Bob built pretty much anything you can think of out of wood, fiberglass, and in the last years, carbon fiber. He worked worked at NASA for a spell, spent time in boat yards in Galveston and Houston, and eventually made his way to Gold Coast Yachts in St. Croix of the US Virgin Islands.
For for 8-10 years he rented a beachfront apartment owned by my parents. At the time he was known as “Book Bob” because his nose was always buried in a book and all you could see was the cover and his coke-bottle-thick glasses.
Some time later, I met him at a bar on the north shore of STX, reading an issue of Wooden Boats.
I had been bit by the wooden boat bug long before meeting Bob, so the two of us together were just a recipe for trouble. We schemed to build a dory on the back deck, but given that I was cash poor and not wanting to upset my parents, nothing ever came of it. but it didn’t stop me from dreaming.
During the following years Bob and my’s paths crossed often and our relationship was challenging in that I was part friend and (later on) part property manager. The friendship always won out, and was much respected.
Anyone who met Bob would tell you that he could be a joy and a pain in the butt at the same time. He was, above all, incredibly smart, the most well read individual I have had the privilege to talk with, and a good listener. I could almost always trust Bob to listen (difficult between my CP and his hearing), and provide honest feedback. even when it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
When Bob left Gold Coast, he became a little wayward, directionless. My partner John and I had been stopping by regularly for years to share dinner, drinks, socialize — but we tried to do so more frequently. I work from home and began planned once weekly lunch outings since both Bob and me were kinda home-bodies and it was a good excuse to get out. On one outing, Bob mentioned browsing motor-sailor designs. He thought some sort of similar configuration might work well for me. (keeping in mind that we were dangerous together) I said Cool! Sounds promising! … Bob spent the next few weeks researching designs and teaching me how to read the drawings. We discussed requirements, logistics, maintenance, costs, everything. He loved to teach, and at that point in time I was his student. He threw a pile of books at me. Challenged me, devils advocate, that buying a boat was less expensive than building. I think he wanted to make sure I was not seeing my future boat through rose-tinted glasses. Despite his best efforts, I think we both deceived ourselves.
As I bought plans and constructed a build site in my parents’ yard, Bob’s health began to decline. He hid it pretty well for as long as possible. I won’t mince words, as Bob was not one to obfuscate. He drank, smoked, battled very real demons of anxiety and depression. He relied on his body to keep up with the abuse, and when that started to go south, everything fell apart. The actual build labor fell increasingly to Frank Russell, another highly skilled boat builder, who is now lead on the project.
I miss my friend.
The following is a tribute written by Finn, Bob’s older sister. I can’t sum up the life of Bob, so I’ll leave it to her excellent hand.
Robert Lewis Alban : April 12, 1952–February 27, 2017
Born into an army family, he was a fifth generation Texan, and he grew up all over the US and in Germany. Bob always loved people (mostly women), the sea, boats, sailing, history, poetry and animals. He was a voracious reader and was known to start book clubs in several bars.
He had an incredibly rich life living in Brazil as a cowboy, building boats and crewing in California, making furniture in Fredericksburg, Texas, and working at NASA in Houston. He seemed most fulfilled teaching young men the craft of boat building at Gold Coast Yacht Co. on the island of St. Croix.
As a young man Bob became a life long member of the Nicherin Shoshu buddhist community, which sustained him throughout his life.
A great supporter and advocate of those he loved, that love was returned to him a thousand fold, expressed by incredible generosity and kindness. When ill health overcame Bob, his community in St. Croix rallied to love and care for him and to send him home to Texas for nursing care not available on St. Croix. We are profoundly grateful for everything the Juan Luis hospital did for Bob while he was there.
Big Bob died very peacefully in Fredericksburg, Texas, surrounded by family and friends after being tenderly cared for by the staff at TriStar nursing home and Hill Country Memorial Hospice.
His life will be celebrated in Fredericksburg, Texas, at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Saturday, March 11, 2017, and also in St. Croix at a later date. In the meantime, his group of friends in St. Croix will be celebrating Bob this weekend with an organized Buddhist chant as well as a party Bob himself would approve of on Sunday, a most fitting launch from his dearest friends.