Robert A. Eldridge
Robert (“Bob”) A. Eldridge died on January 10, 2017, at his Montecito home. He succumbed to long-standing lung ailments at the age of 71. He leaves his wife of 35 years, Nancy Eldridge. A memorial service will be held at 3.00 PM on April 13, 2017, inside the gate at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club.
Bob was a real Californian in the sense of being a versatile, self-taught man of both the land and the sea, with consummate skills in both the ranching and harbor communities. Born on June 6, 1945, at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara as the second son of Charles and Elizabeth Eldridge, he attended Montecito Union and Santa Barbara High School.
Early in his life Bob got involved with boats and the harbor, helping his father and brother build and maintain many of the small, wooden Sea Shell sailboats. These were primarily used as the vessel of choice for youngsters, including Bob and his friends, to learn to sail and compete in Sunday races. These craft, first used in the early 1950s, were extremely well-designed and built for the rugged youth sailing adventures. The Sea Shell Club continues sailing to this day off West Beach. By 1964, having worked and crewed on many larger boats, and involved in sailing them around the Channel Islands and the South Coast, he started a full-time yacht maintenance business. This enabled him to hone to perfection extensive woodworking, mechanical, canvass, painting, and varnishing skills that were demanded, particularly among the many wooden boats that populated the harbor in those days.
On the land, Bob devoted spare time to various ranching and farming projects in the extensive fields that then surrounded his family home. He learned at an early age to operate a range of heavy farming equipment, raise various types of livestock, develop and maintain irrigation systems, and attend to the needs of produce orchards.
Bob joined the Navy in 1966 and was assigned two duty tours on the USS Rainier (AE-5) and a third tour in Da Nang harbor. The Rainier, earning eight battle stars during the Vietnam conflict, was a munitions transport ship of World War II vintage. She was tasked with providing underway replenishments to the 7th Fleet, then operating off the Vietnam coast, as well as close-in logistical support for harbor and river craft. The Rainier, with Bob aboard, was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E” in 1968.
Bob is remembered by Rainier crewmates especially for using his shipwright’s skills in maintaining the Captain’s gig and the bridge areas in perfect Bristol condition. In the book “We Deliver, You Fire: A Vietnam Tour of Duty,” authored by fellow crew member Steven Temple, there is a picture of Bob putting the final touches on a new weather coating for the bridge deck. In later years among friends or at numerous crew reunions and veterans’ activities, Bob would recount the story about how, when he joined the Navy, a friend explained how he could make his military duty more rewarding. The secret was, when joining the ship, to look for something to do that he would like. Bob explained that, as he boarded the Rainier, he looked up and saw the brightly finished gig in the davits above and said to himself, “I want to take care of that!” And, because of his special skills, that became one of his primary duties.
In his third tour of duty, this time in Na Trang on harbor patrol, Bob was tasked with supervising a crew to maintain small craft. He was also able to re-connect to the land by raising chickens and produce for his crew. He was honorably discharged in 1970, having earned several medals and distinctions.
After his service in Vietnam, Bob returned to Santa Barbara, participating in various agricultural projects as well as restarting his yacht maintenance business. He became involved in boat deliveries up and down the West Coast, from Washington to Mexico. He enjoyed spending time in the backcountry with friends and dogs, particularly among the points of natural beauty beyond the end of Paradise Road, which he explored for days-on-end using “tote-goat” motorbikes.
In 1982, Bob married Nancy Friesen, also a California native. Shortly after they were married, Bob and Nancy were among the early entrepreneurs that started Santa Barbara’s weekly Farmers’ Market.
Working on different boats in the harbor, Bob met all types of boat owners and sundry characters. One sailboat owner happened to be a famous rock star who, having just bought 2,500 acres of ranching land in northern California, was asking questions about how to raise cattle. Bob, who was maintaining the rock star’s boat, offered that he and his wife could move up to the ranch and manage it. Thus in 1983 they moved to Paskenta, California, helping over the following five years raise, feed and calve the cattle, as well as moving them each year from summer to winter pastures.
Looking to move closer to the sea again, he and Nancy in 1988 moved back to Santa Barbara and re-established his yacht maintenance and delivery business. Because of his extra-ordinary skills, he was always heavily demanded and consulted. Harbor regulars commented that it would sometimes take Bob most of a morning to walk from the parking lot to the middle of Marina One because he was constantly being hailed and chatted by friends and boat owners, catching up on news or picking his brain about different shipwright techniques and marine products. On stormy nights, he would troop down to the harbor to check on the boats in his care. And when he was not in the harbor, he was attending over 50 avocado trees in the orchard at his home.
During these years, Bob had met the owner of a classic all-teak ketch sailboat, a Wells 34 built in Kowloon in 1964, named Teloa II, moored in Marina One. Not only did Bob maintain this yacht in pristine condition, he also accompanied the owner on many trips or delivered the boat, especially to and from Mexico. When the owner died in 1999, Bob and Nancy took ownership of Teloa II. In fact, Bob became one of the primary figures in the preservation of wooden boats in Santa Barbara and donated his time to help maintain the motor launch Ranger, owned by the Maritime Museum. Bob and his wife also regularly attended the Wooden Boat Festival each year held in Port Townsend, Washington, where they participated in the funding of the construction of the city’s Mariner’s Compass by purchasing a foundation brick situated on the heading south towards Santa Barbara. Until his death, Bob was practically a daily fixture in the Santa Barbara harbor, quietly balancing his time between professionally maintaining various yachts, sailing or working aboard his own boat, and donating his expertise to worthy projects and friends.
In later years, Bob enjoyed taking commercial cruises together with his wife, visiting ports in the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera, Panama, and Asia. In 2010, they booked a cruise out of Hong Kong that allowed Bob to revisit locations in Vietnam. With a sense of closure and comfort, he reported that chickens were still being raised in the location where he started this many years earlier and that he found the Vietnamese people to be warm and welcoming.
Bob Eldridge will be profoundly missed by the many he touched during his lifetime.