'Flying entrepreneur' sails into cove
Warwick Cove Marina in Oakland Beach isn’t the same.
For starters, it’s Fairwinds Marina. But there’s a lot more than a name change.
The office at 2 Seminole St. that also served as the home of former owner John Williams is undergoing a transformation. It will serve as an office and offer amenities such as restrooms, a shower and a gathering place for “members” with a large screen TV and comfortable chairs.
The exterior of the two-story house has also had a makeover. It’s fresh, cute and looks like it belongs in a seacoast village, especially with the white bed of crushed clamshells that surround it. There’s also a new fence that broadcasts this is not a public place to just come and hang out.
That’s the message Joe McGrady wants to get across. This is going to be a marina that is clean and well managed for those who keep their boats there and their family and friends.
McGrady seems like the most unlikely of marina owners, although he grew up on the Cape and as a boy raced 12-foot O’Day Widgeon sailboats. Boating is in his blood, but flying is in his bones. After graduating from Villanova University, he pursued his dream to be a fighter pilot. He joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard where he flew F-15s out of Otis Air Force Base. He went on to become an American Airlines captain, mostly flying 737s these days. He flies for American about eight days a month. Yet there’s more than flying.
“I’m kind of like the flying entrepreneur,” he says.
On Tuesday McGrady was in Warwick at his latest acquisition and that of his longtime friend, Eric Presbrey of Connecticut. The two have been partners since 2010. Together, they have bought and renovated more than 15 buildings, with a total of more than 100 rental apartments in Providence, Pawtucket and Warwick. Five years ago they bought Dutch Harbor Boatyard in Jamestown. The marina included a house that McGrady gutted and expanded to make his home. He and his wife Maria have five children.
Then last August McGrady heard that Warwick Cove Marina might be for sale. Normally, he would have called and arranged for a meeting. Instead, he drove to Warwick and knocked on the door, coming face-to-face with John Williams.
He liked him immediately but had reservations about whether the marina could be a successful venture. The price was the only attractive feature, as just about everything else was in tough shape. Docks were in disrepair. Boats that had been abandoned or repossessed by Williams for non-payment of storage fees filled an overgrown lot.
McGrady said they agreed on a handshake that Williams lived up to when an interested buyer upped the deal with cash to boot. McGrady and Presbrey paid $805,000 for the marina.
Then the work began. Derelict boats were cut up. The boats, along with tires, barrels and years of collected debris, filled one dumpster after the next. McGrady also had to deal with Williams’s former clientele, many of who had not paid dockage fees for years and were accustomed to getting a free ride. McGrady told them they had come to the end of the gravy train and unless they paid or moved their boat, he would be moving their boat for them.
The vision grew and so did the investment. The pair paid $235,000 for the adjoining house and dock on the cove. Like the Williams’s house, the building has been cleaned out and resided in. The plan is to make it a bait shop and snack bar, a destination for boaters as well as people looking to look out on the cove and all of its activity while enjoying a sandwich.
Another house that is a part of the marina property, which Williams rented, has likewise been renovated. The tenants stayed and McGrady welcomes their presence as providing eyes and ears to what’s happening at the place. As for the marina, pilings have been reset and docks rebuilt. With the addition of the dock from the adjoining property, the operation will have slips for more than 100 boats.
At this time, McGrady doesn’t have plans for a travel lift or drive in launching site. Getting everything to the point where it is today has taken another $200,000.
“It’s simple, not a lot of moving parts and then grow it. I want it to be immaculate at all times,” he said.
While the outer slips can accommodate large boats, McGrady sees his market as families with boats in the range of 20 to 30 feet.
“We’re making it nice for them and their families and guests,” he said.
McGrady has named Hayley Fraser general manager of the Dutch Harbor Marina to take on the added responsibility of managing Fairwinds. Fraser is 26 and McGrady believes in giving young people the opportunity to prove themselves and excel. He expects to hire another two to three people on the marina side and hasn’t yet worked out the staffing for the bait shop and snack bar.
Williams still has a presence on the waterfront. For the moment he is living in a trailer and continues to own and operate a gas dock adjoining Fairwinds.
One thing that hasn’t changed at the marina, at least for the time being, are the prices. The prices are $80 a foot for the outer dock that can handle boats ups to 45 feet and $65 for smaller boats. Fairwinds will also be offering winter storage in a secure fenced lot.
“Now the challenge is to fill it up,” says McGrady. He said he has about 30 returning customers.