Equipment and Marine Services Reviews:

It can be a challenge to find quality equipment and workmen for a yacht.  Here are some of our experiences and recommendations:

Yacht Broker:  John Earle @ David Walters Yachts, Ft. Lauderdale 

Grade: A+

David Walters Yachts:  We can't say enough about the broker who sold us Uliad:  John Earle was technically working for the seller, but he worked hard to put together a deal that was fair for us, and stayed involved long after he had completed the sale and gotten his commission.  He helped us find reputable contractors, and was even going to volunteer to help me sail the boat up to Delaware after finishing our refit until his girlfriend forbid it.  (At least that's his story :))  We heartily recommend him if you're buying or selling a cruising boat.

Yacht Management/ Refitting/ Storage: 

James "Tate" Earle, Northern Star Boat Works, Ft. Lauderdale

Grade: A

We knew we were in trouble.  We had just bought a boat in a strange city that would need work.  Who would we hire?  How would we know who was any good?  Who would make sure they were doing a good job?  In a stunning display of nepotism, our yacht broker referred us to his brother Tate to manage our refit.  A yacht manager will basically serve as a a general contractor:  he arranges for subcontractors, oversees the work and makes sure things stay on schedule.  For this he charges 10% of the invoices.  Which seems like a lot except that as a local Yacht Manager, he usually manages to negotiate a 10% discount from his contractors compared to what I might have gotten trying to hire the job myself.  At least that's the theory. 

We thought it well worth the price to have a knowledgeable guy keeping an eye on things when we couldn't be there.  Tate rode the contractors mercilessly if they fell behind schedule.  And I think everyone was a lot more motivated to do the job right knowing that Tate was in a position to steer a lot more business their direction in the future.  If you ever need work done on your boat in Ft. Lauderdale, I would recommend Tate Earle to arrange the details.

KNJ Marine, Chaguramas, Trinidad     Grade: B+

I'd definitely recommend working through a general contractor like KNJ or Dynamite Marine in Trinidad.  We heard dozens of horror stories from fellow cruisers who had tried to hire their own workers only to find them incompetent, drunk, swindlers, or just lazy.  You pay more to have someone else hire the labor, but they do know who to hire.

KNJ did top quality work, and kept it at the original quoted price.  There were a few tiny flaws in the paint work, and several areas were improperly caulked after.  Beyond that, I consider their work flawless.  My only other criticism was that their contract consisted of nothing more than a price quote, and a brief description of the work. (i.e. "prep aluminum hulled boat ULIAD, paint in Awlcraft 2000 Flag Blue".  We typed up an additional contract stipulating much more detail with regards to the work to be done, general management of the yacht in our absence, a date by which the work was to be completed, expectations of regular status updates in our absence, etc.  KNJ was happy to sign our addendum and include it as part of our contract...we would have been very frustrated at times without it.

 Raiatea Carenage, French Polynesia     Grade B

  This boat yard looks quite humble at first, but Dominique Goche and his crew are experienced and knowledgeable in hauling and repairing yachts.  All the work I had done here (welding, metal fabrication, engine work, hull sanding, topsides compounding) was executed perfectly.  We stored Uliad here for 6 months and she was safe even through hurricane Oli with 90-100 knot winds. 

 That being said, I would not store our boat here for so long again.  The tropical humidity really took its toll on our batteries and engines.  We had a lot of work to do to get up and running again.  They do not rent dehumidifiers or keep boats plugged in to shore power.  They have no converters to handle our 120 volt electrical system.  For some reason, our solar panels weren't adequate to keep our batteries charged.  If you do store your boat here, I'd encourage you to come with your own dehumidifier, 220 volt battery charger, and hire a caretaker to check your boat regularly while you are gone.  Some boats had rats come aboard (not us thankfully) so you need to have all your holes plugged and don't keep food onboard.

