Local News

Boat builder works to recover after fire

SEBRING - When fire damaged items inside the building where boats are built at Sea Hawk Boats this week, it wasn't the first setback for the 15-year-old commercial boat manufacturer, owner Mike Wyatt said Friday.

A few years ago, before hurricanes struck the area, Wyatt got a loan to refurbish a building that would have allowed his business to build more boats, he said.

But that all came to naught after the hurricanes damaged the building and the city told him to tear it down, he said. He's still paying off the loan, from which much of the proceeds were used to remove the structure instead of refurbishing it, he said.

Despite that, Wyatt said, the business survived as it did several years later when the economy slowed down and Sea Hawk received no new orders for boats for two years, he said.

And Wyatt said he believes Sea Hawk will recover from its latest hardship, the fire.

But, he added: "It's not going to be easy."

Wyatt said the fire damaged a mould in which a boat was being built. The key will be for workers to rebuild the mould for it, while at the same time getting work going on another boat that doesn't require that mould.

The fire occurred Wednesday evening around 5:30 p.m.

Apparently, he said, after the business shut down that day, pressure on a storage area where a catalyst and resin were located caused the catalyst to leak and overheat the resin, he said.

Fortunately, a metal worker was still at the plant and noticed the smoke, he said. "Thank God it didn't get any further," Wyatt said. Otherwise the fire might have destroyed the building, he added.

As it was, the building sustained little damage.

It was a particularly inconvenient time for a fire, he said, because Sea Hawk is building three boats currently and will possibly get a contract to build 10 boats, he said.

Sea Hawk opened in Sebring 15 years ago and has been at its current location - the site of an old packinghouse - for most of that time, Wyatt said.

They build commercial boats that are used for diving and fishing, he said. Some have been sold for use as ferries, including one to Disney cruises, Wyatt said. Another was sold to the University of South Florida for use as a research boat.

The boats - there are four different models - range in price from around $100,000 to about $400,000, he said. All boats are custom made, so the costs vary depending on the options chosen by the customer, he said.

About 50 percent of the customers are domestic and 50 percent are from other countries, Wyatt said. None of the customers are local, as the boats are built for use on the ocean, he added.

Most of the boats sold outside of the United States go to the Caribbean, but some go to Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, Wyatt said.


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