Port of Call

South Lyon native Vinny Pyle brokers yachts throughout Florida, but he’s also found success operating complementary businesses in the Great Lakes State. // Photographs courtesy of Peck Yachts and Vinny Pyle
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Supply chain delays, inflation, and high interest rates have limited the production of new boats. As a result, people looking to purchase boats are creating customized vessels.

Vinny Pyle remembers his bold decision as if it was yesterday. He was 14 years old, and he and his 12-year-old brother were visiting their father in Florida.

“My dad lived in Fort Lauderdale in a place called Seven Isles, and he had his boat behind the house,” Pyle recalls. “It was a little 15-foot Boston Whaler, and he always pushed us to use the boat because he wanted us to be really good and safe boat handlers.”

One afternoon when the boys were alone at the house, they were hungry and had a sudden craving for something special. “We wanted some conch chowder and cracked conch for lunch,” Pyle says.

Not a big deal — until you consider where the boys went to enjoy their meal. “Bimini, in the Bahamas, which is about 47 nautical miles from Fort Lauderdale. But it was a really flat day on the water, and my brother and I were thinking, ‘We can do this,’ ” Pyle shares.

The boys made the round trip in about four hours. “There was no GPS back then,” Pyle reports. “We thought our dad was going to be really excited and proud of us.”

Let’s just say the boys miscalculated their father’s reaction to their adventure.

“We got grounded for a month,” Pyle says. “He said it was the stupidest thing we ever did in our lives. Boats were a lot more temperamental back then, and he told us we could have been adrift at sea.”

Vinne Pyle, below, a broker with Peck Yachts in Fort Lauderdale, also works out of Michigan. In addition, he runs Carpe Diem Charters and Sunfun Charters.

Fast-forward 30 years later and it’s apparent Pyle has rebounded from his dad’s punishment. These days, he spends countless hours on the water, and in various boats. And when he’s not?

“I buy and sell boats,” Pyle says. “In fact, I was just at a show and we had a 2020 112-foot boat that was listed at $15 million, and I also had 100-footer listed for $8 million.”
Pyle has clearly come a long way from when he was growing up in South Lyon in the early 1980s.

“It was a great little neighborhood, pretty much out in the burbs and very rural,” he recalls. “I was lucky enough to have 25 or 30 homes in my actual subdivision, and out of all those homes there were 12 kids my age that I’m still really good friends with. We were a gang of dirt-bikers, and we had a track in our neighborhood. It was a great, great time to grow up there. I actually still remember my old address, on Deer Creek Drive.”

Pyle has his grandparents to thank for his love for the water.

“They had a cabin in Northport, just north of Traverse City,” he says. “My Uncle Ben taught me how to sail on Lake Michigan at a young age. That’s one of my first memories of actually being on the water and sailing.”

Pyle also caught the entrepreneurial bug at a very early age.

“My parents separated and my mom got remarried,” he says. “At that time, my stepfather started a lighting company in Detroit from scratch. He also had a handful of T-Mobile stores in the Detroit area. My father started as a restaurateur in Florida, and then got into the marine industry and owned commercial fishing boats and a boat yard, and became very successful.”

Pyle’s passion for boating and being near the water increased with every visit to Florida to spend time with his father. “I was blessed enough to be able to come down here during the summers and Christmas breaks,” he says. “We would go to the Bahamas for a month at a time.”

Pyle got plenty of opportunities to operate a variety of boats, allowing him to gain confidence, as well as his father’s trust.

“When I was 16, my dad and stepmom wanted to go to down to South Beach for New Year’s Eve,” Pyle remembers. “They always wanted to have their car and boat there. So my dad said, ‘Vinny, you’ve gotten proficient enough to take the boat; we’ll meet you there.’ And that was the first time I drove a big boat by myself.”

It was also the moment Pyle’s career path came into sharp focus. “That’s when it actually clicked that, OK, I can do this,” he says. “So instead of mowing lawns, I was actually running boats for some of our neighbors, and these were really substantial vessels.”

As much as Pyle loved Florida and his life on the water, he continued to split time between his parents, returning to Michigan every fall to attend high school.

“I went to Orchard Lake Saint Mary’s from freshman to junior year,” he says. “I spent my senior year at South Lyon High. From there, I chose Arizona State University, because I actually wanted to be on my own in college, and far away from both parents. I was still blessed to be able to come back to both places whenever I wanted, so that was a great thing.”

