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R.I.P. Phil Bolger


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#1 Bob Perry

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 08:24 PM

It saddens me to pass this along but the world of yacht design just lost a very creative mind. Apparently Phil was starting to feel like he was not on top of things any more mentaly and he had some family history with that. Phil went out behind his house and shot himself without giving warning to anyone. He had discussed the prosect of this with his wife in detail but he did not give her any warning that morning.

I really admired Phil's work, the folding schooner et al. I was not a real friend of Phil's although over the years I talked to him on the phone several times. He was very quirky and eccentric and of course that came accross in his work. He was a lot of fun to talk to.

I am going to be thinking of this for a long time.

I got this off the Trailer Boat forum.

"The saddest of news

In the early morning hours of Sunday May 24th 2009 Philip Cunningham Bolger of 66 Atlantic Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts took his own life, out of his own free will, shooting himself in the head with his Colt 45. I awoke later to his absence and found his body on our property out of public sight. The matter is under routine investigate by the Massachusetts State Police and Gloucester Police Department.

He had observed the progression of declining mental faculties in earlier generations of his family. He expressed this concern as early as forty years ago while discussing science fiction with one nephew. Phil speculated about developing a machine to test for senility; the patient would be killed painlessly if the machine determined the onset of senility. The point was to relieve the individual of any terrifying concerns about a slow, pernicious, and painful demise.

By May '09 at 81 he was in excellent physical shape for his age. What Phil and I, his wife and full business partner Susanne Altenburger had come to notice over a number years were intermittent but mounting episodes of apparent cognitive decline ranging from near funny to seriously disturbing. In business it came to express itself in a less efficient design process and diminishing productivity. On the personal level his recognition of the condition went from not noticing, over denying it, to gradually recognizing that he would not be spared either. We openly and soberly discussed the repercussions, options, and likely outcomes of this unfolding reality. And he made amply clear his insistence on controlling his final fate if at all possible.

This reality emerged amidst an intriguing series of consultancies for US Navy, and increasing pro-bono work (1750+hrs) in an effort to prepare the Gloucester commercial fishing fleet for the age of $5.-+/gal. - The relationship with Navy has just recently been refreshed again in a warm and productive encounter with our client/patron, a Division Director at NAVSEA. - On the 'Low-Carbon' fisheries-project he recently has had opportunity to personally present the policy-proposal to Congressman John Tierney's respectful and encouraging reception, with key policy-advisors in both U.S. Senator's offices studying the proposal as well. He did take great comfort in the trust and support expressed by 40 local professional fishermen of all tribes and fisheries, a select number of shore-side stake-holders, and the continued encouragement by New England's Conservation Law Foundation. But after well over six emotionally exhausting years his efforts had yet to find constructive reflection in catalyzing jobs- and tax-base-generating marine-industrial local and state public policy for his ailing home-port, America's oldest Seaport of Gloucester.

The mounting stress of working on these serious and pressing matters alongside the regular design-work affected Phil's and Susanne's health, nerves and outlook more and more. So much was at stake and yet options were diminishing. A broad range of attempts to modify Phil's and Susanne's work routine to accommodate his slowing productivity proved ultimately unsuccessful. In the end, as defined by Phil this Sunday morning, he came to conclude that the inevitability of progressively losing his intellectual faculties and psychological strength had been confirmed often enough. He would not wait until he could no longer clearly discern the curve of his mental decline and concurrent emotional weakening.

Phil's personal life and body of work were an expression of firmly defined and ever broadened independence from deeply-entrenched conventions, intangible superstitions, and other known limitations on the free use of mind and thus sound judgment. He lived that way and decided to leave us that way.

He stated repeatedly that he has had 'a good ride', he marveled at many small and larger instance of good luck, was immensely pleased to have on major occasions in his life taken the right decisions - including asking me to join him in life and work - and expressed no fear of dying, only his concern for survivors. And without you all there none of this would have been more than some obsessive compulsive need to cover paper with ink. We both understood, along now with a growing number in his family and friends, that there would never be a 'good time' to lose him, only that things would most likely become worse for him and us.

Phil Bolger's body of work will remain with Phil Bolger & Friends, Inc. under my guidance. Over fifteen years of shared life and work, Phil had progressively made the explicit point for me to gradually assume the conceptual leadership of the venture with more and more of the work developed by me and vetted by Phil's deep and broad personal and historic perspective. With his death is lost his immense personal knowledge, unceasing inquisitiveness, constructive contrarianism, quick and warm humor, casual if not mischievous wit, and so often joyful outlook on to the next project.

