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New Owners Carry on the Tradition at Triton Yachts
The multi faceted business finds the right new owners
April 22, 2021

F
our decades ago, a man began selling sailboats in the city of Raleigh. His son joined him. In the 40-ish years since, the younger man moved that business to Oriental, all while expanding it to include a yacht brokerage, yacht transport and a boat yard.

The Triton Yachts crew in 2021, from left: Julie Rahm, Nancy Welles, Paul Welles, Eileen Price, Steve Price, Blair Cooper, Dustin Cooper, Danny Jones.

Paul Welles Jr. began that business – Triton’s Cove – in downtown Raleigh, NC in 1983. Paul, his son, built it into Triton Yachts.

Paul Jr. loved sailing, passing his enthusiasm down to Paul the younger.
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Paul Welles Jr.
“In between ventures,” said Paul, his father decided to try and turn that love into a career. Paul Jr. had been working at Skipper’s Corner in downtown Raleigh on West Street at the time, selling Tanzer 16s and Flying Scots.

Paul (the son) “had just finished college and was about to go out in the world,” he said, when his father approached him about starting a boat business. It was the early 70s. Paul, who’d been working at the family stables, agreed.

Calling their business Triton’s Cove, father and son started selling J/Boats on Downtown Blvd, “a stone’s throw away” from Skipper’s Corner.

‘Triton’s Cove’ continued a naming tradition that began with the Lake Gaston co-ed summer camp Camp Triton. The Welles’ family had started it in 1964 when Paul was just 11.

Triton’s Cove in downtown Raleigh.

“Triton was the Greek god of the winds and the waves,” explained Paul. “He had a trident – 3 points – and the camp’s motto was they developed three things: the mind, the body, and the spirit.

The Triton Yacht’s logo, with the Greek god of the winds and the waves.

“So they [his parents Paul Jr. and Ellen] played off that. They also had sailing, swimming, and riding. They played off the ‘tri’ part.”

Camp Triton was one of a few co-ed camps running at the time, and geared toward boys and girls ages 9-17.
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An ad from 1969 for Camp Triton.
“During siesta,” said Paul, “we’d go out and take the ski boats out and have fun on the lake.” Paul worked most positions in the camp and, after a few summers, “earned all the merit badges”.

Eventually, the Welles “found it wasn’t profitable to have such a nice piece of property in use only three months out of the year, going to the effort of bringing in all the equipment, horses, staff, etc.,” said Paul.

Consolidating the land back into the family horse business, the Welles kept horses at Lake Gaston in the summer months and brought them back to Triton Stables in Raleigh for the winter. Camp Triton lasted a little less than a decade.

The Lake Gaston land was sold off in lots, eventually becoming a subdivision called Triton Point.

After acquiring the J/Boat line, Triton’s Cove soon picked up the O’Day line along with Cape Dory Yachts, Catalina Yachts, and others. “It became clear to me that if we were going to grow the business, we needed to have a presence on the water,” Paul said.

The Welles family had spent sailing time in Oriental sailing Flying Scots. During his childhood, Paul’s family were invited to join a ‘sailing social’ in Oriental for the birthday of Ferne Winborne. She and her husband, Judge Pretlow Winborne, were part of a group of Flying Scots sailors, many (like the Welles) based in Raleigh. The sailing social became a regular event, earning the name the Oriental Sailing Social.

Paul Jr. at the helm with his son, Paul, and granddaughters Caroline and Jackie.

The Socials continued into the 90s. “Eventually we [Triton Yachts] picked it up and called it the Croaker Festival Regatta.” Open to more than just Flying Scots, the regatta became an event and fundraiser for the Oriental Dinghy Club.

In 1986 Andy Denmark, the founder of SailCraft in Oriental, leased office space to Triton’s Cove along Whittaker Creek. They hired Henry Frazer as their broker and began selling boats in ‘the Sailing Capital of North Carolina’.

“That’s where the transport business began,” said Paul. Transport equipment was bought to shuttle inventory between Raleigh and Oriental, “back when sailboats were at the [boat] shows.”

Raleigh’s annual boat show was held in February at the Dorton Arena. “That was the time when we had 23 models at the boat show,” said Paul. “Every one was rigged with masts up, sails on, place settings down below. They were all staged.”

Rigging and staging took place outside the arena. Boats were moved inside afterward. Some years, Paul said, several inches of snow would fall before the move indoors. Once inside, they’d have to shovel snow off the decks onto the arena floor before the show started.

Triton’s Cove boat show at Dorton Arena in the 80s.

As the business continued to prosper, Triton’s Cove picked up the Ericson sailboat line. They did some service work in the Raleigh yard while the brokerage in Oriental began growing. In 1990, the Welles incorporated and Triton Cove underwent a name change, becoming Triton Yachts.

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An ad for Triton Cove’s inventory from 1987
Paul Jr. retired from Triton Yachts in 1992 and chose to remain in Raleigh. Paul and his wife Nancy took over the business, consolidated it and moved to Oriental full time.

In 1995, they purchased property on Midyette Street, to be used for dry storage and transport. Then, it was only the yard and the dry-docked boats. Offices continued on at SailCraft Marina, where brokerage boats were lined up on the docks on Whittaker Creek.

