By Michael T. Moore
A yacht industry legend has passed. As his fellow traveler, surveyor and colleague Tony Rossitto put it, “When Don Patton’s ship disappears beyond our horizon, it may be that it is just entering someone else’s.”
Don Patton was like a father to Rossitto, who did not have a father in his own life. The same parental relationship with Mr. Patton was even more real for Tom Jones, who considered Mr. Patton to be his father. Jones, who ran the Patton Marine office for years, always referred to him in public as Mr. Patton. In private, he was Dad.
Mr. Patton came to South Florida from the U.S. northeast where he played semi-pro hockey. But it was not long before he came to prefer activities on water when it was not frozen. By all accounts he was good at everything he undertook, and most of those interests were on the water. He started out sailing small boats, then larger ones, which he enjoyed and raced competitively with great success. Along the way, he rolled into the marine business as a commercial salvor in Miami where he set up shop on the Miami River.
For a brief period, he was even a yacht broker with Richard Bertram and Co., but soon found it did not suit him. He continued to search for his niche and found it in the early 1980s when his attention turned to marine surveying.
Most would agree he was in a class all his own. He was soon recognized as the best marine surveyor in Florida, if not anywhere. He could write and following one survey after another, he cranked out detailed narrative surveys that, before he acquired a copier, he would photocopy and send to clients from a nearby post office.
As business increased, he hired Butch Pliske, who would himself became a top-tier, world-class surveyor and who achieved legendary status in his own right. Pliske would later launch World Yacht Survey, which he now runs with his sons, Chris and David.
In due course, other highly qualified and talented surveyors, all at the top of their class, would join the Patton Marine team: Tom Corness, Bob Connell, Ian Kerr, Guy Clifford, Mark Geddis and, somewhat later, Walter Richardson.
Don Patton lived a life alongside billionaires but never lost sight of his mission and life’s work. When the bottom of a yacht needed surveying and no diver or haul out was available, he simply stripped down to his undies and braved frigid water to get the job done. In recent times, he bet correctly on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. He had a way of seeing things others could not see. Until the end, he financially supported handicapped sailors in the Shake-a-Leg program based in Coconut Grove, Florida. His ribald and edgy sense of humor sometimes got him into hot water, but it also insured his status as the life of every party.
Mr. Patton died on Feb. 11, just a few months shy of his 89th birthday. In the final days before he passed away, he was heard to complain, “This getting old is for the birds.”
Fittingly, and at his request, his remains will be cremated and his ashes will be placed in the Gulf Stream. Meanwhile, Patton Marine will continue on as before with the heading of its moral compass, steadfast and true, set by Don Patton.
Michael T. Moore is a maritime and aviation lawyer with Moore and Company, in Miami.
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