• Max Rice

Great Island Boat Yard Gets It Right.

Updated: Nov 16, 2018

Great Island Boat Yard in Harpswell, Maine

My project started as most probably do: with a huge underestimation of what would be required to make my dream come to life. Though I never could have predicted the path I ended up taking, I'm exactly where I want to be: with a classic boat in sound mechanical condition, a clear path forward for all cosmetic improvements, and a yard I trust.

I've worked with Great Island Boat Yard in Harpswell, Maine to get here. It started with an idea to repower our 1968 31' Bertram, "Ranger" from gas to diesel power because I wanted a few more knots at cruise and the efficiency and durability of diesel power.

In addition to a repower, "Ranger" had a cockpit deck that begged for replacement and the general cosmetic wear typical of a 49 year old boat, so I reached out to a few yards to get the proposal process started.

"Ranger" was a great boat for us, but we wanted diesels

I'd read an article about Great Island Boat Yard in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors, and remembered that they'd earned a reputation for high quality work and attention to detail. In addition to Great Island, I arranged to visit another prestigious yard in Maine, as well as Worton Creek Marina in Chestertown, Maryland, which known for its familiarity with the 31' Bertram.

Worton Creek's work is indisputable- the work is fantastic and could be described as art without hyperbole. As much as I would have loved to work with John and his team at Worton Creek, it was important to me that I be able to visit the boat throughout the project. I'd been disappointed by my experiences with the yards capable of the work near me in Portsmouth and Kittery, which narrowed my choices to a yard in Maine or Mass.

GIBY Command Central

After meeting with both teams at their offices, Great Island and the other yard made the 2+ hr trip to the boat to see its condition. Great Island told me to expect a proposal around September 1; the other yard was more vague. Great Island's proposal arrived in my inbox at 7:26am on September 1. The other proposal came in 3 weeks later.

Both proposals exceeded my budget by more than 25%, though Great Island was cheaper by several thousand dollars. It was their attention to detail during the quoting phase, not the savings, that made an impression. The "other" proposal was a 1 page PDF in line-item format, while Great Island Boat Yard's Excel proposal included tabs for each task. To describe it as detailed is insufficient; meticulous is more appropriate. Each task was broken into time and materials, which were often priced to the exact portion required (i.e. 27' of 6" Exhaust Hose @ $41 per foot = $1,094). I later learned that each department is asked how long they'll require to complete a task and then held accountable for that estimate during the project. Any project of this sort will include unforeseen issues, and Great Island was clear about that up front, but the detail in the proposal gave me confidence that these types of situations would be fewer in number than any other option I'd explored.

As conversations were taking place, Great Island expressed that it was a risk for them to spend the amount of time they had on the proposal, considering it would be more cost-effective for us to buy a boat that had already been repowered and then spend the remainder of our budget on cosmetic items. That type of candor might turn a certain type of person away, but I loved the honesty. It was, in fact, what we decided to do- but GIBY made such an impression that the thought of going elsewhere with our "new" 1973 31' Bertram never entered my mind.

Enter, "Hunter": 1973 hull repowered in 2004 with Yanmar 6LP 315hp

"Hunter", which has since been renamed "Happy Mama" has Yanmar 315 hp, 6LP engines that were installed cleanly several years ago and then lightly used. I'd shared with GIBY that I planned to look at "Hunter", at which point the head of their mechanical team immediately recalled a 2002 Yanmar Tech bulletin about the valve stems needing to be adjusted in that era engine.

Consider that for a moment: I shared with a yard that I might not do the 6-figure job they'd spent a bunch of time quoting and was instead thinking of buying another boat, and they immediately brought to my attention a 15 year old-bulletin.

Now that is expertise and customer service.

We spent the winter once again deviating from our original plan. When I bought "Hunter" I figured some minor mechanical issues needed to be addressed, but that the focus would be on an interior refit to bring her accommodations up to date. Without detailing every item, we spent our time (and budget) ensuring that all structural and mechanical components were 100%. This required taking the cockpit deck and engines out of the boat so that the GIBY team could do their thing addressing 45 year old marine plywood bulkheads, steering and trim tab systems, updating GPS and transducers, etc., plus getting the valve stem issue fixed.

Bulkheads repaired & bilges painted

Cosmetic changes were limited to a hardtop, which GIBY outsourced to a partner, and changing the color scheme of the striping.

"Hunter" became "Happy Mama" while it snowed in New England

I've heard other customers say it, but it's worth repeating: Great Island Boat Yard does what they say they're going to do exactly when they say they're going to do it. Though it seems simple, anyone with experience with boat yards knows it's the exception, not the norm.

Great Island Boat Yard gets it right

Disclaimer: Atlantic Yachtsman and this author have no affiliation with Great Island Boat Yard and have not been compensated for this article or photography in any form.

Mid-Season Update:

Further to the sentiment expressed in this post, in July I noticed an oil leak in our port engine while we were in Casco Bay, some 45nm from home. I immediately called the head mechanic at GIBY on his cell phone; despite being on vacation, he answered and asked that I take a video with my phone and text it to him. We identified the source of the leak and confirmed the engine could be run safely with extra attention paid to oil pressure. I was then put in touch with the owner of the yard (who was also on vacation) and a mechanic was dispatched to Portsmouth that week to replace a part and get us up and running.

I compare this to previous experiences with yards wherein getting a call back during business hours is an obstacle, never mind getting a job scheduled and completed in a matter of days.

It bears repeating: Great Island Boat Yard gets it right.

About Atlantic Yachtsman

The idea for the Atlantic Yachtsman was borne of enthusiasm for being on the water.

Contact Me:

Max Rice: mrice@richardbertramyachts.com


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