Marine Diesel Mechanic: 

Atlantic Marine Power Systems, Ft. Lauderdale

Grade: A

Mike Koller and his crew removed our Perkins diesel, rebuilt it and had it back up and running on schedule.  Mike then came along for sea trials to make sure everything was running right and offered to spend more time going over preventive maintenance procedures before we took off cruising.  One month later, when it wouldn't start, he sent a mechanic over immediately to replace the starter & starting battery.  It's been running fine ever since.  Strongly recommended for diesel work.

Simpson Bay Diesel Services, St. Maarten

Grade A

They came when they promised, worked efficiently, and charged a fair price when I had problems with our Westerbeke diesel.  Strongly recommended if you break down anywhere near St. Martin.

Watermaker:  Village Marine Tec

Grade A

Shopping for a new watermaker in Ft. Lauderdale offers a lot of choices.  I ended up going with Village Marine Tec based on reputation:  I couldn't find anyone saying anything bad about them on the internet.  Which was definitely not true for Spectra, HRO and a number of others.  I leaned on them really hard to install it sooner, (wanted it done while the engine was out getting rebuilt) but the sales guys stuck to their guns about when they could do the job... To their credit, they showed up when they said they would, and got the job done quickly once they started.  The cost was higher than the quote due to some quirks at installation, but I was told clearly about potential installation costs

The watermaker itself is easy to use & maintain, and has performed flawlessly so far.  It seems easy to maintain compared with what I hear from other cruisers.  The LED display pretty much tells me whenever the system needs something.

Yacht Carpentry: 

Alan Webster, Ft. Lauderdale     Grade B-

Upon Tate's recommendation, we hired Alan "the nekkid carpenter" Webster  to tear out the old bunks in the guest cabin and build a new double bunk.  Despite his moniker, he performed his work on Uliad fully clothed.  (No, we're not telling, you'll have to ask him to explain)  He built exactly what we had conceptualized.  The down side:  he worked pretty slow and did not get the job done within the schedule we had given him.  Tate had to help him to even be ready in time for our departure.  The varnish job subsequently showed the evidence of his rushed work at the end and will need to be re-done. 

I'd hire him again if I wasn't in a hurry.  And I'd give him a deadline several weeks in advance of when I actually needed it done.

Yacht Carpentry:  Arturo Chavez, Cartagena

Grade A

   Mr Chavez works out of the Club Nautico facilities and did a small job for us (replacing a sliding wooden hatch screen) quickly and with great craftsmanship.  Compared to the low labor costs elsewhere in Columbia, he didn't seem particularly cheap, but the work was top notch. 

Rigging:  Nance & Underwood, Ft. Lauderdale

Grade D

Nance & Underwood seems to have the reputation about Ft. Lauderdale as being the end all in sailboat rigging.  They repaired our hydraulics, greased our winches, and replaced our standing rigging.  If you hire them, make sure to write it all down exactly what you want.  We didn't and lots of stuff got forgotten:  The backstay was replaced without our SSB antenna insulators.  The insulators were apparently thrown out and I had to buy new ones.  I asked to set aside a backstay to keep as an emergency spare... they didn't.  I asked for some eye splices to be done and nobody heard anything about that.  Worst of all, I had a wind transducer on top of my mast before the standing rigging was changed and somehow didn't after.  Bob Nance told me he spoke to all his employees and nobody recalled seeing it or taking it down or anything.  So he trusts his employees and knows that I must not have had one therefore had no interest in replacing it or even part of it.  So maybe it just flew away on its own.  Or maybe it is sitting in the same landfill as my insulators and my spare backstay.  Their lack of attention to such details was appalling and made me wonder what else was forgotten...

What work was done was all competent (after careful inspection), but these repeated miscommunications and repeated losses of my property was inexcusable.  When confronted with these problems, they refused any responsibility.  Watch out.

