Rob was involved in sailing from an early age. His father had owned a Thames Barge which was requisitioned in the war and which did not survive.
His early experience with Medway Yacht Club was sailing Firefly dinghies. There was a fleet of thirty, one of which belonged to his brother, Richard. He crewed for him and others and there was a merry social life amongst a great crowd of Juniors.
Rob joined my brother Jaspar and I when we bought a Dragon. He said that he would “try us out” – and did the foredeck for the next thirty five years!
Almost regardless of the wind strength, we raced every Saturday. It was up to the participants to decide whether it was safe to go. He never flinched, even when it was so rough that we could hardly get on board to put the sails up. I think he enjoyed the feeling of stepping ashore after a good blow, having done no damage but also scaring ourselves witless.
We blew out an occasional spinnaker, we ran aground every now and then but we never broke a mast. On sunny, windless days, in the middle of a race, he would suddenly dive overboard for a swim. That meant that we had to put the anchor down and join him.
He was always the first to announce that it was a “dry old party” and rummage in the stores below for the first round of “Kent’s Finest Ale”. This added to the pleasure of an afternoon on the river with him and our performance was always improved.
On Saturday mornings throughout the winter we sailed my Super Seal . Rob would be on the hard with the dinghy at ten o’clock, and with Jaspar, Martin Gray, Wendy Howland and occasionally others, we would slip down through the creeks. A cruise through Copperhouse, south of Nor Marsh, and back through South Yantlet and Hoo, would provide lovely views of overwintering sea birds. Whilst, on a rough day, we would crash down to Bishop’s Spit and back. In the bar by twelve thirty. Rob usually bought the first bottle and told tall tales.
By this time, he had been the proud owner of a series of nice looking, seaworthy boats. A Hustler 25, a UFO 32, a Twister and a twin keel Hunter 27, amongst others. We often raced in the Autumn Series but on the occasion of the last race one year we elected to cruise and watch. Keeping out of the way in Long Reach, we ran aground on the north shore. Rob accepted the blame and jumped overboard fully clothed to push us off. After fifteen minutes of effort, up to his shoulders in the propwash, in late November, falling tide we accepted our fate. The problem was that three separate members of the crew were expected home for Sunday lunch with their in-laws. Wearing a collection of our dry clothes, he was hoisted up the mast to replace the radio aerial which he had removed the previous week.
Rob did his “one link call please” to Thames coastguard who rang my wife saying “there’s a foreign gentleman on a yacht in the Medway and I don’t know what he’s been on but the best of luck making sense of him”. We agreed that hypothermia had glued his tongue. Needless to say, we were home long after dark.
He gave many hours of his life to the Club: often seen on a Friday fire-hosing the mud off the dinghy ramps and joining in with other jobs.
He has been a member of the Buoy Laying Committee for thirty five years as well. He was the bowman on Kent when we were refurbishing the MYC buoys during the winter. This involved leaning over the bow, arms in the water, to change the shackles on the sinkers – a very unpleasant operation. On one February occasion, the weather was so cold that by the time we came ashore all our limbs were frozen. Malcolm MacDonald, a guest member of the Committee that day, had a prosthetic leg and Rob was helping him by pulling his oilskins off. Of course, the leg came off with the trousers and a passing member had to be revived and reassured at the shock of seeing this.
He also served on the foredecks of several Committee boats over the years. Numberless Regatta and Autumn Series races were timed and flagged off by Rob and his boss, Ray King.
No-one was more enthusiastic for a day out than he. On Wednesdays, throughout the year, we have met in the pub or, alternatively, taken the tide down to Queenborough on Diamond, Doraway or Moonshine. The Wednesday Club, of which he was President, comprises a dozen or so members. After a snifter in The Old House, Rob’s favourite skate wings and a glass or two of wine in the Flying Dutchman, he was able to steer a snakey course home.
Rob was an accomplished pianist and, though shy of public performance, would play the interval music when the Buckland Buskers were engaged for RNLI barn dances at Cliffe. I think he was the only one of us who could read music!
He was the greatest friend and joyful companion over all these years. We loved him and miss him.