Port's new pearl
FORT PIERCE YACHT AND SHIP
Fort Pierce Yacht and Ship created this magnificent showpiece table for Double Down, a $35 million mega yacht refit. The table contains a motorized lazy Susan with remote control to accommodate the dozen or more guests seated.
Home team shipyard may have lost port contract battle but still successfully afloat
BY CHRISTINA TASCON
Nothing exemplifies ultimate luxury like the mega yachts that quietly make their way up and down the Florida coast and occasionally take harbor in coves from Key West to Jacksonville. These beautiful ships may spend months crisscrossing the oceans, but eventually they must come to port.
St. Lucie County is hoping to make Fort Pierce a mega yacht destination for refueling, repair, painting and refitting at the Port of Fort Pierce, which has long been ready for a facelift. The former site of cargo boats and fruit shippers has been left languishing for a while until interest was recently sparked to bring in the big boats.
Perhaps you have heard about the David and Goliath saga of Fort Pierce Yacht & Ship Ltd. versus Derecktor Shipyard from Dania, which has been in the news since 2018. FPY&S was the hometown team looking to secure a contract from the county to manage the port and bring mega yachts here.
Some people argued that FPY&S did not have a long enough record of experience compared to Derecktor Shipyards, which has businesses in New York, Maine and Dania. But FPY&S managing partner Buddy Haack has 41 years of personal experience in the mega yacht industry and he has already been servicing mega yachts at the port for a few years. Haack is already drawing in 200-foot-plus yachts and currently has three ships, two mega yachts and one shadow boat, in the port right now.
St. Lucie County commissioners unanimously chose Derecktor Holdings to be awarded a $37-million lease contract at its April 16 meeting. Commissioners said they were excited to see the two shipyards working together to bring mega yachts to Fort Pierce, which will add more than 900 jobs to the county.
This in no way should affect Fort Pierce Yacht & Ship’s ability to continue its work refitting, renovating and remodeling its clients’ ships.
Larry Lee Jr., former state representative, has no stake in the business, but his commitment to the area is what initially led him to introduce all the partners of FPY&S to each other.
“Fort Pierce is my hometown,” says Lee. “I have never seen so much excitement about Fort Pierce as I see today. I believe the port, Fort Pierce’s downtown waterfront and the Treasure Coast International Airport are the keys that will open some amazing opportunities for Fort Pierce to develop to its fullest potential.”
The newly formed FPY&S partnership consists of Haack and successful businessman Sandy Woods, who owns multiple Lexus and Toyota dealerships run by his daughter and partner, Amber Woods. The highest profile partner is NFL Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack. He and his father, Sandy Mack, a program specialist for the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County, are part of the partnership.
Haack had been coming up to Fort Pierce for 21 years, hoping to find a niche of his own in the port. When he saw the incredible potential of Fort Pierce, he began to plan his purchase of a piece of the harbor when he met Lee. Lee saw Haack working on some big boats and introduced himself. After they talked, it lit a fire under Lee to connect him with Woods and the Macks.
Many changes were happening along the docks, but after the county bought the port property for $12 million, everything went into overdrive.
Others began to see the same potential for mega yachts to become a thriving billion-dollar business, and the county put out a request for qualification to find a new manager for port operations.
Haack had already proven himself at the port dock, which he leased from the county, and had an unblemished reputation among the yachting community. Before the county purchased the land, he could have bought the port land outright, but the county now wanted to lease the property to get the best deal. Haack needed the backing of community investors.
After a long successful business career, Sandy Woods could easily envision the port’s possible growth, so he purchased five available acres from Port Consolidated to put a foothold into the harbor.
Four of those acres will eventually act as a warehouse and industrial construction site for yacht interiors and maintenance supplies. The waterfront acre, which had the most direct line to the ocean access, would become its beautiful pearl, where the office would be developed.
“Sandy bought the Consolidated property so we would have a presence, and nobody could kick us out no matter which way the contract award went,” says Haack.
Sandy Woods bought the land for more than $3 million in May 2016 to create Fort Pierce Yacht and Ship Ltd. and owns 417 feet of submerged land rights. He jokes that he told his partners that if this didn’t work out, “worst case scenario I have the best view in town.”
“Water in Florida is just magic,” says Sandy Woods.
Khalil Mack and his father, Sandy, also chose to become partners. Khalil had signed the largest defensive contract in the history of the NFL playing for the Chicago Bears, but his plan was not to just invest in a company, he wanted to invest in his hometown.
“I wanted to come back to the community and try to create more jobs here in Fort Pierce,” says Khalil, who got his start playing football at Westwood High School.
“I knew that working with a guy like Buddy Haack and bringing in Sandy Woods who has done so much for the community already, and also because of what Larry Lee meant to me and what good people they are, I knew it was something I wanted to get involved in.”
“He was right on it,” says Sandy Mack. “He already said he wanted to invest in the community, so after meeting with Larry and Sandy Woods, I called my son and told him about it. He said it was perfect for what he wanted to do. Not only was it a good investment, but it would help the economic situation here in Fort Pierce.”
Woods’ daughter, Amber, is the owner/partner of record for her father’s legacy of dealerships. She knew that any enterprise her father had chosen would be a good bet but had her own reasoning for joining the group.