I have had to let go of my closest deepest friend, this most encouraging and understanding master of his craft and art. I feel amputated in ways yet to be fathomed. He counted on my and your resilience to use the spirit of his work to make the most of our time on water in work and play.

Funeral and Memorial arrangements have not yet been made. His request is to be cremated.

Mid-term it would seem an appropriate expression of love and respect for Phil Bolger to consider assembling here in Gloucester the largest fleet ever of his designs in all sizes and configurations for a memorial day on the waters that shaped, nurtured, and inspired him. Perhaps late summer/early fall would allow enough time for this project. Cape Ann has a campsite, numerous motels, lots of protected waters to overnight on. As the immediate vehemence of this loss will eventually wear off some, I would be very gratified to help structure this event. I hope that Phil Bolger's Friends will take it upon themselves to organize this salute to him.

Susanne Altenburger, in this time of grief with ever so important assistance by Holbrook Robinson, and Tom and Ben Bolger who were here, immediately, helping me focus with sound council based on personal connections with Phil for far longer than I ever had."

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

#2 TimFordi550#87

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 08:30 PM

As a long time ago subscriber to "Small Boat Journal" all I can say is, R.I.P. Phil.
Sad news indeed.

Go the Dovekie!

#3 pogen

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 08:51 PM

Very sad to hear this news. We've lost a real individualist and champion of the little guy in the sailing/boating world. I understand how terrifying the though of losing one's mental capacities must be.

#4 mainsheetgirl

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 08:55 PM

How sad! My heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. May they find peace one day.

#5 carcrash

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 09:07 PM

He was very inspiring.

#6 sailone

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 09:08 PM

At the Landing School our first project was to design the Gloucester Light Dory. There were often many Mr. Bolger references in class. His 700 designs retained a following while alive that will last for many years to come.

#7 casc27

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 09:43 PM

That's some sad news. Some very creative and interesting designs came from Phil. Fair winds...

#8 MisterMoon

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 09:57 PM

He definitely made a huge impact on my life. He gave me the confidence I need to build my first boat, (one of his designs) fulfilling a lifelong dream. Two boats later, and having a few of my own designs built I have to say that I owe it all to Phil.

It's strange to feel such a void from losing someone I'd never met in person and only carried on the briefest of correspondences, but there is definitely an empty spot since I heard the news yesterday evening. Godspeed Phil.

Gary Blankenship recorded what I found to be a pretty interesting interview with Bolger last fall, worth a listen if you are fan.

Bolger Interview Part One
Bolger Interview Part Two

#9 R Booth

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 10:12 PM

Another example of why getting old oft times just plain sucks. Thankfully he left us with more than just mere footprints on the beaches of life.


RIP Mr. Bolger, and fair winds...............

#10 PBO

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 10:14 PM

Vale Phil Bolger

#11 olaf hart

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 10:59 PM

Every time I row out to the boat in my Bolger Nymph I will remember him.
A man of courage and skill.
But somehow the way he went leaves me empty inside.

#12 DaveK

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 12:16 AM

Every time I row out to the boat in my Bolger Nymph I will remember him.
A man of courage and skill.
But somehow the way he went leaves me empty inside.


Yes, but he was 82 and it should be celebrated to live that long.

Taking ones life is selfish in the psycho analyst world and I'm wondering about that.

Again... this guy rocks with a gazillion designs and I just don't get it.

#13 dain bramage

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 12:36 AM

I always felt his designs were like "comfort food". They made you feel closer to the person you wanted to be. Made you feel complete. They made you happy.

My condolences to his family and friends.

#14 kent_island_sailor

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 12:51 AM

I had a relative die of Alzheimer's.
Trust me - the way he went beats that by a 1,000,000 miles.

Every time I row out to the boat in my Bolger Nymph I will remember him.
A man of courage and skill.
But somehow the way he went leaves me empty inside.



#15 olaf hart

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 01:01 AM

I guess what I mean is that it is a shame he had to go in such a violent and lonely way.

#16 stumble

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 01:49 AM

Aparently he had discussed this with his wife, and she was aware of his intentions. The only part that was left out of the discussion was when he planned on doing the deed. Aparently he decided it was time, and haveing seen loved ones decend into Alzheimers, I can tell you this way is much to be prefered.

