The Metan Effect

The Metan Effect

After 30 years, Mike Borrelli and his scrappy startup are among the most sought-after restorers in the business.

The official, fearsome greeter at Metan, Angelo smiles for a photo.

A big, brown lab greets me in the parking lot of a nondescript industrial park in rural Lakeville, Massachusetts. From the outside you wouldn’t know this was the home of one of the most highly regarded boat restorers in the business. Stepping inside the small showroom, however, and laying eyes on an impeccably restored 1979 Formula Sportsman that was completely rebuilt—stringers and all—by the crew at Metan Marine, you start to understand what all the fuss is about.

Prefer to listen? The author reads this article in the video below.

The lab, named Angelo—though he looks more like a Gus—lays down in his bed near the door as I meet Metan Founder and Owner Mike Borrelli, 58. A whirlwind of enthusiasm, charisma and passion, he greets me like a long-lost cousin. Both native New Yorkers, we spend at least 10 minutes talking about shared stomping grounds. We grab a seat at his conference room table for a brief conversation about his business’s origin story before taking a tour of his facility. I expect we’ll chat for 15- to 20-minutes. But before I know it, over two hours have flown by, in which time I meet Mike’s father who stopped by the shop, his son—and heir apparent to Metan—and an assortment of other characters who make up Borrelli’s motley crew. That’s the Mike Borrelli effect. It’s this gregariousness, coupled with his magician-like tricks wielding epoxy and fiberglass that brings over-the-hill boats from around the country to his doorstep.

Borrelli’s story is as much one of hard work and perseverance as it is a series of chance encounters that he was smart enough to recognize. As a young man, he parlayed some fishing experience into a job as a mate on a 42-foot Hatteras out of Scituate, Massachusetts. Thanks to an automotive background, West Systems epoxy and a book titled Introduction to Fiberglass Repair, Borrelli took on small repairs on the Hatteras. Word spread around the docks and before long the enterprising Borrelli was working on a number of different boats and laying the foundation for his future business.

A fully custom helm for a Connecticut pizza maven shines like jewelry.

But it wasn’t until a fortuitous family vacation to Stuart, Florida at 28-years-old that Borrelli’s eyes were truly opened to the possibility of entering the boat business for himself full-time. While his family soaked up the sun and surf on the beach, Borrelli followed his heart and epoxy fumes to what’s known as Boat Builder’s Row. There, his outsized personality won him audiences with the premier builders of the day.

After returning home to Massachusetts with children to feed, Borrelli continued running charters for his boss and friend Stanley Glaskin but he needed steady work; that’s when Stanley hired him to work in his beverage distribution company. Between running cases of cola, he took a job painting coffee shops called Marylou’s. “Three different shades of pink,” Borrelli laughs while shaking his head.

That side gig would segue into an opportunity to work on the shop owner’s 54-foot Striker sportfisherman.

“It was an all-aluminum boat, so I felt a little more comfortable getting involved in that because metal was what I was used to with cars,” says Borrelli. “I built a huge shrunk wrap shed on top of that boat and literally stripped it from the rub rail all the way up to the top of the flybridge right down to the aluminum.”

According to Borrelli, the success of Metan—success that’s taken him from an outdoor shed to their current Lakeville facility—is due to retaining the core of skilled craftsmen he refers to as family.

By his side during these early projects was his old friend, Stanley, who would retire young thanks to the sale of said beverage business. In fact, it was a connection of Stanley’s that yielded his first real refit project, a 23-foot SeaCraft. “Next thing you know, dad and I are in the backyard building a shrink-wrap shed big enough to fit a 23-foot SeaCraft in it. After we did that boat, we put it in the Boston Boat Show (the New England Boat Show at the time) with some pictures from the project and then got the second job and then the third.”

Despite some early success and a fair amount of fun messing around with boats, Borrelli almost threw in the towel on multiple occasions. With a wife and three kids depending on him, he was flipping through the Help-Wanted ads in the paper when Stanley stopped by the house. Ever the boat-building angel in Borrelli’s story, Stanley pushed him to stay the course and hooked him up with yet another paint project that involved stripping down a 54-foot cold-molded sailboat and rolling and tipping it back to life while tied up to a fuel dock.

What helped to transform Metan (a name that combines two words he’s been called—both affectionately and otherwise—meticulous and anal) from a side business into a business-business that today boasts a dozen employees, was Borrelli’s early adoption of marketing technology. He says he was among the first people he knew to launch a website for a boat restoration company. “We started off with this thing called the World Wide Web and then when a website called YouTube started, we got into that and now we’re on social media and have our own show.”

The show, Making it Metan, which airs on NBC Sports and Metan’s own YouTube channel, is now 13 episodes deep and offers a raw, authentic and salty look into how their refits and restorations are tackled. Think Dirty Jobs meets This Old House (only more Italian). For those who love working on boats, it’s a must-watch.

There would be dozens more chance encounter waypoints along the boat business road that would allow Borrelli to grow. There was an insurance payment from a tree that fell and destroyed that first shed he and his dad built. When building his second facility—a metal Quonset-hut style building—he again had his dad by his side to help with the construction. Borrelli also traded boat work with other contractors who would help him lay the foundation and turn that prefab shed into a true business. There were also a few successful early stock purchases that kept the business afloat, like the time he was able to trade some early Yahoo stock for a compressor the shop needed. Borrelli stills shakes his head at that one.