There were two sailing camps nearby: Camp Sea Gull and Camp Seafarer. Triton Yachts began stocking smaller Sunfish and Laser sailboats, supplying the camps – and the small boat regattas in the area – with vessels and parts. Paul and Nancy sponsored and participated in those regattas, and also started one of their own.

Inside Smith and Greens Creeks, the winds are lighter, creating a challenge for creek sailors. So the Welles created the Greens Creek Challenge. To make the race even more interesting, they hid a rubber chicken along the course. A special prize went to the chicken rescuing sailor.

Triton Yachts was expanding and it was time to move the offices closer to the yard. In 2005, a new building was erected on the site to house offices, parts, and the repair shop.

During the economic downturn of 2007, Triton went from just hauling their own inventory to transporting for others. There have been a number of drivers over the years, but Paul did most of it himself. He’s hauled boats as far west as Colorado, north up to Nova Scotia and Ontario, and all along the East Coast.

Though Nancy joined Paul in Oriental in the 90s, she was still on staff as a nurse at Duke University Hospital. She would travel to Durham and work three days, then spend the rest of the week in Oriental. Nancy’s full-time work at Triton didn’t start until 2013.

Nancy and Paul with the rubber chicken at the 2014 Greens Creek Challenge.

Now, Paul and Nancy are ready to retire; they acquired a retirement home in Virginia. Their two daughters, Caroline and Jackie, raised in Oriental had little interest in continuing the business. So the Welles looked to a business broker to see about selling Triton Yachts.

Though their final broker “did a wonderful job of packaging the business” for potential buyers, Paul and Nancy say they ended up doing most of the work. A business broker is able to do many things, but finding an owner able to be involved in all parts of a multi-facted business – the way Paul is with Triton Yachts – proved to be as easy as finding hens teeth.

But Paul did. His hens’ tooth was Blair Cooper.

Blair is both a sailor and experienced with transportation. He owns and runs a car-hauling business based near Fuquay Varina, NC. Like Paul, Blair’s family also traveled to Oriental for the sailing. They even kept a boat in town until the 90s.

In 2017 Blair returned and, through a mutual friend, contacted Paul to haul his boat. Blair eventually ended up with two boats in Triton’s yard.

Paul learned Blair had a car hauling business and a love of boats. He saw that Blair was not only the owner of the business, he was directly involved in it. Though he had drivers, Blair also did long hauls. He was involved in repair and maintenance of his equipment, and handled the paperwork and contracts as well. He also knew his way around sailboats as, like Paul, he’d been sailing since childhood.

Blair Cooper works on a trailer they’re putting together in the yard Triton Yachts.

Paul saw in Blair someone like himself – a person willing, able, and happy to be a part of all aspects of a business. Paul “began cultivating Blair”, he says, to take on and acquire Triton Yachts. “That started the two and a half year talking and negotiating and twisting my arm,” said Blair.

In the summer of 2020, the men got serious about the transaction, pursuing the idea in earnest. Blair began making his own calls. If he was going to do this, he needed to have a good driver to help him out. He called up Daniyel “Danny” Jones. Danny had worked with Blair since 2013 and had the experience Blair was looking for.

“He can do the yard stuff and can handle all the trucking on the road,” said Blair. Danny also has flat bed, step-deck trailering experience plus a background in hauling oversize loads on smaller, rural roads. Blair made the offer, and Danny relocated to Oriental, ready to work.

Blair brought Daniyel Jones to Triton Yachts from his previous car-hauling business.

Blair closed on Triton Yachts in early January of 2021. He’s been here full time since then, living aboard his Allied Seabreeze sailboat at Sea Harbour Yacht Club.

The car hauling business is still operational. “It doesn’t need any advertising,” Blair joked. “We stay busy.” Olga Bonilla, his dispatcher since 2013, also manages the business offsite so he can spend time focusing on Triton.

Despite running one business and learning a second, Blair did take some time off at the end of March to get married. His wife, Dustin, is a teacher in Holly Springs.

Dustin Cooper at work in the Triton offices. She’s a teacher finishing out the school year in Wake County before relocating with Blair.

“This is what he’s always talked about, has always wanted. So I said let’s do it.” She’s finishing out the school year there and plans to transition down to Oriental in June. Dustin is moving on from teaching to learn the Triton Yacht’s business.

Though they’ve handed over the reins, for now Paul and Nancy are staying on in an advisory and sales capacity as they split their time between Oriental and Virginia. “He (Paul) will probably stay involved in the business for a while on that side of things going forward” while the Coopers and Danny are getting their feet under them, becoming comfortable with the detailed ins and outs of running Triton Yachts.

Triton Yachts’ new owners Blair Cooper and his wife Dustin Cooper.

“We’re still sales, service, and transport,” said Blair. “We want to keep everything marching along the way it has been and carry on the way it has been.”

“With Blair, the more I’ve gotten to know him, the more we like him,” said Paul. “He’s smart, but he’s also a good person. We’re happy to be passing the torch on to him. It sounds corny – but we built this business and we have a legacy. We’d love to see the legacy continue.”

Posted Thursday April 22, 2021 by Allison DeWeese


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