Legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield, best known for his days performing with James Brown, once said that musical notes look like Chinese [writing] to him. Instead, he claims that all he ever did was play from his heart and his soul. At first glance, it might seem strange to compare Steven Powell, a master fabricator, to a musical great. But much like Stubblefield, Powell works from his soul. A self-taught fabricator, Powell is master of his art. He never makes master plans or drawings. “It’s all in my head,” he said. “It just comes to me.” At the very least this is impressive, particularly when one considers that Powell’s reputation has been forged through years of artistry and precision.
Today, Steven Powell owns Keys Marine Service and Salvage and Keys Marine Supply. Along with his wife, Letisia, the two operate their business with just two other employees and have forged a niche market for those seeking expertise in fiberglass repair, welding, hydraulics and other mechanical repairs in the marine industry. On a given day, Steven is typically working on a project in the heart of Stock Island. From the hull of a yacht, Powell points to an area that was once a bedroom.
“We had to change the entire bulkhead,” said Powell. “We changed out the fuel tank and made external tanks. It’s step by step. The kitchen, bathroom, sanitation and holding tanks…it will be perfect when we are done.”
For those who know Steven, they understand he is in fact, an artist. His grandmother, who owned Bina’s Grocery in the‘70s, instilled a work ethic in Steven by the time he could lift a can of soup to stock the shelves in her store. From there, Steven began working with his father at age eight. His father, a master welder, taught Steven to work with struts and propellers, along with anything metal that operated under the water.
Like most sons, Powell sought his own path and his father helped him land a job with a boat company. Applying the knowledge he had gained through years of using angles, straight edges, supports and other engineering components, Powell realized that fiberglass work shared many of the same characteristics and began mastering the chemicals, properties and techniques that separate laborer from artist.
“My first business was the fiberglass business,” explained Powell. “My bread and butter was sanding down the bottoms of large boats and ships. It was very nasty and toxic, but I also developed many relationships and a reputation for honest work.”
Soon after, he built a cabinet for a client that no one else had been able to perfect. This led to five more calls for similar jobs and Steven quickly became known as “the guy you go to when you’ve tried everyone else.”
“This is how I built my business,” said Powell. “We don’t nickel and dime people with pricing. I would rather provide a quality service and not have to go back a second time. You don’t make money by losing clients and you don’t make money by going back to work on a job you’ve already completed.”
Powell’s reputation began landing jobs for Keys Energy, the Coast Guard and he even repaired the marble flooring for a local hotel when a lady’s stiletto punctured the tiling. And for a man who held a personal creed to never turn down business, Powell soon became much more than just a guy who could fix any boat … he became a guy who could fix anything.
“He’s always been this way,” said his wife, Letisia. “He loves to take on challenges. He will scratch his head and say, ‘we can figure this out.’ It may be five minutes later or at three in the morning, but he always comes up with a solution.”
Today, Powell focuses on mobile welding and continues to provide glass work. Letisia handles the retail store at Keys Marine Supply, which sells grade-A resins, putties, industrial enamels, solvent, PVC sheets and other niche products.
Steven and Letisia have two children, Steven Jr. and Sophia. And much like Steven’s grandmother did for him, the native Conch continues to pass along the significance of hard work.
“Steven Jr. worked with me all summer,” Steven said with a content smile. “He knows how to lay resin, run a register and he knows every tool that I use. That is how I was taught. And I think it made it made him appreciate school a little more as well.”
Keys Marine Service & Salvage and Keys Marine Supply is at 5550 5th Ave. Stock Island. Or call 305-295-0101.