The Side Dock Story
A continuation of the nightmare regarding the renovation
Of the side dock in Islamorada Florida
Written 2010 Rewritten 04/29/2016 unedited
Anyone that has ever gotten involved with doing a renovation project can relate to this true story.
The story was written to illustrate how a fairly minor job escalated into a major job, and how it tried our patience nearly to its limits.
What had started out as a project that we thought we would be completed in thirty days, stretched out to take over two years to complete, so if you get tired reading this story, I will understand, but remember we actually lived through it.
When doing this side dock project, we had to personally deal with some the most horribly inefficient construction people that were available in the Florida Keys. It was almost as if we were doing the project in a third world country, some of the people that were used were just plain dumb, and some of them were just inefficient, and some were just crooks, and when looking back on it, I think most normal people would have eventually just given up on the whole project, but we persevered and eventually overcame all of the obstacles.
It all started in September of 2001, when we purchased a beautiful property located on Snake Creek. Snake Creek is the major waterway at the south end of the island of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Snake Creek is the waterway that must be used by all sailing or power boats wishing to get from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean or from the ocean to the gulf, because it has the only bridge that opens and allows boats with larger masts to get through.
My wife Katherine and I had spotted this particular piece of property when we used the Snake Creek water way ourselves to head out to the Atlantic Ocean to go fishing. The property was almost an acre in size with an odd shaped two story house on it. The property also had a fifty foot wide canal running along its left side. What made this property so unusual was that it had a boat slip facing Snake Creek, that was built under the front of the house, the boat slip had a beautiful walkway bridge crossing over it. That built-in boat slip and bridge was a very unusual design to see in the keys as few properties have them. That’s because today any water front home must be built a minimum of twenty feet from the existing shore line, which would not allow a boat slip to be built, as the sides of the boat slip are considered shoreline.
When we first saw the property, we thought the boat slip built in the front would be an ideal place for us to dock our boat, however soon after moving on the property we realized that this was not possible due to the wakes of the boats traversing Snake Creek, making the water in the boat slip much too turbulent.
It was then that we realized why the property had another large concrete dock, which was located at the left rear of the property on the fifty foot wide Palo de Oro Canal. This concrete dock was quite wide. It had been built on the Palo de Oro Canal because the water there was much calmer with little turbulence making it ideal for docking a boat.
When we moved onto the property in 2001 we had noticed that all of the properties concrete seawalls, as well as the front boat slip and the side dock, were all painted battleship grey. We thought this was rather unusual until we discovered that it had been done to cover up the brown rust stains coming up through the concrete from rotting steel rebar inside.
We found out that when the house was built in 1967, it was possible that salt water had been used in the mixing of the concrete. The salt was now causing the rebar to rot in many places, creating ugly brown stains. It also became obvious that the grey paint had been used to cover it all up.
Once we had worked many weekends with the assistance of our son in law John Troutman, we had finally sandblasted off most all the grey paint. I can still see John, hour after hour standing there on the seawall, wearing a plastic face protector, sandblasting in ninety degree Florida heat.
Once the grey paint was gone, my mission became to remove all the brown stains on the one hundred eighty foot long seawall as well as the sides of the boat slip. This was done by laying on my stomach and chopping out all the concrete around the stains, and then removing the rotting steel rebar that was inside.
Once that was done, the rebar was replaced and the concrete patched. Over the period of a year and a half, this was all accomplished using a small Chinese made small hand air chisel, and Home Depot fast drying patching cement.
By the summer of 2003, it was time to attack the same brown staining problem from the side dock.
The project started when the Florida temperatures were in the high ninety’s, thus making our working in the intense heat nearly impossible. As a matter of fact it was so hot it was the point when I considered giving up the project entirely.
One Sunday, as I stopped to wipe the sweat pooling in my glasses, I looked up to see someone watching me. I immediately recognized him to be a local Florida Keys contractor that we had met before. “Hello”, he said, “That’s quite a project you are doing, would you like me to send over one of my men with a larger air chisel to help you?”
Being a firm believer, that if you want a job done right, you do it yourself, I said no. Then he said, “I’m sure you have other renovation projects that you could be doing instead of sweating out here working with that little air chisel.” Well, I looked at all the rust stains remaining, and I realized he was right, I was really killing myself. So I asked him how much it would cost to have him to chop up all the rusty rebar spots and patch the concrete.
