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Wesley Chapel man balks at $53,210 boat docking bill

When you park your car in a garage, you expect to pay a fee.

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But when Bob Williams parked his 163-foot ship in a Port Canaveral marina, he thought he wouldn't see a bill.

Instead, he got a big one: $53,210.

Now he's afraid he'll lose the boat.

The ship, owned by his charity, Support Our Troops Inc., began having mechanical issues as it sailed down Florida's east coast in September. The Wesley Chapel man desperately needed a dock.

So when a Beyel Brothers official told him it'd be no problem to dock — that the company would be happy to help — Williams thought he was getting a gracious offer because of his charity.

Not so.

An attorney for Beyel says it's illogical to assume that docking a giant ship would be free. A $2 charge for each foot of boat per day is normal, he said, and that's what Beyel charges.

Nearby companies report similar fees.

"You can't tie up somebody's commercial space and not expect to pay," said Pinellas Park attorney Frank Butler.

But Williams asks: Why did the company wait three months to bill?

He says he had no idea how expensive the boat's stay was until he got an invoice in December. It included fees for a 70-foot yacht (a hollowed-out ship that Williams was planning to scrap) and a daily inspection.

"They're going to wind up getting the ship," Williams, 65, said Monday. "We just don't have the money to fight it."

• • •

For 30 years, Williams has sent packages to troops abroad. Out of a warehouse off State Road 54, he packages coffee, cookies and Q-tips.

Nurses in Afghanistan's mountains get gloves. Soldiers get microwaves and pancake griddles.

"Whatever they ask for," he says.

Williams said a Colorado man who wants to remain anonymous donated two boats about eight months ago. Williams planned to take them to Haiti, where he'd run a ship-painting school that he says would earn money for the charity.

But when engine trouble stranded the ship off the Canaveral coast, he soon decided to scrap the ship and put the proceeds into the charity.

As he sorted out issues with the U.S. Coast Guard, the ship remained docked. Three months passed. Then the invoice arrived by email.

"I was just blown out of the water," he said.

Though he assumed the dockage would be free, he says he would have understood a reasonable charge — if it had been billed to him right away.

"If you're an up-front company, you'd bill on a weekly or monthly basis — not wait three months to charge $53,000," he said.

Williams said he's called the company 26 times since receiving the invoice, each time leaving a message that went unreturned. He suspects the company is stalling so it can continue to charge him.

Attorney Frank Butler says that's not true. The company wants its money and has no reason to avoid him, he said.

So who will get the boat?

Butler says that's still being negotiated, but Williams says it's hopeless. The company has asked for a $75,000 bond, and he says he doesn't have that money.

"It's a lost cause as far as we're concerned," he said.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com.

Wesley Chapel man balks at $53,210 boat docking bill 01/10/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:17am]
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