Stem to Stern: Deadbeats

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2023 was a tough year. Contracts that were signed before the post-pandemic free-for-all on labor and material cost, driven by pure greed, bit us in the ass. Bit us hard. Please don’t hand me that supply and demand crap. It was a power grab coupled with pure greed, from the White House to the warehouse. One of America’s most beloved poets, Robert Frost, said: “The best way out is always through.” The boys and I will learn from our broken crystal ball, work a little harder and get through it. We’ll be alright. I’m not looking for sympathy. My father used to tell me: “Michael, if you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. Now get back to work.” But I do have an axe to grind. We work hard to make sure our customers get quality work from us at a fair price. We have been blessed to be able to work for the greatest bunch of owners and captains on earth. Many have become close friends over the years, and they know they can trust us with their pride and joy. A lot of these guys came up through boating with us. Most of them worked damn hard to become successful without anyone handing them the keys to the treasure house. They created something and were paid for it. They understand how that works and abide by that principle. God, I love those people.

Here’s the axe: When I call my wife on my way home from work to ask her if she needs anything, she’ll let me know if we’re out of something and I’ll stop at Publix or the hardware store and pick it up. When the cashier rings up my total, I don’t question the price of toilet paper, a gallon of milk, or a jug of Round-Up. I don’t tell the cashier that the total is more than I thought it was going to be and I’ll have to move some money around and get back to her. I pay my bill. When I take my truck in for service and tell the service writer to go through her and make sure everything is ship-shape and ready for my trip, I don’t argue with him when I get the bill. I trust the outfit that works on my truck, and I pay my bill. I don’t ask him what his margins are or if he could sharpen his pencil. If I didn’t trust him, I wouldn’t let him work on my truck. On the rare occasion that Julia and I go out to dinner, we usually go to our favorite haunt. We go there because we always have a good experience, and we enjoy the way the staff takes care of us while the chefs prepare an excellent meal. When the wait staff hands me the bill at the end of the meal, I don’t argue that I was watching the cook as he sautéed my Tripletail, and it shouldn’t have taken him that long. I don’t argue that I can buy coleslaw at Costco a lot cheaper than what the restaurant is charging me. I don’t request a meeting with the owner of the restaurant to go over what my wife and I feel may be discrepancies in our tab or how a similar meal is cooked at another establishment and that is how it should have been prepared. I pay my bill. When I go to the barbershop to get a haircut, I don’t whine that all my bills are paid from a processing center in Vancouver so I can maximize interest income and it might take a while for remittance. I pay my bill. What makes some people think it’s different around here?

We are a small company, and we need to get paid. Our crew needs a paycheck every week that doesn’t bounce, to put food on their table, a roof over their head and gas (or voltage – it ain’t free either) in their car. We need to pay our suppliers and subcontractors. None of them have installment or deferred payment plans available to us. Their invoices are due upon receipt. They need to eat as well. Each bill that goes out of here goes through a four-step process. Josie (office manager), Josh (yard manager), me (customer’s advocate) and Josie again, to make sure it’s accurate and, above all, fair. Admittedly, it takes time to collect and close all the open PO’s and search each bill for inaccuracies in labor, materials, and job descriptions. You may not get your final bill for a week or two or three because we want it to be right. When you receive the bill, it is due upon receipt. Not sixty days later. Not ninety days later. Not 120 days later and certainly, not never. Upon receipt. You put your trust in us, we put our trust in you. We work on your boat; you pay us for that work. What could be simpler?

The majority of our customers are first class when it comes to settling up. They get it: World class boating is the Big Boy Club, and we are not a bank. We are not in the business of loaning money, interest free, to millionaires and billionaires. Sadly, a small percentage of our clients seem to take pleasure in making us wait or wanting to bargain with us. These same people would scream bloody murder if someone didn’t pay them in full, on time, and rightfully so. What causes this behavior? Does Mumsie make them wait on their distribution from her trust? Did their accountants graduate from business school with an MBA in Hold on to your money until threatened with collections? Did they get beat-up a lot as kids and are out for revenge? Or are they simply miscreants who screwed everyone on their way to the top? I’m going with that one. Damn, Mike. Don’t you think that’s a little harsh? No. Hell no. I’ll bend over backwards for our good customers and captains to keep them happy. We certainly understand that things get rough for all of us, now and then, and we are more than happy to work with you when that happens. But … if you want to see my red-headed temper, ignore us and stiff us. This game of Catch me if you can is a juvenile charade played by a small number of people who can absolutely afford the finer things in life but enjoy stepping on the little guy. Yes, I know, it’s a jungle out there and we should probably adopt a no cash, no splash policy. But, when the boat is ready to go, we try to be fair to our customers and, like most boatyards, we’re still finishing up when they switch over to generator. “Catch ‘em up, boys, we’ll see you in the Fall. We’ll ship your spares as soon as they arrive. Hold on, Cap. Don’t drop that stern line yet. There’s still a painter in the lazarette. Last year you had a carpenter locked in the anchor locker and didn’t find him until you refueled in Charleston. The poor bastard is still a little goofy from that ride.”

Some of this behavior can be caused by a lack of communication or a skewed interpretation of yard work between a captain and an owner. Most of the captains with whom we work, are thorough, professional boatmen who take pride in coordinating yard work as the owner’s rep, in addition to their job at the helm. A small percentage of them are nitwits. Here’s a typical scenario: “My boss and I would like to meet with you and go over the bill. We think the bill is excessive and he has questions.” My reply is “No. That is unnecessary. We have gone over the bill four times in the office and twice with you, remember? Maybe you don’t remember, since your truck smells like skunk weed every morning when you arrive at the yard. No, Cheech, this is what he owes. If you were doing your job instead of puffing an interminable coo-coo butt while listening to bad, white kid music on your earbuds all day, your employer would not be questioning us. It is your job to explain the truth to your boss, why replacing the cutlass bearings took three times as long as it should have because some idiot at another yard hard-glassed your hocus-pocus shaft tubes to the struts. It is your job to explain to your boss that the reason the paint repairs to the foredeck are so extensive is because the trunk-slammer drinking buddy that you hired to paint it last time, didn’t hand-sand the primer edges before topcoat and the paint peels off when we pull the tape inside the toe rail. It is your job to explain to your boss that the small paint blister he wanted fixed on the bridge seat, turned out to be three feet of rot that you have been ignoring for years. It is my job to make sure his bill is fair, and it is fair.” This problem can be far worse when the boat is a “drop-off” with no captain or owner’s rep on the boat. We are then not only responsible for work to be done on the boat; we are apparently responsible for keeping her ship shape during her yard stay. In that case, we have to charge for cleaning the boat and this can lead to all sorts of finger pointing. “It wasn’t like that when I brought it in.” Of course. Your boat was in perfect condition, prior to arrival at our yard, and you have amazingly taught it how to clean itself. You’re the @#$% boat whisperer.

I realize it’s a gamble when you risk offending your base, but the good guys know who they are and the bad guys need to know who they’re not. They are not people for whom we, or any other credible boatyard up and down the coast want to work. So, who cares? Certainly, not the deadbeats. But they would do well to consider what Allen Toussaint so eloquently wrote and Lowell George so superbly interpreted: “The same dudes that you must use on your way up, you might meet up … on your way down.” Can I get an Amen?

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This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.


Boat Lyfe