He took his time and looked over the entire dock and said. “I can do the job for $1100.00.” As I again wiped the sweat out of my glasses, and looked at the sun, I realized he was right, I really was an idiot, working on my knees in that heat. He was absolutely right, I had a million other projects I could be working on, so I said sure, go ahead and do the job. He said he would send a team of men over to do it as soon as he could.
It was about three weeks later, when I next heard from him. I was working in my office in Miami when I was told there was a call for me from my contractor in the Keys. I took the call and the contractor said, “We are on your dock, and started the project, but the job was too big and he said he couldn’t do it for the $1100.00 he had quoted.” I immediately knew I had been the sucker for a classic “Bait and Switch” scam. The contractor had quoted a good price to get the job, but now once he had started, he wanted more money.
My wife overhearing the conversation came into my office to hear what was going on. The contractor now wanted three thousand dollars and he said that he couldn’t guarantee the job. Once we heard he couldn’t guarantee the job, I asked him, what were our alternatives, and he said, “I can pour a new slab of four inches of concrete over your entire dock for $5000.00 and the concrete will cover all the rust stains.” Now, what had started out as a simple stain removal job had now escalated into a big $5000.00 concrete project, and we knew that the contractor had us over a barrel, because now he had already started chopping up our old concrete dock, so after a short discussion, my wife and I agreed to let him pour a new four inch layer of concrete over the dock.
The following week Katherine and I passed by the local town hall and met with one of the building inspectors. Katherine wanted to know their opinion of the qualifications of the contractor. I listened as she was told that our particular contractor was the premier concrete contractor in the entire Florida Keys. He was the best they said, so now we felt confident that we had the right man for the job, as supposedly he knew what he was doing.
After several weeks and several phone calls later, Katherine and I arrived on a Friday evening to find a large crew working on setting rebar over the entire side dock. It looked like they were doing a very nice and professional job. As we were watching, a heavy set fellow came over and introduced himself, he said he was an independent concrete contractor and had been hired by our contractor. It appeared that our “Premier concrete contractor,” knew nothing about pouring concrete and he had hired another company to do the job.
By the following week the rebar work was done and we expected to see concrete truck coming to pour the new dock, but the concrete truck never came.
After two months we were becoming concerned that the rebar would become contaminated with the salt water, and if there was ever a storm, the rebar would be covered with salt water and start corroding.
So I expressed our concerns to the contractor week after week, until eventually the concrete truck finally arrived. The concrete truck came from a major cement producing company located up the road in Florida City, which was about forty to fifty miles away.
The cement was poured, and we felt relieved that the project was finally done. The contractor instructed us to hose the dock down with water every week for a month while the cement was hardening, and we did exactly as he said.
About another two months passed, and we noticed hairline cracks beginning to appear. At first they didn’t seem too bad, but as time went on the cracks covered the entire dock and started becoming bigger. So I called the contractor on the phone several times to come over and look at the cracks, but he never came. I knew that as soon as it rained water was going to go into all the cracks and start rusting the rebar inside and we could have a huge problem.
Eventually the contractor did show up, and he looked over the cracks. I asked him what he thought had caused the cracking, he said he didn’t know. This was not exactly the answer we expected to hear from a fellow who was supposed to be the premier concrete contractor in the Florida Keys.
Even I knew that concrete cracks when it hardens too fast. I suggested to the contractor that he call the concrete company in Florida City, as possibly they would admit the concrete was defective. The contractor said he would do it, but I didn’t believe him. We had a long conversation regarding it, and I said, look, we hired you to chop up some rust stains about six months ago, and now we have a five thousand dollar dock that is cracking and it is now worse than the original dock was.
The contractor said, “Next week I will have my men come over and chop up the whole dock. I said look if you do that it will ruin our original old dock underneath, “Yes he said, but I’m not responsible for that, and I’m not pouring you a new dock.”
At this point you might say the best thing to do is get an attorney and sue the contractor, but has anyone ever tried getting a small town attorney to sue a small town contractor, the attorney usually ends up being the contractors uncle, also our hiring an attorney could cost more than the entire project cost, so I told the contractor we needed to think some more about what we would do.
