In mystery writer Robert “Viper Bob” Terwilliger’s world, the line between fact and fiction is very blurry indeed because the hero of his first suspense novel is none other than “Viper Bob” himself.
“Viper Bob” Edwards, a take-charge, can-do entrepreneur who has retired from the workaday world to the adventurous life of a Caribbean cruiser, angler and amateur detective, is an undisguised knock-off of “Viper Bob” Terwilliger. “He’s very much like me,” says Terwilliger. “He’s a persistent bugger, and he’s always running into trouble.”
The novel, “Betrayed, Murder in the Bahamas” (Spring Tide Publishing, Palm Beach Shores, Fla., 2005, $18.95), is based on something that really happened to Terwilliger while he was cruising in the Bahamas.
Retired from the microchip business, the real “Viper Bob” and his wife, Melody, set off footloose and fancy-free to cruise the islands for two years on their 60-foot Ocean Alexander, My Melody. Fishing, diving and gunk-holing from the 27-foot Edgewater they tow with them, the couple logged 6,000 miles before putting in at Walkers Cay, Bahamas, in October 2003. That’s where the Terwil-ligers ran into trouble.
“We were sleeping on My Melody” said Terwilliger, 60, of Lake Worth, Fla. The Edgewater was tied alongside. “About 7:30, my wife gets up, and she finds the Edgewater gone.” Its lines had been cut.
The thieves had towed it out of the marina while the couple slept, and after getting out of earshot of the motoryacht they unscrewed the starter plate for the Edgewater’s twin Yamahas, plugged in a new one, and started the engines with their own keys. The deed was done.
Terwilliger says that when thieves steal a boat in the islands, it usually is lost forever and the owner’s only recourse is to collect the insurance. But Terwilliger, who has started and sold five electronics companies in his business career, isn’t one to take a setback lying down. A passionate cruiser and sportfisherman, he loves his boats and he considered the Edgewater “family.” He sprang into action to find the boat, get it back and bring the thieves who stole it to justice.
Terwilliger chartered a twin-engine Aztec aircraft and searched the outer Abacos for a day, scoured Grand Bahama Island the next, and on the third they flew over Moors Island in the southern Abacos.
“We spotted the boat under some mangroves,” he said.
“It took us five passes 50 feet over the mangroves until we were on the boat,” he said. The radar antenna’s bright white rotator bar caught their eye in the thick brush. By the time Terwilliger reached the boat with police, the thieves already had stripped the twin 225 Yamahas, but they hadn’t taken the electronics off yet. Terwilliger says within 48 hours, Bahamian police had recovered the engines. Three days later, two of the thieves were in jail. Two others who fled to Cuba were arrested 90 days later when they tried to return. The thugs were well-known to police. One was wanted on a murder charge.
Those facts — embellished with a few murders, a plot to knock off Viper Bob and an inside look at the way Caribbean boat-theft and drug-smuggling rings operate — became the core material of “Betrayed.”
Terwilliger kept a daily journal while he pursued the case with police, and interviewed Bahamian and U.S. law enforcement officers for insight into the workings of the Caribbean underworld. “I’ve tried to get into the minds, the beds and the jail cells of these guys,” he says.
Terwilliger, a founder and former chairman of Arc International, a $300 million maker of configurable microprocessors, took the company public in 2000 and retired the next year. “I’m not an engineer,” he says. But he is a relentless marketer and entrepreneur. Terwilliger started Spring Tide Publishing, of Palm Beach Shores, to publish “Betrayed.” The book is listed now online with Amazon, Books-A-Million, BookSense and Barnes and Noble, and with national wholesale book distributor Baker and Taylor. Now that he is plugged into the distribution network, Terwilliger plans seven more books in a Viper Bob series, and envisions Spring Tide becoming a publishing house for other authors of serial fiction. He says he already is negotiating for authors.
Working out of a booth in the Big Game Room at the Miami International Boat Show, Terwilliger was selling autographed copies of “Betrayed,” along with a line of patented fishing products and signature clothing — under the Viper Bob name. Before it became the name of his novel’s action hero and a vehicle for branding his line of fishing products, Viper Bob was a moniker Melody gave him when he bought his 170-mph Dodge Viper RT/10 sports car. The name stuck, and now most of his friends know Robert Terwilliger as Viper Bob.
Terwilliger’s fishing products include a patented, International Game Fish Association-compliant fighting gimbal that anglers can insert into a rod holder to give them leverage to fight a big fish standing up. He says it’s ideal for smaller boats that don’t have a big enough cockpit for a fighting chair, or for larger boats when there are multiple hits and someone is already in the chair. The gimbal enables anglers to pump the rod and rotate it left and right while they fight a fish. Terwilliger also has developed a lightweight fighting vest that wraps around the upper body and redistributes stress from the weakest part of the back to the strongest when an angler fights a fish. Terwilliger says both innovations were born out of his long experience fishing.
Ever the marketing maven, Terwilliger stages “Yank-a-thons” — contests in which anglers pull against each other using the gimbals — as entertainment at tournaments and to promote the $175 gimbals.
Retired for four years, Terwilliger says he’s having a ball doing what he loves best — cruising, fishing and running his businesses.
“It’s a passion, and we have a lot of fun doing it,” he says.
More about Robert “Viper Bob” Terwilliger’s book and his fishing gear is available at www.viperbob.com and www.springtidepublishing.com.