As Metan grew, not only in terms of size and employees but reputation, Borrelli took on loftier restorations and refits that he calls “heirloom boats.” These are boats that own substantial real estate in the hearts of owners with pockets deep enough for such an endeavor. In some cases that means rebuilding a boat an owner had since he was 14, or reviving a boat that was once their father’s. These projects come with a steep price tag but also a guarantee; Borrelli offers a 10-year warranty on any boat they restore.

While projects like these feed the soul of Borrelli and his crew, Metan also took on an increasing number of fiberglass repair jobs from insurance companies around the country. They had one such Whaler in the shop during my visit that had a section of its bow rebuilt. I looked at that Whaler from afar, up close and from every angle and could not see any sign that the boat was ever damaged.They’re that good.

Over the years, Metan has worked with countless high net-worth clients and captains of industry, but it was a recent new build of a Metan Manhasset 17—a spin-off of the iconic 17 Whaler Nauset—for a captain of late-night TV that increased Metan’s sphere of influence: Funny man, Jimmy Fallon.

The chance to work with the comedian came, as is often the case, at the referral of his neighbor, in this case, serial boat nut, Billy Joel.

Fallon’s first famous foray into the world of boating came during filming of Jerry Seinfeld’s show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where the two stars bombed around Long Island Sound on a choppy day.

Borrelli has come an awful long way from the shrink-wrap shed. Here he posses with a highly satisfied client, late night host Jimmy Fallon.

“So when Jimmy bought a house down in Sag Harbor and it came time for him to get a boat, he only knew a bit about Boston Whaler,” says Borrelli. That’s when Joel suggested he look into a boat from Metan. “So Billy Joel, who I got to know, was Jimmy’s broker. We had a really awesome weekend with Billy in Sag Harbor. His boat collection is just off the hook.”

Despite being relatively new to boating, Borrelli says that Fallon engaged in the build through every step of the process, even pushing the Metan team for specific customizations and preferences. “He was very specific in what he wanted, to the point where it was funny. We recommended a dark canvas, but he wanted a specific shade of orange to match one of his wife’s favorite bags. Smart guy. And he also wanted a white bimini top, which I kind of discouraged because of how dirty it can get. But he stuck with his guns and the white looks awesome. He was spot on.”

In a video Metan shared on social media, you can watch the moment Fallon first sees the finished boat in the water. With typical Fallon flair and enthusiasm, he exclaims, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I want a painting of it. I’m freaking out.”

Mike Borrelli poses with his biggest supporter: His dad.

In the video, Fallon is shown some of the smaller details of the boat—like how the cup holders are actually refrigerated to keep his drink 48-degrees, to which the comedian replies, “At the speed I drink it never gets cold!”

He then points to the stainless-steel stanchions on the boat, looks up at the camera and says, “I know what went into this, Gary, I know the sweat and tears and blood that went into this and I respect it. I respect every single weld.”

Fallon only knew Gary, the company’s longtime metal maven, through the raw build update videos that Borrelli places into a Dropbox folder so all his clients can watch their boat come to life. That level of recall speaks to both Fallon’s sharp mind and his excitement around the build.

A young Joe Borrelli sports Metan swag on Christmas morning.

Also in the video with Fallon showing off the boat is the heir apparent to the Metan family business, Mike’s 30-year-old son Joe. I find Joe working in a section of their Lakeville facility dedicated to construction of new boat models that include a 26- and 32-footer, the company’s largest new builds yet.

While Joe doesn’t quite possess his old man’s penchant for storytelling, you can see in his eyes that his pride and passion for the family business is deeply ingrained in his DNA. Not that he really had much of a choice. A toddler when his father began working on that first boat in the shrink-wrapped backyard shed, Joe never knew a time when his father wasn’t working on boats.

“It humbles me a little bit,” says Joe. “My dad, he never really asked me what I wanted to do when I get older. He just said, ‘you’re going to run this someday.’ And, you know, I kind of took it and ran.”

As much as his career seemed preordained, as is often the case with fathers and sons, it was not always easy. “For me, when I was a little younger, you know, Metan felt like my father’s company. I didn’t want to have any sense of nepotism or anything like that. And if you knew mine and his relationship at all, you know, it’s not like that. He’s harder on me than he is anybody else; it should be that way, you know. But I had to bring my own value and set myself apart from everybody else. I did that by just educating myself and learning from what other builders are doing and what technology is being used.”

Among the crew Joe will one day lead are employees who remember him running around in diapers, and another who’s his best friend since childhood.

“Our team is a family. Our relationships are second to none,” says Joe. “We all work together to put so much passion into every build. Nobody comes to work here and hates their life. That’s definitely the thing that makes us the most unique. You know, because I know other builders that have a lot of turn over. We keep everyone and we keep building our skills together. There’s a lot of love and care that we pour into each boat.”

As I finally prepare to leave, Borrelli, someone I met just hours earlier, hangs up one of his near-constant phone calls and gives me a hug. Now, I can count on my fingers the people I hug regularly. But that’s Mike Borrelli, a tour de force of passion and emotion, the two most important qualities that any real boat restorer requires.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.


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