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Giving boats another chance

Meeting boat recycler Matt McKenzie of MacMarine LLC came about after I spotted a family of osprey in June nesting on a sailboat in Hartge’s Yacht Yard mooring field in Galesville, Md. I am aware of many boats that are rarely used, but allowing an osprey to take advantage of this situation and build a very large nest on the cabin top was a revelation.

Moored vessels, it seems, are especially attractive to the growing numbers of nest-driven Chesapeake Bay ospreys. And once these migrating birds settle in and claim squatters’ rights, their nest may not be disturbed as long as it is in use.

Alex Schlegel, general manager of Hartge’s on the West River, maintains 70 such moorings at his marina. Boat owners and yard crew must keep alert for sticks deposited by ospreys and periodically remove them before a nest can be established. But an old, unused Columbia 31 Sabre sailboat, which has languished for months on a seasonal outer mooring near a wooded shore, was a prime target for keen osprey eyes because it wasn’t protected by a boom tent.

After eight years of no use and the embarrassing nest, the owner finally decided it was time to face reality and let the boat go. Schlegel immediately referred him to McKenzie the marine recycler, and a $200 deal was struck to get the boat.

“When I came to take possession of the Sabre, I found an osprey beat me to it. But when the birds migrate in September, I’ll have it picked up and towed away,” says McKenzie, 34, a South African operating out of the large YMCA Camp Letts on the Rhode River.

In exchange for maintaining the summer camp’s fleet of small sailboats, he gets the use of a small workroom and a temporary place to keep a few of his old reborn rejects undergoing the recycling turnaround.

In mid-July he had two docked sailboats awaiting new owners: a Compac 16 and a Columbia 26. A 26-foot S-2 sailboat, which sold for $1,100, was about to leave for nearby Casa Rio Marina, where it would be hauled and placed on a trailer for its North Carolina owner. Also docked here is McKenzie’s 1980 O’Day 30 sloop, withdrawn from recycling for his own use.

McKenzie points out that he doesn’t restore, refurbish or rehab boats to an almost like-new condition or anything approaching that. A mechanic and technician by training, the first job he tackles is the engine. “Once I get that running, I’ll clean up the boat and make it reasonably presentable,” he says.

Sometimes he sells a boat to someone with plans to take the work a step further and turn it into a project, perhaps even for further recycling. Other do-it-yourselfers just like to work on boats and not use them. And then there are those who plan to work on them and use them …and do neither.

McKenzie is always in the market for small fiberglass boats, power and sail, and especially seeks out owners who are moving up in size. “They sometimes just want to get rid of the old one, and that’s where I come into the picture,” he says. “Marina owners and dealers know me, and when they face such a situation they call.”

I joined McKenzie in mid-July on a short visit to a nearby powerboat marina where he took possession of a gift: a 1989 Bayliner Sierra 24 with a Volvo-Penta sterndrive, garishly painted in lurid but faded colors.

“It sat in the boat rack for four years,” he explains. “The engine isn’t running and the owner needs the space for his new boat. He offered it to me free, although I would have paid something.”

McKenzie called a friend, towboat operator Don Dunbar, who dragged the boat to Camp Letts, where a battery was being charged for a quick check of the engine — a major factor in determining the boat’s value.

A short, bespectacled recycler with a lilting accent, a friendly outgoing nature and a sense of humor, the South African is a one-man dynamo who came to Camp Letts four years ago from Durban as a summer sailing instructor.

“I needed a break and found a wife [also a sailing instructor] and a new life,” McKenzie says. In his native land, he recycled damaged and repossessed cars and naturally fell into the boating end of it here, since he has been sailing since childhood.

In July he was working on a lump sum purchase of 28 vessels — 18 small powerboats and 10 sailboats — from a marina in Pasadena, Md., whose owner wanted to clean up his yard and rid it of abandoned boats.

“The problem I have is where to put all my boats,” McKenzie explains. “Slips and land storage at marinas are expensive. What I’m looking for is a piece of farmland, maybe with an old barn, where I can store all this stuff, work on it, and keep things moving in the recycling process.”

Last year he recycled 40 power- and sailboats. “I visit a lot of marinas and boatyards looking for castoffs,” he says. “I reject about 20 percent, so I’m selective about what I take, even if it’s free. I’m not a junk man. I don’t want to deal with boats headed for the chainsaw.”

His largest boats are a 41-foot Hatteras in Woodbridge, Va., damaged in Tropical Storm Isabel, and a 40-foot catamaran he bought in Galena, Md. The business has evolved to the point where potential customers tell him what they’re looking for.

McKenzie doesn’t have a Web site, but he can be reached by e-mail at or on his cell phone at (410) 533-6946.

Jack Sherwood is a senior writer for Soundings and is based in Annapolis, Md.