Ship broker finds a way to come ashore without leaving the sea

It was time to come ashore,” said Bob Beegle to explain his reason for founding Marcon International, one of North America’s leading ship brokerages specializing in towing and offshore petroleum industries.

Bob Beegle, the founder of Marcon, works in his waterfront office on Whidbey Island, Wash.

Like many professional mariners, Beegle grew up around boats. In his case, it was sailing boats at Newport Beach, Calif. This led to a couple of years crewing on a charter schooner in the Caribbean, followed by a U.S. Navy stint in the late 1960s. That took him farther afield, with time spent off Vietnam in the South China Sea, the Mediterranean and back to the Caribbean. He left the Navy as a sonar technician first class.

The work had given him access to and experience on the bridge of vessels, which he formalized with time at Pacific Maritime Academy in Honolulu, gaining a first mate’s ticket.

Next came time with Dillingham and Young Brothers on Hawaiian tugs and also on the University of Hawaii’s research vessel. Beegle holds a master for 3,000-ton domestic trade, 1,600 grt international and third mate all oceans.

In 1975, while still in Hawaii, Beegle and his wife Lorraine fell in love with a beautiful old wooden Norwegian fishing ketch. Unable to sell their condominium before someone else purchased the boat, they went to Norway in the winter of 1975 and bought a 51-foot fishing boat built in 1914 to a similar design.

It is one thing to operate a boat belonging to the government or a corporation. It is quite another to buy a boat and enter that watery world of economic risk. Beegle started the second level of the training that would give him the marine financial understandings to become a broker. After a few months exploring the Norwegian coast, the couple took their boat to Inverness, Scotland, to begin an extensive rebuild that would see living quarters built into the fish hold and the birth of a live-aboard baby. Beegle supported the family and their boat habit by going to sea with Tidewater Marine in the Mediterranean, Africa and Southeast Asia.

By 1980, the boat quarters were cramping the family life. They sold it to a Seattle-based Norwegian and moved to Seattle. Beegle began running boats for Jacobson Brothers in the Aleutians and other parts of Alaska. The family was safely ashore, but now, Beegle decided it was time that he, too, came ashore.

“I sent out hundreds of resumes for jobs,” he recalled, “but there weren’t many jobs for captains coming ashore.”

Finally he took a position with a broker in San Diego. It was a short-lived job, but it gave him some ideas of what a broker should not be. With the help of his wife, a cardboard file box and a black rotary-dial telephone, he set up his own business in the Seattle home.

  One of the founding tenets of his brokerage business, he said, is that, “You have got to give people more information than they give you.”

  With this in mind, he produced the first Marcon Newsletter in March of 1982. It was 21 pages long and listed vessels for sale in a variety of categories. The newsletter didn’t include fishing vessels.

“There were already a couple of good fishboat brokers in Seattle,” he said, “and I have stuck with what I know from my time at sea.”

Initially published four times per year, the newsletter now comes out three times a year, but has expanded to a very sophisticated and user-friendly website that is constantly being upgraded.

It wasn’t until 1983 that Beegle sold his first boat. The 136-by-36-foot Low Tide (ex H.B. Carleton, later named Alliant and now Sensor) was one of the first generation of purpose-built oil-industry supply boats built in Orange, Texas, in 1956. Still going strong with the original twin Enterprise engines, the boat is once again on the Marcon for-sale list.

Repeat sales of vessels give Marcon the opportunity to build extensive databases. At the same time, the company tracks and keeps records on over 5,500 active boats and 2,500 barges.

Apart from an enthusiasm for talking about and selling boats, it is Marcon’s intensive and meticulous management of databases that has led to the company’s success in a complex market.

While Low Tide was Beegle’s only sale in 1983, he persevered with the financial support of his wife and her day job, and in 1984 he sold “several” boats. It became evident that good communication of information was more important to growing the business than was a specific location. Whidbey Island was then, and still largely is, an idyllic mix of farm and sea.

The Beegle family moved to Coupeville on Whidbey Island in 1985, and Bob Beegle rented a space over a 19th-century warehouse on the spectacular waterfront of this tiny town. When the southeasters blew on a high tide, the logs crashing against the old building’s pilings would rock the whole structure.

He hired a second broker, and he forced himself “to make cold calls, but the newsletter was the biggest thing to bring people in,” he said. “We still didn’t have a fax machine, but got by with an old telex.”