The next week our friend and architect Larry Nix stopped by. Larry said he knew what caused the cracking. But he said he was working out of an engineering company’s office and he thought one of the structural engineers could stop by and give us his opinion of what had happened, and why the concrete had cracked.
The following week Larry said the engineer had confirmed what the problem was that we had, it was due to “Hot Concrete.” Hot Concrete is when the concrete starts to harden in the truck, and the driver then adds more water to cool it down, as he pours it, it was exactly what I had suspected. So the following Monday I took it upon myself to call the concrete company, and I told them what had transpired. I told them we and the engineer suspected that it was hot concrete that was poured. The fellow at the concrete company said they would immediately send down their engineer to determine what the problem was, and he said that he would call me back.
Over the next two weeks, I called the concrete company up twice to find out when they were sending their engineer down to inspect the dock, I knew I was getting the real run around from them, but finally after the third week, they said, “Our engineer inspected your dock and tested the concrete, and he confirmed that it tested at five thousand pounds tensile strength.”
I knew, that he knew very well that the engineer was supposed to look at the cracking, not the tensile strength.” “No” the concrete company representative said, “Our engineer was supposed to check the tensile strength,” I was left speechless, it was obvious the guy thought he could just baffle me with bullshit, and after the conversation, I felt foolish to ever having contacting them in the first place.
Over the next month Katherine and I discussed all the alternatives we had available to us to fix the problem, and we eventually determined that we could coat the dock with a good sealer filling in all the cracks, then we could lay brick pavers over everything in a nice multi colored decorative pattern.
There was a local company in Islamorada that advertised “Discount pavers installed”, so we contacted them, and the following week a nice young man came over, he was very professional looking and had a measuring wheel on the end of a pole to accurately measure our dock. After measuring it, he said he would contact us with a price. The price he quoted was $5000.00. Here we had been expecting the highest price to be about $1000.00. The discount paver company should have been called “The rip off Paver Company”.
We knew that in Miami, there were many tile and paver companies and there was one located just off the Palmetto Expressway near the 103 Street exit, very close to where we lived. So, Katherine and I took time off work and visited them. This particular tile company represented a local paver manufacturer that had all types of pavers in all colors. The salesman said he was happy to work with us, my wife had already designed a pattern and color scheme that required four different colors of pavers. The salesman calculated that all the pavers delivered to our house in the Keys would cost less than two thousand dollars. We gave him a deposit, and waited.
About three weeks went by and the salesman advised us that three of the colors of pavers had come in and the Miami paver manufacturer had told him the third color would be there in in a week. We were so happy to be able to finally resolve our dock problem, so we went to the tile store and we paid him.
Another two weeks went by and the salesman called Katherine to advise her that the final shipment of pavers had arrived. It was a Friday and he wanted to know if he should ship them to the keys that afternoon. I thought that would be terrific, it meant I could lay the pavers that very weekend.
My wife Katherine suggested that we go by the tile company and inspect everything before they shipped, I gave her a hard time but I eventually agreed with her, and we both went to inspect the pavers, and it was a good thing that we did, the final shipment of pavers was all the wrong color.
The tile company salesman said he couldn’t understand how this could happen, but he would get it corrected, and he called up the paver manufacturer while we sat at his desk.
Well, weeks went by and no pavers ever came, again we took time off from work and visited the tile company salesman, we did it several times. Finally, the salesman said he was sorry, he said that he was at his wits end with the paver manufacturer and he refunded all of our money.
While all of this paver business was going on, Katherine and I were shopping for tile to use in our renovation of the house. Also Katherine had come up with a nice salmon color that she wanted to paint the house.
We stopped at a company called D and B Tile, located on 36 Street in Miami, and we found that they had a salmon colored porcelain tile made in Italy. After seeing it, we felt the color was perfect, and we could tile our entire seawall, as well as the dock with it, so we ordered five thousand square feet,
Of 12 inch tile, plus a 1000 square feet of 4 inch square black and orange accent pieces, and we paid for it. Then, we spoke at length with the salesman at the tile company, explaining to him all about the project we were doing in the Keys. We knew that the tile Company had several trucks with rubber tired forklifts attached to them. The forklifts were used to unload the heavy pallets of tile, and the forklift would be especially useful unloading the tile on our property which was all covered in pea rock.