Marine Radio services: (Dr. John Gregory)     Grade A

It seems that none of the marine electronics shops littering the streets of Ft Lauderdale care much for sailboats.  I was politely shown the door 3 or 4 times when wandering around asking for someone to sell me and install an new Icom SSB radio.  It seems everyone is absolutely swamped with installing satellite TV dishes on megayachts.  Finally one guy (who was booked out 4 months on installations you know) referred me to Dr. John Gregory out of Miami.  Dr. John, I was to later learn, is the owner of a private radio network:  So after installing my new SSB email set up, he was none to pleased that I was planning to use Sailmail.  He finally gave me a free month with his service, and to be honest, I like it a lot better than sailmail and it doesn't cost any more.  CruiseEmail has fewer restrictions on your email, and its shore stations are less busy and have better reception in my limited experience.  Their only downside is they don't have coverage in the south pacific.  But I'm going to keep using CruseEmail until we get there!

Winlink 2000:      Grade A

Winlink is a free service available to licensed HAM radio operators, using the same software and protocols that Sailmail users pay for.  That alone makes it worth the hassle to get a HAM radio license.  I use it exclusively to send email, post to this website, and receive GRIB and weatherfax files.  The coverage is worldwide, whereas CruiseEmail has no coverage of the South Pacific.  I've had no problems with it so far other than occasionally needing to wait a few hours until the radio wave propagation allows me to get a clear signal.  And did I mention that it's FREE?


Super Sailmakers     Grade: A

Lets face it, for cruising you really need a rugged Dacron sail.  And just about any sailmaker should be able to cut one for you if you're clear about what you plan to use it for.  So we ignored all the sexy laminates, race reports, and fancy marketing brochures from the likes of North and Quantum.  I had all the sail work done by SuperSailmakers in Ft. Lauderdale in spite of their ridiculous name.  The result is a very nice looking new sail, but of course new sails always look nice so we'll see if the $2K that I saved was worth it.

Doyle--Barbados   Grade: A

We had a new code zero sail made after our old spectra laminate blew to pieces off Bequia.  This time we went with dacron for durability and it does a great job at giving us some extra speed off the wind in light air.   The sail is well made and fits just right.

API Yachting -- Tahiti   Grade B+

  We had a new mainsail made from Hydronet fabric by API yachting in Tahiti.  They also replaced the UV cover on our jib.  The mainsail was well constructed with good attention to the heavy duty details required of a cruising sail.  We immediately noticed about a 1 knot speed increase with the new sail. The fit was good, but the clew is a few inches higher than I'd like.  I'm taking a few points off their grade for minor fit problems and the fact that they don't take credit cards--wire transfers of money to French Polynesia was a hassle.  We asked for the jib's UV cover to be white, but it came back light gray.  Everything but French bread is expensive in Tahiti--sails included.  I wouldn't go out of your way to have API make your sail, but if you find yourself in French Polynesia as we did, with an old and blown out mainsail that won't take you any farther, I don't think you'll be disappointed with API.

Marine Electrician: 

Lean Marine     Grade: C-

Damian Lean rewired the lighting for our renovated cabin.  He also corrected several other electrical issues, wired some stereo speakers, and wired the lights on our radar arch to come on with a cool remote control switch like you have to unlock your car.  But he kind of whined when I asked him to wire a chain counter for our windlass and finally just said he didn't have time to do it.  Then shortly after installation one of the radar arch lights quit and one of the stereo speakers shorted out.  Worst of all, he sent me a bill (at $70/hr) to sent someone out to troubleshoot the arch lights that he had just finished working on.

Update:  2 months later- the arch lights have all quit working again!!

Bottom Paint

Interlux Micron 33     Grade: B

Micron 33 for our aluminum hull.  2 coats.  Lasted as far as Luperon (about a year) and might have lasted longer but I hired a guy to clean the bottom before we left and I suspect he scraped off  much of the ablative bottom paint along with the barnacles that were growing by now. 

Seahawk Biotin     Grade D

The following year we switched to SeaHawk Biotin paint.  Tin based paints are more toxic for the environment and are banned in the US, but still available in Trinidad.  Many copper based paints can react with an aluminum hulled boat, as a result many manufacturers use more dilute concentrations of biocidal copper for their aluminum boat paint than for other boats.  Unfortunately, the anti-fouling effect only lasted about 3-4 months.  In part this could be due to the incredible barnacle fouling that happens to everyone in Cartagena.  The barnacles are simply immune to anifouling there.  But the marine growth is now appearing everywhere--not just where the barnacle scales are left behind.  4 months is simply unacceptable and I'll be going back to something like Micron 33 next time I haul out.  (Which, unfortunately, will come much too soon!!)

Topsides Paint:

Aluminum is a difficult substrate to paint.  As soon as it begins to oxidize, the paint wont stick to it anymore, so every 10 years or so, it needs to be redone.  We bought Uliad knowing it badly needed a new paint job, but decided to wait until we got to Trinidad to have it done.  Trinis reputation for cheap yacht work is no longer true.  The costs were just as high as if we'd had it done in the states.  In addition, the culture is different, and it is hot as an oven down there in the summer.  If I were to do it over again, I'd have probably had it repainted in Florida or Grenada, where prices are still a bit lower.

That being said, they did very good work in Trinidad.  We hauled at Peake's yard and worked through KNJ Marine to arrange the paint work.  The lead painter was very experienced in working with aluminum and took his time in prepping everything right.  Despite initial assurances that it would be absolutely no problem to have the job done in less than 3 months, the job was not done on time.  We insisted on a written contract stipulating that KNJ would pay our yard fees after 3 months if the work was not completed by then.  Reminding them of this (Glad I got it in writing!) did seem to help motivate everyone to put in some overtime when things weren't quite finished.

Uliad is painted in Awlcraft 2000 paint.  Flag Blue topsides and Off White deck.  Medium silver trim on the bootstripe and rub rail.

Compass Adjuster:  Lauderdale Compass

Grade: A

It is getting harder to find a compass adjuster.  With GPS and chart plotters, the old magnetic compass seems not worth spending much extra money on.  But there's really probably no more important instrument on board than your compass.  We went ahead and paid a very reasonable $250 for John to come out with us for a couple hours and make sure our steering compass was spot on.

Marine Refrigeration:  Basil St. John, Grenada

Grade: C-

Mr. St. John was obviously very busy by the way his cell phone rang all day.  Trouble is, after taking a few calls in the morning, and telling people he'd be by later...he'd just stop answering his phone rather than stay in contact with those poor fools who were sitting on their boat all afternoon waiting for him to arrive.  I was that poor fool a couple of times myself.

It took over a week for him to install two new compressors.  When it came time to charge the new system, his vacuum pump wasn't working.  So he just charged up the system without vacuuming it first...which is not, I understand, the recommended way of doing things.  I ended up having to re-do some wiring, re-adjust the expansion valve, vacuum the system myself, and re-charge it all to get it working properly.  By the time I had finished all that I was left wondering if Mr. St. John really knew what he was doing...or was he just in a hurry to be done with me so he could get to those other cell phone calls?


Canvas:  Taller De Velas Benjamin, Cartagena

Grade: D

Mr. Benjamin Herrera did such a poor job fashioning a dodger and bimini for Uliad that he would have earned my first ever "F" grade.  But I moved him up to a D when, after pointing out all the areas of terrible workmanship, he agreed to refund our money.  (To see photos of his sewing quality click here and here.)  The product he delivered didn't fit, was terribly stitched, and looked like the product of an "introduction to sewing" class.  We collected the remaining canvas and brought it to another canvas shop to start over.

In fairness, several of our friends had sail repairs done by him which were done at a good price with fine workmanship.  And he attributed the lateness and poor quality of our canvas to problems he was having with his sewing machine.  Uliad thinks that he should perhaps stick to sail repair.