When Maple Grove residents Jerry Powlas and Karen Larson set sail on Lake Superior in 1997, they didn’t just launch a boat, but also an idea that would change their lives. Married for just a few years at the time, the couple never imagined their love of sailing would turn into a business venture that would have them working together day in and day out. However, their thought of ‘Let’s start a magazine’ seemed easy enough at the time, and nearly 18 years later, their dream is still afloat.
Not your typical sailors, both Powlas and Larson learned to sail as adults, with Powlas receiving his skipper pass before being sent to Vietnam with the Navy in the 1960s. Larson sailed a few times as a teenager, but it wasn’t until she met her mate that she really got into sailing. They spent their early years together in racing boats, but Larson felt there had to be something more. So, they immersed themselves in cruising and, a few years later, decided to launch a magazine to share their passion for sailing with others.
Publishing a magazine would be simple, they thought, but their start-up efforts proved it takes hard work and determination. Following their trip to Lake Superior, they immediately got to work learning about how to start a magazine. As their dream evolved, they reached out to sailing associations, spoke at sailing clubs and sent a press release to a variety of magazine publications to get the word out. Through their website, they attracted contributors for their premier issue and the first issue of Good Old Boat cast off.
With so many sailing magazines out there, how would Good Old Boat stand out? At the time, none of the existing magazines catered to boat owners of older boats, which was Powlas and Larson’s passion. “We are the readers and they are us,” Larson says. “We wanted to publish something that we would want to read.”
Focusing on fiberglass boats from the 1950s-1990s and beyond, the magazine is filled with stories that celebrate the pride in owning an “old boat,”as well as enabling sailors to share maintenance, upgrade and refit tips with fellow owners of diverse models and sizes of sailboats, including boats that have gone out of production. They don’t cover powerboats or brand-new boats; and instead focus on the kind of sailing a weekend and vacation sailor does on budget weekends. Their tagline says it all: “The sailing magazine for the rest of us.”
Using the web, the couple initially attracted around 500 interested readers and by the end of 1999, their efforts paid off with nearly 2,600 subscriptions. “If the Internet had not been where it was in 1997-98, we wouldn’t have been able to start the same way,” Larson says.
The magazine, published bi-monthly, is still produced out of their home in Maple Grove. While there is some advertising, the magazine relies on subscriptions to fund its production. They print 25,000 copies, with almost 9,000 copies being delivered to subscribers mainly in the United States and Canada, but some worldwide.
As the magazine’s visibility has grown, Powlas and Larson have added to their team to help prepare issues, process subscriptions, sell and place ads, manage the website, produce a print and electronic newsletter, host a booth at national boat shows and even produce a podcast that is very popular. This frees them up to do more of what they love… sailing.
The couple attributes their success to their love of sailing. Powlas uses his engineering background to maintain, repair, and restore sailboats, while Larson deploys her early career experience as a feature writer to her contributions to the magazine. Together, they complement each other.
“We didn’t know how compatible we’d be working together every day in our home, but it works,” Larson says. “I wouldn’t do this with anyone else,” Powlas adds.
As the couple nears their 25th wedding anniversary, they’re headed back to Lake Superior to sail their honeymoon route—only this time, they’ll be sailing in their own boat. With their magazine also getting close to its 20th anniversary, the couple can bet it will be smooth sailing ahead.