This is how I remember my cousin Robin Rowe Linker, who died at the beginning of this year (2016). I only ever met him a couple of times, and the only actual memory I have of meeting him was around the time this photo was taken, give or take a few years. My father and my brother and I picked him up in downtown Seattle when his ship was in town.
In the moment depicted here, Robin had just completed a solo journey out of San Francisco, through the Panama Canal and up along the East Coast to Baltimore in his 25-foot Lion sloop, Dandelion.
As I’ve said more than once here in different ways, to relate the summary facts of a life (Robin was born in Baltimore County April 20, 1947, died near his home in Clearwater, Florida on January 2, 2016, survived by a daughter, Aimee) is to throw focus on the least interesting thing about a person. And it’s certainly true in Robin’s case. But since I was not among those fortunate enough to have known him in person, I will be spare here. His immediate family is after all still grieving, and since I lost my own sister three years ago and am still smarting from that catastrophe, I am sympathetic. Still, his mother my Aunt Miriam, and his sister Mardi have given me permission and blessing to post his photo and a few words in his honor.
Remembering his uncle Robin, my cousin Tim said probably the nicest thing you can say about anyone: “Robin was a humble man, often quiet in the room with everyone else, but his presence was comforting. He had a great smile and laugh, that lit up the room.”
Robin was a seaman, first and foremost. By the time the Baltimore Sun ran the story from which the above photo is taken — Roger Twigg’s 1978 piece about a Maryland son returning home by sea — Robin was unable to tally how many miles of wake he’d left behind him on the swells.
“Who knows,” he told Twigg, “twenty-five thousand miles, maybe fifty thousand.” He and his siblings did not grow up near the sea, but on trips to the city, he recalled, he would walk up and down the waterfront looking at the ships docking along Pratt Street and dream of plying the briny himself someday.
His dream came true. Robin joined the merchant marine and made his living moving freighters around the world. He lived on a sailboat, latterly the Promise moored in Clearwater, and were it not for the insistence of close friends that he check into a hospital for the end he knew was coming, he would have died on it, too.
Robin led the kind of life that guaranteed wonderful stories, stories told by him and also retold about him. On a trip I made back to Maryland a few years ago, Robin’s younger brother, my cousin Lewis, told me that if I ever got the chance, I should ask Robin about the time he had to take the tanker Keystone Canyon, a ship that he’d tended for a number of years as first engineer, on its last voyage. It was to be scrapped, Lewis said, and it was Robin’s job to beach her in Bangladesh, where she would be picked apart for salvage.¹ The captain and all the rest of the crew were taken off the ship when they got there, leaving Robin alone with a local pilot to stoke the engines to full speed and then drive her up onto the sand as far as he could. It was a task orthogonal to all his history with the vessel, whose plant he had so long been responsible for maintaining in top condition. “The ship was like a city that had to be continually powered,” Lewis told me. “so when it came time for Robin to shut off the power plant, the city would be plunged into darkness.” Robin ran the ship ashore as planned, but due to a miscalculation on the part of the pilot, they rammed another ship already beached there. The Keystone Canyon tore through it anyway and ground onward, Lewis said, engines straining to their maximum, until he finally shut them down and disembarked her for the last time. Leaving the beach to spend the night in a Bangladesh hotel, Robin and his fellows were picked clean by thieves.
I never got to ask Robin to tell me the details of that adventure, which is rich enough even as his brother tells it and in first person must have been quite a yarn. But someone else remembers that story and the particular way he told it, and so his friends and close family, and doubtless more than a few strangers around the watery globe, get to keep a part of Robin through the telling of a tale.
To finish my own story of Robin, about picking him up in downtown Seattle when I was a kid…we had to find him on the street, and since this was before mobile phones and texting we had to drive around looking for him, and since I had no recollection of him all I knew was that we were looking for a sailor. I remember when we finally spotted him. There was this big strong man, my cousin Robin, walking along — nay, steaming along the sidewalk, his large chest leading the way and his strong arms swinging, his dark beard jutting like a prow. -mdf
¹There is apparently some confusion in the family over which ship was involved in this event. A written anecdote in a Fleagle Family Reunion minutes (which I cannot at this moment lay my mitts on) relates that the ship Robin worked on for so many years was the tanker Golden Gate, and seemed to suggest that the Golden Gate was also the vessel that Robin delivered to its doom. I don’t know how common it is for several ships to share a name, but a possible clue that Lewis had the right information lies in the fact that there is a 7916-ton tanker Golden Gate, IMO #8920139, built in 1990 and registered in Sierra Leone, very much not scrapped and at this moment still in service and (according to an online tracker) under sail in the East China Sea, doing about 6.9 knots.
Image archive ID:
About the physical photograph:
Unknown. This is a digital copy that Robin’s family bought from the newspaper.