Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Best Made Plans

If you follow my Facebook page, you know that I finally managed to take the boat out for a sail over the weekend.  But getting to that point was more time consuming and frustrating than I anticipated on this trip.  One of the issues I had that needed to be addressed before I could move the boat was a broken motor mount bracket I discovered while servicing one of the motors.  On the surface, it seemed to be a relatively simple repair.  Remove two bolts to take out the isolator, then remove two more bolts to remove the bracket, bolt the replacement bracket in place, reinstall the isolator, and align the engine.  Sounds easy enough.

A friend and fellow Leopard 38 owner and I took Rover
out for a day sail. 
I don my bilge rat clothes (sweat pants and a sweat shirt I use when crawling around in the engine room), grab some wire brushes and a socket set and make my way to the broken bracket.  Leaning over the motor, I do my best to clean up the the bolts with the brushes,  I remove the isolator with very little trouble.  I then begin working on the bracket bolts themselves.  After cleaning them up with the brush it looks like the bolt heads were welded to the bracket.  I thought this couldn't be, why would someone do that?  I get a cold chisel and attempt to knock this bit that looks like a weld bead off the bolt heads and it comes off.  I guess it was just a combination of corrosion and old paint.  I do my best to clean up the bolt heads and then attempt to remove them.  No luck, the bolts won't budge. Several attempts to clean and then remove the bolts with either sockets or bolt extractors over several days failed to budge the stubborn bolts.

I finally gave up and decided to call one of the marine mechanics in town, Snyder Marine, to come deal with the issue.  Hopefully they had more tools than I and a few tricks to extract the stubborn bolts. This would allow me to continue to work on other projects as I only have a limited amount of time on this trip. The mechanic came out and took a look at the project.  He said it would probably take about 10 hours of work if he could get the bolts out with an extractor and he wasn't sure how much longer if "other" methods would be required.

The mechanic arrived the following morning to start work.  After a short period of time he emerged from the engine room and told me that indeed the bolt heads were welded and that he would cut them off.  Unfortunately he forgot his grinder and had to go back to the shop and get it. He returned after lunch and spent another hour cutting one of the bolt heads off and was about half way through the other.  Before he left he told me he would go look into the replacement part.  Since I had already done the research on the part, I gave him the original part number from the parts manual as well as the number of the part that superseded it. The next day he returned and spent about 40 minutes in the engine room cutting the other bolt head off and freed the bracket. He then attempted to remove the remaining part of the bolts from the engine.  He again emerged and this time said he was having problems with his stud extractor and would have to go get a replacement. He returned a couple hours later and within 40 minutes had the now headless bolts removed.

The mechanic informed me that he called his supplier and was unable to source the replacement bracket, but had a guy in town that could make me a bracket that would likely be cheaper and better than the original part.  I told him to let me know how it would be made and what it would cost and I would decide from there. He responded the next day that it would be constructed from welded stock and painted and would be about half the price of the OEM part. He also said he went ahead and had them make the part, but if I wanted to source the replacement part myself that they could go that route. I went ahead and told him to use the custom part and he said he would be out tomorrow to finish up. I waited for most of that day for the mechanic to arrive, but he never showed.  I finally called and was told that he was waiting for the paint to dry.  It was a Friday, so he said he would come out the next week to complete the job.

It was about a week later when he finally showed up with the part.  I took a look at it and it seemed well made, but the mounting holes did not appear to be offset like the original.  Sure enough, after about 20 minutes the mechanic confirmed that the holes were in the wrong place and the bracket would have to be remade....but not to worry as I would not be responsible for the incorrectly made part.  He would have to go back to the welder and should have the correct part ready to go the following day but with paint it may be the following Monday before it was ready to install.

Nice bracket, too bad the holes were
in the wrong places.
I waited around a couple hours on that Monday and the mechanic didn't show up.  I called and was told that the mechanic had the day off but would be out the following day.  He did arrive on that Tuesday and this time the holes were in the correct locations.  After 20 minutes the mechanic again emerged and told me the bolts he brought were too long and would need to be cut down.  He left and came back about an hour later with shorter bolts and completed the job.

Given my past experience with "marine professionals" I am always a bit wary of new-to-me service providers.  Part of my process now is to track the time spent on a project.  In this case, I tracked all the time from when the mechanic arrived at the marina to when he left.  The total time spent at my boat came out to 7 hours and 20 minutes.  Now, I know that there was some time spent cleaning up the isolator that was removed, talking with the welder about making the bracket, and travel time to and from the marina.  I figured that we were still pretty close to the original estimate of 10 hours.  At this point I was reasonably happy with the work done, if not the timeliness and communication about when the mechanic would actually show up.

Naturally, I received a bit of a surprise when I received the invoice.  The parts and supplies charges were all reasonable, but it listed 19 hours of labor.  So, in addition to the 7 hours and 20 minutes spent actually working at the boat, they somehow came up with another 11 hours and 40 minutes on the bill.  That is a pretty large sum at $109 per hour ($1271 to be exact). Like I said, I expected there to be some time added for travel (shop is 12 minutes away) and work done away from the boat.  But the idea that they spent more time working on my project away from my boat than actually at the boat in the process of replacing an L shaped bracket was something I couldn't justify.

I immediately wrote back and asked if they perhaps billed some time from another project to me and if they would mind reviewing the bill and let me know. It took 6 days for them to respond, and when they did they said they actually had more time on my project than was billed (however, it didn't say what they spent all this time on) but would adjust the bill and send me the update.  The updated bill arrived the following morning and they knocked 5 hours off the bill.  Still a bit higher than I would like, but close enough so I paid the bill.

This was when I received an email from the owner of the company. The email again stated that they had more time on my project than they billed.  The only suggestion provided for the extra time was research into the project.  Since I did the research and provided them with the part numbers and I was told they called their supplier and was told the part wasn't available, I'm not sure how much more research could have been done. Certainly not 11 hours worth. The letter went on to tell me how busy and how sought after they are. That is all great, but they never did justify the extra time they claim they spent on the project. And given they reduced the number of hours charged, I can only assume that they did recognize that the time was excessive.

The email then says they normally don't take on work that someone else has started. Not sure what this has to do with the issue, other than my possibly knowing what the issue is and what it should take to fix.  Maybe it is easier to overcharge hours when the customer doesn't have a clue about a problem. Then the note goes on to tell me that the bill is final and overdue.  Now remember that I already paid the bill.  Looking through my emails, the total amount of time, excluding my time waiting for their response to my question, from the time I received the first bill until I paid the adjusted bill was under 12 hours (and a good portion of that was it sitting in my email while I was off doing other things). Hardly overdue.

My initial recommendation was going to be that they did reasonable work and as long as you get firm time commitments, get written quotes, and track the time they spend on your project they might be an OK solution.  But add in that final email and it proved to me that they are not very customer focused and were upset at getting caught over billing for hours they could not justify. I do not recommend Snyder Marine in Southport.

I'm glad the work is done, but why is it so painful to work with many of the so called professionals in the marine industry?

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