As soon as Pyle graduated from Arizona State, there was no question where he was headed.

“I moved straight back down to Florida, and got my big yacht captain’s license in 2006,” he says. “That allowed me to run yachts from 200 tons to 500 tons, depending on where the boat was registered. In easy terms, it means I could operate yachts up to 150 feet long. On most of those big yachts, I did week-long charters for owners and guests. These trips were as far south as the southern Caribbean and as far north as New England.”

After 10 years of criss-crossing the high seas, Pyle was ready to adjust his lifestyle. “I wanted to go into the brokerage end of the industry,” he says. “The main reason was my growing family. I wanted to be present and land-based.”

As Pyle tapered down his hours helming charters, he connected with an experienced yacht broker who’d been in the business for decades. “Mark Peck started Peck Yachts in 2016,” Pyle explains. “He was in the brokerage industry for over 30 years when he went on his own. I was his first hire, so it was perfect timing,” Pyle says.

“I helped start that firm, and one of the main things Mark and I saw eye-to-eye on was the need to branch out into the Great Lakes. It definitely was an underrepresented area for larger yachts. There are quite a few in the Great Lakes, and there’s also a lot of clients that have the means to buy these larger boats, even if they keep them down in Florida.”

The business boost in Michigan means Pyle spends a lot of time in his home state.

“I’m flying up (there) in 10 days to go look at a boat in Grand Haven that’s put away for the winter,” he says. “We’ll also visit the Bay Harbor Boat Show, the Detroit Boat Show, and the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club. And I’ll also throw an event at the Detroit Yacht Club for my clients in the area.”

It’s important to point out that when Pyle added the yacht brokering business to his portfolio, he never came close to entirely giving up the time he spent on the water organizing and helming various boating excursions. There’s a very simple reason why.

“I like to work,” he says. “Besides, a lot of the chartering is done on Saturday and Sunday, so I can still have a great Monday through Friday job at Peck Yachts. That’s one of the great things I love about being a yacht broker; I make my own schedule, and it’s something you never really retire from.”

As if he wasn’t already busy enough, Pyle couldn’t help himself when he recognized yet another business opportunity.

“A few years back, the boom of day charters was still in its infancy,” he says. “But I started to see an uptick in the demand for four- to six-hour day charters, which was never really a thing before, for events like bachelorette parties and destination birthdays. So my wife and I decided to go out on a limb and start Carpe Diem Charters. We bought a 40-foot power catamaran and started doing business, and it really caught fire.”

To say the least.

“I do believe it was a ‘God winks’ moment,” Pyle adds. “We now have a fleet of six vessels, ranging from 25 to 140 feet, and have booked over a thousand day charters, all which have attained five-star reviews. And due to the success of Carpe Diem Charters, we decided to take on another endeavor with a few partners — Sunfun Charters, which focuses on larger groups of up to 50 guests. We’re pretty cemented in the day charter industry now.”

The 43-year-old Pyle lives in Fort Lauderdale, where his career was first hatched on that ambitious conch lunch excursion to Bimini as a teenager. But his ties to Michigan are stronger than ever.

“The biggest thing I took away from growing up in Michigan is just the honesty,” he says. “Our whole firm lives by that. We’re not a one-stop shop and we never talk to you again; it’s more about cultivating relationships with our clients than it is just pushing fiberglass and selling boats. And our get-up-and-get-to-work mentality is a factor, too. Just the grind, which was instilled in me at such an early age.”

There are important reasons other than selling boats that frequently bring Pyle back to his roots.

“My mom lives in Brighton, and her six brothers and sisters live in metro Detroit. And my little sister lives in South Lyon in the house we grew up in. So I love going back there. It’s just so great to have nice people around you that say hi to each other and open doors. And there’s so much cool culture there, I just love it.”

Pyle takes a wistful pause.

“The last time I was in Michigan, I went to Mario’s for dinner in Midtown Detroit, where my grandparents got engaged. As we were leaving, I looked at my wife and I said, ‘You know, I could move back.’ And she said, ‘You’re saying it now because it’s August.’ And she was right. But Detroit holds a special place in my heart, and it will forever.”