?” Ah, those are the days I just want to walk away, but really there are a lot more good things than negative.
Coop: Messing about in boats…how bad can it be?
HF: Well yeah, being around boats, in a beautiful place, inside in the winter, outside in the summer, and this really is a beautiful place, with great views of Dutch Island and Fort Getty to the west, and we get really great sunsets here.
Coop: Ah, fun stuff. What advice would you give high school and college girls who love the water and may be considering a career in the marine trades?
HF: Confidence: You gotta exude confidence. Stay organized. Know the work. Whatever the boys can do, we can do sometimes better. Get down and dirty. A bottom needs painting? I’ll go paint it. It needs to be done and I get to know what’s needed, so I can help the guys and manage the yard more effectively. Yeah, just jump in and get your hands dirty. It’s the only way to learn.
Coop: Hayley Fraser, thanks so much, it has been great.
HF: Thank you. ■