Paul Engle knows boatyards from both sides of the transom. The 52-year-old president of Bradford Marine, one of Fort Lauderdale's premier boat and yacht yards, captained Malcolm Forbes' 151-foot yacht Highlander for four years. He cruised the Pacific. He visited St. Petersburg, Russia.
On one memorable occasion, he picked up actress Elizabeth Taylor in Singapore for a cruise to Thailand. She brought 21 pieces of luggage with her. "I had to find a place to store all of that luggage," he remembers.
It was a part of Engle's education as a yacht captain, an education that has served him well as president of a yard that caters to megayachts, their captains and their owners. Born in Chile and raised in West Virginia, Engle attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on a football scholarship and then moved to Fort Lauderdale to crew on yachts. "I had a drive to travel," he says. And so he did.
He earned his 1,600-ton captain's license and worked for a time for a wealthy yachtsman skippering a 140-foot oceangoing barge-and-crane in the Bahamas. His first job was to build a boathouse for his boss's sportfisherman and dredge a channel to it, which involved underwater demolition. After he finished that, his employer went into marine contracting, hiring Engle and the barge out in the Bahamas for dock-building and dredging, a stint that gave the young captain a strong working knowledge of the islands and commercial marine business.
Engle went on to get a job as first mate aboard Highlander under its longtime captain, Alex Photenhaur. When Photenhaur retired, Engle was named captain - at a youthful 29 years old. From there, he went on to captain multilevel marketer Amway Corp.'s corporate megayacht, Enterprise, for a year. When Bradford Marine approached him in 1993 to become its yard superintendent, "It was time to do something else," Engle says. "I was ready to drop anchor."
It didn't take him long to see what he had to do. "The yachting business suffers from seasonal ups and downs," he says. "We needed to diversify the company to bring some balance to it."
Through the years, he opened a yacht sales and charter subsidiary, which introduced the yard to boat buyers and to opportunities for work with brokered boats, refits especially. "We do a lot of refits," Engle says.
He added a towing business, expanded the menu of in-house repair services and in 1998 opened Bradford Marine Bahamas, the yard in Freeport, to accommodate what he foresaw would be the dramatic growth in superyachts - boats more than 200 and 300 feet that he couldn't service at the Fort Lauderdale yard because of vertical clearance and draft restrictions on the New River.
Engle early on acquired what would become Bradford Marine Bahamas' entry to servicing superyachts and large commercial vessels. Engle built a floating dry dock large enough to take vessels up to 1,200 tons or 240 feet. "It took us 16 months," he says.
Dan Romence, Engle's mate on Enterprise, oversaw the dry dock construction. Engle says he did such a good job he now manages the Freeport yard.
The Freeport venture was risky, but Engle says he has taken a conservative approach to developing the yard - slowly growing the 47-acre facility over 10 years only as the business there grew to warrant it and finance it. "We were able to come over here with a reasonable investment," he says.
In December 2008, Bradford Marine Bahamas opened new offices and they recently completed 1,100 feet of new docks. "I think it's good that we were ahead of our time here," he says.
During the worst recession in memory, the Bahamas yard held its own and drew a lot of commercial vessels and megayachts. "I think we've reached that level of diversity where we can increase our odds of having a successful year," he says.
This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue.