Saturday, November 25, 2006

The History of AA "part 5"

.....continued from "part 4".......
After arriving in Miami, i went straight to see Bob the boat builder who was kinda short and to the point on the phone. He didn't try to sell me anything which i kinda found strange. When i got to his factory or warehouse he met me and took me to see several boats which were in varied stages of construction. He pretty much lets his boats do the pushing of the product. They are built tough like things were build in the USA in the "good old days". Of course, after my disaster with Cooper Marine, my main concern was strength, and you could see strength at every point with Bob's construction. He had been building boats for over 30 years and had seen it all. He told me storied about building boats with his best friend in the early 80s when most of the people who wanted "go-fast" boats were shady characters. His best friend went on to start one of the most famous "go-fast" boat companies...."Midnight Express", and Bob told me stories about how his friend building boats for people who would pay with cash in full. To me it sounded like something out of a movie like the Al Pacino film "Scarface". Later he mentioned that his friend did get arrested by the DEA for knowingly building boats for a big time drug runner. The joke was that part of his sentence was building several boats for the government. Funny......
Anyway, Bob was a no BS kinda guy. He said "what you see is what you get" and i believed him. When i asked him why he wasn't with his friend building the original Midnight Express boats he laughed and said that he had been hired by another friend, Ted Arison, to turn an old ship into a cruise liner. It took him several years but that ship ended up becoming the first of Carnival Cruise Lines' ships. He (re-)built that and put what is now the worlds largest cruise line on the water!!!
I was happy with what i saw for two reasons. Firstly, I could tell that Bob was an honest hard worker who didn't BS his way through life. The second thing that made me feel cool was seeing the boats being built. This was a very limited-production boat builder where each one is custom built to your needs. They are not finished like some of the big names out there like Contender, Intrepid, or Boston Whaler but there was no question that bob's boats were built to last a lot longer carrying much more weight through much worse seas. Bob said he could have one finished for me in just over three months, so I sent him a deposit the next day. I think that was in August of 2004, so i was thinking about having it ready for the busy winter tourist season.
The next month we did extensive work on the Eco boat built by cooper marine. It cost me a good chunk of change and poor Tony worked like a daemon in the worst possible conditions. When we stopped, i felt much better about the boat and was sure it would be fine through the next few seasons. We had beefed up and created more structure in the front of the boat using the best possible materials and workmanship. I had hired a professional Marine Surveyor and boat builder to oversea the job with Tony and together they had done an awesome job. I still would like to do more in the middle and aft of the boat but it was the front that was where my main concern was. The surveyor agreed and was happy with the outcome.
In October, i went to have a look at Bob's progress and was pleased to see that he had done some good work getting the boat prepared. I could see that it wouldn’t be finished for November like he had said, but I was fine with that considering I didn’t have all the money sorted out. Since my sister Nell was working with me, I decided to offer her some ownership in the business. She and my bro, Ali, were interested in finding some money to help pay for the new boat and come on board with my growing company. They quickly found out the same thing that I already knew. Banks in Antigua don’t care about your business! All they want to know is how much land you are gonna put up. Anyway, in the end (some time in May 2005) they managed to come up with $90,000 to help me pay for the Performance 40.
Yes May 2005!!!! What happened over the winter was quite simple. In December just before Christmas I had a disaster. We had just picked up some cruise passengers from the cruise terminal, and were on our way out when I heard a strange sound coming from the port engine on the Eco Boat. Immediately I knew it wasn’t good, and after taking them to a beach nearby for a swim and some lunch, we went in and dropped off the guests. We didn’t charge them a dime of course. Anyway, mechanics meet us in Jolly Harbour and tell us that we have big problems which require the engine to be taken apart. Looks like it may be a total wreck, but I am told that it is still under warranty. I think for a minute what the implications are……..Warranty………so what? In the Caribbean a warranty isn’t what it is in the USA. Here they take the engine to pieces in order to find what is wrong with it, then ship the broken parts which show the cause of the failure back to the manufacturer, then they decide if they are gonna replace or rebuild. I spoke with the good people at Marine Power Services who estimated that it could take 6 weeks or longer considering the holidays and holiday shipping delays. This was December 20th I think. MPS tell me what I am already thinking: “You could always buy a new motor, and end up with a spare when the other if fixed or replaced”. I asked them to immediately find out the cost and approximate shipping time. We had full tours for the next 2 weeks in between the holidays. It’s always the busiest time of the year for us. Perfect!!!!
I got a call an hour later saying that the engine was US $23,000 and could be shipped and landed here within a week only if we air freighted it. Wow! On the one hand, I could be up and running within 10 days, but on the other, I couldn’t afford the expense. So what do I do? If I don’t buy the engine I may have to close down because of not being able to operate for 6 weeks or longer, and if I do buy the engine I won’t be able to pay my regular bills at the end of the month……
I went to the bank and wired the money to Yanmar USA, and the engine was shipped later that day. The stress was pretty hard core, and my Christmas wasn’t as relaxing as everyone else’s. Over the next week we pulled the boat out of the water to do other maintenance and found major eminent problems with the propulsion systems as well. My girlfriend at the time, Chantal, who I had been with before I started the company, was about to go off to college too. I couldn’t spend time with her as I had to be at the boat. It was all too much for me, and I came down with the flu! It was the worst I had in years and when she left, I felt lower than I had done in years. The business was about to fail, I was sick as a dog, customers, their reps, and hotels were all pissed off with me, my girlfriend had gone, it terrible weather……… all just sucked!
Anyway, Tony, who works for me told me to chill at home, and he would make sure the boat was sorted out. He worked like an ox again down in Jolly Harbour getting the steering and propulsion system all fixed and ready for the new engine to be put in. When the engine finally arrived I was better enough to help them put it in. The next day we were ready to put “Arawak Odyssey” back in the water. Two days later we were back in business and totally broke with all kinds of bills, employees, Harriette and banks to pay. Not to mention Bob. Tony knew what was going on and told me that he had money put away….he told me to pay him when things got better. He is the best! Harriette said the same thing…..always looking after me.
I called a friend in Miami and told him to go and take some photos of my boat being built to see what stage of construction it was in. This was the start of Jan and Bob had originally said it would be done in November. When I saw the pics I knew it still had some months to go, so I told bob that he had to wait for more money as well. By the middle of January it all looked as though things were gonna work out. We were exceptionally busy and the rest of the season looked good too. Bob didn’t finish the boat until May! I knew I would miss the season and I was also pretty tight on cash, so I didn’t get too mad with him. He had been building his house and had do deal with several hurricanes after the boat started being built.
After my terrible trip from Florida in the Eco Tour boat, I knew I didn’t want to bring the boat down again under its own steam, so we hunted for good shipping rates. They didn’t exist! Because the boat’s length overall was 45 feet long it was too long to fit on the 40 foot container “flat rack”. Also, at 10 feet wide it was too wide as well. The shipping companied wanted me to pay for the same shipping rates as four 40 foot containers. The rates were astronomical and we couldn’t afford it.
In late may, my brother Alexander and I set off to pick up the boat. Everyone was worried about our safety (not only because we were going to be out in the ocean, but they were more afraid we would kill each other).
Let’s save the next part of the story for another blog entry…….
The photo above is of the inside of one of bob's boats. You don't normally see that much structure in boats these days.