Ft. Lauderdale shipwright John Carlson dies

Sep 26, 2013 by Guest Writer

Shipwright John Carlson died Sept. 12 after a stay in hospice in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 57.


Mr. Carlson had been self-employed as a shipwright and custom carpenter since 1981 in Ft. Lauderdale, specializing in woodworking for private homes and motoryachts. Recently, he has worked on M/Y Sovereign, and M/Y Harbour Island, a 180-foot Newcastle.


Mr. Carlson attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and was a sailor. He worked with partner Mary Jo Carlson at their company John Carlson Custom Carpentry.

Capt. Rafe Palladino and Capt. John S. Calvert were captains on yachts that Carlson did work on and both became friends with Mr. Carlson.


“Since he was a mariner himself he knew how things needed to come together without a CAD or a drawing,” Palladino said.

He said Mr. Carlson did the odds and ends not captured in work contracts.

“He had the old work ethic and he was very loyal,” Palladino said.

“With regard to the schedule, I would think, ‘this can’t happen in time,’ but John would work around the clock and get it done.”


“John was intelligent, but simple,” Palladino said. “Who am I going to call now?”


Calvert works with carpenters with his business Compass Yacht Management in Ft. Lauderdale and hires them for different strengths. He said Mr. Carlson had several strong skills.

“He could take a scrap of plywood, do a sketch in 30 seconds and convey exactly what you had in mind,” Calvert said.


“He was efficient; he was an artist first and then he became a carpenter and it reflected in his work,” Calvert said.

“He rarely needed a straight edge, the lines seemed to project from his head to the wood, he was poetry in motion.”

Even on the mundane projects he worked hard, Calvert said.


“The more difficult a project, the more he was into it,” Calvert said. “We lost someone really special.”


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton, +1 800-633-2577, and www.hbts.org.



The following memorial was written by Peter Bolan, John Carlson’s brother-in-law:

Not too many days before he left, John Carlson speared a fine big hog snapper in a blue green cut out in those empty cays he loved. He had been swimming and diving hard for hours and now he was coming home with a good meal and the smile on his face told his whole story. He was a complicated man who lived simply. John rarely finished a conversation. Usually he just ran out of time and paused until he could take it up again. His conversations were not often limited to a single subject and never to a single dimension, they were more like beating through a sea of chop, one subject trailing off the stern just as the bow plowed into a fresh wave.

John was a damn fine shipwright. He joined and shaped wood so that it would dance on water. He had an innate sense of the mathematics involved in in creating scarf so well that it looked as if the wood had grown together in continuous sinew. He was at home in the world of boats where there a few straight lines or square edges and arithmetics gives way to calculus to find the sweet and subtle curves that make the beautiful. He would listen to the meter, timing, rhythm and structure of Mozart and it would all flow into his work. He was an industrious man, fiercely focused in mind and body . When he worked, he worked his ass off.

The door to his house, the step to his boat were always open and the rum and the wine flowed easy and the laughter and the friendships were genuine and strong.

Less than a week before he went, coming back from his last trip, he sat up in the berth, took off the oxygen, jumped in the shower, came up, took the helm and brought her to the dock with the touch that only a man who really understood himself and his boat could manage.

He did better than well by Jason.

He loved Mary Jo.