I just pulled into Israel, checked my email and learned my buddy Rudy Thompson had died.
It knocked me back.
Rudy seemed eternalâ€”not only eternally alive but eternally youthful in the best, truest sense of the word.
What originally attracted me to Rudy was his natural ability as a sailor. He not only was a superb racer, he made it look simple, easy, and natural. Rudy was always relaxed, ashore and afloat. I watched him win and lose many timesâ€”but I never saw him lose his sense of humor or his boyish sense of fun.
When I first started club racing in the VI, Rudy was my hero. The closer I followed Rudy on the race course, the more I won. I admired him so much I made no effort to hide it. Just before a race in St. Croix or St. Thomas, I’d say, “If Rudy tacks, we tack. If Rudy has a beer, we’ll have a beer. If Rudy takes a leakâ€¦”
Besides being a fine racer at the STYC, Rudy was also a cruising sailor who was passionate about boats. He had as many live-aboard friends as racers. Sure, he could wax poetic about Cunningham adjustmentâ€”but he could also talk prop pitch, baggy-wrinkle, and sheet-to-tiller steering.
In fact, Rudy could talk about anythingâ€”at the drop of a hat. Thus I had him on my WVWI Radio One Marine Report dozens of times over the 17 years it was onâ€”and each show he guest-starred in was greatâ€”entertaining, thought-provoking, insightful.
Every time I met Rudy, he taught me something new. He was lit up on life. And he loved to experiment. Why, once he came back from a weekend with his wife on Jost Van Dykeâ€¦ totally amazed at the difficulties of making love in a hammock without having a toe on the ground.
Rudy did all the ‘hot races’ with all the ‘hot USVI sailors’ but he also often did the mom-and-pop cruising ones as well. When he wasn’t winning on the race course, he was drinking a cold beer on Cold Beer or having a Rhum Squall in the latter’s cockpit.
He was a superb storyteller. I was particularly enthralled with his tales of sailing (another of my heros) John Steinbeck around the Lesser Antilles ‘â€¦back in the day.’
Of course, Rudy was crazy. IÂ was recently having dinner in Phuket, Thailand, with Tere Batham of Sea Questâ€”and she had me rolling on the cockpit sole with tales of Rudy and her drunk during St. Thomas Carnivalâ€”jumping crazily over the powerlines from their rolling trampoline.
Rudy moved gracefully because he was a gymnastâ€”but he moved gracefully through life as well. The STYC had many groups and clichÃ©s, but everyone was Rudy’s friend.
â€¦his sincere friend.
â€¦just because he was Rudy and always fun to be around.
I’ve known a lot of fine sailors and wonderful seaman in my 50 years of living aboard and offshore sailingâ€”but none as fine nor as fun as Rudy. I bet he’s up there in Fiddler’s Green right now, making ’em laugh about how he took a chainsaw to that dog-of-a-Pearson at the IBY and turned her into one of the winningest race boats in the Caribbean.