One of the most popular questions we are asked almost daily during the rafting season is what do we do (if anything!) during the off-season at Crab Apple. Well, the short answer is, “more than you think!” While we enjoy the down time that comes with a seasonal business, the off-season is full of projects and work that continues year-round. As a family business, we also try and balance the off-season work with family time, sports and other fun that is forfeited when we are running trips seven days a week during the rafting season. Here’s a little inside peek at what goes on at Crab Apple during the off-season.
Safety First! Before we kick back for some “R & R”, the Crab Apple off-season begins with about two weeks to inventory, repair and store all of the rafting gear. This is an important process where no detail is overlooked. Rob leads a crew in Maine, while Frank directs a crew in Massachusetts. Each of the crews carefully evaluates every raft, funyak, life jacket, wetsuit, etc., making any necessary repairs before preparing them for winter storage. For example, each raft is first thoroughly cleaned and dried. Safety ropes are re-set or replaced. Valves are inspected. Minor repairs, if any, are completed and then the raft is deflated with a wet vacuum to remove any moisture that is inside the air chambers. This is imperative since water in the air chambers can break down the glue that seals the rafts. Rafts are then stored flat indoors at the Maine and Massachusetts base camps.
Catching-Up on Family Time The off-season is our time to get the entire family together for a trip to Myrtle Beach in the fall and for the holidays in December. We watch many of Conor and Zachary’s football games and attend Courtney’s music and dance recitals. We see dozens of ski races and spend many, many days on the slopes. Birthdays get celebrated on time, and the daily routine is softer. It is also a time for processing firewood for the winter ahead. All of the family homes are heated with wood, so chunks of time are dedicated to cutting, splitting and stacking wood for the upcoming winter season, as well as beginning to stockpile for the following winter. Chuck, Rob and Frank work together or separately to process about 25 cords of wood that are burned each winter. Did we mention skiing? Since all four of the Crab Apple grandchildren love to ski, we look forward to the dead of winter. Chuck enthusiastically heads to Sugarloaf several times a week to ski—learning to ski at age 60, so he could more closely follow the grandkids’ progress on the race circuit. He also enjoys free runs with the younger kids.
Working in the “Off”-Season One thing that is NOT seasonal for Crab Apple is our reservation office in Maine. The office is staffed by family throughout the year – Sharyn, Carrie, Rob and Sharon. That means lots of coverage on the phones, on a schedule that is trimmed down to about 40 hours in the fall and early winter, but ramps back up to 60 hours per week by February. Office work for the next season’s planning is steady throughout the off-season, while reservations and inquiries for future trips trickle in daily all year and then increase as mid-winter takes hold. Apple rafts. Chuck and Rob cover the Maine rivers, while Jen and Frank cover Massachusetts and During the fall, meetings occur with various state agencies, power companies and the Army Corp of Engineers that regulate and control the rivers that Crab Vermont. These meetings are negotiations to set a dam release schedule for the following season’s recreational whitewater flows. Crab Apple is one of many groups represented at these meetings that try and plan dam release schedules. Consensus must be built among environmental groups, as well as private and commercial river users that fish, kayak, raft and generate power on the New England rivers that Crab Apple rafts commercially. These schedules are usually worked out in October and November so that users can publish, advertise and plan for dam releases during the following season. Crab Apple also has a presence at various trade shows. Before internet search became the number one method for rafting information, Crab Apple staff promoted rafting at about twenty trade shows each year – Travel Shows, RV and Camping Shows, Boat Shows, etc. We now select just a few of our best shows and set up a small booth to talk rafting in January, February and March.
Gearing Up for Rafting Season The final piece of the off-season puzzle is the search for new staff for the upcoming season. Most of our guides return for many seasons at Crab Apple. We love their enthusiasm for the river and the Crab Apple family brand. However, some seasonal staff leaves us after graduating from college or moving out of the area. This is the time we go on a mission to find and train qualified replacements. Jen and Frank begin training for our new river staff in March in Massachusetts, and Rob begins in April for the Maine guides. The search for the staff begins in early February, and the competition is sometimes fierce. In fact, in some of the off-seasons in Massachusetts, we have had over 100 applicants looking for one of 4-6 spots to be a river guide! As a seasonal business, we truly look forward to doing what we love—rafting the river with our guests! Crab Apple truly comes back to life as the chilly off-season quietly fades away, and a new rafting season gets underway.