Capt. John C. Timmel receives prestigious Parke Wright III Award

Published January 18 2014

We might give the shipyard a passing glance as we drive along the Selmon Expressway.

We might look out at a ship from Bayshore Boulevard and reflect for a moment on this city's long ties to the maritime industry.

For the most part, however, shipping and boating's strong connection to the community tends to be more afterthought than thought for many.

But it is one of the county's economic engines, along with tourism and agriculture. And those most involved with maritime pursuits can't imagine where the industry would be without Capt. John C. Timmel.

Last week, Timmel received the Leadership Tampa Alumni Parke Wright III Award for his leadership, which may be best illustrated by his efforts as the founder of the American Victory Ship Mariners Museum at the Port of Tampa.

A humble Timmel quickly credited colleagues for his success.

"Leadership Tampa is a network of friends who are leaders in their own areas of expertise," Timmel said. "By having those friends and by calling them and asking questions, asking for their assistance to get things done, they push you from a comfortable level to a level of discomfort to get things done.

"They give you the strength to take a chance and follow what your soul tells you do."

Timmel, a native of Fort Walton Beach, came to Tampa in 1984 to be a harbor pilot. He grew to become a leader in a number of harbor pilot and maritime industry organizations, then branched out into other community organizations. He currently serves as Mayor Bob Buckhorn's maritime liaison and on Congresswoman Kathy Castor's National Academy Selection Committee.

"What he's done for the maritime industry, what he's given back to the community, has been Herculean," said Yacht StarShip owner and captain Troy Manthey. "No one has dedicated more time to the cause than John."

It's the American Victory, however, that represents Timmel's crowning achievement. In 1999, he discovered the SS American Victory, a ship commissioned in 1945 to ferry various military cargo shipments, in a Virginia warehouse.

Timmel decided to bring the ship to Tampa and renovate it.

"I remember docking it at dry dock at the shipyard," said Timmel, who was joined by an enthusiastic group of supporters. "We looked at each other and said, 'Now what are going to do?' "

Timmel capitalized on the contagious spirit of the project and rallied the troops. After 80,000 volunteer hours and $3.5 million, the ship emerged in 2003 as a passenger-ready, floating museum.

Today, it serves as a beacon for the past, present and future. It reminds us of those who served back in the day, its status as a museum draws supporters to the port and its appeal attracts the next generation to the industry.

"We would like to become the education outreach arm of the Tampa Port Authority," said Timmel, who added that a number of teenagers have learned about and gone into the maritime industry after visiting the ship.

Timmel is particularly proud of the Scouts who have created projects for the ship to earn Eagle Scout status.

Timmel conceded that generating ongoing support for the American Victory remains a challenge after the Great Recession, but he remains determined to help the project and preserve an important part of maritime history.

"It's an American treasure," he said. "There are only four vessels of its kind in operation: Baltimore, San Francisco and Los Angeles."

Timmel's efforts have put Tampa's maritime industry in pretty good company.

That's all I'm saying.