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A Paragon lost, and return of the Duchess

Dear friends,

In late November I started thinking about Christmas cards. We have done many through the years, some with all of our employees lined up in goofy Santa hats and some more polished. I send the same cards to family and friends as well as clients for the business. Wanting to make something special this year, I went through many of my photos to find the perfect one.

Years ago my friend, Mitchell Turnbough, had sent me a photo of “Paragon” his 1966 Trumpy motoryacht, Contract 423, built for Wallace Whittaker as “Odyssey”. The photo captured the elegance of this beautiful yacht in winter, dusted with snow. It was just magical and absolutely perfect for our holiday cards. I called Mitchell to make sure he didn’t mind me using his photo and he said have at it. This picture captured the feeling of the holidays.

Just a few days after Christmas I got a call from Capt. Bryan Akers, who helms “Justice,” a 1930 Consolidated commuter. I was ready for a jolly catch-up conversation when he became solemn and asked if I knew, whether I had heard that “Paragon” had burned the night before. As Bryan told me the details, my heart sank. My youngest son, James, and I had been Mitchell’s guest several times and James even spent time with them during his summer in NYC when he was taking a summer program at the School of Visual Arts.

Mitchell and I met in 2000 and hit it off like we had known each other for decades. “Paragon” has been his home before marriage and a family. That 1966 yacht was a big part of his life, and the interior was all Mitchell, a designer by trade. The spare, mid-century interior was even featured in Architectural Digest. Now, Mitchell and his family had had lost their home. I called Mitchell to see how he was fairing.

They had gone down to his home town to Pass Christian, Miss., to spend the holidays with his mom. The fire had started aboard a fiberglass yacht docked in the next slip and spread to “Paragon.” Marina officials think the fire was caused by a space heater and inadequate wiring. The fiberglass boat burned until the fire department filled her with water and she sunk. “Paragon” was still floating for a while, but a few hours later, she followed suit and settled to the bottom.

Here's a link to a Passmaker story with links to video and an Architectural Digest spread on the yacht:

I’m not sure what is next for Mitchell. He was talking about heading South, perhaps to New Orleans. His children are in school now and they have a lot of friends helping out. I’m sure the questions are rolling around in all our heads. He doesn’t know if there will be any more boats in his future. “Paragon,” has been such a big part of his and his family’s life that they are still processing the loss.

For all of those that still have this card I sent, please hold on to it. It marks a place in time, of a Trumpy yacht, the “Paragon,” that is no more.

On a lighter note, Margaret and I decided to recover from the holidays by taking a vacation. My wife and I are at the age where we are beginning to cross off our bucket list items. When I lived in Maine, I saw a weak version of the Northern Lights, dull and far off in the distance. I remembered that the warmest place to actually see them well was Iceland. There you are just far enough north to get a spectacular view, have a temperate climate, and have limited light pollution – and it IS the land of the Vikings!

I talked Margaret into a “no plans” adventure, and off to Iceland we went!

Their language is the same today as it was 800 years ago so a child today can pick up an ancient manuscript and read it without a problem. I thought that was the neatest thing. With 4 ½ hour of daylight a day and snow-covered mountains we went in search of Vikings and who knew what else? It was a bit rainy, so during those times we hit many of the museums in Reykjavik and ate fresh deep-sea cod in the local restaurants on the inner harbor. What a cool place!

We journeyed out to where the tectonic plates meet – a place that looked like Mordor right out of Lord of the Rings. There were millions of acres of lava flow centuries old, Icelandic geysers, and blue steaming baths. We were actually looking for the “City of Trolls” when I saw a sign for a Viking Museum. Yup, Margaret just rolled her eyes. Well, we never made it to the “City of Trolls.”

Getting out of the car I could see the stern of a full-sized Viking ship like the Gokstad in Norway. My heart was pounding as we entered this grand hall. I was humbled. The attendant, he looked like a college student, disappeared to the back room with a few people so it seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves.

We watched all of the movies they were showing, we read every plaque that was displayed, and once done with all of that we climbed aboard the


If I was just a normal tourist I would have just taken a bunch of pictures and selfies. I’m not a normal tourist. I looked at every splice in the keel and her planks, I examined how the rivets were hand forged, I crawled through the bilge and felt the power one of these great ships held.

Technology that is thousands of years old in an 80 metric ton ship 74’ long with a 17’ 4” beam and a 5’ 6” draft with 15/16th inch planking, she was light and strong, with a top speed of 18 knots. The lap strake captures small pockets of air that helps to speed the boat. At 12 knots she starts to lift and at 16 knots she starts to fly. It would be a dream come true to sail on one of these long boats!! I stood at the steerboard (aka starboard, rudderboard) with the tiller in hand. I could almost feel what it is like looking through the large glass window at the endpoint, her bow out to sea.

We never did get to see the Northern Lights, or the Great Waterfall, or the ice caves. Too cloudy and rainy, but I would go back in a heartbeat. I was told that in the summer they have daylight for 22 hours. Who knows…

The “Doc Kelly,” the Simmons Sea Skiff, is almost done. Installing a new bottom has bought her back to life. Her new bottom is almost bulletproof! Originally she had a small motor, 9.9 to 25hp. The new motor is a 50hp 4-stroke (Little Heaven), it almost yanked out the motor well. We re-framed, re-chined, re-keelsoned, and re-bottomed - but that was still not enough. I walked around the shop looking and looking for the right piece of wood. I finally found what I was looking for: a vertical grain chunk of Douglas Fir. I handed it off to my lead carpenter, Jon Aneloski, and told him to cut us some strips about ¼” thick.

After flipping every other strip end to end I handed them back to him. Jon looked a little puzzled, “What do you want me to do with them?” I replied, “Laminate Doc a stern knee.” I then explained further – each time you bend something opposing the other under tension and the other side under compression, then locked with glue, it gets stronger. Six or eight laminates later they are actually 10% stronger per lamination than blocking and bolts. I personally want to be on her sea trials – I bet this old girl will raise some eyebrows (and my heartbeat)! “Doc Kelly” and her bulletproof bottom. I can’t wait – this little Simmons Sea Skiff is going to fly!

We recently met the new owners of “Duchess,” the elegant little 1930 50’ Elco that we replaced the bottom on about five years ago. Richard and Elizabeth Harris of Newport, RI., head the Block Island Maritime Funding organization, a not for profit that works with maritime educational programs.

We are thrilled that they returned the “Duchess” to us not only for maintenance, but also that she is in such good hands.

Many boat donation charities use the money to run their own in-house programs. Block Island Maritime Funding, BIMF, is unique in that it contributes to other programs. BIMF was founded more than 20 years when Richard retired to Block Island. He had a lot of free time and decided to collect a group of kids to share his love of sailing. The parents were thrilled and started giving him boats to help him out with the program. The next thing you know, he had $2 million in boat inventory and his little venture didn’t require that much money. He started selling off the boats and giving the money to other programs that did similar work.

Today, BIMF supports a slew of charities dedicated to teaching young people about boating and the ocean such as the American Sail Training Association, Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club Jr. Program Founding, International Yacht Restoration School, Sail Maine, Sail Newport, Tall Ships Portland, The Apprenticeshop as well as others.

While the “Duchess,” is listed for sale to fund the organization’s efforts, BIMF still wants her kept up for the next phase of her life rather than letting her flounder as often happens when a yacht is for sale. So kudos to the Harrises and to the organization!

Until next time,

Jim Moores

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