Well, on the appointed day, we waited in the Keys for our tile delivery. It came and there was no forklift on the truck. We had absolutely no way of unloading the truck, and even if we did we had no way of moving the tile on our property to where we needed it. So I immediately got on the phone and called D and B Tile Company, but now the salesman wasn’t so friendly. He said the company policy was “Curb side” delivery only. But I told him we had no way of unloading hundreds of boxes of tile in the Florida Keys. But arguing with the salesman was getting us nowhere, so in frustration I called the owner of D and B tile’s main store which was in in South Miami. After much discussion they agreed to ship the tile on a truck with a forklift.
Because we has assumed our doc job would have been finished months ago we had ordered a new boat lift made out of Aluminum, and the boat lift company delivered it. But because the dock was not yet tiled, they piled up all the aluminum parts on our property. I was expecting every day to look and find that it had been stolen.
Katherine had designed a beautiful tile pattern and we laid the tile on the whole dock using thin set mortar and a grey grout. All the neighbors watched us as we worked on our hands and knees setting the tile.
On day while we were tiling, as we drove to the keys we saw a company making concrete animals. The lady said her talented husband made the animals right behind the building, while she ran the store. We met her husband and we purchased a lion that was way too heavy for us to move. The husband and wife team agreed to deliver it. They showed up as promised and the lion was beautiful and fit on the dock perfectly. The next week we visited them they were already divorced, and closing the store.
When we were finished tiling the dock. It still had a three foot tall cement block wall all around its entire perimeter. We knew that the best stucco company in the Keys, was headed by an elderly gentleman named Mr. Haroldson, and fortunately they were working nearby on a neighbor’s home, so I went and I practically dragged Mr. Haroldson over to our place.
Now Mr. Haroldson, was about eighty years old and his team of men have probably cemented the exterior of seventy five percent of the houses in the entire Keys, and you would think they knew all the methods of doing stucco. I asked Mr. Haroldson if he would stucco the wall around the dock in white stucco and add a little chipped marble for sparkle. He looked at me like I was a lunatic and said no. He said he had never done such a thing in his entire life.
So I went to Home Depot bought some white cement and plastic sparkles and did the job myself.
Now even though the side dock wasn’t one hundred percent finished, it was tiled, so we had the boat lift installed. Believe me, it was a truly a miracle that no one had come on the property and stolen the boat lifts aluminum parts while they were piled up in the yard.
After the boat lift was installed. We needed to get a 220 volt electricity line to the dock to use it. Fortunately our good friends Tommy and Sandy were visiting from Connecticut. Tommy being in the construction business knew how to swing a pick, so in the intense summer heat, we dug a channel from the electric box located at the house all the way to the dock, we had to stop every few feet just to sit and cool down under a palm tree.
Now with the dock tiled, and boat lift installed, it was time to install PVC bumper posts. Each post needed to be eight to nine feet long, and we needed ten of them. That’s when we found out that the Home Depot PVC posts were all too small in diameter. So we searched on line and eventually found the right diameter PVC posts, but we had to have them all shipped in from out of town. And we had to deal only with their distributor in Miami.
Once the PVC posts were bolted in place, they were filled with steel rebar and cement. It was our intention to put white rubber boat bumper material on to the PVC posts so as not to mar the finish on any fiberglass boat, tying up to the dock.
It was then that we found that the PVC posts were too long for me to reach down to the waterline to screw on the rubber bumpers. Somehow, I would have to get closer to the water’s edge. So one late Friday evening while we were driving through Key Largo we spotted a father and son selling a twelve foot aluminum dingy and trailer. We bought only the dingy for three hundred dollars, and loaded it in the car.
A few weeks later, we had visit from Mike Murley and his wife from Detroit. Mike was a small guy and a marine mechanic so he stood in the little aluminum dingy and screwed in all the lower stainless steel screws holding the rubber bumpers on the PVC poles. Once all of this was done, we purchased a cement fish cleaning station at one end with a PVC drain pipe.
The side dock was finally finished and it had only taken us two years.