The Boutique Boat Yard

By Tom Neale, 3/22/2007


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Eau Gallie Boatworks
I moved in a little closer because I knew I couldn’t be hearing what I thought I was hearing. This couldn’t be possible. The guy was paying his bill at a boat yard. And he was saying: “This has been the most pleasant boat yard experience I’ve ever had. And I’ve owned boats a long time and I’ve been to a lot of boat yards over the years. You took the time to teach me some things about my boat, you let me help a little and learn, you did what you said you’d do when you said you’d do it, and this is a fair bill. I just want to say thanks.”

In case you think this is the beginning of a fairy tale, it isn’t. It’s a true story. And to make it even more amazing, we also heard other people talking about how happy they were with their yard experience there. We heard this sentiment regularly and we were at this yard a little over two weeks. The unthinkable thing had happened to us. Our engine had failed to the extent that the only practical thing to do was to repower. It had happened at a time when we were making passage down the coast. Worse, we’d been on a tight schedule, delayed coming down the coast by two full gales and one full storm. But here we were, the boat tied helplessly to a dock.

When we found ourselves dead in the water and helpless off Melbourne, FL, we had to give TowboatUS a destination to which to tow us. The area TowboatUS operator, Capt. Kevin Miller of Absolute Marine Towing & Salvage, Inc. (321 951 7955) was very helpful. When you’re contemplating repowering a 53’ boat, not just any facility will do. It has to be able to handle unexpected problems that may arise. Also, you might need for it to allow outside people, who are factory authorized specialists for the new engine, to work in the yard. Even the best yards can’t always do everything in a complex job like this, and warranties may require use of people certified for the product. Some yards impose what I feel to be unfair fees for outside specialists because, I assume, they want all the work themselves. After talking with several friends, we decided that The Eau Gallie Boatworks was the place to go.

We had decided that if we needed a repower it would be a Yanmar diesel from Mastry Engine Center (727 522-9471, in St. Petesburg just across the state. We wanted to have the same people who were dealing with the old Perkins also involved with the repower, if it came to that. Marine Pro in Cocoa ( 321 636 8950, www.marinepro.US) is Yanmar’s largest authorized dealer and service center in the area. They also have a high degree of expertise in other mechanical fields. They were very highly recommended by everyone we talked to, without the slightest reservation, and we called them. At the end of the day, we were exceptionally happy with both Mastry and Marine Pro. You can read much more about that, about how they did the job (they were amazing artists), and about things for you to consider if it happens to you, in an upcoming article in Soundings. Eau Gallie Boatworks wasn’t connected with either Mastry or Marine Pro, but they had no problem with the outside specialist contractor coming in, and were ready to help at any time. We feel that we were incredibly fortunate to have these three marine businesses on the team. But I began this with my surprise at another boater, paying his bill, and complimenting the yard.

Railway at Eau Gallie Boatworks

Finnbarr Murphy, the proprietor of the yard, describes it jokingly (and a little seriously) as a “boutique boat yard.” ( 321 254 1766) It’s nestled among fine homes in a historic area of old Florida and it’s only around 60 feet wide and several hundred feet long. It’s in the Eau Gallie River basin on the western bank of the Indian River in the city of Melbourne. The yard itself has historic significance. It has a large beefy looking railway that’s probably the only one around within 150 miles or so. It also has a travel lift on a rail. The lift is especially designed so that the cross beams at the top can be lifted out of the way allowing the lift to “walk” over particularly tall boats, if necessary, or walk over a boat already in the yard to pick up another boat. The road leading down from Eau Gallie’s Young Street to the yard used to be the mule trail where the animals walked, tethered to the railway, to pull boats from the water. Now, of course, more modern machinery does the job, and the head of the yard is covered with a large enclosed work building which houses machine shop and wood working equipment and other facilities needed to solve many boat problems. Everything about the yard appears neat, in place, orderly and cared for. Extreme measures are taken to avoid any adverse environmental impact on the river—not just because it’s the law, but because the owner cares.

Finnbarr grew up in Ireland and his full Irish name is Fionnbarra O’ Muraehda which means “Fair headed warrior from the sea.” After serving in the merchant marine, he worked in the computer programming industry before retiring from that and buying this yard a few years ago. He told me that his philosophy is to get the boats in, get the job done, and get them back to the owner as quickly as possible. And from what we could see, this is the way it works in that yard. There was a steady stream of boats arriving, getting their work done and departing, with seldom a break in the flow.

Choosing Boat Yards

1. When looking for a new yard, try to visit it first.

2. Check for cleanliness, neatness, things in their place, equipment well maintained.

Each morning at 7:00 AM Finnbarr arrived on scene and, when the workers rolled in at 8:00, he got them going. He generally remained on scene, working as hard or harder, as down and dirty or dirtier, as any of them. The only time we saw anything slow down was in hard rain. Well, there was one other slow down time. This occurred when, in the true and proper Irish tradition (not to mention boating tradition) 5 or 6:00 PM rolled around. It was then (unless some boat’s job just had to be finished) that a beer or two disappeared during friendly conversation in the company of friends. As you’ve gathered, Mel and I, and “Chez Nous,” had a very good experience from the yard, from Marine Pro and from Mastry. We should all talk about good things when we find them, and this is what I am doing. But there’s a broader issue lurking here.

Running a boat yard or any marine repair operation today is one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in the world. And many boat owner encounters with boat yards are unpleasant experiences. The unpleasantness may come from the personnel, the quality of work, failure to complete work when promised, bills that are far too high for what was actually done, work done by people who haven’t a clue about what it’s like being at sea, and yards which use fear tactics to try to coerce the owner to spend money unnecessarily. Usually when you hear boaters talk about a boat yard or marine work, it’s negative.

In some instances this is fair comment, in many it’s not. Yard operators and marine service facilities have huge problems. These include sometimes draconian environmental regulations, difficulty in finding good well trained employees, the fact that no two boat jobs are alike except that they are all cursed by the unexpected and the fact that many boat owners really don’t understand these things. But we can’t have boats without boat yards and marine repair facilities, unless we all stick with canoes and kayaks. But there’s more about this than just consumer issues.

Frank Monachello, owner of Marine Pro and Collin and Mark removing the dead engine.

Much of the waterfront is now in the process of “verticalization.” If a spot of land can be changed from a flat plane to floor after floor after floor of a tall condo, its value is going to go way up too. You can hardly blame a land owner for wanting to do that. And often a marina or boat yard on that property is owned by a business which doesn’t own the property. So boat yard after boat yard is being squeezed out as people rush to “live on the water.” Often the people who buy the condo space to “live on the water” don’t like to see boats (except perhaps their own) or the infrastructure necessary for boats to exist. It’s like moving to the mountains and then complaining about the high altitudes, but people do it all the time. And they organize their condo commander headquarters and committees and political action groups. We boaters are usually not heavily into organization, but we all need to stick together more.

We have to have good marinas and good repair facilities. Not only do we need them, often that which replaces them is, directly or indirectly, deliberately or coincidentally, hostile to us. And, as with any other aspect of getting along together, when we see a facility doing its tough job well, we should let them know that we’re happy and we should tell others of our experience.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale