“A sailor is not defined as much by how many seas he has sailed than by how many storms he has overcome.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo
It is with great regret that we relay news of the passing of Robert Radcliffe on June 11 after a long battle with illness.
Jeff Canaday, a good friend of Robert and fellow TSPS member, wrote the following:
In Memory of Robert Ratcliffe, who passed away on June 11, 2017.
I cannot remember the first time I met Robert Ratcliffe. Looking back, it is as if he was always one of those perennial elements of the Japan TSPS experience, like a sunset yakisoba BBQ in a friend’s cockpit or the initiation rite of the Japan boating license exam. Robert always was, and we assumed always would be, a cherished and beloved friend.
That is why we were shocked to learn that he passed away on June 11, 2017. We had been talking about a Golden Week sail only a month earlier. He had casually mentioned that he had had another round of chemotherapy in December, but we heard no complaints, and he was looking forward to sailing. He had been very ill once before, revealing to most of us only after the fact that he had undergone chemotherapy. It did not, however, keep him out of his boat for very long. Blow Fish, his custom-built ferro-fiberglass version of the famed Pacific Seacraft Flicka, seemed to give him renewed strength. It certainly gave him pleasure.
Starting in about 2013, Robert (never, ever Bob) began inviting some of the more sailing-romantic members of TSPS down to his boat’s home marina in Oita, Kyushu. I say romantic, because it took some rather strong rose-colored glasses to fully appreciate the beauty of a 30-year old, 20-foot boat whose decks and cabin were hand brushed with green and sky-blue house paint.
Robert, quite characteristically, had calculated that for the cost of mooring a boat anywhere near Tokyo, he could moor it in much more interesting waters and fly down several times a year. Robert simply got out a map of Japan and found the marina that was closest to a major airport. The one he selected was a 20-minute walk from the air terminal’s main door. It made perfect sense to him, and after a visit, to us, too. Like Robert, the able-sailing and stout-hearted Blow Fish had many qualities not visible from first appearances. Few who knew him from the Keelhaul or other TSPS events, would have guessed that he was a Yale-educated Arabic-language professor, or that he frequently chartered boats in the Aegean Sea during his long summer breaks.
In 2016, Robert and his wife Shoko bought a farmhouse on an island offshore from Matsuyama in Shikoku. He enlisted Andy Lawson and myself to help him take Blow Fish across the strait and up through the Japan Inland Sea to his new summer home. It was two days among some of the most magical scenery a sailor can expect to find anywhere, and Robert seemed to know every corner of it. In October, Tristan Pratt and I joined Robert to return Blow Fish to the marina for a winter lay up. While down there, he introduced us to many of his new friends and shared stories of life in a village whose only commercial presence was a coke machine opposite the fisherman’s wharf.
There are far too many memories to continue to list here. They were all pleasant, and all larger than life. It seems Robert never met someone he didn’t like and everyone he met liked him. I will remember him every time I step aboard a boat, especially any boat with character, to enjoy a pastime that he loved and shared joyously with others.
A native of Louisiana, Robert was a professor of Arabic and linguistics at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Loved and respected by all, he was seen off at his funeral on June 15 at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Yotsuya by many of his students, friends and TSPS members, along with his family.
Photos of Robert.