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The premise of this month’s From the Bridge captains luncheon might seem a little odd, but recent events in Ft. Lauderdale (discussions of a high-speed train, for one) have many business people worried about the future. Because yachts are moveable — and because more and more cities here and around the world are investing in infrastructure to lure more vessel their way — some local officials fear that if anything happens to create an inconvenience for yachts, that captains will simply take their yachts someplace else.
According to the six captains in our most recent lunch, it would take much more than an inconvenience to get them to leave Ft. Lauderdale.
Granted, we’re only talking about the opinions of these six captains, and granted, they were already here so perhaps they are already biased toward the city. But this story wasn’t intended to be a survey of all captains and their thoughts of Ft. Lauderdale. We’re sure there are plenty of yacht captains in the world who never come here, or perhaps those who used to, but no longer do.
I grant you all of that. This is simply the viewpoint of these six captains on this day in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s worth it to note that these captains are all veterans of more than 20 or 30 years working on boats. Several are between vessels; one is preparing for a new build. Most have a home in the city or nearby. They are not all American.
Our conversation began a bit awkwardly. When I asked them why are they here, they looked at me as though I hadn’t really asked a question, so obvious was the answer to them. I prodded.
“It’s where we source our work,” one captain began. “And it’s cheaper to be here than Europe.”
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in a photograph accompanying this article.
“Good old America; you can source anything here in three days,” another captain said. “Overseas, it takes three weeks.”
They talked about the language making things easier, the American work ethic, the proximity of yards and service providers, the convenience of getting things done. The bottom line, they all agreed, is that Ft. Lauderdale makes their jobs maintaining vessels easier.
“You can get anything you want here,” a captain said. “There’s a simplicity to everything.”
One captain knew exactly how the yacht came to be in Ft. Lauderdale during maintenance time. The management company used to decide where the yacht would go, but had two episodes, including one that nearly ended in a lawsuit. Then the owner turned to the captain for advice on where the yacht should go. This captain chooses Ft. Lauderdale.
“I come here because it’s home,” this captain said. “I always brought the boat here, use the same suppliers. It’s comforting to come here. There are people I can rely on. We do two yard periods a year. For that loyalty, I get treated well.”
And that may be the gist of a yacht’s locale, at least the ones under a captain’s control. And it holds true whether we’re talking about Ft. Lauderdale, Palma or Antibes: Yachts tend to return to the shipyards and cities where the captain wants it to be based. And that usually translates to home.
“I have a house here with my wife,” one captain said. “We fell in love with Ft. Lauderdale, the lifestyle, the people, the weather. It all made me feel at home.”
“I live here because this is where the work is, and the reason for that is because everything is here,” another captain said.
But home isn’t always the deciding factor. One captain at the lunch lives in the Midwest and summers there with the yacht. This captain can take the vessel any place for winter. It returns to Ft. Lauderdale each year.
“It may be faster and cheaper in Jacksonville, but the boss is fine with me bringing it here,” this captain said.
“By now, our families are all here,” another said. “Everybody’s intent on keeping the industry here; I don’t think the industry will ever leave here.”
These captains talked about the kindness of workers here, some offering rides when they needed them, most simply being hospitable.
But aren’t there other places in the world where the facilities are just as nice, where you can find the same sort of support?
Not really, they agreed.
“Newport’s nice,” one captain said. “The atmosphere, there’s a good quality of work and craftsmen. But it’s cold there much of the year.”
“In Ft. Lauderdale, the airport is very convenient,” another said. “Even in Newport, the airport is 40 minutes away. In Maine, it’s even worse.”
“I like San Remo in Italy,” said a third. “The contractors are amazing, the facilities are great, there are several fantastic little yards.”
“But you have to organize yourself,” another captain said. “If you need something, you can’t just drive somewhere and get it. Even if you can, it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to know the system and work at it. They take two-and-a-half-hour lunches.
“You need the convenience of free-market competition,” this captain said. “Who will stock what you need? There’s a whole corridor here that caters to yachting and Ft. Lauderdale is in the middle of it.”
“When I look where my preferred vendors are, some are in Miami, some are here, some are in Palm Beach, so I’m happy to come here,” another captain said.
But Ft. Lauderdale is not without its pitfalls. Not enough of the shipyards have facilities for crew, a few captains said, and traffic on 17th Street is often a challenge.
Opening a road through the port to bypass the tourist traffic on 17th street “would be a godsend,” one captain suggested.
“Traffic on 17th Street is a nightmare,” this captain said. “You have to commit half an hour to get from the bridge to 95.”
Another captain said the city should provide easier transportation from the shipyards on State Road 84 to vendors farther east with a shuttle bus, or perhaps expanding the water taxi farther up the New River.
But those transportation burdens pale in comparison to what Ft. Lauderdale offers these captains for both the ease of their working lives as well as the enjoyment of their personal lives.
“They’re almost going to have to drive us out,” one captain said. “We’re going to take a lot because everything is here. Everything works because everything is here.
“It’s a hub,” another captain said. “It seems indestructible to me.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com. If you make your living working as a yacht captain, e-mail us for an invitation to our monthly Bridge luncheon.