I grew up on the waterfront in Annapolis, Md. My family had a variety of boats. My three brothers and I played tag in boats and sailed at every opportunity.
I was trained as an education consultant and worked in the handicapped community for five years. While I was consulting in the Baltimore schools, something unexpected happened. A friend asked me to help him sail a 58-foot boat down to the Caribbean, so I arranged for some time away from my consulting job, figuring that this would be a one-off adventure.
But in St. Thomas I met an owner who needed a captain and cook for his 40-foot charter boat, and he thought I would be the perfect candidate. So I called my wife, Nancy, and she said, “I can be ready in two weeks!” We originally planned to take a year off to sail, but that year grew into 10 on boats.
We worked next on a new build for an owner who had been planning to circumnavigate, but he changed his plans and Nancy asked me to find a boat that was sailing around the world. That led us to legendary yachtsman Marvin Green.
We worked on his Swan 65 and stayed on as Green graduated to an 81-foot Maxi, Nirvana. I oversaw the construction of that boat. Nirvana raced during the heyday of the Maxi boat circuit, setting records in major events such as the Newport-to-Bermuda Race, the Fastnet Race and the South China Sea Race, which runs from Hong Kong to Manila in the Philippines. It was a pretty incredible time — San Francisco, Norway, Italy, Sydney, Hong Kong. You name it; we sailed there.
When we moved ashore to start a family, we first landed at the Brewer Yacht Yard in Westbrook, Conn. After two years I was transferred to a Brewer yard in Rhode Island. I have been with Brewer Cove Haven Marina for 28 years, most recently as general manager and vice president.
When I moved to Rhode Island, I quickly became involved with the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. At that time it was focused primarily on dealers and managing the Providence Boat Show. I served as a board member as RIMTA broadened its purpose and focus and later served as the trade group’s president and as chairman of its legislative committee.
In 1991, when Congress considered a luxury tax that would result in a 10 percent surcharge on boats of more than $100,000, Rhode Island boatbuilders needed a stronger voice. Colleague Ken Kubic and I worked with a lobbyist to teach Rhode Island legislators about the value of the marine trades to the state. In the end, the state General Assembly passed a law that eliminated the sales and use tax on boats sold in Rhode Island.
I’m also proud to have worked closely with the American Boat & Yacht Council to help create a more efficient system (Fast Trac) for certifying technicians, boatbuilders and surveyors. I have been deeply involved in environmental efforts related to the industry, most recently working with Sea Grant on a modeling program that will help marinas and other coastal businesses adapt their facilities for a potential rise in sea level and the increasing intensity and frequency of storms.
Here is what I’d tell young people who are entering the marine trades. There are many opportunities; this industry is unique in its diversity.
Jobs that lie within the industry include carpenter, mechanic, rigger, sailmaker, boatbuilder, architect, crew, broker — the list goes on. The industry gives you the chance to learn for your entire life, but you’ll never be able to learn it all.
Michael Keyworth is retiring in January as general manager and vice president of Brewer Cove Haven Marina in Barrington, R.I.