This is the tale of two mechanics, one in Cape May, N.J., and the other in Rockland, Maine. And it’s the story of two industries. One is the marine world we strive to build and foster every day. Competent, professional, customer-focused, forward-looking. The other falls short of that vision and leaves customers shaking their heads and muttering epithets about boats and the people who build them and work on them.
And lastly, it’s a story about IBEX. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This cautionary piece took place this summer, when an experienced cruising sailor en route to Maine aboard his Westsail 32 was forced to put in at Cape May, N.J., with electrical problems. The sailboat’s batteries were having trouble holding a charge.
Doug is a solid, sober, careful sailor whom I’ve known for years. He rented a slip for $80 and called a mechanic recommended by the marina. The mechanic arrived and determined the problem was at the battery connections. They weren’t tight enough, he thought, so he replaced the wing nuts with hex nuts. He started the engine, and the batteries appeared to be charging — problem solved. Or so he and Doug thought. It wasn’t. Price: $120 an hour. Time: about 3 hours, including travel.
During the next several days, the charging problems continued intermittently. Four days later, about 70 miles off Penobscot Bay in the Gulf of Maine, the alternator on the 36-hp Beta Marine diesel began smoking and sparking. Doug shut everything down and made his way under sail into Rockland, where Johanson Boatworks is a Beta dealer.
There, a mechanic known as Jonesy came out by boat and correctly diagnosed the problem as corrosion in the male/female nylon connectors of the main wiring harness. He cut off the connectors, hard-wired the ends together and shrink-wrapped them. Then he had Doug run the engine for several hours before he returned to the boat to load-test the batteries. This time everything was fixed. Cost: $48 an hour. Time: about 3 hours of labor.
Doug says Jonesy was “hands down” the best mechanic he’s encountered in his cruising. “Not only because he knew everything, but he explained it in detail in a way a non-mechanic could understand,” the veteran sailor says. “And he checked everything.”
The first guy meant well enough, Doug says. “He was very polite, a young guy. But he just wasn’t thorough. He assumed [it was fixed], and you can’t assume.”
And that brings us to Louisville and IBEX, where a good part of the focus is on training, education and professionalism, which is probably the best way to ensure that the first mechanic in this tale someday becomes a Jonesy, and sooner rather than later.
“IBEX is a prerequisite,” says marine industry consultant Steve D’Antonio, who has lectured at the show for about five years. “You can’t afford not to go. Even when I didn’t teach there, I’d say [to clients], ‘You have to send two or three of your people.’ It’s critical and it’s unique. There’s nothing else like it in this country.”
In the spirit of full disclosure, Steve is a contributing editor of Professional BoatBuilder magazine — the show founder and, along with the NMMA, the co-owner and co-producer. And Trade Only is sponsoring the IBEX Aftermarket Pavilion, as well as the dealer seminar track. Given that, I can also say with certainty that both Steve and I believe continuing education and training are necessary if this industry is to remain strong, vital and innovative.
“The competency on the part of the people doing the work is the foundation of everything we do in this industry,” says D’Antonio, who for many years worked as a manager of a full-service boatyard.
IBEX is a great venue for both training and networking. “I’d walk away with 75 to 100 business cards routinely,” he says. “Still do. It’s all professionals. And there’s a track there for everybody.”
I like walking the floor and talking with exhibitors. You always learn something. And if you can’t get a question answered here, you simply haven’t asked the right person, because the breadth and depth of knowledge of the participants is as strong as you’ll find anywhere in this country.
My friend Doug, the cruising sailor, would be impressed with the number of Jonseys he’d bump into at IBEX.
The International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference will be held Oct. 17-19 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. For information, visit www.ibexshow.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.