You’re not alone if you’ve never heard of Port Byron, N.Y. But thanks to the work of Phil Hess and his five-person crew at Upstate Powerboat, a fiberglass and paint business just 30 minutes west of Syracuse, Port Byron—population 1,096 as for 2021—has made its way onto the high-performance marine industry map.
Upstate Powerboat handled paint and body work for this 40-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran owned by Augie and Sheridan Bazemore.
Just ask Loren Peters, the 37-year-old owner of the Super Stock-class LPC catamaran, which currently at Upstate Powerboat for fiberglass and paint repair from hard racing during the regular season as well as at the 2022 Race World Offshore Championships in Key West, Fla. Peters got to know Hess in 2019 when he had him repaint his 42-foot MTI pleasure catamaran.
“Phil painted that boat in 2014 and now it is back there, as well as my 32-foot Doug Wright, for touch-up work and masking before it goes back to H.P. Mafia for rigging,” said Peters, who lives in Sunrise Beach, Mo., on the shores of the Lake of the Ozarks. “He knocked it out of the park.
“I can’t say enough good things about Phil and how far he’s come,” he added. “He’s doing really good work.”
The repair work on Peters’ raceboat is scheduled to be completed in a couple of weeks, at which point the cat also will be hauled back to the H.P. Mafia shop in Kaiser, Mo., for installation of its new polycarbonate windshield from Lee Aerospace.
Hess started Upstate Powerboat when he was 20 years old. He did not lack for confidence, and that initially rubbed a few folks in the Northeastern performance-boating community the wrong way. But for the past nine years, he has been building his resume and reputation, and his business has grown concurrently.
And his perspective on his business has matured with him.
In the past 12 months, Upstate Powerboat has worked on 17 Skater projects.
“It’s been a steady evolution,” Hess explained. “We only handle paint and fiberglass. We have no interest in rigging. We basically have two programs, our ‘custom’ program where we completely redo boats and our basic repair program—we get a lot of insurance business through that one.
“As hard as we try, we know not every job is perfect and not every customer has reasonable expectations,” he continued. “But I would say 99 percent of our customers are very pleased with our work and come back. At this point, we are the only ones that I know of doing fiberglass and paint at this level under the same roof.”
The current 14,000-square-foot Upstate Powerboat facility consists of three stations in two buildings. One building is dedicated to fiberglass work, from light repairs to complete renovation. From there, Hess and company move boats into the second building, which is divided into a pre-paint prep and post-finishing area, and a 65-foot paint booth.
“Having those stations keep the paint booth freed up as we’re not doing prep or finish work in the booth,” Hess said. “We are always painting.”
Hess estimates that the company handles 30 to 40 jobs a year. Of those, five or six are complete renovation projects that require extensive fiberglass work. Among Upstate Powerboat’s most recently completed jobs was a repair and paint project for Augie and Sheridan Bazemore of Atlanta, who own a 40-foot Skater that was in dire need of a fresh look.
“The paintjob is phenomenal—it’s superb,” said Sheridan Bazemore, the current president of Lanier Partners of North Georgia, which produces the annual Pirates of Lanier Poker Run. “We’ll be putting in the motors soon and will be ready to hit the waters of Lake Lanier this summer.”
“We’ve had a total of 17 Skaters here over the last 12 months,” said Hess. “The Ruthless 46-foot Skater and Chris Ryder’s 368 are both next for complete restoration.”
Upstate Powerboat projects in various states of completion.
But it’s not all Skaters for Upstate Powerboat, which backed the relatively nearby 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run in its first three years and may return as a sponsor annual event in Clayton, N.Y., this year. Hess and his team have handled two 47-foot Fountain remodels for Eric Shahan, who lives in Columbia, S.C., as well as V-bottoms from other builders.
Still, a 40-foot Skater catamaran is among Hess’ best-known ongoing projects. The 40-footer was previously owned by Missouri’s Jeffrey Asbell, who died in the boat along with fellow Missourian and noteworthy engine builder Brad Smith during an accident in the 2013 Lake Cumberland Poker Run. Hess purchased the heavily damaged cat with from Asbell’s son, Jake, and secured his approval to restore it.
Ever ambitious, Hess purchased the molds for the Skater 399 V-bottom from Peter Hledin, the owner and founder of the Douglas, Mich., custom powerboat company, last year. That means eventually—if current plans holds—he’ll be building boats of his own.
“Once we find the time were are going to bring that V-bottom back to the market,” he said.
And when the owner of an Upstate Powerboat-built 39-foot V-bottom wants to change its look a few years after purchase, or just needs a bit of paint touch-up or fiberglass repair, Hess has that covered, too.
Said Hess, “At this point, we are the only ones that I know of doing fiberglass and paint at this level under the same roof.”