Martin “Mike” C. Kelsey III of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., died Jan. 4. Kelsey, former president of Palmer Johnson Yachts, battled complications from cancer. He was 57.
Kelsey had “boating in his blood,” according to an obituary on Megayachtnews.com. “His grandfather, the late Patrick E. Haggerty, chairman of the semiconductor company Texas Instruments, bought a small shipyard, Palmer Johnson Boats, in town in 1961,” wrote Diane Byrne on the website. “Haggerty changed the focus from wooden pleasure craft to metal boats and is therefore considered a pioneer in aluminum yacht construction. Haggerty’s son-in-law, the late Mike Kelsey Sr., began working at the yard shortly after Haggerty’s acquisition.”
Over the years, Palmer Johnson recorded a number of famous builds, including the 99-foot Fortuna for Spain’s King Juan Carlos in 1979 and, nine years later, the largest American-built yacht at the time, La Baronessa, with an LOA of 195 feet. The yard also launched the world’s first expedition yacht, the 151-foot Turmoil, in 2006.
Kelsey told Byrne that he went to his father’s office after school every day and did whatever he could at the yard, whether it was sweeping floors in the carpentry shop or cleaning tanks. After college, he became a sales broker at Palmer Johnson in the early 1980s and went on to become vice president of Palmer Johnson Savannah in 2003.
After the Sturgeon Bay yard gained new ownership, Kelsey was fired. Later that year, Palmer Johnson went into bankruptcy. One of its clients, Timur Mohamed, rescued the yard from bankruptcy and installed Kelsey as president. He remained in that position until 2013, when Mohammed moved operations out of Sturgeon Bay to Europe.
The local funeral home said Kelsey’s funeral will take place Jan. 10 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sturgeon Bay. Kelsey leaves behind a large family, including his mother, wife, and seven children.