Hellish Experience at Hinckley Stuart

Look, a giant hole in our boat, in the wrong place, that’s still here to this day.

Note: this isn’t really designed to be a standard blog post for readers to read and care about. This is an accounting of an unbelievably horrible and expensive experience dealing with what should have been a very reputable shop. At this point, I just want this post out there to try to prevent other customers from making the same mistake we did: using this establishment at all. If you’re a standard reader, don’t read it unless you’re really bored.

We’ve been accumulating winter projects for the boat for much of the year aboard. Last year, we had such a great experience with Hinckley in Maine, across several different projects, that we ended up communicating with Hinckley in Stuart and deciding to embark on several major and many minor projects with them while we had to spend a month on work travel flying around the world. And so, at the end of February, we pulled the boat up, spent a week having them scope projects, and then flew away for a month. What should have been around 30k$ of work ended up turning into 71k$ of half-finished, mismanaged, boat-damagingly-bad jobs, that we back negotiated down to 54k$ to get our house back from their threatened months of legal purgatory. And here’s how that happened.

The first week, while we were on the boat, we worked with our service manager, and scoped out several of the more nebulous projects to see where we wanted to land. I had a 15 page google document with all projects listed, scoped, with pictures, descriptions, and more, that they used to form the basic project plan. We quickly figured out, from initial estimates, that we wanted to scope our more advanced projects way in, which was not surprising in the slightest, but arrived at proposals that made us happy, both for cost and scope. We departed on great terms with work underway on some basic jobs, and then communicated via calls and text with our service advisor for the next couple weeks.

The first major project, and a substantial crux of the dispute, was a big job where we destroyed a stack in the middle of the boat that had the washer/dryer and a cabinet in it, to instead place an RV fridge there, and move the washer/dryer over to across the hallway, to replace where one of the two fridges is, and take out the other fridge and build a simple box cabinet. Quite a bit of work, but nothing horribly complicated. We worked with our service advisor to get the estimate down to $11,900, which was a bit higher than we wanted, but we were hoping for some very high quality work that we’d come to expect from Hinckley, so we were willing to pay for it. As they got started, they said that the cabinet over the fridge was going to make the ceiling modifications far more complicated and we could get the price down by about 2000$ if we pulled out the requirement. I figured I could build another cabinet myself down the line if we wanted it, so we took the discount.

I get an early picture of the demolition work progressing, but it’s hard to tell anything from the picture other than that their sawsall skills are a bit haphazard, which starts making me worried, but the service guy insists that it’s just the first cut and will be cleaned up later — fair enough.

Another week passes, with a few smallish questions and some basic status updates, but sounds like all is on schedule and budget, and then I get a text from the service guy saying that today didn’t go how he expected, he ended up getting let go, I should call the company in the morning to figure out what next steps are, but that I should be very wary about cost overruns with the other managers. He goes into details about how he was let go unceremoniously, but likely because he was constantly revising bills down by 50% or more because the service department was always go so horribly over estimates. Not terribly surprising that they let him go, but his messages are going to be good evidence down the line for us about how unapologetically systemic this behavior is here.

So first thing in the morning, I call the shop, and the new manager says that she’ll get me a full accounting ASAP. We talk later that day, and I’m told that we’re something like half done with the fridge/washer project and the bill is already at 17k$ for that project alone. I freak out, since the boat interior is literally chopped to pieces and now we’re basically hostage. I tell them to get the bare minimum done from here to get things back together, since we won’t even be back in the country for another week, much less back at the boat. We set a date for our return and schedule a meeting with the head of service for that morning.

By the time we get back to the boat, the stale bill (for this one project) is at 19k and they say a bunch more work is yet to be added to the total. When I have my appointed meeting, they put another bill on the table for around 26k (for this one project) with everything added in, and I’ve already gone over the boat and seen that the woodwork is shoddy (jigsaw cuts over the edges of the fridge hole, formica already delaminating, etc.) and that the pantry cabinet was never made — there’s still an old fridge in place there.

Further annoyingly, they made the box several inches larger than it needed to be in all dimensions, making the office more claustrophobic than it was before, despite the incredibly clear instructions in the fridge manual to add zero extra room around the listed box dimensions, because the cooling is carefully engineered to flow through designated channels. Then, they also put the fridge on top of a ~14″ high pedestal that they found in the wall when they demoed it, so that the fridge goes nearly all the way to the ceiling. So not only is the box far too large, but it also goes up so high that the room feels even smaller and essentially removes service access to the ceiling panels over it, and looks pretty awful from inside the room. Now that they’ve cut such a large hole in the wall, it’s going to be a complete bear to rebuild the room, so it’s likely to never be properly fixed, but it’s infuriating how this turned out.

Oh, and also the fridge was throwing error codes that took me hours to diagnose and fix. Oh, and the first time we were in vaguely heavy seas, the fridge shifted and dropped an inch or so, and the freezer was locked behind the lower retaining panel, requiring me to break the panel to get it out to let us get into the freezer. I haven’t yet dismantled the box to figure out what critically moved and figure out how to properly support the unit.

So we’re at about 3x the estimate, with a shoddily done project. I argue with them and they literally say to me, “it’s only an estimate, this was a big project, we think you got great value for your money here.” …

At this point, since we end up doing a couple back and forths where I complain about the bill and they send me away to ruminate internally, I’ve had a chance to check over major project #2 — the bow thruster.