“I wanted to be a part of the history of the area where I am going to spend my career,” she says. “I moved here five years ago and as I have gotten involved in the local community and the non-profits, I see how important the port is. I wanted to be a part of that. It is a privilege and I just couldn’t turn that down.”
A grand opening on March 27 showcased the new face of mega yacht refitting on Florida’s east coast. FPY&S invited several hundred people to a tented gala to introduce themselves officially. Local business people, billionaire yacht owners and public officials got a taste of the opulence to come at the beautiful new home of their shipyard.
Where a dilapidated, abandoned office and trash-strewn parking lot once stood, the beautifully renovated new office and grounds displayed the style of FPY&S. No one could mistake the care and detail given to the one-acre property, which stands out among the deserted properties on either side.
In a glimpse into Haack’s mindset, he even added a pergola that shades an outdoor summer kitchen, Pilates workout area and a putting green by the river. This area will serve to greet owners, captains and offer recreation for the captains and crews who bring in the mega yachts to the port for re-fitting, renovation or repair.
On average, many of the ships will stay about a month, and Haack is well aware of the tedium many of the crews experience as they are docked in an unknown city. Not only does the pergola serve as a respite from their duties but also gives visitors time to stay friendly as they cook on the grill and enjoy some recreational time.
Haack is equally accommodating to his billionaire owners as he spends painstaking time going from their ships’ first design to the final detail. His duties may also include recommending the purchase of their mega yacht and guiding them through the full process of its construction. Whether a boat needs a complete mechanic overhaul, paint job or interior refit, he has the finest technicians to accomplish the task.
Because of Haack’s extensive experience in the yachting industry, captaining several yachts for 20 years in his career before transitioning to sales and project management, he knows boats from bow to stern. The ship builders he has worked for include Lürssen Yachts, Nobiskrug Shipyard and Baglietto Shipyard.
“Born in Iowa in 1950, I grew up in Jacksonville Beach by the ocean before moving to Fort Lauderdale,” says Haack. “I always was on the water and began surfing in 1963, fanatically for nine years, almost every day and still surf on occasions.”
He took every opportunity to be on the water on boats and thought he would become an oceanographer while in high school.
“I love the ocean,” Haack says. “It provided me fun as a teen, and a great career as an adult. I also love to see the ocean kept in good condition. I try hard not to hurt the environment and participate in ocean-saving groups like Seakeepers, Save the Seas Foundation and Bal De Mar, Monaco, and encourage our clients to help as well.”
He got most of his practical experience from starting as a deckhand and working his way up to captain. As any of the best and most successful businessmen know, it is the practical which is more useful than the book knowledge, but Haack had both.
His formal training to get his captain’s license was through Coast Guard-approved Sea School and Maritime Training Inc. in Fort Lauderdale.
Haack went to work for the prestigious Lürssen Yachts from 1997 to 2010 out of Bremen, Germany, before venturing out on his own.
“I started my own mega yacht repair business, Taylor Lane Yacht & Ship, in Dania Beach and Fort Pierce, repairing over 75 mega yachts in just three years. I am comfortable making any repair necessary, in or out of water.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Looking east from the immaculate porch of FPY&S is the most direct view heading to the ocean on the Treasure Coast. The route was made for mega yachts and Haack’s clientele. The view from FPY&S’s office is spectacular except when obstructed by the gorgeous ships that have come to be pampered by Haack and his crew.
Currently, three vessels are there for various work. Global, a 220-foot shadow boat usually trails a mega yacht and is docked in front of the shipyard. Two mega yachts include the 230-foot Saint Nicolas, there for a refit, and the 164-foot My Vibrance, built by Amels Shipyard in Holland, which is receiving a $1 million paint job.
My Vibrance is covered with a protective membrane that makes it look like a huge, white shrink-wrapped toy. It is Haack’s goal to make sure none of the chemicals or paints drip into the water, so it is encircled in a membrane to prevent any particles or chemicals from polluting the water. Even the fans are filtered so emissions cannot be released into the air.
“We have a larger 280-foot one coming in, too,” Haack says. “There’s no end to what we can do to bring in the yachts, and we are showing what we are able to do right now.”
The Saint Nicolas is what catches everyone’s eye as they travel over the South Bridge. It was built by Lürssen in 2007 and custom designed by Zuretti. It can accommodate 16 guests and 17 crew members.
Saint Nicolas’ specs say it is powered by two Caterpillar 1,850-horsepower diesel engines and propelled by her twin-screw propellers. Saint Nicolas is capable of a top speed of 16 knots, and comfortably cruises at 14 knots. With her 202,500-liter fuel tanks, she has a maximum range of 4,000 nautical miles at 12 knots.
These are the mega yachts that Haack loves to work on and is known to care for as if they were his own.
Although FPY&S was not chosen for the county contract, there are no sour grapes from the partners, who plan to continue growing and gain prominence around the world. They invited city and county officials to the grand opening to help cut the ribbon.
“We are excited about the progress Fort Pierce Yacht & Ship has shown,” says St. Lucie County Administrator Howard Tipton. “I think they are going to be an incredibly important part of the port’s future going forward.”
Lee is counting on that. He feels proud to have been the catalyst to getting the partners to join together and has an unbridled optimism for the future of his beloved community.
Lee says, “Fort Pierce is known as the Sunrise City and as the sun rises in the years to come, it will not only rise, but it’s going to shine bright. This is only the beginning, and the best is yet to come!”