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Writer chronicled life on the water

Gordon “Red” Marston, one of the great boating writers of the post-World War II era, died Aug. 17 at a retirement home in South Pasadena, Fla. He was 96.

Marston, a journalist for 69 years, was a beat reporter and sportswriter, a war correspondent, radio baseball broadcaster — and a semipro baseball player — before he joined the St. Petersburg Times as its outdoors editor in 1955, according to his son, Glenn Marston, who is editorial page editor at The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla.

“Red” Marston worked for 20 years at the Times as a boating columnist, SORC and America’s Cup reporter, and sailing and cruising writer.

“He had a real ability to meet people, put them at ease, talk with them — and get a really good story,” says the younger Marston. Ernie Pyle, the legendary chronicler of World War II GIs, inspired his dad’s writing style, Glenn Marston says.

“Red” Marston started learning his craft as a 19-year-old cub reporter for a small weekly in Stoneham, Mass. He worked for a number of Boston-area newspapers in the 1930s and ’40s, eventually being hired on as a reporter at the daily Boston Herald, where he covered the devastating Coconut Grove nightclub fire in 1942.

He enjoyed sports, played semipro baseball for a while and even piqued some interest from the Boston Red Sox, Marston says. Before the war, he worked as a sportswriter whenever he could. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Marine Corps as a combat correspondent in the Pacific, where he interviewed Lt. John F. Kennedy on PT 109. Marston says his father was supposed to be aboard PT 109 the night a Japanese destroyer ran down the torpedo boat, but the reporter was late getting to the dock and missed his ride.

After the war, Marston covered the Red Sox and the Boston Braves for local radio. He would motor to and from spring training in Bradenton, Fla., on a converted Maine lobster boat with his wife Peggy, whom he married in 1945. “He gained a lot of experience going up and down the East Coast in that boat,” Marston says.

In fall 1954, the couple weathered three hurricanes — Carol, Edna and Hazel — on the ICW while cruising back to New England. In one of those storms, a loose boat drifted over one of their anchor rodes, pulled the anchor loose and set them adrift in the ocean surge. The couple finally tied off to what they thought was a shrub but later discovered was a treetop, Marston says.

As a columnist for the Times, Marston covered one of the last St. Petersburg-to-Havana races and many of the SORC ocean racing series sailed out of St. Petersburg and Miami. In the Havana race, he sailed to Cuba on one of the raceboats and dispatched a report on the start by tucking his copy inside a waterproof canister and tossing it over the side, where the crew of a powerboat picked it up and whisked it back to the newsroom, Marston says.

He covered the first of several America’s Cups in 1970, when St. Petersburg sailor and boatbuilder Charley Morgan built the 12 Meter Heritage for the defender trials in Newport, R.I. In the 1960s, he trailered a 16-foot Boston Whaler around Florida for a series of columns on weekend cruising on Florida rivers and estuaries, which were compiled in a book, “Cruise Along With Red.”

After retiring, he cruised with Peggy on their 36-foot trawler Final Edition and filed columns on places they went and people they met. These, too, became a book, “Cruising Florida.”

“He was able to find all kinds of things to write about,” Marston says.

Some of his father’s strengths as a writer were his powers of observation and his ability to evoke a true sense of a place. “When you read his stuff, you could visualize what he was talking about,” Marston says.

“Red” Marston was born July 1, 1912, in Massachusetts, but the family’s roots are in Machias, on the Down East coast of Maine, where Marstons back to the Revolutionary War worked on and around the water and he spent summers as a child.

His wife, Peggy, died in 2002. He is survived by his sons Glenn, 53, of Bushnell, Fla., and Paul, 67, of Prescott, Ariz.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.