#17 Steam Flyer

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 02:06 AM

Phil Bolger -ruled.-

I'm sad to put that in the past tense. I've built a couple of his boats, and corresponded with him back in the days of snail mail... he was encouraging about some boat design ideas I had. He was an original thinker, a hackneyed phrase perhaps but intended as high tribute to a sailor & designer who accomplished a lot.


Aparently he had discussed this with his wife, and she was aware of his intentions. The only part that was left out of the discussion was when he planned on doing the deed. Aparently he decided it was time, and haveing seen loved ones decend into Alzheimers, I can tell you this way is much to be prefered.


Yes, it is but it would also have been nicer to spare his wife the finding of his body.
IMHO suicide is a rational choice when faced with certain alternatives, and among them is the unaware degredation of Alzheimers, or someof the more torturous forms of cancer. It spares the family a long ugly struggle with no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel.

My sincere sympathy & condolences go out to Phil Bolger's wife, and his family & friends.

FB- Doug

#18 Evo

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 02:14 AM

Aparently he had discussed this with his wife, and she was aware of his intentions. The only part that was left out of the discussion was when he planned on doing the deed. Aparently he decided it was time, and haveing seen loved ones decend into Alzheimers, I can tell you this way is much to be prefered.


Fair winds Phil...enjoy the great reach in the sky.

Having watched a lifelong close family friend of superb mind (professor of zoology responsible for much of the early work with box jellies and irukanji....BoB Spitfire pilot) go down the road of altzheimers and the grief it caused his family I feel that Phil made a courageous decision and has saved his family more trauma than the grief they now endure. (RIP and thanks Uncle Keith...you didn't deserve that mate).

I hope I have the strength if it happens to me. Dunno about the gun though as there are far more peaceful and assured ways for it to happen.

Knowing it's our time must be a difficult thing.

Condolences to his family and thanks for the contribution to mucking about in boats Phil. Vale

#19 R Booth

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 02:24 AM

Without going too apeshit here, I honestly feel that there is absolutely no shame in suicide (in situs such as this). None at all. Sounds like Mr. Bolger thought this out well enough in advance and shared his decision in a mature manner with those closest to him (though I do agree with a few posts above about having the body found by one who cared deeply for him. That one's gonna be tough on anyone, despite the forewarning).


Anyways Gents, we're all sailing in the same direction, age-wise. It may behoove not only us but those that we love the most to at least think about our contingency plans as we all inevitably near the end of the channel. Because eventually we all run out of open water....

#20 Combat Wombat

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 11:53 AM

Phil was a master of what you could do with lumberyard materials. He turned flat sheets into things of oftimes quirky beauty. When I decided to try to build boats, he was the designer of choice. The Wombette allowed that if it didn't do what I wanted, it'd made a good planter out back. Work it did, to her suprise!

Godspeed, Phil.....

#21 eliboat

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 01:11 PM

Fair winds Phil. As a designer, it is usually humbling to look at the sheer diversity and curiosity that Phil demonstrated with his body of work. Hearing this news this morning was not a good way to start the day.

#22 NACRADUDE

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 01:13 PM

Fair winds and following seas Phil.

I think the man made a courageous and very unselfish decision to spare his family the grief he knew was on his doorstep.

Godspeed indeed.

#23 cap10ed

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 01:19 PM

:( I had a Bolger 23' Fantail launch built ( http://www.lyonsmarine.com/fantail.htm ) and powered it with an electric motor. This was back in the mid nineties and Phil was more than interested in the conversion. Spent some memorable time with him at the Wooden Boat show held at Mystic Seaport. "Penny Royal" our launch won an award at the show and at the banquet I made mention that Phil Bolger had not thrown away his french curves for a " T " square and could indeed draw a slippery curvaceous hull adequately powered by a 2 hp electric motor. He was the embodiment of Sailing Anarchy, his work speaks volumes about the man. R.I.P. Philip.

#24 SoAPieceOfStringWalksIntoABar...

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 02:26 PM

Phil Bolger and Joel White were my favorite boating writers as a kid, and now both are gone.
Fair winds, Phil.

