John R. Ulanowski’s lifelong fascination with boats, and the ocean where they were put to best use, began when he moved to Marshfield at age 5. He could helm them, fix them, paint them. But what he did best was sell them — hundreds of them, from 18-foot runabouts to power boats for weekend fishermen all along the Eastern Seaboard to multimillion-dollar pleasure yachts for the super wealthy.
In 1972, Mr. Ulanowski was a highly successful office furniture salesman — and a part-time boater — when he dropped in on the annual Miami boat show to see what manufacturers were selling that year. “I can do that,” he concluded.
And he did, starting the Scituate Yacht Co. on the Driftway, where for three decades he was one of the preeminent boat dealers in New England, and among the savviest. Year after year, he instinctively knew which new boats on the market would sell — and which would not — which accounted for an inventory of new boats that moved swiftly from manufacturers to his boatyard to eager buyers.
A resident of Scituate for 52 years, most of that in a grand eight-bedroom oceanfront home on Second Cliff, Mr. Ulanowski moved to Plymouth in 2016. On Saturday, he died of metastatic bladder cancer, six weeks after his 80th birthday.
Around Scituate, some friends called him “Waterman.” At home, his wife, Hannah, ordered him to remove a business phone line he kept in their bedroom in case a wealthy overseas customer called at 3 a.m. Some did — until, as instructed, he disconnected the phone.
Mr. Ulanowski sold the Scituate Yacht Co. about a dozen years ago. But he didn’t stop. He took to buying, restoring, trading, and selling fabled British motor cars — MGBs, Austin-Healeys, and the like.
Just last year in Plymouth, a year after his cancer diagnosis, he bought, remodeled, and sold a 5,000-square-foot home.
John Richard Ulanowski was born in Boston on May 29, 1939, the son of John Ulanowski and Nellie Shereika. His father was a machinist at the Fore River Shipyard, and his mother a homemaker. When the family moved to Marshfield, boats and boating became father and son’s avocation.
Mr. Ulanowski played football at Marshfield High School, from which he graduated in 1957. He attended Suffolk University, where he studied business administration, and graduated in 1961 from Burdett College in Boston with a business degree in sales.
In 1964, he and Susan E. Carey married. They had two children, and their marriage ended in divorce.
Throughout the 1960s, he was one of the top grossing salesmen for Peabody Office Furniture Co. But when he was returning from a Caribbean vacation in 1972, he decided to visit that Miami boat show, where motor yacht manufacturers had their newest models on display. It didn’t take long for Mr. Ulanowski to determine that he knew as much about boats as many of the boat dealers on hand.
It was then that he decided to combine his work experience of sales and marketing with his first love, boats.
When he married the Rev. P. Hannah Linnens, an Episcopal priest, in 1994, the couple honeymooned on one of his boats. On their wedding night, she recalled, they anchored in Provincetown, where Mr. Ulanowski spent part of the night tinkering with the engine.
In addition to his wife, Hannah Ulanowski, Mr. Ulanowski leaves his former wife, Susan Fichtner of Scituate, and their two children, Karen of Scituate and James of Huntington Beach, Calif.; two stepsons, Terry Schrubb of Wellington, Fla., and Todd Schrubb of Denver; two sisters, Frances Estin of Sarasota, Fla., and Susan Sparks of Norwood; and five grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. July 25 in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scituate. Burial will be in Trinity Cemetery in Scituate.
Early on while running Scituate Yacht Co., Mr. Ulanowski blended his business and nautical acumen when deciding to handle Northeast sales of the Marine Trader trawler.
Keeping track of trends elsewhere — “Southern California is where so many of these things start, and trawlers have been the big thing for years there,” he told the Globe — Mr. Ulanowski could predict, down to the dollars and dimes, what would affect his customers’ decisions. That led him to anticipate the popularity of trawlers, which used less fuel than some other models — a selling point in the years after fuel prices skyrocketed because of the OPEC oil embargo.
“Not too long ago, the person who had a wherewithal to purchase a boat in the 30- to 50-foot range wanted to go fast and the hell with what it cost to run, but not anymore,” he told the Globe in 1976 at a boat show in Quincy.
“When fuel that cost 30 cents suddenly becomes 60 cents and there is a prospect of it going to a dollar someday,” he added, “a boat that’s economical starts to make a lot of sense.”Walter V. Robinson can be reached at email@example.com.