Florida Keys Business
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Ship shape
'From a battleship to a broken heart,' Florida Keys Boat Repair fixes anything

Pipe wrenches clink against propellers; sanders skim over decades of paint, wood and fiberglass; a fine layer of dust settles upon every surface, and the unleashed corners of assorted tarps flap in a hot breeze.

But amid the dusty clutter of a working boatyard, not always apparent to the untrained eye, there exists an orderly system of projects, plans and priorities.

On a recent Wednesday at Florida Keys Boat Repair Maintenance, those priorities included new impellers for one vessel, a sleek new paint job for a 105-foot yacht, and a fiberglass repair on the hull of a fishing boat.

Located at Robbie's Marina on Stock Island, owner Mike Cook gives new meaning to the term multitasking, as he provides cost estimates for propeller and shaft repairs, signs paychecks for his nine full-time employees and arranges for a large motor yacht to be hauled from the water for engine repairs.

Cook has been fixing, painting and maintaining boats in the Florida Keys for the past 16 years. He started out as an employee of Robbie's Marina, the largest working boatyard between Key West and Miami, and then struck out on his own, offering mobile repair service to boats docked at all marinas in Key West and Stock Island.

"I did everything mobile for awhile, but then I got too big and had to find me a home," said Cook, his North Carolina accent still evident despite his years in the Keys.

Florida Keys Boat Repair Maintenance for the past four years has been housed at Robbie's on Shrimp Road, where Cook and his crew have access to the marina's 85- and 120-ton travel lifts that can haul boats of all sizes out of the water and onto "the hard" to fix anything below the water line.

The company repairs and maintains diesel engines, fixes propellers, shafts and struts, paints boats, touches up dings and fixes imperfections in the glossy gel coat that make a boat shine.

"The only thing we don't do is freon for air-conditioners because we're not licensed for it," said Cook, pointing to his company's logo on the back of his pickup:"We'll fix everything from a battleship to a broken heart."

Propeller and shaft repairs are some of the most common jobs, which are categorized in plastic filing trays that hang on the office wall and contain the paperwork for all pending jobs.

"We may have really clear water, but people run aground around here all the time," said Cook, who spent more than a decade as a commercial fisherman before deciding to make his living on solid ground.

"Where'd I learn to fix boats? 'Bout 70 miles out thataway," he said, gesturing broadly to the vast ocean that stretches infinitely from his front door. "If you can fix a boat in 10-foot seas when you're 70 miles out, you can fix a boat."

More than making sure a boat floats, Cook will make sure it looks good while doing so.

Florida Keys Boat Repair Maintenance prides itself on pristine paint jobs, flawless fiberglass and gleaming gel coats that erase all previous dings incurred during an awkward docking job or a minor encounter with another boat.

"Remember to tell him, if he can find it, it's free," Cook recently instructed an employee who was on the phone with a client. He was referring to the company's satisfaction-guaranteed gel coat repairs.

"If you can find where we fixed the ding; if you can see the repair, it's free," Cook told The Citizen, adding that his company will also arrange for vessel deliveries from a marina to the boatyard for repairs or from one destination to another.

"We still offer mobile service as well," he said. "If the boat can stay in the water for the repairs or maintenance that it needs, then we'll come to you. But if it needs to be hauled out, it'll come here."

One boat recently was at Robbie's Marina from Miami, Cook said, because his $63,000 price for a paint job on a 105-foot Broward yacht was less than half the $134,000 estimate that the owner received in Miami.

"In that case, the guy didn't need the boat back immediately, so I could take my time with it and keep doing smaller jobs and bringing in money while the 105-footer is here in the yard," Cook said, adding that local, working boat owners receive top priority. "For locals, like charter and commercial fishermen, I know those guys are losing money every day they're out of the water, so they always come first."

Last week, 11 of the 14 hanging job files were filled, and more calls were coming in.

"We've been working seven days a week for the past nine months," Cook said. "I'll take it. I'll take it and I'll fix it."

mmiles@keysnews.com

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