It was still a struggle, but Marcon sold between 30 and 40 vessels over the next five years. They added faxes and, when the technology matured, email. It was probably 1990 that marked the company’s coming of age with the sale of 21 vessels.

The company’s international reach was also growing, with sales of an ocean-hopper barge from Mexico to the Netherlands, the 148-foot pushboat Southern King from the United States to Paraguay, a 1,000-hp twin-screw tug from Japan to Papua New Guinea, the 8,000-hp Canadian tug Canmar Tugger to a Polish company, and the purchase by Secunda Marine of Nova Scotia of two 67-meter 11,000-hp salvage tugs from Venezuela, renamed Ryan Leet and Magdelan Sea.

Most listings with Marcon are not exclusive, Beegle explained, “The main reason for a seller to give an exclusive listing is to avoid having to take phone calls on the boat.”

But some large corporations, such as Crowley, do give Marcon exclusive listing of surplus equipment. This saves their staff time while contracting a service from a dedicated broker. Most sales of surplus equipment by large companies include some sort of non-competition clause in the sales contract. Companies are not anxious to find their used equipment being used in bids against themselves. It was one of these clauses that for the first and only time made Beegle’s company the subject of a lawsuit.

He had arranged the sale of a specialized vessel from a Gulf Coast company to a foreign buyer. But it turned out the foreign buyer was a front for a competitor of the seller. The buyer and seller sued each other and caught Beegle in the crossfire.

Fortunately for Beegle, when he noticed that neither the seller nor the buyer were putting anything in writing, he began keeping copious notes on all conversations. These discouraged the litigants, and eventually everyone made up and dropped the charges. The experience also served as a reminder to Beegle that you can never have too much information in the marine world.

By 1990, Marcon’s staff had grown, along with the business, to four brokers. This has since grown to five. About half of current business is domestic, with the balance foreign. The only seasonal variation that Beegle has noted was, until about 10 years ago, the gearing up for the Alaskan summer, but now variations are tied more to the price of oil and gas, along with world economies. Sales are now averaging one per week.

Support staff has been hired to manage the masses of information both on the Internet and in the database. With a mailing list of over 10,000 names, they also maintain over 2,000 email addresses.

“On a specific tug or other vessel that I consider marketable, I may have the computers send out several hundred faxes with the vessel spec sheet,” Beegle said. “But I am careful to select these names to get people who I genuinely think could be interested.”

Each time a boat is sold, more documentation is added to the Marcon database that can, for some vessels, evolve to many pages of copies of surveys, drawings and other documents that mean Marcon may know more about a boat than its current owner. Marcon offers a range of related services, including brokering orders for new construction, charters of vessels, market information, technical advice and valuations.

The diversity of this company, which now occupies spanking-new high-tech offices on the historic Coupeville waterfront, is quite remarkable. This year’s sales include fireboats from Baltimore; an Alaskan tank barge; a Philippine anchor-handling ocean tug; a 212-foot Panamanian-flagged seismic vessel; the U.S. flagged 7,200-hp tug Gulf Commander; two more seismic vessels, Western Shore and Western Wave; a Crowley barge; and Western Towboat’s little 45-foot single-screw tug Cub.

The idyllic isolation of Coupeville doesn’t hamper Marcon’s work. Sellers can and regularly do list their boats through Marcon’s website.

“Sellers ask me what information I need to sell their boat,” Beegle said, “and I ask them, ‘What would you want to know if you were buying?'”

The U.S. West Coast is ideal for a company involved in global trading, Beegle explained. “On normal days, we work between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. That way we are in early enough to catch the European offices and late enough for the Asians. But we also still have our all-nighters on some sales.”

Beegle and his staff cope well with the stresses of the marketing life through easy access to the calming waters of Puget Sound at their doorstep. Beegle and his wife have replaced their Norwegian dreamboat with a steel replica of a Colin Archer-designed rescue boat.

The original, built in 1909, was of wood. In building the 47-foot replica, French designers and builders took the scantlings dimensions from the wooden vessel and replicated the steel of the new vessel in such a way that the buoyancy characteristics of the original were retained. Ongoing work and occasional sailing of the boat keeps Beegle in direct contact with the marine world that he and his company serve with all the power of modern electronic technology.

He has found the best of all worlds by coming ashore and remaining aboard.

By Professional Mariner Staff