Sightlines - January 2015
Credit Where Credit is Due.
Most people in the marine industry didn’t end up here just because they needed a job, but rather they were hopeless boat lovers and they followed their dream. Each of us tried to find a home for ourselves in one corner of the boating world or another. Some took their talents and became builders, some became captains, or crew, while others are designers or writers or riggers. Those with no talents at all became yacht brokers.
To paraphrase an adage about teachers, “Those that can’t do, broker.” These dandies of the boat business have drawn my ire for many years. I suppose I hold some resentment for their capacity to bullshit and blend effortlessly with clients, a talent I do not have. Or maybe it is their casual dismissal when they are done using me, after giving them a free proposal for an undisclosed client. Perhaps it is the 10 percent off the top of a deal for doing little, while we struggle to garnish 8 percent for a design that will take thousands of hours. Maybe it’s the way they drop a project as soon as they smell an easier kill. Whatever the reason, I have held the group as a whole in contempt my entire career. Schmoozing among the rich, laughing on cue, and living the playboy lifestyle while the rest of us toil. Maybe I am just jealous.
Recently the tables were turned on me. I was about to purchase a boat. While I have been in this business my entire adult life, I have never actually bought a boat. I have bought project boats, abandoned on trailers, but never a real boat, one that required wire transfers and taxes and title searches. I was in over my head, and I needed a broker myself. Damn it!
Even though I have had a general disdain for the lot, I do know a few brokers who have dismissed me as an ingrate, but have otherwise accepted me as a friend. So, one by one, I solicited advice from my friends Mark, Andrew, and Jef and asked questions about making offers and owning a boat that would be kept on the other side of the country. It became apparent that they knew this side of the business and I didn’t.
So I flew to California and met the seller’s broker in Newport Beach. Len was an affable enough guy whose office was the local yacht-club restaurant. I was at ease with him, but then I thought, This guy schmoozes for a living, so I was suspicious. Then came my questions: What taxes will I owe? How do I go about documentation with the Coast Guard? Who do I call for insurance? Do I really have to pay California property taxes? How old is my bottom paint? Quickly Len became my broker too, representing me as the buyer. I made my offer, the client countered, Len made it all happen with some compromises. He introduced me to the local shipyard, arranged for survey and haulout, and sent me home to Florida. Ten days and one wire transfer later, we signed the deal on the hood of my rental car along the road on my way to a meeting in San Diego. In between, my broker handled everything from legal issues to engine inspections in my absence. I clearly couldn’t have done all this from Florida on my own. Len was proving his worth and forcing me to reconsider my longtime stand on brokers in general.
After providing proof to someone in India that I was not an identity thief, American Express allowed me to outfit my new boat at the Newport Beach West Marine. Friends Jim and Chris had flown in as my crew and we headed for the owner’s house to take delivery. Len met us at the dock, gave me the keys, and helped us out of the slip. He even offered to drive us back from her new berth in San Pedro.
I’d bought the ex-Drumbeat, a 48-foot custom Dencho, designed by Tim Kernan. She’s now named Adele (goddess who grants me permission to buy another boat), which also happens to be my wife’s middle name. My experience of buying Adele taught me a lot about a side of the business I didn’t know and gave me respect for a profession I’ve long derided. I think my broker earned every penny of his commission and showed his talents well on my behalf. Thank you, Len.
Share your broker stories—good or bad—with us in the comments below.
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.