‘Tugantine’ owner Briggs dies at 73 - Soundings Online

‘Tugantine’ owner Briggs dies at 73

Author:
Publish date:

Capt. Lane Allen Briggs, 73 — who in 1990 started the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race and was known among East Coast boaters for his gregarious and welcoming personality, his schooner-rigged tug boat, his philanthropy and his taste for certain types of rum — died Sept. 19 in Norfolk, Va., of lung cancer.

Capt. Lane Allen Briggs, 73 — who in 1990 started the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race and was known among East Coast boaters for his gregarious and welcoming personality, his schooner-rigged tug boat, his philanthropy and his taste for certain types of rum — died Sept. 19 in Norfolk, Va., of lung cancer.

About 1,000 mourners attended a wake at Capt. Briggs’s Rebel Marina in Norfolk, and continued the celebration of his life until well after midnight, in the spirit of the man, says his friend of 25 years, Dr. Albert L. Roper.

Capt. Briggs moved to Norfolk from Mars Hill, N.C., Roper says. He eventually joined the Coast Guard and was stationed in Newfoundland. Returning to Norfolk, he bought a run-down waterfront property and started Rebel Marina, where he began offering tug services aboard his boat, Steel Rebel, and doing salvage work and even some commercial fishing.

At one point, Briggs tried to develop a hydrofoil run between Norfolk and Richmond. “It didn’t work out,” Roper says. But most of his ideas bore fruit.

“Then he developed a tug with sails on it to use wind assist to prove that you could save fuel costs,” Roper recalls. Capt. Briggs dubbed the vessel a “tugantine” and named it Norfolk Rebel. It could be seen up and down Chesapeake Bay. “It was such a character vessel. It had little cannons on it, black hull and red sails,” says Roper. In 1982 Capt. Briggs “circumnavigated Virginia” by sailing Norfolk Rebel north on the Chesapeake, making his way along the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes to the Mississippi, and then crossing the Gulf of Mexico to return to Norfolk by the Atlantic Ocean.

His adventures attracted public attention, but Roper says his friend was not a self-promoter. “He was always promoting somebody else. He always wanted to do something for people,” Roper says. The schooner race, which ran its 16th competition in October, has raised $80,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Roper says. Town Point Yacht Club, which Capt. Briggs started, has donated untold amounts to various nautical charities, he says. “Lane was very big on education for children and getting kids out of a troubled environment ... exposing them to a new world so they wouldn’t want to get back to the old world.”

Capt. Briggs leaves four sons — Jesse, Terry, David and Steven — all licensed professional captains; and a grandson, Chessie (named for the Chesapeake Bay), also a licensed captain. But there were other children in his life, as well. “He would pick kids off the street and put them to work on his boat, and there are a number of instances of people he sent to college — all quietly. Most people don’t know it,” Roper says.

Roper, who says he sailed with Briggs many times, recalled the formation of Town Point Yacht Club. “He called together a group of people” and made his proposal. “He would come to you and say: What do you think of this? He had already plotted it out.” Such was the case with the new yacht club, and the people who joined him were so impressed that they elected him the club’s first commodore. “He immediately resigned. He just didn’t want to do that. He was the sort of fellow who would have ideas and let somebody else get credit for them,” Roper says.

Briggs looked the part of an old salt, with bushy muttonchops and a gold earring. “You’d sail with him and in the middle of the night, he’d start talking, telling tales of things he’d done and people he’d met.”

And then he would invite you for “a spot of tea,” Roper recalls. “Ron Virgin rum in a pewter Jefferson cup. He wouldn’t let spiced rum on his boat.”