TSPS Member Robert Radcliffe Passes Away

Robert steering Blow Fish

“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.

Jeff Canaday


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.








11 thoughts on “TSPS Member Robert Radcliffe Passes Away

  1. Robert Radcliff. The only one in captivity.
    I’ll miss you.
    Enjoy fair winds and tasty Shochu with the Gods.

    My most heartfelt condolences to Shoko

  2. Dear Jeff and TSPS members,

    I’m Armour, Robert’s sister. I heard much about your group and so wish I had had a chance to meet you in Japan.

    I have fond memories of Blow Fish from the first time Robert underwent Chemo in 2007. He invited me over for a sailing trip out of Oita in November during the ‘good period’ of the month after a session of therapy. I hadn’t sailed since I was a teenager and I wasn’t prepared for what looked like 8 foot swells to me, not to mention a head wind and cold and rain. I have never been that sea sick in my life and at one point, when we realized it was getting dark and we didn’t have a working motor or running lights due to some early mishaps, I was convinced Robert had a death wish and wanted to take me down with him. After about 12 hours beating a course that was supposed to be an easy 3-hour sail, with a little help from the Coast Guard, we arrived a the Iwaishima Ryokan, our intended destination, to a hot bath and a feast. Food and warmth have never been so good.

    I Like to think that was the trip that earned Robert the Title: “Captain Dangerous”, but others may stake a claim that honor as well.

    Jeff, I am truly touched by your tribute above. The Pictures are wonderful and are some of the best I’ve seen of him in recent times! Thank you so much; it is a great gift.

    I am so grateful to Robert for urging me to get my Skipper License and rediscover the joys and challenges of sailing. I hope we will all get another chance to sail with Captain Dangerous one day in Heavenly Seas.

    Armour Ratcliffe

    Clarification: He actually died on June 11, 2017 and was diagnosed with this recurrence in December 2016, just for the record…

  3. Thank you for that beautiful tribute, Jeff.

    The pictures are fantastic. I wish i could have met some of you in Japan.

    Armour Ratcliffe
    (Robert’s sister)

  4. Wow I guess cousin Armour saw my facebook post or word from Uncle Bob, Rob Ratcliffe post, and my sentiments exactly, as I was going to say before Armour posted. I thank you again Jeff. This was a beautiful tribute as I posted earlier tonight at my facebook…..but thank you cousin Armour for subsequently posting. Wow…we miss our cousin Robert, brother, husband so much more….its hard to believe sometimes those who have passed on before us. I find myself forgetting and then thinking, wow, I keep forgetting they are gone, I wont see them in the store anymore, or in passing…..thats right, they did pass on. Then I awaken rudely to that reality. Thank you cousin Armour for receiving my pointer to this post however you received it tonight after I did. Wow, I did not know Robert and I sort of showed a resemblance more in later years, but in his photos I see that Ratcliffe feature in my face, as old family friends point out to me in my older age too. I never saw that in our childhood years. Odd how things change in features and appearances after a while. I will always cherish Robert for his great humor, his unique humor, laughing at mine, and his great academic brilliance that never left him pretentious. He was always so down to earth and related humbly to everyone he met or came to know. Im so happy, yet sad, reading these stories and missives. Wish I had sailed the waters and harbors of Japan with him and everyone. !! Wow, our North Carolina adventures in childhood, and the beach, back in our young mischief days. I wont forget. My sincere and deepest condolences to his beloved wife Shoko. She was always the best with him too. Much Love to him, and cousin Armour, and all who had the joy of crossing paths with him, experiencing life with him, all of you. That insight and crazy and dry humor we played off one another I will never forget….EVER!!….always Love, Cousin, Brian

  5. I did leave an eloquent reply that took a while to type at length….where is it?….I’ll try again another day !! if its not posting now, which it looks like. ?????????

  6. I applaud our first cousin Brian Duncan for discovering this wonderful site and the beautiful tribute to Robert by Jeff Canaday and sharing it with us stateside! I would have missed it.

    Thank you Brian! And there is a definite resemblance.

  7. Dear all. I onced lived in the same neighbourhood as prof. R Radcliffe. I lived very close to the Tokyo university of foreign studies. I got to know rob in my neighbourhood. We used to frequent the same bar and we would meet there very often in the evenings. we would talk for hours and hours about history and global politics. Rob enjoyed a good drink. We used to go to karaoke to sing various tunes. Sometimes rob would tell me about his time in Louisiana and his time at Yale. He loved Japan so much and Arabic and French literature. He loved African culture too. Rob was fluent in Ancient Greek. learnt so much from him, about Japan. We laughed so much whilst drinking wine and chatting about Japan. Rob may you rest in peace.
    Dr David Bonilla
    Mexico City and Tokyo

  8. I was a childhood friend of Robert and his sister Armour in the French Quarter of all places. I did not fully realize then how intelligent and just how much both had going for them until many years later, consumed as I was with my own many issues. Those concerns in fact led to our drifting apart, and I regret Robert and I will never talk again.

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