Ken’s older brother, Kit, ran the Ft. Lauderdale yard. “Kit did a great job, maybe too good a job,” suggests Ken. “Dad was one of a kind, but he was really a one-man show—Mom had held the family and the yard together.” After 12 years, differences with his father caused Kit to launch his own boat-building venture: Denison Marine. Ken was tapped to replace Kit and appointed vice president of new sales and construction in 1983. Ken had grown up in the yard and had worked in the lofting department, but he had not planned on running a boatyard. “Frankly, I was scared to death—it was a difficult situation,” admitted Ken. “Kit had a charismatic personality and the loyalty of the Ft. Lauderdale employees and customers.” Within six months, the bulk of the department heads, even the head of security, had left to join Kit at his new yard. “It didn’t seem to faze Dad—he told me to keep my head down and saw wood, ” said Ken. The advice paid off, and within six months Ken had sold two boats to customers in California. “I was lucky—they must have been the only two yachtsmen in the U.S. that didn’t know what had happened at Broward,” laughed Ken.
The market was heating up and Frank’s all-season (Florida) yard and his willingness to build on spec were paying off. “Dad would usually set up a new hull every 30 to 45 days,” said Ken. Broward North built a 95-footer in 30,000 hours while Broward South took 45,000 hours—it had the makings of a “civil war.” By this time, the Ft. Lauderdale yard was little more than a collection of leaky wooden sheds and an antiquated marine railway. Still, many felt the boats built in Ft. Lauderdale were superior in terms of outfitting and finish. Frank refused to waste time or money on what he considered unnecessary. Ken, on the other hand, recognized that a new, more demanding generation of yachtsmen was now driving the market. Frank dug in his heels while Ken attempted to upgrade the “Broward standard.”
Frank—or “Mr. D”—was a classic old school boatbuilder and not one to trifle with. He had thrown more than one know-it-all captain out of the yard, personally, and referred to engineers as “college boys” and yacht brokers as “buckets of steam.” “Dad could be charming when he wanted to sell a boat, but he was often blunt— signing deals was always a challenge,” said Ken. He remembers one meeting with a client and his lawyer as typical. Frank had been stewing quietly at the end of the conference table while the conversation about legal issues droned on. “Dad pushed his chair back, stood up and addressed our would-be client. This young fellow you brought along... your lawyer... he’s pretty smart, isn’t he? The client preened, figuring he had Dad on the ropes,” Ken explains. But Frank glared at him and snapped “if he’s so damn smart have him build your boat,” then left the room. “This was a big deal we had been working on for months...” Ken remembers. “We all sat there, dumbfounded.”