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A sailor who loved sailing stories

Boating magazine editor Bill Robinson brought skill and passion to his career and time on the water

Boating magazine editor Bill Robinson brought skill and passion to his career and time on the water

William W. “Bill” Robinson, the editor and a longtime driving force at Yachting Magazine, was equal parts sailor and editor, according to Chris Caswell, who worked for him at the magazine. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Caswell relates.

“One day he was walking down the hallway with file folders under his arm and an editing pencil stuck behind his ear and a look of intent on his face and got halfway down [the hall] and said to no one in particular: ‘I’m going to Antigua,’ ” Caswell says. And that is where Robinson went.

“Whenever he wasn’t editing, he was on a boat somewhere in the world,” Caswell recalls of Robinson, who died at Navesink Harbor, Red Bank, N.J., in April at age 88. “He was a good guy. He was a sailor’s sailor and an editor’s editor. He was a really great shipmate. He was the guy you wanted on board, not just when everything went wrong because he was so competent,” but also, says Caswell, because he was “just a wonderful companion to be with.”

Bill Robinson became Yachting editor in 1967, a decade after he joined the magazine, and held the post until 1978, when he retired to become editor at large — a post in which he continued to influence the direction of the magazine, according to Caswell.

Robinson graduated with a degree in English from PrincetonUniversity in 1939 and, when the United States entered World War II, he was commissioned captain of a 110-foot wooden Navy subchaser, escorting troop ships and freighters on the Pacific, duty that earned him a Bronze Star for performance under attack. After the war Robinson became a journalist, working as a sports reporter for newspapers in Newark, N.J., and developing a nationally syndicated boating column.

At Yachting, Robinson became executive editor in 1965 before being elevated to the editorship. In introducing him as the magazine’s new leader, Robinson’s predecessor, Critchell Rimington, wrote: “He has been in and around boats since childhood and, in his racing days, collected an impressive array of silverware.”

Despite Robinson’s racing achievements, including several races to Bermuda, “cruising was his thing,” says Caswell. “He actually was one of the ones who in the early 1960s helped start the fledgling bareboat charter business in the British Virgin Islands,” showing one of the early charter companies how to make its service better.

Cruising with his wife, Jane, Robinson gathered material for several of the 27 books he authored.

“His favorite among them was ‘A Sailor’s Tales,’ a piece-meal autobiography that he dedicated ‘to my grandchildren, to save them the hours of having to listen to their grandfather in his old age,’ ” writes his son, William Jr.

“The stamp that he put on the magazine was that he made it very readable,” says Caswell. “He loved sailor’s tales. The magazine sometimes felt like you were in a yacht club bar with friends, telling stories. He loved stories. He loved a great adventure. He loved sailing adventures. Those were the stories that populated the magazine then.”

As an editor, Robinson “appreciated good ideas. He was always fair and he gave credit where credit was due,” says Caswell.“He knew his readers. This was in the early era of boating magazines. He was always able to balance it between sail and power, large and small [boats].”

Caswell compares Robinson to Thomas Fleming Day, the editor of Rudder Magazine, and Yachting’s second editor, Herbert L. Stone. “I think he continued that whole stream of editors who celebrated the excitement, the thrill, the pleasures of yachting.”