As of Friday night before the Lake Champlain Poker Run in August, Jeremy Cohen—the founder of four-year-old Seabound Yachts in Clayton, N.Y.—didn’t have a ride for the following day’s main event. Cohen, an ambitious 42-year-old yacht broker, came to the Burlington, Vt., run simply to meet potential customers and learn more about the go-fast powerboating market. As any industry newcomer can tell you, it can be a hard segment to penetrate.
But as a former Wall Street stock broker who began his career making hundreds of cold calls a day, Cohen knows the value of tenacity and face-time with potential clients.
Jeremy Cohen of Seabound Yachts is a joyful and positive presence to have on board on any boat. Photo from the 2021 Erie Poker Run by Jeff Helmkamp copyright Helmkamp Photos.
Still, it would have been a long day for him on the quiet docks of Burlington Harbor Marina had high-performance marine insurance man Devin Wozencraft not stepped up and offered—OK, to be honest, I overstepped up and offered—Cohen a ride in his 30-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran. Then again, not wanting Wozencraft, a longtime friend and fellow Californian, to tackle the run solo I also had graciously invited myself to ride with him.
Before the fleet headed out for the day, Cohen mentioned that riding in the co-pilot’s seat during a poker run had been on his “bucket list.” So after the first card stop I gave up my seat next to Wozencraft and motioned Cohen forward. (The only thing that matters to me during a poker-run is riding with a driver I trust—plus, Cohen was stoked to ride shotgun.)
Cohen was in his happy place on boat—even when I relocated him to one of the back seats for our eternal post-lunch trip up the lake to Canada—shooting the bull with a couple of veteran marine industry smart-asses. He held his own in the give-and-take of good-natured jabs and teasing inherent in all male bonding rituals. And he quickly became one of the guys.
“Jeremy can be the life of the party in any group of people,” said Wozencraft. “I love it. His big personality and great charisma come through the room like a freight train. He definitely is passionate with his work as a boat broker—something often not found in business.”
Captured here during the 2021 Erie Poker Run with organizer Anthony Scioli (far left), Seabound Yachts company owner Jeremy Cohen, his wife, Erica, and their children Daniel and Sophia made the event a family affair. Photo by Jeff Helmkamp copyright Helmkamp Photos.
How a high-energy, Wall Street charisma bomb ended up as a yacht broker in the quiet town of Clayton was the product of things beyond and within his control. The recession of 2008 destroyed his business, which was focused on high-risk, high-yield investments. Living in New York City quickly became out of the question.
But Cohen and his wife, Erica, a lawyer, never wanted to start a family there anyway. So they moved to Upstate New York, first to Brownville and then—a few years later—to Clayton, where Erica had grown up.
The problem was that Cohen didn’t have a job there waiting for him.
“I had to get another license to manage portfolios out of Brownville,” he said. “But no clients on my side of the market were doing anything—even some of the most conservative fortunes had been wiped out in 2008 and no one was up for taking chances with high-risk investments. My income was 100-percent transactional. So I had to pull the plug and look for something else.
“I had to sell my watch and my four-wheeler to get by with what I had left in savings,” he continued. “Erica almost sold her wedding ring. And by then, Sophia, our daughter, was a year old.”
Cohen worked several jobs, from managing a dental office to selling air-time on a local television station to sales for the Waste Management company. While he felt successful in each role, none of them satisfied him, especially given his extroverted nature.
“The Waste Management job was too corporate—I spent more of my time reporting than selling—and I’ve always like being my own boss,” he said. “My life has always been about relationships.”
Situated on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in the 1,000 Islands area, Clayton is a summer boating paradise. The boats on the water, especially the fast and loud ones, captured Cohen’s attention and in 2017 with encouragement from a friend he applied for and secured his New York State yacht broker’s license.
As part of his ongoing education, Cohen headed to the 2019 Desert Storm event where he met West Coast where he met well-known West Coast-based high-performance powerboat enthusiasts Gene Farris (left) and John Caparell.
In 2018, a mostly local group of organizers launched the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run. The following year, Cohen got his first ride in a big-time performance boat, a 50-foot Outerlimits owned by Jason and Laurie who had traveled to the event from their home in Washington. Despite an incident that saw Laurie Moe get tossed out of the boat at low speed—she was battered, bruised and sore but sustained no life-threatening injuries—he was hooked.
“Before then I had never been in a performance boat at all, and I loved it,” he said. “But nothing comes easy in this business, so I started by trolling for-sale-by-owner listings to see if the sellers would let me try to sell their boats. My second year was a travel year and I went all the way to the West Coast to work on my referral base. And one of things I learned quickly was that at least half the time someone called me to buy a boat I had listed they also had a boat to sell.
“Sales is such a lost art,” he added. “And sales has such a stigma. For me, sales is service, that’s what it’s all about. That’s something I learned from my father.”
Industry veteran and fellow salesmen Bernie Neuhaus of Marine Unlimited in Toms River, N.J., has been a mentor of sorts to Cohen. And he summed him up as only a Garden State native can.
“Jeremy is good people,” he said. “And he’s good for the industry.”
During the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run, Cohen got his first taste of high-performance powerboating and met MTI center console owner Todd Campbell.
Though Erica Cohen works as a magistrate in family court—an often stressful and thankless job—the goal is for her to join her husband full-time in the powerboat brokerage business. The Cohen family has grown since moving to Clayton. Sophia is now 13 years old and her brother, Daniel, is 11. They have settled into small town life. The house they now own once belonged to Erica’s grandfather.
At the end of the month, Jeremy will head to the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in South Florida. In November, he and Erica will travel to Key West for the Florida Powerboat Club poker run and Race World Offshore World Championships. All three events will be new to him.
Cohen knows he has a long way to go in the brokerage business, but his confidence grows with every experience, listing and sale. And to his endless credit, he’s not afraid to ask questions. Like anyone dedicated to learning a new profession, he understands that the only dumb questions are the ones you’re too proud or self-conscious to ask.
“My favorite three words are ‘I don’t know,’” he said. “ I love sales, but the chase is really what I love most about it. This is my dream job.”
“We have two kids we love to the moon and back and we just bought a boat,” he added. “We’re doing all right but I want to do better. It’s not in my nature to be complacent. I’m not greedy. But I am passionate.”
Jeremy and Erica Cohen hope to make Seabound Yachts a full-time job for both of them.