Icon, visionary, sailor and storyteller Paul Worthington sailed into the horizon on Aug. 23, 2020 in Key West. He was 72.
Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Paul grew up in a seafaring family in Cape Cod and never surrendered the skills and passion a life under sail requires.
Before he and his wife, Evalena, first sailed into Key West on a stormy night in 1984 and eventually became the owners of the iconic Schooner Wharf Bar, Worthington had already packed a lifetime of adventure into a few decades.
He attended law school; worked aboard a research vessel with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; and then, as an entrepreneur, he owned a sawmill and a ski lodge in Vermont.
He and Evalena met while delivering sailboats to Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
On one such delivery, Paul asked Evalena to “keep his grandmother’s diamond engagement ring safe. And the rest is history,” Evalena Worthington recalled this week.
The pair had plans to sail the elegant wooden boat, Schooner Defiance — built in 1926 for Joseph Pulitzer — down the U.S. East Coast and eventually to Australia. But when they docked in Key West, they found themselves at home.
The couple later acquired the Schooner Diamante and moved it to the former SIngleton docks at Key West Bight, now known as Key West’s Historic Seaport, thanks largely to the efforts, vision and business acumen of Paul Worthington. The Worthingtons opened a makeshift floating bar aboard the boat and catered to all manner of rough shrimpers and watermen in the area back then.
“We filled an Igloo cooler with beer and the top drawer of a filing cabinet held the top shelf liquor,” said Evalena. “It quickly became the ‘living room’ of the waterfront community.”
Worthington’s vision was to create a historic seaport district with a focus on classic tall ships and the maritime history of Key West. By 1990, he had attracted the largest fleet of historic schooners on the eastern seaboard and helped redevelop Key West’s working waterfront into the vibrant maritime neighborhood it is today.
Worthington loved to recall the night he had to throw a drunk out of the bar three times. The man kept returning via various entrances. When Worthington finally and firmly told him to return the next day, the perplexed man asked, “How many damn bars do you own in this town?”
“Paul was the love of my life, my guiding light, my greatest supporter, collaborator, cheerleader and my best friend,” his wife said upon his passing. “He and his spirit will be with me forever. There was nothing too crazy for us to pursue, and the two of us did it all together, from beginning to end.”
Longtime friend and fellow sailor Harry Bowman said, “Paul’s influence can be seen here every day. He’s part of everyone he met and will always be part of Schooner Wharf and the Seaport.”
Fair winds and full holds to a visionary, a legend, and a hell of a sailor.
(Plans for a memorial service are underway. Details will be forthcoming.)