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Super Fuzzy Moderator
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Bob Perry posted this at Sailing Anarchy. Bolger was one of my favourite designers and it certainly saddens me to hear this news. His Folding Schooner has long been a favourite of mine and it was only on Sunday that I was watching a local Bolger design slip across the harbour. There are , to my knowledge, only a couple of Bloger designed boats in Sydney and it always made me feel good whenever I saw either of them.

Salute , PB.

"I hate it when yacht designers die.
I realy hate it when they shoot themselves in the head.
I lifted this piece from the Trailer Sailer site.
I'm going to be thinking about this for a long while.
I loved Phil's work and we had chatted several times over the years. He was candid about his own design work.
My condolences to his family.

"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] "
 

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Phil Bolger was definitely not tied down by conventions. I admire his practical designs. About suicide. I don't know how I feel about suicide. It is the ultimate triumph of the ego.
 

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Super Fuzzy Moderator
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Me, I respect his decision. I for one would prefer to go at the time of my own choosing rather than end my days reliant on others for my care and feeding. It's my firm belief that its the quality of life that matters, not longevity for its own sake.

Nonetheless, please lets not turn this thread into a debate on the rights and wrongs of suicide.
 

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Telstar 28
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IMHO, there is a difference between suicide and choosing to end one's life to prevent becoming mentally incapacitated. It sounds like Phil knew that dementia or senility ran in his family's medical history and genetics and chose to end his life as not to burden his family with caring for him. Also, there is much to be said for dying while one is still rational and able to make the decision properly, as opposed to sitting in diapers and drooling with not a rational thought in one's head.
 

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Copy of my post at A-S

Aside from one or two brief conversations, I did not know Phil personally. But anyone who subscribes to Messing About in Boats will understand how those of us who were not even on a first-name basis might feel the loss rather poignantly.

Phil had a long running column (if I had to venture a guess, I'd define long running as spanning several decades) called "Bolger on Design", in the semi-monthly (yes, twice each month) MAIB magazine, in which he discussed in fascinating detail his various designs. Despite that long publishing run, I don't think he came close to touching on any where near all his body of work.

If nothing else, Phil was highly unconventional in his approach to vessel design. And he applied that unconventional mind to almost every conceivable type of sailing and motor boat known: dinghies and tenders; daysailers; campcruisers; skiffs, runabouts, and motor cruisers of every variety; monohull sailboats; multihulls of western and polynesian derivative; commercial fishing and lobster boats; tugs, workboats and ships; Naval vessels; etc etc etc. If I were a Naval Architect and created 1/10th of Phil Bolger's body of work during a lifetime, I would feel an immense sense of accomplishment.

As mentioned, Phil's signature was his unconventional approach to naval architecture. He not only questioned every mainstream solution, he offered practical alternatives. Perusing his body of work, you'll quickly notice a vast number of shoal draft, minimally ballasted monohull sailboats, replete with leeboards and mast tabernacles and any other feature that might allow the boat to skim up into the most remote hideaways. And you'll find those features not just on daysailers and camp cruisers, but long-range ocean crossing cruisers as well. In the realm of motorboats, Phil always seemed to find the lowest horsepower solution possible and yet still achieve the design brief criteria.

I cannot possibly do justice to this man's body of work, intellect and wry wit in this quick post. Longtime readers of his "Bolger on Design" series were treated not only to details of his design portfolio, but also were offered glimpse of the inner man himself, including his profound social conscious. Equipped with that "sense" of the man, the news that he would take his own life at this stage is perhaps not nearly as surprising as it may seem to those who did follow his work over the years via MAIB.

If you can get your hands on a year or two of MAIB back issues, there's still a chance to "meet" this man and appreciate his important contributions to our mutual avocation.

My condolences to you, Susanne. And yes, rest in peace Phil Bolger.
 

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Farr 11.6 (Farr 38)
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I have long been an admirer of Phil Bolger. I first encountered him back in the 1970's when began reading WoodenBoat magazine. He was a man of unflinching creativeness and purpose. He could design as beautiful a traditional sailing yacht as could be conceived of and yet conceive of some of the ghastliest looking contrivances that could still be called a boat.

His obvious wit, huge intellect, fierce independence, and love of all things nautical were unique and will be missed.

My condolences to his family, and to his extended family, those of us sailors who had come to know and appreciate him, if not personally, then through his writings and influence on our lives as sailors.

Jeff
 

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Bolger

I have always admired the simplicity of Bolgers designs. Making the most out of the least. In the early 80's I helped build one of his "Gloucester Light Dorys". Used it for a plug for a mold and built several more outof fiberglass. They were great to row or scull very effortlessly.
 

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CosmosMariner
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I am greatly saddened to hear of Phil Bolger's death. I first became aware of him in the late 1970's through one or another of the boating magazines I subscribed to and bought his book 'The Folding Schooner' from which I built a 12' double ended sailing sloop for and with a friend. My wife and I considered very carefully, buying a Dovekie from Herb Payson. Phil, his work and his life were one in a way most of us can only aspire to. I understand his desire to control his life and his fate and fully support HIS 'choice' at the end. Odd how Mass. law allows the taking of the life of a human being who has no voice in the decision but makes it a crime to reasonably and thoughtfully for good reasons take one's own life or assist in doing so.Phil Bolger will be missed but certainly not forgotten!
 

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Closet Powerboater
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RIP Mr. Bolger. You will be remembered and missed.

The book "Boats with an open mind" was the first boat design book that really interested me. Here were really original "outside the box" designs and not just copies of what had always been done by tradition.

The first boat I ever built is a Bolger "Junebug". What a great experience!

Medsilor
 
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