The Innovator

The Innovator at dock in Long Beach.

It was only natural that an engineering firm focused on the waterfront included a boat in the corporate fleet for touring company projects from the best vantage point possible — on the water.

Moffatt & Nichol’s first such boat belonged to Jack Nichol and was affectionately known as “the Fat Duck.” However, as it aged, maintenance became an issue.

According to Jack’s widow Sally, Jack was more of a sailor than a power boater and as a teenager he had a 29-foot wooden Dragon keel boat.

The couple enjoyed many days sailing their boat, the Sally Lou, to their mooring at Catalina’s Isthmus. Sally was a midwestern girl, so sailing was new to her.

“Jack was a patient teacher, and he taught me the basics of sailing on board — starting with how to pick up a mooring," she said. "We made some great memories on board.”

Both Sally Lou and Fat Duck were docked in Alamitos Bay Marina, a project Nichol was particularly proud of.

After Jack retired, he volunteered in the community and the city park near Basin 8 is named in his honor. The park is a tribute to his work as a local coastal engineer, in the design of marinas, and as a member and chairman of the Marine Advisory Commission.

Moffatt & Nichol wanted to maintain the tradition on the water established by Jack Nichol.

The firm’s then-Chief Financial Officer Tim Rellaford spotted a Monk-designed yacht berthed at the Ocean Alexander yacht brokerage in Newport Beach that caught his eye: The Innovator. Besides being a beautiful vessel, the name was serendipitous. Rellaford decided to take a closer look.

The yacht’s design was intriguing: she was built for entertaining, with a roomy galley, a comfortable dining area, great deck space above, and minimalist cabins below. The deck plan was ideal for touring clients and potential clients comfortably through local ports and marinas to demonstrate up-close-and personal Moffatt & Nichol’s waterfront design capabilities.

Built in Taiwan in 1989 by Ocean Alexander to a local charter company’s specifications, the yacht began its career with a 1990 launch as Wild Bill, touring Hong Kong and Singapore.

After 10 years navigating the South China Sea, Wild Bill was put on the block, and purchased again by a charter company. However, this charter was based in New Zealand and the yacht’s new role would bring it into waters shared with the most elite sailing vessels in the world.

The charter company’s primary client at the time was Auckland, New Zealand-based appliance maker Fisher & Paykel, whose advertising tagline at the time touted the manufacturer as “the innovators of home appliances.”

The tour operator renamed the vessel “The Innovator,” and readied it to serve as a viewing platform for the America’s Cup 2000, hosted in New Zealand, and for which Fisher & Paykel were sponsors.

When the race ended, so did the Innovator’s regatta career. Original builder and broker Ocean Alexander assessed the now 10-year-old vessel for resale. Because the boat had not been outfitted as a luxe cruising yacht with spacious staterooms and live-aboard amenities, it was thought to be more marketable in the United States. The Innovator was unceremoniously shipped to Stockton, then on to the dealership in Newport Beach.

The Innovator proved to be a good fit for Moffatt & Nichol. Willing to live with the boat’s idiosyncrasies, such as the utilitarian interior designed for entertaining large groups, and the European electrical current — a $20 adapter solved that problem for annual holiday lights.

The engineering firm was able to swing a deal and cruise the Innovator into her roomy slip at Peter’s Landing Marina in the heart of Huntington Harbour, just minutes from the Bolas Chica Wetlands — both landmark Moffatt & Nichol projects.

As laws and corporate guidelines changed regarding entertainment like voyaging on company boats, obtaining tickets to sporting events or flying on private aircraft, the Innovator fell victim and was sold in 2013.

Personally, I have happy memories of cruising on the Innovator to view the holiday lights. If you have a memory of a notable vessel, please email me at to be included in a future column.

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