Triton Networking returns to Universal Marine Center on the third Wednesday in February (Feb. 20). The old Greek yard has been revamped over the past four years with new power, new docks, a new entrance and expanded facilities.
Join us for casual networking at the yard from 6-8 p.m. Until then, learn more about the changes at the yard from general manager Laurent Bensoussan:
Q. Tell us about Universal Marine Center.
We are a maintenance and refit services yard with the marina experience. What does that mean? It means the people coming in to get a refit done are happy to live onboard because it still feels like a marina, not a shipyard.
That’s very important for captains and crew. And for the insurance, because they require you to have crew onboard at all times. It’s a win-win for everyone.
And our name fits. Universal — we welcome boats from all over the world. And we speak many languages: English, French, Spanish, Filipino (and Tagalog), Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch.
Q. So who owns the yard?
He likes to stay in the background, but he’s a French businessman, an owner and lover of yachts.
The yard had been closed since M/Y Sacajawea dropped off the Synchrolift in 2004. He bought it in 2009 and had several managers here before me, just using it as a parking area for yachts.
In 2015, [Capt.} Bernard [Calot] and I joined the yard because he really wanted to invest in it.
Q. Tell us about that investment. What new things have you done in the past four years.
He invested about $5 million to upgrade the facility. We widened the entrance and dredged the basin. We upgraded and expanded the docks — from 18 slips to 40 — with hurricane-rated floating slips.
We improved power all over the marina to 480 volts, added high-speed wi-fi, and fixed the seawall so there’s side-to dockage on the river.
And we created a service center and haul out area for tenders up to 39 feet. We can now fit 50 tenders and jet ski trailers on the hard.
We added 40 storage containers — 20-foot and 40-foot — for yachts to store their toys while doing a refit, and two Tiki huts with BBQs for crew to have a place to go and relax after work.
Q. What services do you offer?
Bensoussan: Here, captains are in control to use whoever they want for their projects. We have a full array of onsite qualified contractors or they can bring their outside ones for a small gate fee. Our only request is insurance to protect the yacht and us. We don’t put any percentage on top of their invoices or hidden charges.
Calot: We can help with everything from in-water paint jobs to hydraulics, electrical and mechanical, AV, A/C, welding, even interior refits. We have preferred contractors and on-site vendors/tenants.
We also have a free management office. It’s reserved for the management companies or project managers who bring refits here. We supply them the space for free.
The most important thing we can do as a shipyard is offer help with our yachts’ projects. Some captains send us an email ahead so we’re ready to start when they get here. Some younger captains arrive completely unsure how to begin. For me, it’s easy to help them. I’ve been a captain for 15 years. Having been on the other side of the dock, I understand their concerns.
The real difference here is that captains leave other yards stressed. Here, they are satisfied. They feel respected and part of the family. Everybody here is accessible.
Q. Tell us about your team. Who will captains and crew interact with?
Calot: We have a lot of former crew members working in the yard. Galla is an ex-chief stew with lots of years experience. She’s my right hand, and sometimes my left. Galla and Malena organize all our services, including the forklift, crane, fuel, garbage.
Bensoussan: And Bernard is a captain. He’s in charge of business development and works very closely with the yachts on their projects.
Calot: And my services are free.
Then there’s Aaron, Acklie, Aldo and Leo, our team of dockhands.
Q. You host a lot of crew events. Tell us about those.
Calot: As a captain, I’m comfortable meeting anybody, but many captains and crew don’t meet their neighbors in a shipyard or marina. Here, to make it more family oriented, we started doing small parties for them to meet each other. It helps a lot with the ambiance of the marina, because when they know each other, they are more likely to help each other out.
We started three years ago with 20-30 crew and now we have 150-200 people coming from all the yards nearby, captains looking for crew, crew looking for jobs. We try to do it once a month.
All Triton readers are welcome to join us for Triton Networking on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from 6-8 p.m. Only the location changes. For the third Wednesday in February, find us at Universal Marine Center, 2700 SW 25th Terrace (just west of I-95 on State Road 84, tucked between Cable Marine and RPM Diesel. No RSVP necessary; just bring a smile and some business cards. You never know who you might meet at Triton Networking.