Horror Story

Lead Line — October 2000
Lead Line — October 2000
By Richard Thiel

Horror Story
The boat yard told them to find an attorney.
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For most of you the boating season is either over or nearly so, but due to the machinations of the magazine business, here at PMY we’re only halfway through ours as I’m writing this. And what a season. We’ve already put more hours on our Fairline 43 than any project boat we’ve ever had. A few months ago, when I announced that this year’s Office Ours would be the 43 and be recognizable by her familiar name, beautiful blue hull, and the Power & Motoryacht logos, I invited you to hail us should you see us on the water. Many of you did, and we shared a few drinks and, as boaters always do, a few yarns, too.

All this was not just fun. It gave me a chance to learn more about boating from you who are out on the water, and what you taught me ranged from the hilarious to the shocking. This column is in the latter category.

This is the story of a Massachusetts couple I’ll call the Winstons, two longtime boaters and PMY readers I met in Nantucket the Fourth of July week. It begins last year when the starboard engine their boatyard had recently installed blew with only a few hours on it. The couple suspected that a faulty installation was the cause (later confirmed by a surveyor) and took that matter up with the boatyard. The boatyard categorically denied any responsibility and offered neither restitution nor assistance.

The Winstons’ options at this point were limited because the same company that owned the boatyard owned the marina they were in, and it had a strict policy of not allowing outside contractors to work on boats. Thus they either had to tow their boat some distance to another yard to have the work done or take their chances with an outfit that had already proven to be of questionable competence. Moreover, the yard told the Winstons that if they did take their boat out of the marina for the work, they’d be evicted, despite their one-year lease. The Winstons loved their marina, mainly because of its proximity to open water, so they reluctantly agreed to let the yard replace the engine. And that was the extent of their story when I met them.

As I found out later, the Winstons departed Nantucket for Massachusetts early on the morning of Friday, July 7. A half-hour out, they noticed smoke coming from the cabin, and soon the boat was engulfed. They put out a MAYDAY, then abandoned ship. The Coast Guard arrived quickly, extinguished the flames, and towed the boat back to Nantucket where a quick inspection identified the problem: An improperly installed coupling between the exhaust manifold and outlet had melted, allowing hot exhaust into the interior.

Though not a total loss, the Winstons’ boat sustained heavy damage and had to be towed back to their home port, some 60 miles distant. Once there, they again complained to the yard, and once again the yard denied responsibility and basically told them to find an attorney. At wit’s end, they took the boat to another yard, which identified the problem and offered to do the work. In the meantime, their marina rented their slip and refused to refund the remainder of their yearly rent. Their boat is currently under repair, but they don’t expect it to be finished this season.

I wish I could tell you this was the only service horror story I heard this summer, but alas, it’s not unique. In fact, judging from what I’ve heard from readers, there’s an epidemic of incompetence at best and fraud at worst in the boat-maintenance business. If this continues, you can bet the Winstons and a lot of experienced boaters like them will leave boating. People in the boat-maintenance industry would do well to remember that no one needs a boat and that if they don’t treat their customers the way they’d like to be treated, they may someday find the boating boom is suddenly over.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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