#25 shempest

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 02:51 PM

I have admired Phil's designs since purchasing a set of plans for a Sneakeasy about 1990 or so, and continue to admire and contemplate on his expansion of this simple concept to his IllinoisIllinois image. I think he was a visionary. A visionaryof a unique stripe in the sense that he didn't see into the far distance, but could rather focus more clearly on things of simplicity close at hand that others had missed.
Olin, George, Phil... Somewhere there is a lively gentlemans debate going on.

Attached Files



#26 'moondance44

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 02:53 PM

Without going too apeshit here, I honestly feel that there is absolutely no shame in suicide (in situs such as this). None at all. Sounds like Mr. Bolger thought this out well enough in advance and shared his decision in a mature manner with those closest to him (though I do agree with a few posts above about having the body found by one who cared deeply for him. That one's gonna be tough on anyone, despite the forewarning).


Anyways Gents, we're all sailing in the same direction, age-wise. It may behoove not only us but those that we love the most to at least think about our contingency plans as we all inevitably near the end of the channel. Because eventually we all run out of open water....


Condolences.

I guess you have to start with the premise that anyone (or most anyway) that takes their own life isnt thinking straight to begin with, so its hard to rationalize or justify from the start. 82 yrs old and Alzehiemers, sounds like a good plan. But a .45 to the head leaves quite a friggin mess.

#27 SoItGoes

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 03:18 PM

I think the most important part is not so much how we end or are born but simply the dash between the dates 1927-2009... In point of fact Phil Bolger's dash was a pretty awesome run!

We had Phil design Loose Moose 2 for us ( Our first Loose Moose was also a Bolger design we liked so much we just had him make us a longer version) and got to know him pretty well in the process. He is missed, if for no other reason he was the voice in the wilderness letting us all know that there were alternatives to the same old same old!

Bob

http://boatbits.blogspot.com/
http://fishingundersail.blogspot.com/
http://islandgourmand.blogspot.com/


#28 RHough

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 03:32 PM

Via con dios Phil

I think if one searches for a way to describe "unique" Phil's designs have to be mentioned.

#29 TimFordi550#87

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 04:08 PM

I think if one searches for a way to describe "unique" Phil's designs have to be mentioned.


Definitely.
I cut some of the whackier ones out of SBJ and kept a file. If I can find the file, I'll post some here.

A unique mind!

#30 kidkodine

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 04:18 PM

he was the one who helped me build my first boat...

a great loss.

#31 wabbiteer

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 05:29 PM

I built a Bolger Teal in one day as part of a contest sponsored by Wooden Boat at the boat show in Oakland many years ago.

It was pretty much the only time that I've had fun at a boat show.

My sympathies to his friends and family.

#32 PhilRizzuto

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 06:29 PM

very sad but maybe he thought he was at his neighbors house down the street when he did the deed?

#33 DougNK

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 07:08 PM

I always got a kick out of Phill's designs in "Messing Around in Boats", quite a talent.
Just a sad reminder that none of us are getting out of this thing alive.
I for one will not judge his actions, each one of us has to walk our own path.
Fair Winds and Following Seas Phill ... R.I.P

#34 Matt L

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 08:47 PM

After reading this I just went and got 'Boats with an Open Mind' out of the Library. Always overlooked Bolger's designs thinking he was just this mad guy who designed boxes with centerboards in the wrong place, I think I was very wrong.

#35 PhilRizzuto

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 09:19 PM

maybe he thought he was brushing his teeth and the gun went off?

#36 inappropriate

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 10:29 PM

I think if one searches for a way to describe "unique" Phil's designs have to be mentioned.


Definitely.
I cut some of the whackier ones out of SBJ and kept a file. If I can find the file, I'll post some here.

A unique mind!


please do, I'm curious about them.

#37 auggie

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 01:42 AM

I recall that Mr B said something to the effect that if boats are like art. If you can't afford a Rembrandt then a Playboy will get the job done. His boats were often beyond Playboy material. But you get the drift. Sail on Phil.

#38 cyclone

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 12:39 AM

sic transit gloria mundi
I have been blessed with Bolger boats.
My Clam Skiff has seen good use for 14 years. A humble yet utilitarian design.
The Punt was an easy build and floats like a cork. He said his Light Dory was
enough to get him into heaven. I wish him well.
JT

#39 PhilRizzuto

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 09:14 PM

Great boats and a very talented man. Who amongst us could play the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, and design boats so well? I think nobody.

#40 Zonker

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 07:34 AM

His Obit in the NY Times...

Sad to see him go. At least he did it on his own terms.




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