Make and Make Do
This week was a very sad one for the small boat world. We lost one of our foremost intellects, instigators and inspirations. Robb White of Thomasville, GA, and Dog Island, FL died on May 16, 2006. Most of us know him as the prolific writer whose articles appeared regularly in Messing About in Boats and occasionally in WoodenBoat. And of course he was also an innovative boatbuilder.
Robb White sailing his Felucca at Cedar Key last year.
To me he was also a friend. I only had the pleasure of Robb's acquaintance for a year or so, and was immediately struck by not only his breadth and depth of knowledge, but his generosity in sharing it. Robb and I began our correspondence as he helped develop my mechanical ideas for a future Atkin tunnel-stern project. As the only person to have built a modern version of one of these incredible boats, Robb became something of a guru to devotees both of Atkin and of shallow draft powerboats. And his inexpensive mechanical systems are works of art. I think most of us were skeptical that those tunnel stern boats could ever perform as advertised. But Robb was not afraid to take a risk.
Indeed, he died during surgery that he knew was risky. But I think he felt it was better to shoot for a decent repair rather than risk subjecting his family to a slow degeneration. I hope I have the courage to make the same decision if I ever have to.
Many didn't like Robb's rambling writing style. It's true that you have to dig for the pearls of wisdom, but that sort of reflects what Robb's life has been like. Growing up almost wild, he understood hunting and gathering on an instinctive level. In reading his words we have to wander the beach in search of oysters right along with him. And we get to find the pearls along with him too.
I think is one of Robb's best qualities is that he never let himself get forced into being a specialist. A true Renaissance man, he was educated in marine biology, but didn't let it make him pretentious. He was an expert with wood and epoxy, but also could invent and build a push-button quick-release prop nut more or less on a whim. He was a writer and a scholar, yet perfectly capable of walking away from civilization and living off the land whenever he wished. And most of the time he was halfway there anyway. Furthermore, his life was devoted to helping others enjoy their time on the water, through both words and hardware.
It is rare to find such a combination of qualities in one person. I miss him greatly, and no doubt many others will as well. He leaves a much bigger wake than any of his boats do. I am more determined than ever to get around to building the Atkin Shoals Runner we were talking about … could it be only last week? I think I'll name it "Old Een", or something like it. (Read his book if you don't get it.) But it will be a while before I build it. The day Robb died, and before I knew about it, I was hearing this voice in my head telling me to spend less time building boats and more time sailing with my family. Now I think I know where the voice came from. I think I'm going sailing today, and to hell with the new sail ties.
I extend my deepest sympathies to his family, and all others he leaves behind. Robb grew up and lived out his life at the edge of the sea. I have a feeling that now he's somewhere where he can hunt shellfish without worrying about red tides, where the fish are always biting, and where the wind is always fair. Like the little cove where he wanted to run away to. (Except there ain't no dadblamed no-see-ums.) Or maybe they took him from us too early 'cause they were running short on tin canoes and needed an expert. Either way, I know Robb is the sort to keep himself busy until he gets to welcome his loved ones. So until we meet again, Robb, "Give you the joy of the coast."