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His bark and his bite were equally friendly

Editor’s note: Bob Grieser was a legendary photographer, a frequent Soundings contributor and an all-around colorful character who was well-known in the boating community. “Bobby G” died in January at age 70. A longtime friend and colleague offers this remembrance.

Bobby G (left) took a chance on a rookie chase boat driver — and the rest is history.

What is the world coming to? Up is down. Wrong is right. Fake is real, and truth seems lost. How can I ever hope to make sense of this mess, especially now that the reverend from the Church by the Sea has sailed for Fiddler’s Green?

It seems like only yesterday that you and I met in Mission Bay, California, during that windy Cat Fight regatta. Boats were flying, flipping and crashing into the jetty, and you were stuck without a photo-boat driver. So you hired me, a goofy guy with an accent, a dude you’d never met. Your trust was ill-advised, but by sheer luck we didn’t end up on the rocks.

But that’s not why I remember the day. Watching you in the bow of that bouncing RIB, shooting and directing, I realized how badly I wanted to be a part of your lifestyle: chasing boats and chasing stories, being on the water with people who love it as much as I do.

That day is now 25 years gone. It was the first step on a long and winding road we walked together. Gourmet cruising in the Caribbean. Match racing on 12 Meters. Diving in the dumpster at Allemand Bros. Boat Repairs in San Francisco. Weathering rum squalls in Philipsburg, St. Martin. Flying balloons at Red Rock. Taking Humphrey Bogart’s yacht for a spin. Nursing a cold one with the last watermen in the Maritime Republic of Eastport (Maryland).

Watching you, there was always much to learn, including your unique way of getting people to loosen up. You simply barked at them — not like a sergeant, of course, but like Sassafras and Choptank, your fiercely spoiled golden retrievers. Someone said you also spoke that way to U.S. presidents when you worked as a White House photographer. And that only one of them ever barked back. It must have been Ronald Reagan, I suppose.

As for our friendship, the kicker came in St. Martin. I’d lost my wallet and with it my green card, which even before present politics meant I couldn’t board a flight to the United States. Clueless, cardless and cashless, I was screwed. Before you boarded your plane, you told me “to stay clean” and slipped me a $20. Not much money, true, but on the Caribbean odyssey that followed it was the difference between getting a letter of parole from the U.S. Embassy in Barbados and being deported to the land of yodelers.

It was vintage Grieser: humor and generosity. That’s how you made friends on all points of the compass. But among all of them, the best and most important was your lovely wife, Georgia. She kept you on course and made sure the fire was always stoked in the hearth at home, which was a safe haven for stray cats and dogs, no matter if they walked on two legs or four paws. I owe you both a debt of gratitude.

Fair winds, Bobby G, and an inch of wa­ter under the keel, wherever you are sailing now.

Dieter Loibner is the former sailing editor and a contributing writer for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.