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By John Freeman
Hugo Carver, long-known in San Diego’s maritime industry as an inventive engineer, good-humored mariner and co-owner of Knight & Carver Yacht Center, died June 1 at age 72.
Mr. Carver’s passing came some 18 months after he was diagnosed with ALS, the inevitably fatal neurological disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was widely admired for his often-quirky brilliance, sailing skills and fun-loving nature.
“We were classmates, roommates several times, shipmates on two merchant ships and business partners,” said John Knight, who first met Mr. Carver at the California Maritime Academy in 1963 when the two were 18-year-old freshman roommates. “Hugo was so unique in so many ways. He was full of life, witty and wonderfully salty with an abundant sense of humor. He was a walking encyclopedia on many subjects, but especially boating knowledge.”
Their partnership evolved into Knight & Carver Yacht Center, a boat building and repair facility that flourished for more than 40 years. Its origins date back to 1971, when Knight, who had just launched his boat repair business along San Diego Bay, asked Mr. Carver to join him. Knight & Carver grew into one of the West Coast’s leading yacht companies, with more than 100 custom-made yachts and 40,000 boats repaired.
Through the years, the company hosted seven America’s Cup syndicates at its Mission Bay facility, including the Soviet Union’s vessel, which was later donated to the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
First located on Hancock Street near the San Diego Sports Arena, Knight & Carver expanded to the Mission Bay Marina and later, in 1999, consolidated its new-build and repair operations to an 11-acre National City, Calif., bayfront facility that included a 100,000-square-foot enclosed structure and more than 1,400 feet of dock space.
Ever the innovator, Mr. Carver initiated many of the firm’s new-build techniques, often from doodles drawn in pencil on scratch paper. Later renamed Knight & Carver Maritime, the luxury yacht firm closed in 2013 after its Port of San Diego lease was purchased by Marine Group Boat Works.
From the early 2000s, anticipating the nation’s shift to renewable energy sources, Mr. Carver led the company’s expansion into the manufacturing and repair of large utility-scale wind blades, made from virtually the same fiberglass composite materials used for boat hulls. Until its closing in 2012, Knight & Carver Wind Group operated production plants in National City and Howard, South Dakota.
Early in their careers, immediately after graduating from Cal Maritime in 1966, Mr. Carver and Knight were assigned as licensed marine engineers to the SS President Pierce, a 535-foot World War II-era cargo ship. During that six-month deployment, they served together in Manila, Saigon, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Panama. They later served on the SS President Tyler, a 565-foot hybrid container ship known as a SeaRacer, forging history as the modern era of container ships evolved.
“Throughout our careers we were always at the forefront of the maritime industry’s latest trends in engineering, design and new build,” Knight said.
A member of the Silver Gate Yacht Club and the Ancient Mariners Sailing Society, Mr. Carver was an expert sailor, especially when at the helm of the company’s 64-foot Alden cutter, Nirvana, which Mr. Carver’s parents had first purchased in 1958.
“We won many a race to Ensenada with Hugo in charge,” Knight said. “And the after-parties were always more than memorable.”
Mr. Carver and his family lived aboard Nirvana from 1973 to 1978. When their pet guinea pig disappeared off the dock, his wife, Marjie, decided it was time to move to a land-based home with a fenced-in yard. For the next 20 years the family resided in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, then later moved to Point Loma, Calif.
Mr. Carver spent his early years in Northridge, then Newport Beach, Calif. He was an avid sailor from childhood and a top competitive swimmer. As a high school senior in 1963, he led his Newport Harbor High School swim team to the national prep title. He enjoyed body surfing at Newport’s “Wedge” as a teen and was known for how long he could hold his breath underwater.
In his later years, he would cheerfully lead dozens of Knight & Carver employees in early morning yoga and stretching drills. Until slowed by his ALS diagnosis in 2015, he often could be seen piloting his prized 23-foot crimson-and-gold sailboat Cat’s Paws or peddling his bicycle around San Diego.
Longtime Knight & Carver executive Giovanni LoCoco said he’ll remember Mr. Carver most for his generosity, kindness, honesty and integrity. “He was always positive, always empowering. Hugo was a great mentor to so many of us, but more importantly, a great friend.”
“Always, even at the height of his illness, he kept all of us laughing,” Knight’s wife, Meri, said. “His sense of humor and storytelling sparkled to the very end.”
Besides Marjie, his wife of nearly 50 years, Mr. Carver is survived by daughter Serena Carver Noble; seven grandchildren; three brothers, Gilman, Walter and Carl; and one sister, Ruth. One sister, Jo, preceded him in death. About two weeks after Mr. Carver’s passing, daughter Jennifer Carver Jones, 41, was hit by a car and died.
In lieu of flowers, the Carver family suggests contributions to the ALS Association, Greater San Diego chapter. A Celebration of Life for Hugo Winchester Carver II is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. Sunday, July 16, at Silver Gate Yacht Club.
John Freeman formerly served as communications director with Knight & Carver. He now specializes in cybersecurity with his San Diego-based PR/marketing firm, Point Communications.