So, we had them install a bow thruster tube, for a backordered bow thruster, so that whenever the thruster comes in, it’s a few hours of work after being hauled to put the hardware in place. They estimated around 5000$ for this, and that was actually right on track with my guess ahead of time — it’s a lot of work to build a fairing, make a giant hole, mount a tube, glass/gel it all in, etc. The tube costs about 1000$ on top of that, so we had them go ahead and do it.

I sent the manual for the thruster over, which they confirmed receipt of, and I gave them three locations, in descending order of preference, to install the thruster, based on where it would fit the very explicit clearance requirements in the manual. The manual said the tube needed to be twice the diameter in length. 250mm tube, 500mm min length, and some other requirements around the top of the tube on the inside to fit the motor unit. Guess how long the tube is where they installed it? 200mm, and that includes the fairing making it “longer” than it would otherwise be. The thruster would literally be in free water sticking out either side of the hole. It’s not even close.

In Hinckley’s defense, I showed them the hole and the manual, and they admitted “we can’t really charge him for this”. But then, I asked what to do about fixing the hole, since this is thousands of dollars of hull damage to repair, and they said that they’d refund the labor cost for the thruster install, but that’s it. So now we’re out a thousand bucks for the tube and thousands more to get this hole repaired by a competent shop. Cool — definitely a reasonable response to admitting that you did a bad job.

The stories are just equally weird and dumb from here. We wanted to get two waste hoses behind the two heads replaced, and they originally estimated 1000$, which seemed like a lot, but it was a shitty job that I didn’t want to do, so I said ok. They got into the job a little deeper and said that all of the waste hoses on the boat are actually not waste hoses and need to be replaced with proper waste-compatible hoses, and estimated 2800$ to do everything, parts and labor. I cringed a bit, but again, shitty job, so I said okay, it’ll at least all be new and last another 10-15 years. We get to the end of the job, and the bill is for 8000$. “They had to do a bunch more work than they thought, so it just took a long time, and there were a lot of parts costs.” I didn’t know what to say.

One of the big reasons we came into the shop in the first place is that, as regular readers know, we’ve been fighting vibration issues, especially with the starboard engine, for ~9 months now. After all the other shops had done smaller jobs, we wanted to go nuclear and entirely remove the shafts, couplings, and props, and send it all away to a prop/shaft shop with a scanner. So they did this, somehow managing to charge us 6000$ of labor just to remove the parts, despite that a shop in Deltaville, VA had literally just done this exact same job with one guy in a couple afternoons, 9 months earlier, so it’s not like they were seized up with 15 years of corrosion or anything. They also did stuff like charged 1 hour of labor each for three separate trips to the prop shop to drop off individual shafts and props, 3 days consecutively, 3 weeks before we were going to return to the boat — it’s not like there was a mega hurry to do them one at a time.

By the time we got the final bill with reinstallation, we were north of 10k. They did end up doing some extra work to debug what appeared to be a bent strut on one side, but that was a small portion of the cost in the end. And they ended up only doing the alignment out of the water, never doing it in the water after settling, which, from talking to multiple other shops, sounds like the number one rule of doing engine/shaft alignments.

Those were the most egregious jobs, money-wise. There were a pile of other large annoyances:

  • They were asked to do blister repair on a zone of the bottom, then barrier coat, and then do a bottom job. They ended up doing no blister repair, no barrier coat, and the basic bottom job was 6000$. So now we still have the major blistering problems that was why we went in to get a bottom job in the first place, no barrier coat, and an early bottom job.
  • We asked them to look into a leak on the bridge, and in the writeup, clearly stated that we had pulled down ceiling panels, and the leak is coming from forward of the leak. We’d already eliminated a few sources of potential leaks by re-sealing things, leaving one likely location needing re-sealing. So, we get the bill, and they’ve done 500$ of leak checking, pulling down all the ceiling panels and determining that it was all dry and the leak must be further forward. Thanks.
  • They installed a salt water washdown pump, which, to this day, lightly trickles water out when activated, and I haven’t yet figured out why — there’s plenty of voltage at the pump, and it’s 3.3GPM, so something else is awry.
  • They installed a new 48V windlass, which I clearly told them was 48V and to not wire into anything, and wired the old 12V power line directly into the 48V setup. Fortunately, anticipating something like this, I hard disconnected the line at the panel, so it didn’t damage anything.

So, at the end of all of this, I’m staring at the 71k$ final bill, pointing out all of these errors, and also how their service contract clearly states that estimates must be approved by the owner for all work done and any work over the estimate must be approved as well. After all that, they say that they can remove the most recent bill entirely, which gets us “down” to 54k, since the final invoice hadn’t hit the system yet, and then they wouldn’t have to work with the CEO directly to go further (I suspect this is them trying to save face with corporate and not arise suspicion). I say that’s not good enough, we’re still way over even at 54k. They go away for a while and come back and say something to the effect of, “this is the best we can do. Pay this and leave and never come back, or we’ll take your boat and you’ll have to work it out for months in the legal system.”

So, we paid their extortion, got our boat back, and will never return. And neither should anyone else.

Posted on Categories Planning

2 thoughts on “Hellish Experience at Hinckley Stuart”

  1. Absoultely amazing. Crooks, thungs, shisters, A**holes. I am not sure there are enough negative supurlatives to describe the capalistic “rape” they did to you. Thank you for posting so the preditors potentially have less prey in the future.
    I am not big into KARMA, but in this case I hope they all get scurvey and drop over.

  2. David, thanks for taking the time to write about your experience. I learned a lot from your interaction that will help me interact with people working on my boat.
    You guys are happy and fun and I hope this bitter experience doesn’t last long.
    All the best, Rob Heverly

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