By Lucy Chabot Reed
Former yacht crew member Patience Cohn won the Golden Anchor Award for 2020, the most prestigious award given by the 60-year-old Fort Lauderdale-based Marine Industries Association of South Florida. The award recognizes a lifetime achievement for work in the marine industry.
“I am humbled and stunned by it,” Cohn said after receiving the award at the MIASF annual meeting, held virtually on Wednesday night. “I don’t see myself as doing anything extraordinary. I love what I do.”
Cohn is the industry liaison at MIASF, standing up for crewed yachts when industry issues intersect with the government and its rules. The role is a natural for her; she spent more than 20 years as a cook, chef and stew on some of the most well-known yachts at the time.
Cohn grew up in Nantucket and began playing with boats as a child. She worked at Nantucket Boat Basin throughout high school and college, and then, in the mid-1970s, she joined a cousin moving a 42-foot Post to Fort Lauderdale.
When they pulled into Pier 66, general manager Ronnie Stroud pulled up on a golf cart and recognized her from Nantucket. He had recently stopped there on his tour around the Northeast on a yacht carrying a banner saying “Follow me to Fort Lauderdale.”
The next day, he offered her a job, and Cohn became the first female dock attendant at Pier 66.
“I had come down with just a duffle bag,” she remembered. “It would be a year before I went back to Nantucket.”
She worked her way into the office and wound up managing the marina. But then she started dating Capt. Craig Tafoya, and she joined him on the 70-foot Trumpy M/Y Doubloon as cook/stew. They would work on that yacht five years, cruising all over the U.S. East Coast, the Great Lakes, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
“The pay was great and they treated us well, why would we leave?” she said.
Cohn would go on to work on several legendary yachts — and their legendary owners — of the 1980s and ’90s, including the 139-foot Feadship M/Y Circus II, which became M/Y Big Eagle for a few months while owner Bernie Little negotiated another deal, and then M/Y Limitless, the first in a line of ever-growing yachts owned by Les Wexner of the Limited and Victoria’s Secret clothing stores. Cohn stayed involved in the yacht through all the ownership changes as stew and again back in the galley.
She also worked on the 166-foot M/Y Coco (later M/Y Nadine) with Capt. Mark Elliott, and she captained a 70-foot Striker for owner Ted Aronson for a time.
“Four of the owners I worked for were in the top 10 of Forbes wealthiest people at the time,” Cohn noted. “It was a smaller pool of owners then, and I guess I was lucky.”
She came ashore in the mid-1990s and freelanced for a while before settling down and getting married. She found another marina management job through Stroud in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and then came back to Miami to manage the Jockey Club.
She began volunteering at MIASF on the marina and boatyard committee and was soon elected to the board. Eventually, she was called on more and more to help then-President Frank Herhold manage his schedule of meetings with politicians, lobbyists and legislative staff working on issues related to the marine industry. She was officially hired by the association in 2005.
Cohn is the behind-the-scenes muscle on most regulatory and legislative issues that touch large yachts in South Florida and, increasingly, nationwide.
“My job is to manage our lobbyists and my passion has been yachting, so I’m acutely aware what the impediments are when we’re coming up against legislation or rules that impact yachts,” she said. “Probably the biggest advantage I have is that I can argue our point from a knowledgeable position.”
For example, a recent marine advisory from the U.S. Coast Guard clarified that vessels over 500 tons must leave South Florida within 48 hours of a hurricane. Cohn made officers understand that yachts that size have hurricane plans and are highly focused on safety, as well as the reality that they would be unlikely to move in the face of a quickly approaching storm.
The USCG acknowledged her point and now requires vessels over 500 tons hunkering down in South Florida facilities to let the Captain of the Port know they are there.
“I told them that if someone told us we had to leave, I would have said you’re going without me,” Cohn said. “No boat is going to depart with a hurricane coming. Now, they just fill out a form and tell us how they are going to stay safe.
“If you can argue from a position of knowing, you have a much better chance of making your point,” she said.
Cohn has also been involved in efforts to get the B1/B2 visa recognized in South Florida as the appropriate visa for yacht crew, getting yacht crew of all levels recognized as essential workers during the pandemic, and minimizing the impact of the high-speed train bridge over the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Captains with issues arriving or staying in South Florida can contact Cohn for advice or help (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“The association is here to help businesses do business,” she said. “If boats can’t come here, businesses can’t do business.”
Cohn joins an elite group of South Florida marine industry professionals who have won the Golden Anchor award.
“It’s an amazing group,” she said. “I mean, Bob Roscioli [Roscioli Yachting Center] and Joe Rubano [RPM Diesel Services] have won it. They built businesses. I’m just really grateful to be recognized because I do put my heart into it.”
New board seated
MIASF held its annual meeting virtually on June 24 and honored several others with its Award of Excellence, given this year to Bill Walker, president of Water Taxi, and to Bob Crawford, director of Atlantic Technical College, who helped the association create the region’s first marine apprenticeship program.
The member-driven association also seated a new executive board. The new chairman is Lauderdale Marine Center President Doug West, Vice Chairman Jimmie Harrison of Frank & Jimmie’s Propeller, Secretary/Treasurer James Brewer of Derecktor Shipyards, and Immediate Past Chairman Jim Naugle of Lauderdale Boatyard.
New board members include Julie Berry of Marina Investments Group Stiles Realty, Tyler Chappell of the Chappell Group, Michael Kelly of Bradford Marine, and Glenn Allen of Fleet Miami. Dean DuToit of National Marine Suppliers and Andrew Doole of Informa Markets U.S. Boat Shows were re-elected to the board. Garnett Byrd of Marquip, Walter Duke of Walter Duke + Partners, and David Reed of The Triton retired off the board.
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.