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Off Watch: Ashes to Sea

“Bobby G’s remains had already been committed to the deep in Newport, Chesapeake Bay, San Diego, Europe, New Zealand... Fittingly, the boy was basically everywhere."

April 6, 2020
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Anton bids Bobby G adieu
Thumb’s up: Anton bids our old mate Bobby G adieu on the docks of the St. Maarten Yacht Club. Herb McCormick

To be perfectly honest, it took a long minute for the skipper of the 40-foot catamaran Too Rhum Too to fully grasp what I was getting at. Capt. Mario was the handsome 22-year-old son of a friend of mine in St. Maarten, Petro Jonker, and purportedly the youngest pro skipper of a “head boat” like Too Rhum Too in the Caribbean. I don’t generally find myself on “touristy” boats in vacation meccas, but I was on the island on a different assignment, and Petro, who owns a day-charter business, was kind enough to sport my girlfriend, Sasha, and me to a fun day of sailing and snorkeling. (And Too Rhum Too was certainly seaworthy enough; bloody Petro had sailed the fundamentally stripped-out daysailer from its birthplace in South Africa to St. Maarten.)

Plus, I was on an ancillary mission. I planned to cast the ashes of my longtime running mate, yachting photographer Bobby Grieser—aka Bobby G—into the sea. I’d conveniently forgotten to mention that to Petro, but there was no way around it with his lad.

Bobby’s saintly widow, Georgia, had mailed me the package of Bobby’s remains in a hollowed-out book with a nautical jacket that made me laugh: It was The Book of Bobby. This was not the first time I’d been entrusted with this task, having already spread a portion of my fond old pal in the waters off my hometown in Newport, Rhode Island. Bobby had been a citizen of the world and, fittingly, he was now spread all over it. In other places, by other people, his ashes had been committed to the deep in his own home waters of Chesapeake Bay, in his adopted home in San Diego, in Europe, in New Zealand…. The boy was basically everywhere, in all his favorite spots, just like he’d been in his more animated incarnation.

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In any event, when we shoved off from Philipsburg that morning, I knew what I was going to do. The question was, where?

It was a windy day, with the northeast trades humming, and before long Mario and his crew had Too Rhum Too flying down the island’s southern flank on a sweet, double-digit beam reach; it occurred to me that my fellow 15 or so passengers, refugees from resorts and cruise ships, probably had no clue what a truly lovely sail they were actually experiencing. No matter: The rum punch was already flowing. It was a happy ship.

As we closed in on the land, I realized where we were heading: Long Beach, on the island’s southwestern shore, the home of the ritzy La Samanna resort. (One of the crew mentioned that Oprah and Donald Trump had homes around the corner, side by side, to which one guest observed, “Oh, I imagine that’s working out well.”) I knew this spot very well. When we used to cover the Heineken Regatta together, Bobby and I would always pull our photo boat in here for a little break from the action and a refreshing dip; the beach was the purest white sand, the turquoise water was silky and inviting. Perfect.

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When I asked Mario if it was OK, frankly, he was a bit startled, but he said fine. I wasn’t going to make a fuss, but someone had overhead us, and the boat went very quiet. Another guest said, “I want to be part of this good energy.” I said a few words, and Sasha took a picture to send to Georgia. I wanted her to see the beauty of it all.

Then Bobby took his last swim there, my new acquaintances applauded politely, and I took a long pull of rum myself. My only regret is that I forgot to pour a tot in for my friend. Next time.

I repeated the ritual the next day off the St. Maarten Yacht Club—another spot where Bobby enjoyed a long history—with Dutch filmmaker Anton van de Koppel; we’d all worked together on various projects for many years. This time I wielded the camera and Anton did the honors, punctuating it with a thumb’s up.

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I like the fact that Georgia recruited a host of Bobby’s friends in these various endeavors, and that they took place in such distant locales. It makes it seem like he isn’t gone. Nope, Bobby G is just on tour.

Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor. If you find yourself in St. Maarten without a boat and a free day, take a sail and snorkel with Eagle Tours.

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