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Bob Buck’s Boat Dream

2008 December 1
Every so often life brings us to a crossroads. Bob Buck arrived at one of these metaphorical intersections in 1998. Then in his mid-40s, he was simply tired of practicing law and the sea was calling.

In Bob's case, it wasn't simply a matter of tossing aside some gumshoe law practice in a Podunk town where he earned enough to keep the creditors off his back and paint the house every five years. Bob was a partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, one of Boston's most prestigious law firms. He was making boku bucks as a securities specialist, but after 18 years the passion had gone out. In the back of his mind, he was dreaming about boats or, more specifically, one he might design himself. After all, as a kid in Manhasset, New York, he had embraced the sight of America's Cup 12-Meter yachts filling the harbor, freshly minted from the boatyard on City Island. Problem was, he didn't know how to draw.

One fine day, when the muses overwhelmed him, Bob unveiled his true desire to his wife, Pam Lawrence, who works as a hospital vice president on Boston's North Shore and happens to understand the madness that overtakes sailors from time to time. With Pam on board, at least figuratively, Bob took the next step. He told his law firm partners about his intent to give up the practice and go back to school to learn how to design boats.

There were plenty of eyes rolling, but being lawyers, the others at the firm talked Bob into taking a sabbatical instead of outright quitting. So he agreed to stay on temporarily as a consultant. Meanwhile, he enrolled in an online yacht design course at Westlawn Institute and started spending unbillable hours on the computer in his Swampscott, Massachusetts, home and in the small workshop beside it that soon became a refuge. It was not a small decision.

The law book research and meticulous scouring of legal databases gave way to days and nights of drawing, mostly on large blank sheets of paper. Bob had a keen sense of what he wanted his dreamboat to look like-a classic, traditional yawl with graceful overhangs and white hull, and above all, she had to be both seaworthy and a charm to sail. There were all sorts of influences that helped him on his way, far too many to cite. After a while they blended together into a homogeneous mix that Bob filed away under the label of collective mentors, but Stephens, Herreshoff and Rhodes remained standouts. It was akin to reading a thousand books and then being asked which author you liked most.

As the design courses progressed over the next six years, Bob learned to transfer his rudimentary drawings from paper to computer screen and ultimately into a coherent set of plans. It was at that point the 52-foot Abigail was born.

Abigail was also the Golden Retriever that Bob and Pam loved dearly, and when she died in 1998 it left a hole in their lives. It was Pam who suggested that the boat be named in their dog's honor. Bob was quick to agree. Even if he had wanted to call the boat something different, naming her Abigail seemed barely a concession, considering Pam was giving him the green light. Not every spouse would be as generous.

With his studies completed in 2004 and the Abigail drawings submitted to Westlawn as a final project, Bob went looking for a boatbuilder who shared his standards. The following year he found Bill Koffler and Aquidneck Custom Composites in Bristol, Rhode Island. Together they constructed a fiberglass frame that supports a cedar and mahogany laminate, foam-cored hull, all wrapped in an epoxy coating. Bob was at the boatyard every day in 2006, thrilled to see Abigail take shape. Koffler was equally excited by the chance to build something unique, from scratch.

Last August 31, Bob and Pam, some friends and most of the work crew gathered in Plymouth, Rhode Island, to witness Abigail's launch. Although Bob didn't smash a bottle of bubbly on the shining hull, he and the others consumed several glasses to mark the occasion. Shakedown cruises followed.

Since then, Bob and Abigail have become fast friends and developed a trust, the kind that can only happen between a sailor and his boat. And it was that abiding affection that made Bob take the next step and register Abigail for the Newport-to-Bermuda Race in June.

The race is fast approaching. Bob can feel it in his blood. He's eagerly anticipating the day Abigail will be lifted from her jackstands once again and plopped into the water where she belongs. No more law books, only the sea, and joyous moments at the helm as Bob sails this beauty from her mooring in Marion, Massachusetts on Cape Cod to nearby Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands. These are days when he is clearly no longer Robert W. Buck, Esquire, but Bob Buck the Sailor. --David Liscio