The pinky schooner Robert L, designed in 1948 by William Garden, is a testament to one family’s persistence. Building was begun by Robert Anderson in 1970 becoming a family project for several decades. It was a dream of one man that lives on in spite of more than a few challenges.
Bob Anderson was a true son of the sea. He built his first boat as a young man. In 1952, at the age of 22, he sailed it from Washington to Hawaii. A storm on the return voyage crippled the vessel badly. Bob returned to Hawaii and left the boat there. Returning to his home state he entered into the life of a professional sailor. He owned several fishing boats on Puget Sound and delivered vessels for hire from the east coast to the west via the Panama canal. His dream of sailing the world called for a vessel that was stout enough to handle blue water but small enough for a small crew. This is exactly what Bill garden had designed this small schooner for.
The keel of the Robert L. was laid down using Gum wood from Central America. Oak ribs were steamed and formed and the strip planking was begun with 1 3/8 inch red cedar. Unfortunately by 1976 Bob was diagnosed with cancer. It didn’t take long to consume his life. Before he passed away Bob gave the boat to his sister Doris Nielsen. She and her husband Axel operated a bakery and lived in South Tacoma an hour and a half from Ballard, Washington where the boat project was housed in a shed behind Bob’s rental. Doris and Axel were not experienced boat builders but they knew what the vessel represented to Bob. With the help of Charlie, a veteran wooden boat builder in his late sixties, building recommenced with the application of strip planking.
In 1977 the boat was moved to Gig Harbor, Washington. Charlie was no longer available and Doris and Axel soldiered on. They had two pages of blueprints and a lot of motivation to carry them through the next nine years. Their goal was to make the Robert L. seaworthy and ready to launch. Axel worked with some assistance from their son Larry throughout the nine years gaining an appreciation for the picturesque town of Gig Harbor. The Tides Tavern was a handy place to get a cold brew, soak in the yachting ambiance, and look forward to the future when the boat would be completed.
At last, in 1986 the vessel was launched and named Robert L. after her originating builder. Much remained to be done as the boat still lacked sails and many exterior elements. Sails made by Petrie and Hasse Sail Makers arrived in 1991.
A wooden boat keeps best when in it’s natural environment under regular use. Too much time on dry land subject to frequent dousing with fresh water inevitably takes a toll. Seventy percent of the sub deck and the entire cabin were replaced in 1992 and 1993, respectively. In 1994, a yacht surveyor certified that the The Robert L. was sound once again.
Larry Nielsen and his wife Maggi transported the boat overland to Richland, Washington with the intention of completing the interior in a year and sailing back to Gig Harbor via the Columbia River. Several years later they made the river passage by motor to Portland, Oregon. The Robert L. with mast and spars was then trucked to Gig Harbor where she remained until 2003 when she was sailed to Port Townsend, Washington. In the mean time her standing rigging was replaced by Brian Toss.
Port Townsend is the west coast mecca for wooden boats. The move put her near to some of the best repair and maintenance services available in the United States. It was a fitting home for a fine vessel. In 2004 a special light air sail was added bearing the logo of WSU as a surprise Christmas present to Larry.
In this blog I have searched out local stories that will resonate with the heart of sailors everywhere. The places that these stories are found often take me by surprise. Many interesting and unusual things are sold on eBay. I should know, I have been selling interesting and unusual things on the popular online auction since 1995. It is my habit to browse the sailboat ads and either criticize or fantasize according to the nature of particular offerings. One recent session of vicarious boat shopping featured the Robert L. which is currently for sale. I contacted Larry and Maggi who graciously provided the history I have just related. Very detailed specifications are provided in the eBay ad.
Larry and Maggi have sailed Robert L. for over 25 years and are ready to move toward land-based adventures. That is why this remarkable boat, built with persistence in tribute to one man’s dream, is being sold. Larry and Maggi had this to say in the document they provided to me: “Bob loved the sea and left The Robert L. as his legacy. He gave her in her formative stages to a well-loved family. He knew that no one in this family understood boats; however, he also knew they would do their best to complete the boat and bring her to life. Doris and Axel did that. They instilled a love for The Robert L. in their son, Larry, and daughter-in-law, Maggi. The Robert L. has become part of the Nielsen family heritage.”
Sometimes we value things highest when we share them. Perhaps it’s time for Bob’s dream to nourish another family. It would be nice to think of The Robert L. continuing to sail through future generations.