Rudy Thompson Rest In Peace

I just pulled into Israel, checked my email and learned my buddy Rudy Thompson had died.

It knocked me back.

Rudy seemed eternal—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 times—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 leak…”

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 adjustment—but he could also talk prop pitch, baggy-wrinkle, and sheet-to-tiller steering.

In fact, Rudy could talk about anything—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 on—and each show he guest-starred in was great—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 Dyke… 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 ‘…back in the day.’

Of course, Rudy was crazy. I  was recently having dinner in Phuket, Thailand, with Tere Batham of Sea Quest—and she had me rolling on the cockpit sole with tales of Rudy and her drunk during St. Thomas Carnival—jumping crazily over the powerlines from their rolling trampoline.

Rudy moved gracefully because he was a gymnast—but he moved gracefully through life as well. The STYC had many groups and clichés, but everyone was Rudy’s friend.

…his sincere friend.

…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 sailing—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.

Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: