In the early ’70s, John Carbone commissioned a boat to be designed by naval architect Edwin Monk Jr. and built by Miller Boatworks on Washington State’s Bainbridge Island. But Carbone never got to enjoy the 67-foot yacht. In 1978, Carbone—an organized crime boss based in Tacoma, Washington—ended up in federal prison on racketeering charges after his gang burned down several local taverns and topless bars in a turf war. But this isn’t a story about gangsters of the Pacific Northwest; rather, it’s one of a unique boat design and how two sisterships ended up being built instead of one.
The first was Carbone’s boat. After he was sentenced to prison, Carbone left the boatyard with a half-finished build that he’d agreed to pay $400,000 (roughly $1.5 million today) to have built. While many boatyards might have mothballed the project, Miller Boatworks finished the boat. Carbone’s dream was born—and then sold to someone else. Years later, a second hull was built. After Carbone went to prison, Monk sold the plans to a Californian who had fallen in love with the design he’d seen being built.
Duncan McCallie has always owned at least one boat since he was 13 and his parents bought a house on Lake Tapps in Washington. The house came with a 15-foot Skagit outboard, which he claimed as his own. His teenage years found him in an 8-foot hydro racer, then a 17-foot drag boat. Having survived his formative years in the boating fast lane, McCallie discovered sailing in college, which led him to own several sailboats of increasing size.
Living aboard many of these sailboats, McCallie also held a variety of marine jobs over the years. Like many who work in marine repair and outfitting, he took on several boats as “investments,” fixing them up and reselling them, usually for a profit. He also owned a boat dealership in Portland, Oregon, for a number of years.
I first met McCallie several years ago in the Seattle area, where he was running a boutique brokerage called the Project Boat Company. I was working for a sailing club at the time, managing a number of slips. We would often sublet the slips we weren’t using for our charter fleet, and I rented a slip to a client of McCallie’s. A true “project boat,” the client’s vessel had been inside a dry storage shed when it caught fire, and she certainly looked the part when she first showed up on our docks. Soon after, McCallie was looking for a slip for his own boat, Turning Point, which was luckily in much better shape.
I was immediately drawn to Turning Point’s lines. When I tell McCallie I’d always been impressed by her tall and broad bow that towers over the dock like a small ship, he agrees, saying, “Yeah, that’s exactly what got me in trouble when I first saw this design.”
McCallie’s never-ending search for project boats had led him to the hull for Turning Point. He saw a two-line listing for a 67-foot trawler hull in the classifieds of a boating publication. Intrigued, he emailed the seller and received back several photos and the design drawings. When he opened up the drawings and realized he was looking at a replica of the original Carbone hull, McCallie knew he had to have the boat.
He immediately flew to Los Angeles to inspect the hull, which was the nautical equivalent of a barn find. Turned out that years after having bought the same plans Miller Boatworks had used for Carbone’s boat, the seller had started his own build in a warehouse along the San Pedro waterfront. He’d completed the hull but had missed his window to finish and enjoy the boat, and he was looking to part ways with it.
As the boat was too wide to be cheaply shipped back to Seattle, McCallie traveled back and forth from Seattle to Los Angeles for over a year, installing the tanks, the two Cummins six-cylinder diesels and the rest of the running gear to make the boat functional. In fact, McCallie explains that the only way the boat was affordable was because his labor was free. He built the entire boat from the hull up with his own two hands—and occasional help from friends and family when more than two hands were needed.
As I tour the boat, McCallie rattles off story after story about bargain boat parts, which he seems to have a knack for finding. He explains he wouldn’t have been able to fit the boat out the way she is without the luck of surplus materials, auctions and bargain finds, perhaps best exemplified by Turning Point’s large windows, which allow the outside in. McCallie found the windows for sale at a U.S. Coast Guard surplus dealer in New Jersey. Originally built as replacement parts for USCG icebreakers, each window was a half-inch thick and heated. While he only needed eight, McCallie had to buy all 22 of the windows that were available. As they were within an inch of the dimensions called for in the original plans, he made the investment and managed to sell off the other 14 windows, netting a profit in the end.
When McCallie and his wife, Jan, moved aboard a little more than 10 years ago, Turning Point was still a project. Among the benefits of her slow build process has been the McCallies’ ability to improve upon her original design. For the most part, Turning Point is quite similar to her sistership, but for a few significant changes, such as adding doors along the side of the house—one forward of the settee and one in the galley. Originally, the only way to access the deck was via the aft doors in the salon. The change fits so neatly with the flow of the boat that it is hard to imagine living with the original design.
Like many boats designed and built in the ’70s, the original galley design was, as Duncan puts it, “small and unimaginative.” The McCallies put a great deal of thought into their galley design, in a way only liveaboard boatbuilders can. Duncan also added about three feet to the pilothouse to accommodate a bunk. He changed the layout of the staterooms, doing away with the single bunks in favor of a queen berth for each cabin. All of these he waves off as “little changes” necessary to make the boat more livable.
Over the years, Duncan has made many more significant changes to the boat, as Jan reminds him. He added the “missing tooth” to the Portuguese bridge in front of the pilothouse. The “missing tooth” is a cutout and staircase allowing easier access to the foredeck from the pilothouse.
I witnessed Duncan complete another bridge-related improvement myself when Turning Point was berthed in one of our slips. Leaving for my lunch break one day, I caught Duncan staring at his boat from the dock. The Portuguese bridge looked wrong from afar, apparently. By the time I returned, he had already taken a Sawzall to his boat, removing the section of bridge he found offensive. By the end of the week, the bridge had taken on a new shape and was reglassed and repainted.
The project list is narrowing, but there are still a few boxes yet to be checked, such as finishing off the fo’c’s’le, which is currently used as a large storage area for tools and spare parts. It will soon become a guest cabin with a head and several bunks. Then there are the odds and ends, the trim, the bits of temporary paint and repairs that need to be made permanent.
Perhaps most impressive to me is the McCallies’ willingness to embrace and enjoy their boat as a work in progress. Over my years working in the maritime trades, I’ve seen many a boat designed and built by owners or under commission. While mob boss John Carbone may be an extreme example—most owners don’t end up imprisioned before they see their boats launched—it’s not uncommon for the sun to set on the owners’ long-term cruising dreams before their custom-build projects are finished.
Not so for the McCallies. While Duncan says the only thing he’d have done differently is to start this process earlier in life, he and Jan are already putting good mileage under the keel of Turning Point, while the work continues. They cruise Desolation Sound annually; they’ve taken the boat to the Bay Area for several years; and they have been to Alaska and all over Puget Sound. Though the McCallies sometimes talk about “swallowing the anchor” and moving back ashore one day, they feel they still have a few more miles to travel aboard Turning Point and a few more projects to see to completion.
Jan needles Duncan by affectionately calling him “Mr. Ninety Percent.” She claims he always gets 90 percent of the way through a project before starting another. And that may be, but they haven’t missed out on cruising aboard their boat or enjoying the project life as liveaboards. Duncan defends himself by pointing out that “the trim work seems like 10 percent of the work until you start doing it—and then it feels more like 50 percent of the work.” He concludes, “That’s why most people buy finished boats.”